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On July 25, adventure racers gather to challenge the terrain in Manitoba’s Spruce Woods Provincial Park, a relict boreal forest that grew up along the path carved more than 10,000 years ago by a receding glacier. With roads, trails, camping and canoeing all on offer, the park is a popular destination for Manitobans, drawn by its open mixed-grass prairie and the distinctive swaths of sand dunes known as the Spirit Sands. The park also features white and black spruce and tamarack in wetland areas, while the eastern deciduous forest reaches the end of its territory in a shady canopy over riverbanks.
But as all adventure racers know, benign landscape from a distance looks very different when you’re on the ground, working against the clock and forging a route under pressure. There’s not much time to look around to enjoy the big bluestem, a tall prairie grass that grows as high as two metres, or the magenta-flowered pincushion cacti or even to keep an eye peeled for Manitoba’s only lizard, the northern prairie skink. With a start time of 9 a.m. sharp, competitors must keep their wits about them. The race lasts an estimated six to nine hours, but duration, of course, depends entirely on just how savvy and fit the all-male, all-female and co-ed teams of two or three turn out to be.
Like all orienteering events, participants must be familiar with topographical maps (provided by organizers) and know how to use a compass (bring your own) to make their way, but in addition to orienteering skills, strength in running/trekking, mountain biking and paddling are all part of the package. For the trekking and biking portions, prepare for thick bush, sandy hills, swamp, back roads and trails. For the paddling leg, expect “perhaps flat water.” The responsibility of staying fuelled, hydrated and out of the occasional poison ivy patch falls entirely to the racers. Checkpoints are marked with orange and white flags and electronic devices that confirm each team’s passage, and teammates must never be more than 50 metres from one another. All for one and one for all is the best strategy in this endeavour.
Are you game? If so, don’t worry about that Western hognose snake by the side of the trail. It’s relatively harmless to humans, despite its rattlesnake-like markings. In any case, there’s no time to stop now, it’s on to the next checkpoint.
For more information, visit www.orienteering.mb.ca/adventure-o
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