Off road in Chile

Getting stopped by the police in Chile is pretty common, though the style of pullover here is...

November 30, 2007

Getting stopped by the police in Chile is pretty common, though the style of pullover here is different than in the [United] States. No cruisers stashed behind the hedge waiting to chase you down hot pursuit style. In Chile it is all about the random checkpoint. You see (a group of) police standing on the sides of the road, slow down as you enter the gauntlet and either drive right on through or they wave you in for a little chat. It seems totally random whom they decide to pull over but one sure way to increase your odds for selection is to drive fast and pass a city bus on a single lane street while swerving drastically to avoid a cavernous pothole and most importantly all within view of the checkpoint. In our case all papers were in order and we were not doing anything terribly wrong so the pullover was just a minor delay and we were off, still on schedule to make it to our race on time time.

We were excited when we finally found the race venue as this was our first experience racing in Chile and we couldn't wait to check out the scene. Just to the east of the city of Concepcion we came upon a city park set on a hill so steep that it effectively stopped the urban sprawl. It was actually big and steep enough to host a downhill race that same weekend. We found ourselves surrounded by giant trees as we wound our way our way up the steep cobble drive into the center of the park and breathed a sigh of relief as we came upon the familiar scene of the bike race. And a cool scene it was, Race Director Juan Pablo Santiagos (of Santiagos Productions, www.santiagos.cl) and his slim crew of staff put on a great event! Racers, family and fans were in good supply and the media presence brought nothing less than four professional videographers who documented the races. We were pleasantly shocked that these film crews attend all the national level races and develope high quality presentations that are featured on Chilean television.

The day was blazing hot. Luckily the majority of the course was on tight shaded singletrack and provided some shelter from the heat and feeling of being right in the city . The majority of the track was quite fun with challenging singletrack segments linked together by steep fireroad climbing to give equal advantage to skill and fitness. One beef would have to be that the juniors, masters, pro women and men all raced simultaneously–making for some tricky and potentially dangerous passing situations, though repeating phrases like "pista por favor" (track please) or "a tu derecha" (on your right) was good for my Spanish practice.

I battled it out with two of the top Chilean riders for the majority of the eight laps of the race. I momentarily regretted focusing the majority of my recent riding on my base training for next year as the longer/ slower hours have taken a bit away from my race day punch. Still I ended up second and I was happy with my performance since these Chilean guys rode really strong and it was a good tight race for the top three spots. I had the opportunity to pass Mary during our coinciding races and it was fun to watch her for a moment as she was on her way to decimating the slim pro women's field and making lots of masters and juniors question their fitness along the way. Unfortunately she didn't block for me like I was hoping she might.

After the race Mary and I drove north away from the busy city on some incredible dusty back roads that have been hideously ripped into steep hills of eucalyptus and pine. Twenty miles and a full two hours into the trip, we had traversed some insane pitches that left us thinking that there was no way we would be returning the way we had come in our little two wheel drive Camionetta. So we pushed onward making the most of our terror by laughing out loud, a lot, as the wheels spun and grabbed at the rocky pitches, spreading impressive dust plumes on yet another ridiculously steep segment of road that led to another stunningly remote and beautiful black sand beach.

We were on full alert when we saw the "peligroso 100 meters" sign. since we had clearly been in danger tens of times so far and without official confirmation of being so. Then we were sliding / driving down a hill into a valley from where there would clearly be no return. We shared a moment of relief until we came upon the next uphill, savagely steep and full of foot-high mounds that would make it tough to carry the necessary speed to make the summit without sending our heads through the roof. Several attempts resulted in getting hung up in the critical pitch and putting on an impressive smoke show before sliding back down to the valley floor. I like four wheeling a lot and Mary doesn't so when I get nervous (and I was just starting to wonder if we might have to camp here for the night), you can imagine her terror.

Proud to say we did finally make the summit, and even went on to a relaxing evening sampling wine and enjoying a Mary-prepared Chilean sea bass feast at some sweet bungalows right alongside a pristine, lesser known left hand point break. Tackling the hill in reverse was the key, taking advantage of the lower gear while transferring the weight into the front wheel drive tires. Though not the most stellar moment in all of our four wheeling history we got the job done and as a bonus were treated to a unique perspective of the jagged coastline through a thick cloud of dust and rock spray, driving the next few kilometers through the mirrors before we found a place on the tight road to get ourselves going in the right direction again.

In the past few weeks we have really gotten into the groove of the Chilean way of life, both the good and the bad. Staying up past one in the morning and sleeping in until 9:00 am is just so normal here that it has been hard to fight. Though we have managed to avoid the discoteque that opens its doors at 1:30am and has no official closing time. It has been a blessing to have a legit excuse to not party as hard as it is expected here.

We competed in our second race northwest of Santiago in the Vina del Mar area. Another sweet track and solid turnout of athletes including all the top Chileans and even some Hungarian guys who came seeking UCI points. For me it was another battle for the podium that ended with a solid second place finish. For Mary, it was another decisive victory that came from what she described as an "upper level tempo workout" that proved to be more than any of the other women and few of the masters and junior men could match.

The races here have proved to be a real adventure and overall a blast. The fun starts by trying to decipher the Spanish web page for last minute directions and often serious logistical changes. Follow along and see for yourself at www.mtbike.cl. Then comes the treasure hunt of putting the directions to the test, finding our way through CRAZY signless cities, seemingly private gated communities and up unsigned five mile dirt driveways that are more suited to testing off road military vehicles than what we are driving. It has been a bit stressful, crazy, dirty, dusty, beautiful and as when you have to work through some toughness to get to your goal – rewarding, and looking back, oh so much fun!

As our time here winds down we are finding ourselves thinking about extending our stay. It is seeming like a lot of work to change tickets, find car and house rentals and plan our ambitious team logistics for the upcoming season from a foreign land. Though as we look out across the remote hills that rise steeply from the black sand beach that borders the impossibly blue Pacific, it seems like it might all be worth it

Don't ignore your crazy day dreams.

Mike and Mary

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug / Team Kenda/Seven)

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