Trans-Andes 2013...Pedallin' Patagonian Paradise

Wow oh wow oh wow....  Where to begin?  

Where would one even begin to write about spending six such fantabulous days in the Chilean Patagonian Andes on a mountain bike?  Hopefully giving some highlights and lots of photos will give you a taste of the experience.  Better yet, maybe it will inspire YOU to grab your bike and some friends and head there yourself next year!


I'd only been home from XTERRA Worlds a few days when Chris Carmichael, who I'd met and with whom I'd loosely ridden several stages of La Ruta a few years back, called to remind me how fantastic the Trans-Andes Mountain Bike Stage Race was and based on what little he knew about my riding 'preferences' that I would absolutely love Trans-Andes.  As I'd been traveling overseas A LOT over the prior six months, was a bit disappointed with my sporadic "wing-it" race schedule (albeit totally amateur class of course:-), I told him I'd think about it for a few days.  Now, those of you who know me KNOW that I DESPISE traveling...I do it too much for work as it is, and the thought of dealing w/luggage, TSA, crowded flights/airports and sitting in a cramped seat for a 20+ hour day of travel did not motivate me to jump on the opportunity immediately.  But....everything I saw pointed to Chile, to Patagonia, to Trans-Andes....CHILI pepper ristras, my excess of PATAGONIA apparel strewn around the house and truck, blueberries at Whole Foods grown in CHILE; and #17 on the bucket list I'd made when I was about 20 years old....GO TO PATAGONIA.  So, I was in.  Though not a CTS athlete, he let me join his group, which later I would discover would quickly become a small niche of like-minded brothers & sisters as well as would afford us a few immeasurable perks on the logistics side.  

I had about 8 weeks to get in bike shape.  I'd definitely put in a lot of "fun" miles over the spring/summer but also had not been on a bike at all for about 3 of the prior 6 months.  My race goal would be to be in good enough shape to at least ENJOY the ride and not be miserable throughout.  Do-able!  Chris gave me some loose guidance, and I stuck to it as well as I could -- some focused intervals (my weakness is always power and gusto) and long grinder days w/some efforts mixed in on some back-to-back days.  It was pretty cold at home so I headed south to the mountains around Phoenix for the long rides.  Got tips on good training options in the area from my good friends Jen and John, Sir Gnome and MTBR peeps.  So, me and my little carbon fiber Caballo rode and rode and rode, froze my arse off on several occasions and was on the verge of getting bored with it all, until bam, it was time to pack up and lo and behold I felt ready.  Excited in fact!  

Worth mentioning, however, was that I started getting some lower back/QL issues, guessing from all the long sitting/climbing as well as from a poor fit on the bike.  It was so tight.  My friends Kym and Chris (phenomenal runner/rider, respectively) agreed to help keep me ready/healthy for the race.  Kym is a chiropractor but also specializes in Active Release Technique and Graston.  She did her work on me twice, which I'll admit is certainly no picnic, but it definitely worked because it didn't flare up even once during the grueling six days in Chile!  If you have any soft-tissue issues, please consider looking into ART, and if you're local, definitely go see Kym...she knows her stuff.  I'm a disciple! :-)

Ok, so using some frequent flyer points, I flew south a day earlier than planned so that I could "recover" from the travel, get in a little sightseeing in Santiago, get in a little shake-out run and load up on fruit/rations.  Met our group at the airport, and although everyone was tired from the travel, we quickly meshed and it was clear everyone was excited to ride bikes in this gorgeous land!  Took another short flight to Temuco, then about a 2-hour drive toward the mountains.  I loved that the bikes got loaded into a Hi-Lux.  Some of the most monumental days of my life were spent in a Hi-Lux, mainly in the hinterland mountains of Afghanistan, and for my lil carbon caballo to get to ride in such a badass truck was key lime pie for me to see!

We stayed at some amazing lodges throughout the week.  The entire race route was pretty cities nor paved roads at all (maybe 5 miles in 4?).  Therefore, the stage starts/finishes were in incredible locations...deep in the mountains all with nearby rivers, lakes and or thermal hot springs. The rivers were my favorite because they were fast-flowing with ice-cold water from the numerous snow-capped mountains and volcanoes.  Those post-race icebath soaks surely contributed to me not having sore legs even once!  (Short massages were nice too though! :-)  

Startline, stage5.  Yes this guy's head looks distorted.  Hard to take a pano shot with race butterflies apparently!

The race atmosphere was the best I've experienced.  I believe there were about 400 total racers who started, although I think that dwindled down via normal attrition by the final stage.  Many racers stayed in tents at the stage starts/ends which was facilitated by the race directors.  All racers I'd met who'd stayed in the tents said it was relatively easy and comfortable.  We all attended the nightly dinners, award ceremonies and meetings together.  The race provided good meals and pretty much all you could drink local chilean wine and even local beer.  I even had a few sips of vino every night, justifying it as anti-oxidants and extra needed calories! Yummmm....

It was fantastic camaraderie!  A big family of several hundred like-minded people from all over the world who were sharing such a unique and physically demanding experience together daily.  I ran into friends from abroad while there and of course made many new ones!  In fact, after a few days in these types of events, ya find yourself riding with the same few riders...all of the same general skill level.  I am sure that I will ride with many of these guys/gals again in the future.  Lots of laughs, grunts, groans, bloodshed, more laughs, etc. -- a unique bond indeed!  Ya always want to help another 'down' rider, even in shorter XC races, but especially in races like this where the days can be 7+ hours and more long days to come.   Everyone is there for a "good time" and you want to be able to contribute to that AND you would want fellow riders to help you too should you have bike/body/etc challenges along the way.  Everyone was beyond collegial.  A few who particularly stood out to me were Martine, Marcello, Andre, Matt and Rita as well as several others.  Rita pushed me, taught me to ride better, and even made me feel like superwoman for finishing behind her!  Andre/Matt...kept me laughing everyday!  Marcello...a fellow XTERRA athlete.  Martine...sister from the other side of the globe!  

I see that I have already written a novella and not a sentence yet about DIRT, ah the fantastical Chilean dirt.  It goes to show that no event like this is ever JUST about the dirt or the race itself.  It is about the experience, the flow, the people.

I remember early in stage 1, we were climbing a steep doubletrack with loose traction.  I was hurting. I was overheating. I asking myself "WTF am I doing here? Why did I travel all the way down here, spend way more money than I have to ride my bike when I could just as easily ride my bike at home in the beautiful place where I live?  Why oh why?"  Then I looked at my garmin....only 6 miles in (of ~40 for the day, with 8000K+ elev/climbing).  Oh my gosh....this is going to be a rough week I thought.  But then I kept pedaling.  Then, with what little breath I had left, I had a chitchat in broken english/spanish with an Ecuadorian rider who appeared to be equally suffering.  We pushed on and upward.   Eventually, I let go of the self-doubt and decided to breathe it all in.  I reminded myself of my goals: (1) have fun, (2) enjoy the views (& take good pics to remember em), (3) do not come in dead-last (stroke my competitive nature), (4) do not get injured, and (5) leave Chile as a stronger rider.  

The smile came, the legs pedaled harder and the eyes soaked in the views!  The lush trees, the snow-capped volcanoes, the waterfalls, the sheer vastness of it all, and the distant silhouettes of cyclists pedaling up and down the side of this Patagonian paradise.

The Dirt...  

The course was hard.  For sure.  There was a lot of climbing.  I'm sorta known as being a decent climber in my neck of the woods, but the TA riders I'd soon discover were stronger, and I had to work hard to keep up.  Yes, there were a few days with sections of hike-a-bike (HAB), not so much for the technical, but for the steepness/grade.  Maybe on a day with fresh legs I could conquer some of those climbs, but on my fatigued legs, I dismounted and pushed my trusty steed up up up.  Compared to La Ruta, however, much much more was ride-able.  I'm sure that there were riders who could clean many of those endless steep climbs.  

Technical and singletrack!  Yes there was!  Ooooo la la!   Just when I would find myself suffering and just merely "gettin er done", we'd crest a hill and hit some sweet singletrack.  I don't think anyone would ever give me props for any technical abilities back home as I pale in comparison to the AZ folks, but somehow on those days in the Andes, I had 'em.  And it was like floating downward on a vertical pumptrack.  Floating!  Sailing!  Railing!  Heaven!   (I suppose being a bad technical rider in the techy red rocks of Sedona can make ya a decent rider elsewhere.  Go figure!)   I found that my greatest weakness personally was on the flats.  There weren't many flat straightaways, only when traversing valley floors, and found that I simply did/do not have the strength to maintain such an effort.  I took the opportunity to learn to tuck in with small pelotons to learn to draft (especially since Jen signed me up for a ROADRACE in colorado in a few!), but it was still hard.  It goes to show that you excel at what you know...and up and down is all I know.  Flats....I will begrudgingly learn you too I suppose!

The highlights undoubtedly were the technical downhill singletrack sections interspersed throughout the whole course.  The race finished on such a high note...after climbing straight up the side of the volcano in Pucon, then linking up with a DH trail to rail right back down through the forest, toward the humongous blue lake, under bright blue sky and into town to celebrate an incredible week!  Summer in Pucon...ahhhhh!

Cows, pigs, alpaca, llama, and more cows.  They were all part of the course.  We even got to ride THROUGH a pig stall as part of the downhill singletrack one day...between some of the best/steepest downhill singletrack and a suspension bridge.   There were several suspension bridges to cross, two quite nerve-wracking, but certainly do-able.  I did not have a panic attack like I did at La Ruta train-track bridges, thank Gawd!  (Got a great pic of Angie crossing right after me.)

Any regrets?  No, none.  Toward the end of the week, I kept knocking myself for stopping to take so many pics on stage 1, but in the end, I'm glad.  My memory is horrible, so those pics will always be able to "take me back" there.  Also, I wish I didnt get so frustrated on stage 2, when I was having a lot of trouble w/my chain dropping...presumably because I'd bent my rear derailleur after my big crash about 30mins into the stage.  It all worked out in the end for sure!

I could write so much more, but that would be a book.  One day...

Bottom line...

Trans-Andes was an incredible experience!  It was a great and well-marked course through some of the most gorgeous terrain I've ever laid eyes on!  I was lucky to meet and ride with some supercool people, many whom I now consider my friends.  Additionally, I was able to spend a lil time with Miss Queen of Pain the phenomenal Rebecca Rusch...who inspired me along the way...both with her pace as well as with her words of encouragement.  My only "time" goal for TA was to finish within two hours of her each day...accomplished that goal but ultimately she kicked this redrockchica's arse by hours!!! :-)  

Other than a few minor mechanicals and a spectacular DH superman crash, my caballo and I finished the race intact and not too badly beaten up. Fully stoked about placing 4th overall woman (GC)...behind some world-class pros! 

This ferry took us to the "official start" which in essence was its ramp.  They allowed us to deboard and warm up on the nearby dirt road for 15 mins, then reboard, then BANG....and the 6-day adventure began!

Ms rockstar Erica...keeping us well-fed and entertained! Guido...doing his thing.

Some impressive swinging bridges...

Some sweeeeeeet singletrack...


Trying to keep up w/ lil miss climber extraordinaire who was about a minute in front of me (final stage, atop the volcano/climb and before the incredible downhill singletrack section)...

Some R&R after each stage...
Icebath in the river after Stage 1 @ Huilo Huilo w/Scott and Rebecca.
One of the "lodges" where we stayed (2 nights) Huilo Huilo.

No RedRockChica post is complete w/out the bovine shots!

Before and after (no dirt/lotsa dirt)

I owe a huge huge huge gracias to Guido -- and the awesome crew Anuebel, Javier, Flavio and Irene' -- for keeping me & the lil carbon caballo running perfectly the entire 6 days.  Seriously! arrived back in AZ cleaner than when it departed!  If you plan to go ride/play in Argentina/Chile, find these guys!  -- Adventure Logistics 

Misc more shots...


Pucon & its volcano we ascended then had a blast back Stage 6.

Thanks for everybody's notes/motivation/support and especially to...

- FELLOW RIDERS, especially the CTS crew!
- MY FAMILY  (for good genes) and FRIENDS!
     It was cool having fellow riders (from USA and South America) recognizing the 
     Mayflower brand!
      My body thanks you!
    On some of the long climbs, I hallucinated for helicopter exfils and a recovery rig
     for me and my bike!
    My original shop & where I feel like "Norm" back home.  Felt like a celebrity the
    days I wore my Bike-n-Bean t-shirt...recognized around the world! 
     Thanks to Chris for letting me join the group.  And wow oh wow, Erica and LeLand
     were so squared away, kept everything running so smoothly, took care of our tired
      lil' selves and by the end were like family. (Erica might have even regularly wiped
      my eye-boogers:)
      If you plan a trip to Chile and/or Argentina, look these guys up.  Top notch guys, 
      solid athletes, pro-support....and like brothers!
      I still find it challenging to even admit that I do yoga, but man oh man, I feel better
      after doing it.  Jen's classes are perfect!  Hot, tribal tunes/reggae vibe, your own personal
      space, low-lights (thank you), you time!
- And extra shout-outs to Jen and John; Matt, Timoni and Turner; Lars; Jimmy; Ed; Daryl @ FORM...and all the boys at home who made me ride harder than I would on my own! 

If YOU want to push yourself in an incredible locale and grin while doing it, Trans-Andes should be on your list!  

Beach at Pucon....morning after the race ended. Tranquilo.

A friend gave me this locket before I flew south...good words to remember all the time.

Four more time...

Boarded a plane, finally en route to ride my lil carbon caballo around some mountains in South America.  

And as my flight took off from PHX airport, surprisingly took the route directly over the top of Four Peaks.  Surprising because during all the times I pedaled up/down that mountain, no jets flew overhead.   I was fated to see that mountain and that lonely road ONE more time! 

Adios and masalama, Four Peaks! Ya gave me some warmer temps, some bigger quads and some interesting stories. Twas good training w/ya!

(from about 20,000ft, facing N, w/Cline Cabin road below in the main saddle between 87 & the peaks.)

Now it's real!!

Got this in the mail today.  All that fatigue I had immediately was replaced by a big ol' grin and some excitement in the form of butterflies in my stomach and quads!  Yay!!


Little Things and Semi-Interesting Moments...

Arizona Trail between Picketpost and Gila River.  
(Zoom in...spectacular!)

I love riding my bike.  You all know that.  Racing it?  meh...not as much.  Sometimes.  What I mainly love is how it takes me out and beyond, beyond the pavement, beyond 'civilization'...criss-crossing the terrain via my own legs and lungs and imagination.  Alert only by things primal...thirst, hunger, caution of mountain lions, not much else.

So, when I have to ride the bike for 'training' (e.g. hit certain efforts, ride for set "x" duration of time, do intervals inside on a trainer, etc.), it can take a little bit of the fun and flow from my ride mojo.  But sometimes ya gotta do whatcha gotta do, and I wholeheartedly am surprised  proud  that I stuck to the 5-week (short) training plan as well as I could for my upcoming South America trip.  Barring any knee/back issues, I'm now pretty confident that I will finish the race...with a smile and hopefully while embracing some spectacular views and new experiences.

So, back to my original rant.  While the past few weeks have been more about puttin' my head down and gettin'er done, I had some interesting moments. . . .

--Going through so much trouble to set up my wildlife cameras up in the desolate wilderness/forest, then coming face to face with a  bobcat  along an urban trail in Phoenix.

--Getting to ride on some trails new to me...all very different in terrain and some definitely going in the "epic" category.  A highlight would be on a fantastic segment of the Arizona Trail (AZT)...Picketpost toward the Gila river.  As much solitude a girl could ever want!  Only a few mountainbikers who were actually bikepacking far in....running across them totally inspired me to get back out there and do my own bikepacking...when it warms up of course.

--Spent my first Christmas at 'home' in about 10 years;  further, this was only 1 of 2 in that same period NOT in a muslim country for work.  Ya know what?  I think I prefer the muslim countries for xmas....nothing to do w/religion but pretty much everything to do w/the chaos and stress and jinglebell songs that permeated through the air here in the commercial USA for the weeks prior.  As for me, all was still and flowy and chill ...except of course I didn't see my family; soon though!  Some pretty fun holiday get-togethers and dinner parties kept it from being too chill!

--Neglecting to grab my long-time GPS off the truck tire and subsequently ran it over w/theexcursionator.  Doh!  That wrist model had travelled/biked/ran/got shot at (by direct and indirect fire) all over the world.  RIP little Garmin.

--Successfully completed my mental mindgame of pedaling up the same mountain a few weeks in a row.  Four Peaks Mountain.  Nothing terribly exciting about the long fireroad to its top, but good pedaling opportunities and most importantly the mental aspect.  (WHY am I doing this again? I KNOW where it goes? There's nothing FUN about this.  Suck it up and drive on anyway!)  A few lil' surprises always occured up there...  

      _ Was encouraged by lots of jeepers/ATVers as they passed me.  Usually this would be annoying, but they were few and far between so seeing humans every 20-30 mins would motivate me to keep pushing (and give me a little extra confidence that a mountain lion would stay away from the road :-)  Maybe this too will encourage a few of those 'types' to get back on a bike sometime.  I mean, obviously, a bike can take ya pretty much anywhere AND keep ya healthy! 
     _ On one of those days up there, I was freezing/shivering, making mental deals w/myself about heading straight to starbucks when I finished.  Coffee!!  Visions of Coffee!  Right as I crested the top saddle, lo and behold, there were a group of canadian guys on atv's (who'd passed me earlier apparently) and yelled "Do ya want some hot coffee?"  I threw down my bike and headed straight over to them.  They pulled out an old school thermos that sure enough had very hot coffee.  It was perfect!!  Way up there on top of a mountain far away from any store, any building, I got hot coffee!  Best tasting coffee ever.  (They also pulled out a bottle of cinnamon schnapps, but I declined on that one, thinking that wouldn't help the ~17 more miles of pedaling I still had in front of me.)  
      _ While most of the people I'd see up there were getting their version of what I usually do -- trying to get out of the city and go explore -- a few were pretty obnoxius: catcalls and even a promise/threat that they'd be waiting for me at the bottom for a 'good time'.  (Not a lot scares me, but those two sketchy dirtbikers had be alert enough to at least send a text out to one of my friend's as a "in case you don't hear from me later" message.  Also, got a catcall from two ATVers which 20seconds later resulted in one of them crashing his ATV.  Thought he was all cool as he hollered out a (stupid) flirt while simultaneously trying to do show his "impressive" cornering skills; instead he screwed it up, flipped the ATV and bent all sorts of parts on the huge boulders alongside the road.  He was pretty shaken up, but OK.  Couldn't say I felt too sorry for either of them.  Hopefully, they felt pretty stupid.
      _ Saw more pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, pickup trucks, ammo tables, etc. than I've seen in a long time.  The first 1-3 miles is all the cityfolk heading out to the 'desert' to target practice.  Sadly, I saw A LOT of user error out there, mainly in the form of target (non)awareness and mishandling of weapons flailing em in all sorts of directions.  Those roads curve, people!  Just because you're shooting away from the 'main' road doesn't mean that there's not another road behind your target.  And, probably not the best idea to shoot from on TOP of a knoll.  Use a wash/wadi people!  That said, most were trying to do the right thing.; I am just surprised there aren't more accidents out there.

--Got to show my costa rican friend and MTB inspirator, JC, our red rock trails.

--Got to ride w/some fast buddies who pushed me waaaay beyond my comfort zone on the bike...hopefully this will pay off at some point.

--Got a christmas card from one of my BFFs....dated 25 DEC 2011 (that's last year folks)!  Thanks Kir!

About to passout/puke from a 
trainer session.

--Finally getting some better use out of my  Edwin  roadbike, albeit on the trainer, albeit in the warmth of my own casa (it's freezing outside).

--Even added in a few 'social' rides rather than my usual solo sufferfests.  Fun! 

--Wish I could say all the riding has made me scrawny and lean, but really, as expected, it just beefed me up.  I thought I'd be doing a lot more running this winter which usually keeps too much bike muscle/mass off, but with the race being added to my calendar, I just couldn't do much more than a handful of ez/recovery runs each week on top of the 12-14 hrs on the bike.  Plus, all the pedaling and the frigid temps (that are a new concept for me) just made me want to cram in more calories.  So, now I'm muscly and tired...kinda resembling a Russian power-lifter zombie.  (Not for long though!)

--Yoga, yoga, hot yoga.  Three times a week.  I forced myself to go those early cold mornings.  Hot yoga, Bob Marley remixes, Jen's flow...totally worth it in the end.  I'm still one of those girls who is on the fence about yoga, and I'm definitely not into the esoteric part of yoga (sue me).  I know it has it's uses, and I've learned it's not all about gaining flexibility.  For me, I usually try to focus on one or more of these: strength, rehab/prehab (injuries), working out all the little muscular/structural imbalances I build up from too my forward motion (e.g. biking, running, swimming), flexibility (gentle, often incorporating some self-resistance-stretching), the tribal music that Jen plays (definitely gets me moving), the heat...ahhh the heat.  This body loves the heat.  Suddenly, a lot of the little injuries/knots/etc don't hurt anymore.  Anyway, am glad to have been able to go more often lately.

-- Having Getting to ride up my favorite killer mountainside Schnebly with a bunch of pro Australian football players.  Turned out, a few of em could hold their own (they're roadies back in Australia).  Then, led them down some sweet singletrack.  Cool guys to play outside with, as usual.

--Definitely, some sweet off-roading in the truck.  One of the best recovery activities there is!  Add in some off-the-grid camping...even better!

--And the best was probably on my FINAL long day in the saddle (up the same ol' Four Peaks Mountain), I was pretty spent, freezing (there was still ice on the road), but I was almost to the top.  It was steep.  Really steep.  Legs were already smashed.  Mashing and mashing and making deals w/myself to never go near that mountain again, a hot looking jacked up 1970s Ford truck came rumbling by me on the road, driven by a few young jock hotties (donning surfing trucker hats no less), and yelled "That's badass girl. Get some!"  Who woulda thunk it?  That small moment of ego was the impetus for me to hammer up that mountain and hells yeah I got some.  (Even earned me a QOM, although I don't really care about that part....damn strava...although was funny to later realize the correlation! :-)

Four Peaks Mountain -
~19 miles from the top from here. Taken from the paved road; that sign was 'inviting' :-)

Arizona Trail (AZT) down near Picketpost.  Zoom in on it! 

Recovery day in the "4x4 Purse".
One of the holiday get-togethers. The Bike and Bean crew.
Black Canyon Trail (BCT)  with the Bean boys


With the Aussies - atop Schnebly.

ABOVE: The first few miles climbing up Four Peaks....where the real climbing begins (and where the 'target shooting' generally ends).
Arizona Trail (Picketpost)

* Thanks especially to Jen, John, David, Ray, Stravaguy, etc. for pointing me toward some great trails and great days on the bike! 

** Strava shall soon be fired.