This past weekend, I raced in the Maine Huts and Trails Backwoods Duathlon put on by Baxter Outdoors (a division of Baxter Brewing). It was a small local race in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, but despite its small size and it being a first year event, the entire experience was top notch.
My girlfriend and I stayed at the Stratton Brook Hut, a part of the Maine Huts and Trails system the Friday night prior to the race thinking it’d be a good way to help support the trail system there and really get a proper Maine backwoods experience. Once settled, we were provided with an amazing trail dinner of sweet potatoes, a bean salad, cole slaw, and corn bread with a chocolate cupcake for dessert. If you’re ever in the area riding these trails, I’d highly recommend staying at the huts. After dinner, we relaxed for a bit before heading to bed.
Race morning came quickly and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Bigelow mountain range and breakfast in the main lodge. They had provided breakfast omelets but having to race in a few hours, I stayed with a small bowl of oatmeal with some fruit and a couple of home fries and copious amounts of coffee. We then prepped a couple of PB and Js for after the race and headed back down the mountain to the start.
At the start, the atmosphere was perfect. It was a small race with 60 competitors and that gave the race a very intimate feel. It was great to see that despite a “backwoods” locale a sizeable group of people wanted to come out and race a bit and help support the trails in the area (the sponsor, Carrabassett Coffee Roasters, was making a donation pf $0.50 for each mile that all the competitors raced). At the end of the day, CRNEMBA got a couple hundred dollars to improve an already world class trail system.
The bike was a mass start on a 3.5 mile flat stretch on the narrow gauge. The pace of the lead group was relentless (we reached speeds well above 25 mph) and everyone was so ready to go, that trying to get a gap on anyone was futile. Fortunately, I was able to “make the selection” of the front group as we started the 600 ft climb up Crommet’s.
The efforts I had made on the narrow gauge caught up with me as I mashed my way up Crommet’s. This was a significant steady climb that had some serious pitch changes so you were constantly changing gears and cadences and really wore out my legs. I was glad when we finally made it to the top and I began the descent on Oak Knoll in third position.
I had heard rumors about how amazing the Oak Knoll trail was and had been anxious to actually ride it. I can guarantee that this trail lives up to the hype and then some. It’s a purpose built mountain bike trail that is beautifully bench cut into the hillside and includes tons of berms and rock features to keep you guessing but is so incredibly flowy that I was smiling the entire way down. Without a doubt the best trail I’ve ever ridden. Period. A lot of credit goes to the local NEMBA chapter for building an incredibly well designed sustainable trail that is incredibly fun to ride.
As I spun back into transition, another racer zoomed by and I was off running in 4th place.
Despite really working it on the bike, my running legs felt good and I quickly made a pass on another runner and moved up to third. I kept running hard, hoping that I might be able to take back some of the time I lost on the bike. However, it was not to be. I ran well the entire to finish the race third overall and second in the solo division.
I was incredibly happy with how well I raced and it felt good to relax with the other racers and enjoy a cold beer. At races, it amazes me the sense of camaraderie that you develop with your fellow racers. It was great talking to everyone, many of whom were locals, and hearing all the work they do to maintain and enjoy the beautiful trail system up in Carrabassett Valley. I would definitely say that those trails are the best in New England and I would highly recommend checking them out.