Text by Dawn Huddlestone; photos by Cheyenne Wood, Randy Mitson and Andy Zeltkalns as noted
What would it be like to be a voyageur for the day?
Dozens of paddlers found out during the sixth edition of the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X (AO MRX), held September 15-16.
The event, billed as “the longest single day expedition paddling racing the world,” attracts more than 70 teams from across Canada and around the world to compete in one of two distances—the 58km Sprint or the 130km Classic—either solo (canoe, kayak or stand up paddleboard categories) or tandem (voyageur, marathon canoe, stock canoe, or recreational canoe categories).
This year, race directors Rob Horton and Mike Varieur mixed things up for the AO MRX participants, reversing the route from previous years which also shortened the Sprint from 80km to 58km. Instead of beginning at the Town Dock, teams started the race at Hidden Valley Resort and paddled to the Huntsville Town Dock, before turning 180° and following the Muskoka River to Bracebridge. Sprint paddlers stopped there while the Classic racers continued along the south branch of the Muskoka River into Baysville, through Lake of Bays, over a 1700km portage to Peninsula Lake in the dark, and finally back to Hidden Valley Resort.
If that weren’t challenging enough, two teams signed up for the voyageur class, which required them to each pick up a 36.5-lb. wooden crate at the Town Dock and carry it with them, using ropes and straps, for the remainder of the 132-km route. Once they got back to Hidden Valley Resort, the goodies inside were revealed and the team got to take them home.
“That was new this year and really exciting,” said Varieur. “And good on them for persevering—that box just gets heavier and heavier the longer you carry it.”
Varieur said that the new route was well received, particularly the shorter Sprint course. “It was downriver and the lakes were smaller so much more accessible for newer racers and people just getting into the sport,” he said, adding that they even had one participant who hadn’t paddled in five years attempt the Classic solo. He made it about 80km into the race before stopping—not unusual for the Classic.
Although all of the teams finished the Sprint, about 30 per cent weren’t able to finish the Classic, “which is about what we expect,” said Varieur. From Bracebridge to Baysville, teams paddle upriver and must navigate seven remote portages. “There’s lots of swifts and currents and rocky areas, so that section was really interesting for the racers and most of them were doing it under the cover of darkness with headlamps so they had to navigate their way through,” said Varieur.
Through Lake of Bays, paddlers have to check in at several waypoints along the western shore. “(It’s) primarily for safety because we keep them all on the west side so we can keep them contained, and doing that is also a challenge for them because they have to navigate,” said Varieur. All of the teams carried trackers so that organizers knew exactly where they were, and spectators could follow their progress online.
“When we do analysis of our trackers on our website after the race, we can see people from across the world are watching the race,” said Varieur. “People from China and Australia and Indonesia, South Africa and South America, people across the United States and Canada. They are watching and as they do that they are going to come back and look at photos, and that’s much more exposure for Muskoka.”
Varieur noted that Algonquin Park is known internationally for its world-class paddling experiences, but people are less aware of paddling opportunities in the Muskoka region and neighbouring Parry Sound and Haliburton. “Muskoka is a beautiful paddling experience with the lakes and the rivers and it’s a natural stadium for competitive racing,” he said. “The Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X showcases the beauty of Muskoka, and it supports all of the businesses in Muskoka – people come here to stay and train on our waterways. They are much less visible because we are used to seeing people with canoes on the top of their cars, but as we’ve seen with the triathletes that are now coming to Muskoka to train on the roads with their bicycles, we are seeing that with canoes too.”
It really is a phenomenally beautiful course and if you ever get the opportunity to paddle the rivers, I would encourage that.Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X race director, Mike Varieur
Many of the AO MRX participants are from Ontario. “Muskoka is accessible to them and that’s the population that’s going to come up on weekends,” said Varieur. Other paddlers hail from Quebec, the western Canadian provinces, the eastern US, and even Africa. In the past, some have come from Hawaii and Europe. And race directors are particularly excited to see teams from Yukon participating. “They host the longest race in the world called the Yukon River Quest,” explained Varieur. “To start seeing Yukon River Quest veterans starting to travel to Muskoka is really important for us because it shows that the lens is not only on the Yukon but it has now gravitated to Ontario and specifically Muskoka as a destination for serious expedition racers.”
Organizers are already looking forward to next year, but in the meantime are wrapping up analysis of this year’s event always with an eye to making it the best possible experience for participants. In the coming months, they’ll also be making a donation to the Muskoka Watershed Council, their charity of choice.
See a selection of photos and results below.
- First overall in the 130km Classic: Brace or Bust—Chris Prater and Dean Brown from London, ON—in a time of 14:13:38
- First overall in the 58km Sprint: #wepaddletogether—Mike Vincent and Lexy Vincent from Regina, SK—in a time of 5:14:28
Local finishers in the 130km Classic:
- 8th overall and 4th in category: Raveledge—John Eastmure and Steve Jones—male tandem C2-Stock in 17:46:49
- 18th overall and 2nd in category: loco(l)—Chris Near—male C1-Solo in 18:39:29
Local finishers in the 58km Sprint:
- 4th place overall and 2nd in category: Fred—Tom Stead and Alan Hesketh—male tandem C2-Stock in 6:51:13
- 8th place overall and 1st in category: Muskoka X-Women—Megan Stephenson and Hillary Adams—female tandem C2-Stock in 7:19:14
- 13th place overall and 1st in category: Das Boot—Catherine Zacal and David Nichols—mixed tandem C2-Rec in 7:27:58
- 28th place overall and 7th in category: Wait, did you say hut?—Madeline Horton and Aiden McClung—mixed tandem C2-Stock in 8:48:34
See full results here and check out some photos from the race below.
For more information about the Algonquin Outfitters Muskoka River X, visit muskokariverx.com
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