The race didn’t quite go to plan.
Let’s start at the beginning. After months of preparation, the day of departure was finally upon us. I had been working so hard to make sure everything would run as smoothly as possible and as we sat on the plane, I could finally relax, or so I thought.
The 5 days before the race were exhausting and made all of the team very ill with flu and fever. After we passed all of the kayak, rope and equipment tests, there was the biggest admin organisation of all. We had to figure out which food bags and equipment would meet us at which check points which meant estimating speed of travel. This is incredibly difficult as Patagonian terrain is so unknown and unforgiving which means you guess the speed travelled.
The route was given to us and it was just as horrendous as I had been imagining. It began with a 36km beach run (against the 70kmph wind) followed by a 272km bike ride (against the same wind) across the planes of Chile. Then there were 100km treks and a few short kayak legs. There was a buzz of excitement in that room as the route was given. Nervous laughter could be heard but the overall vibe was ‘let’s get out there and begin.’
That night, we made the mistake of staying up all night to look at Google earth satellite images of the route to try and get an understanding of what we were going into. However useful this may have been, it meant that we began the race with zero sleep on top of flu and sinus infections.
A 5 hour nervous bus ride to the start line at Dungeness lighthouse. This is pretty much as east as you can get in Chile. We arrived early in the morning and the wind was of course howling. Sand was being whipped up and hurt the skin so sunglasses and buffs came into their glory.
The race began at 8am on the 16th of February. Everyone there got the adrenaline rush and all strategy went out the window. We all ran. For a moment, everyone forgot that the wind was blowing so hard, and we all felt free as we sprinted west.
Within the first few moments we had to cross a river. Just like us, most teams took the decision to stop running, take their shoes and socks off and go across. The river was strong and so a proper river crossing technique was necessary.
As a team, we smashed the beach run. We stopped every hour for 3 minutes to refuel then kept going, taking it in turns to be the front wind breaker.
We got to the checkpoint and put together our bikes. We were in middle place at this point (despite the race records incorrectly stating we got here last!! There must have been an error here.)
Biking in the wind was harder than we could believe. Even downhill, if you didn’t peddle, you stopped. It was ridiculous. The bikes weighed a tonne with the mandatory kit on the back of them. People were getting blown of their bikes left right and centre. I fell down dozens and dozens of times but it was all part of it.
As we struggled through the wind, trucks would go by and beep their horn and wave and smile out the window. Unfortunately we couldn’t let go of the handle bars to wave back!
Hours went by and occasionally we’d see other teams. Most teams were using tow ropes to keep the team together. We didn’t have one so made a make shift one out of a climbing sling. It wasn’t retractable like other teams (they used retractable dog leads) but it did the trick. The idea of a tow rope isn’t to pull the ‘weakest’ team member so to speak, instead it’s to improve the teams efficiency. The tow rope meant that whoever was struggling to keep up could be held in the strongest bike rider’s slip stream which would allow the team to stay together. I went on the tow rope behind Tim, and my gosh it made a world of a difference. We were suddenly flying.
It got dark quickly and after a stop for dinner (a rather entertaining stop that I may write a separate post about), we continued through the night.
We were covering distance as best we could considering the wind. As we got more and more tired our minds played tricks on us. All of us could’ve sworn we were last but when you looked closely at the sides of the dirt track road, you could see tents where other teams had stopped.
At around 2am we called it. We were falling asleep on the bikes by this stage. Getting off that bike, I could tell I was exhausted. I was freezing and my butt hurt like hell!
We set our alarms for 2 hours time but infact slept through all 4 alarms and work up at 5am. A quick pack up followed by a slow and painful manoeuvre onto the bike seat and we were off again.
We once again flew! The quick nap had restarted our engines and we all felt so fresh. We were covering so much ground. The sun was rising and it seemed like it was going to be a fantastic day. Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t like a bike ride on a summers day at home… From the day before it meant our butt’s were killing with every bump on the relentless dirt track (these bumps were EVERYWHERE) and our backs ached as they curved over the handle bars. The tow rope took a lot of concentration, because it wasn’t retractable it meant I had to watch it’s slack like a hawk. If it was tight, that meant Tim was having to pull me which defeats the point of getting the most efficiency out of the team and if it was too slack, it risked getting caught in the back wheel. There was a very fine line. The endless bumps in the road meant that Tim would have to weave in and out which required me to act quickly and follow his line.
Then came the main event. Somehow, the rope got wrapped around Tim’s back wheel which caused me to crash. I’d fallen so many times in the last 24 hours, it couldn’t be any worse… Or could it? I went smack onto my elbow and head and as it happened, I knew something was wrong immediately. All I could feel was anger.
To cut a long story short, I had to be taken to hospital and was told I had concussion and hairline fractures in my elbow. The race was over for us.
It wasn’t easy to come to turns with. A lot of tears were shed that day. I’d let my team down as a result of a tiny misjudgement of the tow rope. I felt like a hole just needed to swallow me up as I weeped into Tim’s arms.
Within a few hours, more teams were retiring or disqualified or injured. This meant that out of the race, we pretty much had a club of retired teams. By the end of the race, 4 teams out of an original 21, finished.
We want to do it again. How easy it would seem second time round! We know the drill, we’ve got the kit, we’d start out healthy – piece of cake!
Despite what happened, the build up to the race were some of the best months I’ve ever had. As said by the winning team captain, it is incredible to even get to the start line.
It takes so much to get there and I have to say, as we had our photo taken in the opening ceremony that introduced all the teams to the press, I’ve never been so proud in my life.