Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Untamed New England, Legs 6 and 7: Escaping the Flood

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

In case you missed them:

Leg 1 Report
Leg 2 Report
Leg 3 Report
Leg 4 & 5 Report

Leaving the transition at Sugarloaf was bittersweet; we had turned in a strong showing on the alpine trek and felt like we had regained a fair bit of momentum heading into the final stretch of the race. That said, we also were setting off on the short course despite feeling we had plenty of time to finish the full one. There was nothing to be done, however, except revise our goals to finishing strong and making a run to be the first of the short course field. This seemed a reasonable goal, as we had passed or made up time on a handful of teams at Sugarloaf, and we were only behind Rachel and Michael from Bushwhacker on the short course.
After a relatively quick ride, we pulled into another of the wonderful Maine huts. This one had a large lodge and several bunk houses, one of which had been set aside for racers to sleep in during the orienteering relay. We were surprised to find Yogaslackers still at the hut (the last of the full course teams), and we quickly checked in and started the relay. Mark set off first, tackling the long-difficult course. I would go second on short difficult, Abby would then head out on the short, easy course with the waning daylight helping her, and JP would serve as the anchor on short long. Only one racer could run at a time, so we had the opportunity to rest our feet and recharge before setting off for the final night of the race.

Rachel from Bushwhackers at the O-Relay

The relay went well enough, and while we don’t know the actual team splits, from what we could gather from the volunteers, we turned in a strong showing. The relay served as a nice break as we each banked various amounts of sleep. Once again, we were treated with food from the hut staff, this time a collection of fresh fruit, brownies and various other treats that helped us recharge as we waited for our teammates to complete their various legs.
An hour or so after dark, after we each spent time out in the open woods, scrambling past beautiful waterfalls and crossing paths with other lone racers from the handful of other teams at the relay, we set off on bikes, headed to the final leg of the race, another packrafting-trek leg to the finish. We had watched Bushwhacker pull out an hour or so before, so we knew we were closing in on them, and NYARA, the Daredevils and Calleva had arrived a while after we did, meaning we were opening up our lead on the rest of the short course teams.
The bike to the final TA was straightforward and mostly on various dirt and paved roads. As we neared the TA, JP leading the way, we were startled by a female moose, darting across the road. JP, startled by the large shadow and gleaming eyes, swerved a bit, and we all laughed with relief. A second or two difference would have inevitably meant a collision with the moose, but thankfully we biked on, Abby cheering, all of us smiling as we finished the bike.
It was a bit before midnight, and I quietly lit a handful of candles and pulled Abby’s birthday “present” out of my bin (presents in an adventure race should be edible; so I stowed some chocolate covered pretzels and cranberries in my bin). It was still June 22, and after a hoarse and weary round of happy birthday, we finished our transition and set off for a third Maine hut, back by Grand Falls, the site of the ropes from day one. There we would get instructions for the return to the Northern Outdoors lodge and the finish line. As we trekked off from the TA, we turned out lights off, hiking along the dark shadowed roads amidst thousands of fireflies and one of the starriest nights I have ever seen. It was finally cooling off a bit, and we were in high spirits as we went.
Over two hours later, we stumbled off the long, flat trail, our energy gone from the monotonous slog through the woods. Some teams elected to packraft the quiet river alongside the trail, but for reasons unclear in retrospect we elected to trek. Maybe it had something to do with my packrafting abilities? I don’t know…
Anyhow, after navigating a handful of final trails after the falls, we checked in at the hut, were given our UTM coordinates for the final eight points and then decided to sleep for half an hour before the final stretch. A few other teams were sleeping about the grounds of the hut (we were not given access to this one), and when we awoke, team Untamed New England (the fifth place, full course finishers) had just checked in.
For the first time in the race we were cold, all shivering and unsure of what was in store. The eight points were scattered along the Dead River, the junction of the Dead and the Kennebec, and then south on the banks and hills of the Kennebec to Northern Outdoors. We had heard plenty of information since before the race started about the Dead.
“Class IV and V water. No way you will want to packraft that”.
“No water at all if you hit it at the wrong time. There’s a dam and they only release the water at particular times.”
OK, but no clear idea of what times there would be water in the river.
The first point was four or five miles downriver, and we could either drop from the lodge and try the river, or we could trek the winding technical trail to the control and drop a couple hundred feet to the bank and assess the river at that point. After discussing our options we elected to trek first, worried that we’d waste time heading to the river if there was no water and also concerned about getting on the river in the cold.
We made good time and dropped to the riverbank, a very steep, climb down. By this point the sky had fully lightened and what we found was breathtaking. A narrow river, meandering through dense wilderness, surrounded by high, steep, forested slopes, a foggy haze blanketing the river giving the river a fairytale shimmer in the morning light. The river, filled with rocks, was a steady stream of whitewater, but the rapids, while often long and sustained, looked manageable. We couldn’t see the checkpoint, but we knew it was down river, so we inflated out boats and set off, Abby once again in Mark’s boat, JP and I in our own.

We don’t have a picture of the river, but Kristin Eddy from Team SOG, snapped this one of Abby and Mark’s rafting. Mark isn’t THAT tall!

I had been concerned about this final rafting section because of my previous experiences in the raft and because of the potential nature of the river and its rapids, but ultimately, the section would go down as my single favorite leg in a race to date. Not only was the scenery breathtaking, but I found that I could paddle whitewater far better than I could flatwater in my raft. The rapids just kept coming, and while there were hairy moments with my boat being swamped in endless stretches of white water, navigating the ceaseless ripples, rapids, rocks and falls was exhilarating and unlike anything I have ever done (and will likely do again).

Down toward the confluence of the Dead and Kennebec. Not as dramatic as what we saw further upriver, but still a sense of the morning mist.

We found the first point after launching, and continued downstream where we finally caught up to Bushwhacker. We found the second point together and then settled in for a long paddle downriver, several hours of rapids and fun. Aside from the scenery and paddling, the section was also highlighted by the most amazing wildlife sighting of my racing experience. As we paddled around a bend, Mark and Abby slightly ahead of JP and me, we heard the following:
“There’s a moose swimming in the river!” Abby shouted. JP and I came around the bed, and I saw a…deer? Swimming across the river. Not a moose, but still a cool sight.
“There’s a bobcat…with a fish!” I heard Mark shout, and looking over at the bank, toward which the deer swam, I did indeed see a bobcat (though we later learned that it was probably a Canadian Lynx) chewing on…not a fish.
We all had stopped paddling, our mouths hanging open as the scene came into clearer focus. The Lynx’s jaws were locked around the skull of a fawn, one of the smallest fawns I have ever seen. The mother was swimming across to aid its offspring, and the combination of angry mother deer and three colorful boats floating downriver spooked the lynx, which proceeded to toss the fawn into the air and dart back into the woods. The doe emerged from the water and crashed off into the woods after the cat, and the fawn paddled frantically back across the river, straight toward me. As it neared, I could see it bleeding from its scalp, but all in all, it looked in decent shape considering its ordeal, and before long it made the far bank and stumbled from the water.
We all gaped at each other before paddling on, in awe of the Dead River and its many surprises. While a long paddle, the rest of the leg was a bit less amazing, with JP and I struggling to keep out boats afloat in some of the more difficult stretches of whitewater. We stayed together, JP saving my gear in a near disaster that saw me balanced precariously upon a boulder after being monetarily submerged in a hole)at which point my gear had popped out and quickly floated away). We would periodically have to pull off the river to empty our boats, all the while leapfrogging Bushwhacker in their two person raft.

Teammate Jonathan Neely who raced with Amy, Pete, and Rodney from NYARA.

Finally we emerged in calmer water above the confluence with the Kennebec, and we bagged a few more points before heading down the final stretch of the Kennebec. As we neared the second to last point, Bushwhacker, who had fallen behind us on a point or two we had to trek to from the river’s edge, caught up to us, and we made a pact to cross the finish line together, though their higher time credit would guarantee them a higher overall finish. That said, we gladly agreed to stay together and before long we beached our rafts on the river bank to nab the final point on the river. With gear and boats safely up on shore, we headed into the woods along a stream to the point, and of course it was an “all-punch” meaning every team member had to punch his or her wristband. We laughed and were in high spirits as we made our way back to our boats, the finish line practically in sight.

Rodney and Amy from Team NYARA

JP and I were bringing up the rear, and I was in the process of explaining that all we had left was 100 meters of paddling to the opposite side of the river and a 3 mile trek with one more checkpoint to the finish line, but as we emerged from the woods, we were greeted by pandemonium. Rachel was in the river, waist-deep, holding onto my boat. I was puzzled, but even more confused when I looked downriver to see Michael swimming frantically around a river bend, his and Rachel’s boat vanishing ahead of him with all their gear. Mark and Abby were hurriedly shoving off in pursuit, and JP ran up the shore to grab our gear bags which were floating away.

The Yogaslackers unique method of paddling packrafts. They have been doing this a lot longer than I have!

The Yogaslackers paddling down the Dead.

An unidentified racer without her raft.

A long ways upriver, someone decided to release a dam. I don’t know when they did it, but the timing was about as close to catastrophic as it could have been. A torrent of water flooded the river, and the surge rapidly elevated the water levels, sweeping our gear off the shore. Had the deluge hit us a minute or so earlier, we would have lost all of our gear to the river, but thankfully we managed to successfully salvage everything. When Mark and Abby took off, he dumped her on the far side and then set off to save Bushwhacker’s boat, which he did, though he was swept a long ways down river. He and Michael somehow ended up together and they made their way back up shore to meet the four of us who had broken down what gear we had as we waited.Before we knew it, Rachel, JP, and I were alone on the river bank with 1 ½ rafts (JP’s floor had ripped out not long before). After a bit of discussion and some scouting around the river bend to see what was happening with our other teammates, we set off, Rachel in my boat, JP following. We made the other side where we found Abby at the take out. So what happened?

 

Disaster averted, we set off on the trek, remarking on the final adventure of the race, yet another moment that will live in our collective race memories. Ironically, Mark had been commenting before we had landed our boats for the checkpoint about how the wheels can come off right before the end, a bad omen to be sure. Thankfully, the final trek went far smoother, and before long we were trekking into the Northern Outdoors lodge to cheering volunteers and guests, 77 hours after we had started.

77 hours after the start.

Ultimately we finished tenth in the premier category and tied for eleventh overall with Bushwhacker, an agreement we had arranged with them after our fiasco on the river. We asked Grant to adjust our respective time credits to equal out, and then it was off to sort out our post-race adventures, namely eating, cleaning up and finding a place to sleep. While we were still bummed knowing we could have finished the whole course (we finished with 21 hours of race time still on the clock) we had a great experience, as always, at Untamed New England and were pleased with our result.
I for one came out of this race with more unique memories than I have from any other event. Sinking in my raft, the packrafting across Flagstaff Lake in the lightning-lit night, my dissolving drivetrain, the great Alpine Trek and Dead River float. The Maine huts, the Lynx and Deer, racing alongside so many great friends and teams throughout the race. Having two new great teammates in JP and Mark, and of course the final flood. It was a race to remember, and I’m only disappointed to know that Untamed 2013 will likely by in the fall, meaning after three straight editions I will be unable to race due to my teaching responsibilities. That said, a month after the race, I still find myself smiling when thinking about the blue lakes and green mountains of Maine, memories of Untamed 2012 will have to sustain me until the next I can go race in Untamed New England.
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5 responses to “Untamed New England, Legs 6 and 7: Escaping the Flood

  1. misszippy1 July 23, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Wow–this gives new meaning to adventure racing in my book! What spectacular scenery, and what crazy conditions on the water! I love that you got to see the lynx and the deer in such a natural setting. Very cool race and congrats for getting through it so intelligently!

  2. Johann July 23, 2012 at 7:32 am

    77 hours is just so amazing! Difficult to imagine that. I can just think of what you can take out of this event. It was truly an experience of a lifetime. Seems that you’ll be back for more…?

  3. Julie@ACaseoftheRuns (@nobel4lit) July 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Sounds great! Thoughtful birthday present, too! Happy b-day, Abby!

  4. Bob Jenkins July 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Wow. Gonna be hard to top an adventure like that 🙂

  5. Pingback: The Ramblings of an Over-tired, Over-raced, Over-thinking Adventure Racer « Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

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