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Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Untamed New England, Leg 3: Pancakes in Paradise

Posted by Brent (also published on his blog here!)

In case you missed them!

Leg 1 Report
Leg 2 Report

After transitioning from bikes and repacking for more packrafting (now down a raft and heading into a night crossing of Flagstaff Lake with only three boats for four people) we shuffled off into the darkness for our first Maine hut and the “Pancake Paradise”. This would be our first time at one of the amazing huts in the Maine Huts and Trails system, an amazing network of trails with a handful of first class huts. We made quick work of the trails leading into the hut and were a bit in awe of what we found.

The Pancake Paradise, waiting for us to arrive

Expecting a dark, damp shelter, we were greeted by a brightly lit and airy structure of pine and glass, air and water tight, and as accommodating as one could ask for under any circumstances. In our situation, a couple of hours from daylight after 16 or so hours of racing, it truly was a paradise in the wilderness, and the three staff members managing the hut warmly welcomed us with pancakes, tea, coffee, various deserts and who knows what else. I was frankly feeling the heat and a bit spacy at the moment, confused by the luxurious setting, one that is rare to say the least in the sport of adventure racing.

Imagine this all lit up, glowing in the night. Paradise indeed!

We took our time in the cool air of the hut, a welcome reprieve from the humidity and heat that had been threatening me since the race began. We would be setting off in our rafts once we departed the hut, so we elected to inflate our boats and get set inside, safe from the mosquitoes and aided by open space and light. We also took the opportunity to eat an actual meal, paying a small fee for an all you can eat spread. And while we all struggled a bit to eat considering the heat and our churning metabolisms, we took in a good bit of sustenance before setting off into the night, grateful for the short break and good vibes and conversation from the folks in the hut.

We didn’t stop to sleep, but we heard other teams fell victim to the comfy couches

As we set off from shore, Abby now in Mark’s lap in his superior boat, me paddling her boat after sinking mine, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed as rain spattered down upon the glassy surface of Flagstaff Lake. Following a compass bearing, we floated off into the night, making our way 2k across the lake, hopefully heading straight toward the cove on the opposite shore where the next checkpoint waited. We could see lights from other teams far across the water, and in the flashes of lightning we could make out the shoreline and the point of land, around which lay our cove. Strangely enough, despite my packrafting woes, we seemed to make good time and when we came into the cove we saw several teams setting off into the woods, Team SOG remaining behind as they continued to pack their gear. As we landed they set off into the woods, leaving us behind on the mosquito-infested shoreline as the night rapidly turned to day.

Another team examining the lake crossing the following morning

After splashing through the marshy cove to find the checkpoint, we had a good debate over whether we should packraft around to the next control or attempt to bushwhack our way out to the road paralleling the lake on the foot. If we nailed the nav and found the right tracks through the woods, we would likely travel faster than by paddling, but if we struggled with the nav or the bushwhacking went south, we could wander for hours before getting out. Ultimately we decided to pack up the boats and trek, and thankfully it turned out to be the right call. The mosquitoes were ferocious, but otherwise, we made good time, and before we knew it we were paddling once more, having traveled two hours along the shoreline, primarily by trail and road, toward the next control.

As we put in, we realized we had somehow passed SOG, but before long, they came skimming by in their two person Alpaka rafts, and our paddle quickly went downhill as I struggled to keep up with my teammates. The wind kicked up as we headed for our final checkpoint on a small island, and instead of paddling the half hour or so further along the shoreline, I called uncle and made my teammates pull over. We deflated our rafts, packed up and shot off for a bushwhack over a hilltop toward the first of four controls on the long trek to the next transition.

Had that bushwhack been a difficult one, my teammates would have likely left me in the woods for my miserable rafting skills. By paddling further up the lake, we theoretically could have found a trail that would have led to the control, but the woods proved easy to traverse and within an hour we had punched the control and turned toward the crux of the hike, a long climb up to the Appalachian Trail and then a steep descent down the backside of the ridge. The trek started off easily enough, and while the map suggested we were in for a long bushwhack up the slopes of the ridge, we found the trail heading toward our checkpoint continued for several hundred unmapped feet.

When it finally turned off our compass bearing we continued along one of several creek beds. We worked our way along the mountain side, and after we had identified what we thought was the correct stream (the next checkpoint was located on one of them) we hit an unmapped trail. While it veered off from our creek, we decided to follow it and we soon came upon our friends from NYARA, Bruce and Chris, who were racing as a two person team. Not long after we also came across Michael and Rachel from Bushwhacker, another strong two person team. Both teams seemed confused by the trails, but our altimeter suggested we still had to climb for several hundred feet.

Before long, we all decided to travel together, and when the trail turned even further to the west, we shot off along the mountain side, side-hilling to our creek and right onto the flag. The heat had once again crept up on me, and we halted for a moment, allowing NYARA and Bushwhacker to continue on without us before I finally waved my teammates on. Here was the fun part, a massive climb up an ever steeper slope. We followed a rough compass bearing, but unlike many teams who seem to have stuck to their compass, enduring hellacious bushwhacking on their way to the summit of the ridge, Mark improvised leading us well, drifting as necessary to avoid the thickest growth.

Unfortunately, I struggled mightily with the heat as we slowly climbed, but before long we met up with Bruce and Chris again. We settled into a routine: ascend 200 feet, pause, drink. Ascend 200 feet, etc. Even with the regular breaks, I wasn’t recovering, and finally Mark shouldered by 25-30 pound pack (in addition to his own) and we set off once more. For whatever reason, this break saved me, and even though I took my pack back 10 minutes later, that 10 minutes of relief allowed me to finish not just the ascent but the rest of the trek without issues.

We finally broke free of the trees on the AT along the ridge line. We had drifted far enough to the west that we were a couple hundred feet above the saddle, from which we would attack the next control, but again, this was better than the dense thickets other teams seemed to encounter by traveling more directly. When we reached the saddle we dropped down the backside of the ridge, looking for another stream and another flag. It took a bit of sleuthing, but before long we oriented ourselves correctly, found the trickle of water that was the “stream” and dropped a thousand feet or so to the flag.

Relatively speaking, the remainder of the leg was uneventful. One more control and then just a lot of trails and pavement to get to the massive transition area at Sugarloaf, a popular ski mountain with a network of mountain bike trails as well. We arrived in the early evening, just past 6 PM. We had until 9 AM the next morning to complete a 15 mile mountain bike loop and a similarly long alpine trek which would have us trekking, bushwhacking, scrambling, and scaling to the lofty summit of the ski slopes, though most of the trek would be anything but clear-cut ski slopes. Still, this all seemed manageable, and we felt that we were in a good position to make that 9 AM cutoff and continue on the full course. We transitioned relatively quickly, jumped on our bikes and set off for the bike loop, eager to take advantage of the last hour or so of daylight before the darkness of night two settled in. What a night it would turn out to be.

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7 responses to “Untamed New England, Leg 3: Pancakes in Paradise

  1. Kari @ Running Ricig July 10, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I struggle to run a few miles in this heat and humidity and you guys were out there bushwhacking for forever! Seriously awesome.

    I think I would have been one of the ones to pass out on the couches after eating pancakes. I kind of want to do that today.

  2. Johann July 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

    This is such an amazing story! You are really incredible. I’m thinking about writing a report like this for my last race. You had such an amazing and eventful journey.

  3. misszippy1 July 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    That pancake “house” must have seemed like an oasis to you! The ascent on the AT sounded brutal. Glad the little break from the pack gave you the much needed relief. Interested to hear about the mtn. bike portion!

  4. Jill July 13, 2012 at 5:25 am

    I truly love your adventures and just admire how much you love them. I don’t think I’d have the strength to do those multi-day endurance sports, I am too wimpy! You guys truly earned the Pancake House and glad you got a little rest and … pancakes :).

  5. Pingback: Untamed New England, Leg 4: The Agony and the Ecstasy « Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

  6. Anonymous July 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Abby – Glad you liked your stay at Maine Huts and Trails. Thanks for the kind words. We hope to see you again.

    The Maine Huts & Trails team.

  7. Bob Jenkins July 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Best report I’ve read in a long time. Looking forward to the next one.

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