“It’s not for everybody to be out there for 160 km,” admits Cameron Dube. He’s talking about the Wendigo Fat Bike Ultra, which recently ran for a fourth straight year through the Ottawa Valley.
Starting from Cobden, Ont., the race offers three distances. A 50 km, 100 km and full 150 km event, which goes all the way to Shawville, one province over in Quebec. This makes Wendigo Canada’s only inter-provincial fat bike ultra event.
This year, difficult pre-race conditions forced Dube to reroute the start of the race, extending the distance slightly to 160 km. “Historically, we’ve run the first 10 km on Muskrat Lake,” says Dube. “This year, we got a lot of rain befor the event, and it was just two feet of slush.”
It all worked out on race day though. Wendigo racers were redirected onto the recently completed multi-use Algonquin Trail, the events backup route. Two local snowmobile associations in the area, White Water Sno-Goers in Ontario and Association Motoneigistes Pontiac across the border in Quebec, were happy to share the trails. In fact, they helped make the reroute even better, going out in the days leading up to the race to make sure trails were in great shape for the bikers. “They had it all groomed and pristine for us,” says Dube. “It was like a highway for the race, which was awesome.”
The inter-sport welcome was no small matter. In proper winter sport fashion, rain had turned to deep cold and wind. “We had big, big winds two days before the event. High ways were shut down and there were snow drifts that were over the hood of my truck,” says Dube. “But the groomers went out and cleared 90% of the drifts. Everything was just beauty for racers, which was nice to have.”
It goes to show that despite the races difficulty, when Dube says that Wendigo is a community event he means it. Organizers show up at Whitewater Brewing Co in Cobden first thing in the morning, and stay until racers show up late at night. “They’re happy having us there bright and early, then hanging out there all day, and they’re all about supporting us and the racers.”
On race day, racers were greeted by bluebird skies and chilly temperatures, rising from -20 degrees Celsius to a balmy -8 by mid day. Wendigo is a hard event, even under ideal conditions, though, meaning there were still the expected DNF’s on the result sheet. “It’s part and parcel with this sort of event,” says Dube, adding “As a race organizer, it shows the route and distances are challenging enough. If everyone finished, they wouldn’t keep coming back year after year.”
And racers have been returning to the Wendigo, whether it’s to redeem a DNF or try a new distance. “We definitely see the 50 km riders jump into the 100 km the next year, and 100’s jumping up as well,” says Dube. “But we also see repeats – people doing the 50 again, and they’re happy doing that year after year.”
Seeing racers return is part of the reward for Dube, as an organizer. “From our perspective, it’s amazing to see them come back that much more prepared mentally and physically. They’ve tweaked their set-ups on the bike, and everything’s more organized.”
For Dube, who has raced this sort of event all over the world himself, witnessing this growth is part of why he’s interested enough in ultra distance race to put on his own event. “I like to be able to set up people as best I can to push themselves pretty hard,” says Dube. “I think there’s alot of growth that happens to a person when you go through one of these events, whether you finish or not.”
He also saw a need for this sort of event in the area. “The next closest Canadian Ultra is the Actif Epica in Winnipeg. We have the terrain for it here, and it was time we had something like this to get people in the area into this sort of event.”
From his post at Whitewater Brewing Co, the start and finish for all race distances, Dube also the first to hear tales of adventure from out on course. “Everyone always has their own little stories which are pretty funny,” Wendigo’s organizer says. “some of the guys come in and they’re just so physically and mentally blasted, the things they say as soon as they walk in are pretty funny. They’re just kinda zombies for the first half hour till they have some food and a beer put in them.”
One racer in particular stood out at this years event:
“There was a guy who must have been exhausted coming back from the 100km race. There’s one turn they have to make, literally one turn they have to do from one rail line to another. It’s all groomed, and we had it signed. Instead, he just kept truckin through and ended up in the next town, Pembroke. So he actually rode close to 100 km, just in the wrong direction. His phone was frozen, so he couldn’t get a hold of us. He ended up riding right into this french fry truck, ordered onion rings, and phoned Whitewater Brewery. No one was picking up, because they were pretty busy that evening, so he ended up just taking a cab back to the brewery in Cobden.
“I was waiting in the parking lot for other racers, and this minivan pulls up with all these lights blinking – racers have to have blinky safety lights going – so it kind of looked like Cash Cab was rolling in. But it was the racer with his blinky lights still going like crazy. He gave me a big wave as he popped out of the cab, everything was all good. We had a pretty good laugh about that one.”
As for future plans, Dube would like to extend the race past 200 km next year, but he doesn’t want to change the event too much. I’d like to use more of the Algonquin Trail, and when you start pushing to the 250 km range, you get more international racers.” Three American’s travelled for the race in 2019. While he’d like to see that number grow, Dube’s still more focused on community. “I like the idea of keeping this type of event pretty simple. You show up, check your gear, and you’re out there on your own pedaling. If you finish,that’s great, and if you don’t, that’s great too.”
“Part of this event is linking up the local economy,” says Dube. “If you look at the Algonquin Trail, thre’s all these little towns along the way where we can do that, as riders just flow through the landscape.”