Madbury, NEW HAMPSHIRE--This post was one of the most difficult to write. How does one recap a snowshoe race without snow? Many have lamented the crazy weather the northeast has experienced this winter. Skiers, 'boarders, snowmobilers, and yes even snowshoers have collectively wondered...where the hell did the snow go? Last week was one of those times I questioned whether snowshoe race directing was really worth it. Don't get me wrong, when there's snow there's nothing any better. Deep powder, steep glasading descents, twisty singletrack, and wide groomed nordic tracks are what make snowshoe racing so darn fun. Replace those things with ice and bare ground and folks start hanging up the snowshoes and begin wishing for 50 degree spring days. The 6 or so inches that fell at Kingman Farm last Tuesday at first seemed to be just the thing the event needed to escape postponement or worse...outright cancellation. Many know this event had sold out (125 snowshoers) within 72 hours of registration opening on January 1st. We understand it's one of the more unique events in NH, and perhaps in all of New England, so the pressure to put on a great event is incredibly high. The day after it snowed (Wednesday) I met my father at Kingman Farm to survey the conditions. Everything looked great. The majority of the doubletrack network on the property is sheltered and gets a great deal of daily foot traffic which makes the rail defined and stable. At least one side of Hick's Hill, a prominent feature of the race course, faces the southwest and doesn't hang onto snow all that well. It was this side that we focused on first. Tuesday's snow was just what we needed and we busily set a rail. The plan was to work Hick's Hill and then return on Thursday to check out the rest of the network and race course. I met teammates Geoff Cunningham and Charlie Therriault at Kingman Farm after work on Thursday. I had asked them to bring shovels just in case we needed to improve areas of the course. When we arrived at the Madbury Town Hall around 4:00 pm it was already obvious that the warm temperatures the past 24 hours (40+ degrees) were beginning to have an impact on the snow. As we trekked up Hick's Hill, the southwest facing side snow cover was decimated. In a desperate effort to save the original course the three of us shovelled snow onto the trail for two hours before finally calling it quits. By the time we left, Hick's Hill was out of the equation. The course would be modified and it was up to me to notify all 125 pre-registered entrants of the change. Under just about any other circumstances I would have postponed the event. But with the season drawing to a close and the race being a fundraiser for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society I had a number of reasons to try to get it in. As soon as I sent the e-mail Thursday night, an overwhelming sense of dread began to set in...would there be any snow left Saturday night to race on? On Friday after work (again) I met another teammate, Rich Lavers, back at Kingman Farm to scout out the rest of the trail network in an attempt to find enough snow cover to fashion a modified race course. We ran the original course (minus Hick's Hill) and found adequate snow cover with a couple of areas of bare ground but nothing that couldn't either be repaired or simply run over. I had informed everyone that the conditions were "adequate, but not good" so I was hopeful that anyone who showed up to race would understand. On Saturday morning Brayden and I arrived at Kingman Farm by 7:00 am and met teammate Steve McCusker. Steve would help me run the Kids Race we had planned for that afternoon. As we headed out on the course to set flags and mark turns I was at the point of no return...there would be a race in less than 12 hours regardless of what Mother Nature had in store. By 11:30 am most of the course was marked and I made my way back to the parking area to organize our other fundraiser for the morning, the Paws4ACause guided snowshoe trek for dogs and their owners. In it's second year the event raised over $250 in 2009. Teammate Steve Sprague, his wife Stephanie, and their young lab helped me lead a group of 6-7 dogs and a equal number of adults and kids over the roughly 1 mile Kids Race loop. When we finished I headed inside the Town Hall for a quick bite to eat at the Friends of Mabury Library Chili Cookoff. Although I didn't notice it at the time, people later told me the temperatures on Saturday afternoon were approaching 50 degrees. Around 2:oo pm I decided to take one more spin around the course to double check the flags and turn signs we had set that morning. Within the first 5 minutes it was obvious that the hours of shovelling were futile as nearly every spot under an evergreen was once again 'snowless'. At approximately 3:15 pm (less than 90 minutes before registration opened) I stood at the opening of the large field I had set nearly 150 flags on just hours before only to find 1.) nearly every flag I had set had fallen over, and 2.) the snow that was there in the morning was gone. And I really mean gone. As in no snow...open field. In a desperate move I knelt to my knees and started scooping the few slushy remains near the woods to form little slush piles so the flags would have something to stick into. After 10 minutes I had only recovered less than 30 flags and a wave of sheer panic washed over me as I stood in that snowless muddy field searching for an answer. It was too late to reroute and because the race would be run in headlamps an out and back (ie. two way traffic) seemed incredibly dangerous. I had only one option...run the race through the open field. But how to get the flags to stick in the ground? In an instant an idea came to me (perhaps "sent" to me is more like it), push the flags into the ground. It seems obvious, but when panic and desperation take over it's very hard to think clearly. It worked. The field was soft enough to stick the flags into. By the time I made it back to the trailhead it was nearly 4:00 pm and my volunteers had begun to arrive including teammate Steve Wolfe. Steve was going to skip the race but had offered to help. He asked if I wanted him to shovel snow to improve the course and although I told him it probably wasn't worth it he set out nonetheless with shovel in hand and sled in tow to do what he could. When someone asked earlier in the week how many racers I was expecting considering the modified course and the sketchy conditions I had said probably no more than 25. In all honesty, I was hoping for no more than 25 because the conditions were so poor. Fifty-one snowshoers finished the race. Some in snowshoes, some in ice cleats, and some in trail shoes. Prior to the race I had given the entire field the option to race in any type of footgear. Not surprisingly, many took the option to leave the snowshoes in the car but there were still a fair number of snowshoe "diehards" that decided to make the best of a not-so-great situation. After the race competitors helped themselves to soup, coffee, tea, and home-made goodies courtesy of teammate Nancy Clark, my mother Leslie, and mother-in-law Judy. Because of the mixed footwear we didn't recognize the overall or category podium finishers (although teammates Charlie Therriault, Geoff Cunningham, and Danny Ferreira finished 1, 2, 3). We did however, have enough prizes for everyone to win something and some folks actually won TWO prizes as all the numbers went back in the HEED container and we kept drawing winners! When the night finally ended I saw more smiles than frowns and heard a number of positive comments...despite the lousy conditions. I guess when it comes to snowshoe racing it's the atmosphere, camaraderie, and friendship that make the event...not necessarily the snow.
A very sincere and grateful THANK YOU to my family and aR teammates. Some offered to volunteer and many showed up to race. I couldn't have pulled this off without everyone's help. You all are the best.
PS. We raised over $2500 for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society...that's what it's all about!
2016: Year in Review
4 months ago