It was sort of like how I imagine a New York City taxi stand to operate. There were 26 rafts lined up, with life jackets and paddles nearby, on the ramp at Harris Hydroelectric Station.
But instead of moviegoers and businessmen hopping into yellow Crown Victorias to bring them home from Park Avenue, these were worldclass adventure racers hustling down the paved hill at Harris, jumping into yellow Aire rafts bound for the Kennebec River Gorge.
This was the scene here on May 22: The kickoff of the rafting leg of the Appalachian Extreme Adventure Race.
Appalachian Extreme is a 230-mile outdoor endurance race that serves as a qualifier for the international adventure racing circuit.Participants followed an extensively researched course that brought them over mountains, down rivers, across ~ lakes, and along trails. They mountain biked, canoed, portaged and rafted on the six legs of this year's race, organized by Racing Ahead Inc. of Bethel. Navigation and orienteering are also vital parts to success in adventure racing.
North Country Rivers of Bingham was the rafting outfit Norm Greenberg and Tracyn Thayer of Racing Ahead hired to guide the racers down the Kennebec. And I was one of the guides North Country hired to do it.
At about 10:30 a.m., the first racers began to come down the hill - they arrived in the order they finished the first leg (a 13-mile paddle/portage from Mountain View Farm in Greenville).
As they arrived at the Gorge, an army of guides helped them get into their life jackets and secure their packs into the rafts. Then it was onto the river.
I was the seventh boat to put on. My team was Team 6, nicknamed "Vegan," and had just finished their 13-mile journey from Greenville to Indian Pond and were ready to make up some ground on the raft trip.
At the put-in, North Country's trip leader, Josh Gray, had told me the other raft companies had been notified in advance of the race and would yield to us as we paddled downstream. The plan was to stay in groups of five through the Gorge, and then to blast for the finish at Crusher Pool.
Things went pretty much according to plan ... except that I've never had such a fast trip down the Kennebec.
So fast was the Vegan team, that we put on at. about 11 a.m. and wound up passing the bubble of water (4800 cubic feet per second) released from the dam at 10 a.m. at the 'S' turn above the osprey nest- still over four miles from Crusher! There were about twelve teams who had also passed the bubble.
Despite the slow water - below the bubble, the river was more than ten times as puny, just 300 cfs compared with 4800 - the race was still competitive.
I had a good time with theVegan team - three men and one woman in their early thirties, from the Boston area. They. were into going fast and we slithered the boat amid the red rocks, lifting up our feet in the shallow sections and trying to pass people on the comers.
The guides were as into the competition as the racers were, maybe more so. It must have been interesting for the adventure racers to suddenly have another person enter their team in the midst of a four day race ... too bad I didn't think to ask those Vegan guys about it until just now.
No matter. At takeout, us guides headed for the campfire or local watering hole, while the racers were to ride their bikes all the way to Rangeley. The raft trip ended at Crusher Pool, where the racers hiked the short way up to North Country's old base on Rt. 201 in The Forks, across from PRO. There, the adventure racers support teams had set up their tents and cook.ing stations in a makeshift race headquarters. It was up to the individual ,
athletes to decide how much time they spent resting and eating before embarking on the 104 mile ride to Rangeley.
Once on bikes, the teams pedaled up rt. 201 to Hardscrabble Rd., all the way across that dirt road to rt. 27 on the Gold Brook Rd., about 10 miles north of Eustis. Then back. west into the woods. for. another 45 miles of mountain biking until they reached Cupsuptic Lake, about 9 miles due west of Rangeley. There they'd begin their second canoe paddling leg, a diverse 58-miler, south and southeast across Cupsuptic, Mooselookmeguntick and Richardson Lakes until eventually, getting to Lake Umbagog in New Hampshire. Each one of these separate paddling and biking sections is a pretty good trip ' on its own merit.
All of the individual racers in thisfour-day race were in very good fitness,
but even if you don't think you'd like to stay awake and hustling for 80 of 96 hours, there are adventure races for you as well, says Norm of Racing Ahead.
"If you're not interested in this level, beginner races are also available, like the 6-hour Urban Adventure Race in Portland coming up [June 12, 2004]. We've also done 12-hour races, 24-hour races," said Norm.
He and his wife, Tracyn Thayer, have been adventure racing since the mid-90's when they were working together at Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. Together, they've competed in many adventure races throughout the continent; and organized many others. .
Norm says the one thing he enjoys most about organizing adventure races is researching the course.
"The most fun thing is scouting and timing the course; and guessing what people will do where," he said.
The toughest thing is getting permission from landowners to use their land in the race.
"Some companies are open to it, some are not. You might have to get permission from 10 people and if one says no, you may have to reroute the entire race, so those other nine are useless," said Norm.
But he, Tracyn and all the volunteer timers, support people and organizers were able to get the access issues - and everything else - squared away as they smoothly pulled off the Appalachian Extreme Adventure Race 2004.
The winning team, Team ATP from the Adirondacks, gained six hours on the final leg of the race to trun a three-hour deficit into a three-hour win.
The winning team - Scott Pleban,Michelle Barnes, Eric Grimm and Pete Spagnoli - earned a right to compete in the World Adventure Racing Championships in Newfoundland next August. The winners of that 6-day, nonstop, 500 kilometer adventure race, wins $100,000 Canadian.
Even' in Canadian currency, that's enough money to take a lot of taXi cab rides.
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