Adventure Racing 10:40:00 
Bitter Pill AR with Nicki and Rob. 2nd Overall, 1st Coed 3. Strong Machine flew around all day and ended up beating us handily. Nice flow to the course, but some (intentionally) frustrating elements leave a bad taste in my mouth. More to come.
Some crazy team composition issues left me scrambling to find a full coed 3 squad less than a month before. Fortunately, Nicki was willing to hop on board and Rob was happy to fill out the team. We were set up to be strong and fast. Nicki and I drove up to Waterbury, VT and the Blush Hill Country Club on Friday (almost 7 hrs) and met up with Rob at check-in and then grabbed some pizza for dinner. We settled into our hotel room at the Best Western and began getting our gear prepped. Nicki and I were experiencing our first GMARA race, and Rob was an excellent asset in this regard, with loads of experience in their races. Their races have some interesting guidelines that contributed to most of our consternation and decision making in the lead-up. We would be required at all times to carry PFD and bike helmet, as well as paddle and bike shoes if desired. This led to our choice of the AS pack, and they were as stuffed as could be. We bedded down for as much sleep as we could get as soon as possible.
4:15 alarms got us up and moving to the country club in time for the 5AM meeting. Having been given no information prior, we were excited to learn that we would be starting on bikes. The meeting involved going through the instructions and then a map reveal. At around 5:15 we were given the all clear to begin whenever we were ready. It took us a few minutes to go through the maps. The course presented as a big mountain bike (with the promise of a heinous bikewhack towards the end), a large and hilly trek, a downriver paddle, and a short trek to the finish. It seemed very doable for 12 hours.
We were one of the last teams to leave the starting line, but moved efficiently down roads and trails, passing a number of racers, on our way to the beginning of the Perry Hill MTB trail network. The map for this section was frustrating. The points were on the large topo map, and we were given a supplemental trail map and had to match them. The topo lines weren't super compatible between the two, and we learned quickly that not all of the trails were on the supplemental. This led to Nicki and I agreeing that we needed to ride a large, one-way trail in order to grab a CP, only to realize that it was unnecessary. This cost us about 10 minutes of backtracking. Adding that on to my earlier wrong turn, as well as struggling with CP 9, (on an unmapped trail...) and we probably left 30 minutes on this section. The section ended with a ride/push to CPX, where we ran into Team Kash, before making our way through grassy trails and roads on the way to CP17.
We arrived at a flag with no punch about halfway to CP 18. The flag held a sign, letting us know that the old road was long since gone and we needed to push our bikes through the thick swamp. We did this along with ARGeorgia, making good time trying to find the driest routes. The swamp's depth was unpredictable, and a few times I found myself up to my waist. The swamp seemed to ease up significantly after CP19, and we were able to ride most of the rest of the way in to TA1/2 with screeching brakes. We were surprised to find only one other set of bikes here - Strong Machine (20+ minutes ahead of us); we had crossed paths with so many other teams we were truly unaware of who was ahead of us. A quick TA (dropping PFDs and bike helmets but not bike shoes or paddles...) led us out on the ensuing trek with ARGeorgia hot on our heels and a number of other teams TAing at that time. We chose to head clockwise, climbing up the ridge on trail before heading off for CP22 - "log bridge" - which was mapped on a spur. It proved rather tough to find, as it was actually in one of a series of faint reentrants, taking about 20 minutes to hone in on. We had actually stopped for a pow-wow right next to it - oof. We climbed quickly to 23, then hit 25, and 26 before leaving the trail for a series of 4 bonus points, each worth double. As we descended down towards CP24, I heard faint shouts of "Tom! Tom!" A few minutes afterwards we ran into Strong Machine just above the CP - we had finally caught them. They had been there for quite some time, and we ended up looking with them for 15 minutes. Turns out, we were just once faint reentrant over from the CP. We traveled close together to BPA, BPB, and CP21. From 21, we had a long bushwhacky descent to 20. We ran as much as we could to put some distance into Strong Machine. We were happy to pull into TA with no sight of them. Our trek for the day was the fastest by nearly 30 minutes. We decided to quickly TA, and rode out wearing PFDs and pedaling clipless pedals in trekking shoes before they arrived. Our plan was to slow them down by getting out of there, and it seemed to have worked well.
Until they arrived at TA3 right behind us. Turns out they our plan kinda worked, but they pedaled faster and were able to find the TA a bit quicker. A quick transition to paddle and we were off, but not after returning to the TA to grab the mandatory canoe paddles... This leg shaped up to be a straightforward downriver paddle with stops for 3 CPs along the way. The first was 28, and required an upriver paddle for a short bit on a tributary. I'm sure that we were comical, as I got out and in repeatedly to help the boat along, only to finally trek through the creek continually tripping and sliding on wet rocks. I ended up with a literal swim after the flag, and I ran into Cliff doing the same thing that I was. The race was back on to CP30 and 31, where they finally caught up to us. Turns out, they found a canoe with a middle seat for Evan. I had been kneeling and sitting on the yolk, and my legs were not happy with me for that. Some more banter and gamesmanship led up to CP 32 and the takeout, where Cliff literally hid the CP punch from me and then attempted some dancing to distract me from the map for the final trek. The TA was incredibly fast, and we took off for the final 3CP trek at a blazing pace.
Tom seemed to take them on a strange route back across the creek, and we took the chance to break away from them and work towards BPC via a reentrant from below. We moved slower than expected due to a necessary swim and some impenetrably thick grass (Nicki had to physically push me to get through). Still, we arrived at BPC efficiently to get the news (via the flag) that the actual CP was 150 meters southeast. This was straight up a near-cliff to a flat area, and we arrived there confident that we were ahead of them. A perfect bearing took us directly to CPY (despite a fall that broke my beloved thumb compass). Feeling confident, we took off fast towards CPZ, noting the course instructions that said to "follow the marked trail to avoid private property between Y and Z." Well, there was no marked trail, and there were many, many trails in the area. We spent more than an hour traveling the 400m between Y and Z, covering miles of wandering. We were on roads, on trails, bushwhacking; it was a disaster. We resorted to traveling back towards CPY where I noticed a small doubletrack that we had yet to try. Nicki (on the maps at this point) guided us expertly to the edge of a field to find CPZ...on private property. From there we had less than a mile of trekking to go back to the finish, where we found that Strong Machine had been waiting on us for nearly an hour! Turns out that Tom's initial mistake got them ahead of us to BPC, and that his knowledge of GMARA's mapping style helped guided them quickly to CPZ. He proved to be a tremendous navigator, and was unflappable throughout. We finished with almost 90 minutes to spare as the only other team to clear the course; in fact, no other teams came in for 45 minutes after us.
This was the most frustrating finish to a race in a while, beating out even the embarrassing gaff at the end of MSAR. I have no idea why I have developed a mental block at the very end of races, but I'm no longer reliable at getting teams home efficiently. To top off that frustration, we learned of the race organizers choices to make things frustrating. Apparently there exists a complete map of Perry Hill, but (this is a direct quote) "we didn't want teams to finish too quickly." The original race map also highlighted many more roads and trails in the final trek, but they were taken off because "where is the adventure in that?" I took some solace in the huge number of teams later on in the race who needed volunteer help to get through the final trek - at least I wasn't the only one. I am also still confused as to the requirement for carrying paddles and bike shoes on the trek, but I don't think I'll ever understand that.
All of that said, I actually quite enjoyed the race. The course had a good flow and the post-race event was rivaled only by USARA Nationals. There was a wonderful buffet, raffle prizes, and excellent awards to the winners. Our Mammut bag was stuffed with wonderful gear that we were happy to divvy up. I had a wonderful time racing against Strong Machine, as well as with Nicki and Rob. We were of very similar speeds throughout (they did complain about my hill climbing...) and meshed perfectly. I'd love to race with them, specifically to let Nicki take the reins. I also look forward to more GMARA races in the future; they event was very well done and I think I still have some unfinished business.