Northwest Territories Nostalgia, Part II

In case you missed it: I started recapping our Woods Explorer adventures in the Northwest Territories here. Check it out to find out how various strangers saved the day at the start of our trip down (part of) the Mackenzie River, better known as the Dehcho.

We woke up at our campsite on the outskirts of a little town called Fort Providence, hoping that the weather today would be a little more cooperative than it had been the day before. It did look a bit better – less stormy, though still pretty windy. We decided to give ourselves a few hours before making the call of whether or not to officially start the journey.

We really, really wanted to get going. For one, Fort Providence was cool, but it was tiny. We didn’t have a car to get us out of the campsite, and we were getting a little bored. Plus, the canoe rental company folks were going to pick us up down the river in Fort Simpson in 8 days time. Delaying our trip any more meant we’d really have to hustle to get there in time.

Around lunch time, we made the executive decision to start paddling. Conditions weren’t perfect, but they were better than they’d been the day before and we were itching to start. The lady working at the campsite gave us a lift back to the boat lunch. Mercifully, our canoe was still there.

In theory, paddling the Dehcho sounded pretty easy. Any time you’re paddling down a river, you’ve got the current giving you a little help, right? WRONG! Not the Dehcho – at least, not this part of it. The wind was blowing very strong. If we lifted our paddles out of the water, the wind would push us backwards – it was much stronger than any current.

We aimed to camp on a little island the first night, which meant straying from the safety of the shore. This made me nervous. I was sitting in the bow and the canoe was doing some serious bobbing. Sometimes, the boat would rock in such a way that the nose pointed down and the water would splash up and over – I was sure that we’d tip. Thankfully, we didn’t, and after an afternoon of tough paddling, we made it to our island, set up camp, ate some food, and hoped for nicer weather the following day.

I was so, so, so, so relieved to wake up to blue skies. Let me tell you – the weather did NOT cooperate with us on this trip, and this was the only full day of sunshine we had. But it was the most important day, weather-wise, because at this point, the river widened into Mills Lake, which is notoriously tough to paddle in bad weather. We’d been advised to paddle along the opposite shore, so we made our way over. It was shallow – very shallow. The tips of our paddles grazed the muddy bottom with every stroke. There was thick grass on either side of us and we’d been told not to try to go towards the middle of the lake, or else we’d get stuck. So we paddled forward – and it got shallower and shallower.

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Good old Mills Lake.

 

I was starting to get nervous. (Are you noticing a pattern yet? I was OFTEN nervous on this leg of the trip). There were points where the canoe itself was touching the mud below and we used our paddles to propel us forward, rather than making actual strokes. I pictured ourselves getting stuck, having to turn around, and having to retrace our steps entirely. And they said paddling the Mackenzie would be “easy”!

I was extremely relieved to make it past Mills Lake.

The days blur together after Mills Lake. The landscape was pretty, but very monotonous – it didn’t change one bit for many, many days. It felt raw and wild in a way I’d never experienced before. It wasn’t at all like the wilderness of BC or the Rockies. It was wide, flat, muddy, and heavily treed. The trees on either side of the massive river were so dense that it was difficult to imagine anything beyond them other than more trees.

Since it was late August, we escaped most of the bugs that plague the area earlier in the summer. It was cold – I wore a toque and gloves almost all the time. The gloves helped keep my hands functioning. They were so, so dry, and I constantly squished a finger between the boat and my paddle or bumped on something that would make my knuckles bleed.

The paddling was, in a word, relentless. For several days, we continued to battle the stronger-than-the-current wind. The scenery never changed, and what looked like a short little section on the map actually took hours to paddle. Since the landscape looked the same, it was very difficult to tell where we were on the map. We often thought we were further along than we really were – only to take a closer look once we were at camp and realize that no, we were still waaaay back here on the map.

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Camp life.

Speaking of camping, there were no actual campsites. For hours, we’d pass sections of the shore that were far too narrow for setting up camp. Eventually, we’d pull over after we were took exhausted to continue, seeking anything that looked flat-ish and wide enough for us to safely separate our cooking and fire area from our sleeping area.

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The good kind of wildlife encounter. Photo from Woods Canada.

The distance between the two areas was necessarily to prevent wildlife encounters. We were extremely careful about keeping our cooking areas clean, sealing all food and smelly stuff into our barrel, and tucking the barrel underneath the canoe, which we kept far away from our tent. The reality was that we were very exposed to wilderness – and it was out there. We saw wolf tracks everywhere in the sand/mud at our various camping spots. Sometimes, we’d even wake up to see various tracks (not wolves, thankfully) that hadn’t been there when we’d gone to bed the night before. I was strangely at peace with the wild animal aspect. I figured that we were definitely the intruders in this scenario, and if one really wanted to kill me and have me for dinner, then that was a fate I was willing to accept. “Here lies Magee, who was mauled by a pack of wolves on the shores of the Mackenzie River” – I mean, that’s a pretty epic way to go.

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Here lies Magee… Photo from Woods Canada.

The wildlife didn’t wear me down – but the weather did. Aside from the sunny day crossing Mills Lake, every day was cloudy, windy, cold, and sometimes rainy. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – was caked with mud. I would scrape out the bottom of the canoe with my paddle, scooping out thick and heavy mud without making a dent on the mass of mud covering the boat. Everything was damp all the time.

Talk about character building.

It was hard – but it was also amazing. By now, Cedric and I worked as a perfect unit. When one of us was feeling demoralized, the other would boost him/her up. He didn’t complain when I needed to pull the boat over to pee. I didn’t complain when he stopped padding to take photos. We knew our roles at camp – we’d pull in, Cedric would start working of fire/boiling water/making food, while I set up the tent and our sleeping stuff. We functioned like a well-oiled machine – it was a real partnership.

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Breakfast on Day 2 before tackling Mills Lake. I can tell because the sky isn’t an angry shade of grey. Photo from Woods Canada.

We ate alright, too. The first few days were pretty luxurious – we even got to enjoy eggs for breakfast. We had the luxury of carrying a great big barrel of food with us since there were no portages to tackle. I’d picked up most of our food back in Hay River, and even though it was August, they already had Halloween candy on display. We ate a lot of chocolate. At 10 o’clock every morning, we’d devour our Clif bars (almond fudge for Cedric, chocolate mint for me). I’d watch my little purple wristwatch like a hawk, counting down the minutes ’til Clif time. I’m not sure if I was actually hungry or just very, very bored.

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This sums up day to day life on our Mackenzie trip, but I’m approaching 1,400 words, so let’s stretch the NWT adventures into a third post for another time…

Race Recap: Comfortably Numb = The Most Fun

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the Comfortably Numb Trail Race has already come and gone. June 10 seemed soooo far away for the longest time – then all of the sudden, it was just around the corner. I didn’t really have time to get excited or scared or anxious about the race. That’s probably a good thing.

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The weather forecast for race day looked iffy (rainy cloud image in my weather app). The more detailed overview said clouds in the morning and rain in the afternoon, so I thought we might be in the clear. But on my drive up to Whistler the morning of the race, it started raining a decent amount. Drats. It was also pretty cool (about 7 degrees when I left the house, with a high of 13 degrees later in the day). The most challenging thing about this kind of weather is deciding whether to wear shorts or leggings. After much consideration, I wore the latter (though I brought along a pair of shorts to be safe).

I’m pleased to report that a) the rain stopped shortly after it started and stayed away the ENTIRE race, and b) the leggings were totally fine for the race (though I’m sure I would have been okay in shorts, too).

I realize this is a lot of weather talk, but I’m just so happy with how it turned out because it ended up being my favourite running conditions: overcast, cool, and dry. A race in Whistler on June 10 can go any way. If it had been hot and 30 degrees, it would have been tough on some of the non-shaded parts later in the race (especially because the race started relatively late, around 9 AM). It had apparently been rainy and muddy the year before, which makes for a slippery course and is, in my opinion, way less fun. So three cheers for the weather. Hip hip hooray!

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Views observed while killing time at the start.

I was curious about this race because, as the name suggests, it follows the notorious Comfortably Numb mountain biking trail between Wedgemount and Whistler Village (though this race ended at Nicklaus North). Seriously – when I mention Comfortably Numb to mountain bikers, their faces go pale and they tell me stories about how they did it once, and never again. Mostly, I’ve never traveled that part of Whistler by anything other than car, so I thought it would be fun to explore some new trails. My research indicated it would be technical trails, mostly single track, and that it would gradually go up up up for the first half to two-thirds, then down towards the end. The distance was curiously pegged as “23k+”. I’ve heard it range anywhere from 21k to 25k. My little app put it closer towards the 21k end of the scale, but let me tell you – it felt infinitely farther than my Alice Lake 21k.

Logistically, this race was A+++. I parked as instructed by the RV park in Spruce Grove and caught the free shuttle to the start line at the base of Wedge. Bib pick up was quick and easy. They had a “soft start” time of 8:30 for anyone who thought they might need more than 4 hours to run the race. As always, I had no idea how long it would take me, but I decided to risk it and start with the main crowd at 9 AM. Everything got started on time, and we were off.

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Start line shenanigans

The race starts off on an uphill gravel logging road. You guys – I was at the VERY BACK. Zero people were behind me. That was humbling, but I guess I really take the “don’t start off too quickly” thing to heart. Quite a few people ended up hiking the steep bits near the start (including the 18% grade part!) so I ended up in the general “back of the pack” crowd rather than at the literal back. That was kind of nice.

The rumours are true: the race really does go uphill for a long, long time. I’d been told that the trail is very runnable, and that’s partly what makes it quite difficult: they’re flat enough to keep on running, but steep enough to tire you out (especially after 13k+ of uphill). I definitely did not shy away from hiking anything that felt on the steep side. See, I tried running some of the steeper ups, but I found that if a person was ahead of me and walked the steep part, I wouldn’t gain on them even if I was running/shuffling. My running was literally the same speed as hiking, so I figured why waste the energy?

Eventually, the runners became more and more spaced out. Around 1:30 into the run, a guy was close behind me and I offered to let him pass. He didn’t pass, and we ended up running together and talking for about half an hour. Poor guy – I pretty much told him my life story, including the minutiae of my curriculum vitae. He had recently bought a second home in Whistler, so we talked real estate for awhile (my favourite!)

I can’t decide if running and talking is good or bad for a race. In this case, I think it was good – at this point in the course, the uphills were getting tedious and the scenery was pretty similar, so being able to talk was a bit of a distraction.

Around the 2:00 mark, something weird happened. I’d been completely alone with the guy for a little while – we hadn’t seen anyone ahead or behind – but all of the sudden, about three people came from behind and passed us. The guy joined them (I should mention that he told me he’d literally run 100 ultramarathons in the past, so I didn’t really feel bad that he was faster than me). I was left in their dust and put my head down to get back into the solo running zone.

It was wonderful to pass the sole aid station around km 12.5 (I can’t remember if I made that distance up or if someone told me that). I didn’t actually stop to use anything, but I knew that although the climbing continued after the aid station, it wasn’t for too much longer. That was a good thing, because I already felt pretty tired. It was kind of funny to think that the fastest racers were already close to the finish line at that point. But also kind of not funny.

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Some super swaggy swag, which I will tell you about later if you keep reading this very long post.

After the aid station, the trails opened up a little and became more technical. There was lots of rocky running – it reminded me a bit of parts of my Pukaskwa hike (minus the views of Lake Superior). The trails continued up and up and up until eventually, there was a clearing that appeared to be the top. There was a bench conveniently located to take in the view. I so wanted to sit down for awhile (and by sit down I mean lie down and nap), but on I went.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the official top – but it was pretty close. Not long after, I hit a sign that said “Comfortably Numb – Descent”. I definitely hollered.

The down was technical and tiring, but sooooo infinitely better than the uphill. A lot of it was exposed (as in not in the forest), so it would have been a slog if it had been hot and sunny. I focused on keeping my brain sharp and watching my footing, as there were tripping hazards everywhere. Believe it or not, I even passed a few people on the downhill, which meant I probably wouldn’t finish dead last – yay!

After a little while going downhill, my feet started feeling… well, comfortably numb. Maybe even uncomfortably numb. Parts of the trail were really rocky, and landing on pointy rocks kind of hurts. I felt some rubbing on both of my big toes, which wasn’t ideal, but then I remembered that the quicker I ran, the quicker I’d be done. I should be a motivational speaker.

Eventually, I saw a guy on the trail. There hadn’t been any marshals on course (just the people at the aid station), which was no big deal because it was very well flagged. I recognized the guy from the Helly Hansen dryland training sessions I used to go to when I lived in Whistler (I highly recommend these, by the way). At that moment, he looked like a glorious angel – he told me there was 2.7k left to go.

He conveniently neglected to mention that shortly after I passed him, the trail would go uphill for a bit. Thankfully, that didn’t last long – it became less technical and more flat soon thereafter. I started seeing a few mountain bikers, which meant I was close to civilization. Seriously, you feel like you’re waaaaay out there on the trail. It was nice knowing I was close.

I hollered some more when I saw a sign announcing that there was only 1k to go. It felt like a very long k, but sure enough, the trail eventually spit me out at the finish line 3 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds after I’d started. Was I happy with this time? Well, the short answer is heck yes. That was a really long and challenging run for me, and I was so happy that I still had energy and a smile on my face right up to the finish line. I can sincerely say I enjoyed myself and had fun. Looking at times from previous years, I guessed I’d roll in somewhere around 3:30, so 3:42 wasn’t horribly far off. It put me towards the back of the pack (83/104 overall, 45/61 for women), but that didn’t really bother me.

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Photo: Rob Shaer

Sometimes I wonder if writing race recaps as a slower person is a reasonable thing to do. To be honest, it can feel like the accomplishment of running the race isn’t as worthwhile as the accomplishment of the person who came 1st or 15th or whatever. But then I remember that I ran the exact same kilometers as they did – my feet ran (or, let’s be real, sometimes walked) the same terrain theirs did. There’s no shame in being on the slower side, right? I’m on the slower side of a group of people who feel like running ~23k of tough terrain is a reasonable thing to do on a Saturday morning. That’s a good group to be part of, no matter where you finish in the pack.

(Email me for my rates as a motivational speaker).

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Best. Finish. Line. Snacks. Ever.

The finish line was DOPE! Here is why:

  • It finished outside the Nick North clubhouse. Classy!
  • Finishers got this super rad Helly Hansen hat that makes me feel 33% cooler than I actually am.
  • FINISH LINE FOOD. ICED CINNAMON BUNS FROM HOT BUNS. NEED I SAY MORE?
  • I won a draw prize – a Helly Hansen base layer top. Winning is the best.
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#Winning

I feel pretty confident in saying that I will be running this race again next year. Goal: have as much fun as I did this year.

Race Report: MEC Lower Mainland Trail Race Three, 15K

The MEC Lower Mainland Trail Race (the third in its series) was a somewhat impulsive addition to my spring and summer racing schedule. When I heard about it, three things made me want to sign up:

  • At 15k, it was just the right distance for an achievable challenge (there’s also a 55k course) a week ahead of the Comfortably Numb race (which appears to be somewhere between 23 and 25k).
  • I thought it would be fun to run in West Vancouver, for a change of pace.
  • It only cost $15 to run.

Sunday morning, I made the easy drive down to Ambleside Park, picked up my bib, and ran my little heart out.

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The perfect place to shake off pre-race jitters.

I was not familiar with the course at all. I’ve never run any trails in West Vancouver. I’d looked at the map on the website, and it appeared to be an out and back with a little loop about halfway through the course. The elevation didn’t seem too crazy, though all those ups and downs supposedly summed to a total of 693m up and 695m down (my RunKeeper app pegged it at 412m up, but I don’t know if I trust it entirely.) As you can see, it looks like the first half of the race goes up-ish, while the second half goes down-ish.

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Based on this information, I came up with a strategy of starting slow and mellow in the first half, then exploding back through the downhills of the second half.

I seeded myself towards the mid-back of the group at the start line, which meant I couldn’t really hear the announcements that were made. I caught that we were to follow the yellow flags, then I crossed my fingers and hoped that the trail would be well marked. Thankfully, it was, and they had course marshals pointing the way at key zones – though most of the course was pretty straight, so it would’ve been hard to get lost.

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Views from the Start Line

We were off.

I quickly threw my strategy out the window, because I didn’t really know how to execute it. Instead, I just aimed to run it like one of my regular runs: walk the longer or steeper uphills, run the flat bits, and book it on the downhills. It turns out that my strategy didn’t really come into play until a few km into the run, because the first part of the course was very flat – a mix between roads, paved trails, and gravelly stuff. There was a small section in some pretty mellow trails, then we were spit out onto a non-technical trail that reminded me a bit of Jack’s: long, straight, and just slightly uphill (enough to make it not that enjoyable).

Meanwhile, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was starting to get hungry. Breakfast from 3 hours ago wasn’t cutting it, so I decided to eat my beloved Kewaza ball pretty early in the race (maybe 4-5k in). No regrets there.

I eventually got into the heart of the trails, which I found to be very non-technical – no roots, rocks, or Squamish-y elements – and nicely rolling. There were a few short ups that I walked, but mostly it was very runnable and actually quite fun, with lots of bridges. It wasn’t until about halfway into the race that things started to get hilly – but when they did, they went VERY hilly. I can’t remember exactly how it went – I think it was long hill up, loop, run down that hill, up another REALLY LONG HILL, then back down again. Because the trails weren’t too technical, they were very easy (and fun) to run down. A few people passed me on the ups, but I gained on a few on the downs.

I also gained a bit of time at the aid station. It seemed like most people stopped there, but I BYOed fuel. This was kind of nice because I was now running around different people. One of the things about races that I can’t really “train” for in my runs is the mental aspect of racing against other people. It’s really hard not to compare yourself to others – to try to match Person A’s pace, or pass Person B, or not let Person C’s heavy breathing behind you get to you. The comparisons didn’t stop, but it was nice for Persons A, B, and C to have different faces.

The run back was nice because I knew what to expect, since it was the same as the run out. As always, I felt challenged by the balance of running fast without burning out too soon. Has anyone mastered this? Can you tell me the secret?

We got back to the road/paved/mellow part of the course around KM 12. I was really putting a lot of effort into running – I didn’t feel like I was spent or anything – but other people had more gas in the tank, and people started passing me. By now, we were pretty spaced out, but I would still guess that 8-12 people passed me between KMs 12-14 (some were in pairs). It’s so hard not to get discouraged by this.

Then, with about 1k left in the race, I got pooed on by a bird! I can only remember this happening once before in my life. Luckily (?), it got my bare arm, so I just had to kind of scrape it along the grass – but the gross feeling lingered. They say that getting bird pooed is lucky, and I actually didn’t get passed at all between the poo incident and the finish line.

Speaking of the finish line, it was a horrible tease – I could see the MEC arch in the distance but it looked like a mirage. It didn’t seem to get any closer. And yet, eventually, it came. I ran through the finish line, straight to the bathroom to soap up my arm.

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The start/finish zone

The night before the race, I decided to check out last year’s finish times to try to set a time goal for myself. Last year, the fastest woman finished in a most impressive 1:12:20. The slowest few were 2:44, and the median was 1:45:46. Most women seemed to finish between 1:30 and 2:00, so I set a goal to finish sometime in there – I definitely wanted to duck in before the 2:00 point.

So How Did I Do?

My final time was 1:47:41 – exactly where I hoped to finish! That put me 51/109 for the women in this year’s race, and 13/31 for my age group. I’m actually very happy about this – for me to be on the slightly faster side of average is great! I’m in awe of the first place woman who ran the course in 1:13:39 (I can’t run 15k on the ROAD that fast!).

Here are my splits, for those who care (a.k.a. me when I run this again next year):

  1. 6:04
  2. 6:11
  3. 6:35
  4. 6:35
  5. 7:47
  6. 7:58
  7. 7:39
  8. 10:23 (this is where the massive uphill was)
  9. 6:19 (and this is where we got to run down it)
  10. 7:36
  11. 8:11
  12. 5:48
  13. 6:46
  14. 6:24
  15. 6:17 (bird poo power)
  16. 5.52 for the last little bit.

Woods Explorer Stories: Northwest Territories Nostaglia

It’s been a little while since I posted about our Woods Explorer adventures. Let’s change that.

(If you’re new around here, the Cole’s notes version is that Cedric and I were hired to do a five month hiking trip across Canada a few years back – start here, then check out some of my other stories from the trails.)

The time has finally come to talk about our time in the Northwest Territories – which is where we found ourselves on the 11th leg of our trip.

It’s hard to find the words to describe our time in the NWT. Cedric says it’s his favourite leg, but I wouldn’t say it was my favourite (that honour goes to Quetico). I would, however, say that it had the most impact on me. It was a leg that opened my eyes a little wider, that tested me a little harder, and that allowed me to feel very connected to my country.

It was a life changer, folks.

So life changing that I’m probably going to take a few blog posts to sort through all of my Northwesterly thoughts, feelings, and memories. Bear with me.

Our mission in the Northwest Territories was straightforward: paddle the Mackenzie River. Not the entire thing (which is doable, but requires a few months – we only had a week and a bit), but the section between Fort Providence and Fort Simpson.

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It looks so deceivingly simple…

We flew into Hay River, where we rented a canoe from a company called Canoe North. They’re a great resource and the owner’s daughter wrote a really good guide book that quickly became our favourite book on this trip. The folks at Canoe North drove us all the way out to Fort Providence, dropped us off at the boat launch, and bid us adieu.

We looked out at the Mackenzie River, which was simply huge. Looking at the land on the other side, it felt more like we were looking across a lake than a river. On this particular day, the water was looking pretty angry. It was very overcast, there was lots of winds, and the water was rough and full of white caps.

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How I spent my summer vacation! (PS – this is from later in the day and the water doesn’t look sketchy, but I promise, it was!)

Our trip included a few buffer days to account for weather, so we decided to delay our start until the winds died down a little. The only problem was that we had no idea what to do. We were at a boat launch with barrels full of stuff and no idea where the town itself was. Then, it started to rain.

Just as we were trying to figure out what to do, a truck rolled up. Two people were checking in on their boat to make sure it was still in one piece. “You’re not going out in this weather, are you?”, asked the lady. They offered us a ride into the main part of town, even though we didn’t know exactly where we were going.

We loaded our gear into the truck and the strangers drove us to a hotel – the only one in town, I’m pretty sure. We thanked them, unloaded our stuff, and headed inside to figure out our next steps. I sat by our stuff while Cedric headed in to get some direction from the hotel staff. The hotel didn’t look like much to write home about, but the nightly rate rivaled the Fairmont in Whistler – yikes. After asking about other lodging options, we were told there was a campground just outside of town. We asked how far, and the lady at the front desk said it was too far to walk – especially with all our gear. She gave Cedric the phone number of the only taxi driver in town. Cedric promptly phoned, and the driver told him that he was in Hay River for a few days. Now what?

I stayed at the hotel with our stuff while Cedric crossed the street to a little restaurant. When he came back out, he told me he’d found us a ride. Two girls and a guy, around our age, came out and helped us load our stuff into their van.

If I remember correctly, they were all from Yellowknife, and they were taking part in a program that went to small communities around the province and organized activities for the local youth. They were really kind, and after we dropped our stuff off at the rainy campsite, they invited us to come back to the restaurant with them to play a few rounds of cards.

We played cards for a little while, then someone mentioned that they wanted to check out a little store nearby. We entered through the workshop, where a few people were working in front of sewing machines making gorgeous fur products. In another room, all the merchandise was on display. I’m not usually much of a fur person, but I have to tell you – it’s a lot different seeing it on display in a small town in the NWT with the artisans in the room next to you than it is, say, at the frou-frou Snowflake store in the Fairmont Chateau. I touched the softest mittens on earth and contemplated buying some knit hats and headbands, except I knew they’d probably get very dirty throughout our canoe trip.

My favourite part of the store was a rack of damaged beaver pelts. The damage was minimal in some of them – maybe a little hole or two – and it was only $40-$80 for an entire pelt. (The mittens were like, $300, to put that into perspective). The guy from the group we met ended up buying one with intentions to sew his own mittens out of it.

Eventually, they drove us back to our campsite and said goodbye. NOW HERE’S A CRAZY STORY – a few weeks later, we were in a parking lot in Canmore, Alberta AND WE SAW THE GUY FROM THE GROUP WHO’D BOUGHT THE BEAVER! Can you believe it?! Woods Canada magic!

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Sunrise at our camp the next morning

We spent a quiet night at the camp and crossed our fingers that when we woke up in the morning, the river would be calm and the wind, non-existent. Story to be continued…

Volunteering at Survival of the Fittest (i.e., An Excuse to Write a Running Post)

Baking bread is not the only thing I do in my spare time – but you wouldn’t know that by looking at my blog. To balance things out a little, I figure I’m due to write another post about running.

Upcoming Races

I got a little caught up in recovering from my sprained ankle and diving into a short but sweet training session for the Loop the Lakes 21k – and I kind of forgot I have another race that just so happens to be in TWO SHORT WEEKS! How did that happen?! I haven’t done a lot of longer runs lately, so I’ll try to squeeze a few in the coming week so I’m not totally in over my head for the Comfortably Numb Trail Race on June 10.

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Views from a lookout on a recent run with the Timber and Tor running groups at Capra

I’m also planning on running a smaller (I think – I don’t know much about it) 15k trail run in West Vancouver next weekend. I haven’t registered for it yet and I haven’t look too much into it, but it sounds like a fun thing to do… so why not, right?

Volunteering

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Views from bib pick up – what what!

The good news is that I’m doing plenty of race day mentality training by volunteering at the local races. This weekend, I volunteered at Survival of the Fittest (part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series), which took place right here in Squamish. I had some pretty glamorous volunteer roles: bib pick up and timing.

I’m not being sarcastic – these roles are way cooler than marshaling. First of all, there’s lots of action. I was right at the start/finish, which was pretty exciting. It dawned on me that I’d never actually been around the finish line when the winners run through it – I’m always rolling in waaaaaay later. It turns out, there are no fireworks – it’s actually a little bit quiet for the first few finishers just because there aren’t as many people hanging around yet. The buzz really starts when a few dozen people have already crossed the finish line.

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A mediocre photo of the not mediocre view at the end of the race

Next weekend, I’ll be volunteering at the Be Fearless race around Alice Lake/Quest University (it’s a long one – 11k, 21k, or 42k). I’ll be doing my thing as course marshal. I think I need to find a cowbell.

Current Plans

Current plans: keep on running. Don’t die at Comfortably Numb. Keep all toenails.

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(I’ve never actually lost a toenail. I think it’s because I trim my nails a lot and wear shoes that fit properly.)

Race Report: The Whistler Valley Trail Run at GO Fest

When I moved to Whistler back in 2012, the May long weekend was notorious for being a total gong show. High school seniors from the city (more accurately, the city’s suburbs) would come up and let loose, causing chaos around town that ranged from mild but annoying (pulling up freshly planted tulips on municipal grounds) to intense and devastating (stabbing one another to death).

However, over the past few years, the town has rallied together to make the weekend more family friendly and less, well, murdery, through GO Fest, i.e. the Great Outdoors Festival.

One of the activities during this year’s GO Fest was the Whistler Valley Trail Run. This is a small, community-oriented 5k and 10k race through the trails of Lost Lake. The race has been going on for something like 26 years, but I think this is the first time it’s been part of GO Fest.

I actually ran the race back in 2013. At the time, I wasn’t much of a trail runner, but I did like to get out and run the roads. I remember that at about 5 different points in the course, I thought I was rounding the final corner – but the course just kept on going and going. I ended up finishing in 57:14, which placed me at 27/51 overall and 14/31 in the women’s category.

The course has changed a little since I ran it in 2013, but I wanted to see if I could beat my time from four years ago. On the one hand, I am now used to running much more technical trails and for longer distances. The trails on this particular run are green and not very technical, so I was hoping they’d feel easy. On the other hand, I’m used to pacing myself and walking on uphills – not charging through as fast as I can, as I had been back in 2013.

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The morning was perfect: sunny and not too warm yet. A small crew gathered in Ross Rebagliati Park in the heart of Whistler, and then we were off.

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Unlike my race last weekend, I was running this one solo. For some reason, I felt kind of nervous – and the feeling lasted all the way through to the end of the race. I was even nervous crossing the finish line. Why?!?!

The first 2.5 k were pretty low key on a wide, relatively flat trail along Lost Lake. I tried not to book it because I knew it was still early in the race. Then, the 5k runners split off and the 10k runners ran some more mellow trails to the turnaround point by the disc golf course. The course was very well marked with pink ribbon flags and volunteers at key intersections.

After we hit the disc golf course, the trails got narrower and a little more fun to run. The third quarter of the race varied between flat and gentle (totally runnable) uphills, then it was flat and downhill for the last few k.

My goal was to run as quickly and consistently as I could without burning myself out. I haven’t actually tried to run 10k fast and non-stop since my marathon training last summer/fall, but I have done some speed type workouts on the treadmill, so I was hoping that would sustain me. I tried channeling my competitive spirit, which is virtually non-existent because I am a very non-competitive person. I had a little back and forth going with another girl – she was faster on the uphills, but I had her beat on the downhills. I had a bit of a lead on her towards the end, but the course took us slightly uphill back to the finish and she passed me within the last 500m. She ended up beating me by 11 seconds.

But my real competition wasn’t with the random girl – it was against myself, circa 2013. DID I DO IT?

No – I crossed the finish line in 59:56.8, putting me at 30/43 overall and 18/25 women. Although it was satisfying to have sneaked in under the one hour mark, I was disappointed at having run the race almost 3 minutes slower than I had four years back. But I really did give it my all, and I felt totally spent at the end. My legs are even a little sore today!

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Found some friends at the start line!

Now I have some motivation to pick up my legs a little faster on my trail runs. 2018 Magee is going to come back with a vengeance – I feel it.

The Lakes Have Been Looped: Race Recap of Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

Woohoo! I did it!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in November, I had no idea what I was in for. A long, snowy winter; an ankle sprain leading to a 6 week running hiatus; a 5 week period to get on my feet and train for my first trail half marathon. But everything came together and I had such a wonderful race day.

In the week leading up to the race, the forecast called for a rainy day, which wasn’t ideal but hey – a little rain has never stopped me before. Miraculously, race day ended up being my dream running weather: cool, but warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt, and party cloudy.

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We rolled into Alice Lake around 7:30, and there was heaps of parking (always a mild concern at Alice Lake). The race started at 8, so I got my bib and my sweet swag (a Run Squamish hat that I am currently wearing) and sat in the sun doing my pre-run ankle warm up moves. Super cool. You needed photo ID to pick up your bib, which I didn’t know – luckily, they accepted my Facebook profile as ID. The future is now!

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Just before 8, I joined the small mass of people at the starting line and saw my running buddy, Olivia. Olivia and I have run a couple of times together at the Capra group runs and agreed to run this race together. It was her first trail race – she only started running six months ago, which amazes me. In the past few weeks, I have been so concerned that I would slow her down, but in the end we were a perfect pair.

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The race started and everyone took off – FAST! The Loop the Lakes race has 3 distances: 21k, 15k, and 8k. It dawned on me that most of the serious/fast long distance trail runners in this race would probably opt for the longest distance, which meant that we were up against some speedy folks. Luckily, neither of us really cared about where we placed, so we started off towards the back of the pack and let everyone else run ahead.

I can’t really give a play-by-play of what happened, because we chatted the whole entire time and so I wasn’t focusing much on the race itself. It was wonderful. I thought I was going to walk every single uphill on the course, but I actually found myself tackling some of the easier ones because I was so lost in conversation. The first loop of the Four Lakes trail went swimmingly, and before I knew it we were an Mike’s Loop and then on to Entrails.

Things were really going in fast motion from here. Entrails felt way quicker than it did when I ran it on my own, as did Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. From there, we took a detour to Jack’s that involved going up some rocky steep zones. This was a slight energy zap, but we quickly got onto Jack’s.

Jack’s went amazingly quickly. I was really confused because the trail was looking like it does towards the end, near Alice Lake Park, but I thought there was no way we were already that far. I even asked Olivia if she was sure we were on Jack’s. I didn’t notice my usual landmarks (like seeing Credit Line and 50 Shades along the way). I honestly couldn’t believe it when we were spat out at Alice Lake. We only had one more loop to go and we’d be done.

The last loop was a little tougher – it was weird because we were now running against the grain for those doing the 8k, like salmon swimming upstream. Olivia’s legs were starting to feel it, so I blabbered on with stories to keep us distracted. We finally crossed over from the Stump Lake side over to the Alice Lake side, and for a brief moment, I thought we still had a lap around Alice Lake to complete – but I was just confused (again) and the finish line was actually right in front of us.

I had NO idea how long this race would take me. My road half marathon times have ranged from about 1:56 – 2:10 (minus the Fail Race), but that definitely doesn’t translate into trail running times. Earlier in the week, I ran 18k in 2:45, so I though the very fastest I could do 21k was 3 hours, probably closer to 3 and a half if the weather was iffy or if I was feeling off.

I was stoked to cross the finish line at 2:54:40. While this didn’t earn me any awards (I came 32/37 women for the 21k distance… but hey, only the fastest ladies were running this distance, right?!), it DID earn me a massive plate of nachos from the Shady Tree.

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Can we talk about these ‘chos for a second? The only time I’ve had them before was after my marathon. I remembered them being amazing, but I wasn’t sure if that was just because I was so exhausted from the marathon. I can now confirm that they really ARE amazing. In my opinion, NOWHERE in Whistler makes good nachos. The Shady Tree has it dialed in: the ingredients are real/delicious; they’re layering skills are impeccable; and they have a tortilla at the bottom to catch all excess toppings. I call this the nacho triple threat. Squamish clearly has Whistler beat in the nacho department.

I finished this race feeling pretty strong – my legs felt (and still feel) really good, we ran at a super mellow pace (very much conversational), my spirits were high the entire time, and I did not have a single ankle problem. I’m very excited to run my other races now – I think I can step it up and challenge myself a little more by faster and maybe working on hills, now that I know I can handle the distance. As long as I continue to feel healthy (touch wood), I think this will be a very fun summer of running.

I ended up signing up for a shorter (10k) trail run around Lost Lake in Whistler next weekend, so that might be a fun distance to try to speed things up a bit. For now, I’ll wear my Run Squamish hat and bask in the post race glory. Ahhh.