Totalling more than 3,500 kilometres, there's no doubt that Cain's Quest is a long haul. But with teams coming from as far away as Finland, just making it to the starting line in Labrador City can be a grind all its own.
"I drove the truck and trailer across Canada, approximately 4,800 kilometres … all by my lonesome, for the most part," said Kelly Cardinal, who left Calgary on Feb. 22, almost two weeks prior to the race that kicks off Friday evening.
"Out of the 52 hours, maybe 10 of the hours were pretty miserable weather. Whiteout conditions, pretty sketchy roads, but overall it was pretty smooth sailing," Cardinal said of his five days behind the wheel.
Cardinal's long drive was done with a generous spirit — he's a support team member for his two friends, Dion Wakefield and Warren Alsip, the two Cain's Quest rookies from Calgary making up Team Where's Bow Cycle?.
Everything but the snowmobile sink
The racers flew on ahead, not wanting to exhaust themselves prior to the race, but say even with that luxury, it was a lot of work to head off into the unknown.
"Because, obviously, never being here before, we have to try to make sure we bring everything with us that we might need, and we're totally unfamiliar with the area," Alsip said, admitting the Calgarians aren't exactly what you'd call light packers.
"We shoehorned everything into the trailer. It was jammed full," Alsip laughed.
"We spent the first half a day here just trying to get everything organized, and figure out where everything is."
Riding in style
Being organized is Team Southern Snow Riders' strong suit.
The race team's four-man support crew hauled their gear in style for a 30-hour, 2,000-kilometre journey, from their base near Port Dover in southern Ontario, aboard a customized 53-foot tractor trailer, emblazoned with sponsors' logos and the unsubtle motto "challenge the legend."
With gear neatly hung on hand-made racks inside, and race maps pinned to the walls, it took three-months to prepare for the journey halfway across the country.
"It's just a massive undertaking. Like, building the sleds and the trailer, and just scheduling and room bookings, it truly is a huge logistical undertaking," said racer Dwayne Helmer.
The trailer is easily the flashiest snowmobile trailer in Labrador City, and the team said it raised a few eyebrows along the way to town — just as it was meant to.
"That's why we made it this big. So our sponsors get good coverage," said Helmer.
"That's what it's all about, is getting them out there for their great contribution."
Having competed before in Cain's Quest, the two racers knew it would be better to fly ahead and meet the support team at the start line, instead of exhausting themselves with an intensive journey.
"It looks so small on a map, and when you get out here? Boy, it's a big land," laughed Helmer.
Scott Wiseman knows exactly how long it takes to travel between his hometown of St. Anthony, and Labrador City, where he works.
But what the racer for Team Northern Peninsula Racing didn't bet on was the weather, as he tried to load his snowmobile aboard the ferry to cross the Strait of Belle Isle.
"I made three trips to St. Barbe from St. Anthony. And each day I went up, and the boat was cancelled," said Wiseman, who ran out of time on his turnaround and had to fly back to Labrador, leaving his machine with a friend.
"[It was a] really big worry. Very stressful," recalled Wiseman, as the clock continued to tick down to race day, and the ferry remained in port.
The long way around
But a miracle arrived just in time, thanks to the kindness of snowmobilers.
Mark Tinkham, a racer from Gander, also found himself at the mercy of the unmoving ferry, and decided to make it to Labrador City the only way he could: the long way around.
Mutual friends in the snowmobiling community connected the two, and Tinkham loaded up Wiseman's machine — at the expense of bringing one of his own — and trucked it to the ferry at Port aux Basques, and then on through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, a three-day journey.
"What a relief. When I knew there was somebody coming around with the snow machine, a big relief," said Wiseman.
"It's just too much money invested in it to call it quits."
As Wiseman is able to put that stress behind him, he does have another mission in the final days leading up to the race: to say thank you to Tinkham, in person.
"That was real nice of him to do that. And I haven't met the man yet!"