Untamed New England
July 9th – 12th, 2009
Dixville Notch, New Hampshire
This was the second year that I headed down to New Hampshire for Untamed New England with my Breathe Multisport Magazine teammates, fellow RF’er Marcus Olson, Joel Perella, and our fearless navigator, Joe Gabor. This year, Untamed New England was the only North American qualifier for the World Adventure Racing Championships in Portugal in the fall. As a result, there were some top teams from across North America that showed up to vie for one the three qualifying spots available. We knew that we weren’t going to be getting on of those three spots, but were hoping to improve upon our finish from the previous year.
Having learned a lesson last year about not going down to the race the day before, we drove to New Hampshire on Tuesday and used Wednesday to rest, pack, prepare, and of course, do some gear and grocery shopping. The host site, The Balsams Resort, had a pre-race meet-and-greet on Wednesday evening, so we headed over there to chat with some of the other teams, have dinner, and to get nervous about the race itself. We had a nice early night on Wednesday and woke up Thursday morning ready to go.
The race registration and map distribution took place only a few hours before the race start, which was really hectic. We had only 2-3 hours to pack all our gear, figure out what we needed for each section of the race, and to plot our CPs and routes between each section. Stress levels were high as we ran around trying to get everything organized and to make sure that our gear bins/ bags came in under the 30lb limit, which effectively eliminated any extra comfort items.
The first map of the race wasn’t distributed until 10 minutes before the race start. As soon as teams had plotted their points and routes, they were able to take off, making for a fairly staggered and unceremonious beginning. The race started from the resort on bikes for a series of bike CPs. Teams had been warned about the amount of rain that the area had had recently, and it wasn’t long before many of us were off our bikes, pushing and carrying them through the muck. It was definitely tricky trying to stay upright in the mud with a 40lb pack on your back! Our team located CPs 1-3 without too much difficulty, but it was super hot and hard to not think about the fact that this was just the first couple hours of what was going to be a really long race!
The next section, which started at CP4, was approximately 25km of river paddling which included some sections of class II whitewater. When we arrived at the river put in we were told that most teams had been dumping and that we had the option of portaging around the first section of rapids. Not wanting all our gear to be soaked, we took this option, which ended up being somewhat futile as we dumped a short while later in a different set of rapids! After dumping, it was hard to get our body temperatures back up and a real struggle to stay warm after the sun went down. We finally arrived at the end of the section sometime shortly after dark. Knowing that racers would be cold and wet, the CP staff had a roaring fire going which racers were using to try and dry out some of their gear.
Our bikes were waiting for us at the end of the paddle and we then began another long bike through CPs 6 & 7 to a conservation project which was CP8 & 9. When we arrived, each team got a saw and a set of snippers and had to clear a section of bush by a riverbank. Our reward for this work was a $10 credit at a snack stand that had been set up for us by some local volunteers – what a treat! We enjoyed some burgers, fries, and pop before heading back out on our bikes.
The rest of the first night was spent looking for CPs 10-12 on various roads and trails. Sometime around 3 am, we decided to take a short rest before the sun came up. We finished this bike section sometime in the early morning and headed to our next transition – CP 13 – which was located at a café in a town. It was pretty nice to have fresh yogurt and granola for breakfast! When we arrived at this CP, we thought that we were transitioning to a trekking leg through the mountains. Unfortunately they had stopped allowing teams to start the trek as it was taking much longer than expected for teams to complete. We were really looking forward to getting off our bikes, and the consolation prize (or alternate course) of biking 40km to the end of the trekking leg, was very unappealing! Nevertheless, we sucked it up through the heat and sun, stopping fairly frequently to refuel, stretch, and complain about how much we hated our bikes.
Somewhere around lunchtime, we finally made it to CP15, which was where our gear bins were located. We were hearing lots of stories about teams that were losing members to various injuries and ailments. Our transition was less than efficient as we tried to figure out how to carry all our trekking, biking, climbing gear and food into our packs as we wouldn’t see our bins again until the end of the race. This transition was supposed to be the start of the second paddle leg, but once again, we were rerouted on an alternate course. The consolation prize? You guessed it, more biking! We biked to the end of the paddle section to begin a long trek through the night. We started this trek at about 6:00 pm on Friday and didn’t emerge from it until about 10:30 the next morning. Those hours were spent searching for 2 CPs – 22 & 23. 22 was found with relatively little difficulty, but the route from 22-23 involved a heinous, curse-evoking, 1km an hour bushwhack up several hundred feet of thick, thorny, stumpy, mucky bush. Somewhere around 2-3 am we decided another rest was in order so we pitched our lightweight NEMO tent on a ledge at 2100 feet and snuggled with each other until daylight. Our plan was a good one as by the time we got up and moving there were many other teams working their way up to 23 and we were able to work together with them. It was a nice surprise to find out that CP23 was sponsored by EMS and there was beans, hot dogs, chips and pop on top of the mountain for us. After 23, it was a long bushwhack and trail hike to CP24 where we were reunited with our mountain bikes (believe me, it wasn’t a super happy reunion!). At each TA, we heard more stories about racers being taken away by ambulances or needing medical attention – the course was certainly taking its toll.
Our next CP was a few hours bike ride away. We found a convenience store en route to stock up on snacks and drinks and made our way to CP27. En route from CP27-28, which started with a 1km bikewhack up what we like to call a “vertical swamp,” our team stopped to do a reality check. We looked at what was left do on the course before the cutoff at 10:00 am on Sunday and realized we were not likely to be able to finish in time. We made the tough decision at that point to bike straight to CP36 – the Balsams Resort and finish line, and call it a race. We knew that this wouldn’t result in us being unranked, but simply put us onto yet another “alternate course.” Our satellite phone, which had taken a swim during our first paddling section – wasn’t working at all. With a 90% chance of thundershowers that night, we questioned whether or not we had sufficient dry clothing and food to make it through the night. So, we turned out bikes around for one final looonnnggg bike section back to the resort. En route, we found out that several other teams were doing the same thing and that some teams had been rerouted from CP24 back to the finish. Even teams that had continued further had to skip CPs later on to complete the race in time, and several teams ended up missing the 70 hour cutoff on Sunday morning. The bike ride back was a little disappointing, but a midway stop for a spaghetti dinner and two moose sightings was a fun way to end the race. The rain arrived when we were still about one hour from the finish, which made us think that we’d made the right decision to head back.
There wasn’t a lot of pomp and fanfare when we arrived at the Balsams, but there was beer, thanks to Long Trail, one of the race sponsors. We quickly loaded up our gear and headed back to our motel for a hot shower, a good feed, and a few drinks to celebrate our accomplishments. Only 2 teams out of 44 – both Canadian! – finished the full or Pro course, with all other teams being rerouted on alternate courses or disqualified. Although the race results aren’t official yet, we currently finished tied for 19th out of 44 teams, an improvement from our standing last year on a much more difficult course. More importantly, we worked together to get each other through the race and had a great time doing it.
Overall, I feel as if we raced much smarter than we did during the previous year’s race, and hope that we can apply the lessons learned to future performances. It was very cool to be competing in a race with international teams such as Merrell Zanfel and really inspiring to be surrounded by such tough and determined adventure racers. All in all, a great adventure with an awesome group of people – what more can you ask for?