The guys who finished last

Team 85 dealt with adversity and disqualification, but finished the 2016 Cain’s Quest anyway

Adam Randall editor@thelabradorian.ca
Published on March 28, 2016

Team 85 may have finished last during the recent Cain’s Quest, but they were proud to cross the finish line after many challenges during the event.

©Submitted photo

While they were the last team to cross the finish line, Team 85 - Allister Russell and Craig Acreman - returned home as heroes.

The team faced significant mechanical issues during Cain’s Quest, which slowed their pace, and was disqualified several hundred kilometres from the finish line because of time constraints.
However, their determination to continue on garnered them provincewide support and their arrival was welcomed with a gathering fit for a champion.
Now back in Mary’s Harbour, after completing the eight-day endeavour, Russell took the time to reflect on Team 85’s unforgettable Cain’s Quest experience.
Leading into the race, Russell said there was a lot of excitement.
“We were eager to get underway, to get out on the trail and get a feel for the pace,” said Russell, who raced as a rookie.
By the luck of the draw Team 85 started out in 10th place, and their 3,500-kilometre journey got underway on March 4 in Labrador City.
From the start Russell and Acreman got a true sense of how gruelling the race was going to be.
“There was an awful lot of snow between Labrador City and Churchill Falls. A lot trails on rivers, lakes and portages, everything was really slushy and made for some hard going,” said Russell.
“We had a couple of small incidents, we got in the slob once and bogged down a couple of times, but nothing major.”
But their snowmobiles held together and Team 85 was holding its own in the race.
A couple of days later, making their way along the north coast on the rough sea ice, would be the game changer for Team 85.
Between Rigolet and Makkovik, in an area locally known as Tishialuk, the team was riding hard to maintain their position when Russell felt something wasn’t right with his wide track 800 Expedition Extreme.
In inspecting the machine, a critical part that was holding the suspension in place was badly bent.
To continue on, without causing further damage, Russell and Acreman had to remove the suspension from the snowmobile, pound the part back into shape and reattach the suspension.
It was stark reality for the two because up until that point Team 85 had been competitive and any hopes of completing the course would have to be done at a slower pace.
“They couldn’t take the pounding on the rough sea ice the same as the smaller sleds,” Russell said. “At that point we weren’t even halfway through the race and beating up parts on new machines, we had no other choice but to slow it down.”
But the camaraderie of the race certainly shined through during this disheartening time.
“We had six to eight teams pass us while we were making repairs. Every one stopped to see if we were OK and if there was anything they could do to help,” said Russell. “Everyone knew what the other was going through and just wanted to help.”
He even noted that a team from Natuashish offered spare parts upon their arrival to the Natuashish checkpoint.
After three hours everything was back in place and the team was back underway, and slowly, but surely Team 85 kept meeting its checkpoints, even making stops into Port Hope Simpson and hometown Mary’s Harbour on the South Coast. It was a highlight for the two.
“Everybody travelled to Port Hope Simpson, and after we found out we could layover back home in Mary’s Harbour, they all drove back to greet us again,” he said.
“When we left Port Hope Simpson we were back in last place, we knew we were well back from everyone else, and to still have the support of everyone back home was just an overwhelming feeling. Even the kids were let out of school for the day to welcome us in.”
Six days after the race began the team made its way into North West River only to find out that they would be eliminated as the result of a time limit.
A rule that racers were familiar with before the race even began states that all teams must be at Checkpoint 18, in Churchill Falls, within 18 hours of the first place team.
“When we arrived we were informed that the countdown had started sometime before we got to North West River,” he said.
“When you get that call, that you can’t officially finish, it was very disappointing to hear.”
That night, realizing they only had three hours to finish the race the next day, a serious conversation needed to take place.
They could have easily loaded up their snowmobiles and went home. But their race was about more than two people.
“We had so many people following us, so much support and so much invested that it seemed fitting that we keep the excitement going and go the distance,” Russell said.
The next morning the team headed out and was officially disqualified before they could reach the Churchill Falls checkpoint.
Meanwhile, word was getting out that Team 85 was soldiering on. A social media firestorm of support was building throughout the province.
In admiration of their perseverance more than 100 snowmobilers - including the first-, second- and third-place Cain’s Quest finishers - gathered to ride in the last leg of the race with the Russell and Acreman.
Another cheering crowd was waiting for them at the finish line.
“When we initially decided to finish our race, we just figured to have a few family and friends to greet us,” he said. “But a few people took it upon themselves to get the ball rolling in welcoming us and it snowballed into a big event.”
Russell couldn’t even express how much the gesture meant to the both of them.
“We just couldn’t believe our eyes,” he said. “It was hard to imagine that everyone had gathered for the one purpose of seeing us finish and that just blew us away.”
And looking back through eight days of endurance, it’s the support that the team carried with them from start to unofficial finish that holds the strongest memories for Russell.
“It’s pretty challenging route, and you’ve certainly go to respect the great accomplishments of those who finished ahead of us, 24 hours faster than us,” he said. “We only wanted to finish our race and, look what’s after happening, it was beyond belief, and certainly appreciated.

Adam.randell@tc.tc