AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME

Last (but not least) in the series of new events to the 2016 Adventure Racing Ontario Points Series is the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X, an epic paddling expedition race held September 16-18 in the Muskoka Region.

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The longest single day paddling race and the only event to traverse the heritage waterways of Algonquin Park and Muskoka, the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X is back in 2016 celebrating its fourth year.

The concept for the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X came naturally to Race Directors Mike Varieur and Rob Horton, who have extensive paddling and adventure racing backgrounds themselves, as well as experience as adventure racing course designers. Living in Huntsville, Varieur said that he and Horton were always imagining possible course designs that showcased the area’s spectacular and history-rich water features. In 2013, they made their vision of putting on an event that blended marathon paddling, canoe tripping, and adventure racing a reality with the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X race, a 24-hour, 130km race that draws the inspiration from the paddling routes of the Algonquin First Nations and early Canadian explorers and is considered by some as the toughest single day canoe race in the world.

As if a 130km self-supported race that traverses two river systems, three lakes and features 20 portages in a single day was not enough of a challenge, in 2015, an even more epic adventure was added to the weekend roster: a 220km, 48 hour “Coureur de Bois” event that traverses 90km of lakes and rivers through Algonquin Park on Day 1 before merging with the 130km Classic course on Day 2. New in 2016, an 80km MRX Sprint event has been added that incorporates the first two stages of the Classic course and is the perfect testing ground for paddlers who want to keep (most of) their expedition within daylight hours. All three of the events can be completed either solo or tandem, and using any canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) that meet the specifications for that type of watercraft.

 Bart de Zwart, one of the best ultra-marathon SUP paddles in the world, on the Coureur des Bois course in 2015. 

Bart de Zwart, one of the best ultra-marathon SUP paddles in the world, on the Coureur des Bois course in 2015. 

Best in show: The Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X was the recipient of the Ontario Marathon Canoe and Kayak Racing Association’s (OMCKRA) 2014 Race of the Year and has received Get Out There Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards for three consecutive years (2013, 2014 and 2015).

The event has seen growth each year that it has been running, and attracts a broad spectrum of competitors from weekend trippers to world class paddlers who travel from across the country each year to experience a true backcountry paddling expedition.  While part of the success of the event can be credited in part to the spectacular course that crosses world famous Algonquin Park, it is also due to the extraordinary level of planning and logistics that go into the event. Varieur is proud that in three years of running the event at a time of year where the weather can be unpredictable, there hasn’t been a single adverse incident. Safety is a top priority: all competitors carry GPS trackers and there are four search-and-rescue and four first aid teams on hand throughout the event. In spite of its growth each year, the race has stayed true to its core values of providing a top quality experience for racers that begins at race registration and culminates with an award-winning post-race party.

The challenges of the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X are not limited to the physical, but require that racers draw on a variety of wilderness tripping skills. Perhaps the biggest unknown each year is the unpredictability of Mother Nature in mid-September. Racers have to be prepared for colder weather at night, as well as the fog and the associated navigational challenges it can bring.  All of the events are self-supported so racers must carry (and portage) all of their food and supplies, plus an extra days’ worth of emergency supplies. For solo racers, Varieur says that the psychological factor is “huge” as racers may find themselves alone for up to 24 hours.  Tandem racers need to have a polished portaging strategy if they want to be efficient, as well as be prepared for some of the team tensions that can arise with fatigue and darkness.  All of the above make the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X a truly unique and unforgettable event that past participants say is one of their greatest accomplishments (and best experiences) of their lives.

 Portaging at Tea Lake in Algonquin Park.

Portaging at Tea Lake in Algonquin Park.

Want to see it for yourself?  A documentary made by Andy Hansen about the 2014 race was shortlisted for the Reel Paddling Film Festival.  Check it out here.

While it does require leaving the cycling and trekking gear at home, Varieur assures adventure racers that many of their skills would translate well to the event, which counts towards the 2016 Adventure Racing Ontario Points Series.  On June 18, Varieur and Horton also host the Algonquin Outfitters Big East River X Marathon, which is an excellent training event for the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X. 

If the idea of an epic, once-in-a-lifetime, self-supported backcountry paddling expedition sounds like the perfect way to cap off your summer, visit: http://muskokariverx.com to register or for more information on the heritage of the course and its waterways, as well as required gear and watercraft specifications.