Like many parts of the country, fall is the best season in New England, especially for adventure racing. It is cooler, drier, the leaves are beautiful and the bugs are minimal. I'll gripe to anyone about the fact that most ARs are during the worst (for me) time of the year - summer, and that no one seems to take advantage of the PERFECT time of year for a race - fall. In Maine you also have Sundays free from hunting - this can be of concern in fall, since we often share the same lands.
So, I could not pass up this little gem of a race, put on by our friends Kate and Cliff White of Strong Machine. I roped in reliable teammate Rob and, in the last couple days before the race, the legendary Dave Lamb agreed to join us. This was a mostly welcome addition. Dave would add a top level of navigation and bottomless well of race experience. The only downside, for me, is that Dave's "out-of-shape" (which he claimed to be) is equivalent to my "peak fitness" and I was sure not in peak fitness at the moment. But, I said to myself: "It's only eight hours." I also invoked this thought when planning food, water, clothing, etc. It probably seems like I'm setting up dramatic irony here but, ultimately, it was only 8 hours and things pretty much worked out fine.
Rob and I drove up the night before the race, about a 3 hour trip. We stopped in Belfast and scored some delicious authentic Napolitano pizza at an unassuming spot named "Meanwhile In Belfast." We snagged a hotel in Bucksport and, in the morning, headed to the race site - Great Pond Mountain after dropping our bikes in the Hothole land parcel.
|Kate talking us through the race format. Photo: Strong Machine|
|Kayaks staged for the first leg, on Alamoosook Lake. Photo: Strong Machine|
After a quick race briefing and mapping session, we were off in our kayaks for the first leg. Since Dave was the best paddler among us, we put him in the single; Rob and I grabbed a tandem. Before the race we had been discussing how all of us have a habit of making a nav screwup in the first hour of the race. Saying this out loud, however, did not result in any kind of protective reverse-jinx.
Our first CP target was an island slightly South of due West, according to the map, and so that's where we headed, despite the majority of the field heading to the obvious island you could see from the put-in. We booked it far south of their (obviously wrong) tack for about 10 minutes, expecting, at any minute for this island to emerge from the background shoreline in front of us, and at times, convincing ourselves that it had. Well, it never actually did. Dave then noted that our bearing had actually been slightly South of Southwest, and we had been, basically, paddling away from all the CPs for the last 10 minutes. If there was any silver lining here, there were a couple other teams 'in the same boat' nearby. I'm not sure whether they had made a similar directional error, or whether they were just so convinced by our confident power move away from the pack. At this point we made a near U-turn and headed to where CP1 actually was (the obvious island). After this, nav on the paddle was simple and we scooped up the next points without issue. The paddle was basically an out-and-back route in a narrow waterway. To get the final, northernmost, CP would add 3km paddle - 30 minutes in good conditions. We kicked it around for a minute and then decided to go for it. Then we saw the increasing amount of weeds in the water and then we saw someone on their way to that CP out of their boat pulling through shallows. Then we reversed our decision and boogied back to the TA, grabbing one more CP that we had left for the return trip. At this point we were 5-10 minutes behind international team Monkeys Throwing Darts, who we had previously raced closely against.
|Finishing up the paddle leg. Dave keeping up in his single-engine vessel. Photo: Strong Machine|
With the wasted paddle time in mind, we transitioned quickly to trek/run mode and set a serious pace. This began with jogging on dirt roads and gradually involved more and more bushwhacking in moderately dense woods. We clicked through the CPs without any major issue, but we weren't catching many of the teams that we knew were in front of us. The terrain was fairly hilly/rugged but the real climbing began when we hit the base of Great Pond Mountain, the top of which held 2 CPs. The terrain opened up to bedrock, moss, and lichen for this on-trail ascent. Although it was mid-October in Maine, it wasn't that cool of a day and I was sweating profusely while getting dropped (not for the last time) by Dave and Rob on the climb.
|Bedrock, lichen and moss, as described, en route to Great Pond Mtn. summit.|
|Between CPs on Great Pond Mtn.|
|Team photo at GPM vista. Wicked fall cullah!|
|It was pretty up there. Nice race location.|
We had really hustled through the trek and made no appreciable nav mistakes, however, when we got to the TA, we discovered that Monkeys had been equally successful and still had several minutes on us to begin the final leg, the bike.
Another fast TA and then we were off. Most of the riding was on gravel roads - passenger vehicle grade as well as rougher decomissioned logging roads. The rest was on a couple stretches of singletrack and summit trails with bare granite surfaces. One limitation for riding this area was the absence of many loops, so there were many out-and-back CPs to obtain (see GPS track). Everyone was feeling the earlier running in their legs, especially me, on the frequent climbs, but we just kept grinding away. Several times during the bike, we crossed paths with Monkeys, always just a few minutes ahead of us. We could not seem to close on them. After essentially exhausting the rideable terrain of the Wildlands parcel, we were spit out onto Rt. 1 for a speedy trip back toward the start/finish, grabbing a CP along the way, with a slight bobble and another encounter with Monkeys, still a few minutes ahead!
The last task was to ride a newly NEMBA-installed downhill trail near the finish. This would obviously be preceded by some kind of substantial climb. We had another nav bobble here and then we hit the uphill to the trail - a hike-a-bike that was really kicking me and Rob in the crotch at this point. We finally hit the top of the trails, rode the thing (pretty cool) and sped into the finish. Monkeys were already there chilling, so we knew we had earned a hard-fought second place.
After handing in our final passport, we were joking that we should go back and get that paddle CP we skipped. The volunteer said "Yeah that's what those guys said too: that they should go back and get CP 19."
"Wait, they skipped 19?" (19 was a bike CP)
"Yeah, I think they said 19."
"You heard them say they skipped 19?"
"I think so..."
At this point, Rob sees the passports sticking out of the guy's pocket, grabs them and verifies that yes, Monkeys Throwing Darts skipped CP 19. Oh, cool. I guess we won, then.
This was another outstanding event conceived and executed by New England's AR power couple and EcoChallenge survivors, Kate and Cliff White. We look forward to racing with them again!