Raid Gaspesie 2019 - Down The Creek With A Paddle
Day one of the Raid International 2019 started cold and crisp, with racers and support crews huddled in down jackets as they went through their last minute kit checks. Starting in Matapedia, the best part of an hour from 'race base' in Carleton-sur-Mer, it had been an early up-and-out for everyone, with a couple of the hotels (including the one the Journalists are in) offering a special 5am breakfast so everyone could be fed and watered before they left.
Once the teams were ready and prepped, everyone hiked up a small but steep path to the Deux-Rivieres lookout, an architectural sculpture piece overlooking the confluence of the Matapedia and Restigouche rivers, where the race would start from. After lining up within the lookout, and starting with a quick lap around it, the teams then dropped back down to the transition area and started a short rogaine section to split the pack up. While the furthest CP was less than 1km from the transition, it was also 150m ascent above it, so there was a procession of already-slightly-weary racers trampin up the hillside to collect that one.
Back in the transition area, the first teams collected their canoes and started the long paddle downriver, with a close fight between the three lead 300km team - O’Bugey Raid Kigau from France, Sani-Sable L.B Inc from Canada and Brou Aventuras from Brazil, though there were many shout from spectators to the Brazilians as they paddled the first 50 metres sat facing the wrong way in the boat with the 'front' sloughing into the water. Fortunately, they were just making a short ferry to a gravel bar and then portaging across to get into a faster flowing channel, so the error was corrected quickly
This 20km of paddling, mainly on the slow-flowing Restigouche, took up a good percentage of the day, broken up by some checkpoints on islands and on the southern bank of the river, with some teams hauling their boats a good way on land to get to the CPs and others dropping them as soon as they got on to the shore - whether this was tactical or just differing interpretations of the road book, I'm not sure, but when I queried it with the course planner, his view was "It says it's a canoe stage, but it doesn't say it's mandatory to take the canoe to the CP".
Once they'd finished the paddle and come ashore, the teams transitioned to bikes briefly, with the 300km racers riding to a non-assisted bike drop for another short steep trekking section, with access to two CPs on the loop listed as 'bushwhack', which seemed accurate. The lead teams are obviously put at a disadvantage in these sections, as there is literally no trail for the leader to follow, but they create one for the followers.
The navigation for this section was also awkward, with the second and third CPs being on steep ground and in thick pine forest, making the point easy to overshoot. The 150km teams sounded glad to be dropping this section as they rode straight to the main transition and started a slightly simpler trek up through a small riverside trail up a valley, with the next navigational requirement being to follow the stream once the trail ran out.
Once they made the next transition, the day's adrenaline activity appeared. Picking up a harness, helmet and wetsuit, the team made their way by bike to a secondary transition and the Lac des Capucins and a zipline from a sturdy tree platform out to a pontoon in the lake. The competition and betting amongst the staff seemed to be on which racers could get their body position right to 'skim' themselves closest to the pontoon; no-one quite made it, but a handful got two or three bounces.
After that, more biking to other river and lake-side CPs, a quick wade out into a crystal clear mountain stream, and a brief stop at a picnic table overlooking a beautiful blue lake, before the 300km racers headed on to get their fill of fresh apple juice at an amazing local orchard, before more technical steep mountain biking through ski pistes and ATV trails, before heading down to the main road bridge over the Restigouche between Campbellton, New Brunswick and Pointe-a-la-Croix, Quebec. Here, below the metal bridge, they boarded their canoes again for a final paddle upstream to the Mi'gmaq Pow Wow ground at Listuguj, where they would finish and camp.
The top three in the 300km race had shifted over the day, with the Brazilians dropping some places on the canoe, only to regain them on the bike, so ended as the first kayak started, with O'Bugey Raid first, Sani-Sable second and Brou Aventuras third. Ahead of all of them at the finish were the first three 150km teams: Pabok, a Gaspesian team, first; MONDIAS Natural Team in second, and the team from Volkswagen and Kia New Richmond third.
Of course, the RiG wouldn't be the RiG without something to do in the evening, and this was gratiously provided by the Mi'gmaq hosts of the first night camp, with welcome speeches and songs by Elders and the First Nation's Chief, drumming and singing by the Spirit Bear drum group, and traditional dances by two of the Nation's members, followed by a campfire and some presentations later into the evening. Hopefully not too late, though, tomorrow is another race day ...