Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race

3 October 2014



Words: Ico Schutte / Photos: Dave Silver


With a title like that I was sure that something nasty was in store for us. I also had a suspicion that we would need to drag mind, body and soul over a mountain at some point during our race on Saturday 20 September 2014. And so we did.

Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race

But first, let me take you back to the good times as we arrive in the quaint village of Cumberland, on Vancouver Island in BC, Canada, on the Friday night prior to the event. Race registration is in full swing at the Riding Fool Hostel and the local beer and pretzels provide perfect carbo-loading sustenance for the next day’s race. All the athletes are in high spirits and most seem quite excited for the challenges that lay ahead.

MOMAR, as the race is locally known, is a 50 km adventure race featuring paddling, mountain bike and trekking stages. As with all adventure racing, the route is mostly unmarked, making navigation a vital part of the race. It is not until race morning that athletes receive a map with checkpoints, prior to the start, and are allocated one precious hour to plot their route before setting off. For this race, they inform us that there will be five stages and in this order: paddle, trek, bike, trek and bike.

Saturday morning arrives and we must get going quickly. It's a predawn start to drop off our bikes and kayak at various locations before jumping on a bus that will take us to the start of the race at the Comox Lake. The temperature is friendly, the air still, and as if choreographed, the clouds part and the sun comes out to wish us good luck.

We set off on a 10 km paddle, the first of five legs of the race. It is a fairly straightforward paddle, with a predetermined route around the lake. Entertainment is provided by the athletes dressed up in comical outfits – clowns, jailbreakers and pirates, to name a few – all attempting to win the spirit award. Our rented kayak has a squeaky rudder and strange seating position, but an hour and eight minutes later, with cramping bum muscles and all, we arrive at T1 in eight position. Swopping lifejackets for running shoes and hydration packs, we set off on the first trekking leg.

Beautiful trails and lush green forest are the order of the day. In true adventure racing fashion something has to hit the fan. While on the trail with some other teams, a wasps' nest is disturbed and we all get a steek.

Racing with the super-strong runner Jessi Stensland, I opt to keep us on flatter but maybe longer trails, where we can use our speed to our advantage. Running hard, we keep our heads up and have a blast on the fantastic trails. The final stretch is on paved roads through the charming little town of Cumberland. While enjoying the view, we spot a coed team ahead and without words our knees drive a bit higher, the pace noticeably picking up, sprinting. We finally reach our competitors just in time to run side by side down the grassy knoll towards a field full of bikes. Super navigation and digging deep pays off, as we have passed six teams on the trek and arrive in T2 tied for first.

This brings us to the first bike leg, which also brings us to my original point that we will need to get mind, body and soul over a mountain. This section is a true test of will power and determination. The start is a long climb on a dirt road to Miners Trail, a great trail on the mountain bike IF you are going down. But we are not. We are grinding up a lung-busting, leg-pumping, hike-a-bike straight up the mountain. It is brutal. Some 45-minutes later, we come to a clearing and a beautiful little lake backdrop where a few helpful volunteers cheerfully direct us to drop our bikes before carrying on to leg four, another trekking leg.

Supplied with a new map for the trek stage, we take a moment to review it before setting off by foot. This time we are permitted to collect the checkpoints in any order, which gives us some interesting route choices with huge bushwhacking potential. We follow a small trail to the top of a hill for a checkpoint then mull over our current options. One: Go all the way back down the trail and up the same Miners Trail. Two: Bushwhack on the ridge back to the lake. Although bushwhacking is more effort and sometimes slower going, Jessi makes it clear that she’s not interested in doing the Miner’s Trail climb again. Decision made, we promptly make our way into the forest following the contour lines on the map as guidance back to the lake.

We pause to find our way for a moment and amidst the quiet, the most beautiful and unique birdsong is being sung, soothing our souls with a little serenity in the midst of the madness. We take a moment to soak up the sound before choosing a direction to head in once more.

Meeting up with a few other competitors who have the same strategy, we swiftly high-step over and around the beautiful old-growth forest features and enjoy being engulfed by all its shades of green. Finally we reach the trail. It seems we didn’t save much time as we meet up with some teams who took the up and down route, but we appreciate the fact that we've saved our legs by not having to climb or descend the steepness as much. Not to worry though because there’s still more to come.

The trail continues up the hill for quite a distance as we make our way back to the lake to be reunited with our bikes. We pass a few competitors who are still on leg two and pushing their bikes, as we had been. One guy is even pushing two. I'm so glad we have only our bodies to propel up the climb this time.

Back at the lake, we jump on our bikes for the final leg; a long but marked mountain bike leg to the finish. As we ride, it is evident that the organisers used this option to show off the vast number of spectacular trails that Cumberland has to offer. I had passed through Cumberland a couple months earlier with the BC Bike Race, so I had an idea of what to expect. However, I'm still surprised by the number, quality and difficulty of the trails. In other adventure races I've done, it seems the organisers use the bike leg to make up distance. In stark contrast, this was designed purely to give us the ride of a lifetime.

With big smiles, we make our way down trails such as Thirsty Beaver, which boasts a huge number of wooden features. We climb hard and scream down the single tracks, passing more teams and, in the final few kilometres, a coed team. We are unsure where we stand, so we continue flying to the finish as fast as our mind, body and soul will allow. It turns out the last pass was a good move because we’ve moved into second place as we cross the line. Ecstatic and all but broken, we are just over a minute ahead of third and behind a strong team of local champions, Frontrunners Nanaimo. Our total time is 6 hours and 15 minutes. Mind, body and soul satisfied.

I've had so much fun that I am tempted to do another lap on the bike route. However, my teammate talks some sense into me and we make our way to down Main Street to feed the machine with Rider's pizza and local brews.

MOMAR is a race that keeps on giving. The awards ceremony is hosted by Mt. Washington Alpine Resort and we are treated to a fantastic meal and an even better after-party, including live music and dancing at Fat Teddy’s.

My body is over the mountain and my mind definitely wants to go back!

More information
For full results and more info see www.mindovermountain.com.

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