Bridgewater is one of those New Hampshire towns I'd never been through and knew nothing about. It's in the northern end of the Merrimack River's watershed, just north of Bristol on Route 3A, with a prime stretch of shore on Newfound Lake and much backcountry to the east. Today's "Sprint into Summer" race, billed as a 5K, was my chance to get acquainted. For fun, I brought along Zahnna, our eight-year-old German Shepard, who would run if it was that kind of race.
But the adventure nearly didn't happen. Almost immediately after leaving my home in Bedford, we became snarled in a pretty good traffic jam on Interstate 293 in Manchester. After sitting completely still for 10 minutes, and with no movement in sight (and no local traffic info online or on the radio on Memorial Day weekend), I could see the Bridgewater race's 8:30 a.m. start time slipping away. Finally, we all started up at once; turned out it was a FedEx tractor trailer that had the misfortune to break down exactly at a point where there are no breakdown lanes, and somehow that had clogged things completely.
It was 7:25 a.m. Bridgewater (and that 8:30 a.m. start) was an hour away. I resolved to give it my best effort, mindful that troopers would be all along I-93 running speed on the holiday weekend. And people were really driving goofily, so you had to be on your guard. By the time I made it to Route 104 (the turn-off to Bristol and Bridgewater), it was 8:10 a.m., so I felt I had a good chance at making it. Except, that is, for this really slow van I was stuck behind. Damn! I kept just missing chances to pass it, but then we got into Bristol, where we had to sit in traffic for a church rummage sale. At least I'd lose the van here, I thought, but no. It kept going the same direction I was, out of town and north on 3A! Damn again!
With the clock hitting 8:20 a.m., we were in Bridgewater, and I knew it was going to be close. And then, to my relief, I saw one of those yellow "Fire Station" signs a lot sooner than expected. But at the same time, the van's blinkers went on, and it pulled into the fire station! I felt glad I hadn't been a more aggressive driver, but I still pulled around and in back of the fire station in case I had been irritating. How poetic for what I perceived to be my obstacle to actually be a part of the event I was seeking.
Anyway, all the rush was for nothing because 8:30 a.m. was when registration started, not the race itself. The race was one of the looser ones, in terms of organization: I checked in with a nice guy at a card table (who took my name for a raffle), made a $20 donation, and that was it. No bib, no chip, no timing. Simple! After awhile, a few other folks showed, many of them walkers, who were encouraged to just head out whenever they felt like it, which they did. Finally, a guy from the fire department hauled a tall step ladder out to the parking lot and mounted it to welcome us and start the race. He did this by just yelling "Go!" And off we went.
Because so few people were "registered," Zahnna came along and did just fine. The course took us up Route 3A, then west on a road by Newfound Lake (very pretty), and then south back to 3A and the fire station. Cloudy, overcast, not really cool but not warm either, nice weather for running. Started slow but surprised to see all ahead of me walking up the one sustained hill, so wound up passing several folks, including a guy I later learned was the town's police chief.
Finished strong on a good long stretch of 3A to the fire station, where there was no clock and not even any pretense of a finish line. Oh well! By polling a guy who finished ahead of me and a woman who finished behind me, we decided on a time of "about 35 minutes," which seemed slow. But then someone mentioned it was "more like three and a half miles," and so it made sense. (I later drove the route and yes, it was exactly 3.5 miles.)
But what about that raffle? This was the only race I've ever won that finished in a conference room, where we were all herded for the drawing of prizes as soon as all participants were accounted for. The same guy who started the race told us we raised $595, which would be used to pay to replace the department's carbon monoxide detector, which he said was destroyed last spring by a member of the department "but we won't mention any names." I never win anything, but was surprised to get named almost right away, giving me my pick of prizes. I chose a gift card of undetermined amount at Pat's Seafood and Pizzeria in Bristol. So guess where I'll be stopping on my next trip up north?
Afterwards, Zahnna and I felt good enough to tackle the summit of Mount Passaconaway (4,043 feet), which we reached by Dicey's Mill Trail (4.6 miles one way) out of Wonalancet, one of those strange villages in New Hampshire that you sometimes find on the back roads off the back roads. Left the car at 12:15 p.m., made the summit at 2:51 p.m., then back to the car at 5:45 p.m. Nice hike, except for a few scrambles near the top and people constantly mistaking Zahnna for a bear in the fog. Passaconaway has one of the most indistinct summits of any peak I've climbed: a dead-end trail leads into a flat wooded area, several subtrails peter out, there's no pile of rocks, and you're left guessing where the high point is. Zhanna laid down at what seemed to a good choice, so that's where I took the photo. This was Zhanna's 21st summit in her quest to climb all 48 peaks in New Hampshire that are 4,000 feet or higher. She's getting to the end of her "peak" years (har!) and so we need to hustle this year to close the gap. Just 27 more to go! Sounds like I should be doing a separate blog about this, but we'll see...