Puchner ready for Cain’s Quest snowmobile race

Paul Hutchings phutchings@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 9, 2014
Part-time Deer Lake resident Jerry Puchner is shown on his snowmobile in this undated photo. Puchner is preparing to embark on his fifth Cain’s Quest race in March. — Submitted photo

 Anyone with an inkling of geography knowledge knows that it is not easy to travel across Labrador at the best of times. Doing it in the dead of winter using a snowmobile would probably be a nightmare for most.

Not, however, for Jerry Puchner. The part-time Deer Lake resident who calls himself an outdoor enthusiast will enter the Cain’s Quest snowmobile race in Labrador March 1 for the fifth time.

The race is 3,300 kilometres long and kicks off in Labrador City March 1. Riders leave Labrador City and go through 20 checkpoints through to L’Anse au Loup on the south coast, then continue north to Nain before making their way back to Labrador City.

“Why do I do this? I don’t know. My wife thinks I’m an idiot (because of it),” joked Puchner, who emigrated from Austria more than 10 years ago. “I’d almost compare this to a drug, it’s very addictive.”

Participants race in teams of two. The race takes an estimated 5-6 days to complete and riders must take everything they will need along with them. They are not permitted to use groomed trails except in very few specified areas, rather, the route takes them through deeply wooded areas and very deep snow, meaning riders have to be prepared for anything both mechanical and weather related.

Puchner, like the other 59 riders, will carry various supplies and tools. He has a small stove unit that works off his snowmobile’s exhaust unit and several energy drinks.

It turns out, those drinks are more important than most realize.

“Staying awake, especially towards the end, that’s hard. You actually start to hallucinate,” he said.

During one of the recent races, Puchner said, he saw an orange house off to the side as he and his riding partner were riding along.

“I asked him if he saw that house, and he asked me if that was before or after the (non-existent) overpass,” he said. “I actually felt better. I knew then he was going through the same thing I was.”

The race will include 30 teams of two from across Canada. Puchner said the average cost of getting onto the starting line is about $8,000, which necessitates sponsors. The $100,000 prize purse means $50,000 for first place, $30,000 for second and $20,000 for third.

The best Puchner has placed is ninth. Maybe this year, he said, could be his team’s year. His riding partner is Paulo Matias of Labrador City.

Cain’s Quest derives its name from the story of Jacques Cartier’s reaction to seeing the harsh landscape that makes up Labrador’s coast for the first time. The legendary explorer evidently referred to the region as “The land God gave to Cain,” a reference to a story from the Book of Genesis in the Bible.

The racers ride day and night, guided by GPS units, and they are required to stop at checkpoints.

With possible temperatures of -40, Puchner said, it’s hard to predict what the race will entail, as each year offers different challenges.

“It’s different every year, the weather may change or we’ll use different gear or snowmobiles,” he said. “But it’s something we can’t wait to get at.”

Visit CainsQuest.com for more information.