Actif Epica – Much More Than An Event

If you are reading this be aware that you’ll encounter massive amounts of commentary. What I experienced needs more description and reflection than a typical race report. So be warmed if you chose to keep reading.

Upon entering the Belgian Club west of The Forks in downtown Winnipeg, I knew that was a hearty, homespun event. The old building filled with pool tables, dart boards, pictures of past leaders, and a long bar filled my senses with lodges/fraternal groups that enjoyed a place to meet and share life in its varied forms. Gathered inside was an array of ages, genders, and lives all for the purpose of gear checks, swag bags, maps, event details, pizza, and connections of varied forms. A familiar face came up and spoke with me and in conversation our connection was the 2014 Spruce Woods Ultra, also held in Manitoba. It felt good to be remembered!

Gregory whom I met at Spruce Woods Ultra in May 2014.
Gregory whom I met at Spruce Woods Ultra in May 2014.

The winds were howling loudly as I parked at my lodging. I was contemplating options for loading mandatory gear into my frame bag and finalize my bike check with such nasty weather as I went to the registration counter. In speaking with the desk person I sensed that she might be a good resource. She was entertained by my participation in Actif Epica, as well as filled with awe (or maybe a sense of pity) as I told her want I needed to do. She suggested I use a carpeted, enclosed area near the lobby for my preparations. She also told another front-end worker about my situation. That worker was willing to provide whatever I needed to make this preparation possible out of the elements. My compliments to the evening staff at the Four Points by Sheraton of South Winnipeg for going beyond their job description to provide extreme, personal hospitality.

The 3:30am wake-up call came way too soon. Getting my gear in order, checking-out, getting into Tom Horton’s for a large coffee, and loading my bike into an enclosed trailer prior to making the 5:15am departure of the shuttle to ride 75 miles to the start seemed to fly by. A school bus ride filled with participants, gear, and conversation soon changed into a quiet, bumpy, cold, trying to catch a nap endurance event of its own nature.

St. Malo was entered in the dark, cold morning. Departing the bus found the bikes in front of the local ice arena, our staging area and starting point. There was room to move the two-wheeled chariots into the arena for a bit of warmth and final preparations. Hot beverages, bathroom, and plenty of space was available at no charge. The runners began to whooping voices and applause at 7am. Bikers began at 8am.

My bike is nearest the door.

The sun was up and we headed into it right at 8am. The air temperature was -22F with wind chills at -40F. In a few minutes the bikers spread out while traversing a body of water dotted with fish houses, a few on-lookers, and plenty of cold. One participants was riding a recumbent, fat tire bike. Maybe it was custom made, as I haven’t seen any in the local bike shops. After a few miles facing into the wind we turned into a hike-a-bike section. It was good to be on my feet generating circulation and warmth. The route continued with roads, trails, walking, riding across plowed fields, bright sun, beautiful blue skies, magnificent scenery, and bitter cold. The diversity and beauty wasn’t enough to distract my attention from the burning of exposed facial flesh. Even though I covered great amounts of my face there was some that was exposed. My glasses became frosted to the point that I removed them to see. That caused my eyes to water which formed ice piles on my face coverings. Hands covered with 2 layers of gloves inside of wind proof mittens while inside hand-warmer holding pogies were getting way too cold. My feet were getting colder, but my system was working, as long as there were sections of walking as that brought more circulation. I was also experiencing burning from the cold near my inner thighs, as well as the small of my back where the layering had moved due to the pack I was carrying. I was anticipating the first check-point, but it never seemed to get closer. I wasn’t using electronic measuring devices as they were non-functioning in the extreme cold. I had maps, cue-sheets, and other participants. Beside, my pace wasn’t setting any records. It was so cold that I didn’t stop to get hydration or calories as it didn’t seem necessary at that point. However, the stopping for those items usually gave me a break for circulation, at least in previous more moderate temperature training rides.

Soup providers thru a foggy lens.

Upon reaching the first checkpoint at St Pierre Jolys, I was startled by the amassed group of participants. Many were enjoying bowls of hearty, bean soup and freshly baked bannock while warming their bodies and drying clothing before heading into the elements. It was here that I knew I was done for the day. My cheeks were frostbitten, my hands were not going to get any better in the miles ahead, and I wasn’t ready to risk any more physical damage due to the bitter cold. “Sometimes”, I thought “it’s acceptable to admit that the elements are greater and stronger than myself.”

Participant getting ready to leave checkpoint 1.
Participant getting ready to leave checkpoint 1.

The hospitality at this checkpoint by staff and volunteers, as well as fellow participants was amazing. One of the event volunteers made arrangements for my bike to get back to Winnipeg. Another participant who decided to end his journey at this point made arrangements with his friends to get me back to my vehicle. Before the ride to Winnipeg arrived all participants had gone through the checkpoint. As the building cleared the local residents told us to stay inside, stay warm and told us how to secure the building when we left.

The gracious family who crammed Dan and I into their Honda CR-V, along with their 2 delightful children and Dan’s bike, gave me their business card and an invitation to stay with them whenever I may return to Winnipeg. They were soon moving to a new house and would have plenty of room for guests. In the “small world” category this family and I discovered mutual friends in the clergy world that lived in Fargo, ND.  I waited for my bike, as the person who carted it to Winnipeg needed to finish his shift with the Actif Epica event. Hal, not only transported my bike, but placed it in his house basement in order to keep it safe and secure.

Detailed route maps.
Detailed route maps.

I learned about community, hospitality, brutal weather conditions, and myself in the journey to Winnipeg. I am awestruck by the snug fellowship which I experienced in atypical settings. These are the characteristics that keep me involved in trail running, ultra events, gravel biking, and endurance events. I feel connected, appreciated, accepted, and allowed to be involved for my personal reasons at any given time. The older I get the more I realize that conformity served its purpose at points in my life, but I relish the freedom to be myself and experience what is in the world as I move forward.