Holding our early season training camp in the South American summer seemed as enticing as ever. Mary and I were happy to embark on a month long journey that would trade up the short NorCal days for a latitude offering a bit more in the way of T-shirt and shorts wearing and help to motivate us for some serious outdoor adventures and training.
Our fifth winter returning to Chile was prompted by our past experiences in quiet rural towns scattered throughout the long narrow country that offer unique and exciting places to stage mountain bike rides and training. Our local friends are another other reason for us to make Chile our go to winter training grounds as we have gotten to know people here who make our time something that we will never want to give up.
Trans Andes Challenge
The primary racing objective of this season's journey was our participation in the Trans Andes Challenge - a six-day mountain bike stage race that is held in the beautiful Lakes Region of southern Chile. Competing as a team in the mixed open category has become an early season tradition for Mary and me, and once again we dove in pretty deep as we embraced the challenge of this incomparable mountain bike experience.
We arrived in Santiago with precious few days prior to the event and with some ambitious travels still ahead to make it to the start line 800km south in Panguipulli. An unfortunate 24-hour flu/ food poisoning episode complicated things and set us back some days that we really were hoping to use to soften our transition into Chile's hot and dry summer. Going into this monster week on the bike with less sleep and nutrition than we ideally would have had, on top of the demanding airline travel across several time zones plus a lot of driving made the initiation into our trip feel like a bit of a death march. There are few things worse than a tight travel schedule when you are not feeling well! Thankfully our sicknesses took place one after the other so there was always someone able to take a pull. Yeah teamwork!
Despite these somewhat typical travel setbacks the racing went really well! A solid six days, 250 miles with 35,000 feet of climbing through antique forests sprung from the scree covered flank of active volcanoes was pretty spectacular. The stages were long and marked with significant climbing on the order of 6000 feet per day and over 40 or so miles of difficult mountain biking. We rode many miles of gravel roads both exciting and torturous, some unique singletracks and most typically through fantastic networks of logging roads, some of which were remarkably excavated by teams of oxen dragging large trees down the sides of these huge mountains.
The difficulties in the race came from the hours of sheer climbing often with e_x_t_e_n_d_e_d stumble up hike-a-bike sections littered with ankle twisting stones and branches. The technical challenges came from the high speeds, un groomed trails, dust blinding conditions and in general not knowing what potential dangers might lie around the next corner. The Trans Andes seemed to push everyone's limits but just when we really really had enough testing and torture, there were rewards. Tremendous descents with unimaginable scenery, singletracks encased in a green tunnels with all manor of exotic wild flowers pulling at your bars and smacking you in the face. At these moments, the mind would rejuvenate the legs and all pain was somehow forgotten.
Mary and I felt the benefits of having prior experience at multi-day stage racing. Knowing what to expect, how the body reacts to six days in a row of extreme mountain biking and just what to bring along in general to get through all this as comfortably as possible, are all very important. The training we did prior to this year's edition included specifics that we would not focus on for any other discipline of cycling. Over the past years of riding together, we have found numerous dedicated techniques and preparations that go in to being fast as a mixed duo team. Having your mental focus in the right place and riding as a team throughout the race seems to be two of the most important component of a successful mixed duo team. Being willing to work together is everything, especially when the going gets really tough.
There is nothing like the experience both good and bad of racing and suffering alongside someone else. The deep understanding we share when competing together brings utter satisfaction and a rock solid cohesion that always seems to be on the brink of capsizing in a turbulent sea of lactic acid. It is just so easy to vent when there is always someone there to hear you complain about what might just be a normally internalized moment caused by the the strains of racing. But on the bright side there is always someone there to share the great moments with as well. Racing as a successful mixed duo team means respecting, keeping mouths shut at certain times and staying positive even when other things could be said.
We overcame some radical challenges as we rode to six stage victories and the overall win in the mixed open category; We are grateful for this healthy and positive start to our 2012 season! Thanks to our fantastic support team of sponsors, we were able to bring along the right equipment for the job and able to play out this stage race as we had hoped it would go.
Chilean training camp
Over the next two weeks our Chilean training camp entered it's second phase as Mary and I packed up and drove north to Pichilemu, a town known more for surfing than biking. There we rented a simple little bungalow from some friends in a quiet place with an ocean view and wireless internet where we could focus on recovery rides and yoga sessions amidst our official team duties. It was easily a week before either of us was really motivated to cycle in earnest but we filled our time by working on our team program and made sure to enjoy the unique coastal feel of central Chile, grilling fresh local seafoods, surfing, hiking, and exploring.
The surf really eluded us on this trip but it was not for lack of effort. I managed to get in the water almost every day but most often it turned out to be some sort of mix between a heavy schooling and general thrashing. Though not ideal this could turn out to be a blessing as our focus was more aimed towards cycling and Mary and I had more time to re visit some off the map "nook and crannie" trails that we have gotten to know over the past few years. Once again we found ourselves strangely endeared to the miles of dusty seldom used dirt forestry roads linked together by centuries of uncharted horse trails. The trails are there for sure, just thread through the barbed wire fence and follow the trail of manure and you are on it for sure!
Knowing that we plan to return to Chile once again next year helped to take the sting out of leaving this place behind as we flew to the northern hemisphere, back to our preferable staging area in northern California. The spring weather in Sonoma County can mean incredible days to train and incredible days of rain. Looks like we will be getting in a mix of both as we continue to put the final touches on our training and team structure in anticipation of our first World Cup of the season in South Africa!
Looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead!
Mike and Mary