La Chute, Quebec- Feb 11 - time 0545 hr. There is light snow falling in the predawn darkness. The bus has just deposited us on a snow covered field. Our group walks to the collection of tents and vehicles which must be the the starting point . Ahead in the field a large group of skiers have already grouped . A line of red flares stretches into the distance . Suddenly the crowd lets out a loud cheer and the first wave is off. This must be the right place . I put on my my skis and follow the crowd. The 23rd annual Canadian Ski Marathon has started. My mission (which I have accepted) is to ski 80 km to Montibello today and another 89 km to Gatineau tomorrow.
Snow conditions and weather were almost perfect. We had about 10 cm of fresh snow on Fri. night and a dusting Sat night . During the days it was mostly sunny with highs near -5 c. The wind was a bit strong in some open areas. There were about 1400 skiers entered in all classes, 400 in the Coureur De Bois classes. I was in the Coureur de Bois bronze class. This is claimed to be the world's longest ski 'race' - it's a race against time- one must get to the last checkpoint by 3PM each day. The bronze entrants merely have to ski the whole distance, the silvers must carry a 5 kg pack and the golds must carry camping equipment and camp overnight. Of the 75 gold entrants 50 were repeating the adventure of previous years - one skier was camping out for the 10th time.
A bus took us on Friday night from Gatineau to the school in Papineauville where we spent 2 nights. On Saturday we awoke about 3 AM ,had breakfast , and took an hour bus ride to Lachute. We started shortly before 6 with light snow falling. In less than 30 minutes it was quite bright out. People who expected to do a lot of ski-skating had trouble due to the fresh snow but my blue wax worked perfectly. The first two checkpoints were passed without much trouble. The third section had some long uphills followed my the infamous bobsled run which was not as bad as I expected due the fresh powder snow. It was 12 noon before I started the 4th section. I had to finish the next 24 KM in less than 3 hours so it would be a tight race. I passed the half way point at about 1315 and for the first time I felt I would make it. The 3/4 point was passed before 1400 so I became quite confident. It wasn't till after 1430 that I passed the 7/8 sign and things were looking grim again. However the end was only a short distance away and I reached the checkpoint with 15 minutes to spare. The cutoff time for starting the last section is 1500 . I stocked up with cookies, drinks and headed of on the last section. For the first time it was possible to relax and just enjoy the scenery. I finished this 12 km section at about 1630 in Montibello and took the short bus ride back to the Papineauville school.
We had supper, rewaxed and went to bed early, trying to get as much sleep as possible. Sunday morning we slept in to at least 0315 since it was a shorter bus ride to the start. We had to stand around at the start for a while but it was not very cold.
The second day was supposed to be easier although it was 9 km longer. The first 2 sections were quite easy and some of the most enjoyable skiing I've ever done. Looking ahead and behind I could see a string of skiers winding across the fields as the sun was rising. What a beautiful sight! I finished the second section about 30 minutes ahead of my schedule. The overconfidence ended on the next section with some long climbs followed by downhills more treacherous than the bobsled run of Saturday. Again it was noon and I had to complete the 4th section in less than 3 hours. We had to ski along the edge of paved roads which stripped off most of my wax so I had to rewax . It isn't easy to put wax on cold, wet skis but the time I lost waxing would be less than that lost by struggling without wax. I finished with about 15 minutes to spare and stocked up on snacks for the last 19 km. The first half was very pleasant , I stopped several times in sunny meadows for snacks. A farm family was passing out cookies and juice. The last few KM we started approaching the suburbs of Gatineau and the scenery and trail wasn't that nice. There were some tricky downhills that taxed our shaky legs. I took my worst fall here. Finally, as the sun was setting over the Ottawa-Hull skyline, I could hear cheering. On top of a very steep bank there was a small crowd. With a last burst of energy I charged up the bank, crossed the road and was at the finish line.
I made it!!! 80 KM on Sat. 89 KM on Sun.. I was now a Coureur de Bois (bronze). Every muscle in my body had been pushed to the limit. Although it was an extreme test of physical endurance, I thoroughly enjoyed it ( maybe not every minute of it). Next year I am eligible for the silver class.
PS the first finisher that year ( we were all winners) was Marcel Marion, doing GOLD for the 10th time. Skiing with a heavy pack he finished at 1430- nearly 90km in 8 hrs. About half of the 400 Coureur De Bois skiers finished the 169 km.
PPS The next year I attempted the silver but didn't finish due to poor conditions, less that 25% finished that year.
Adventures on Ice and Snow with ski, skate, and kicksled