Chile, February 12, 2008
When our planned flight back to Boston departed from Santiago, Mary and I were checking our tire pressure, filling water bottles and getting ready to go out on another epic mountain bike exploration mission here in Pichilemu. Not sure how it happened but once again we took advantage of really not living anywhere and decided to just stay where we were. In this case to live and dedicate our winter training out of this dusty little coastal town in Chile.
This place just kind of lured us in as we were based here competing in some late season mountain bike races during the quiet time from November through December. At that time, we enjoyed a flowery desert spring, quiet beachfront living and out of the way styles of town. Now in late January-February, it is mid summer for the Southern hemisphere and a hectic carnival feel has taken overalthough we still find ourselves loving much of what we have discovered. We are definitely influenced by the long lines at the grocery and the increased traffic on the single tar road linking town to the real worldbut it seems a small price to pay for how sweet it is here.
The vast rolling hills where we train remain mostly unchanged, big open dusty and completely remote. The kind of place that's so quiet you could/can rail through a blind left hand corner in the inside lane rather than touch the brakes, though you know you really shouldn't!! Also the kind of place where you can look up to spot the peak of the massive climb from your vantage point at the very bottom, and you just have to take a look at what you are getting into, though you know you really shouldn't.
Mary and I are certainly among the first mountain bikers to ride many of the trails that we have been frequenting. With a good bit of trail work and countless hours of exploration we have linked miles and miles of quality forest service terrain that has seemingly laid dormant, maintained only by cows, horses and the few farmers that scratch a living out of the dusty soil. Once you learn and commit to the proper duck and roll under the rusted barbed wire and don't mind a few extra repetitions of lifting the bike over a few gates, this place gives up some remarkable rides.
Our Spanish skills are improving slowly though when you don't see anyone on your six hour bike ride there is not much time to practice and with that much time alone you almost don't notice that you lack even the basic skills for communication. At this point I have learned enough to purchase cold water, pass on the left and and get close to what I want for deli meat although anything out of context is left up to Mary to make sense of. Luckily the educational system in Chile has seemingly prepared many of the Chileans for an influx of crazy English speaking gringos staying in their country for months on end.
An important part of our transition from racing for a month in Chile to being here for the majority of our winter training was buying a car. And although a good used one is pretty hard to come by in Chile, we managed to do all right. Much to my joy we ended up with a sort of a 4x4 Subaru Impreza. Of course I have fantasies of putting in hard miles on the beach and challenging gnarly off road situations, but actually you pretty much need a 4x4 just get to your mailbox out here in the country. To experience the quiet places and get to some of the more remote surf breaks you definitely need something at least as off road worthy as our Subaru though in reality you might be better served with a helicopter.
We have made several exciting trips into Santiago that have confirmed earlier reports that it is a complex booming metropolis sweltering and confined under a perpetual umbrella of smog. However thanks to our savvy Santiaguino friends we have found ways to escape the rat race and be hiking and riding in clear mountain air just moments from the city's oppressive grip. We have also come to realize that the city itself has some worthy attributes that can be found nowhere else in Chile. Night in Santiago is quite possibly when the city is at its best - when food and drink discounts abound and a comfortable party atmosphere threatens to keep even the most dedicated professionals up until dawn.
Mary and I are currently taking full advantage of the long summer days here putting in some big hours on the bike and cross training in the surf on our days with less specific workout structure. It seems a bit strange to us to be training out of a town that really has no bike culture or even any visible sign of other competitive bikers. Still we are comfortable trusting our instincts that this is a good place for us to be, to live and train in our unique way, as we need to in order to come into the special form that it will take to realize our seasonal goals
Being so far from our family friends and support network has given us a new perspective on how important all that type of stuff really is. Although we travel a lot, Chile really feels somehow farther away from everything we know. It also makes Mary and I realize how lucky we are to be in our unique situation traveling and working together towards a similar goal.
Even as we slip further into self reliance and likely further away from the conventional North American approaches to training and living, we have found more discipline and confidence in our own approach and believe we are capable of arriving at that special place that will allow us to realize our aspirations and come into our best form to date.
Mary and I are excited to see how our off season training regimen will apply to the races. Although we are still looking forward to a few more weeks here exploring this unique place and experiencing a culture that continually shocks us with stark differences and challenges our own more rigid, though seemingly still pliable, set of values. We will clearly come off this Chilean experience having learned more than we had anticipated about what is really important in our lives.
Wishing you all healthy and happy new year!
Mike and Mary
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles
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MTB "super-couple", Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick live together, train together, travel together and race together. They also share this diary on Cyclingnews.
Follow their adventures as they race the World Cup cross country circuit throughout 2009. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.