Saturday, August 13, 2011

Aug. 13: Richmond (#125) at Camp Wiyaka

Richmond is one of those quiet New Hampshire backwoods towns, one that the railroads missed and everything else, too, I never expected to find a 5K road race there. But that's what happened today (Saturday, Aug. 13), as the good folks at Camp Wiyaka organized one as part of their annual Alumni Day, which marks the close of camp for the season.

I hadn't been in Richmond for years, but I have some prior involvement with the town. About 25 years ago, I tried to buy a 48-acre woodlot in a remote part of town. Asking price: $15,000. It was 1986. I had just graduated from college, and my idea was to build a cabin and use it for writing. (Present day reaction to this scheme from one of my colleagues: "Okay, Mr. Henry David Thoreau.") In my mind, I had my own version of my grandfather's asbestos hunting cabin, which still stands in the backwoods of Harrisville, N.H. This would be my own, and minus the asbestos.

The land fronted on a Class VI road, meaning one that was no longer maintained by the town. Small towns in N.H. are riddled with these, left from a time when most of the land was farms that have since been left to grow back to forest. To get there, a real estate agent and I drove up Benson Road as far as we could, then hiked in the rest of the way, about a half-mile. Like of lot of rural New Hampshire, it had been left abandoned sometime after the Civil War. It had beaver pond with a big dam, several small family graveyards in which the most recent date was 1888, and stone walls all over the place. Curiously, there was also an abandoned school bus that had somehow made it up there, and which someone had been living in until recently.

It was exactly what I wanted.

However, the catch was that the town would not issue a building permit for land with no access. No building permit, no cabin. So unless I wanted to live in the bus, I was stuck. The lot was good as forest, but not much else, unless I wanted to pay to bring the road up to town standards. Also, for the first time in my life, I encountered property taxes. So poof went that dream!

Plus, I found out that a few years prior, the bus was scene of a honest-to-goodness backwoods New Hampshire murder! Really -- the abandoned road led all the way into the town of Troy, where there was a tough country & western dance place, and one night a woman for some reason was dragged up the road to the bus, held captive, and eventually murdered!

This really happened.

It wouldn't have kept me from buying the place, and I often wonder what would have happened if I had. And now, 25 years later, here I am driving into Richmond to find Camp Wiyaka not too far from my own version of Paradise Lost -- just on the other side of Route 32.

The camp, 90 years old this season, consists of rustic buildings spread out along a small lake and up a small hill. Campers stay for a week at a time, sleeping in platform tents that bunk eight. There's a dining hall, recreation hall, playing fields, and overall the place looks pretty timeless -- not much different in 2011 than it probably did in 1921. Heck, I wouldn't have minded staying a week here.

On this Saturday morning, all the campers are gone, having departed the night before after completing Camp Wiyaka's final week of the 2011 season. Today is Alumni Day, with a road race at 9 a.m. kicking things off. Fine, except someone posted a 10 a.m. start online, which means me and a few others turn up after the race has been run!

Faced with this, the Camp Wiyaka organizers decided to run the same race all over again at 10 a.m. Course volunteers were told to maintain their stations (some walkers were still out there from the 9 a.m. start!) and a half-dozen of us lined up on the lakeside volleyball court for the second edition. Entrance fee was a reasonable $15.

The course was unusual and varied -- part rough trail, part paved road, part dirt road. The first part took us on a loop through the campgrounds, including behind the latrines, before getting us out onto paved Sandy Pond Road. We changed to a dirt road until the half-way point turn-around, then back, including the camp loop one more time before the finish.

I have to give credit to the volunteers who maintained their posts long after they expected the event to be over. They were cheerful and did their best to mask what must have been utter boredom -- a kid at one intersection was actually building a house of cards on the pavement!

Though I was a complete outsider, people were friendly enough, and I didn't feel like a visiting space alien as I explored the camp. Finishing time was 35:02, which is really slow, but I felt sluggish all week and I have a feeling the distance of the Camp Wiyaka Race was a little longer than 5K. But no matter. I had actually run a race in Richmond, N.H., thanks to the good folks of Camp Wiyaka.

Now, I need to go looking for some property...

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