The 10th anniversary MVP Health Care Bitter Pill began like many others: in the dark with no sense of direction.
Racers arrived at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center at 4 a.m., prepared to learn what their first discipline would be. They discovered that they needed to scramble to gather their gear and board busses, while bikes were prepped for transport by a crew of enthusiastic volunteers.
Racers were dropped off on the north side of Camels’s Hump State Forest. Maps were passed out, busses turned around, and at 5:10 racers started up the back side of Camel’s Hump.
Racers were expecting a navigational challenge, but a thick blanket of fog made it even more difficult to get their bearings. A field full of thorny blackberries greeted racers searching for CP1, then it was goodbye to trails and time to start climbing.
From the small peak at CP3, racers had a long hard bushwhack up to CP4, and a gorgeous view once they arrived. We have been wanting to use this point for five years now, after discovering it on a random training day.
Those who made it there at the right time of morning were able to see the fog filling the valleys and gaze upon the sun rising in the east before deciding whether to attempt a couple challenging bonus points further south.
Whether they hit the bonus points or not, everyone headed down the cliffs of insanity and eventually followed Gleason Brook back towards the river.
The first leg of the race finished with a bit of swimming back and forth across the Winooski. Water levels were low but racers still got wet reaching points on brook, island, and riverbank.
At TA2 it was back into boats for the first time in three years – huge thanks to Umiak for finding enough canoes and kayaks!
Teams got a chance to pause during the paddle and have one member run up the Huntington river to get a point, while the other made sure the boat didn’t float away downstream. Everyone loved running on slippery wet rocks.
Some teams forgot the pre-race briefing and skipped the race instructions, so they actually portaged their boat up the river.
After the paddle, a short portage brought teams to Cochran’s ski area.
Some walked right up the driveway, others found new and creative ways to reach the lodge and TA2. We saw teams coming down the ski slope with their boats, just to add a little extra challenge to the portage. We’ll keep that in mind for next year, you know.
At Cochran’s, racers were greeted by children shouting instructions and demanding cash… at the first ever GMARA lemonade and cookie stand. Future race directors made sure that every team had their required $1 bill available and provided a little welcome refreshment.
A huge thanks to the Cochran family for access to the property, no strings attached. Not even the local racers knew how many fabulous trails were hidden in those woods.
The kids also let teams know where to find the next point, which wasn’t on their maps:
“See that really big hill?” “Yes.” “See that tree way up at the top?” “Yes.” “That’s CP14!”
I don’t know why nobody just rode up the hill, it doesn’t look all that steep from where I’m sitting. Unofficial bonus points to “Lily’s Blueberry Bacon”, the team that made it furthest up the hill before starting the bike portage.
Originally, the course design had every team routed through the section with bonus points C & D. Our testers indicated that people might be somewhat unhappy with us if we did that. Since we’re all about pleasant race experiences, we opted to mix things up.
After some highly technical riding at Cochrans, teams followed a short stretch of the cross-VT trail back towards Catamount.
Teams arriving at Catamount (TA3) before 4:40 had the option to head out on foot to go after seven bonus points, using Catamount’s orienteering map. These were a mix of fairly easy points and a few made tricky by the complex trail system.
The best part of the bonus section was definitely the two pond “swims”, complete with a few leeches to keep everyone moving quickly.
After the final stretch, teams headed back to the finish to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon and views of the green mountains.
“We wanted to thank everyone involved for putting on an awesome race this past weekend. …this was the first time that any of us had done anything like this. Right after we stumbled across the finish, we unanimously agreed it would also be the last. Five minutes later we were talking strategy and making plans for next year.” — Bear Minimum
3-person coed winners:
Dave Lamb, Meghan Smith and Jeff Woods
Team “Untamed New England”
- Meg and Laurie for letting their husbands spend so much time in the woods
- Scott and Pascale for telling us the biking leg was far too hard, then re-testing the new route(s) the next day
- Ross and Abby for experiencing the cliffs of insanity first-hand and convincing us not to send every team on an unroped rappel
- Karin for finding us a last-minute tent and keeping everyone’s spirits up round the clock
- Jen for teaching Shawn how to paddle again (and helping out despite planning her own festival for the same day)
- Tim for twisting his ankle while base jumping, providing us with an expert who didn’t mind staying in one place
- Colin, John, and David for tireless support and always handling the least enjoyable tasks
- Darren for spending six hours with Chris in the woods, in the dark, discovering how spectacular those cliffs were when wet
- Nancy, Scot, Diane, Shana, Stephanie and Natalie for having plenty of race experience and filling in all the gaps
- Ross, again, for paddling the extra canoe downriver by himself (and getting a few great photos on the way!)
- Laurie, again, for providing another well deserved team with yummy cookies
Quote of the day:
“I think it’s a human femur”
If you’d like a little local news coverage, check out this segment from WCAX!
If you have stories to share. blog posts about the race, or photos of your own please get in touch and we’ll add them to the galleries or share them here!
A huge thanks to our sponsors – let them know you appreciate their support!
|MVP Health Care for the financial support that makes it possible for these races to happen.|
|Catamount Outdoor Family Center for hosting and providing great terrain for new adventure racers to practice their skills year-round.|
|Cochran’s Ski Area for showing us a property map and saying “have at it!”|
|EMS of South Burlington for their support through all ten years that we’ve been running the Bitter Pill, the great prizes they give us, and their willingness to loan us boats for course testing.|
|The Outdoor Gear Exchange for convincing Salomon to support our race and provide some of the nicest prizes we’ve had in years.|
|Mountain Hardwear for the fabulous race shirts.|
|Bevo for the awesome dinner|
|Tick Twister for keeping us safe in the woods!|
|Umiak Outdoor Outfitters for boats, without which paddling is a challenge|
We had some great prizes this year with help from:
|The Right Stuff|
|Lastly, you can always “like” GMARA – because who else keeps losing you in the Green Mountains?|