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!