I set out on 3 with my heart buoyed a little by the brief interlude of sun. I wasn't sure how long it would last but I was happy.
This leg is fairly benign as it doesn't have much vertical change and follows the Smoky River. I mean it has some elevation for sure but with it's net loss it feels like a break after the horrors of leg 2.
This year (2019) there had been some sections that were a little washed out from a super wet summer and as a result we ran the side of the road for a section along the highway. I didn't mind at all and took the breather before the Hamel assault to try and recharge.
Upon reaching the end of 3, I met up with Angie Z who was waiting for Hiro and helping crew me as well and she was a welcome sight. She is so experienced at crewing that she knew precisely what to say and do and how to keep my tired brain on the proper script.
Hiro had arrived shortly and we regrouped to prepare for the assault on Mount Hamel. This meant packing up lots of calories, my wind and rain proof jacket and headlamp and other assorted safety gear. Being close to supper time meant eating a lot of calories to prepare.
At the bottom of leg 4 it was a nice balmy temperature for Grande Cache of something like 15 C as Hiro and I departed for the Hamel assault. What we found was a switchback filled with mud and lush vegetation. This part went on seemingly forever as we kept climbing.
After a relentless forest climb we opened out to a clearing and a road. This gravel road continued to climb. The views were getting more amazing around every bend.At one point I was flowing along so I looked back at one point and Hiro was not there. Given his experience I was sure he was fine though and continued upwards. It was so great seeing him later on getting his washer at the summit!
Eventually above the trees the final switchback appeared and as I went ever higher, the wind gradually picked up and the temperature gradually fell. I reached my wind-proof jacket out from the pack and put it on.
On one of the last switchbacks right at the summit I looked out to the west at the surrounding mountains just as the sun was about to set. I think that was the most epic view of the race. It definitely made my day to see clear skies and a beautiful orange sunset from the summit.
On the summit, it had to have been sub-zero wind-chill and the wind was so powerful that it buffeted me several times off the trail. Some of the small pin flags marking the course were shredded down to a pin with a ragged edge of plastic where a flag once was.
Then came the sick joke played on all of us of going out along a ridge to pick up a washer and bring it back to the marshals! Nice one! I put my head down and pushed into the gusting high winds as dirt caked my face sticking to the sweat. I smiled at the absurdity of the whole affair.
After passing the prayer flags and stopping momentarily to remember those who were lost and contemplate the meaning of them, it was off down the other side of the mountain.
I noticed immediately that my energy came up higher than it had been. This as partly because of the fact I like to run the downhills but also because the trail was rocky but dry and it was considerably less windy and cold.
After a really long descent and back into the trees, I came upon the next cruel joke... The Ambler Loop! I had filled my stomach with salty hot broth and some other calories from the amazing aid station so there was that small grace, but then we were directed out towards this swampy loop that was psychologically trying I found. Not sure why, but it got to me.
After Ambler came the Beaver Dam road. This was not steep but went on for a super long time. I think that may have been because of the level of fatigue I had at that point. This road would take us close to the end of 4 and the 100km mark. I made a conscious effort to just keep one foot after the other going.
After reaching the end of 4 and the 100 km mark, I pulled into the checkpoint. If you run any of the Sinister Sports events you will find that Solo runners are treated like rock stars and the cheers that went up when I arrived were truly heartwarming.
To my surprise Steve Bridson (my Ontario Ultra buddy) was there and happily provided me the support I needed. Steve was crewing our friend Grant Monette and it was great seeing him there.
After fuelling and getting sortedI got an ominous reminder about the remote wilderness aspect of the race from a course marshal. We were being warned that it was a good idea to go out on the last leg #5 with other runners. There had been cougars reported stalking runners out there so it was best to travel in numbers. No argument here, I made some friends quickly and got ready to head out for the final 25 km.
The money leg that takes us home was going to start with a cautious run with bear whistles out and eyes peeled. It was about 8 km into the leg that we heard distant yells "hey cougar!!!" which was a warning from runners ahead on the trail that they had a sighting. They continued to make a lot of noise to scare them off and we continued with occasional loud blows of our whistles.
This single track leg was actually quite pretty in the night and featured a narrow rock gap to squeeze through prior to arriving at the river.
I can't remember but I think it was about 10km into the leg that I felt what seemed like a bee sting in my left knee during one of the descents. I couldn't figure out what it was, but the pain got worse and spread down the outside muscle of my shin.
We had finally reached the river and the boatman of the dead! With a blacked out face and outstretched hand the figure stood silently to allow only those who had kept their precious coin without losing it along the course of the race thus far. I jokingly gave the outstretched hand 5 and the figure just shook it's supernatural head. Just kidding... Here is your coin.
After passing the boatman at the river's edge, my leg was so painful that the boatmen had to help me get the leg over the side of the boat and get in. After a freezing super fast, short trip we were on the other side!
What followed was more forest and more hills and more fun! My leg was very grumpy with me but I ignored it, embraced the suffering and went on.
As the very first light came into the forest I was almost at the road. A road that takes us, uphill of course, to the neighbourhood where we climb up to the main street and the community centre to finish. I was hurting but so over it that I sped up and ended up running quickly into the chute and finish arch... It was done.