Bitter Pill 2019 Results

We packed everything you love into the Bitter Pill 2019:

  • Epic downpours!
  • Extreme bike repair!
  • Family-friendly adventure!
  • A downhill bike park where you only get to climb!
  • A heinous swamp-whack!
  • Cheerful competition between world-class teams!
  • Trails that may not be on the map!
  • Swimming & paddling upstream!
  • Cabot cheddar!

We were feeling generous, so we let racers sleep in – at a leisurely 5:15 a.m. teams started biking downhill from Blush Hills Country Club.

With a hint of daylight, dirt roads led to a 300 ft hike-a-bike and a hop over Route 100 under the watchful eye of Altai the crossing guard dog. 

Community paths took racers through the village of Waterbury to the fabulous Perry Hill bike trail network maintained by the Waterbury Area Trail Alliance.

Perry Hill is known for its downhill trails, expertly crafted for fun while descending.

Our teams had eight optional checkpoints to find, but unfortunately they were starting from the bottom and ending at the top.

Our course testers encouraged racers to take a few runs in the downhill direction to maximize enjoyment, but it is a race, after all — many teams opted for a “less fun, more speed” approach.

Other teams went for… less speed, more biking in circles? Hopefully they all had more fun as well.

After finding all the Perry Hill CPs (or tapping out after endless loops on unmapped trails) racers made their way to the top of the hill and headed toward the Middlesex notch, with special one-time permission from adventure-friendly landowners. For teams exhausted from non-stop climbing, the views at CP15 were beautiful. That joy was short-lived, however…

Shortly after CP17, teams were greeted by a control flag with an ominous message.

As our course tester said: “You can quote me, it’s a mandatory heinous swamp-whack.”

Many teams simply accepted their fate, dove in and carried their bikes through knee-deep (or worse) muck. Lucky teams persevered in their search for the old road/trail and were rewarded with dry travel… for a few hundred feet.

Thanks to the NH Trail Vets Development Squad, you can see a short video of some young racers getting a crash course in adventure racing. Maybe this is why we make you carry PFDs through the bike leg!

No matter what route they chose while collecting CP18 and 19, everyone seemed to agree that the Middlesex notch and its series of beaver ponds was beautiful, if a bit squishey.

Once they cleared the swamp, it was nothing but smooth biking on perfectly groomed trails until TA1.

No obstacles to climb over, brush to scramble under, or smooth wet rocks to slide off. None!

Wet, squeaky brakes signaled the arrival of each team as they approached the transition area.

The TA was located at the corner of the Middlesex town forest and the start of the public trail leading to the top of Chases Mountain. Racers paused to enjoy some Seriously Sharp Cheddar donated by the Cabot Creamery, and many took the opportunity to study their maps and “wash the swamp out of their socks” (metaphorically or literally) before heading out on foot.

In yet another display of magnanimous benevolence, GMARA let teams leave their bikes, helmets, and even PFDs behind while on the trek.

There were nine flags in the Middlesex town forest, five standard CPs and four worth bonus points due to their difficulty — including two that were relabeled after course testing! With a newly blazed trail heading directly to the summit, racers had to study their maps and decide whether to head to the top and attack from above, drop down into a ravine looking for waterfalls, or run headlong down old logging roads leading away from all checkpoints.

Endless reentrants, small streams, false summits and jeep trails challenged even the best navigators. Only three teams reached all CPs and BPs during this leg.

Aware of a rapidly approaching 3:15 pm paddle cutoff, teams returned to the TA to pick up their bikes and follow classic Vermont dirt roads to CP 27 and then TA3.

At TA3, racers were finally able to ditch their bikes for good. Some were treated to loaves of fresh bread thanks to a surprise day-of sponsorship from Red Hen Bakery, neighboring TA3. Rumor has it one team even stopped at the bakery for a quick lunch… 

2-person teams grabbed tandem kayaks, 3-person teams hopped into canoes, and they all headed off in search of five more checkpoints and TA4. 

Unexpected rapids and tricky navigation were not the only challenge. Incoming thunderstorms meant paddling into a headwind, and for a few teams heavy rain & hail. Again thanks to the NH Trail Vets: Maybe this is why we make you carry bike helmets during the paddle!

Upon reaching Little River, teams had a single point to grab on the west shore and then a short portage to TA 4.

Climbing the bank was a challenge even before the afternoon’s intense downpour, but everyone was excited to carry their boats once they pulled them uphill.

Given the distances traveled already, the short distance remaining didn’t look intimidating at a glance. Teams ran across little river and headed towards CP Y & Z.

Looks can be deceiving however, and the labyrinth of old snowmobiling & logging trails was a navigation puzzle as teams sought a route back to dinner at Blush Hill.

The few teams with extra time attempted BP C, the final bonus point. Instructions cautioned that it could take longer than expected, and when racers reached the location marked on their maps they were greeted with a message:

Sorry Mario
Your bonus point is in another castle
150 meters away on a 100º bearing 

It might have been only 150 meters distant, but it was at least 75 meters uphill, with a slope steep enough to require travel on hands & knees. Good luck keeping a bearing on that climb! 

Finally out of the woods, all teams returned to the finish at Blush Hill Country Club greeted by many eager cheering fans.

After that it was time for a fabulous post-race dinner from the Blush Hill catering crew!

Winners of each division took home some great prizes from Cabot, Ben & Jerry’s, OGE and Mammut.  Strong Machine and GOALS ARA were the only two teams to clear the entire course including 33 primary points, 3 bonus points, and 2 reclassified extra-credit-due-to-unpleasantness points.

Strong Machine took first place overall, winning the 3-person male division with a total time of 9:54 on course.  The premier coed division winners were GOALS ARA, taking home a $400 sponsorship to USARA Nationals from GMARA.  Team Kash won the 2-person female division in 12:06 missing only BP B, while GOOSE A.R. won the 2-person male division missing only BP C and just a minute behind Team Kash.  Power Source won the 2-person coed division, missing only two points from the full set. In a first-ever for GMARA, the five division winners were also the top 5 teams overall.

Check out all the in-depth details on the results page.

Thanks to all the sponsors, partners, 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 with details and we’ll get them up here.

Thanks for racing!

– The GMARA Crew