2021 Hard Fall – Results

The 2021 Hard Fall was GMARA’s first 24-hour race – and what a race it was!

Taking place in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the course highlighted the beauty, the challenge, and the remoteness of this amazing area.

Teams received their maps after completing registration early Saturday morning in St. Johnsbury. Depending on when they completed check-in, they had almost two hours to review the course and make their plans.

They were then loaded onto buses at 9am to take them the race start at the north end of Lake Willoughby, Vermont’s deepest lake.

There were no checkpoints on this initial section section, just a paddle due south to the far end of the lake to get to the first transition area (TA).

Teams looks determined on the beach as they heard the final set of pre-race instructions. They had spent months getting ready for what was moments away. As they looked out at Lake Willoughby, the magnitude of the challenge took shape.

In 1915, Robert Frost wrote about this body of water:
“I see it’s a fair, pretty sheet of water,
Our Willoughby! How did you hear of it?
I expect, though, everyone’s heard of it.
In a book about ferns? Listen to that!”

If only it were a sheet of water…in reality, there were incredibly strong headwinds greeting racers as they stood on the beach. It was clear their paddle wouldn’t be a fast cruise over glass, but instead a brutal paddle straight into the wind and through some whitecaps.

Given the wind and waves, boats were taking on water faster than most teams would have liked. A few teams did indeed capsize, and in true adventure racing fashion, either self-rescued or were assisted by other teams. Many teams stopped at least once to drain their boats and continue on.

In contrast, the last quarter mile was quite smooth!

After reaching the first TA, racers headed into a multi-hour trek with a twist. The points in this area were worth varying amounts (25, 50, 75 or 100 points). Every one hundred points would count as one full checkpoint. There were 1100 total points available, and racers could score up to nine checkpoints in this section. This led to lots of strategy decisions: Which points to get? How many to get? What order to get them in?

There were some truly spectacular views from a few of the points – well worth the hike even when not part of an adventure race!

After finishing this trek at TA 2, racers got on their bikes for the first time and biked to a mystery discipline, picking up one checkpoint in a culvert along the way. There was a lot of speculation from racers as to what this would entail. Everything from axe throwing to summer dog sledding was suggested, but several teams got it right: a corn maze!

Teams arrived to TA 3 at the Kingdom Corn Maze, with not one but three corn mazes. In an adventure racing first, racers would actually be biking in two of these mazes, and trekking in the largest of the three. Racers had a detailed map for the two larger mazes, but only knew where the next checkpoint was located at any time, discovering the next one as they went.

For most teams, the sun was setting as they were in or just leaving the corn mazes. It was a glorious evening! Teams now headed off to bike the Kingdom Trails – a massive network of excellent biking trails, a true gem of this area. There were many points which could be retrieved in any order. Teams again had to decide which points to get and how to attack them.

To finish this section, most teams had to hike-a-bike, gaining more than 600 feet, and then coasted down into TA 4. Some teams found other creative ways to wind their way to TA 4. Here they were greeted by the volunteer staff with access to their gear bins, water, a hot meal provided by Good to Go, and a warm fire. That fire was seductive, tempting teams to stop moving.

From TA 4, teams had the option to head out onto a fully off-trail bushwhack to retrieve more points, before returning. An altimeter was definitely an asset in this section.

Teams then had a fairly short bike ride to get to TA 5, where they would begin the second paddle of the race.

Far from open water with chop, this was on the slow moving Passumpsic River. Water levels had dropped considerably, and racers found themselves initially having to pull their canoe or kayak over rocks and sandbars until things got a bit deeper. The ability to read a river and pick the best lines was definitely an asset here. Most teams had the sun rise while on this paddle, and a fresh batch of daylight definitely helped keep away the sleepies.

Just in case the in-river boat dragging wasn’t enough “fun”, teams were treated to multiple required portages. On their third portage, about 8 miles into the paddle, racers were surprised with their bikes. Given how slowly the paddle leg was going, race organizers called the audible to cut the paddle short and get them on their bikes earlier.

A tough call to make during the race, but overall this allowed the majority of teams to experience the timing of the race course as designed and not be overly penalized for something outside of their control.

Racers then biked a few miles to TA 6, and for those teams with time to spare headed off into the St. Johnsbury town Forest for three quick trekking check points. Finally, teams biked a short distance via a specific route on their map, to the finish line, where a breakfast buffet and hot coffee awaited them!

Special thank you to our sponsors!
Outdoor Gear Exchange
Good to Go
Kingdom Coffee Roasters
The premier 3 person coed division was incredibly close, with the top 3 teams being separated by a mere 2 checkpoints. In the end, it was Strong Machine AR that edged out the competition and took first place overall, with an impressive 51 checkpoints! Check out the full detailed results here.

Thanks to all the volunteers, and racers for making this another great day in the woods. We couldn’t do it without your support!

A special thanks to spouses and kids who put up with adventure-planning craziness. They know that these events aren’t just a huge amount of work, they’re a huge amount of fun – like a family reunion — but a family with some really odd traditions.

Photos are up in the usual spot. If you’ve got photos, videos, blog posts, GPS tracks or stories from the trail, please send a note to staff@gmara.org with details and we’ll get them up here.

Writeup from Strong Machine
Writeup from NH Trail Vets
Writeup from Rootstock

Thanks for racing!

– The GMARA Crew