P17 (Wakefield)>#53 extended>#50 from P19>#36>P11>#36>Fortune Parkway>Champlain Parkway>Gatineau Parkway>#26>P2 - 51 km, 840 metres ascent, 5 hours 30 mins including 2 mins stops.
First of all, the previous evening, a visit to a school in Mont-Bleu, in French speaking Gatineau, is required in order to pick up bibs and timing chips. We obtained entry from a car park by a back door and joined a long queue, armed with our confirmatory emails. After half an hour in the queue, and after being queue jumped by a French group, we reached a desk where we were officiously informed that we must supply our bib numbers in order to receive our 'envelopes'. The bib numbers were on display about a metre to our left over a low barrier, thus easily accessible to the man who was demanding that we leave the queue to get our numbers and rejoin it at the back. He who had been quite happy to serve the people who pushed in front of us. We refused to move and eventually got our envelopes, which were supposed to come with a 'goody' (a hat) that the man serving us deliberately failed to hand to us. Luckily we saw that everyone else was getting one and eventually we managed to escape with hats and envelopes. We could easily have missed another desk where you have to scan your timing chip in order to 'register'.
Altogether an unnecessarily stressful hour that we really needed to prepare our skis.
Stage 2 of our preparation was a pasta supper, prepared by Helen (not doing the loppet) aided by Sue (I collected her envelope) with rather greater efficiency than the shambles at the high school where we hadn't had time to look at the Expo stands, other than to take note of waxing advice for the following day.
Stage 3 involved the waxing of skis. Susan was using waxless skis so just needed the tips and tails preparing with glide wax - a fairly quick job. Sue and I skipped this bit of preparation as our tips and tails looked OK, and the waxing of the main wax 'pocket' - the central part of the ski - was more important.
Ken is an expert at this task and sorted out our waxing before tackling his own, with Sue and me acting as 'commis' waxers. The race day temperature was expected to rise from about minus 18°C to not much below freezing, on a sunny day, making waxing a complex process. The outer layer needed to be quite hard (blue) for the cold start. Underneath that, a layer of violet wax would be more suitable for the warmer conditions that would prevail after the blue wore off. As a base, horribly sticky klister wax would allow the skis to grip on the warm afternoon when the violet wax had worn off. So the three waxes were applied in reverse order, each needing to be rubbed in and cooled outside before the next layer was added.
Meanwhile, Shane and Stephen needed to do little by way of preparation at Lester and Lynette's B&B as they both have smart new waxless skis with 'skins' - a mohair grip zone. Such skis have improved a lot and have become more sophisticated since we bought our waxing skis.
The planned early night didn't quite come off, especially for Ken, whose last job was to meticulously prepare his skis after everyone else had turned in.
Come Saturday morning, we were up at 5.45 am and were on our way to the Mont-Bleu school soon after 6.30 am. Skiers are taken from there to the start at P17 car park outside Wakefield in a convoy of school buses. The start takes place in five waves - A to E (based on predicted finish times) - and as usual Sue and I hung around in the warmth of the school before heading to the last of the buses. We know our place, and were joined at the start by Stephen, also setting off right at the back of the 458 (in theory, actually closer to 400) strong field.There was no wind, so despite the cold temperature we kept tolerably warm before the start, a good half hour later. There's a service for taking jackets back to the finish at Mont-Bleu school that some used, whilst Stephen and I came ready to ski.
Ken, Susan and Shane started ahead of the three of us, in earlier waves. Being at the back of the field isn't bad. There weren't too many in the 'E' wave. "These are the people who haven't done any training" observed the announcer. The multiple start lanes soon reduced to three and everyone was pretty polite. Sue, Stephen and I skied pretty much together, catching up with Shane around the 32 km point at P11. Here Sue stopped to have her skis waxed and achieved the pay off for that by passing me some time later along Champlain Parkway. She soon then caught up with Stephen and skied with him to the end, just behind Shane and just ahead of me.
Our results are shown below, estimated in my case as my timing chip didn't work at the finish and as far as the organisers are concerned I dropped out before the end. (Not impressed.)
Ken: Position 300/458, 4 hours 45 minutes, 28/43 in age category.
Susan: Position 329/458, 5 hours 4 minutes, 8/10 in age category.
Shane: Position 364/458, 5 hours 25 minutes, 36/39 in age category.
Sue: Position 365/458, 5 hours 26 minutes, 17/21 in age category.
Stephen: Position 366/458, 5 hours 26 minutes, 13/21 in age category.
Martin: Position 371/458, 5 hours 30 minutes, 22/27 in age category.
Less than 40 skiers finished behind me, so the 458 total must include nearly 50 who paid the £60 entry fee and didn't turn up.
We all reconvened in the school hall for a 'free' school dinner, and noticed Superwoman, Karen Messenger, who we met in Estonia and in Canmore last year, receiving an award (and cash) for being the second woman to finish. Her husband, Erik, was the fifth man to finish (assuming the leading men's timing chips were working). Well done to both of them.
That just about brings our Canadian skiing exploits to a conclusion for this year, with today being a chilling out day for Sue and me whilst Susan drives home to Connecticut and Ken takes part in the 51 km skate skiers' race over the same course as yesterday. He has just checked in with the news that he did that in about four and a half hours. Well done Ken!
We return home tomorrow, so don't expect much of substance on here for a few days.
Sue and Stephen are pictured before the start, and the four of us who finished more or less together are pictured at the finish.
Any more questions, Conrad?
Any more questions, Conrad?