Hard to believe that just over a week ago, I was crashing through thick bush, sludging through swamps up to chest deep and having a permanent imprint of a bike seat left on my bony rear end.
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how to recap this type of adventure because so much of it defies words and explanation. But I’ll try.
The premise of Swamp Donkey is that you spend up to 9 hours (max time) out in the bush of Falcon Lake, Manitoba. You trek, you bike and you canoe (not necessarily in that order or for only one leg of the course) your way through a relatively unknown course. You’re armed with a compass, a topographic map and coordinates to check-points and you have to navigate your way to the end, gathering up as many checkpoints as you can along the way. No phones, no GPS, no tech. Just you, 2 partners, some guts and in the end, hopefully some glory.
Thankfully, for my first go at this race, I had an experienced team, particularly in orienteering, which is good or I’d still be out there somewhere waiting to be rescued.
Our day started out early. 5am wake up so we could get to our meeting place to get our coordinates for where we needed to go during the day. Up to that point, all we had was a map that we’d received the night before and a few hints based on where we left our bikes and canoes. We didn’t know exactly where we’d be starting or if we’d be on foot, bike or on the water. Crazy!
After we got our info, we had just over an hour to plot out as many check-points as we could and figure out a plan of attack and how much ground we felt we could reasonably cover in each discipline. We now knew that we’d be starting on foot, then biking, then canoeing and walking/running (or that’s what we thought at the time).
There’s not much I can really say about all those hours. You’re in the bush, overrun with bugs, trees, water and you’re trusting that the points you plotted are accurate and leading you to that beautiful orange flag at a check-point. We got lost, back-tracked, doubted and then rejoiced when we found what we were looking for.
By far…by FAR the hardest part of the day was the bike. I am a very inexperienced biker and was so nervous about this going into the day. Mountain biking is not something I’ve ever done so I was terrified that I would slow us down, fall and break my face a few times before the day was done. The 3 inches of rain that poured the night before didn’t help. The technical section, I essentially walked/carried my bike through. The rock face was so slippery, the mud was hard to get through and it was just faster. I wish I would have been able to do some of it on the bike (or been braver and tried) but I didn’t. After a couple of miles on technical trail, we came to a different road and spent the next 500 years going up and down hills through thick, wet sand. It was not fun. There were many, many moments where I wondered what I was thinking. My legs were cramping and it was as much a mental struggle as physical.
Eventually (3.5 hours later), we finished on the bike and made the transition to our canoe. I was so happy to be done on the bike. If I hadn’t borrowed the bike shorts I was wearing, I probably would have burnt them on the spot.
By this point, we knew that if we wanted to finish the race, we had to skip all the check-points on the canoe leg and hope we crossed the line before the 9 hour cut-off point. Once off the boat, we knew we still had a good amount of ground to cover and we were spent already. So we made our decision, risking a possible DQ for missing at least one mandatory check point and made our way across the lake.
About halfway through, we saw a boat go past, heading toward our next transition stop carrying….our bikes. So we knew we had another portion of biking to do. I died a little on the inside. Not only was I so done biking, but there was no way I was going to get those bike shorts on again. They were muddy and sandy and stuffed into my pack.
And sure enough, back to the bike we went. We had less than one hour to finish. The race was on!
After mis-interpreting our map and going to the wrong location looking for the finish, we finally crossed the finish line with less than 3 minutes to spare.
We did it.
We were exhausted.
I wanted to eat all the things and drink all the beer. Gluten be damned!
This was one of the most grueling things I have ever done and in the last couple of years, I’ve definitely stepped out of my comfort zone to try new challenges. At the time, there was no way I’d ever do that again. But I’ve since changed my mind. I think I’d do it again. Not sure when, but I’m sure that wasn’t my last Swamp Donkey.
Thanks for a great weekend, an amazing challenge and an equally stellar team! Team Cirque de Sore Legs lived up to it’s name! How I managed to wake up the next day with zero sore muscles is beyond me. But I’ll take it!
So if you’re looking for a navigationally-challenged, semi-competitive, mediocre biker with a funny canoe stroke…gimme a call. I’m pretty sure I’ll be available 🙂