It was a cool but sunny October 13 morning when 24 boats hit the water for Leg 2 of the second annual DisasTOUR triathlon in central Vermont. Competitors, some as individual ironmen/ironwomen and some as team members, had already logged about six miles on a rough-and-tumble trail run, and ahead for Leg 3 lay a topsy-turvy brute of a mountain bike leg. In between came six miles on a twisting, shallow stretch of the White River.
The DisasTOUR was the invention last year of Granville resident Sean Linskey, himself an avid paddler, in an effort to raise money to help families whose lives were devastated by the ravages of Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. The towns of Granville, Hancock and Rochester along the banks of the White River were among the hardest hit communities in the state. More than a year later, many local families were still struggling to rebuild their lives after the widespread damage the storm caused. The DisasTOUR was conceived as an answer to their call for help.
But while raising money for needy families was the DisasTOUR’s ultimate purpose, trying to make a jolly good time out of flogging oneself on a sometimes masochistically arduous off-road course was what really attracted the participants. Beginning and ending in Rochester, the route had almost every gnarly challenge nature can conceive in an off-road tri: lung-busting uphills, uneven, bouldery surfaces, sketchy, single-track downhill’s for the finishing bike leg, and so on. By comparison, the river seemed relatively docile, essentially rapid-less and low, as is typical in mid to late fall in Vermont.
Any floatable craft without a motor was considered acceptable, and two competitors chose to navigate the course on stand-up paddleboards. The challenge in the paddle leg was not so much straight-ahead power paddling or deft rapid running but instead astute route-finding and trying to keep you boat popped, if at all possible. Those who read the river smartly and found the most snag-free path through shallows and exposed rocks were rewarded. Others found themselves upended or out of their boats, at times forced to walk/run until paddling could be renewed in deeper water.
For all, staying warm was also a central theme. Even in the bright sunshine, the temperature, which had been well below freezing at sunrise, barely breeched the 40-degree mark, and a gentle but penetrating wind that skimmed across the river’s surface added to the chill. In exiting the water for the transition to the bike leg, paddlers were blowing on cold, damp hands and running across the beach on legs that appeared cryogenically stiffened. The last two ironwomen to arrive at the paddle transition looked like survivors from the Arctic; one continued gamely on to the bike leg, while the other had the good sense to throw in the towel right there.
For the record, the winning male triathlete was Alex White (3:27:54) and the winning woman was Magdalena Dale (3:42:39). The local team from Green Mountain Bikes, with kayak, were the fastest team with a time of 2:43:02, while the fastest canoe team, Sports Connection (mixed), came in at 2:49:55. The fastest team with a stand-up paddler was Green Mountain Valley School 1, with a time of 3:03:20. Overall, the fastest paddler, by a whopping margin of more than 11 minutes, was kayaker Jay Appleton with a time of 43:06. Fastest canoe men’s was Watch This! at 54:13 and women’s was Disastour Dames at 54:16. Full results are at www.coolrunning.com/results/12/vt/Oct13_2ndAnn_set1.shtml.
But if winning was the reward for a handful, the more satisfying reward for the majority was a sweet after-party featuring artisanal pizzas handmade in the brick oven behind Green Mountain Bicycles in Rochester by the master chefs from the New England Culinary Institute. By then, the bright, midday sun felt positively balmy, and the warmth generated by the camaraderie of the occasion and the collective feeling of mission accomplished made it feel like the halcyon return of summer in the midst of autumn’s fallen leaves.