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Northern New Hampshire provides ultimate test for elite adventure racers

July 15, 2009
ERROL — The heavy New Hampshire rains of the last three weeks had swelled the Androscoggin River, its rapids flowing with atypical assertiveness.

And every canoe and kayak passing through this short section of Class II whitewater ended in a similar result—the riders and their contents spilling out of their capsized vessels and sending them for a waterlogged ride to calmer waters downstream.

It was just Leg 2 and four hours into the three-day 2009 Untamed New England Adventure Race, but the 44 teams who passed this point found out exactly what was in store for the remainder of the 16-leg, 200-plus mile course that traversed incredibly unforgiving terrain in the Northern New Hampshire wilderness.

"I would say that the course kicked most of our asses," said Dave Stiles, the captain of Team Littleton Bike & Fitness/Untamed New England, which was forced out of the race just over a day in because of injuries. "It gave us a little bit of an onslaught."

Considering the end results, his candid statement was spot on. In a world-class field, only two teams managed to complete the full-course and hit all 37 mandatory checkpoints.

"I am not surprised," said race director Grant Killian, who noted six teams in a field of 26 accomplished the feat a year ago. "We wanted to raise the bar of intensity this year."

After a successful debut race in 2008, it was announced far in advance that this year's Untamed New England event would be the lone qualifier in the United States for the Adventure Racing World Championships set for December in Portugal.

Therefore, Killian created a course worthy of such status.

"If we didn't have a course that was this tough, we may have seen teams finish in two days and we didn't want that."

But it was the massive amount of rain over the past three weeks that turned much of the course into a muddy mess, and made travel that much tougher and time-consuming.

"Our feet were constantly entrenched in mud. And some of the biking, it was like mountain biking through peanut butter," Stiles said. "It was a really challenging and tough course. But it should have been considering it's a qualifier."

Winning the war of attrition was ATP/Salomon, made up of three Canadians and an American, which crossed the finish line at 8:43 a.m. Sunday morning and earned the all-expenses paid trip to Portugal (the top three teams all earned bids).

In short, the winning squad was able to traverse a circular area equivalent to roughly 1,000 square miles. Starting at The Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, the foursome, using just a compass and a map, hiked, biked, rappelled, climbed and paddled its way west to Errol, south to Gorham, east to Jefferson, north to Lancaster and toward Groveton, and then headed east into Maine before finishing back at the Dixville resort.

Canadian squad Team Kinetic also hit every checkpoint and finished almost two hours earlier, but ATP/Salomon's adjusted "time bonuses" pushed Kinetic into the runner-up spot.

Connecticut-based Berlin Bike/Eastern Mountain Sports and New York's Team NYARA tied for third place. More interesting was the fact Berlin Bike finished 15 minutes ahead, but NYARA, which was clearly headed for third, had stopped to aid another team and ultimately slowed its finishing time. When it was said and done, however, both teams earned spots in the World Championships.

Pre-race podium contender Team Littleton Bike & Fitness/Untamed New England, comprised of Stiles, Bethlehem's Jenny Johnson, Lisbon's Jamie Myers and Canadian Jason Lane, never got the chance to near the finish line.

A pre-existing ankle injury proved too much pain for Myers, while Stiles' was forced out because of tendonitis in his hamstring; he noted it occurred instantly following a bee sting.

They both called it quits together on Friday afternoon following a 30-mile trek to Jefferson. Prior to the hike, in which the squad lost considerable time, LBF/Untamed New England had rallied to build a 40-minute cushion through five legs. It was the first time the team, which has competed in longer events around the globe and earned third at Untamed NE year ago, had ever dropped out of a race.

"We tried to push through, but when body doesn't function right it's tough," said Stiles, who spent the remainder of the race playing a considerable role in assisting Killian and the other racers. "It was tough to stop racing because we wanted to race this course. It's our home area and we like racing here. At the same time, it was relieving to stop after the constant stress and pain we were going through.

"Seeing how it turned out, if we had stayed injury free we had a good chance to podium."

Lane, meanwhile, joined forces with the three-person squad RaceIt.com and eventually crossed the finish line, while Myers and Johnson returned home.

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