Thursday, September 06, 2007

Canada Challenge Story Part 1

Hey Gang !

Well, the Canada Challenge 3 Coasts was exactly that...a HUGE challenge ! Please keep checking daily at www.rayzahab.com on the top right corner of my homepage for the link to Canada Challenge tracker for additions to photos and video.

First of all I really want to say thank you to all of you who supported me and my team as we ran this incredible journey. There were many of you out there on the trails, in towns and on internet with kind words, and support for Spreadthenet.org

I encourage all of you who have not yet purchased your bednets to please, please go to www.spreadthenet.org and buy one ! (or two, or three...)

Also- an incredible donation to tell you about. Upon completion of the last leg- the West Coast Trail- Kathy gave me some great news. A very generous company donated $5 000 towards the purchase of bednets. Yay !!!
So...this is an official corporate challenge ! Corporate world- lets buy bednets !

Over the course of the next week I will send out two newsletters with some stories from the field. In this first email I would like to tell you about the Northern Route and my preparation for this leg of the Canada Challenge.

Preparation for an expedition like this is really complicated...so I am so-o-o thankful I had the right team helping to pull this together. First of all - thanks to Telus for making the expedition possible.
Mike Kenney of Matrix Solutions was instrumental in pulling together the logistics of the Baffin Island leg. Mike's and Matrix's expertise in the North made preparation seamless. Mike helped us prepare the route, organize travel, and he connected us with boat transfer to and from the Akshayuk Pass. First Air, the airline of the North, got us up to Baffin and back. We were so relieved to have such an experienced and reliable airline getting us around as we would have to make sure that I could get to the East Coast Trailhead in time to keep my goal of finishing all three trails in 10 days or less. There really was no room for delays or setbacks. Ken Borek flew us on the leg from Pangnirtung to Qikiktarjuaq...and of course we would run back (check route on my website!).

Gear wise- oh my gosh..tough one. First and foremost was the issue of hydration. Even in the Arctic you need to stay hydrated- you need to drink just as much- and getting water meant drinking from streams, etc. I was connected to a fellow named Andrew Moorey of globalhydration.com by my friend Joel, and Andrew explained to me that his product Aquatabs would provide all the purification I would need to ensure safe drinking water. Needless to say- I didn't get sick the entire expedition- so they worked great ! Tiny tablets that dissolve into my water- and the water is ready in minutes for drinking. I needed something easy and reliable, so Aquatabs fit the bill. Now I would have clean water- and in order to stay hydrated and consume the easiest calories possible I used Gatorade Endurance formula. Gatorade got us across the entire Sahara last winter- and I totally trust it- so it was a no brainer for me. The last thing I wanted to worry about was getting chronically dehydrated while running these three trails virtually non-stop.
I am asked all of the time- what do you wear ? Well, the gear for this expedtion included CW-X clothing- in layers to provide warmth and support; Inov-8 Mudclaw 270 shoes- super lightweight and grippy; Fuelbelt hydration packs and bottles; Wiley-X Eyewear- durable and provided awesome eye protection is the intense sun up North and on the East Coast; Injinji socks; Magellan GPS to guide us, and Crocs to let my feet have a break between trails ( I can't tell you how much I looked forward to getting into those!).

The morning of our departure Chuck Dale and I quickly packed up the remainder of our gear and headed to the Canada AM morning show where I did a quick interview, and then it was off to the airport to catch the First Air flight to Iqaluit, and then our Ken Borek connection to Qikiktarjuaq.
Chuck would run the first trail with me, and then provide support on the East and West Coast legs. As you will hear in my next email, Kathy (my wife!) ran portions of the East Coast trail, as did a host of others who were welcome to join in. Kathy's family also provided support on the ECT. More about that later.

In the Iqaluit airport we bumped into North Pole legend Richard Webber and his wife Josee as Josee was returning to Chelsea. Small world !
We arrived in Pangnirtung later that afternoon- and then had to basically leap frog the Akshayuk Pass in order to get to Qik to then grab a 100 km boat ride back to the start of our journey. When we left Pang, our pilot said he would do his best to fly low through the pass so we could see what we were in for running back the next day. It was incredible. We flew a few thousand feet above the pass floor, winding our way between the mountains that were topped with glaciers. These mountains were different that what you normally think of. These were like walls of rock shooting straight up into the air. Very, very sheer and steep.
Mount Thor appeared as a vertical rock wall that ascended 1000's of feet into the sky. I can't believe people climb it.

When we arrived in Qikiktarjuaq, a small community of approx. 900 people, we were greeted instantly by the warmth and hospitality of the Inuit people. What an amazing culture. The people of the North are so inspirational ! The harshness of the climate and topography make for arduous and long winters. But everybody seemed so happy! We met with Parks Canada and had our orientation where we were told what to do in case we encountered polar bears- and how to deal with all of the extremes of the Akshayuk Pass. Just days before, Mike called to tell me there was a polar bear in the pass. Although cute in photographs, I was almost positive they wouldn't look so cute in real life- I didn't want to disturb them at all !

The next morning we met Billy and his wife and at the docks and got ready for our boat ride up the fjord to the start of the Pass. We were accompanied by a brother and wife team up photographing the park for an outdoors magazine. They were such great people. After around 3 hours on the small fishing boat, Billy turned around to me and said "Weather is pretty bad...big waves. This is gonna take awhile!". We ended up arriving at 12 noon, somewhere around 5.5 hours instead of the usual 2.5 hours in good conditions. I was so thankful Billy and his wife were our guides to the waters edge. We felt very safe with them. Billy gave us advice on the terrain before we left, and as we headed out I wished I had more time to sit with him and hear and learn more.

The Pass would be approx. 100 kms (we recorded around 115 on gps by the time we finished) and would cover terrain that was so mixed and varied I couldn't believe it. There was one constant though- we would be wet the whole time ! Constant winds in our faces would sometimes be strong enough to force us to walk.

The first 10 kms didn't seem so bad, and we made good time running fairly quick...and thats when the tough stuff started. We hit our first stream crossing (there would be over 50 glacial river and stream crossings). As we tried to find the best way across the frigid water, trying to avoid huge current, we saw a polar bear track. Yikes !!!!! It was huge !
Okay, now I'm freezing...and terrified !
Crossing the streams would become routine- and hugely time consuming. Some of the crossings were higher than waist deep and we could hear boulders rushing past us as we crossed. The current was so strong- and the rapids in some of the rivers daunting. The levels of water depend on the melt rate of the glaciers, and the levels were very high as it had been warm and sunny days previous, and today it was raining.

I have to say- this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. As a matter of fact it's right up there with the Tenere Desert in Niger. I felt so proud that this incredible place is in my country Canada. We are so lucky.

Chuck was doing awesome- he asked for adventure- and he was getting it ! Chuck accompanied us in the Sahara as our Physical Therapist and jack of all trades- and is an incredible runner- so I knew he could do it and was the right man for the job as support.

We arrived at the Rundle Glacier later than we expected due to the crazy amount of river crossings and slogging it through the tundra that was always ankle deep. Fog was setting in, and as it got dark we had to cross the most dangerous river in pitch black with our headlamps reflecting off of the fog. Crazy thing is when we did manage to get ourselves across, our feet would be so frozen that we literally could not feel them. We would then start running on the endless rocky terrain, and after they thawed out we would realize that we were bruising our feet constantly !

We occasionally would stop for a 5 minute break and refill our hydration packs with Aquatabs water and Gatorade, and take in the scenery.

As the sun rose the next day we were really determined to finish. We passed by Mount Thor which was even more spectacular from the ground- and started to make really good time as we were now on real trail for the first time. The last 25 kms I really pushed the pace- and we actually able to run quickly for the first time since the first 10 kms.

The last 15 kms were on sandy, rocky terrain- which as you can imagine I felt very comfortable on after running in the Sahara for 111 days! We were in a race to get to the boat before our guide Jimmy left without us ! I would have felt so bad if he used up his fuel to get us and we weren't there. Gas is very expensive up there. Also, we didn't have enough gear to last another night ! We were soaked, feet bruised and exhausted. 27 hours after starting we were finished ! Yay !
When we got back to Pang I got to hang out with Charlie Qumuatuq- it was his boat company that got us to and from the Pass. Charlie was awesome. He discussed with me Inuit issues and what life is like up there for him and his community. It was totaly cool to learn from him. Chuck was crashed out so I went for a tour of the town with Charlie. Next day I got to stop by the Parks Canada office and was honoured to meet Billy Etooangat
and Dave Argument, both parks officials. The Akshayuk Pass was named after Billy's grandfather. Cool.

Our flights were scheduled to leave around noon, so we had to keep moving. I confided to Chuck that I had no idea how I was going to run the next two legs of the Canada Challenge the way I was feeling. I still had the shakes from the cold and my feet were swollen like small footballs !

I guess I would find out. I would be in Newfoundland the next day.

More to come !