In case you missed them:
Leg 1 Report
Leg 2 Report
Leg 3 Report
It was roughly 6 pm when we arrived at the Sugarloaf ski resort, where we’d be spending the next half day of the race. Out of Sugarloaf we had two legs to complete – each bookending a short conservation project – and we had 15 hours to get through it before a prescribed cut-off would knock us off the full course.
First up: the mountain bike-O.
The TA – described in the race briefing as the Nemo “tent oasis” – was equipped with several communal shelters for teams wanting a bug-free snooze, and as we transitioned from foot to bike, we thought briefly about pausing for a short nap before heading out onto the trails.
Just a small section of the Tent Oasis
But even though we thought we had a comfortable window of time for the next two sections, we opted to push on, reasoning that (a) we all felt awake enough, and (b) it was too hot to sleep inside a tent.
Instead, we pulled on our bike shoes, downed as many calories as we could take in (I was on the verge of a pretty serious deficit by that point, and the PB&J sandwich that I had stashed in my bin was like nectar of the AR gods), and after losing a bit of time on some unexpected map issues, we set off back into the woods.
Recently, the resort’s winter nordic trails had been converted to summer mountain biking trails. We would be covering roughly 20-25 miles here, and we estimated that we’d be out on the course for roughly 4-5 hours.
With Mark and Brent negotiating the complicated networks of trails, we found the first CP with relative ease. From there, we opted to ride to the furthest point from the TA and then collect the remainder of the flags on our ride back.
We moved steadily enough on the bumpy terrain for several miles – until we heard a pop.
Brent looked down to find his rear derailleur hanger, um, hanging off. He and Mark tried to replace it with the spare that JP had brought, but they weren’t compatible.
We dropped our bikes and settled in. For the next several minutes, Mark attempted to turn Brent’s bike into a single-speed. And as we stood there in the damp woods, the mosquitos orchestrated a full-on coordinated assault.
Never before had any of us experienced the buzzing and biting that we did in those 45 minutes. These bugs took the unrelenting bombardment that we’d experienced throughout the race to that point to a whole new decibel.
Finally, after a fair bit of trial and error, Mark had jimmied Brent’s chain to run sort-of-smoothly, enough so that he could pedal through flats and gentle inclines. On the sharper climbs, he resorted to hike-a-bike.
This worked well enough for a little while, but as we continued on, the bugs, the heat, and the lack of sleep began to take a toll. We paused to cool off. We had a small gaff at the next CP. It was becoming clear that morale was beginning to lag.
And then, our race nearly ended.
Right after CP 2, Brent began to notice a rattling in his drivetrain. At first, we thought perhaps the chain had slipped. It hadn’t. Then we wondered if the chain was loose. It wasn’t.
Then, Brent heard a loud pop. We all looked down expecting to see a broken chain, and instead found ourselves staring at his largest chain ring, sliding down the crank.
The middle ring wasn’t far behind.
When he bent down to investigate the damage, he found that one of the bolts holding the drivetrain together had completely sheared off.
The other three? They were nowhere to be found.
At this point, we were at the farthest end of the section and had several checkpoints left to collect en route to the TA. We had no choice but to push our bikes for the next 7 hours.
Well, let me back up…
For the first bike leg of the race, I made the mistake of wearing bike shoes that were far too big. While they were great for riding, they had no business hike-a-biking along that technical trail that paralleled the river. What’s more, with quick release laces, I was unable to find the right balance that would keep my feet in place without binding them into numbness. So, by the time we reached the long trek on Day 2 of the race, the bottoms of my feet were a blistered mess.
This mountain bike section was a welcomed reprieve, and I knew that to preserve my soles for the remainder of the race, I needed to avoid pushing my bike as much as I could.
So with the guys alternately hiking and coasting, I shifted down into my lowest gear and spun slowly next to them.
By 1:30 in the morning, we’d been out on this section for 7 hours. We were all dragging, mentally as much as physically, but with only two more CPs to go, both relatively close to the TA, we thought we still had a chance to make the cut-off.
Then came CP 7.
To this day, I still have no idea what happened at CP 7. I’m sure that the gentlemen with the maps could offer much more color commentary here. From my vantage point, we dropped our bikes and set off through the woods on foot, and I found myself stumbling along, eyes fluttering. Well past the point of exhaustion-induced sleep monsters (remind me to tell you about 200-pound badger-mole I spotted at Untamed 2010… and the time that Brent saw a kitten in his soup). I was downright sleep-walking down the trail.
We ended up spending 90 minutes in search of #7. I have no recollection of those 90 minutes, other than stumbling around in the dark.
Somewhere, sometime, someone on my team spotted it. They punched our passport, and we headed back down the trail to nab the final flag en route to the TA.
At 3:30 in the morning, 9 hours after we set out, we finally saw the lights of the Tent Oasis. We trudged in, dropped our bikes, and essentially stood in place for 20 minutes or more deliberating on what to do next.
By that point, we felt pretty certain that we wouldn’t make the cut off. We were exhausted physically and beaten down mentally. We couldn’t decide between sleeping, eating, or knocking out the conservation project.
Finally – finally – we landed on conservation. Someone had built an illegal trail below the outdoor center, and it would be our job to ‘erase’ the trail by covering it with leaves and sticks.
We dragged ourselves the 1/2 kilometer to the site and found a cheerful race volunteer, who instructed us to pick up two tools and find our pre-apportioned section of the renegade trail. We walked down, lifted our rake and our spade, and five minutes later, we’d transformed our designated area into a veritable wilderness.
This entire section should have taken us 15-20 minutes, including the trek in and out of the TA. Instead, it took upwards of an hour. By the time we returned to our bins, though, we had made a plan.
We would sleep until 7:30 AM, eat a hot meal (all hail Mark’s jetboil stove, which boils water in 90 seconds), and then set off for the Alpine Trek.
We laid down in the tent at 4:30 and within minutes each of us was dead to the world. Though I’m certain that I set my watch correctly, 2.5 hours later, the alarm chimed, and we awoke to our third morning of the race.
Mark, the next morning – bright eyed and bushy tailed
And this was a special morning, the one I’d been looking forward to since the race dates were released last fall. It was my 31st birthday – and I was determined to celebrate in style.
We climbed out of the tent and began to repack our bins. As I was preparing for the next trek, Randy Erikson, acclaimed adventure photographer, came over and handed me four pieces of chocolate.
“It doesn’t count as outside assistance if it’s your birthday,” he said.
Awake for fifteen minutes and already eating chocolate? I knew it was going to be a good day.
Though we were fed, changed, and packed by 7:30, we opted to wait an additional half hour for the new bike rental shop attached to the outdoor center to open. Team DART/NUUN, who cracked two frames earlier in the race, had borrowed new bikes from the outfitter the night before, and we were hopeful they would have something that Brent could use.
For us, it was rental or bust.
45 minutes later and we were in business. All that was left was handing over a credit card to use as collateral.
Except, of course, none of us had a credit card with us.
I ran frantically through the TA, checking in with all of the racers I knew until Team Calleva’s Marcy - who we’d only met once this past May at NYARA’s The Longest Day – handed over her card without hesitation. Seriously, adventure racers are the most generous people in the world.
I ended up returning the card a few minutes later when the shop owner suggested that we leave Brent’s broken bike instead. He took off the front wheel and handed it off to Team SOG, who was in search of a spare front tire after suffering a tear the previous day, and then we were off for the much-anticipated trek.
This section would have us ascending through the woods to one summit, and then making our way above treeline through a saddle and up to the top of the famed Sugarloaf Mountain. We had heard that the trek was taking teams upwards of 9-12 hours, far longer than anyone had anticipated.
Still, we traipsed happily into the woods, quite literally buoyed by our near-empty packs. It was the first time since the race began that we weren’t carrying pounds and pounds of gear, and I felt wondrously light.
We made quick work of the first climb, pausing briefly to search for CP 21, nestled near ground-level on a small stream. We passed our friends on Team Calleva and caught a quick glance of the Danes of Team Daredevil not far behind us, but otherwise we were on our own.
As we reached Summit #1, we paused briefly to take in the view.
This was, without a doubt, one of my favorite treks in any adventure race.
Our friend, Luis Moreira, a photographer from Breathe Magazine, hiked with us for awhile as we made our way to the next CP, in the saddle between the two peaks.
This was the toughest section for me mentally, as we descended the steep, technical terrain – always a struggle for me.
“Sorry for slowing down,” I said to Mark as we negotiated the rocks. ”These types of sections are…” I paused. “The sections that I’m the least good at.”
“I love how you said that,” Mark replied. ”A lot of people would say that they hate this type of terrain, or it’s the worst part of a race, but you painted it as room for improvement.”
“That’s funny,” I said. ”I never thought about it that way.”
A new way to conceive of perceived weakness.
From that CP to the next one, we knew we had some choices to make. Teams had offered all sorts of stories of this stretch back in TA. We could either drop in elevation and take the ski slope up, or bushwhack through the woods toward the summit, or try some combination of the two.
Or we could get really lucky, find a freshly cut trail at our exact elevation, and have two strong navigators both confident enough to improvise.
We followed our logging trail around to the ski slope just below the final push up Sugarloaf. We climbed the last hundred-or-so feet, and in under five hours we were at the final CP, greeted by our other Breathe Magazine buddy, Joel Perrella.
By this point, the sun was high and the temperatures were climbing. We paused briefly at the top to cool off and refuel, answered a few questions for Joel’s camera, and then began the steep descent down the ski trails, alternately shuffling and trekking as our knees (and my feet) would allow.
Shortly before the bottom we passed by a small cafe, and since everyone but JP had run out of water on the ascent, we made a quick pitstop. Brent went straight for the hose (where the water ended up tasting like rotten rubber) but Mark, JP, and I indulged in a detour to the drink counter, where I got my first taste ever of icy cold Orangina.
I had no idea what I was missing.
From there,we returned to the dreaded bike trails – site of the absurdity that was the previous night – and before we knew it we were back in TA, only 6 hours and 45 minutes after we began.
And even though we’d missed the time cutoff and were detoured onto the short course for the remainder of the race, we were all in good spirits as we bid goodbye to the amazing crew of volunteers at the Tent Oasis and set off on a gloriously smooth road ride toward our next destination: the O-Relay.
It was now early afternoon. I had about 10 hours left in my birthday and three more goals to accomplish before the day was out:
(1) To get some high-calorie food into my body. I’d been doing a dismal job of fueling for much of the race, and it was only a matter of time before it bit me in the butt.
(2) To not totally screw up my “short easy” leg of the O-Relay.
(3) To see a moose.
1.5 out of 3 ain’t bad.