This post is part of a series of live race updates from southern Chile, the location for the 2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race.
By T.C. WORLEY
As the sun sets on Patagonia, I fall deeper into the shadow of the granite spearheads of Torres Del Paine. The teams, fed on lamb and fresh salad, have slung their packs onto their backs and are headed for their tents. This will be the last solid night of sleep for the next week or more. Temperatures in the low 70s has made it a delight to be outdoors this evening.
Final gear drops, more calorie-loading on Chilean pastries, and team photos all took place before noon today. In the central town square of Punta Arenas, traditional Chilean dancers spun, stomped and waved handkerchiefs as a send off to the racers. Lounging on park benches and steps, many of the teams appeared bored — no doubt ready to get on with the race.
At 2:00 we the media, the racers, and support staff loaded onto buses for the five-hour ride to Torres Del Paine park. Those that did not sleep entertained themselves with counting sheep — thousands of them — or trying to spot small ostrich-like birds among the scrub bushes. Moods were much lighter now that we were en route.
Once in view of the Torres Del Paine spires, it was difficult to take your eyes off of them. Oohs and Aahs came from the back of the bus as the sun lit sinister clouds that rimmed the spearhead-shaped granite towers. The term “jaw-dropping” was made for scenes like this. Though their snowy peaks appear to be 14,000 feet or better, they rise only about 6,000 feet, but do so from nearly sea-level.
Once inside the park, a short ride down a gravel road brought us to the Los Torres Hotel entrance. Ahead, we could see men in traditional gaucho dress on horseback—some with Chilean flags, some with Patagonia flags and others with flaming torches. As our van neared them, they coaxed their horses into a run and surrounded the vehicles for an escort to the Hotel. Their whooping and hollering continued until we reached the hotel. It reminded me of a stagecoach being taken over in a wild west movie — It was amazing!
Lamb, cooked by a pit of coals, Chilean red wine and fresh salad was waiting for us on picnic tables. With the snow-capped mountains behind us, green rolling hills in front of us and bellies full of Chile’s best, faces all around me wore contented looks. “I can’t think of a more chill start to this race!,” exclaimed Stephen Regenold, founder of GearJunkie.com.
But even as we finished dinner, the winds were knocking plates and cups from the tables – a reminder that the wind is never a friend in Patagonia. Tomorrow, the world changes for racers. They will live in a bubble of pain, fatigue, but also awe. I’ll watch them run by with weary bodies, still most faces will smile at my camera.