'Crazy' ice canoeists go with the floes to prepare for Quebec race
Racers will cross the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City to neighbouring city of Lévis and back
More than two months of training will culminate in two hours of racing for a Calgary ice canoe team heading to the 62nd annual Carnaval de Québec.
Made up of Mark Wilson, Willie Wice, Barney McIlhargey, Charles Gauvin and Candace Bourque, the Calgary squad will be the only Canadian team from west of Quebec taking part in the Feb. 5 event.
The contest sees teams race from Quebec City, across the ice-covered St. Lawrence River to the neighbouring city of Lévis and back.
"The trick of the race is it's not in a straight line," said McIlhargey, who serves as team captain.
"The tide is either pushing the river up or the river is pushing the tide down, so you've got a lot of moving, chunky ice, and at times it can move really quick."
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The race may seem simple — pilot a custom-made, nine-metre carbon fibre canoe across the river and back — but the ice floes mean it's not as simple as rowing or paddling.
Team members will spend as much as 40 per cent of the race outside the boat pushing with their legs to navigate around, and sometimes overtop, the giant chunks.
"The three rules of ice canoe are: never let go of the boat, don't ever let go of the boat and don't ever let go of the boat," said Bourque.
McIlhargey is the longest serving member of the team, having joined some 26 years ago while playing rugby in the city.
"A guy came up to me and said 'we're looking for someone for the ice canoes,' and I said, what is it?" he explained. "And they said, 'We need a little, fit guy for the front of the boat who's a bit crazy,' and I said, 'I could be that guy.'"
The race is on the St. Lawrence River, which is a bit wider than the Bow River, meaning the local team has to use some ingenuity when practicing.
"We practice going up and down the river, so we can make it as long or short as we want," said McIlhargey.
"We do transitions in and out of the water to simulate what we get in Quebec. But there's no comparison with the big ice out there and the slush out there, so we always get there a week early so we can get at least three times on the river before the race."
They'll be going up against upward of 50 other teams.
"We have been in fifth place and we've been last a few times as well," said McIlhargey. "This year I think we're going to do really well because we've had this team together for four years and it makes a difference the longer you are as a team."
"There's a lot of stuff that goes on, you can't talk, you can't hear, so unless you are a bit in tune with what you're going to do, it makes it really difficult."
With files from Evelyne Asselin