It bills itself as “the world’s longest and toughest snowmobile endurance race.” And, at roughly 3,200 kilometres through some of the most rugged wilderness and unpredictable weather on the planet, who is going to argue?
The 41 teams that registered for the 2018 version of Cain’s Quest to test their mettle against Labrador got lucky. At the start line in Labrador City on Friday, March 2, racers were greeted by balmy temperatures and mostly clear skies.
Jason Paul, a three-time veteran of the race from Labrador City, who this year was providing support for the two pairs of racers representing Team Maine, weighed in on the race conditions from the check point in Postville on Sunday.
“It’s really fast this year,” he said. “The conditions are really good. It’s a little warm and the ice fog on the coast is making visibility a little difficult, but other than that it’s really fast. The sea ice is relatively smooth and people, as the years progress, they get better at modifying the machines and suspensions to be able to run faster without them breaking.”
Another reason for the speed this year was preparation combined with relatively low snowfall just prior to the race, Paul said.
“A lot of the racers and support crews pre-ran the race, so a lot of the trails were opened up a week or two weeks before the race. With the current weather, there’s no big storms so, again, that kind of shows why it’s a fast race this year that people done their homework beforehand and opened it up so the race machines are going through pretty quick.”
But, while the conditions may have been good, and Labradorians were reveling in the unseasonable spring-like temperatures, the weather was not ideal, Paul explained.
“Personally, I would like to see it around minus-15. The snowmobiles run better. The snow is starting to get sticky so it makes it more difficult to turn, so you’ll probably see a little more braking. The tracks start to fill with snow, it makes them heavier sometimes and they don’t perform as well, and especially breaking trail, they’ll start to get stuck more.”
Since its inception in 2006, Cain’s Quest has grown in popularity. The 41 teams in the 2018 edition is up five from last year and the grueling challenge is starting to attract attention from beyond the Labrador. In the field this year was one team each from the United States and Finland as well as racers from Newfoundland and the rest of Canada.
“A lot of teams are mixed right now,” Paul said. “In our case, we have a racer from Labrador and a racer from Ontario, a racer from Maine and a racer from Labrador and you start to see that a little more as the race develops. People make friendships and they say, ‘let’s do this together’.”
But while the original impetus of the event was to promote tourism, and despite the $100,000 in prize money to be divided among the three top finishers, it remains mostly all about Labrador and Labradorians.
Paul thinks that is at least partly logistical.
“In order to be competitive, it is costly, the work that you need to put into the machines themselves and getting to Labrador,” he noted. “Labrador itself is remote so it’s a little difficult sometimes, and costly, to get your snowmobiles and your crew and everything into Labrador.”
The remoteness, of course, is big part of the appeal along with a major sense of accomplishment.
“It involves pretty much every community in Labrador,” Paul said. “To say that you can go on a snowmobile for 3,200 kilometres, to visit every community in Labrador and do it all in six or seven days, it’s quite a feat really when you think about it when you’re using no groomed trails, you’re just following rivers, lakes, streams, sea ice, mountains.”