Pit Crew

The racers and I
The racers and I

So while in Quebec I was the pit crew for 3 canoe teams: Joe and Edith, Ivan and Graham, and Carina and Peter. I also had a buddy names Keith to help me. I drove Joe’s Subaru to the start line each day, dropped him and Edith off, then drove with a pit boat (heavy and stable, not a speed machine) to all the pit stops along the way. The race is so long that my job was kind of like that of a Tour de France support racer: pass out new water and snacks as the racers speed by, and pick up their abandoned water bottles.

The racers are constantly moving downstream with no breaks, so I was challenged to get to the stop, take the boat off, fill it up with (12!) water bottles, paddle it out, drop the bottles ion the boats as they go by, pick up the used bottles, and then paddle back, pack up the boat and head to the next one. Tight timelines! I am reasonable with maps, but it was made a little more challenging by the fact that I had not visited this area before so I was visiting each place for the first time.

Happily, all the racers got all their planned water bottles at the planned pits, and I picked up most of the discarded bottles. Kieth had done the race before and was a great help. I’d like to do the race myself one day, and then I’ll need a pit crew… and so I’m writing down some of the things I wish I’d known.

Day 1
Pit 1: Rivi̬re aux Rats. This is the first bridge that you come to after the start. There is a good parking lot and boat launch here. I recommend parking close to the exit and facing out Рit is advisable to back in everywhere you go so you can leave in a hurry without having to back up once the parking lot has filled in.

Pit 2: Grande Anse. This pit is shortly after the ‘Domaine McCormick’ B&B.
Take the next right down a lane marked ‘cul-de-sac’ and drive down to the houses. You can walk to the river between the houses on your left. This pit is at a curve on the river. Depending on the wind, most racers will want to come down the middle for strong current or river left to avoid big waves.

Day 2
Big day with 3 pits. Good luck!

Pit 1: Mekinac. Pass the yellow pannabode ‘Auberge Mekinac’ on your right, then go over a little bridge over a tributary. Shortly after there is an RV campground on your right, park near the end of this and there is a little boat launch that is easy to walk down. Racers may come down the centre of the river for current, but if there is a big headwind it is good to head out to river right and paddle upstream towards the point; it will be calmer upstream of that.

Pit 2: Grand Piles. Here you pit on the water from a public park/marina.  The paddlers do a zig-zag around some buoys here.  Some racers were adamant that they wanted to do the pit after this zig-zag, so that’s what we did and no complaints.  I did hear a good argument for doing it before (as most crews did); boats slow down slightly in the pits and then need to catch back up.  Boats also slow down around turns, so you have more opportunity to catch up if you get your pit before everyone goes around 3 buoys. The other benefit is it gives you extra time to leave and go to the next pit, which is a bit of a drive and run so it is good to have a few extra minutes. Next time I would advocate for pitting at the beginning of the zig-zag, but it seemed to turn out ok.

Pit 3: Grand-Mère.  This is a land-pit at the hydroelectric dam. Park as far to the left as they will allow, this means you have less to run down the hill.  The paddlers come out of the water close to the parking area and run about 800m.  The last bit of the run is very steep down concrete with gravel on it, so don’t try to get them until both paddlers are on the flat and the boat is lowered. Best to drop the bottles before they head down the short boat launch ramp.

This day ends in Shawinigan, which was under heavy construction this year.  Park in the riverfront park across from the pub on Broadway.  The teams do a portage in town, and you can run along with them to encourage them.  Don’t touch their boat, but if they drop a paddle you can pick it up and give it back to them.

Day 3
Say goodbye to your pit canoe, you won’t need it today!

Pit 1: Usine (The factory): Most paddlers start the day with no water, since there is a long portage about 20 min into the race. If they do start with small bottles, they will likely jettison them on the portage and get new full ones. I didn’t watch the start to make sure I’d have enough time to be there for the bottles. Park by the old Alcan16 smelter buildings, I think there is one that is a museum here. There is a low parking lot where the boats come out of the water. They run up the paved hill, along the road, over the train tracks, and then down the weirdest tree-tunnel/waterslide. You will see it and think ‘this can’t be it’. IT is VERY steep, alternating wet grass and loose gravels, and many of the trees are apples so some drop and roll down the hill, or get mashed into slippery pulp all over the trail. Be careful going down, and count your lucky stars you aren’t running this with a canoe on your shoulder. The canoers emerge from the green tunnel to the small parking lot, and you won’t have long to identify each other and move to each other. Its best to drop the bottles in before the gravel boat launch ramp, since here boats are often clustered close together from the start of the race.

Pit 2: La Gabelle: This is another land pit by a hydroelectric Dam.  They recommend spectators take route 157 and then park and take a shuttle to the race area.  I instead went down 155, parked on the other side of the Dam, and ran across the Dam with the bottles in a backpack. This wouldn’t be faster for everyone, but I liked not having to depend on a shuttle and route 155 is better to get to the finish line. You will have good visibility of you team running down and towards you.  Aim to drop the bottles in the parking lot before the yellow gate on the boatramp.  The water is crazy swirly here, so best to stay away from the water and the ramp.

Getting to the finish line: Drive South on 155, follow the signs to ‘Trois Rivieres’.  You will see the big green suspension bridge looming as you get close.  Before the bridge, take exit called ‘Boulevard St Maurice’ and turn left onto the Boulevard. Conitnue along and follow the signs for Chemin Parc St. Quentin.

Other advice:

  • Wear something vivid and recognizable so your racers can recognize you.  Show them what you are wearing in the morning so they know what they are looking for. The first day I wore red tights and tight red long sleeve, with an overall effect of spiderman.  This was highly visible, but also led to general notoriety (‘le femme en rouge’). Knowing this, go as bright as you can handle as it beats missing a pit stop.
  • Shake the bottles before you give them out, so that the nutrient sludge isn’t to hard to suck up with the straw. The racers will need all those calories!
  • Separate the tubes for each bottle so they aren’t tangled, but don’t coil up or knot the tubes; that will make it too hard for the racers to deal with when they try to drink them.
  • Be careful that the drinks don’t siphon out of the tubes in transport.  Try to keep the bottles upright and  kink the hoses with duct tape so they don’t spill in your canoe or theirs.  The racers can pull the duct tape off easily once they are ready.
  • Keep some spare water with hose and mix (or spare mixed bottle) in case one bottle siphons out, or someone misplaces or miscounts the number of bottles they need.
  • For water pits, point your canoe upstream. Have the stern person manage the boat and the bow person throw out the bottles. Aim the bottles for the feet or shins of the paddlers. If they are a bit further from your boat and you can’t drop or place them, give them a toss, aiming for the widest part of the opening.
  • For portage pits, plan to give the bottles as the paddlers approach the water so that they don’t have to run with a heavy boat.  They will have tunnel vision from running hard, so you may need to jump around and yell so they see you.  Run along with the canoe while you put the bottle into the holder since it might take a few tries into a bouncing canoe.  If you can’t get it in and your running out of space, just throw the bottle in the cockpit and the racers can deal with it.  If possible, avoid putting the hose on the seat.
  • Try to get a map in advance so you can study it. The race package isn’t published online so you’ll need to get it from one of the athletes.
  • Follow your instincts. There isn’t a lot of time to get turned around and lost and find your way again; if you feel you are heading in the wrong direction stop and check the map and turn around right away. If you can’t follow your instincts, follow the Bartons. They have a big, recognizable brown van and have pitted this race so many times they know ALL the spots and ALL the back roads. They are also friendly midwesterners and seem keen to help people out. 🙂
  • Pitting is not physically hard like racing, but you won’t be able to do it effectively all 3 days if you don’t also take care of yourself.  Bring water for yourself and store it in the front seat so you can drink and drive.  Bring snacks that you can easily eat with one hand while you drive so you don’t pass out in the afternoon.  Pee when you need to (bushes more common than bathrooms in this race), since a UTI would make this whole endeavour pretty horrific.