CORNER BROOK, NL — It was an experience unlike any other, riding alongside a buddy for hundreds of kilometres each day and navigating an unfamiliar terrain.
“We’ve done some adventures where we never used a GPS (Global Positioning System) and just went into the country and tried to find our way around, but this was a totally different adventure,” Dane Phillips recently told The Compass, shortly after returning home from competing in Cain’s Quest.
Phillips, who is from Blaketown and now calls Corner Brook home, became heavily involved in snowmobiling little over a decade ago. He became familiar with Cain’s Quest a few years later and maintained an admiration for the event from afar.
The winter event covers a lot of ground — approximately 3,200 kilometres in all. Racers complete a full loop of Labrador, touching 19 checkpoints spread throughout Newfoundland’s northern neighbour.
Phillips and another friend talked about doing the race for a long time, but it was his brother-in-law, Dustin Boyd, who helped make the dream become a reality. They formed the team Best Kind Racing, attracted some sponsors for their vehicles and prepared for the journey to Labrador.
“It was a nightmare,” he said of the attempt to get the snowmobiles to Labrador. They left Corner Brook four days early, anticipating that would give the pair plenty of time to get to the starting point in Labrador City. However, they were forced to wait a further three days for the ferry to leave St. Barbe. Fortunately, Phillips had a friend in the community who let them use his garage to work on prepping their snowmobiles for the event, so their time was not wasted entirely. Boyd and Phillips arrived in Labrador City just in time for racer registration Feb. 27.
The event itself was a real eye opener for the pair. Phillips said neither of them realized how much racers rely on a support team throughout the event.
“We kind of went solo,” he said, adding this hindered their racing efforts a little bit.
“But the total experience, what Cain’s Quest is all about, is bringing people together and bringing people to where you would never go before. We’ve seen stuff people in Labrador have probably never seen.”
Going north from Churchill Falls, Cain’s Quest competitors passed Sail Lake and Border Beacon checkpoints before reaching the first of several indigenous communities in coastal Labrador, Nain.
“We got to meet a lot of amazing people on the coast of Labrador,” Phillips said. “From Nain right down to Charlottetown … They’re great, great people. Young kids out all hours of the night waiting for teams to come in and cheering you on like you’re rock stars.”
There were tough times over the course of five days of racing. As Phillips grew tired, the experience became mind numbing. But neither he nor Boyd would give up.
“You’re emotionally, physically and mentally drained trying to think about how you’re going to get out of a situation,” he said. “We went down a couple of wrong trails. We didn’t know how to get out of it, and we managed to come together as a team, and we overcame some challenges in that respect.”
The snowmobiles performed well on the lengthy journey, and when the two men reached the finish line back in Labrador City, Boyd and Phillips were relieved.
“It was a bit emotional crossing the finish line,” said Phillips. “People waiting there and cheering you on.”
Asked if he’d do it all again someday, Phillips said he would. The experience overall was very positive, and he found the other racers to be a great bunch to hang out and chat with.
“I can see myself doing it again, yes. I’d probably be more prepared and I’d ask a few more question to (experienced) racers. We didn’t know what to expect when we went in, and we gave it our all.”