The engines are purring, the wrenches are torqueing, and the finishing touches are being made for the 2014 Cain’s Quest snowmobile race, which kicks off March 1.
Racers from across Canada will endure 3,300 kilometres of gruelling terrain around Labrador, starting and ending in Labrador City.
Although the racers include a number of locals, not everyone has had the opportunity to try out the Labrador snow, including Team No. 11, Nunavut’s Jimmy Noble and Jason Aliqatuqtuq.
Noble said while they have no trouble with caribou hunting trips ranging from 300-400 kilometres a day, their home terrain is much different than where they’ll be racing.
“We have no obstructions. It’s wide open, no trees, it’s a lot easier for us to travel where we come from; it’s all wind-swept and hard packed. Going in between trees and narrow passes is very different than what we’re used to.”
Many of the racers have their greatest concerns while snowmobiling in Northern Labrador, but Aliqatuqtuq isn’t worried.
“Sea ice travel is what him and I are used to.We’ll smile when we hit the bay.”
It was only a year ago Noble asked his close friend Aliqatuqtuq if he would be interested in competing in the race. By March 14, 2013 the men had begun lining up potential sponsors. The extreme cost of participating has been the greatest challenge, Noble said.
“We didn’t get a lot of sponsorship, but we did a bit of fundraising. Everything is very expensive to come from Iqaluit. But there’s been a lot of in-kind support such as discount airfares, and one of the companies paid for our hotel stay for the week, and vehicle rental.”
The team’s greatest help came from an Ontario company, George’s Marine and Sports, which put in over 100 maintenance hours on the sleds, which the two men could not have done otherwise.
“They stripped our machines to just a chassis and changed all our bearings and fuel tanks and clutches, and rebuilt the machines from the bottom up to what we felt was needed.”
The sleds were purchased in Ontario and the crew, including logistics man Dion FitzPatrick, drove them from Ottawa to Labrador City with a U-Haul trailer.
Noble said at the end of the day the race is costing them $100,000.
“So if you’re asking if we’re here for the money, that’s far from it. This is a bucket list for us. We’re here for the adventure.”
The two agreed that finishing was their ultimate goal.
“We don’t care what place we finish. Doing 3,000 kilometres in six or so days is astronomical in itself.”
It’s been a financial crunch for both families, Noble said.
“We have enough for our fuel and return trip, and paydays in between to help us through. We’re not hungry. But a lot of things were taken away from the wife and kids to make this happen so we’re looking forward to that end too. So are the wives.”
“After this race, no more Kraft Dinner and no more bologna,” he laughed.
The two racers will be mostly on their own in the wilderness, as FitzPatrick will only be available at the check points and won’t be able to run parts out to them like many other teams can.
But they aren’t too concerned.
“We spoke to a couple other local teams. They said, ‘don’t worry about it, we’re all in it together. Anything you need, we’re here to help you out.’”
Their time in Labrador has been heartwarming, he said.
“To be so far from home and feel the support, to have Labradorians open up to us is …”
“Phenomenal,” Aliqatuqtuq interjected.
Safety gear is mandatory by Cain’s Quest, but Noble and Aliqatuqtuq went above and beyond.
“We didn’t cheap out on our gear,” Noble said. “We’re not taking chances. Cain’s wanted -20 below sleeping bags; we took -30. We brought a top of the line tent. Clothing wise we have everything we need, satellite phones, first-aid kits. There’s nothing we don’t have, we’re very well prepared. We should be all right.”
There’s just one thing missing, according to Aliqatuqtuq.
“If only they could have allowed us to bring our rifles.”
The men have never ventured on snowmobile without guns.
“If you break down and see any polar bears, what do you do?” Noble said.
Keeping the sleds from breaking down is their main concern, and the team is hoping to draw their names to be one of the last teams leaving the start line.
“If you’re in the Top 10 you’re going to push harder and have more opportunities to make poor judgment calls. If you’re in front you’re going to want to go a little faster and a little harder and that’s not what we want to do. We want to follow the people. We want to start and finish.”