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.


maadjurguer said...

I just read! You've got a slick blog here...I really like your AZ clearly have an obsession with the state, which is a healthy thing in my humble opinion....keep up the stoke.

Sonya said...

I'm doing a post on Bicycling - could I use a couple of your photos?

RedRockChica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OOToole said...

Amazing read!!! Thank you for sharing. What a fantastic story you have to tell. You definitely answered some questions and rekindled my 'spark' to do an epic race like this; even after friends back out on other race plans.

OOToole said...

What a phenomenal story!!! Thank you for sharing! This definitely rekindled my spirits after my friends backed out of the TransAlps race.
Your (and I hate to use this word) 'Epic Tale' is very motivating, answered a few questions and now has me considering my options for the next big race. Thank you again for sharing this!!!