Monday, August 12, 2019

Scrambled Legs and Aching and Dainty Flowers take a Bitter Pill

"I must be reading this map wrong... they expect us to bike through that swamp?" - GMARA crew. Photo GMARA
5 am. Making a plan of attack at the start of the race. Photo GMARA
It has been clear for several years now that I would not be able to keep the sport of adventure racing all to myself. It was only a matter of time before my loyal cheering squad on the sidelines would sign up to become my teammates. At ages 11 and 13, Dave and I finally decided that Charlie and Noah were old enough to get their feet wet at the 10-hour Maine Summer Adventure race in the summer of 2017. Ever since then, it has been a matter of when, not if, we would give family adventure racing another go.

Fast forward to 2019's Bitter Pill, put on by Green Mountain Adventure Racing. 4 Koenigs. Two teams. 12 Hours of adventure.
Team Dainty Flowers all registered and ready to go!
The reality is that multi-sport adventure racing isn't exactly popular with kids. It seems to me that it should be; the idea of running around in the woods on an epic scavenger hunt seems like it was made with kids in mind. While there are others in the under 18 crowd who participate, usually the number of teens at any given race is no more than just a few. This is probably due to the either the duration or simply amount of gear required (and schlepped) for the duration of the event. To minimize this, Dave and I agreed that we would all have the most fun if we  limited the amount of gear that the kids needed to carry by shouldering as much of the load as possible. The kids would only carry mandatory gear needed in the event of an emergency. Everything else would go in our packs. 
Team Scrambled Legs and Aching at registration.

On this day, our adventure race consisted of three major disciplines: mountain biking, trekking, and paddling over 5 different segments for the duration of the race. The first leg was a mountain bike leg- a bike leg that would take us up through beautiful single track, lots of climbing, and over slippery, wet sections of trail in the Perry Hill trail network. The Perry Hill trails are known for outstanding downhill single track riding in the region. Unfortunately for us, we would climb all of these trails from the bottom up. This is one of the many tactics that race directors use to torment racers.

After grabbing the first 5 mandatory checkpoints, we started out the big climb conservatively and opted to skip two optional checkpoints to save time. However, it became obvious to us pretty quickly that these checkpoints were going to be the low-hanging fruit of the day and that our original plan to skip optional checkpoints was needlessly conservative. The kids were in good spirits, having fun, and riding well, so we adjusted our plan accordingly and were able to punch all but 2 of the first 22 checkpoints (needlessly skipping #6 and #13) during this biking section. Charlie had one ugly mishap involving a small footbridge and stream, but we otherwise came away from this section unscathed (sorry, no crash photo available).

Getting ready to head up Perry Hill. Pic GMARA
This bike leg also included a little additional race director humor: a 1.5 mile-long bike-whack through a swamp. Really, it was a swamp: in places, a more-than-waist-deep swamp.
A fun little video captured by Mason and Reed of the NH Trail Vets Development squad of a few seconds of our fun in the swamp.

Not so rideable here.  It turns out that there is a faint trail just to the left of us in this picture that Charlie suggested that we take. We ignored her advice. We later learned that this would have circumnavigated the first portion of the swamp. Oops. Photo GMARA

Photo of the "mandatory, heinous, swamp-whack" courtesy of NH Trail Vets. During this section, we met up with Mason and Reed Holland of the NH Trail Vets Development Squad- one of the other groups with the next generation of adventure racers.

The swamp-whack was actually quite beautiful and not altogether unpleasant. It turned out to be not really so heinous after all. Photo GMARA
At transition area #1, we got our shoes cleaned out and did some quick foot care while making a plan for the trekking portion of the race.

Not all teams were quite so lucky to arrive at TA 1 unscathed. When we saw these guys, they were trying to fix the frame with a big stick. Zip ties for the win? GMARA photo.
The kids took us literally when we suggested that we toss their shoes in the stream. Photo GMARA
Foot drying, snacking, and map reading. Parenting has taught us solid multi-tasking skills.

The trekking portion of the course included some pretty challenging navigation and an all-you-can-bushwhack smorgasbord of checkpoints. There were a total of 9 CP's along the trek- all were optional. We opted to do what we could in 3 - 3.5 hours of bushwhacking through steep ravines, contoured hillsides, and some tricky hidden checkpoints (after 30 mins of searching in the wrong place, the "log bridge" clue at CP 22 nearly flummoxed us because we were in the wrong reentrant.). In the end, we were able to secure half of the optional trekking checkpoints before descending back to the transition area to jump back on our bikes.

Patiently waiting to head back out for another little bike ride. Photo GMARA

Departing TA 2. Note how sleek Charlie looks with her cute little Salomon running backpack. Photo GMARA

Me, looking like a pack mule with a pile of lifejackets hanging from my overstuffed pack. Photo GMARA.
The bike to transition area #3 was quick and straightforward and soon we found ourselves heading off for a nice 10-12 km paddle on the Winooski river with some easy rapids and fun moving water. 

A fun little checkpoint along the Winooski River. Photo GMARA

Paddling up to the final checkpoint of the river section. Photo GMARA

Portaging boats up to the transition area from the paddle. This was definitely the most difficult part of the paddle leg. That blue kayak had carry loops in the most ridiculous, unuseful places. Who decides to put a grab-loop in the middle of a boat anyway? Photo GMARA
The final segment of the race was a trekking section back to the finish. Ducking between a few scattered raindrops, we made our way to the finish with about 30 minutes to spare for our 12 hour 15 min cutoff (about 5 minutes before the sky opened up, finally giving way to the threatening thunderstorms). 

While we weren't the top team for the day, together we accomplished something pretty special. Together, we snagged 35 out of 48 possible points. Team Scrambled Legs and Aching also won the prestigious "best team name" award that came with the best race prize ever: homemade cookies!!

Scrambled Legs and Aching and a box of the most delicious cookies. Thanks Yager family!

While Charlie and I didn't win cookies, we did win socks and zucchini. Yep, that is, in fact, zucchini.
Despite the occasional bickering (if there is anyone out there with young teens who don't bicker, please tell us your secrets), we all finished the day with a renewed appreciation for one another. We faced challenges throughout the day, but none that we couldn't overcome when we worked together. While there were moments of the day that might be considered by some as Type 2 fun (I think bike carrying generally falls in this category), I think we would all agree that the Bitter Pill served up a spectacular day for family adventure! 

Leaving TA 4.  Photo GMARA

A big thanks to the folks at GMARA, all of the great volunteers that made this day special, and the other teams we ran into on the trail who were awesome to share this event with. Also, as always, thanks to our friends at Spandits!