Due to holidays and a very busy work schedule I have been remiss in my blogging endeavors. I am finally coming around to getting my Patagonia thoughts down and out to any that have interest. While not quite as detailed as some, here they are.
Racing the Planet/4Deserts Roving Race Patagonia was the 10th installment of the Roving Race and my first participation in a 4Deserts event. This all came about during the Orcas Island 100 in 2016 when ultra-racing buddies Brandon Petelin and Ken Letterly suggested we should sign up and race as a team. Why not? We are relatively equivalent in capabilities (despite the age gap) and work well together. The event also sounded fun and the location intriguing. Team Huey, Dewey and Louie were in! For those of you who may not know Huey, Dewey and Louie Duck are the triplet nephews of Donald Duck, and the grand-nephews of Scrooge McDuck of Walt Disney fame. In the end there were a total of five teams racing in this event which was quite a lot for a stage race.
The host town for the event was San Carlos de Bariloche in southwest Argentina. A relatively cosmopolitan town on the shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake. As such it has a Tahoe kind of vibe.
There were many places to eat and chocolate and wine are big there. I also had perhaps the best piece of meat in my life at Alto el Fuego, a small hole in the wall steak place before heading out to the bivouac. We were so impressed that we schemed during the race to returned there the day we got back into town!
Check in was very well organized for such a large group. While some of the rules seemed a little flexible (like patches on the sleeves) others were not and I had to find an additional 20 ml of sunscreen to pass (even though I only used perhaps only 10 ml for the entire event). Oh well, rules are rules. The equipment list for this event seemed a little draconian and while the extra weight was not great it did impact from a volume stand point.
With a very large group of racers (around 300) plus support I was concerned about logistics. Overall, they were acceptable and the local help operating the camp must be commended for their efforts pitching tents, keeping the fires going and the water hot. Coming into this no no real expectations I didn’t have any significant complaints.
Generally speaking the event started northeast of Bariloche and worked its way counter clockwise to the south finishing up in the mountains to the east of town. Terrain was varied and elevations were not very high. Overall this was a easy course and favored the speed demons. There was also a very low drop out rate of around five percent.
The initial bivouac was a two hour bus ride and to our surprise a short paddle across the Rio Limay. Once installed in our tent we feasted upon bread, cheese and meet as our last “real” meal and the start of our self-sufficiency.
The countryside is very similar to other areas I have traveled through. For the first three stages it was as though we were in southern Colorado in the Creed area. As we moved up into the mountains, it was much like the upper San Juans in central Colorado. The finish could have been in Glacier National Park by the looks of it. Everywhere the scenery was stunning. Much of the race was on private property or national parks. Campsites were well thought out and their locations were selected with the view in mind.
Stage 1: Approximately 26 miles of road work. Relatively fast since packs were heavy. There was a little bit of elevation during the earlier part of the stage and the weather was excellent. We worked out some our team coordination kinks and had a wonderful day. Camp was along a small river that allowed for rinsing out of clothing and a cold dip. Ken and Brandon abused me with the pace but we set the stage for things to come!
Stage 2: About 20 miles of mostly road work again. Lighter packs and less elevation made this faster than the day before. Of course my team mates decided this was excuse enough to push the pace faster. I realized then there may be a conspiracy going on about strategy and I was not in on it! The last several miles were along an abandoned rail road line with camp at a rail station. Weather was again sunny and clear.
Upon finishing the stage we talked to the timing personnel and found out that team HDL had over a two hour lead on the next team. Nice! Being in the front also subjected us to a mandatory 100% gear inspection which of course for us was no big deal. There were others however that did take exception of this “inspection” and believed that it was a huge intrusion.
Stage 3: 23 miles with the first eight along the rail road line again. Very stiff head winds put a damper on my speedy team mates (most likely due to the fact that their cross sectional areas are larger than mine). After letting them settle down a bit, I pulled a trick from my days of bicycle racing and we literally started our own peloton which helped significantly. Ken and Brandon were impressed and our pace actually picked up. At one point we put the hammer down to rid ourselves of a slacker that was hanging on and not pulling through.
Towards the end of the day Brandon began not feel too well. Issues had started with his upper chest which would plague him for the remainder of the event, however we cruised in at our fastest average pace yet. Weather was noticeably cooler and there was a creek again at camp for a quick wash off.
Stage 4: This was supposed to be a longer stage of approximately 26 miles but due to warm weather and resulting high glacier run off, river crossings in the latter part of the stage were deemed unsafe. The stage was modified into an 18 mile out and back event which was nice since it allowed for competitor interactions. A fun stage and Ken was crazy to turn it into a dead sprint. While the weather was nice in the beginning, a stiff wind picked up later. There was one nice climb out and on the return. The last bit was all downhill into camp with Ken and myself dragging Brandon in. After a short rest we were bused two hours to the next camp where we were greeted with a light drizzle and colder temperatures.
Stage 5: The long march. Initially scheduled for 55 miles this stage was also shortened to about 46 since camp was located closer to the finish than planned. Weather had deteriorated and rain / wind were off and on during the day. This resulted in rain jackets going on and off numerous times to the point of being annoying. While there was some nice climbs and rugged single tracks in the early part of the stage, the last half was up a never ending road to el Parque National Nahuel Huapi.
We did have some issues during the day. I was suffering from lack of sleep from the night before due to gastrointestinal distress issues from a bad meal. Brandon was continuing to have chest problems that made it hard for him to breathe deeply and limited is food intake. This slowed us down and we slipped some in the overall standings but still expanded our lead in the team category.
I have to admit it was nice that everyone started the the long stage together instead of staggered starts with the leaders held back until later. This allowed getting into camp earlier and we didn’t need our headlamps at all. We also beat the worst of the weather and made it in just before it got bad. Those that went into or through the night experienced some sleet and much colder temperatures.
During the following “rest day” the frost line came down to approximately 1,000 feet above camp however when the weather cleared we were treated to a stunning view of snow covered Cerro Tronador. For no real apparent reason (it wasn’t that cold) our drop bags were issued to us. Comfort I suppose. Mine became a nice pillow for the night.
Stage 6: The final stage was a short 4.7 miles up to the base of Ventisquero (Glacier) Negro. Start was at 5:00 for some and 5:30 for the rest in order to accommodate an 8:00 am departure back to Bariloche. You can guess this was a mad dash and we pushed it as hard as we could. Medals, pizza, empanadas, beer and soda at the finish. It was over!
Generally, our performance was exceptional. We were doing stellar for a team during the first four stages (our best overall position then was around 15th) but with our minor troubles during the long stage we slipped some. Despite all this we sewed up the team win and finished 26th, 27th and 28th overall (in the top 8-10% of all competitors). Many were surprised that a team could perform so well. I will expand on what we learned racing as a team in a later post.
The non-linear fueling strategy outlined in a previous post, while not practiced as faithfully by Ken and Brandon (they just brought tons of food) worked well for me. I went into the event with about 19,000 kcals and came out with about 600 kcals. I suspect I would have used most of these if the event had gone the originally planned distances. While we did not have any hard data, I believe we all came out of this with very little weight loss relatively speaking. As far as menus go, I am going to be considering other freeze-dried offerings for breakfast especially those from Mountain House and Good-to-Go since I have reached my tolerance level for porridge and Expedition Foods Eggs and Potatoes (they never fully rehydrate which I attribute to an altitude/water temperature thing). I am also going to start packaging freeze dried food in smaller portions for more grazing throughout the day.
Equipment held up well. I suffered a minor front pack seam failure and a torn dry bag. Everything else worked as expected. Brandon’s pack straps stretched out to the point it was not fitting him properly (and may have been partially to blame for his chest issues). Ken’s new Raidlight Olmo 20+4 pack served him well even though it was stuffed like Santa Clause’s bag on Christmas eve. One important take away is that you should not try and dry Hoka or Salomon shoes too close to the fire. Many discovered the very low melting point of their foam mid-soles. Finally, my ultra-light Fenix charger worked out great and various tent mates were intrigued.
In the end it was a great experience. Racing with Ken and Brandon is always fun and I got to renew many acquaintances from previous stage races. Catching up around the fires is a pleasant way to pass the time and helps in planning next great adventures.