Catch up on Part 1 here:Episode 1
The eve of racing was upon us and needless to say, it was a bit difficult to sleep. The usual race nerves were setting in, other restless riders tossed and turned about their squeaky cots and of course, it wouldn't be nighttime in South America without a few barking dogs.
Sleep is vital to performance, so here's a pro tip I picked up from not only an Andes Pacifico veteran, but a life long racing veteran - Jerome Clementz. He came strutting into camp that first night with a pool floaty looking air mattress and while many laughed, most hearts quickly sank when they realized what a genius idea he had. This event is undoubtedly a top-notch experience, but if you would like all the comforts of home, some you must take upon yourself. Duly noted sir. The following nights I was sure to dig out my earplugs from the plane and the ambient noise faded into to heavy slumber the rest of the week.
At first light, the camp began to stir. With 51,820 ft (15,795 m) of descending in five days, each one was sure to be long and required an early start. Everyone spent a solid chunk of the morning fuelling up at breakfast before funneling out to the 40+ pickup trucks ready to shuttle the 114 riders high above the hills and into the Andes. Day 1, Stage 1 brought us right up to the highest altitude we would see all week just shy of 12,000 ft (3,615 m). Welcome to the Santa Cruz Andes Pacifico everyone!
However, for me, this first day at La Parva was a familiar spot where the EWS was hosted just one year ago. Based on the map it looked like the first two stages would share a considerable amount of trail from the race last year. I have been pretty anxious about the whole blind racing thing, but overall my nerves were at ease knowing the first stage was going to be relatively familiar. Without further ado, "3...2...1...GO!" and day 1 of 5, stage 1 of 18 was underway. The lunar landscape was devoid of all things living and consisted of a low angle scree field of finely crushed rock. The challenge... traction, the benefit... long lines of sight. The stage began with a lengthy section of doubletrack making it easier to incrementally get comfortable with the speed and traction. Not before long, EWS flashbacks were rushing back to me and so was a good race pace.
Momentum was building and I began to think this was an exceptional run! Adrenaline was on tap and my brain was swimming in it. I approached a section of trail lined in red tape, which is usually a caveat to slow down. The risk angel on one shoulder said, "Adam, you should probably slow down... there is red tape" but was quickly suppressed by the adrenaline devil on my other shoulder who said, "eff no, you are on a heater, don't slow down!". Readers, you can all revert to the 30-second mark of the video to see who was giving better advice. I'm fairly certain this same turn bit me in practice at the EWS and I was swiftly sent to the ground for a timeout and a reality check. My punishment would be the loss of my front brake for the remainder of the stage due to a severely bent rotor. "Well, this is off to a splendid start," I thought to myself and at that moment I knew that competing in this race was going to be different than any other I had participated in to date.
The final stage of day 1 has to be one of the most memorable from the entire event. Each night, the organizers have a briefing to give all the riders a summary of the logistics and stages for the following day. I don't remember much from these briefings except each night it sort of went like this, "we will have some great stages for you all, with some great time in the mountains. Make sure to bring lots of water and sunscreen as there is not much shade". However, I do recall one specific thing from that first briefing and it went a little something like this. "The final stage of the day is a trail by the name Loma Del Viento, but over the years of Andes Pacifico has been given the name in English, Switchback Festival". This stage would be a 1000+ meter (3500 ft) descent lasting over 14 minutes. It was formed by livestock going to high pastures zig-zagging their way up and back down to the river. After some GoPro review, I can confirm this was a festival of switchback turns, approximately 115 of them down to the valley floor where camp was located. This trail will surely be a life long memory.
There is a whole lot of work put in by the primary organizers Eduardo, Nacho and Mattias along with immense support from Montenbaik.com that make this and other major Chilean events possible. The entire camp was broken down and set back up four separate times throughout the event. That includes; a full medical tent, two shower tents, 100+ rider tents, staff tents, a full row of pop up shops and mechanics, massage tent, catering tents, timing tent and logistics. At the end of the line was the ever-important Kross beer truck and last but not least an exquisitely set dining area ready to host our group of almost 200 altogether with participants and staff. Not only were there adequate amounts of food and options each breakfast and dinner, but they were also perfectly cooked. After each long day in the mountains, we were treated to fine wine from Eduardo's family vineyard and the company of whichever table you chose to sit. I looked forward to these dinners each night, sharing stories, relaxing and laughing.
Throughout the week, many people would shuffle into different trucks for your morning and midday shuttles. Similar to the dinners, I just sort of jumped in wherever with whoever. I got to meet an array of different riders and drivers alike this way. I was surprised to learn that almost all the drivers were riders themselves, in some cases traveling an entire day themselves to be part of the event. But then again, you may recall from the first part of the story that Chileans love mountain biking. They all know about the Santa Cruz Andes Pacifico and will travel far and wide to be a part of it.
One evening I connected with a driver named Esteban at the Kross beer truck. He was from several hours south, boasting about the great trails around his home and insisted I must visit. Like any good Chilean cyclist would, he invited me to come visit his home after five minutes of conversation before Andes Pacifico next year. We talked about pairing up for the shuttles the next day and before I knew it, my bike was already loaded in his truck the following morning.
We rallied up the rugged mountain road that next morning blaring AC/DC on the radio. There seemed to be no other fitting music to energize our spirits for another long day in the high altitude sun. Esteban proved to be an exception guide for the rest of the trip, ensuring bikes were well taken care of, informing myself and the trio of Swiss riders with us of the area, stopping for pictures whenever something caught our eye and ensuring no shortage of Pisco come the final night. This was an unexpected bonus of the trip. Something I had not considered in my initial assumptions of the event. Esteban, Jose, Ale and many more staffers greatly enhance this event to make (here's that word again) the experience, one that is truly like no other.
There are so many polished details of this event that enrich the experience beyond what a normal event provides. Each rider gets a unique number plate with their name and a custom design incorporating your nationalities flag. Uped stepped up (yes, I like puns) huge and printed one off custom Andes Pacifico socks with your name on them. Santa Cruz, the title sponsor, is no fool when it comes to this event and gifted each rider one of the most valuable items of the race. If you have seen coverage in years prior, you may recall those silly looking sandy branded sun hats. I remember thinking to myself, "Should I bring this goofy thing?" I contemplated for a few moments, leaning towards leaving it behind to keep the pack as light as possible, but upon second guessing said, "eh, it's so light I won't notice it in the pack, sure I'll bring it along." That was an unexpected lifesaver in the high altitude desert. I and all the other riders alike lived in them whenever we were not buckled up racing. In fact, I grew so fond of this hat, it now has a permanent spot reserved for future worldly travels.
In addition to the impressive breakfast and dinner spreads, each day the hard working catering staff set out to the hills with us to set up a five-star Feed Zone. Several sandwich options, an array of fresh fruits, nuts, bars and more were on tap to refuel your body for another afternoon in the mountains. I could get lost writing an entire story about the fine people and details of the event, but let's get back to the riding.
Day 2 began with an hour-long hike to the start of the longest stage of the 5-day race. With 1125 meters of descending over a distance of 7 km, it was sure to be an abrupt wake-up. Like any good first stage of the day, I took a solid over the bars tumble and let my bike do a few extra cartwheels down the mountainside. I was still searching for the balance of that competitive speed and control (the anti-grip does not play in your favor with this).
The remaining 4 stages of the day were something really special. They call them the moto tracks. If anything were to persuade you to go take part in this "experience" let it be this. The moto tracks were a sequence of cascading trails formed by enduro motos going high into the Andes. Thanks to them, we get to descend these whooped out trenches at speeds of up to 50-70 kph. The sensation of riding these trails is difficult to put into words. They were made by motos going similar speeds and the result is perfectly spaced rollers fit for jumping and skipping across. Baah baaah baaah baaah roared through my thoughts on each one of these stages.
I recall one section with a gradual rise in the trail. The speed was immense and I was clearly going to exceed the forces of gravity at the pinnacle of this rise. I ignored some inward warnings to slow down and pulled on the bars with all my might at the top of the rise and floated into the air. With this elevated view, I could now see a sequence of 8-10 tightly packed rollers beneath me and a gentle bermed up left that followed. I set the tires down in the midst of this mogul field only to feel the, taah taah taah taah of my tires tapping each hump before sinking into that final pocket left turn. I have always been a fan of watching motocross and these trails made me feel like the heroes of moto.
Day 3 has to be the most memorable of all the days for a number of reasons. This day was sure to be the biggest at 1000 meters (3300 ft) of climbing, 3000 meters (9800 ft) of descending spread across 33 km (20 miles) the highest sustained elevation we would see throughout the week.
The briefing the night before prepared us mentally for the long day ahead. We would be out in the high alpine wilderness from 9:00 AM that morning to nearly 5:00 PM that afternoon before we would see any support aside from what we could carry in our packs. After the late lunch we would catch another shuttle before descending one more stage and capping off a long, but rewarding day. Like any other day, we were in for a bit of a drive up into the mountains, followed by 3-4 hours of hiking, light spinning, occasional descending and more hiking to arrive at the first stage.
Views of the nearly 7000 meters (22,841 ft) summit of Aconcagua towering off to our right side and an otherworldly landscape all around us otherwise. These were active livestock trails that wander deep into the mountains, eventually arriving at a rare watering hole. Cattle are left to wander high in these hills and only occasionally rounded up to return to the valleys. We encountered several working locals on our trek to stage one. The combination of sun, wind, and altitude were a struggle at times, but the views and genuine connection to nature make this quest one that will never be forgotten.
Atop the first ridge line, we descended a natural scree field running about 500 ft to another valley. Riding down the white powdery dust felt more like carving a mountainside covered in snow. Much like the moto tracks, this was a sensation I have never felt on a bike before. We ascended another ridgeline taking us deeper into the mountains before traversing a considerable amount to the first stage. From there on down, we descended the vast open landscape at face-melting pace. The stages this day were exceptional for me, everything finally came together and I landed on 7th place for the day. It was both a surprise and an accomplishment to be in the mix with some of the most respectable riders in the business like Wyn Masters, Iago Garay, and Jerome Clementz.
Let's actually talk about the whole blind racing thing for a minute. The format of this race can be a deterrent to many, because the thought of racing down a trail at full race speeds without any training runs to know what's coming seems a bit insane, right? If it doesn't, congratulations on making it this far in life, sign up for the event following the link at the end of this article and you are going to do great in 2020! However, for the rest of us, it's not as wild as it sounds at first glance. Above all, this event is a unique experience and you will hear me along with everyone else who's been using this very specific language. Once you go, you'll know, but this "experience" to most is the fulfillment of an epic adventure and not putting yourself at risk. We all have our own hard wired risk versus reward switch programmed in our minds and that alone will guide you safely on this quest (except for you "special folks" I mentioned above, remember, link at the bottom, you are going to do great in 2020!).
Just in case your risk versus reward goes on holiday with you... the tracks are marked with an intuitive manner to help the riders stay safe. The start and finish of each stage are lined with yellow tape on both sides of the trail. Throughout each stage, there will by numerous strands of yellow tape dangling from branches or lined on one side of a turn. These are intended to be indicators that yes, you are still on track and oh, by the way, there is a turn coming up. Red tape means CAUTION. It could be either a steeper section that requires some preemptive braking, a technical rock section or a sharper than normal turn. Whatever it may be, listen to that dialogue in your head that says "oh, red tape, you should probably slow down" and your instinct will handle the rest.
After talking with some of the other top professionals in attendance, I learned that even if you are here to race and put in your best effort, you just can't have that mentality. With so many unknowns, you have to think differently and turn off the typical race brain. This would prove to be my biggest challenge of the week. At a certain point in the racing, most people decide whether this event is going to be treated as a race or simply an experience. This is a unique format where you have high-level racers alongside amateur racers starting in no particular order, as well as other groups of mates dropping into a stage all at once that could care less about the racing part of it. For me, no matter how many crashes, every time a stage starts the clock, I am going to give it all I have. There are an exceptional number of variables in a five-day blind race such as this and everyone is challenged with disaster and triumph through the event, so never step down is the mindset I aimed to maintain.
The first 3 days of the race tracked northward through the Andes. These days all felt relatively similar although the trails were all different and spectacular in their own way. Each day shuttled high up into the Andes where the air was cooler and the oxygen sparse. The stages then cascaded their way down to the valley where each day came to a close. On the 4th day, we began to migrate west into the Cordillera de la Costa, that's right, you guessed it, the Coastal Range.
These final two days did not have the large vertical of the Andes and instead consisted of shuttles or hikes between each stage. Fatigue of the previous three days began to set in. The fourth day was a struggle to endure, but signs of the approaching coast were motivating. A blanket of clouds lay in the valley off in the distance and this sign of moisture meant only one thing, the Pacific was getting nearer.
The final summit and stage of the race brought us directly to the edge of the coast. The clouds rolled off the coast, right through our thin jerseys like a natural air conditioner. The group's energy and camaraderie at the final stage was electrifying, especially for countryman Pedro Burns who was about to become the first Chilean male open winner of Andes Pacifico. Personally, I still gave my best effort on every stage, but the idea of results had faded into simply enjoying this adventure.
Now if you can recall the bike check from the first article, there was one special modification to my Yeti SB150, the custom top tube frame wrap. This is actually your Santa Cruz Andes Pacifico official stage results. So now that the race is over, let's have a look at the results and see how we did...
1. LEARN HOW TO SAY "WEON" - Check
2. SEE A CONDOR - Check
3. HIGH 5 A TRAIL BUILDER - Check
4. HELP ANOTHER RIDER - Check
5. SWIM IN A RIVER - Check
6. CRASH INTO A CACTUS - Check
7. SEE A GUANACO - Not exactly sure what this is?
8. SEE ACONCAGUA - Check
9. DRINK A PISCOLA - Check
10. SWIM IN THE PACIFIC - Check
11. PARTY HARD - Check
12. DRINK ANOTHER PISCOLA - Check
13. WALK INTO THE WRONG TENT - Check
14. NO PISCO NO DISCO - Check
Victory on 13 of the 14 stages, I would say this race was pretty successful. This checklist has been comprised of great stories from years prior and really embodies the spirit of the event. Yes, I came to race, but this experience is what I will leave with.
Learn more about the Andes Pacifico Enduro here
. Registration for 2020 is now open!