Monday, March 8, 2010

4 Deserts Atacama Crossing Race Report

2010 Atacama Crossing Race Report

Stage 1
08-Mar-2010 07:07:55 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2010
I got to the campsite yesterday and the views were amazing. Not much later when the sun went down the temperature dropped to near freezing. I was at 10,600 plus altitude. I was freezing my ass off and because the race was shortened one day (still the same mileage) I was trying to lighten my pack load by eating my extra food.

The tents are spacious and my 7 tentmates are awesome. I was on an incline so I spent the night sliding down in my sleeping bag. Got so cold that I had to pull out my emergency bivvy for more warmth. I fell asleep around 11 and woke up at 2am wide awake and not feeling good but did NOT want to go outside in the freezing dark. By the time it was six I was feeling worse. I spent the next two hours scrambling to get ready for the race start, but I was a total mess. I was still trying to get my bib on and put my pack on when the race started. It was so cold that my whole body felt like it had been dipped in a frozen lake.

But where do I even begin about stage 1? Ummm the good news is that I finished today after 9 hours and 15 minutes.

The bad news? Holy shit what an awful day. I’m sorry to sound so depressing but really it was such a long hard day. Stage 1 is called Navigation by Rock, which in my mind I pictured large boulders that would act like course markers. I was very wrong. Navigation by Rock meant the entire terrain under our feet would be rocks. Deep sand mixed with gravel, small rocks, large rocks, slippery unstable, rocks, rocks, lots of rocks. My feet got destroyed with the amount of twisting, turning, slipping. I took an ugly fall in the first 20 minutes of the race, which totally broke me down mentally right from the start. I fell again on slippery gravel and landed on my ass, which made me feel more idiotic. And I got scratched up by these dried out thorny cactus bushes.

The morning temperatures werew fantastic until just on time at 2 o’clock it became sweltering hot. I started really slowing down because my feet hurt so bad. Throw in the high altitude and you get winded from just drinking water. My pack weighs about 8.7 kilos but started to feel like a pile of bricks. I`d stop frequently to bend over and get the weight off my shoulders. OMG the heat is bad here. At one point I felt scared that I wouldn`t be able to go on I was so miserable.

The views were breathtaking, but I spent most of the time looking down at my feet trying not to sprain or twist either ankle. My eyes feel like they were on fire from the dry air. They even started to water which never happens. My ears are burnt and the backs of my knees got a little toasty. My hips and knees are sore and I acquired 5 blisters. I had one drained in the medical tent. Apparently I have signs of trench foot. They`re just incredibly soggy and nasty. My taping strategy has gone out the window and I have to attempt something else for tomorrow otherwise they`ll get worse.

I guess I should try to end this more positively though.
I`m so happy I crossed the finish line. 
I have met some wonderful people so far and all in all I know I`m going to look back at this experience and be amazed that I survived it and pushed through. Laurie the 78 year old welsh man made it too...he is such an inspiration. 

Stage 1 makes Avalon 50 look like it`s for babies and wussies.

And I want to dedicate today`s stage to cows...for all the pain and suffering they experience for their entire shortened lives. I can`t even begin to fathom what they go through. This one was for all you beautiful soulful cows!

Stage 2
09-Mar-2010 06:25:40 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2010
Wow what a day. I completed Stage 2 but not without the usual up and downs. I once again managed to not get any sleep whatsoever. I woke up with the stomach flu again so began my first dose of cipro. I`m amazed how quickly it kicked in. Maybe it was the large amounts of almond butter I`ve been eating that made me sick. I don`t want anymore almond butter.

The day started beautiful. I did some climbing then descended into a canyon and began the river crossings. I   lost count how many times I crossed the same river. At first it was a little nerve racking because the current was so strong. But then I started having a great time navigating the thigh high freezing water. My feet felt completely numb but it made my sore feet and blisters feel wonderful. I think the slot canyons were my favorite part of the day.

I then climbed 3000 plus feet up a mountain and had spectacular views of the salt mountains, volcanoes and Atacama Desert. I was so glad I spent so much time doing hill training on the trails. I had no problems climbing this huge mountain.

The funnest part of the day was running down a monster sand dune. I fell a couple times and couldn`t stop laughing. It was awesome!

After that things started to get ugly again. It was 2 oclock and the heat had jumped up to 40 degrees celsius (yesterday it was 45 degrees celsius). I made it through Death Valley and was struggling with the distance and intense heat. Everyone was having a hard time. Especially when I ran out of water.

The winds became relentless and were blowing sand in my face. My dry eyes were suffering and burning terribly. I had to walk and close my eyes for about 3 miles. I was getting really pissed off and ready to see the campsite. Then finally I did!

I went straight away to the medical tent to have more blisters drained and betadine applied. My little pinky toes look like they`re in casts. I`m definitely going to lose my pinky toe nails. I had 5 blisters yesterday. I now have 15. All but 1 on my toes. I`m not worried though and honestly blisters aren`t so bad yet. It`s carnage out on the course already. People with jacked up knees, one guy blacked out, dehydration, blisters, banged up shoulders, torn tendons. It`s already ugly and I still have 4 more stages to go. I can`t begin to even describe how unforgiving the course has been. It`s the hardest race I could`ve ever imagined.

I`m getting kicked out so I`ll write again tomorrow. Wish me luck and many prayers I make it another day!

Stage 3
10-Mar-2010 06:05:29 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2010
I survived yet another day. Man what a tough stage it was. One of the course markers described it as ''awful'' and it was nothing short of that. I didn`t get in till around 730pm so I have very little downtime tonight. I can`t really even begin to describe how insanely hard it was. Sand, rocks, climbing up rocky jagged mountains, gravel sand, ugly sand dunes and then one last monster climb to the finish. This isn`t the 2nd hardest endurance race in the world for nothing. And everyone says this is the hardest of the 4 deserts series. The lack of sleep definitely caught up with me today.

My feet also look like they`ve gone through a meat grinder. I have over 20 blisters on my toes, ball of my feet, and heels. My pinky toenails are floating so I had to spend some time draining them. The medical team doesn`t do much for blisters. You`re pretty much on your own so I`m glad I studied before I got here.

It`s a struggle to walk sometimes but in all honesty you start becoming numb to the pain. It feels like different body parts are competing to see who can hurt worse. But all you can do is continue on.

Tomorrow is the infamous salt flat stage. I need to go eat and get some rest if possible. I will try to blog tomorrow.

I forgot to dedicate yesterday’s stage. I want to dedicate it to all the kind and intelligent pigs in the world. I`m doing this for you guys. And today`s stage is for all the chickens, turkeys and their chicks. This one was for you Pumpkin!

Stage 4
11-Mar-2010 05:59:06 AM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2010
Yes, I made it another day! It was once again nothing short of hell. The heat is so brutal out has been reaching 120 degrees just about every day. It was especially roasting at the salt flats and the sun would reflect off the ground burning your face. The salt flats were also vicious on the feet. I accidentally stepped into salt water and it went through my shoes and onto my blistered feet. Burned like hell! But I got over it.

There is this Japanese woman that amazes me. She looks like one of the little women you would see walking around the burbs outside of Tokyo with their canvas grocery bag in one hand and sun umbrella in the other. She`s adorable and beats me everyday (except today!). She walks the entire time and seriously makes it look easy. She walks with a pack as big as her, sometimes you`ll see her carrying her reusable grocery bag full of goodies, and she never stops at check points to sit down. I don`t know what her secret is, but she must have amazing feet.

My feet are throbbing pretty bad and my feet were giving me trouble during the salt flats. It`s amazing how you can still somehow find the ability to push through no matter how much pain you`re in. I notice if I keep going that the pain typically subsides. My left knee has started to give me pain, but most of all my feet just hurt really bad. Elevating them is the only thing that helps which is what I do every night (I put my feet on my pack). I counted 20 blisters today so I haven`t acquired more...yay! A few have gotten worse, a few are under control. I`m working hard to keep those pinky toenails for as long as possible so I`m continually draining them and taping them back onto the nail bed. Besides looking purple and swollen they`re getting better. Oh yeah I`ve also lost feeling in some of my toes. It`s weird.

It’s time to go back to the tent to hopefully have my knee taped for the long day tomorrow (77k).

Today`s stage is for all the sheep, lambs, and goats out there. I saw some of your buddies in a valley today and it really made my day!

Stage 5 and The Finish
16-Mar-2010 12:41:35 PM [(GMT-08:00) Pacific Time(US & Canada); Tijuana]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2010
It's official! I finished the Atacama Crossing! I wanted to blog after the race, but needed some time to reflect and think about everything. It's really quite difficult to put everything into words. One really has to do this race themselves in order to really understand. But I'll begin with stage 5.

Stage 5 started earlier (7:35am) than the other stages for those of us not in the top 10. Right off the bat they had us going through another 15k of salt flats after going through 14k of salt flats the afternoon prior. My feet did not want to go through this section and I could feel my feet swelling and throbbing. I was paranoid of rupturing any tendons and a little worried that it could be a fracture and not a tendon issue. I had no choice but to start slow due to my paranoia and the pain. Within 10 minutes I managed to step in a soft spot on the salt flats and my foot fell through into the salty water. I was beyond pissed off that my morning was starting off with salt water going into my sore blisters. After cussing and whimpering the pain slowly dulled and I was able to get a little better footing on the jagged hard salt flats. I hate salt flats with a passion! When I made it to check point 1, I was able to redo my tape job on my toes with the better adhesive the medical team had and from that point on chose never to look at my feet again. Blisters no matter how big or small were the least of my concerns now and I couldn't care less about them.

The heat was intense but a cooler 100+ degrees. Check points became more important as an opportunity to stop and elevate my feet, drink plenty of water, and cool myself before going back into the sun. The checkpoints were much much further apart now...15k, 14k and so on. Kevin the dog was at checkpoint 2 and looking pretty bad. He still managed to pick himself up and run with another competitor. Worried, I decided to carry his make-shift water bowl on my pack in case I saw the little pooch dehydrated out on the course.

Getting to checkpoint 3 was depressing and pretty awful. I was dealt with more salt flats, which made me want to cry. I kept ignoring the pain in my feet anyhow just because I knew I just needed to get through the long day. But just when I was off the salt flats (another "3k" of them) I see this monster sand dune ahead of me and notice tiny ant size people making their way up it. It was huge and I couldn't believe how steep it was. The wind had started to blow fiercely and you could feel your face getting grinded by sand like sand paper. When I made my way to the top it was the weirdest landscape. It was clear that the top of this mountain was once at the bottom of the ocean. It was creepy. At this point the winds had become hurricane force winds. Easily going over 60+ mph. It made it extremely difficult to see where I was going and I had to fight to move forward. Coming down the other side of the mountain was extremely reckless. You couldn't tell where you should step and the sheer steepness of the descent made it challenging. I made it to checkpoint 3 (Kevin was there resting already!) and I was disappointed to learn that there was no hot water. I'd have to wait till checkpoint 5 more than 22k away. Hungry, cold, and with no food except for a freeze-dried meal, I rested for about 40 minutes before moving on with 3 other competitors. It was about 7:45pm.

It was dark, windy, and cold, but I kept my pace steady. Eventually our little group split up and it was just Mara and I. I made the decision to pass through checkpoint 4 just to get water, but not rest. Along the way I ran into Paolo from Italy so that was cool. What a great person. I would say between checkpoint 4 and checkpoint 5 things started getting ugly. Mara's toes were blistered and painful, my feet had swelled to the point that my toes were beginning to jam into the toe box and the sides of my feet were getting squished against the shoe. My feet felt like they were literally going to explode. I also started becoming incredibly fatigued and lethargic. If I had the energy to lift my arms out in front of me I would've looked like a zombie stumbling down the road. I was beginning to feel like I was going to collapse along the road, but managed to still find the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was 2am before I made it to checkpoint 5. I sat down and my feet felt like they were cement blocks. I was still torn with whether to stay and rest a few hours or keep going after eating. OMG eating. I had one last freeze-dried meal left and the moment it touched my mouth I wanted to hurl. It tasted like the most   foul thing I had ever tasted. I managed to get it down, but I would later in the night find myself on the verge of barfing it back up. After about 45 minutes the 3 of us mustered the energy to go the last "10k" of stage 5 and make our way to camp. Kevin the dog also joined us.

It was a long 10k. More sand dunes, more rocky surfaces, more sand, and then a hard road to camp. I finally made it in at 5:15am. Kevin the dog followed me to my tent and passed out. I covered the shivering dog with my emergency bivvy to keep him warm and finally got to bed about 6am. I slept another night on rocks since my sleeping pad got a hole in it the night before.  

I woke up about an hour later at 7am and was pleased to see daylight. It dawned on me that I was going to finish this race. I could feel the tears coming. If my tendons tore or ruptured, I could still make it to the finish. I could relax finally. I had to untie my shoe laces completely leaving hardly any lace left to tie with in order to fit my feet into them. The tape on my feet were thrashed, but I still didn't want to take them off. Why bother when there's only 10k left. I chose to drain one very large blister through the tape and then started practicing wearing my shoes around camp (also because I lost one of my sandals) to get used to the pain in my feet so I'd be warmed up for the last 10k.

I figured the race officials made every last bit of 10k difficult, and I was right. The first 5k were through trails climbing up narrow paths through loose rock. One mistake with stepping and you'd fall down a steep drop and that would be the end of you. I hobbled for about 10 minutes before the pain subsided. I could hear all the moaning and sometimes yelling from people in pain trying their best to make it through. Once I was off the trail I just couldn't slow myself down. I felt nothing in my feet. My shoulders didn't hurt, and I was hungry. I started thinking about the week and how incredibly hard it had been. My emotions were building up and I couldn't believe it was almost over.

When I came around the corner and could see the finish line, and made a run for it. I ran the best I could till I crossed that final finish line. I started crying. I held a lot of pain in through the week and now it was hard to hold back. I thought about those animals at Animal Acres. How that collage helped get me through some really difficult times. I thought about how I was saving lives and that made me bawl. I was saving animals...a dream come true. I saw the friends I had made during the week getting their medals and crying and laughing for joy. I was so proud of them. We had all gone through an emotional roller coaster and fought battle after battle to get to where we were standing. We all had different stories, different backgrounds, different reasons for doing this race, but this moment we all shared together.

I look back on this experience with happiness, misery, joy, sorrow, calmness, and a HUGE sense of accomplishment. My feet have over 30 blisters. I'm losing a few toenails. One toe has an infection. I still can't feel my right shoulder. My feet may have fractures (heading to the doctor in an hour). My knees ache. My lower lip is severely burned. I look like I have hobbit feet and cankles. And I look like skin and bones. But I'm already thinking about the next time :) I hope to see some of my friends at another race (RTP Nepal you guys?!).

Marilena, thanks for always smiling...your positive attitude was infectious. Trig, your story is powerful and moves me. I look forward to supporting you in your journey this year and doing what I can to help make Carla's name last forever. Owen and Mel, you guys did an amazing race out there and I'm amazed by your efforts to push to the very end. Paolo, I am so proud of you for getting through stage 2 and crossing that finish line. Laurie, there is so much to be said about were an inspiration to every one. It was such an honor to participate in this race with you and I wish you luck at the London Marathon.

Wow. What a week. I am so thankful for being able to have gone through this experience and can't wait to do another one. Perhaps a little faster next time :)