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The Eco Endurance Challenge

The Eco Endurance Challenge … North America’s Largest 24-hour Orienteering Event?
submitted by Peter Lewis

Just before noon on the last Saturday in April, close to three hundred men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed in gear ranging from sleek spandex running suits and top of the line trail running shoes to army boots, with loaded backpacks and combat fatigues, stand map and compass in hand anxiously awaiting the horn that will mark the start of the 11th twenty- four hour Eco-Endurance Challenge.  Close to another two hundred slightly less adventurous souls will have already set off two hours earlier on the eight hour event.  As the horn sounds, some teams will race off at breakneck speed trying to get a head start on the pack, while others will amble away in larger groups, chatting as they go, for an enjoyable but challenging day out in the Nova Scotia woods. This is the Eco-Endurance Challenge, or E2C for short.   It requires teams of two or more people to spend up to 24 hours on foot finding controls scattered over a large tract of Nova Scotia wilderness.

Beginnings
The E2C has its origins in an event known as the Maxi Moose 24-hour Wilderness Race, organized by former Executive Director of the Orienteering Association of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Trails Federation, Michael Haynes.  Besides being well-known for several books describing the walking trails of Nova Scotia, Haynes has wide experience, both as a competitor and designer of orienteering courses. This type of event is technically known as a ROGAINE, or Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance; the 1999 Maxi-Moose event incorporated the North American Rogaine Championship and featured 174 competitors.  Several Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue teams were attracted to take part in this event in the rain and fog of the Cobequid Mountains near the Wentworth Ski Hill (site of the 2011 Canada Winter Games). Beginning in 2001 a successful partnership between the Halifax Regional Search and Rescue (HRSAR) Team and OANS began with Haynes as the first course planner and HRSAR as organisers of what has grown to become probably the largest one-day orienteering event in North America. The 2010 event accommodated 160 teams with 409 competitors.

The Wilds of Nova Scotia
The event is staged in a rugged area of Nova Scotia woodland interspersed with rocky granite outcrops containing many lakes, watercourses, forest roads and trails.  The land is owned by the Bowater-Mersey Company and is located some 20 km west of Halifax and 40 minutes from Halifax International Airport. With an area of over 300 square km available for the competition map, changing the start location has resulted in each event being a unique experience. The 24-hour course has traditionally covered an area of over 100 km2 with 60 control points of varying values to be found. Given the large area to be covered, a modified 1:50,000 map is used for the event. Although not a “traditional” orienteering map, the availability of aerial and satellite photographs and continuous field-work has made it possible over time to depict harvested areas, clear cut areas and offer a more accurate representation of the minor trail networks and larger boulder features.  Other innovations have been to include a Line-O of 5 controls and the use of a large-scale aerial photo for an additional 5 controls.

Search and Rescue Expertise
The logistical expertise and manpower of the Halifax Regional Search and Rescue team has enabled the E2C to grow and become a much-anticipated event in the Atlantic Canadian Orienteering and Adventure Racing Community. Evaluation and planning for the following year’s event begins almost immediately after the final controls have been collected. The event planning committee meetings begin in September and increase in frequency as the event approaches. Safety is paramount in any SAR training activity.  All teams are required to take safety equipment (compass, whistle, matches, knife, water) with them into the woods. These items are checked before control cards are handed out. Local Scout and Guide groups are recruited to man 24-hour safety camps and water supply points located around the course. SAR personnel patrol the forest roads continuously on ATVs with GPS locaters and radio communication. Trained Wilderness first-responders are on-hand and can be taken by the ATVs to the remote locations if necessary. Two custom-designed SAR $250,000 vehicles (most of the money for purchase was raised by members through events such as the E2C) are located at the Start/Finish area throughout the event. The Command Unit can display the location of the patrol vehicles on large screen TV and serves as the communications centre’ it is also used for scoring and results. The second vehicle serves as the Logistics Support, providing refreshments and a rest area for the many volunteers.

Competition Classes
For both the 24 and 8 hour events there are 4 available categories of competition. For the elite orienteers/adventure racers, the Public Competitive Category requires teams of two. For the Recreational, Emergency Responder, and Armed Forces teams there is no limit on the number of competitors in each team. For all categories, teams must adhere to the rule that their members must remain within voice contact at all times. Each team is free to choose a team name – imaginations have run wild for choices! A few examples – We’re Lost Again, Dad!, Lost in Declination, Eco Challenged, Boondock Harriers, Hail to the Chimp, 414lbs of Atrophy, My Compass Is Wrong Again, Wake Us When It’s Over.

For the Elite
Since 2008 generous sponsorship has enabled the award of monetary prizes to the first three teams in the 24 Hour Competitive category, with a $1,000 cheque awarded to the winning team and $500 and $250 to the 2nd and 3rd teams respectively. For the first time this year, monetary prizes will be awarded to the first three teams in the 8 hour event. Several sponsors’ prizes are also awarded to the teams raising the most in pledges prior to the event.

Rewards
One of the unique highlights of the event is the banquet held at the awards ceremony after both the 8 hour and 24 hour events. Here the sore and weary can share their stories from the woods over a substantial 3-course Turkey or Roast Beef dinner, freshly prepared by the HRSAR logistics team before they face their journeys home.

2010 Maps
Map A / Map B / Map C

Sign-Up Now
Be part of North America’s largest Orienteering Event – Go to ecoendurancechallenge.ca

Quotes from competitors from previous years

  • “I kind of like these compass thingies. When you find the control point it is a real good feeling that you have read the map correctly, taken into account the declination, and bingo there it is- just where you expected to find it”.
  • “We may not be the winners but I get great satisfaction from just completing the damn thing”.
  • “To start, we both would like to thank the HRSAR and the volunteers who organized and put this race on. Hats off to the volunteers, especially the lonely water station in the south end of the watershed”.
  • “The event itself was fantastic. Well organized and lots of fun. The food on Sunday was an unexpected bonus. We’ll definitely be back next year”.
  • “The meal was fantastic at the Lions Club hall and the emergency hotdogs and hamburgers at the base station were a sight for hungry stomachs.”
  • There seem to be several ingredients for a successful E2C experience. Physical fitness, good endurance, map and compass skills, and the ability to move well in the woods are important. Maintaining a positive outlook and a sense of humour is essential. A good balance between conversation and silence amongst the team is also good.”
  • “After the race and a night of sleep I felt more relaxed than I have in a long time. It was great to be roaming around in the woods, brooks, swamps, and back roads for a long stretch of time completing our version of the challenge. Later on it was entertaining to hear the anecdotes of other teams. I’m already looking forward to next years Eco-Endurance challenge and I wish there was a 24 hour race for each of the four seasons of the year!”
  • Was it physically grueling? You bet it was. However, fixated in my memory is a day when I challenged myself and got to places I never could have experienced without the organization and hard work of the many volunteers who made this event . It was a great day for the soul (and maybe this middle-aged body too!)”
  • “My husband, his friend Ober Reid) have done the challenge the last couple of years.  Normally, they travel from Sussex NB on Friday night so they can have an early start on Saturday.  While packing, my husband packed his hiking boots of course.  When he got to the challenge he realized that he picked the same foot from 2 different sets of hiking boots.  He did the whole challenge wearing 1 hiking boot and 1 of his dress shoes for work.  Surprisingly enough, the shoes lasted the whole time!  Better to wear 2 different shoes than do the whole thing while hopping on 1 foot!”

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