My last job as volunteer was the final race of the 2018 calendar which was Patagonian Expedition Race (PER), an adventure race or an expedition race. Actually the toughest known on the planet, right here in Patagonia. It is also one of the oldest and longest running races of this type, since 2004 (12 editions). In 2013 it changed to be every 2 years or so and this year I was lucky enough to be there and working it. What awaited me was a unique and entertaining experience into the unknown world of adventure racing at the ¨Last Wild Race¨.
Adventure racing for those who don´t know involves various disciplines similar to triathlon with transitions between the sports. The disciplines include but are not limited to mountain trekking (hiking), Mountain bike (MTB) and kayak (generally). The races takes place over the course of several days, in teams and through terrain you must navigate through together passing checkpoints along the way and doing so under the time allotted.
Patagonian Expedition Race is the big kahuna of these type of races and only the bravest teams apply to be accepted and actually race the Last Wild Race in unexpected and often hostile Chilean Patagonia. Teams from all over the world come and test their limits over 10 days to cover about 600 km…on their feet, bums and arms. This race is not for everyone, you really need the experience and know how! Sounds like a cool race but come VERY prepared, ego´s go out the door quick here.
The race costs around $6000 US and you must be accepted based on prior experience among team members plus it is required to show proof of certified skills in ropes, kayak and first aid by at least 2 members of the 4 person team to be completely accepted to race PER. (not for the faint of heart or ill composed teams!).
This year was the first version ever held in November or Patagonian spring time…the last few were in late summer and even 1 edition was in the dead of winter (brr, but done in stages with daily camps together).
Having never done any adventure race, followed them or seen them take place it made this whole experience a learning one and a very exciting endeavor. A few years back I first heard of this style of race in Colombia from some local athletes who did them and were selected to be Pacers for the NRC Run Club in Bogota….but besides this I knew next to nothing prior (in fact once I heard about, it took me nearly a year to understand what Adventure Racers did…he he)…so I had literally everything to learn!
The weeks before the race I took the reigns on communication with media and race team questions, last minute equipment SOS, arrival help and last minute changes and missing crucial certificate entry…although this kind of help didn´t stop until literally race day as some teams lost bikes or kayak gear during their air travel to get there so I was coordinating still to ensure important equipment arrived on time for the transition/check-point needed. For instance one team (East Wind of Japan) got their bikes lost between transfers then held up in Chilean Customs and the captain had to fly up, get them and bring them down to Punta Arenas all on a tight schedule where only certain days/hours were available to release them from customs. Oh and this happened right before race day. Needless to say the captain of the team was a hero!
The race started early morning the 20th of November (with a midnight bus to arrive around 6 am to the start) but teams arrived before the 18th in order to comply with the day´s prior activities which included opening ceremony, equipment check, captains meeting and equipment drop-off (this year there were no kayak or ropes tests like previous editions). There were some team members who arrived later than the 18th which surprised me since many will deal with jet lag and it is quite the organization process just to start but I also understand, some are surgeons and have last minute life saving stuff, motherly duties before arriving, cost savings or other reasons to arrive later…but I would personally not recommend risking it for an important, long, team race (I would at least get there 1-2 weeks prior to really see what can be in store by training locally)!
For opening ceremony I was put in charge of the event, which meant welcoming the 10 teams to the 12th edition, presenting them and translating between Spanish and English non-stop. The low amount of teams this year was mainly due to AR World Championship being the same month and well like the Race Director´s , Stjepan Pavicic, speech said ¨somos los que estamos – we are those that are¨ meaning many try to make it to race but things come up and sometimes it just doesn´t work, only those who arrive are those who will compete. As an example, days prior one team actually informed us that they were out due to an injury needing more time than thought to heal and the risk wasn´t worth it for the team…so literally down to the very end teams make these crucial racing decisions and well anything can happen. Any who the opening ceremony for me really showed me the level of Spanish I have achieved, since I was so easily able to go back and forth between the 2 languages, something I never had to do before and never during a presentation so I was very happy with my performance and skills there set on the high table. Also I spoke to many after and they really liked the opening ceremony and loved the mix of languages and how teams were presented..double plus they understood! Now I can´t take all responsibility since my team also put in their ideas to make the opening a success…always grateful to the support. Something else I noted at the opening was the casualness of it, we had a classy place in town for the opening and we were adventure racers, with huge tent in the main room and local beer and empanadas at the social hour that ensued and attendants in hiking boots and team race gear (athletes…what can you say..casual is our life). Below I will leave a well written article by media partner Sleepmonsters.com (specific Adventure Race reporters out of London) about the crazy first few days of the race at full volume and a bit of my role at the beginning.
My role during the race was going to be wing woman to the Race Director at least for the first 4 days. I had no idea what that meant but I soon learned it was the hardest job. It was 4 days non-stop following the teams all who are nearly non-stop since time is of the essence for them so they just keep going barely sleeping over the hundreds of kms. The first day many teams went for over 36 hours before resting…luckily it was 24 hours before the first team made it out of the mountains to the first Check Point (CP) so we could rest ¨some¨ before the real craziness of racing started (aka naps…photo below).
While they raced on day one we were based in Puerto Natales working, then by night we were at CP1 to wait for the lead team´s arrival. We slept in the van waiting for their arrival which by InReach tracking them we anticipated a 3/4 am arrival….instead they turned up around 6 am…the pass was not as easy at night, nor easy in general. In fact the other lead teams took a rest over night which gave this first team a nice advantage that remained until the finish line!
That first trek actually knocked out two teams, one team had a member who got injured and another couldn´t make their way out and had conflicts among team members, all things that you can´t predict and may happen out there…So of the 10, 8 were left in the game. Luckily those 8 did make finish line too :D, a rare occurrence at PER since finish rates are low, it shows that this year team acceptance was nearly perfect. Congrats teams!. In the end it comes down to who survives the terrain, distance, mind over matter and group dynamics as only the toughest make it though to see the whole route of beautiful undiscovered Patagonia.
Over the next few days I learned so much, was so confused as to what day it was, so tired, so entertained and into the race. I didn´t sleep much the following days as we followed teams from CP to CP, waiting a lot in anticipation, taking photos and aiding the photographers, still helping with translations at CPs as some teams tried to twist the rules or just understand them, and having plenty of unexpected(s) happen along the way – like the van breaking down at 4 am…long days…
After day 4 my job shifted as we awaited arrival of the teams to the finish area…where my role was now to receive them and congratulate them…at whatever hour they arrived….while getting the closing ceremony together (which was no where near ready!) You would think that now being focused on finish line would be easy and not tiring but tracking was never perfect and many times it was an estimate of arrival time so many hours were spent anticipating arrivals and sometimes teams decided to throw a twist into it arriving to the finish from a different angle, etc. Each finish was entertaining and different enough so I really enjoyed it…from 1st place, 3 am arrival, sunset arrival, first ever 3 women team arrival (teams must have at least 1 guy and 1 girl), sunny arrival, emotional arrivals, and more.
Before the race I had hoped to be at a CP in nature working because I thought it would be the best plan. I have been on this go with the flow, flexible, open minded mentality so even though I wanted that it never bugged me that I was working the race a different way…just going with the flow. In fact in the end I was so luck I had the role I did because I got to see even more of nature and the beauty that is Patagonia…I worked with the Race Director so I learned a lot and had a higher role overall. It was the best place for me and I didn´t know until I was put there. The scenery I saw, the experience I lived and the connection with the teams and media teams was top notch, couldn´t have asked for more. Won´t lie, it wasn´t easy juggling media stuff, team stuff, moving tons, sleeping little and coordinating on the move but I am so happy with the result and very pleased with the opportunity.
So the team that won was Bend Racing (Yoga Slackers), a team from Oregon (US) – well 2 members were of other nationalities, which is cool, very international team:) – and it is the team my friend Lars is on (the guy who came to train in Patagonia a month early and we went on a hike bushwacking our way to the summit just in time to get me pumped up for the race!) so it was nice to see them win, especially since they had gone podium several times and this was their 6th attempt…along with East Wind of Japan who finished 3rd this year on their 6th attempt and were the team who had to fly and save their bikes. Three Brazilian teams finished this year, one in 2nd place (Columbia VidaRaid – one of the top teams in the world at the moment), then an Italian, French and Irish team (well UK mix). The Irish team, Dar Dingle was the surprise, being the first ever 3 female team to finish and they did so in 4th…a very fun, high energy team who seems to just love life.
One other thing about this race was that when it all ended, everyone left and the high energy, excitement and fun of the past 15 days went with it leaving me and everyone nostalgic, sad, with a hole in their day and a bit lost. Something that hits hard when you are so involved for a long period of time on something…bonding and memories although crazy was here one day and gone the next. Interesting feeling and not a huge fan of the void it created.
Some cool stuff I learned from this experience (as someone who is just learning about the sport):
- The start is not a line, you can go any direction
- There is major strategy involved in the race, and the race director plans the course with his own strategy giving teams many surprises (from the start to the end!)
- the mind plays many tricks on racers, thank god they are in a team so the other members can notice and make correct decisions (hopefully)
- people do fall asleep while on the move and the other team members must help and guide/help them through or the captain will call the shots for a 10 minute nap (etc)
- Bikes at CPs come in their boxes and teams must put together and take them apart at each transition
- Bike boxes are massive and some are personally decorated with photo and whatnot
- One bike often has a cord or leash off the back of the strongest member in order to pull the weakest member along or if the team member is out of it/tired/etc
- they don´t trek in hiking boots but rather trail running shoes (yes through, snow and everything)
- Feet swell up and many will changed up to 2 sizes different by the time they are halfway though
- Team members must stay together at all times, PER requires a maximum of 100m apart
- You trek, bike and kayak with all gear at all times (divided among members based on weight)
- Orienteering and a compass are key…a route is planned for them but any direction is possible (one person is usually navigator, sometimes there are multiple navigators)
- At transition they have access to their bags where they change supplies, food, clothes etc
- Turba in Patagonia gives a nasty foot fungus that is black and can spread quick if you do not have anti-fungal cream with you
- At CPs there are so many streakers, aka teams arrive and change, if you happen to turn at the wrong time you are flashed with asses, penis´, etc….best be aware and just look away
- Nutrition and food is so different depending on where you are from, the Italians had the best food…I got to try the homemade Parmesan cheese…yumm
- Expect the unexpected, especially in Patagonia with it´s weather!
- The Race Director has so many ideas for routes, you will never be bored at this race. Patagonia is endless, so savage and untouched.
- PER teams sleep but in shorter races teams go days without sleep (naps likely)
- Racers are very humble people who will try to instantly turn you into an Adventure racer…
- PER asks for teams of 4 but other races might be 2 person teams
- In 2019 for the first time ever you can do the Half PER, a 5 day version of the race to get a feel for racing in Patagonia. It will be a 2 person team (trek and bike). Then in 2022 will be the next full PER….there is time to prepare! You can already register for both!
SIGN UP FOR THE RACE OR VOLUNTEER HERE: PER website