Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Koenigs Take on the Maine Summer Adventure Race

Handmade awards on tree cookies! HVNC- Hidden Valley Nature Center. Photo Charlie Koenig
For many years, I have been lucky enough to have the unwavering support of my wonderful family as my support crew at my adventure races. They have organized my nutrition, lugged my gear, brought me dry clothes, and cheered endlessly while I insist on putting myself through hours of suffering (the good kind?) at all sorts of events. I have known all along that eventually some day my luck would run out. Some day, they would tire of watching my shenanigans. Some day they would decide they have had enough. Indeed 2017 turned out to be the year in which my support crew of minions would come to a screeching halt. 

Instead, at the starting line for the Maine Summer Adventure 10-hour race, I found myself with two anxious mini-mes and my husband by my side, all decked out with matching team shirts.

This story goes back one year ago when Kate and Cliff White, racers from Strong Machine Adventure Racing, encouraged me to consider a race they were putting on in scenic coastal Maine. Being that the race is the only USARA national qualifier here in Maine, it seemed worth looking into, so I penciled the event onto my calendar. Kate and Cliff, who have a deep love for the sport adventure racing, were hoping to encourage newcomers to the sport by additionally providing a beginner and family friendly 3-hour option that would include Amazing Race style challenges, fun checkpoints, and a great mix of disciplines that could include stand up paddle boarding and/or fat tire biking as well. This sounded like a perfect opportunity to get the kids a little taste of adventure racing! I told Cliff to count us in and invited my family to join me in a Team Koenig adventure.

If you know my children, then you know I never stood a legit chance at convincing them to do the family race. Several negotiations later, including discussions about "not getting in over our heads", breaking up into a girls team and boys team in case one of the offspring decided that they wanted to bail out, I found myself standing at the start like of the ten hour race (OK, sitting in a kayak as it may be) with my husband, 11-year old daughter,  and 13-year old son eagerly awaiting the horn to signal the beginning of their first adventure race.

Teams Koenig Chaos (me and Charlie) and Scrambled Legs and Aching (Dave and Noah). Photo Kate White.

As is the case with adventure racing, you don't know the distances or terrain that you will travel until about an hour or less before the race begins, leaving no real opportunity for planning or race strategizing in the months before. We knew there would be cycling, orienteering, and kayaking- but not the order of the disciplines. I had hoped that the kayaking would be the second stage of the race so that the kids would have an opportunity to rest as needed while Dave and I did the lion's share of the work. But alas, after a little MIA bus driver mishap (which Kate, the RD, at 8 months pregnant, handled beautifully, I might add. I, on the other hand, have a distinct memory of tearful hysteria upon discovery of a bat in my house at 8 months pregnant- a story for another day), we were loading tandem kayaks to push off the shores of Boothbay Harbor for the first leg of the race. One of my CVA students, who apparently works for Tidal Transit as a summer job (who knew?), helped gear Dave and Noah up (thanks Ellison!), and ready we were!! I took this as a promising sign for the day ahead.
Dave and Noah on the Narrows stretch of the paddling leg. Note the curiously open pocket on Dave's backpack housing our stash of honey-almonds. Photo Strong Machine.

Charlie and I making our way along the paddling leg. Photo Strong Machine.

The paddling stage of the MSAR was absolutely gorgeous. I had actually paddled the first mile or two of the race course during a CVA orientation trip, but the scenic coast of Boothbay Harbor never gets old. The foamy water crashing against the rugged, gnarled, metamorphosed mess of bedrock rising confidently from the ocean always gives me a sense of serenity juxtaposed with fear of whatever lies beneath the ocean's surface. While the kids did their part to paddle when needed, this leg was one where we encourage them to drink fluids, have frequent snacks, study the maps, and prepare themselves for the long day that lay ahead. We opted to skip all 3 of the bonus checkpoints during this stage for two reasons. One reason was that due to the late start of the race, the tide would turn around noon which would make paddling against the outgoing tide considerably more difficult. Secondly, we are parents. We know that when kids bonk, you want to be as close to the finish/food/bed as you can be. Bonus checkpoints would be considered only once we felt confident that we had the energy to complete the basic course. We made pretty quick work of the 13ish mile journey through the barrier islands of coastal Maine to the first transition area with only one minor mishap involving a bag of honey almonds and a poorly sealed ziplock just after noon.

The next stage would bring us along a beautiful wooded trail on foot where we aimed to gather the 3 mandatory checkpoints not-so-hidden along the way. As we completed our transition and headed off into the woods, the kids were in great spirits, full of energy, and excited to get underway. Several trails crisscrossed throughout the nature preserve and Dave and I accidentally selected one that quickly appeared to be taking us off course (well sort of- more like right back to where we started). While it was pretty clear that Noah was beginning to question the competency of his navigators, he let us off the hook without too much ribbing. In hindsight, he shouldn't have gone so easy on us because it turned out that we had an insert map for this section of trail in our pile of maps that we didn't notice until after the race. Um, oops.

We encountered many of the same teams over and over during this stage, which made for some fun camaraderie on the trails. Some teams made wrong turns where the trail was less traveled. Others left the trail in search of scattered bonus points hidden in the forest beyond the safety of the trail. One thing I really appreciated about this race was how incredibly friendly, easygoing, and just plain awesome the volunteers, spectators, race directors, and other racers were. Everyone encouraged the kids and seemed happy and cheerful themselves. It may seem like a silly point to make, but the reality is that not all race experiences are like this. Race environments can be stressful and can bring out the worst in people (even race directors). I think the people are what make this race exceptional.

Orienteering at the Dodge Point Preserve. Photo Strong Machine

We made our way steadily along, noting that we were continuing to make better time than we had anticipated. It was then that Dave and I broached the subject of possibly gathering a few bonus checkpoints in order to be more competitive in the field of racers. It was becoming clear that if we collected only mandatory checkpoints, we would arrive at the finish with at least two hours of unused time (the rules state that you can not return to completed stages- nor would you want to in a point-to-point race such as this). We opted to collect bonus checkpoint "E" that seemed to be a pretty straightforward: we could get to within a short distance of the checkpoint via a old, overgrown road and then shoot for the "summit" with a bearing. (Of course, this would have been even easier if either of us looked at the map insert provided that included trails, rock walls, and other benchmarks not on the maps we had). Charlie gladly went along with the plan, thrilled with the idea of snagging the extra point. Noah, on the other hand, expressed reservations and I could tell that for him it required a huge leap of faith. He knew that we might not find this hidden checkpoint, and Noah isn't much for risks. But, he was feeling good and succumbed to the badgering from the rest of his family and went along with it anyway. His risk was rewarded with a well-hidden orange orienteering flag, 4 sour gummy bears, and a pretty solid downpour of rain.

Devouring our supply of Ensure, gummy bears, Hammer Bars, pop tarts, and seawater-soaked honey almonds (Ok, only Dave was brave enough to eat those. There is a reason that this man is my hero), we approached the next transition to stage 3 at the beautiful Dodge Point Preserve. Our intention was originally to skip the entire stage since it included only bonus on-foot checkpoints. Having arrived ahead of schedule, we decided that we might consider grabbing one or two checkpoints if they appeared to be low-hanging fruit (maps for this stage were not available until arrival at the preserve). Upon reviewing the maps, we decided that we would attempt to gather bonus checkpoints L and M, which would require less than a mile of bushwhacking to obtain. We decided we would give no more than 30 minutes to the effort. Without difficulty, I was able to lead us directly to CP "L" (sorry Dave, you were wrong on this one). From there we covered some funky terrain on the approach to CP M. The faint topographic lines on the Dodge Point map, combined with some funky shadowing and lots of zig-zagging lines made it difficult to see exactly what we were looking for, but it appeared that the CP would be in a little hollow between two little ridges in the topography. After finding the hollow and no CP even after scouring the surrounding area, the search for CP M seemed to fruitless. The kids were anxious to get off of their feet and onto their mountain bikes and another team we encountered was equally frustrated. Dave and I learned last summer that sometimes you just need to let some elusive checkpoints go after spending 2 hours searching for one particularly difficult one that we never did find, so we made the call to give up on this one. Seconds later, Charlie's triumphant squeal of "I found it!" resonated throughout the forest. Checkpoint M, just so you know, you've got nothing on our 11-year old daughter.

Stage 4 was a biking stage that would take us through Damariscotta Mills, along single track behind Oxbow Brewing Co. and tasting room (where Dave was longing for a pint), and into the Hidden Valley Nature Conservancy. In another small-world twist of fate, the location for the bike drop and transition into stage 4 was on the front lawn of another one of our CVA students. We arrived to discover that sometime during the morning hours, every bike was adorned with a Snickers bar waiting for the weary riders to emerge from the forest. It was the perfect timing for a little transition magic and made the kids feel really special  (thank you Manahan family!!).

The ride to the conservancy was as great as the Snickers bar surprises (not gonna lie, I ate two). Fun hills, fast riding, and a stretch of new single track (which was another bonus CP) kept us entertained as we grabbed checkpoints and made our way toward Hidden Valley Nature Center. We are pretty sure both Noah and Charlie might have violated the 30 mph speed limit on a descent that elicited whoops and hollers from all. We probably also left a few roadside cows a little confused. We arrived at HVNC with around an hour to spare, and after inhaling some delicious pieces of watermelon at the transition, we headed out for bonus points Q and R on our mountain bikes. It was while looking for the CP R that it became clear that 10 hours of adventure racing would be just enough adventure for teams Koenig Chaos and Scrambled Legs and Aching. The final CP, cleverly hidden beneath a footbridge, nearly left us empty handed.

Charlie and I coming in for the finish. Photo Strong Machine 
As we dropped out of the conservancy and back on to Egypt road for the final mile toward the finish, I really enjoyed the opportunity to ride behind my kids as they completed one of the most difficult physical challenges of their lives. With each stroke of the pedals, their sense of accomplishment was evident. Noah disappeared out of sight as the finish line neared forcing the three of us to pedal harder to keep up.

While on the outside, adventure racing might seem like only a race. On the inside, it is so much more. We are reminded that together, we are a team. We are reminded to trust one another, support one another, and take care of one another. When things get difficult, we have one another. I am so grateful to be able to experience this with Dave and the little people in our lives. I can only hope that the kids will apply this to other areas of their lives and remember that no matter what happens, we are all in it together.

Charlie and I receiving our awesome tree cookie plaque for first place female team with Cliff and Kate White. That is one suprirsed, happy kid.
Photo credit: Strong Machine Adventure Racing

Thanks to Kate and Cliff at Strong Machine and all of their great sponsors for putting on this awesome event (and for the photos!)! Also, thanks to Hammer Nutrition and Spandits for their unwavering support over the years (click on the sidebar of my blog for discount codes from these two great sponsors)! We'll see you at the next one.


  1. As always, fascinating and impressive! What a gift to share this passion with your family! -Sarah & Kelley @ Spandits!

  2. have a great day.