Adventure Racing 11:43:00 
Bitter Pill AR. Strong Machine with Scott Cocks. Fantastically fun time, pushing as hard as we could.
All of my teammates went to Scotland; I didn't join them despite their pleas. I really struggled to fill out a full roster for the Bitter Pill, but fortunately Scott was willing to join me despite Wilderness Traverse the following weekend.
Race was supposed to begin at 5:15, but we had absolutely no info at that point. What we got was a short briefing and a new race start time - 5:30. The rules sounded confusing, so when they announced that the race was started Scott and I spent a few extra minutes making sure that we understood the legs and their nuances, which was a good choice.
Leg 1 - Bike
We biked out of Blush Hill (very familiar to the race from 2019) and began passing teams as we made our way to a small bike path, pushing as hard as we could on the way, passing all of the teams in front of us. It took us just over an hour to get to the TA. We did some climbing and moved well, but a number of teams arrived right after us, all having used a faster route that I hadn't considered. We got there right at the same time as the RD, who had us chase him up the trail to the proper location.
Leg 2 - Bike/Trek
This leg could be tackled on bike or foot. We were warned that an "Internationally Ranked AR Team" vetted this section and said that the biking was no joke, but Scott and I were confident in our riding and felt that bikes were the best choice. I think that every other team chose foot instead. We struggled here with the map, specifically the scale. It was very zoomed in and that created some issues for us, compounded by the fact that the TA was misplotted. Once we realized and got onto the map, we had wasted 15+ minutes. Some of the points were great for the bike, but there was one that was up a crazy downhill trail. I would estimate that we didn't lose or gain any time by taking bikes, but maybe just some extra effort in doing so. The section was simple enough once we were found on the maps, but was also struggled with a point mapped on the edge of a very indistinct marsh, that we missed on the first go and had to reattack. Probably another 15 minutes here with the reattack. I wasn't the biggest fan of the point, as the map was useless in the flat area. When we finally left this section, a number of teams had already left, but only 2 full-course. One of them, Ultra Bambi, was a team that I hadn't seen before but Scott was very familiar with who was about 20 minutes ahead of us.
Leg 3 - Bike
We hammered the bike as much as we could, mostly on roads without too many big climbs. Just before the next TA we took advantage of a fun twist in the course, gathering one of two points that could be collected on any leg via any discipline. This point (Y) was right near where we would be biking, and it seemed like it would be a slight bit shorter on bikes than on foot. We had a slight issue with it, but got it without much difficulty and made our way to the TA. Ultra Bambi and VERT were in TA there already.
Leg 4 - Trek
This set itself up as the crux of the race, with lots of points and route choice. I had spent time on the bike ride in looking over the map, so we didn't need to plan anything in the TA. We dropped PFDs, grabbed complimentary cupcakes and headed into the woods right at the same time as the other teams. Through some fast riding and good TA-ing we had made up 20 minutes. We planned a really good route, ad libbing the order early on to save elevation. We moved really quickly and worked extremely well together with the navigation. After ~1 hour we found ourselves at the high point of the leg, and started moving down while gathering more points. We passed VERT and Ultra Bambi just before this, and knew that we had probably passed them on time. We had some serious issues with the next two points (16 and 18), finding 16 at an elevation was above where it was mapped (but in the right spot according to my post-race GPSing) and finding 18 on a reattack in the exact location that we had already checked. It was a bummer to lose about 30 minutes on those two points, but we moved quickly on the way down, grabbing one more point and running into TA. We moved quickly here, repacking PFDs, refilling water, and taking advantage of cupcakes, cookies, and cheese. We also got a supplemental map for the next bike, which showed some MTB trails in the state park. As we remounted our bikes we saw Ultra Bambi coming into TA. The lead that we thought we had built was evaporated by our errors at the end of the trek!
Leg 5 - Bike
This began with a really big climb right out of TA. 3 miles, 35 minutes, and 2 CPs later, we finally flattened on the gravel road and began to flow again. I was really excited to be racing in cooler weather again (highs were only in the 70s), feeling great on the climb and being able to push the pace in the midday. After another 4 miles we entered into the state park and the MTB trails. We had 3 CPs but not much route choice. The highlight of the race was here, being routed onto an AWESOME downhill flow trail. The only way it would have been better would be if I wasn't on flat pedals, as I felt rather unconfident without my clipless setup. It also would have been nice if I hadn't lost a piece of hoagie on the trail - it was hitting me so well during the race. We rolled downhill from there and made our way into the next TA not long after. We hadn't seen any other teams and hoped that our effort on the bike would have opened up a big enough lead for us to hold on to.
Leg 6 - Paddle
We TA'd to paddling before having to haul our heavy tandem kayak up the back of a very large dam to find the water. I used my wing paddle (which I carried for the entire race, treks included), but Scott used a rental. We still moved rather well with him in the stern, taking time to eat and drink plenty while also paddling as fast as we could. The first 45 minutes of the paddle were spent on all but one of the points, and we didn't see another team. As we turned north to get the last point, we saw Ultra Bambi paddling out. They were using the provided canoe paddles, so we were able to overtake and pass them on the way to the final point, and turned around and headed back to the takeout with them behind us, knowing that they still had to get the reast of the points that we had already gotten. We did stop for one final "get whenever" point, which we thought made the most sense from the paddle instead of the prior bike. We took out 2 hours after we put in, and quickly carried the boat back down the dam to TA.
Leg 7 - Trek
This leg had 5 optional points that could only be gotten if the paddle was cleared, so we knew that we were in great shape. We had just over 2 hours left, so I felt confident that we had a chance to get them all. There was a group of 3 nearer to the finish, and 2 tougher points in the other direction. We started off with the tougher group, grabbing one point before climbing our biggest hill of the day. We had to ascend 1300' feet, and it was slow moving. The ground seemed flatter than the map indicated, but we still made it up without navigational issue. The problem was that we had spent more than an hour climbing, and also that it took half and hour to descend back down. When we finally hit the road at the bottom, I knew we had made a big mistake, possibly leaving a door open to be passed by Ultra Bambi if they got the other 3 bonus points (which were much easier). Scott and I tried to get cheeky and cross the top of the dam to shortcut our way to one more CP, but it was impossible. We head toward the prescribed pathway to the finish, realizing as we moved that we had no time to get any of the other 3 points. We passed a number of teams on the way in, following some strange rules about private property before running back on the same roads that gave me so many headaches and ruined my race in 2019. We finished with only 17 minutes to spare, so we knew that we had made the right call in skipping the final points. Retrospectively, it would have been possible to get the first point that we did but them skip the hardest and get the other 3, but we didn't have that knowledge at the time.
We learned post-race that Ultra Bambi had only gotten one bonus point, so crisis averted! We were first overall by 1 cp! We enjoyed the delicious post-race buffet with the Hollands and Ultra Bambi before grabbing some great prizes at the awards ceremony. GMARA always has a great racer experience, and I'm happy to make the long drive for the race each year!!