Patagonia Bound!

It is late at night on Feb. 2, actually very early in the morning. I’m up too late again. I’ve been packing gear and organizing food for THE BIG TRIP. In just more than 24 hours, I get on an airplane and fly for more than a day straight to get from my home in Minneapolis to Punta Arenas, Chile, a small city near the tip of South America and the base for the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race.

My team — Jason Magness, Chelsey Gribbon, and Daniel Staudigel, all members of the YogaSlackers group — is the same as last year. We (Team GearJunkie.com) did the 2010 race, a 350-mile trip, in about six and a half days. (Here is a story recounting the trip, “Race to the End of the Earth.”) We were among only seven teams that finished the course, taking a top-five finish and thirsting for more.

In the Wenger Patagonian Race, which has been held since 2004, you traverse the wilds with a map and compass in hand, no GPS allowed. The goal is to find checkpoint flags hidden miles apart that lead, after days on the move, to a finish line hundreds of miles away.

One of many maps from 2010 race

Bikes, kayaks, and trekking shoes provide transport through the course. You switch disciplines every day or so, with food drops and gear transported by a race staff that coordinates deliveries via boat, helicopter or 4WD vehicle ahead of the pack.

Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago in southern Chile that peters to the tip of the continent, was the race venue last year. It had posed arid fields, thick forests, mountains, and deep fjords. For 2011, the race moves north in Patagonia to the area around Chile’s Southern Continental Ice Field. Disciplines will again include kayaking, mountain biking, trekking, navigation, and ropework in the mountains that spike and interrupt the land.

Stunned, dirty, relieved: Finish Line in 2010

In the southerly latitudes of Patagonia, where trails are rare and few humans can be found, the term “wilderness” takes on a new connotation altogether. Gear is crucial in Patagonia. But it’s just one piece in the puzzle. My team knows the game, and we’re ready to get on with the race. If we eat right, stay warm, keep hydrated, and keep our heads right, we might just pass the test. Our goal is a finish line in the remotest Patagonia. Wish us luck if you can. We’re going to need it!

—Follow Team GearJunkie.com and the race pack live during the event on our exclusive Wenger Patagonian Race Channel. Gear Junkie contributors T.C. Worley, Sam Salwei and Paul Cassedy will report live from Patagonia beginning February 6th and through the end of the month.