“Team Dirty Water” at the Appalachian Not-So-Extreme Adventure Race, Pinkham Notch, NH
We had learned that gear check-in and registration was to be from 5-9pm, and the pre-race briefing at 10. The team was myself, my stalwart cohort, friend, and teammate Jen Klafin, with whom I’ve raced throughout this year, and a new addition to the team, Andrew Hill. The support crew was our trustworthy friend, Frank, who signed on a mere 2 days before the race to help us out.
Frank was driving up alone, but Jen, Andrew, and I were car pooling. By the time we all got out of work, rendezvoused, loaded gear into my car, and got going, we were a little behind schedule. Combine this with traffic, a misconception of just how far away Pinkham Notch is from Boston (ok, and a stop for dinner), we rolled into the Wildcat Ski Area around 10:30pm, right as the pre-race briefing was concluding.
Now, we weren’t rowdy walking into the place, but we also weren’t expressing much concern with our demeanor about missing the meeting. This being said, the faces that greeted us from the crowd (there was no way to sneak in) had those expressions written all over their faces – “You guys are late, you missed the meeting, and you are going to suffer out there on the course. Shame on you, and you will get what you deserve. You will be a disaster and will be lucky to finish at all.” That might be an exaggeration, but that’s what it felt like.
David Darby, friend and arch-nemesis (see Balance Bar Boston report), was there, racing with an all-male team. As the meeting let out he said, “What HAPPENED?” As in, “Why are you guys so late?!” “Well,” I said, “we got going a little late, there was a lot of traffic, you know…” A pause. “Dinner, huh?” he asked, knowingly. “Yeah,” I replied.
Next, we had to do gear-check. As we laid all the stuff out on the deck outside the meeting room, everyone was filtering out. They got to see crap falling out of the car, gear strewn all over the place, me ripping my camelbak hose off and water spewing everywhere, etc. We were not a well-oiled machine at that point. This all only reinforced their belief, I was certain, that we were hacks and we were doomed.
Nevertheless, we passed muster (finally) and turned in for the night in our tents.
Saturday – Race Day
6am was race start. All our gear was ready, as we didn’t know which event would come first (though we correctly predicted it would be paddling). The gun went off, we got our maps and CP coordinates, and hunkered down to plot checkpoints and a route ASAP. One team bolted immediately. We were the second team out – probably 15 minutes after the first team – a half-mile run to the river and we were in the boat.
Paddle (7 miles – 2 hr, 18 min including maps and run to canoes)
It took us about 1 hour to get to the first checkpoint (or perhaps I should say the vicinity of the first checkpoint). The paddle was beautiful, heading east with the sun rising right in front of us. Temperature was great. An amazing morning.
We were barely 20 minutes into the paddle when I brought up the post-race BBQ and beer. This topic comes up in any race, at some point, but the sheer rapidity of the beer craving / beer drinking fantasy had me slightly worried. It should take longer than that. We’d barely even started. It was looking like it might be a long day.
We caught the first-place team in the general area of the first CP. Now, the situation was that there was a tributary coming in from the right side of the river, and we believed the first checkpoint to be up this way. The lead boat continued on down the river a bit, and we knew we had them – they’d have to paddle back upriver and we’d be long gone.
Water levels were low, so we were carrying the canoe up this mostly-dry river. We’d gone maybe 150 meters when a cameraman pops out of the woods and is all over us taking our pictures. We must be in the right place! We were in the lead, and loving it. No boats in sight behind us, we have covered a lot of ground, we were rocking and rolling!
Up, up the tributary we went, and then a side-tributary from the main tributary. Here, I fell into a 6-foot deep pool of water. And it was here we realized that maybe, just maybe, we had snafu’d.
To make a long story short, the checkpoint was about 50 meters downriver from where the main tributary came in. The lead boat must have hit it dead-on. We managed to find a trail – the half-mile trail leading from CP1 to TA1 – and used this to get back to CP1 instead of padding. Andrew, a truly awesome athlete, hoisted the canoe on this shoulders and RAN it, all alone, down to CP1, us beside him. The frustration level was very high as teams were running past us the other way to TA1.
But were we living up to our reputation as hackers – we were obviously in over our heads and these teams had nothing to fear from us. We bolted from course plotting fast, and got lost immediately, losing 30-40 minutes in the process.
We were in and out of TA1 really fast, but were 20 minutes behind Darby (who was in the lead) at this point – almost impossible to make up in a race this length, we felt. We were on MTB’s now, and decided to put the morning’s mistakes and frustration (which were considerable) behind us, re-focus, and race the rest of the day flawlessly. Time would tell.
MTB 1 (8 miles, 37 min)
We passed several teams on this section of road and fire road and were very efficient with towing and drafting. We rolled into TA2 with several other teams, dropped our bikes, re-plotted CP4 which we were told to do by the race organizers, and headed out neck-and-neck with about 3 other teams. We were in sixth place at this point.
Trekking (10.1 miles, 2 hr 21 min)
Within 15 minutes we had dropped every team, save Darby’s who was somewhere in front of us. Oh, and save Andy, the camera man. This guy was incredible. He was everywhere, taking our photos. He ran with us for a LONG time. We just couldn’t drop him.
We hit an off-trail CP dead-on, and climbed a steep trail to Carter ridge, where we encountered CP5 and had a gear check. Passing the check, we asked, “Uh, what place are we in?” They said, “Oh, you guys are in second.” We confirmed that the first place team was all-male and that it was, indeed, Darby. “How long ago did they come through here?” we asked. “Oh, they are only about 30 seconds ahead of you guys.”
No WAY!! We were hooting with excitement. We tore out of there like bats out of hell for a long and STEEP descent down a rocky, rooty trail to the road where we’d run another couple miles until the next checkpoint. We were moving fast, and started catching glimpses of Darby’s team, who had undoubtedly seen us and picked up the pace.
We caught them at the road, more or less, and were no more than 30 seconds apart getting into TA3 for the transition to the final bike leg. They left maybe 30 seconds before we did, and a hellish repeat of the Balance Bar Boston finish was looking to play itself out. Cat and Mouse for the remainder of the race.
MTB 2 (13.5 miles, 2 hr 24 min)
The mountain bike course combined some single-track, fire-roads, and sadistic uphill 6-foot tall briar sections. We got shredded to bits. For the better part of 8 miles our team and Darby’s traded the lead. At one point we collaborated on the maps to get out of a confusing area. It was here that Darby mentioned to me, harkening back to Balance Bar Boston, “You cause me a lot of pain.” “That’s what I’m here for, David,”
Andy was everywhere again, mountain biking with us, ahead of us, behind us, photographing us as we were unsure of our position, photographing ours and Darby’s teams working together.
As we neared the end of the off-road part of the MTB section, Darby’s team and ours decided to work together on nav until we hit the road – we were pretty sure we had a sizeable lead on the next team, and didn’t see any need to screw up and get lost at this point. We hit the road for a 5.5 mile uphill climb from Gorham to Pinkham Notch and the finish.
No navigation remained, only the grueling climb. This was looking to get really, really painful. “So, uh, David, you wanna sprint this one out?” I asked. “OH, GOD, NO!!” he said. I had no complaints, nor did anyone else. We’d roll in together.
It should be mentioned that Darby was planning on racing the Hi Tec race in Hartford, CT the next day. He did, in fact, go on to do that race, and win.
Our teams crossed the finish line together, in a time of 8 hours, 4 minutes, over an hour ahead of the next team.
We had a great race, put to use lessons learned at Balance Bar Boston, worked together tremendously as a team, and just had a fantastic time. Once again, my teammates were some of the most solid athletes, teammates, and leaders I’ve ever known. Frank’s support was outstanding and I can’t thank him enough for his help, making sure our gear was in order, we were well fed and hydrated, and in and out of transitions lightning fast.
Later in the week we held our standard post-race Red Bones BBQ and beer outing to celebrate our victory and a successful race!