Coming full circle in Chile

It was May 2001. I was 21 years old, sitting on a plane in Atlanta, about to embark on the first international flight. It was my first international adventure for that matter. The plane was bound for Santiago, Chile, and from there I would travel to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso for a three-month study abroad program. All I had was clothes and my snowboard. What I did not have was any idea of what to expect.

I had traveled all over the US with my family, but before this trip, my only out of country experience had been a few road trips to Montreal from Vermont. I was both nervous and excited, and the whole experience was amazing. I learned a lot, made some great friends, saw some beautiful places, and changed my perspective a little bit. In the past 10 years I have been fortunate enough to visit more countries and have enjoyed every one of them, but I don’t think any trip has had that same kind of impact on me.

In early February, Tinker (Juarez) and I were invited to travel to Chile to compete in the Copa Quaker Cannondale in Nevados de Chillan on March 17. It was late notice, but it only took the two of us about 24 hours to shuffle things around on our schedules. We were going!

I was excited to visit again and get to experience some of the mountain bike culture. We spent a day in Santiago sampling the trails with local ripper and ex-pro downhiller Felipe Vasquez, and Tinker even got some fishing in. From Santiago, we traveled to Chillan and then up to the race site at Nevados de Chillan. That was an additional six hours on a bus, and after the long flight to get there we were a little wrecked, but luckily the hotel had a natural volcanic thermal pool to work the kinks out.

By Saturday afternoon, we were ready to race, though by the time the 4:00 pm start rolled around we may have been ready for a siesta instead! I am not used to starting so late but as soon as the gun went off it was pinned. I got a good start and went in to the first downhill in about fourth or fifth place. I held those positions through the first couple laps and then about halfway through I cut my sidewall on a sharp volcanic rock.

I snowboarded on the same mountain in 2001 and broke my snowboard on a volcanic rock; I think it's a curse! I threw a tube in and got going again, chasing back up to sixth or seventh eventually only to flat again on the last lap. I had to run all the rocky sections and lost a few more spots, eventually finishing ninth or 10th. Some days you just don't have luck on your side, but you have to take those when they come and look forward to the next one.

Tinker rode a consistent race without any problems and ended up seventh or eighth, beating up on guys half his age!

Before flying home, I even had time to visit some old friends in Vina del Mar for an evening, it was great to go back.

Next up: Sea Otter and the Whiskey 50.

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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.

In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.

In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.

When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.

Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.