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Patagonia Expedition Race 2013

Patagonia Expedition Race 2013 – Team adidas TERREX race report

As we sped along the road on mountain bikes under police escort to the eventual finish line in Punta Arenas it seemed like a perfect moment to reflect on the experiences of the last 8 days we had spent racing together.
It was a surreal finish. As much as it marked an end to the race in itself, it was also a rapid return to a civilised world. For 8 days we had been through some of the most rugged and remote scenery that, coming from the UK, you could imagine exists anywhere in the world.

When Nick asked if I fancied racing in Patagonia there was not a second of hesitation from me to accept. Why? Patagonia is an almost mythical part of the world – remote, mountainous and with a reputation for rapidly changing weather conditions. That together with the reputation that the race already had as being one of the toughest around was reason enough for me. Where better to head for an expedition race? Unfortunately, due to our work commitments we arrived in Punta Arenas just 48 hours before the start of the race. Our only view of the stunning scenery came from snatched glimpses out of the airplane window!

For me, the race really starts at the pre-race briefing. Speculation ends about the route and the task of planning & packing starts. This is where the experiences of previous years shone through, Nick and Mark working on instinct and picking up where they’d left off. One thing was clear right from the off – this Patagonian Expedition Race was going to be tough one with the crux sections clearly being 2 massive treks through serious mountain terrain with the usual hazards of river crossings, unpredictable weather & tricky navigation in the dense vegetation. But, this year there were extra considerations. In particular a 12 km section on the icecap requiring intricate route finding.

Its hard to get your head around just how much food you need for a race of this length until you see it piled high in a hotel room! Staggering. But, once food and kit were packed off to the organisation all that we had to do was await the bus to Puerto Natales where the race was to start at midnight. At the pre-race pasta party there was a level of nervous excitement from all the teams about the journey that lay ahead but all that ended as we raced out of town on our bikes into the night. Our race strategy was to stick with the pack to settle into the pace before possibly making a break later in the 100km ride. That didn’t quite pan out as we put the hammer down from the off and soon we were on our own and on our way to the long trek at Torres Del Paines.

Transition 1 came and went fast – nice and efficient and out on the trail before there was any sign of other teams. A small path lulled us into thinking this could be a “quick” stage – we had, after all, elected to go lightweight for this long 120 km trek stage. However, the further we got into it, we slipped behind our predicted times due in main to the severity of the terrain and the now worsening weather conditions. It was clear that we were going to be out for longer than expected and this had serious implications for our food supply! Finally though the end was in sight for this first beast of trek – it actually looked feasible that we would make the next Transition before we totally ran out of food (or finally succumbed to hypothermia which was never far away). As we reached the final crucial river crossing at dusk we were all out to find the flag that signalled the safe crossing point before darkness came. Due to the weather conditions the river was now in spate and we were totally unable to find a safe point to cross. Soaked to the skin and freezing cold we were now to spend the night on the river bank without food. It was then at dawn that we made our way downstream, found a spot to cross (still involving a full on swim!) and eventually made it to PC 6 …… total relief to be able to warm up with food drink and fresh kit.

We knew that we were the first team into this transition but the organisation and anyone out on the course was doing a great job remaining tight-lipped about the race that was developing behind. So, we didn’t hang around too much before cracking on with the mid sections of the race. A couple of MTB rides separated by a 20 KM sea paddle – nice to be off the feet for a while but all that soon came to an end with the start of the 2nd and shorter trek – a mere 46km!!! Good going to start off then the usual mix of Turban and dense vegetation bush-whacking that were to become the trademarks of the Trek sections. This stage led us high over a mountain pass and we timed it just right to be there just as the snow was falling. Magic! It was an incredible route through a prehistoric looking valley – we were just waiting to see a dinosaur !!

Back off this trek we were fortunate to have landed ourselves a night time MTB ride – and a 160km one too, so plenty of opportunity to further pull ahead if the other teams were still in the trekking sections behind. The wind is a key feature in this part of the world and when we set off on our bikes we enjoyed at least 80 km of wind-assisted biking. It’s fair to say that the second half of the ride was “interesting”. Firstly a strong side wind and then a full-on head wind. Its times like that you see how teams pull together and despite being totally at our limit in terms of tiredness and again, a lack of food (recurrent theme!!). We slowly but surely crept onwards to the transition, no more than 1km on the front at a time. There was some light relief (for 3 of us anyway) during this stage. As we cycled the beach section Nick noticed a couple of Skunks very close. In an instant, this creature reared up to Mark and sprayed him at point blank range. That smell stuck with us all for the rest of the race!

The final trek stage was another brute – 90KM with some big climbs that came as we crossed a mountain range in the second of the stage.
This time we were ready for the cold, wet weather that was forecast – Paramo kit all round once again proving to be the only real choice to make. We chipped away at the stage – moving well by day and slowing right up at night, constrained by the dense terrain. We spent 2 nights out on this stage, the second spent high enough for snow on the ground. White mountains made for dramatic conclusion to the stage – we were met by Stepjan as we descended the final mountain to the sea at Charles Darwin. Once again, the effects of the effort were obvious to all – we were at our limits for the last parts of the trek due to a lack of food. Again though, a strong team ethic helped carry us through. There was huge relief and a strong sense that we had cracked it once again. And so, in the morning we headed off on that final section back to Punta Arenas where it all began 8 days before.

It’s refreshing to have been part of race that can genuinely attach the word “Adventure” to it for all the right reasons. What better way to experience what the area has to offer than to totally immerse yourself in the landscape? There was nothing contrived just one amazing journey requiring both physical strength and mental toughness in equal measure. It called upon teams to be totally self sufficient and skilled to deal with anything as there an ever-present feeling of help being a long long way away!

The team worked really well together, I was tasked with the role of navigator and worked closely with team captain Nick Gracie on route choice decisions. Nick and Mark Humphrey took turns in bashing through the thick forest. Sally Ozanne did a fantastic job in making sure we all looked after ourselves, purified every drop of water we drank and help patch up our numerous injuries – all with a glowing and infectious smile.

We would like to thank our title sponsors adidas and especially Prunesco, the Chilean Prune company that has supported the team for the last 5 years. Whyte Bikes, OMM back packs, Leki Poles, Exposure lights, Nordenmark mapboards, Terra Nova tents and sleeping bags, Sport Luub anti-chafe and Schwalbe tyres all played a big part in getting us to the finish. Our nutrition sponsors were amazing and a combo of clif, high 5, bounce balls and adventure food for hot meals and for goodness shakes were just amazing – the perfect products for the event.

5 wins in 5 years – its been a great era for the team and a strong bond has certainly been built between Chilean Patagonia and the British adventure racing community.

-Chris Near

Glacier-2 forest-1 Kayak-1 paramo-2

 


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