Into the Lost Wilderness of the Maine Highlands with the AR World Series
The Adventure Racing World Series made the first of two stops in North America when the Untamed New England Expedition Race took place in the Highlands of Maine last week.
The race covered over 200 miles of rugged terrain including Moosehead Lake, the Appalachian Mountain Club's 100 Mile Wilderness, the historic town of Greenville, and the Kennebec and Dead Rivers.
It was a challenge accepted by 39 teams from around the world, including Columbia Vidaraid who are third in the AR World Series rankings, and two new teams made up of world class performers, Peak Performance of Sweden, and Team France.
The teams were presented with an old-school race, packed with a mix of complex navigation, tactical choices, sheer bloody-minded endurance and exceptional teamwork - all the essential ingredients of classic expedition racing.
The race began with a short orienteering prologue, followed by Canadian canoeing on Moosehead Lake, with stops to climb Little Kineo Mountain and rappel 300 feet down the far side, and then for a 4 mile run around Kineo Island.
Stage two was on mountain bikes, but again it was broken up, this time by an orienteering relay, where each team member had to complete a section of the run with map and compass. (As teams usually have one or two specialist navigators this section tested the skills of those who don’t normally carry the map and compass themselves.)
In the early stages of the race the Swedish and French teams were well placed, with Peak Performance pushing into the lead, but the crux of the race was still to come, the 36 mile trekking and pack-rafting stage through the Abenaki Lost World. The race promised, and delivered, the toughest trekking they had staged in 10 years of organising events.
Pack-rafting is an occasional feature of North American racing and was a new challenge to many, even the most experienced competitors. Teams carried small, inflatable pack-rafts so they could paddle across the many lakes in the ‘Lost World Trek’ ... if they chose to. In the cool conditions getting wet in the pack-raft (and risking overturning) had to be set against the difficulty of a long trek, with a heavy pack through dense bush.
Almost all the teams said the packs were the heaviest they’d ever carried and Karen Lundgren of Peak Performance said, “We were like gypsies, carrying so much stuff, they were the heaviest packs ever!” Her team mate Mikael Lindnord added, “Everything was hard, it was the real deal.”
The trek was the point in the race where Peak Performance lost their lead to Columbia Vidaraid. The Spanish/Brazilian team navigated a better route through the wilderness and were the only team not to stop and sleep. They took 14 hours 30 minutes to get through the trek, moving from 5th to 1st, and had made the tactical choice not to sleep as they knew there was a dark zone near the end of the race.
“We tried to make the dark zone, and were super tired after 3 days with no sleep,” said Marco Anselem. “Urtzi chose the best route for us and we just tried to look after him and keep going.”
The dark zone came after more biking, trekking and some urban orienteering at Greenville. Stage 5 was called the ‘The Whitewater Wilderness’ and included a guided raft down the Kennbec River followed by another pack-raft down the white water rapids of the Dead River. After that it was only a short bike ride to the finish.
With all the lead teams caught by the dark zone and sleeping before the rafting restarted in daylight there was an expedition racing version of a ‘sprint finish’ to the end, with the time differences maintained.
Columbia Vidaraid kept their lead on the water and Marco Anselem said the white water pack-rafting was his highlight of the race. That wasn’t the case for some other teams who capsized and had to withdraw so close to the finish due to exhaustion and the risk of hypothermia from the cold water.
Despite a nasty bike crash close to the finish for Barbara Bomfim, who was struggling with fatigue and the difficulty of riding with such a heavy pack, Columbia Vidaraid rode into the finish to win the race in 64 hours and 8 minutes. It’s a win which will boost their world ranking and earns them a paid-for place at the next World Championships in Ecuador in November.
In a close race for the podium places Team France finished ahead of Peak Performance by just 3 minutes after nearly 65 hours of racing. In total more than one third of all teams finished the full course, and all but five teams were able to cross the finish line either on an alternate course or unofficially.
The next race in the AR World Series will be Itera in August 2014. You can find out all about the series at http://www.arworldseries.com/