Today’s Wildman Biathlon was a lot of fun. It was the 28th annual edition of the race, and I’ve been wanting to do it for the past 16 years since first introduced to the race by our longtime trail running friend, Rich Fargo. He loves the event and has done it many times.
Debbie and I drove up to Shelburne, New Hampshire after work on Friday and camped near the start. Wildman is a classic New England grassroots event. The start and transition #1 are at the Shelburne Town Garage/Fire House.
The old school bike racks signal that this race is low-key and that it has a lot of character. The course is what makes this race. It starts with a 10 kilometer road run that is out and back on the rolling and winding North Road. After the first transition, you ride a seven mile loop of Rt. 2 and North Road before continuing back on Rt. 2 to the Rt. 16 junction in Gorham. From there, you take 16 up to Pinkham Notch and the Wildcat Ski Area. The total distance is 22.3 miles and after the first seven mile loop, it is gradually uphill the rest of the way with the toughest climbing at the end.
Transition #2 is in the dirt parking lot at Wildcat. The final leg of the race is a three-mile trail run/hike via the Polecat Trail to the 4,000+ foot peak of Wildcat. The finish line is adjacent to the gondola. Marketed as “scenic,” the gondola didn’t offer any views today.
The weather conditions were grim, or “dismal,” as described by the guy I rode the gondola back to the base lodge with. After no rain, dry, and hot conditions all week, today was a washout. The rain started yesterday late in the afternoon when thunderstorms rolled across Vermont and New Hampshire. It rained all night and most of the morning.
The roads were wet and slick. The four sets of train tracks that we crossed were treacherous and claimed multiple crash victims. I heard there were some serious injuries. By the time Debbie reached the final set of tracks, the volunteers were making people dismount and walk across them. She may have been the final person to ride them and the volunteer tried to catch her as she went down. The tiny cut on her knee looked a lot worse than it was.
She had a good race. She hadn’t done a road cycling race in 10 years since competing in the Cape Argus Cycle-Tour in Cape Town, South Africa. She rode the same bike today, though it was recently tuned up by our friends at Benidorm Bikes. It’s a steel Seven Cycles Tsunami cross bike with 28cm tires, so she was at a disadvantage on the bike leg. That didn’t matter. She had a good first run and despite ceding some positions on the bike, pulled a bunch of them back on the final three-mile ascent. She wishes that the trail run was much longer. She finished third woman and was very happy.
I got to see her cross the line after waiting 30 minutes at the top and freezing my butt off. I finished in 2:34 and was satisfied with my result given how I feel. The 9th of 10 Winding Trails Summer Tri Series off-road races was last Tuesday and since Monday, I haven’t been feeling too hot. The finale is this Tuesday, so I have to recover in an effort to hold on to my 2nd place in the standings. It will take a miracle for me to overcome Jon Arellano, who I bested last year, but who has come back with a vengeance.
Ten weeks of racing is a lot and it’s worn me down. Today, I was just flat. I was happy with the 10k run and it was a measured effort, but my strength is the bike and I lost ground. After 1.5 miles of climbing the Polecat, I was done. I finished the 10K in third, got passed by one guy on the bike, and got passed by another on the hill climb, so I finished fifth. Uncharacteristically, I kept looking back. I had a gap over sixth, so I sort of walked it in, looking to save a little energy for this coming Tuesday.
Other than the rain and the traffic on Rt. 2, it was a good course. The markings on the trail run could have been better. I was unsure about my direction several times. I learned afterwards that a whole lot of signs were made, and never put out. We were relying on orange spray paint on the dirt trail, that was washing away in the rain. Oh well. I knew that the summit was up, so that was the direction I kept heading. When I came to a junction that was unmarked, I guessed. It all worked out.
Despite hearing that North Road was rough, rutted, and potholed, I rode my Seven Kameha SLX triathlon bike, but with my Zipp 404 wheels, rather than my Sub-9 Disc/808 combo. It was a wise choice, given the wind. The cracks in the road weren’t as bad as advertised, and I was glad that I rode my tri bike rather than a road bike. My Seven was built for New England roads and the custom geometry is good for climbing, unlike most dedicated tri-bikes.
Coming up Rt. 16, a road we have been on many times, I was thinking about so many great adventures that we have had in the White Mountains and many that have crossed that road. It’s been 10 years since I did Sea to Summit, and that was the last time I was in the Wildcat base lodge. Next Saturday is the Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb. I rode by the auto road and recalled last year’s race and the five previous times I did it. I went by the 19-Mile Brook trailhead and it brought back memories from our last Hut Traverse when the weather was kind of like today’s. It wasn’t a good day to be above treeline.
One of the worst parts of today was the ride back to Shelburne. Debbie ran back to the base lodge and I took the gondola. I don’t do downhills! She waited for me while I rode back to the Garage/Firehouse to get the van and trailer. It took me 48 minutes to ride back. My teeth chattered the entire time. I heard that last year’s race was run in perfect conditions with great views of Mt. Washington from the summit of Wildcat. Oh well. Maybe next time we will have views.
After the awards ceremony (we both earned etched glass mugs), we crossed the street to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Debbie dug out four quarters from her purse for each of us. I had the best three-minute shower ever. It was glorious!
We went upstairs to the main entrance and bumped in to Jim Campiformio, who stopped to change his socks in the middle of the More and More Difficult 50K trail race. MMD is a legendary underground race in the White Mountains. Jim had eight miles to go and after a wrong turn, was regrouping and readying himself for the final push. He has done many great ultras, including the Hardrock 100. It was nice to see him and chat a bit before we both went separate directions.
This has been another great day in the White Mountains. Sometimes, I wish we lived closer. The trails are fantastic. You can’t climb hills like this in Connecticut.