We had put together Team Merrell including me and Sanna, Lars Bukkehave from Denmark whom we raced and won Expedition Oregon with earlier this spring, and Tom Spencer from New Zealand who we met on X-trail Altay Expedition in China last year.
The journey for Sanna and me started with some misunderstandings when we weren’t on the list for the bus shuttle from Neuquen to Chos Malal. But everything has a purpose and we got to know the very inspiring Parra (who weren’t on the list either), who is the coach for another Merrell team and and an experienced adventure racer (Eco Challenge participant for example…)The three of us took a night bus with much more comfortable seats than the other bus and arrived 4.00 am the 9th To Chos Malal. Dani Pincu (race organiser and a really cool guy) met us and drove us to the hotel. All good and we were ready for the first part of the race; PACKING.
Tom who already had spent some days there showed us around and we also met more of the other teams. The following day Lars came and things got a bit stressful as race start came closer and Transition boxes and bikes had to be delivered. But everyone also went more and more excited after doing mandatory climbing/jumaring checks and kayak pick-ups! As most of the teams were Spanish-speaking and also the organisation, most of the information was in Spanish. We were VERY grateful to have Sanna in the team who can speak and understand a good amount!
Pre-race dinner was very late and everyone was super hungry. Things got a bit chaotic when food was served in small containers on one table and no one knew if there would be any more food than that. It was hilarious to see people (including ourselves) acting like animals pushing and shoving to get through to the food! Apparently adventure racers eat a lot and the dinner was like a competition itself! In the end I think everyone got enough to fill the stomachs and next important thing was SLEEP, as we had to get to the start at 5.00 am the next morning.
Two hours bus ride and we arrived to the most beautiful place at the kayak stage with snowy mountains surrounding. The guys got the maps and started to plan. It was a bit chilly before the sun came but when the start went off it was really nice weather! A 5 km Rogaine split up the teams and we had a fun time running on the rolling hills and got to be the first team arriving to the transition to kayak leg. Good navigation from Lars and Tom!
It was super fun to be in the lead but we knew that a lot of teams soon would catch up since paddling is our weakness. We managed to find a pretty steady pace though and didn’t lose too much and collected one checkpoint after another. It felt like a summer day with glittering water and calm water. But within a second we had winter and sea waves! All teams really struggled with the head wind and some even flipped the kayak and must have been ICE COLD, I felt soooo sorry for them since I was FREEEZING and shaking like an aspen leaf still sitting in my steady kayak. I got a neoprene hat from Lars which was super and I looked like a bad ass baby in it. (Actually I don’t know what I looked like, but I felt like a baby running around in that hat, and after going through Patagonia’s traits I felt like a bad ass) Sanna and Tom had a faster, but tippy kayak, and I’m super impressed by their work out there. Sometimes things got very scary… Soon the summer arrived again though and we had a super fun trek/run in the middle of the paddling with stunning scenery! I wasn’t too keen to get in the kayak again, but every strike counts and after another winter we were safely on land again for the bigger trek of 15 km. I was exhausted and hungry but our trek-snack with dried mangoes, pineapple, bananas and nuts was just amazing and had me on the go again. Fantastic landscape with mountains and valleys, snow and streams. I think we all had our happy moments here. The bad thing was that I have a bursitis on my knee from my last running races which of course made the whole thing very painful. Sanna also has injuries so our usually strongest side now became a suffer fest. It’s mentally really hard to not be able to perform as good as you want, but we tried our best and were still with the top teams.
Last 2 km kayak stage we decided to drag the boats along the shore instead, since the waves and winds again showed us some real Patagonia weather. Better safe than sorry and after a nice change of clothes, hot drinks and putting bikes together in the TA we were off into the sunset. Again an unforgettable moment! Darkness hugged us and winds went calm, stars gazing at us and our moonlight mountain gear bike lights led us through the night with the guy´s again splendid navigation. Long uphills means long downhills, I actually don’t know which I prefer most, both are tough!
Lars had had some stomach issues before the start and now Sanna and I started to feel the unfamiliar bacteria attacking our guts. Every now and then we had stops in the bushes. Or not even in the bushes, just beside the bikes. You totally lose your pride on adventure races, especially if you’re sick. You just don’t care about those things. At least we didn’t at that time…
Next TA all four of us needed a little break and took some time to get warm and had some hot food which was served (HOW LUXURIOUS?). The trek that waited gave us some bush whacking which in the end seemed to be the fastest route. Sanna really had a fight with her stomach and energy and I suffered with my knee. Tom who was energized at all times tried to keep the spirits up and talked about nothing and everything. Sometimes he got answers, and sometimes he just talked to himself. Anyway we experienced some really cool places with scrambling and ancient buildings.
When the light comes you always feel like new born! Talking about that we nearly stumbled across a sheep that just had given birth to two wonderful lambs! A truly amazing moment.
That leg took a bit longer than expected, but when we all had our bikes serviced (HOW LUXURY?) at the TA we were in a good mood. Next CPs we had to take photos on and that was Tom’s task with his Gopro. I had a hard time during the whole ride of 55 km with knee pain, stomach issues, low on energy and the blisters from HELL in my ass. HOW DO YOU BIKERS HANDLE THAT?! It’s the worst pain you can ever imagine! (or I may be happy to say that’s the worst pain I have ever had).
A slightly wrong navigation action made us carry the bikes through sticky bushes for quite a while, some frustration but happy again when on the road again! As soon as we had our mood up again it went down when we found out that the camera was gone! It must have slipped out from Tom’s bike-bag when he ate a cookie. A cookie. Who has a camera in the same bag as race food btw? You could tell he was ashamed and we all felt sorry for him and were mad at him at the same time.
We found flow again and biked in a row down a long curvy road. Suddenly Tom hits the breaks instinctively because of a dog running towards us, Sanna who is just behind, screams and flies like a mitten over her bike! She continues to scream and after crashing to the ground! I saw the whole scene and my heart are about to leave my chest before I got to her. Sanna has got temper though and isn’t the easiest person the handle when upset. Fortunately the arm is not broken and we can take care of the ugly scratch on her elbow with our first aid kit. Team spirit is everything but good after that and Sanna refuses to bike near Tom again. The tension lasts to the TA where a 17 km trek in rough terrain awaits.
Knees and stomachs are not cooperating with us, but we’re slowly getting forward and have to paint the cps instead of photographing. There is always a way to solve problems!
Everyone took a long time on this stage, and even though it felt like we were moving super slow we were among the fastest team here as well. Meeting Team Adventure Medical Kits on the way cheered us up a bit after some encouraging words and we could enjoy Patagonia’s special landscape again.
Fuelling up with salty crisps and energy drinks at the TA we packed our climbing gear and went off again, with mixed feelings about our current conditions. Suffer, suffer, suffer up long hills, pushing the bikes with toilet stops every other minute, got some nice single track trails where we actually could have some fun during the misery and reached the climbing cliffs in the dark.
Sanna couldn’t use her arm properly and was really sad not to do the jumaring since she had looked forward to that so much, but honestly I think the pre-jumar practising we did was better than on the race so I tried to convince her she didn’t miss much. As Tom made his climb we turned off our lights and just embraced the black sky and shining stars one night more. What a cool experience to be on a mountain in Patagonia in the middle of the night like this!
We had to take the super tough decision to stop Sanna’s and my further racing though since both of us had diarrhoea and pills didn’t help. We all were afraid of our health and luckily a truck with the STAFF just passed us on the road when we were on our way back to the TA and we could be picked up. Even though this was just a race and nothing more it’s one of the hardest things to do to quit. At that time we were on second place with hours to the third team which made it even worse. We both had huge agony and battled with our impotence to fight our bodies. We spend the night at the hospital with intravenous drip due to dehydration and felt sorry for ourselves.
But when you think about it, we should be SO HAPPY to even have the chance to do things like this, we are VERY lucky. It’s an important to reminder. Someone said that you can never lose, you either win or you learn.
Many teams didn’t finish, but our team mates in MERRELL did and they did an awesome job. And so did we. Raid Del Viento ended with a nice banquet and price ceremony in the sun and our adventures in Patagonia now continue!
Sanna starts to put her point of view of the race. In another Post, Lina will have a report.
Here are some pictures of our prepacking:
During and immediately after the race, these are some of the thoughts and conclusions I had, Many things we did, many things we have to learn until next time. Just some good tips for everyone, randomly ordered:
What to bring on Adventure races:
Duck tape (can save a whole race, repair what ever, strap things, tighten something, etc etc. )
Densification paper (To keep your hands somewhat clean)
Lots of toilet paper (Prepeared if -when- a bacteria or bad luck hits you)
Camelbak (Easier to handle than a water bottle. Always within reach, and won’t get muddy. Though bring bottles too, when the camelback is empty) .
Dehydration pills (You will get thirsty, probably dehydrated, so get those pills in your drink, to prevent, and to fix)
One extra pair of sunglasses in any of the TA-boxes. (The favorite ones you’ll wear from the beginning of the race will most likely broke, get knocked of by a tree, or get lost)
Poles one pair on each trek. (If someone in the team gets injured)
Fast and good energy is definitely potato mash or root veggie mash in powder form (it only needs to be in a small plastic bag that one fill with some water. Shake it, make a whole with your teeth, and squeeze! )
Any salty food is preferred after some time. (Life saver were chips and cashew nuts)
Cinnamon buns. (Well, do I have to explain why? Cinnabon buns are always good).
A warm hat. (It gets cold, especially in Patagonia. You will be surprised how fast the temperatures drops, how strong the winds are, and how tiny you will be. )
Arm sleeves. (As above. Weahter chaning, and therefor easily to take on and off arm sleeves than be stuck in a jacket.)
Extra changing of clothes in all TA (Just in case. Everyone gets dirty, wet, drained, SOAKED. So a new pair of socks, or trousers can be luxury.)
Never quit. The race takes you out. You never take yourself out of the race!
And even so, that’s just what I did.
I’ll make a long story short. (but not very short). I save the race photos for Lina's report. We went out with good spirit and kept it quite long. Lina and I had our KING NAVIGATORS, and didn’t really have to bother about getting lost, cause there weren’t a big chance for that. We literally rocked the waves, and the calm water, hit by hail, rain, but also sun beams on the water. This area showed us some fast turning weather. When we entered the boats (as first teams after a short Rogaining start) It was like middle of the summer, so we skipped putting our wetsuit jackets on. Just after some thirty minutes, the clouds got dark and threatening, and we were suddenly shaking cause it was so chilly. We made some good decisions though, especially Lars, who brought three hats with him, so Lina and I got one each too, even though we looked like fools. Other on point stuff we did was dragging the boats on the shore, where we reckoned the waves were too violent for us to handle. On the trek, the boys were strong again, but Lina and I suffered with pain in our legs that aren’t fully recovered from massive amount of racing this summer. So, we couldn’t use the speed we are used too. A bit sad for Tom who had been stressed all winter in NZ to be fit for the race. However, we didn’t lose so much anyway, we kind of had the same speed as the other good teams. We enjoyed the surroundings that were SOOOO beautiful. Patagonia, we loved you from the very first glimpse.
Soon enough we head out on the bike leg, and experienced a sunset, one of a kind. Everyone was filled with some much joy. We kept a good speed. Moon Light mountain Gear lights showed us the way. It was up and down, quite varied on gravel roads, farm roads, dirt roads and some trails. We got really muddy, had cold feet, but good mood. It was nice to come to next TA for some hot food and changing of clothing. At this point my stomach refused to cooperate. I hate my stomach. I hate it is so weak. I hate it’s sensitive. I hate I got something in it that it didn’t accepted. I hate that that ruined my mood of the race. I got sad, angry and bitter, and against the others too I guess. But it also drained my energy. But we kept on going and found the trek quite nice and funny. Though with Lina’s knee also struggling. Lars took advantage of our slow pace though and had some micro-naps in the middle of the trails or on the moss of the off-trail sections. Tom didn’t seem to bother of anything. He was whistling, singing ABBA songs, and all kinds of old hits.
As sun arrived we were soon on next bike leg. It went well, a bit slow, but we could see no clouds on the sky. And we had a steady third place. Though both Lina’s and my stomachs were a big problem, and not funny for any of us. We couldn’t find a good flow in the race because of it. After some time, the navigators did an unexpected wrong turn, and we faced some sticky bushes for a while that took us a long time to get through. After that we found out the gopro were also lost. Many check points were only images we were supposed to take photos of. But Tom was eager to solve the problem, since it was he who caused it. He went out being the one and only painter, Picasso. It got accepted by the organizers.
We went downhill in line, looked quite much as pros. Who would have thought that? But who were we also to fool? Just minutes after, some dogs from a farm house (inside fences) came running and barking from the side of the road. My trust on Tom, I didn’t really notice them. But he did. He got afraid and made a sharp left turn. In that speed, I had no chance to brake, turn, or do anything, my wheel got stuck in Tom’s back wheel and my bike turn to the side in a long, sort of jump before crashing into the ground. I yelled loudly, shocked and scared. Tears pouring down and my arm and hip aching as, as BLOODY HELL. It was quite a hard crash, but I was lucky there were only a big wound, and nothing broken.
The team spirit was gone, and I kept my lips closed towards Tom. It took some hours before we spoke again, but when we finally did we could laugh about it. Both of us a bit ashamed of our behavior. In the middle of the day we arrived for the other trek. Now on a totally different area with rocky, colored and sandy stones. A cool place, but a hot place. I suffered from diarrhea and Lina from her knee. The boys were fine. I hate to be the weaker one. And especially on a trek leg, that normally is our advantage. We had a good time though. And the really pain came on the next bike leg where food couldn’t be saved at all. Energy were fast lost, I didn’t drink enough, my arm hurt and I couldn’t think, decide, or giving strength to moving forward. On the way up to a jumar stage, a sort of climbing that I had really looked forward to, I stayed almost every minute for a shit. And everything was shit. What a pain in the ass! And what a pain in the ass I must have been to the team. I was so ashamed. IN ended also up in me not even trying to do the jumar since my arm was so hurt, and my diarrhea coming fast without warning..
But something that never have happened to me before was just someone saying don’t continue. You can’t go on. And suddenly, I saw blood in the gross shit. And realized I was scared too. What if this is severe? We understood hospital was needed, since it could be dangerous. The others made me decide by myself what to do, continue or stop. They were a bit afraid of being strict and hard to me. And in my condition of course I said I must stop. But know afterwards I regret it sooo much. It was just the last stages, and I might have continued with pain and worries. On the hospital they took care of me, testing a lot of things as if I had salmonella (that was the risk) and getting my severe dehydration sorted out. Lina’s knee had also given up, and she also had some bad stomach issues and was taken care of. Our bad ass (good ass) team mates continued the race. But many thoughts went through my mind that morning in the hospital bed.
Me, being the team mate stopping the race? Could it have been better with some sleep in the TA? Could I have been able to continue to the finish line and experience some very good moments, and taken the second place of the race?
But on the other hand I was in such a bad shape and so afraid of the sickness and bacteria that might have caught me. I will never find out how it could have been. No idea to reflect too much. The hatred I found against myself afterwards is massive. But the only thing I can do now is to never repeat. Lesson learned. Now it’s time for improvements. And after all we got a very cool Adventure Race anyway!
Here’s another list of good ideas when Adventure racing:
Do everything organized to avoid getting sick during races.
Hygiene above everything.
Drink A LOT.
Be really strict with decisions and have a talk before deciding.
And pulling out? No. It have be some serious chat if it’s not a serious action. (Though I telling myself this was that, since the doctor said so).
Have a Team Captain that has the last word, what so ever. (It was a bit unclear in our team who decided what).
You will get low and not recognize your mode and not controlling your feelings, so tell your team mates how you probably will react if they don’t know you.
Try not to be too mad when tired though. Have a fair play to your team mates.
In tough hours of the race, remember you put yourself into the situation.
Look around and enjoy sceneries they are most likely amazing.
Laugh about miserable moments. You will get through it.
Get electrolytes and salt.
Don’t be ashamed of your performance. Everyone can fail, that’s natural. See failure as a new chance to win.
With this said I end this race report, with already a big plan of returning to Argentina, since it’s is a BEAUTIFUL country with LOVELY people and THOUSANDS of undone adventures I want to do. See you out there CHICOS!
After the race we got to put all our stuff into this car, and stayed some days in San Martin De Los Andes. Thank you Gustavo for that!