High Insanity: Patagonian Exped Race

Swollen, bruised, and beaten down from 10 days of wilderness racing, Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers is back in the USA. As we reported this past weekend, the team managed a third-place finish in the 2012 Patagonian Expedition Race, a multisport competition in southern Chile that’s been dubbed the “toughest race on the planet.”

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Victory pose on glacial ice (with champagne!) for 3rd-place finish

It took our team 162 hours to complete the 400+ mile bike/trek/kayak course through some of the most remote lands imaginable. The team is home now just today and we caught up with captain Jason Magness for some more info on the race.

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Off route? GearJunkie/YogaSlackers forges new trail in Darwin Mountains

After strong finishes in the Patagonian event the past two years (5th place, 2010; 2nd place, 2011) the squad was gunning for the top of the podium this time around. Turns out injury and some nasty weather slowed down the team a bit, though they pushed hard and took third-place solidly despite the troubles, which (it should be said) plague most every team that toes up to the line at this wild race.

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Hydration I.V. and recovery time (notice Chelsey’s swelled-up face!) in tent post-race

The following text is a note from Magness on the race plus some edits/additions put in from our phone conversation today when the team was fresh off the airplane. As usual, our team made some unique moves, including using Therm-a-Rest camp pads to ford a raging river (again!), climbing up and over two never-before-traversed mountain passes in the Darwin Range, and crossing a high glacier to short-cut a trek.

The photos provide a peek into the race, including some awful blank stares, grimaces of pain, unique route choices, and, finally, signs of victory over the struggle and the crazy race course.

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Faces from the race in various stages of glory and pain

We applaud Jason, Chelsey, Paul, and Dan. Way to push it, guys! Good showing this year despite the hard race and the hard pain on that long course down in Patagonia. —Stephen Regenold

Letter from Jason Magness, captain of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers, Feb. 28, 2012: Hey buddy, back in the land of the living, although at least Dan and Paul have a bit of a road to recovery. Dan’s knee is pretty blown up (bursitis) and still swollen huge. It was a struggle to watch him suffer through the long flights on the way home. Dragging the bags through customs in Dallas was the worst for him — it was hard to watch a big giant weep. Luckily for us, his knee seemed to get worse AFTER the race finished.

On the race, Paul started out with a messed-up ankle from a training mishap at Black’s Beach in late January. But his $50 ankle brace served him well. Turns out, though, that the limited ankle mobility (while protecting his ankle) led to some serious knee problems, as well as his ankle on the other side having to work overtime.

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Paul fighting pain while traversing passes in the Darwin Mountains

Paul was hobbled on the downhills starting about three days into the race, and the sounds that escaped his mouth during our many long, arduous descents were akin to what I imagine torture would sound like. Still he never hinted at quitting. On the upside, he was strong as ever on the up-hills, and he would have gladly climbed for miles and miles. . . and we did that too.

Chelsey managed to twist her ankle quite badly, too, during the race so by the last day as we tried to hold on to 2nd place, and even 3rd place then, we looked like a parade of the infirm.

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They call this “Valle Profundo” for a reason

More stories to come, but a few of my favorites now. . . Coming into CP17, we were four hours behind the Japanese team, and we decided to gamble on a straight-line bushwhack through a valley in the night with only two hours of tent-less sleep. In the predawn light, just before the glacier pass at CP18, we came upon the Japanese. They were clearly surprised [they had been ahead for a while] and yet they greeted us warmly, forming a line with each one of them shaking each one of our hands, smiling, and saying “Good to see you.” It was surreal. They then shared a look and bolted. [Note: Team Eastwind, from Japan, ended up beating Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers by about 30 minutes in the 10-day race.]

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One of many maps from the event

We reached CP18 a minute behind Eastwind, just as a blizzard (FULL ON) hit. It was crazy to be racing in those conditions — 40mph wind and snow blowing right into our faces blinding us. We’d hold on to Chelsey on the treacherous slopes to keep her from blowing away as we picked our way down, trying to drop below the snow level.

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Alpine climbing or adventure racing? (Both, actually)

Sometime in the next hour, Paul and I both took a fall, breaking a trekking pole, so I gave him mine and went without poles. An hour later, still in the snowstorm, we were crossing a river when I slipped on the slimy rocks, did a crazy dance to try to get balance, and lost, falling on my back and going completely underwater. At this moment, reality set in, and the race instantly turned to survival.

We spent the next several hours fending off my hypothermia, (and eventually Chelsey’s own battle with it, too) as we tried desperately to drop below snow level. In the end it was no avail, as the snow in that storm reached all the way down to the ocean.

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Vertical route to a checkpoint in Patagonia

The next 10 hours were both long and beautiful, as we encountered every possible form of terrain Patagonia has to offer. It was as if that last trekking leg from CP18 to CP19 was a microcosm of the entire race, from difficult turbal (swamp), dense bushwhacking, rocky ridges, hateful beaver damns everywhere, alpine lakes and tundra, countless river crossings, and everything wet wet wet.

In the end, we were less than 30 minutes behind the Japanese (the final times are pretty messed up on the race site, we had a 1:15 credit against Eastwind, and somehow they gave it to them instead of us; but the placement is right).

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High mountain lake on race route

There is a whole other story from the trek between CP12 and CP13 when Ann begged us to follow the red line on the map (the recommended route) and we went up and over the unknown passes anyway, far off route. We made some first ascents, according to the locals who knew, and we named our never-before-climbed passes “Paso GearJunkie” and “YogaSlackers Col.”

Lots of standout gear. Lots of feedback coming. A crazy race again this year. Much more to say. . . just sleepy now. Goodnight.

—Follow Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers as they race around the planet this year on our dedicated team micro-site.

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Paul suited up and happy to be on final kayak leg

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Ceremonial paddle to the end

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In YogaSlackers mode on the ferry through Patagonia’s Beagle Channel back to race HQ

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Chelsey happy in the mountains near the end of the world

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Podium finish: 3rd place for Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers

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