CROSSING ALGONQUIN 2018
Nearly 500 kilometers west of Montreal and 300 kilometers north Toronto, you’ll find the enormous Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Established in 1893, it’s the oldest park in the country. With abundant wildlife, more than 2,400 lakes, 1,200 kilometers of rivers and streams, as well as its proximity to major cities, it’s also one of Canada’s most popular. That popularity, however, is characteristic of spring, summer, and fall. In the months ending with -ber, the park quiets down as the winter chill sets in.
For the Algonquin Park’s 125th anniversary, three intrepid friends set out to cross the expansive, frozen wilderness, an adventure that would take nearly two weeks. (Ahem…) Unsupported. Why, you ask? We were curious the same thing, a dozen other things, plus we wanted hear firsthand how maple held up in those frigid, harsh conditions. We recently sat down with the trio to hear how it all went down.
UnTapped: First things first, with varied backgrounds you each bring something different to the table. Let’s hear a quick introduction of who’s who on the Crossing Algonquin 2018 team.
Eric Batty: I’m an arborist, photographer, trainer, and educator. I used to race mountain bikes moderately fast and did that all over the world [Editor’s note: world class fitness runs in Eric’s family. His sister is 2x Olympic mountain biker Emily Batty]. Throughout my time as a cyclist, I was an avid rock, ice and mountain climber, a backcountry skier, and trail runner, all things I continue to enjoy now. Crossing Algonquin Park for me was something that I was automatically attracted to. You have one of southern Canada’s largest pieces of wilderness that’s close to major two major cities and we crossed it in good time and good style. The point to point aspect I loved and with two stellar teammates — it was definitely a high point in my wilderness travels!
Ryan Atkins: I’m a current full-time athlete, competing mostly in obstacle course races (OCR) as well as trail running races and ultra marathons. I love getting outside and going on adventures, especially long and cold ones, just like this! The idea popped up and definitely intrigued me, the timing fit my schedule, so I was excited to join the party. [Another Editor’s note: Ryan is one of the best OCR athletes in the world. He was the 2016 OCR World Champion in the 3km distance, won the 2016 Spartan US Championship Series, and has carried the title of World’s Toughest Mudder the last four years.]
Buck Miller: I’m a former pro road cyclist turned carpenter. I never stopped riding, but turned my love for racing into a love for all kinds of adventuring. Big water, northern canoe trips are my go-to but I’ll do anything that gets me outside.
UnTapped: Where did the idea come from — was it a fluid group decision or something one of you has had on their mind for a while?
Buck: Ha, it was a coincidental evolution. I brought the idea up to the group, but as it turned out Ryan already crossed a smaller southern portion of the park years ago also in winter. Eric has traveled in the park more than each of us in summer, but he always wanted to crack it out in winter. So when I approached these lads, it easily fell into place with very few questions.
UnTapped: Beginning with a flight into the backcountry, which included a recon tour of the expanse from above, you then covered 165km/102miles over eleven days. You hammered through 42km/26miles on the final day and the shortest was 8km/5miles. How are you actually making headway and is it pretty much nonstop movement each day or can you bask a bit in your backcountry surroundings?
Buck: We used Altai Hok “ski-shoes” for about 75% of the trip. They’re a really cool hybrid between skis and snowshoes. They’re not really skis, since they don’t have much glide, but they keep you on top of the snow really well, and require less energy each and every step. The only thing we couldn’t do on them was pull heavy weight up steep climbs but they offered just enough float to glide down hills.
Ryan: I think the hardest part for me was the non-stop action for eleven days. Most days we were up at 6:30am, then it’s go go go: make a fire, cook breakfast, dry sleeping bags, pack up camp, pack the pulks (a short toboggan), et cetera, so that by 10am we’re ready to start. Next, it’s six and a half hours of moving steadily to get us about 15-17kms/9-10miles, at which point, we make camp, get firewood, build fire and cook until 9pm. After that just sleep and repeat. The action was non-stop and after six days I found myself always wishing for 20 minutes of sitting in a warm chair. Ha!
Eric: Throughout the day, we only stopped for water and a map check while we took on food at the same time. Otherwise, we’d have fewer hours to travel, and we would get really cold, really fast. So we ate on the fly, stopping every hour or so for a few minutes to refuel.
UnTapped: The trip was entirely unsupported, so you’re carrying everything you need, which makes forecasting your nutritional needs critical. Did things work out well from an inventory standpoint or did you come out with a small grocery store (or empty pantry) of goods?
Ryan: The inventory of stuff seemed to have worked out quite well. We would fuel up to start the morning with oatmeal for breakfast from Stoked Oats. Then, throughout the day we would rely mostly on UnTapped Maple Syrup and Waffles to keep that stoke and energy high. It was funny, on days one-to-three we could stop and have one waffle and then keep going. On days four-to-eight, our hunger was definitely mounting and we’d have two waffles at a time. By the last few days, we’d be eating three or more waffles plus the Maple UnTapped both to combat hunger and keep our motivation high! The combination of cold and constant movement really ramped up our metabolism.
Buck: By the end of our trip, UnTapped products actually became money to us. As our food stocks depleted, we would barter other goods for UnTapped, with no man really wanting to part with what we had left. And more often than not, we found nothing good enough to actually give up any of our Untapped! Go figure.
UnTapped: What were the most inhospitable conditions? We’re always excited to explain that #maplesyrupdoesntfreeze. How did you find UnTapped holding up when the temperatures went down?
Buck: The waffles were delicious and stayed soft enough to eat at -30 degrees and the Maple UnTapped were to die for. I really don’t know how I ate so many sports gels over my career now that I’ve tried UnTapped. They really do work better, and never left us with that gross, thick saliva and sore stomach. Don’t forget we’re eating eight or more a day.
UnTapped: Any harrowing stories or close calls?
Ryan: I think the closest calls were on the some of the thin ice sections. We’d be cruising along, singing songs and laughing, then suddenly we’d spot some slush appearing underneath our skis. A pole check would reveal ice less than an inch thick! At this point, we’d get closer to shore, ski back upsteam a bit and cross gingerly. There were three or four of these sections and we thankfully managed not to break through once.
Buck: The entire trip was a series of nonstop adventures. We had one three-quarter of a mile section where we had to head inland to bypass a really narrow, fast moving water section. But the inland part was wild steep. So steep, we had to double up on our pulks, one guy is pulling, another guy is pushing. What made it hard was the grade, we needed hands and feet on the ground, but we had these 110lb, ten foot freight toboggans that flex by design. Ironically, it was frigid cold throughout that trip, but it was a little warm that day, still below freezing, so that by the end of the carry, we were soaked, head to toe. I could ring my socks out that night just from sweat. That was full-on hard.
UnTapped: How do you fuel up for such an all day adventure? Is it a steady trickle of calories or too taxing to stop for periodic big meals?
Ryan: Whenever we had the chance to eat big meals at night, we would. Otherwise, it was basically a steady trickle of calories all day long. Lots of UnTapped products and chocolate bars were constantly on hand for a quick boost, physically and mentally too.
Buck: There’s a local company in Ontario that makes some high-calorie, healthy meals using real ingredients in the add-water-and-stir style. They were delicious. Lot’s of UnTapped and lots of trail mix was added to breakfast, dinner, and dessert.
UnTapped: You don’t strike us as the one-and-done types. What’s next?
Eric: HA! That’s a loaded question! Currently I have no plans set in stone for right now, but there is always some trips in the works. For the next bit, I’m excited to be home with my family. I will still be out riding, running, and skiing as much as I can.
Buck: Individually, I’ve got a few canoe races this year, some mountain biking fits into the mix too and a couple family canoe trips. As a team, we’re looking at some fat-bike-packing next winter in a far northern community, across some salty water, that’s all the details we can leak for now…
Ryan: So many fun trips planned! I’m going to do a fast packing trip with my wife (ed: also an OCR world champion) in Nepal in March, then lots of races and peak bagging throughout the summer. I’m hoping to do some big mountain FKTs (fastest known times) in the Canadian and American west and then just see where it goes from there!