Swamp Donkey 2009 Race Review
The Legend of the "Donkelope"
by John Ford
(Cue Music -"Hinterlands Who's Who")..... The Legend of the "Donkelope" has existed for hundreds of years, dating back to early tribes and explorers that roamed the most remote regions of the Precambrian Canadian Shield. The Donkelope was known to run freely under the cover of dense bush, eluding capture, fortunately, until collapsing hours later only to be revived by drinking fermented barley water! To find out more about the "Donkelope" contact the Canadian Wildlife Assoc.
Which brings us to later day's "Adventurer's " wandering the same nomadic areas for ultimate supremacy that is The Swamp Donkey Adventure Race? For some the race began months ago nowhere near Falcon Lake MB. For others it may have started as they arrived at Falcon Trails Resort, but for most of the near 220 participants of The Swamp Donkey Adventure Race, the reality that lay before them would not become apparent until the morning of the event.
On the evening leading up to the September 26, 2009 race date, racers began gathering in the spectacular fall backdrop of Falcon Lake MB. The energy was electrifying as nervous (but confident) teams began dropping off bikes, boats and gear at a previously undisclosed location , not knowing where the "magical volunteer fairies" would redistribute valuable equipment to aid in the teams journey. 73 canoes, 218 mountain bikes, gear boxes and bags were jammed into the Falcon Lake Curling Club, which left organizers and volunteers stating "I thought this place looked a lot bigger when it was empty".
Participants then arrived at the amazing host site, Falcon Trails Resort where they were greeted by the happy smiling faces of Liz and Sara for registration, mandatory gear checks and for some teams the "dreaded Nav-Check". "Boy there sure is a lot of swamp around here" several teams were overheard stating after getting a look at a topographic map of the surrounding area. "It is called Swamp Donkey"! Course Designer/ Sweep Coordinator Alex Man replied, with tongue in cheek. Finishing off registration was a relief to some while other stirred anxiously not knowing what lay ahead the following morning. The race crew were delighted to hear the teams speculate being the third year, what the race course may entail. Apparently in the weeks leading up to the race the chatter from the "spoilers" rumoured and guessed things such as "I heard this would be the toughest biking section yet", or "the bush-whack was hard last year BUT where are they going to take us this year"?, and "I figured out from the hints in the last racer update that this could be a long paddle". Rick and John were heard chuckling in the background. The night ended with eager teams heading off, for some would be a restless night's sleep. Others were simply wound up with expectations of what lay ahead.
Organizers then burned the midnight oil putting the finishing touches on the "hush-hush" checkpoints secretly under the cover of darkness. Volunteer Director Barry Whitford rallied the volunteers that arrived on Friday evening to have a short meeting before turning in, at the makeshift "tent-city" atop the ski hill. "We have the BEST volunteers ever"! Barry exclaimed as they learned their fate, a 5:30 am boat transfer of all 73 canoes. All that was left to do was get a few hours rest before the epic experience the next day.
The following morning with the sun still over an hour away from rising, weary but wound-up teams arrived at the Chalet for their first glimpse of what lay ahead. At precisely 6:00am maps and racer directions began to be distributed to those teams that pre-registered the evening before. This would allow team navigators an early start to begin deciphering where the 2009 race course would take them. "I can't believe the length of the full advanced course" new teams stated while returning "donkeys" were amazed the course had yet again changed from previous years.
At the pre-race meeting Race Organizers Rick Shone and John Ford instructed awaiting teams that this would indeed be the most difficult Swamp Donkey ever. Rick began explaining in detail important information regarding the course and what they would encounter en-route to the finish line some 5-9hrs away. Last minute questions and concerns from nervous racers could be addressed before teams would meet 15 minutes before the official start time. Enthusiastic teams then gathered, stretching tight muscles and warming up while John began roll call of all 73 teams. With somewhat "original" team names and even more original comments, racers hooted, hollered and cat-called in response and grandiose cheer was let out when all teams were present and accounted for. The energetic and lively group was definitely ready for their expedition into this incredibly diverse race course and terrain.
3... 2... 1... GO!!!! And they were off!! The 2009 Swamp Donkey Adventure Race was underway! Teams would cross swamps, trek into remote locations, bike to unknown checkpoints and "yes I'll say it" paddle endless kilometres. Each team using a different strategy, motivation and skill-set to journey from start to finish over a 40-55km course. Routes and bearings would criss-cross teams in this epic journey while others would just sometimes "circle aimlessly" throughout the stunning Falcon Lake Area.
As the race progressed some teams would push their physical limits to make time cut-offs, to keep in the running and make the advanced sections. While others showed mental determination and grit to complete the challenging regular course. In the true spirit that is adventure racing, teams and racers would help out one another in sections of the race. On several occasions teams aided in navigation, bike mechanicals and on the water assistance. Safety Coordinator Kurt Lehmann commented, "with participants like ours taking care of one another and at times even sacrificing their standings to aid another team, it is amazing to witness". During the event some teams would also keep organizers, sweep crews and volunteers on their toes all day and into the early evening with a few "lost sheep" straying from their intended routes. Volunteers would spend the day cheering, encouraging and even offering a hug in an effort to assist weary racers throughout the course.
While it is impossible to recount the trials and tribulations of each racers/ teams unique journey, as teams entered the final finish area it was evident that each had overcome great personal goals to complete The Swamp Donkey Adventure Race. When all was said and done Team 54 Powered by Vitamin "I" would take home bragging rights as being the "Top Donkeys" of 2009 on the advanced course with a impressive time of 7hrs 52 min, while Team 3 Cake or Death "rocked", finishing the regular course in 8hrs and 1min.
Afterwards, to say the Swamp Donkey organizers know how to throw a party is an understatement. The festivities began with an unsurpassed post race awards that as Sponsorship Coordinator Liz Roffey put it, "could not be rivalled". Over $10,000 in prizes from our amazing sponsors were distributed to excited top teams, draw winners and hard working volunteers. John and Rick congratulated teams for the amazing effort of completing the most challenging Swamp Donkey to date. The only thing left after all the newly crowned "Donkelopes" were fed and primed was to announce "Party On" and kick in with a fantastic jam by famed local artists "Pushing Daisies". They entertained racers, volunteers and organizers into the wee hours with original impromptu hits such as "I Hate Canoeing" and the classic "Deer Sausage Song"! As yet another chapter closed in Swamp Donkey history....
A special thanks from the racers and the Swamp Donkey organizers to each and every volunteer that literally made this event possible. With your energy, enthusiasm and incredible work ethic you make the race fun and in turn last for years in the future.
Now, the Organizers and Race Crew wish to sincerely thank everyone that participated, volunteered, our amazing sponsors, patient families, the Town of Falcon Lake MB, Barb and Craig and the staff at Falcon Trails Resort, The Red River Ski Patrol and all our friends that support our undying passion for the amazing sport of Adventure Racing. Everyone's efforts that go into making this and future Swamp Donkey's possible will never go unmentioned.
Can't wait for 2010!!!