When we ask ourselves about what cross country skiing is about, we answer that it is about adventure. It is about covering LONG distances with considerable speed over all kinds of terrain. It is about the thrill of not knowing exactly what to expect. It is about adversity and exhilaration. It is about biting off a little bit more than you can comfortably chew, and then swallowing it whole.
This past Sunday had been earmarked for quite some time for the 3rd running of an event that is kind of a celebration of these traits. While it should have a good name like "La Grande Boucle du Park de la Gatineau", so far we normally have referred to it as the “Gatineau Park Loop”. Gatineau Park is probably about as good a setting as you could find in the world for an outing like this.
This event was the idea of Steve Paradine of Nakkertok, who (bless his soul) concocted it 11 years ago. The concept, which has many redeeming features, is to ski what is essentially the longest sensible loop of Gatineau Park possible. The start is at P1 Asticou. The course makes its way along the parkway to Champlain lookout, then along Ridge Road to just past McKinstry cabin. The unofficial Trail number 10 takes you to the Lusk Lake area. From there the route proceeds to take the perimeter of the Lac Philippe trail system, passing Taylor Lake and P19. From P19 it continues via the longest route to Wakefield and P17. From there it ascends the serious pitches of trail 52, and following that past Herridge shelter and on to O’Brien beach. The “home stretch” takes you up Fortune, along Ridge Road, down Penguin, and back along the parkway to Asticou. Along the way, virtually every type of skiing is encountered: fast and immaculate parkway, wild and wooly backcountry, soul-sucking climbs, screaming downhills, open fields, and even some open stream crossings.
While no doubt exciting, it is a long and strenuous journey under any circumstances. Each time the event has run, particular challenges have cropped up. The first time (1997) it was a semi-broken ski that had to be used all the way from Trail 10 to O’Brien beach. The second time (2005), it was a very-broken ski that eventually led to a forced abandonment by Craig Storey at P17. (Yesterday's Ski-Around the Gatineau Park)
This time, there were two major challenges. The first was the weather. Plus 14C and bright sunshine led to VERY slow conditions for much of day. The second was Trail 10, which appeared to have been part of some kind of plot to break even more equipment. Deep snow, very little traffic, and very rough terrain is pretty much the picture of that section. It took us something like 90 minutes to cover about 5km.
Generally speaking, things went smoothly, but by the time we got to P17 at around 3pm we were well into the serious fatigue and the accompanying trance-like mental state. By the time we got to the trail 36 junction (still 7k from O’Brien), Megan said that finishing was actually feeling “unfathomable”.
At Ridge Road we were quite a little comedy. We were moving SLOWLY. At the same time, the expression on people’s faces showed an intensity of purpose that you normally would only see in the finishing stretches of an Olympic event. Finally, the temperature cooled off a bit and the tracks started to speed up for the last part of the trip down the parkway.
When we reached the blessed finish line we were almost too tired to celebrate, but we did have the presence of mind register a couple of pictures of this year's participants to complete the “before” and “after” series.
This year's incarnation of the Gatineau Park Loop was enjoyed and conquered by Megan McTavish, Justin Demers, Brian Suke, and Karl Saidla. This group worked very well as a team, skiing all together at a very steady pace all day. While everyone complained to themselves at times, nobody did so out loud. When all was said and done, we had finished skiing just under 11 hours after we had started, and covered more than 95kms. While I would hazard to guess that we won't do it every year, we just might do it again sometime.
Megan surveys one of the many hazards of treacherous Trail 10.
Send the lightest guy first...
Every technique was employed...
Karl found the knee deep water quite refreshing....
Megan and Justin kept their feet dry
Well, until the Lusk Lake water ski competitions started....
Brian sporting the new Fishcer RCS water skis.
Lunch time. These guys get their breaks paid for by the government.
Coffee break, but no Tim Horton's in sight...