Patagonia: Race Report #1

You follow a topo map, the sole guide. GPS is not allowed. You trust a compass needle to direct your bearing through wilderness harsh and deep. In Patagonia, pushing far south in the Darwin Mountain Range, we went for days without signs of human passage.

Gear keeps you alive. A headlamp illuminates a cliff edge in the night. Wool base layers are your second skin, wearable for days, warm even when wet. Your shell jacket — a thin sheen, waterproof and breathable — saves you when it sleets and snows, as it did one frigid night in the mountains near the end in our event.

Wenger Patagonia Adventure Race Photo 3.jpg

On the run, day five, nearing the Beagle Channel, trying to catch a team. Photo by T.C. Worley

Gear makes you fast. In an adventure race, you count ounces and throw heavy items out. You balance survival with speed, a two-pound tent that flaps in the wind, a tiny sleeping bag just barely warm enough for the job. Running shoes — not boots — move you for hours and days on end in mountains, swamps, forests, and arid land.

Trekking poles save your knees. Tiny pills purify water. You haul your food between distant resupply drops, all calories counted, your bars, granola, gels, chocolate, cookies, and nuts packaged and divvied for days.

In the end, your teammates push you on. I carried one teammate’s backpack on a long run, doubling my load when I was feeling good. Later, I bonked on a bike leg through the mountains, and then my gear got divided up to the team.

Darwin Mountains Patagonia Photo.jpg

Darwin Mountains above the Beagle Channel, an “end of the Earth” near the tip of South America.
Photo by T.C. Worley

We pedaled up and up that day to a mountain pass. It was the third day of the race, and the halfway point was just barely then in sight. On top of the pass, mountain peaks popped out of the clouds. Tierra del Fuego sprawled out — a howling wilderness of rivers, lakes, and jagged rock — to a horizon ahead.

I clicked into a high gear and tucked. Wind roared as the team coasted downhill — the last road we’d see on the course. At the bottom, we left our bikes, shouldering packs and heading on foot into the woods.

The maps directed us ever south, a trajectory toward the tip of the South American continent. We raced on, straining to catch a team ahead. The end of the Earth was beyond, and the finish line somewhere, too.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of GearJunkie.com. Go to www.gearjunkie.com/patagonian-race for additional reports and photos from the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race.

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