By: T.C. Worley
Today I took advantage of a change in travel logistics and headed out on the course to get right into the belly of the race. The word was that several teams were making good time as they passed through checkpoint #12. So, with my hiking partner, Ignacio Bladi – a writer from Santiago, I began the 17k (10.5 mi) hike to checkpoint #14 around lunchtime. We took our sweet time, stopping to examine rocks, seaweed, dead animals and any other oddity that we found. I also could not stop taking photos—a growing problem. The scenery is amazing here.
We are positioned right on the Bay of Beagle, which is nearly as far south as you would ever go unless you intend to set sail to Antarctica. Google it, and you will see what I mean. This morning Team Helly Hansen began the paddle across the bay and should cruise to the finish with no other teams giving them trouble. The rest of the racers are either here at Yendegaya, asleep and waiting for clearance from the Chilean Navy to cross the bay, or they are still slogging through the mountains.
Our trek did bring us in the path of a few teams. The Swiss team was first and followed shortly thereafter by the German team. Neither looked very energetic and I found out later that at least one of the two had run out of food out on the course and was very hungry. Both teams were making slow progress. Just as we were about to reach checkpoint #14 and get to see a genuine glacier up close, I saw another team—a pretty familiar looking bunch. Once again, I had been able to locate Team Gear Junkie in the middle of the Patagonian wilderness. I thought, “Great, now I will trek back with them and take photos!,” but plans changed when Jason Magness announced “We’re running to fifteen.” My heart sank a little. I had packed for an overnight trip. It would have been a pretty cushy night, had I been able to stay. So while they searched out the checkpoint, I filled water bottles with glacial water that almost seemed to glow. It is very light blue, and milky looking. As I organized my pack for the run, I heard the helicopter in the distance. Just as it closed in on us, Gear Junkie was returning from the CP, running from the other direction. The helicopter came in low and banked slowly overhead. Ignacio and myself dove for an area of low scrub trees to stay out of the shot. As they passed, I was hot on their heels. Here came the chopper again, so into the trees I hurled again. This scene would repeat one more time before the chopper took off to film other teams. If you’ve ever thought I had a cool job, you ought to see these guys. The race film is going to be incredible this year!
So, together again, we ran. Germany had a two hour lead. Team GJ, fueled by a long sleep (7 hours), was feeling like closing that gap a bit. We crossed beaver ponds, creeks, beaches, fields, hills and swamps. It was great to feel the race. My shoulders ached and my feet hurt, but I was having the time of my life. What had taken me around 5 hours to trek, we covered in around 3. Within minutes of arriving at checkpoint #15, the Yogslackers were doing acrobatic yoga. Funny, most teams just pass out on the ground, or hobble to a tent. These guys are having a ton of fun!
Team Helly Hansen did make it to the finish and by now is likely fast asleep, perhaps even dreaming of a three-peat next year. Spain is shocked to occupy 2nd place, saying, “Just to come to Patagonia was a dream, and to be in 2nd is amazing.” When asked about the previous days crossing through the Darwin range, Jon Anders (of Spain) exclaimed “Whoa! Very, very long. Very special, we went up and down 100 times or more. Need big legs and balance. You feel very small in there, you are nothing.” With that last statement, he really captured what everyone seems to feel. We are just specks moving through this place, leaving only muddy footprints as evidence of having been here at all.
For more images and race details visit:
Wenger Patagonian Expediton Race