Not so long ago, we were introduced to the concept of racing with snowmobiles. I remember my aunt entering a race in the late 60’s with the venerable Bombardier nine-horsepower putt-about across the river and back against the men, while people scoffed at her and doubted her resolution to race against their husbands and sons. Of course, she came back the winner, which only made the men look sheepish as they trailed behind. Little did they know that she was an expert snowmobiler and adept at handling all that horsepower under any circumstance, with a sled loaded down with firewood or without a load at all.
Many years later, some crazy guy from Poland or Belgium, came up with the idea to race from Quebec City to the far North by snowmobile during the frigid winter months, a feat that was virtually unknown or heard of to the target audience, mainly continental Europe. They decided to call it Hurricana, named after a very complacent and idyllic river (really a large stream) that lolled leisurely through the Abitibi heartland. The intended route went nowhere near the river, however, and this managed to pee off some Abitibians, who felt that the race should at least touch the river. The route was eventually changed, but not for the inaugural Hurricana race.
Many Europeans of different bloods came to tempt fate at the tryouts at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where a snow course of some sort was made. Many of these Hurricana wannabe racers never had ever seen a snowmobile or even felt temperatures of less than zero degrees! At the first snow rise in the tryouts, many failed to stay on their snow machines and wiped out immediately, thus eliminating their chances of ever bombing down a snow trail at a hundred km per hour.
Alas, many racers had prepared themselves for the cold by spending night after night in walk-in freezers or sleeping in bathtubs full of ice water. I suspect that there were some Polar Bear Club members in the group but who knows, I still say they were crazy, yet adventurous in some way.
When the final day came to race the 1,800 km or so route, many Quebecers qualified for the race, including a women’s team from the far northern community of Pirvurnitiuq (or POV to you old-timers). The race was chronicled with live satellite feeds to TV5. The official television coverage reached Europe and Hurricana fever was in full swing.
True to its zany concept, the rookie racers came up with ingenious ways to keep the frigid cold from overcoming their will to survive. One chap decided that the warm exhaust from his snowmobile piped into his tent should keep him warm, and subsequently he was airlifted out by helicopter to the nearest hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning and the deadly Hurricana claimed one of its many unfortunate victims. The only women’s team, had the unfortunate fate of crossing a ravine using the railroad track. As footage shows from the official video production, as they dove off at the last possible second before being rammed from behind by the CN train enroute to a northern mining depot. The Hurricana claimed more unfortunate victims as the racers got closer and closer to the end of the trail.
One thing that made a difference about this race and the other Hurricana over the years, is that the first had the racer cover rough terrain and was far away from urban areas. This made the teams have to sleep in tents or outdoors and this gave the media plenty of access to the racers. In the later races, the route was changed to go near the southern communities of Chibougamou, Senneterre, Chapais, etc… where the night could be spent at a comfortable hotel. This peeved many a journalist, as their stars didn’t want to be interviewed during their much-needed rest. In a way, making the Hurricana as just another race instead of an adventure for the foolish and crazy, as was with the first race didn’t make it a media frenzy. I must add that the second race had to compete with the coverage of the Persian Gulf war and Saddam’s insane attempt to raise the price of oil and the world’s attention and just about every available television camera was pointed away from the North. Bad timing, I guess.
I just hope that the glamour and prestige of the Hurricana comes back, and again, the North will be recognized as a place to be when you’re in need of an unforgettable adventure.