Feb 24, 2009

Team Calleva in Patagonia... First story.

It seems team Calleva was destined to have a staggering amount of adversity, and through it the adventure of a lifetime.

Every time we used our tent we were rained on and it was very cold, except once when it sleeted on us.

It started off with me heading to Patagonia sick as a dog and getting team Captain Mark Lattanzi sick for the first 5 days of the race.

Sec. 1: The Paddle
Up in Torres Del Paines, the world famous rock climbers getaway, Grey Glacier forms Grey Lake which are the head waters to the beautiful Grey River where the paddle started. 20 miles downstream in merges the Rio Serrano (aptly named and a beautiful clear green serrano chili pepper color), the 2 rivers mix and a fantastic color is the result, Patagonia has met our expectations as one of the most pristine and unimaginably beautiful places on earth. Throughout the race I kept calling it the "land of the lost". We headed downstream towards a large ocean bay and ended up getting ferried by the race org. due to 100-140 km winds out on the bay.

Sec. 2: The Bike
Wenger the makers of the Swiss Army knife were wonderful sponsors and payed the local tavern for a mass buffet after the ferry so teams could head off with a fresh start, a very nice touch. We then mounted our bikes and cranked out an absolutely marvelous 60 miler......it was just sweet riding and as the night set in the full moon was fun to use for a while instead of lights. As navigation became imperative we busted out the lights, Val and I riding with AYUP and in the process lighting up the entire road. We finished strong.

Sec. 3: The Trek
Things started off well with our team being only 1 hour behind the leaders after 2 sections, when we headed off into the first trek.....(Let me just say Patagonian mountains have a very daunting look to them, especially when imminent weather is at hand). Night was approaching and we had been getting rained on for 12 hours as we crossed the bogs/wetlands and headed towards the first mountain crossing. The crest of the mountains was very craggy, limiting where a team could find passage, and we had no visibility due to heavy rain clouds and the rapidly approaching night.......perhaps we would have braved it if Mark wasn't sick as a dog. We hunkered down for 10 hours and waited for light, everyone being mildly disappointed knowing that it was lost time. We continued on the next morning making great time and to our surprise finishing the trek in 5th with team 4 still in the TA.

Sec. 4: The Bike
As we headed off on the bikes at 11:00 pm we thought it would be a nasty ride with 4 days of rain turning the local roads into a mud fest, however to our surprise the mud was not thick and as we headed out of the mountains it disappeared altogether, we continued making our way to a ferry crossing and a 2 hour nap ( waiting for the ferriers to wake up). Let me just mention now that this race had the best mountain biking and some of the most scenic riding I've experienced in an Expedition Race......no hike-a-bike and wonderful roads. We pushed hard on the rest of this ride which was battling the roaring 40's for 30 miles on an ocean road, trying to get to the next TA by 4:00 pm which we thought was a kayak dark zone. It turns out there was only one launching per day at 7:00 am so the Navy could send safety boats along with the paddlers who had to cross the Straights of Magellan. We reorganized our gear, ate heartily, and caught up on some rest.

Sec. 5: The Paddle and Portage (90 km sec.)
Teams had to cross the Straights of Magellan then paddle up a very scenic fjord (the most scenic paddling I have ever seen) and make their way to a 17 km portage, which was really 7 km of portaging then 10 km of lakes and fast moving rivers in between the lakes. Val and I had the bad luck first as we made our way precariously down a fast moving section full of brambles we got dumped and lost 2 headlamps, 1/2 a paddle, a fleece, and some food. The situation cost us 1 hour and we headed out again a little rattled (the conditions were life threatening). After crossing another small lake it was Mark and Sara's turn for a little adventure and they were dumped in an even more dangerous position with no possible way of getting the boat pulled out and portaged beyond the danger zone. Val and I lashed our boat to some trees and headed over to aid in the rescue which included using our 50 ft. tow line and all team members staging along the brambles to ease the Necky Amaruk through the rapids and dangerous brambles. It cost us another hour and we reached the final 10 km ocean section just in time for another Dark Zone.....up with the tent and 10 more hours lost that put us in a position of fighting the clock for the next few days.

Sec. 6: The Epic Trek
We pull in early with our boats and had only expectations of a smart clean TA. We needed a little recovery time to dry out gear, get well fed and plan out the supplies for a 125 km trek through extremely dense forests and wetlands. Since we arrived late with the previous days bad luck we were hours behind where we wanted to be and heading out on this trek early in the morning would have been extremely beneficial, we didn't head out until noon.
We headed out at a warm up pace and within hours were pushing hard again (this team was very fit and with better luck could easily have gotten 3rd) when we reached a high saddle where we could see the next mountain crossing and plan our route. We knew it was hours away and didn't want to sleep again so we agreed to go for it.....a bad idea as we entered the mountains at night into a full on snow storm with zero visibility and dangerous cliffs everywhere. We had to pitch the tent again and wait for light.....it would have made a great film shot for a tent company as we were placed on a little tiny ledge of rock surrounded by steep snowfields and jagged cliff bans, throughout the night we snuggled and made hot soup to survive the cold. In the morning none of us could believe the position we had unwittingly camped in.
That night we veered off course and had to take the long way around to get back on, which was hell. When we were 7 km from being back on course we had to go up a river valley and could see the original canyon where we should have come out. The bush was so thick it took us 12 hours to do the 7 km.....just a little aggravating, and let me mention we were going like animals to get through that stuff and get back on course.
The next 2 days were our best, everything went well, we made great time, at night when Mark was breaking trail I would let him use my AYUP headlamp and he would say "Wow, I gotta get me one of these!" The entire team loved the fact that I had brought the AYUP headlamp kit, whenever we needed light for spotting or even just wanted a lot of light to pick the better of two bushwacks the AYUP lights reigned supreme! And to my surprise I got 12 hours of light out of a 6 hour battery! Although hours 6-12 were not as bright, they were still brighter than my black diamond headlamp.
Because of adversity on the first portion of this trek we were waaay behind and ran out of food and still had 40 km to go. We did a major river crossing and inspected the map. The recommended route was much longer than a mountain option that the team agreed would be a good shortcut due to the absence of food.
The plan was simple, get above the bush on the ridges and drop down onto the Cross at the End of the World. I guess it wasn't meant to be. Horrendous weather dropped in on us and we bailed from the mountains at high speed down a canyon that proved to be truly epic, from here we should have been able to coasteer over to the Cross trailhead.......ummmm no! For 2 days we tried to coasteer but would become hypothermic almost instantly because of the freezing water and cold conditions upon leaving the water. 3 times we tried to go back up and over the mountains but would get cliffed out.....Let me mention this was a brave team that would not just turn around and we would spend hours trying to contour around the cliffs through the thickest jungle/bush you've ever seen. When all seemed lost we finally cracked through to the trail and found some of the remaining personnel who helicoptered us to the hospital and then rushed us to the closing ceremonies for a well earned meal and a bottle of wine.

Those last couple of days were hard and I'm sure we made a few bad decisions because of a lack of good rest and food. I learned that everyone on this team has true strength and internal fortitude and would not quit no matter how hard or how bad the situation had become. Instead of turning on each other we just kept getting stronger as a team and kept going for it, knowing that we had to make it. Team Calleva you are true champions that I'm humbled and honored to have raced with.

P.S. Although out of food we had NUUN, and boy oh boy those were sweet to have. We ended up eating them whole like candies and I'm fairly certain they worked better than ever as the only source of nutrition for 3 days.....we never cramped.

The Patagonia Expedition was the most adventerous course I've done and I will go back. I highly recommend it for any adventure racer seeking a good race.

Druce Finlay
Kayak Lake Mead
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