Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Mammoth March 2013

Last years edition of the Mammoth March (Mammuttimarssi) was a demanding affair and left permanent enough impressions on all of us, so there was not question about whether we would participate again or not this year. Hannu was now in extremely good shape and went with a faster partner to try to get a medal and Matti wanted to run the marathon version, which left me, Toni and Jarkko from last year's team. We decided to go together but in two different teams, since I wanted to have the possibility to abort the race (because of my problematic left leg) without sinking the whole team with me. Hence I rode on the one man team "Yeti Rides All Night Long" together with the two man team "Vilsen i Ekenäs".

Mammuttimarssi started as an event for runners, with several different distances, including an (almost) impossible 170 km long one. The distance is measured as a straight line between the checkpoints, so in reality it is longer. This is now the second time bikes are also allowed and I think it was a good idea from the arrangers, since it has become a really nice alternative for those who like to ride a little longer distances. The 170 km distance is of course not very hard with a bike, while there are probably only a few runners in Finland who actually have the ability to complete it within the given 24 hours. I also think that the format is nice: You navigate through 24 checkpoints, choosing the route yourself and there's also the swimming checkpoint in the middle of the night to keep things interesting. At each checkpoing a code word is found, and you send it to the arrangers by SMS. A simple way to keep at least some track of the competitors. Finally, the start at 20:30 in the evening also gives a dimension of its own to the event, since the following twelve hours are dark.

One week before the start the coordinates for the checkpoints were published, which gave enough time to print the maps and do some route planning. This time I would be responsible for the orienteering, so I had to prepare a little for the task. I decided to go for maps in the 1:25000 scale, which can be printed in a very handy way from This gave me eight maps in size A3 and one in A4, which was a very manageable setup. This was a compromise that allowed me to keep the number of maps down as well as use the same maps both for coarse orienteering while riding on roads with good speed as well as for detailed orienteering close to the checkpoints. The only drawback was that I had to stop to check out the really fine details, like the start of a small trail, something I didn't dare to do while riding. The route planning was fairly easy, since part of the area I now very well from my childhood and youth.

This time I brough a lot more to eat than usually, including my secret weapon from the overnighter a week earlier, namely the two bags with a total of 2500 kcal of the Fazer Tutti Frutti + Choco candy. The 1.5 liter Coca Cole gives good energy and tastes really good after five hours, some cookies and a chocolate bar is never wrong and and a thermos with hot water makes a few cups of hot chocolate possible when eating the sandwhiches. I also had two bags of salted peanuts mixed with chocolate, for more energy and salt. When the riding was over, I had half of the cookies, the chocolate bar, a little candy and one of the peanut/chocolate bags left. This means I actually managed to consume around 4000 kcal during the event.

Jarkko and Toni just before the start at 20:30.

And off we went. The route to the first checkpoint was easy, though there were several alternatives. The final part was on a slippery and muddy trail that didn't start at the same place in the reality as on the map. We continued to the second and third checkpoints on roads of various size and condition. The final approach to checkpoint three would be a couple hundred meters of bike pushing through possibly dense vegetation, but the small road/trail continued a little further than on the map and led us into a wet bog, with a little shorter bike push section. After checkpoint 3 I couldn't get my right shoe to attach to the SPD pedal and found out that most of the pedal was missing, leaving only the bar part to keep my foot on. This made pedalling a little more difficult, but didn't immediately seem to cause any problems.

 Checkpoint 4 was quite close, but checkpoint 5 took us a good bit to away to a point nortwest of Öby. From here I had planned a very nice route to checkpoint 6, going on nice small roads/trails with beautiful views, but while riding we decided to ride the same way back, since it would probably be faster and with less possibilities to make orienteering mistakes. You don't see much during the night anyway.

Riding in the darkness mixed up our sense of time. We just rode on and the four hours that passed before we arrived at checkpoint 7 didn't feel like anything. It was a half hour after midnight we arrived there, ready for the swimming checkpoint. A year earlier this provided a real challenge, with very cold water and an air temperature of -9C. This time the temperature had stayed a few degree above freezing and we were quite warm when we arrived. Preliminary information had talked about around 30 meters of swimming, but we only had to swim a few meters, and this actually was a slight disappointment, since it was so easy. Getting up from the water there was no problem staying warm, except for my poor toes, which took an hour to regain the warmth. I filled my water bottles from the swimming lake (Långträsket) and we continued to the easter half of the course, riding in places I was not that familiar with. This took us through the centre square of Ekenäs/Tammisaari and it was nice to see that the youth of the city is really interested in sports, judging from the enthusiasm with which they cheered us sometime around 2:30 in the night. The night had also otherwise been a beautiful one. The sky was basically clear and the stars visible, but a slight layer of fog started to develop, making the crescent moon take an almost red color.

We took another shortcut by pushing the bikes a little more that one hundred meters through forest that was denser and wetter than I had anticipated, but otherwise the going was good and none of us had any problems. Sometime after three in the night Toni started to have some ups and downs with some difficulty to stay awake. He even had some hallucinations, which Matti later envied. I had expected some difficulty myself, but aside from feeling a little sleepy (as opposed to tired) a few times, I had no problems. A few sandwhiches and some hot chocolate served as breakfast a little around five in the morning, after which the going was again great. At six o'clock we had been to the eastmost checkpoint 16 in Fagervik, and now started to ride "back home". Somewhat surprisingly, especially in the light of my difficulties this fall, it now started to become clear that I was the strongest rider this time. I had absolutely no problem continuing and could have ridden faster. My only trouble was an increasingly painful right knee, stemming from the broken right pedal, on which the only position that kept the foot at least somewhat steadily there forced the foot to be in a strange angle. For the first time it actually felt like I was actually getting noticeable energy from the food I consumed. I have done a good number of rides longer that ten hours and have always fallen into the suffering mode, where you mainly use mental strength to keep going. Not this time, though. Maybe I've found the secret recipe.

After checkpoint 17, the route took us on what looked like a nice little trail shortcut on the map. Unfortunately, the trail was under the process of being "improved", which provided us with riding through really soft, slippery and sticky mud. The sound of the drivetrain after this section still hurts in my mind.

Checkpoint 19 contained a map to the castle ruins in Grabbacka and after some searching Jarkko found the code word.

It was now getting lighter and we only had five checkpoints left. I still felt quite strong and it also felt like the candies, supplemented with something more substantial now and then, kept giving plenty of energy to my muscles.

While I felt like I had lots of power left in my body, I started to have some trouble staying focused on the orienteering, and going to checkpoint 20 I made my only real orienteering miss, costing us around 10 minutes. Earlier on I kept track of and judged distances, while matching my position to the map, but at this point I had some difficulty with the distances. At nine in the morning it started to rain and we stopped to put on our shell jackets, since the rain just seemed to gain more intensity. The rest of the checkpoints went without any real problems and riding from checkpoint 24 to the finish just felt great. Shower, sauna and food followed.

We rode 190 km and our time was around 13 h 50 min, four hours shorter than last year. The route and other data is on Garmin Connect. According to this I used up 8800 kcal worth of energy during the ride, which really is quite a lot.

Gearwise, the only trouble I had was the right pedal. Otherwise my Salsa Fargo worked perfectly. It was equipped with a mtb orienteering map holder, but otherwise I just had the ordinary frame bag and a dry bag with some spare clothes on the rear rack. I rode without a backpack. The semislick tires were also a good choice. They were less great in the terrain, but I could compensate for that with riding skills, while they rolled very well on roads. I was unsure if I had enough battery capacity for the lights, which led my to use the main handlebar light on the lowest setting all the time and switching on the helmet light only if necessary. The helmet light on full power did give plenty of light, so this solution worked great, though when the morning came I had spare batteries for driving the helmet light on full power for two hours and the main light on full power for almost five hours.

For me personally, this also had a greater significance. Though it was nice to ride through an event of this length without any problems, and even power to spare, the real victory for me was that I made through it without any problems with my back and left leg. Two months ago something strange happened, almost certainly in my lower back, that in addition to great pain caused the quadriceps of my left leg to loose half of its muscle power. At that point it certainly didn't look like I would be able to ride a Mammoth March this fall. Fortunately, this little health scare was quite short and leg has become progressively better since then, though it is still far from being totally normalized.

All in all, a very nice event again and a big thanks to the arrangers. For me Mammuttimarssi definitively is the best and most interesting biking event of the year and I will certainly participate again. I also want to thank Toni and Jarkko for the company during the ride. It was fun! Check out Toni's report here.

PS. Sorry I have only a few poor pictures. My focus went into the orienteering this time.

PS2. Hannu won the 170 km bike version and Matti was the second runner on the marathon distance.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A perfect late fall overnighter

The rest of the family went to visit the boys' grandfather during the fall leave, but I could not take an extra leave from my work, since all the extras already go to the Wilderness Guide studies. I hence had two workdays and the weekend all for myself and found no reason not to go on a short overnighter. I contacted Toni, who also couldn't find any reason not to go. We then prompty decided to go to the Marttila area, some 60 km on bike from my place in Turku. With the upcoming Mammoth March sufferfeast a week later, this would also provide me with an opportunity to ride a little longer than the usual commute and get some picture of my current physical fitness, which isn't where it should be after the back problems I've had since the middle of August.

I started from home at five in the afternoon, taking a shortcut through the forest.

I wanted to try a different route to Toni's place this time and printed a very coarse map, not even showing all the roads, as well as a cue sheet from Google Maps. A great idea that didn't work out very well. The route went on very small roads that had no corresponding name in reality, even though everything was clear on the cue sheet. It is also uncertain if the road actually existed in a couple of places, and hence I got a little lost and was almost an hour late when I arrived in Paimio.

I rode through an unusually beautiful evening.

After 42 km Toni joined me. We had 22 km left to the shelter at Onnenperänrahka.

Only the final part was on trails.

The boardwalks were in poor shape and very slippery, so I only rode one fourth of them. And I also had fitted the map holder to be used in the Mammoth March, where I'm supposed to handle the orienteering, in order to see if my lights work well with it.

I immediately started a fire when we arrived at the shelter (first photo by Toni)...

... while Toni made more fire wood.

Water for hot chocolate and toasted bread. Pure enjoyment.

Lunar light.

We enjoyed the fire until bedtime around midnight.

The temperature was a little below freezing, which provided me with a good opportunity to test my almost ten year old ultralight summer sleeping bag (600 g in size XL) after it had been washed. I've heard different opinions about whether you should wash a down sleeping bag or not, but in this case it was certainly worth it. It seemed a little puffier and was more than warm enough during the night. (I did have my down jacket on top of the bag and it probably didn't go (much) below freezing in the shelter.)

We slept well into the morning. I woke up at eight to a very beautiful and crisp morning.

Fifteen minutes later Toni also started to move around.

Time for breakfast and coffee.

A perfect late fall morning with a crisp feeling...
... and tasty cranberries.

We were in absolutely no hurry and didn't start riding back until ten o'clock.

I had a pair of old semi slicks on my Salsa Fargo, to see if that would be a good choice for the Mammoth March. They do roll quite well and will be my choice if the temperature doesn't go below freezing, but they are quite slippery on the duckboards and in the terrain.

Toni had an easier time on the duckboards with the fatbike.

This time I rode two thirds of the duckboards. (Second photo by Toni Lund).

Toni pushes it.

Back on the road again. The next stop would be to get more water at Toni's place 22 km later.

The final 33 km home went a bit slower that I anticipated, but it was probably mostly due to the headwind. The occasional rain and hail shower also put a little extra spice to the riding, but it didn't feel too bad, despite my lack of training. I think I should be able to get through the Mammoth March, though I will surely suffer a lot more than last year. The only uncertainty is my left leg. Due to a pinched nerve, part of the quadriceps muscle is simply not working and the strain on the part that actually works is rather big, which could lead to problems with cramps.

This was an excellent overnighter. Weatherwise this weekend was a continuation to the best fall for a number of years, with the ruska being unusually great even in Southern Finland. Thanks to Toni for his company. You can check out his blog report here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Vigu Gathering and Orienteering Course

It was time for the second course in the Wilderness Guide education program. It started on Sunday morning and ended on Wednesday afternoon, but it was preceded by the annual Vigu (nick name for the Axxell Wilderness Guide education) gathering, in which present and past students participate. About 50 persons were expected for the gathering, but I don't think quite as many showed up.

I arrived just after noon on Saturday and went for a walk around the area in Tenala / Tenhola with Anna. This turned out to be a very nice place.

The sauna.

There were a number of possible sleeping places, but I pitched my own tent.

The dinner is being prepared.

Simo had his hammock again.

Some activities were offered, like slacklining...

... and basket climbing.

The dinner is coming on nicely.

Henrik takes care of coffee and tea.

Entrée. And yes, I forgot my spoon again. And my plate.

The main course was as excellent as the entrée.

And so a few hours went, talking and eating. The dessert was also delicious.

A little later it was time for the sauna, which was situated at the next lake a half kilometer away. The sauna was really excellent and the hottest one I've been in for quite a while. Fortunately the lake water was rather chilly, so things were in balance.

It was well after midnight before I got back to my tent. It rained quite a bit during the night, but stopped before I got up on Sunday morning.


A beautiful morning...

... and some advanced paddling.

Time for the actual orienteering course to start. Danni prepares the maps for the first exercise.

I've done some orienteering before, so the first exercises felt quite easy.

Emma found a control.

Meanwhile, the gear for the gathering was shipped out by canoe. The shelters, were the gathering was held, were not accessible by any kind of land vehicle.

Chilling around the camp between the exercises.

Making a fire with a modern fire steel is quite easy, since it generates so many hot sparks. The ancient way with a primitive fire steel, flint and amadou is an entirely different matter, though. Toni, who has studied experimental archaelogy and ancient techniques, shows how it is done.

Toni is also a blacksmith, and I bought a small knife blade from him, to complement my clumsier and bomb proof Mora Bushcraft Survival knife.

It was getting darker...
 ... making the night orienteering exercise possible. This was the first time for me. It was fun and a lot more difficult, but I think I did rather well.

Analyzing the night orientering results.

The dessert was once again delicious with apples, sugar, cinnamon, butter and probably oat meal.

The same sauna routine as on Saturday followed before it was time to sleep. The following morning was once again nice.

Henrik ships some last items from the camp.

We had now packed our stuff and drove to Solvalla to spend the rest of the course in the nice forests of Noux / Nuuksio. The first exercise was to get controls from an big orienteering competition out of the forest.

This is a very nice area.

After a late lunch in the afternoon we had a few hours of orienteering and GPS theory, followed by a night orienteering exercise and an even later dinner. This time we resided in a cottage with a big common room and a number of two person sleeping rooms.

The next morning was foggy.

We spent even more time with theory and exercises, transferring coordinates to and from maps, a task that isn't as straightforward as it sounds, since there are a number of coordinate systems to make mistakes with. Some GPS exercises outdoors also followed, before it was time for the annual Vigu night orienteering competition. I, and many others, made a mistake going to the third control and finished in the middle of the pack. The day ended with sauna and swimming.

The last day, Wednesday, provided a worthy final exercise. We were ready at 6.30 in the morning and were given the coordinates to our breakfast.
Some paddling...

... and one hour of walking in the rain...

... got us to the breakfast and morning coffee.

After the breakfast we got the coordinates to three more places to visit. It no longer rained and the walking was quite enjoyable in the fall weather.

Proof that we were at control 2. We moved in groups of three.

Planning the route to the next control. Photo by Simo.

Control three, where we waited for the others.

A short bit left.

After a late lunch we started to arrange transport home. I got on a car to the train station and arrived in Turku at seven in the evening.

I want to thank the participants of the course (and the Vigu gathering), as well as the instructors. We learned a lot while having a very good time again. I'm very much looking forward to the next course, a four day survival course, starting a few weeks from now.