It was all there for us once again just as we remembered it and just as we had tried to forget; no less fantastic and no less demanding. Now in it's summer finest - alarmingly hot, dusty, rugged, raw and beautiful - the ancient mountains and lakes that make up the "Lakes Region" of Patagonia, Chile host relatively few people, leaving the area less spoiled than most we are privileged to compete in.
The fifth running of the Trans Andes Challenge (TAC) gave all in attendance the chance to ride seldom used roads, singletrack and even a few first descents deep in the belly of this incredibly rich natural region. It was also a chance for Mary and I to compete side by side for six days, 21 hours, 250 miles & 31,000 feet of climbing over unfamiliar terrain, facing the challenge as a team.
The TAC is a six-day mountain bike stage race that requires a combination of fitness and strategies, as well as a whole lot more to maximize your chances for success. There are times to sit patiently in a dusty paceline or make alliances with other riders to best manage the effort while remaining vigilant and always ready to move to the front when you get an inkling that it might be time to enter into a clear section of singletrack.
Our past years in attendance gave us clear insight of how to prepare for what was our fourth TAC. We diversified our training prior to the event to include a wide variety of cardio and strength-building exercise rather than just a lot of riding. The results seemed to be pretty straightforward as both Mary and I felt better able to manage the specific stresses of this style of racing, allowing us to have our best experience to date.
Knowing what to bring to the event as far as bike build, spare equipment and comfort items to get the job done right is absolutely critical. What to pack each day is of equal importance and varies according to stage specifics. There are of course essentials that you can't do without but it is critical to be a minimalist and keep it light and fast if you really want to handle business with the best time.
Mary and I focused on working together this year and sharing the common goal of going as fast as possible as a team was definitely part of the fun. We rode mostly without talking, communicating through body language and quiet verbal cues to dictate the pace and strategy. Each day our skills sharpened and we felt more and more lethal as a team.
The event staged out of some amazing thermal complexes that allowed riders to soak in pools and incredible glacial rivers but for Mary and me, taking care of the bikes and bodies usually took up the remaining hours of the afternoon. With any spare time, Mary and I would opt for a leg soak in one of the always local rivers or get caught up talking to one or more of the exceptional people who were in attendance as staff or racer. Evening podium ceremonies were fun and festive as tired riders shared stories of the day and sipped amazing Chilean wine and local craft brewed beers before another night of short sleep.
The physical requirements aside, Mary and I feel we've built a mental callus to the demands of multi-day events. Knowing that we can accomplish and recover from consecutive long hard efforts and still tolerate one another at the end of the day has given us confidence to try more of the same...
This race offered up some amazingly scenic, fast and fun filled miles. If you like to ride your mountain bike and are up for an incredible adventure (solo or with a good friend), a race like this is an experience not to miss!
Salud and good rides,
Mike and Mary
Team KENDA - Seven - Stan's NoTubes