Expedition Canada attracted international teams from 7 different nations to the town of Kelowna in British Columbia, Canada, for the 5th event in the 2022 Adventure Racing World Series.
After staging a Demonstration Race last year, the event stepped up to full AR World Series membership this year, with the race taking place from June 5th– 11th in the mountains of the Okanagan region.
Organised by the Hoodoo Adventure Company, from Penticton B.C., and with elite adventure racer Nathalie Long as Race Director, the race saw Canada return to the Adventure Racing World Series after a decade away.
The Canadian race, Raid the North Extreme was a founder member of the ARWS and hosted the second AR World Championship back in 2004. Expedition Canada this year took the AR World Series back to those roots, in a country which has vast expanses of wilderness and huge opportunities for expedition adventure racing.
That prospect attracted some of the best racers and teams from North America, as well as international racers, including some who raced in those early years of adventure racing.
Among them were Daniel Staudigel of the Bend Racing team, who was in his 17th ARWS race and had taken part in RTNX in BC early in his early racing career and the veteran French racer, Bruno Rey, who put together the international team, Alpha Dental. He is near to competing in 50 expedition adventure races in his 30 year racing career, and gathered a team of experienced racers from Estonia, Czechia and Canada to “promote the early-days of the adventure racing spirit all over the world.”
World Series expedition racing is not all about elite and experienced teams, however, and there were entries from new teams looking for adventure in their first expedition race.
Team No Ragrets described themselves as; “A group of athletes and friends that have always been just crazy enough to find joy in hard work and pushing our limits.” They added, “We look forward to participating in our first expedition length adventure race; with the goal of putting forth our very best effort and enjoying together a bit of suffering to reach the finish line.”
When the teams gathered for the start in Kelowna, they knew a journey of 550km, with 10,000m of climbing, lay ahead of them, with 6 days available to complete the course.
The start of the race saw teams rapidly changing between trekking, paddling, cycling and rope activities in a series of short stages (in expedition racing terms). At one point teams had to carry their bikes on Canadian canoes on Okanagan Lake and the rope activities included the highest zip line in Canada, 381 feet above the canyon floor and 1250 feet long.
Heading south into the higher hills of the Okanagan range, the course continued to offer races a varied challenge and the crux of the race was the stage 7 Alpine Trek of 54km, which included an optional orienteering stage at Apex Mountain. This allowed teams to split into pairs and they had to make strategic choices. Bend Racing was leading on arrival and they chose to send two racers to collect all of the checkpoints, while the other two slept for 5 hours.
Following the orienteering, navigation would continue to be a deciding factor on the remainder of the Alpine trek, with the change of map scales making life more difficult for those guiding their teams.
There was some deep snow on this part of the course and snowshoes were required, but Bend kept up a strong, sustained pace to reach the stage end before nightfall. Those behind them were slowed by the snow, the dark and the difficulty of direction finding, as fatigue took a toll on the second night of the race.
Chasing the leaders were Alpha Dental and the Australian team, Thought Sport & A1 and both had some challenges on the stage.
Pavel Paloncy of Alpha Dental said, “I lost one snowshoe from my backpack. I was post-holing in the snow for some time, until we finally got an idea – and used a few branches as a makeshift snowshoe. Just like the original snow-shoes. They only lasted for few kilometres, then I made another one. Another team found my snowshoe and actually made use of it as they had broken one of theirs!”
Thought Sport & A1 from Australia, were lead by Rob Preston, one of the most experienced adventure race navigators in the world, but his team struggled to find CP21. Preston said, “We tried our best to keep up with Bend Racing on the epic snow-shoeing leg, but ultimately we were happy to slip, trip and slide into second place.”
All of the teams took longer than expected in the snow, but the one which had those following the satellite tracking glued to their screens was team Brou Aventuras from Brazil. They are an experienced team, but spent 40 hours trying, and failing, to find checkpoints before retiring. “It was an amazing experience for us Brazilian guys to spend 40 hours on snow shoes,” said Jose Neto, “but we had problems with the maps and our feet. We will be back again, with a fresh approach, stronger and happier!”
In the second half of the race the course included the two longest stages. The first was a 130km cycle ride on some of the famed BC bike trails and Bend Racing were lucky to be able to continue on this stage and extend their lead.
Daniel Staudigel explained; “Adventure Racing is a really humbling sport and we nearly lost everything a few times in this race, most notably when Jean-Yves’ (Dionne) rear axle became stripped out. We were able to replace his entire bike with one that happened to be in the TA (with the Alpha Dental supporters), so it is not lost on us how close we came to going from a commanding lead to being out of the race.”
Every winning team needs luck and Bend Racing literally rode theirs. The timing favoured them too, as they completed the following pack rafting stage before nightfall, while those behind them had to stop for the night or trek along the shore.
The race was theirs to win, and with no further problems they made steady progress on the final stages to cross the finish line at the Skaha Lake Park as winners. Their race time was 73 hours 13 minutes and it was a first ARWS win for the team (and a first for Staudigel at his 17th attempt).
This year the team has raced 3 ARWS expedition races. Previously they had completed in the extreme heat of Panama, and then in the snow and cold of Expedition Oregon, where the team withdrew, and where Karine Corbeil suffered frostbite to her toes. With Staudigel, Dionne and Alexandre Provost, she was back on the team for this race and said, “An official first win on the World Series circuit! It’s a dream come true, because on my debut 5 years ago, I never thought I could play in the big arena!”
Thought Sport & A1 finished second, and Alpha Dental third. Rob Preston commented, “The course showed the best of Okanagan and we were really impressed with the biking trails, and the packraft was the fastest I’ve ever paddled.”
Bruno Rey of Alpha Dental said, “The mountain bike legs were the absolute highlights of this event and the course design provided us with magic, Disney cartoon, scenery to fill our senses with. It also challenged your endurance as the elevation gain was really demanding.” He added, “The weather was another great challenge with heavy rain, wind, dry heat and burning sun followed by wind and rain and cold.”
Most of the teams echoed those sentiments, praising the scenery and the trails, and describing the pack raft as the most memorable and exciting they’d ever completed. Many said they are looking forward to returning to B.C. to race next year.
With 6 days available to complete the route, a full course finish of an ARWS expedition race, was open to those with the endurance and determination to push on. Thirteen of the 18 teams that started Expedition Canada are now able to say they’ve accomplished that incredible achievement.
Among the finishers was the novice Ragrets team, succeeding at their first attempt, and Strong Machine Adventure Racing, who are top of the USARA rankings. Team Captain Cliff White said, “We were happy to take 6th and our first full course ARWS finish. The race was one of our favorite-ever adventure racing experiences and Kudos goes to Nathalie and Hoodoo Adventures for putting on an incredible event!”
Reflecting on a successful event, Race Director Nathalie Long said, “I am beyond happy with how the race went. Welcoming teams from around the world and having the chance to showcase some of the wildest terrain in the Okanagan was a dream come true. The support of the community and our awesome volunteers made the race a success, and we can’t wait for 2023!”