2022 Bitter Pill – Results

The Bitter Pill returned to familiar terrain for 2022, starting from Blush Hill Country Club in Waterbury on a crisp 49º morning.

A heavy fog was rising as racers began their descent, and the silence was unbroken but for the eerie cry of burning brakes on a rented Mongoose mountain bike and the crunch of broken glass under bike tires in the middle of the road. Starting things off right!

Racers received maps at race start, one big overview map with a number of smaller focus areas. The first leg was mostly on Vermont roads and the navigation wasn’t too complex, so teams set out without needing much planning time, collecting a single checkpoint flag on a local bike path.

Whatever route teams chose, one thing was certain – reaching the first transition area meant a lot of uphill biking, a harbinger of the day ahead.

The next leg had checkpoints placed all around the Waterworks trail network, the source of Waterbury’s water supply. Unlike many GMARA legs with the word “water” in them, this wasn’t a swamp – but it was a maze of twisty passages, with official trails not always matching the reality on the ground.

Racers at TA1 had many options – they could leave their bikes in the large field of goldenrod and pick up points on foot, they could attempt to bike the trails (with permission from the town for our event), or a little of both. Teams even had the option of hitting the final two CPs as part of this section or on the way to TA 3.  A few teams found all the points 2-9 and Bonus Point A during this leg, but all the teams found the navigation a challenge.

After they’d had their fill of trails, racers left TA2 on their bikes. Dirt roads, paved roads, and a bit of travel on scenic route 100 took them over the north end of Waterbury Reservoir into the Mount Mansfield State Forest, collecting one beautiful waterfall checkpoint midway.

Thankfully, this did involve a bit more biking uphill. Wouldn’t want those tires to get cold.

It was during this leg that racers had their first shot at CP Y, a non-standard “get it anytime today” checkpoint on the edge of the reservoir.

At TA3, a gallon of fresh water and some happy birthday mini cupcakes were waiting for racers when they arrived. Bikes were set aside again for “the big trek” – checkpoints 11-19 and three bonus points B-C-D at higher elevation were available for teams on foot.

Many racers expressed appreciation that this was “pure orienteering”, no nasty web of trails to throw off your navigation. Volunteers staffing TA 3/4 enjoyed seeing that there was no clear consensus about the best way to start, and racers chose a variety of routes. If you’re curious to see more route details, check out the Strava Flyby. It’s fascinating! If you’ve uploaded your track to Strava and need help making it public so it adds to the tangle, please let us know.

After the trek it was back to TA4. Teams traded in their old, ripe passport for a fresh new one and enjoyed a few snacks including Seriously Sharp Cheddar provided by Cabot. The next leg would take racers through the flow trails at Little River State Park, so they were handed a WATA trail map to make sure they weren’t going up the downhills or biking on the hike trails.

As expected, everyone was super stoked to start another 1000′ of climbing. During the climb, there were 3 checkpoints to collect, the first at the site of a large landslide in 2019, which destroyed the shortcut trail from TA 4 to Little River State Park. The history of the region is quite interesting, as the Ricker Basin was once a thriving community in the 1800s.  However, after the flood of 1927, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a dam and flooded the region creating what is now the Waterbury Reservoir.

There are still old stone walls, foundations, and chimneys remaining in the area, but racers may not have noticed as they enjoyed the well-crafted S curves and the downhill travel. 3 more checkpoints and another possible “get it when it feels right” CP X on a tiny peninsula on the reservoir, and racers arrived at TA 5.

At TA5, racers were psyched to drop off their bikes for the last time, and prepared to start their paddle… but unlike most years, the boats were on the dry side of the dam and teams would have to lug their boat up and over before they could get in the water.

Our thoughts exactly, Jim.

Up, over, and into the reservoir they went.

One team even swam out to CP 26, a buoy close to shore.

Checkpoints 26-31 were waiting on the water, as well as another chance to pick up CP X — and CP Y if you wanted to add an extra 2 miles of paddling!
After bringing their boats back to TA6, it was time for the final trek back to Blush Hill. For the ambitious, there were an additional 5 bonus points to collect during the final trek, but teams had to clear the entire paddle section to even be eligible. After such a long day, it’s no surprise only a couple of teams even attempted these bonus points.

As can happen during adventure races, the challenge on the trek to the finish was less about navigation and more about land ownership and permissions, so racers were given a detailed map review before heading out. After 11 hours of racing, “Follow this exact route, but don’t be too exact about it” is guaranteed to make your head spin a bit.

Oh, and since they were heading back to Blush Hill, racers closed their day with another 600′ of elevation gain! Supposedly if you finish where you started, the amount of downhill should equal the amount of uphill. More than one team might now be questioning this logic after spending what felt like all day climbing.

Friends, family, and volunteers were waiting at the finish line. Almost every team was off the course by 5:30, undoubtedly looking forward to dinner and relaxation.

Two teams collected every point and continued to the post-paddle bonus section. Ultrabambi won the premier 3-person coed division picking up every primary point and one of those final bonus checkpoints in 11 hours and 39 minutes, while Strong Machine’s 2-man team picked up one point more than that and finished only 4 minutes later. Winning teams (and raffle winners) went home with some fabulous prizes from Mammut, the Outdoor Gear Exchange, and Cabot.

Check out the extensive details on the results page.

Thanks to all the sponsors, partners, volunteers, and racers for making this another great day in the woods. With so many GMARA regulars racing (in this race and overseas) it was a bit of a trick to pull this all together, and this year’s crew was phenomenal. If you’ve ever wanted to spend more time in the woods, take up photography, lift 110 bikes into a truck, chat with sponsors or talk landowners into letting a crowd run through their backyard – reach out and let us know!

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.