More than 360 people were in Falcon Lake last weekend to take on a rugged trek that involved paddling, biking, hiking, and a whole lot of navigating through the wilderness. This trek is also known as Swamp Donkey, North America’s largest adventure race. Last Saturday 121 teams of three spent a full day canoeing, cycling, and bush-whacking through the back woods of Falcon Lake and High Lake. Swamp Donkey participant Warren Blunt shares his story about slogging his way to the finish line:
The morning dawned clear and cold as racers began to show up to the Falcon Lake Community Centre at the wonderful hour of 6:00 a.m. Having not registered the night before, there was plenty of running around to do. I could see frost on the ground as the racers convened on the behind the Falcon Beach School for the roll-call, which always promises to feature funny (and sometimes even cheeky) team names.
This was the first time that the race started with the bike portion which got underway by 9:00 a.m. I couldn’t help but miss the ceremonial bagpipes to signify the start of the 2012 race, but I digress. Having never started off with the bike portion before, it presented some its own set of challenges. Solid traffic from over 360 cyclists made it difficult to get separation, especially when fear of crossing the dividing line of the road meant disqualification (admittedly, I pushed that rule as far as it would bend). Getting ahead on the narrow (but gorgeous) trail following the southern shore of Falcon lake was even more difficult.
Eventually we made it to the High Lake cabins, where we happened upon mass confusion in trying to find the first check-point, which was supposed to be located at one of the cabins. It turns out, the ‘cabin’ was a mere shack just off the main path, and was not one of the fancy eco-cabins. Several racers that I had talked to after the race had made that mistake, apparently to the ire of the tenants. All the more reason to be on our merry way down the Red-Green trail and to the Falcon Trails Resort, where our canoe was waiting for us.
Upon piling into our canoe, the lack of practice this year (new team compared to last year) almost proved our downfall, and we had to adjust on the fly to avoid going for a swim. Although despite the cold start, that idea was most appealing at this point. We reached the portage to High Lake, only to get into my first ever portage traffic jam. After what seemed ages, we finally launched our canoe into High Lake probably 25 minutes later. Our next destination was the north shore, where we struck out on foot looking for out next checkpoints. After some confusion, we made it back to the canoe in time to qualify for the next portion of the race , which took us to the eastern end of High Lake, now well into Ontario. This was, without question in my mind, the most difficult part of the race. These check points were located in unbelievably thick brush that made for very slow and tiresome work. We were able to find check points five and six before getting concerned about being able to get out of there on time. Rumour has it, however, that you had to go for a swim to get to the seventh check point, darn!
We returned to our canoe at 4:00 p.m., and set off to reach the portage on the opposite end of the lake. Struggling hard to keep up with the light, fiberglass racing canoes in our aluminum tub, we made the other end of the lake in just under an hour. After the portage we were heading back across Falcon Lake to the ski hill to get on our bikes and boot it back to the Community Centre before the 6:00 p.m. deadline. For the sake of time, we decided not to bother with the final two check points but we were able to (painfully) make it back to the townsite with about 10 minutes to spare, 55-kilometres later. The banner at the end of the race was a very welcome site to behold.