Team Merrell Adventure Addicts start their assault on the wilds of southern Chile today, setting off on the 600km Patagonian Expedition Race at 13h00 SA time.
At the briefing they were given 12 maps, ranging in scale from 1:50 000 to 1:200 000, with the organiser’s idea of ‘best option’ drawn on. It seems micro navigation will be all important as trekking legs on this race never use established trails and teams are expected to bundu bash their way from point to point. The bundu here though, could be covered in snow or ice.
“Indescribable nerves, excitement and trepidation. All mixed into one unknown tundra of feelings.” Said Grant Ross the night before climbing on a bus with his team at midnight to reach the start line this morning.
The first 34km trek will take them from the lighthouse at the entrance of the Magellan Strait west along the coast. They need to be moving pretty sharply as they will see the incoming tide rise by 6.5m on this very exposed coastline, with the predictably unpredictable winds all around them.
Stage 2 will have them climbing on their mountain bikes destined to only get off 272km later, having passed through the Patagonian plains. A Google Maps search for the village at the end of this stage shows this – do a 360˚ lookaround and understand why it is described as ‘open and barren and without a single tree.’ In perfect conditions this could be a flat out fast leg however they are heading west. And will meet the wind, which is currently speeding at 25-35 knots, in a head on collision.
Ten years ago the organisers tried to include a section of this same route but had to cut it out because it was impossible to even cycle downhill. This year, they say, teams have to finish this ride, even in brutal weather and even if it takes many days. If necessary the race structure can be re-arranged after that.
Should all go to plan though, what follows is a 76km trek into forest and then ‘turba’ – a peat bog, which could slow things down significantly.
A bog is a wetland that accumulates deposits of dead plant material—often mosses. Other names for bogs include mire, quagmire, and muskeg, none of which sound appealing to tired bodies carrying heavy packs.
And then another 110km bike route – on legs that have been busy for 382km already – before finally getting to climb into their new drysuits and sit down on the kayaks. Timing is critical here as there is a dark zone enforced from 10pm to 6am. Disappointingly, this is just a short 6km hop across the Sound so they can reach the other side and forge their way up the mountains on foot.
Just three shortish legs trekking and kayaking remain, but they are possibly more remote, more treacherous and have caused more trepidation than all of the others combined, promising snowfields and fjords and glaciers. This will be the part that unveils the Patagonia of people’s dreams and screensavers. And it is fitting that it will take a week of very hard toil to get here. And even more to get away from it.
Merrell plan to go out slow and steady. Under experienced captain Graham Bird, they are known for their tactical decisions. “We will stop and pitch camp if we have to and sit out weather. We’ve been told, and seen over the past few days that the conditions change every few hours. So we will try to be patient through the severe weather and enjoy the great weather.” Hanno Smit will revel in the challenges, if not the cold, nor his drysuit. Together with Grant Ross and Robyn Kime Owen “I think I’m heading into a raw wild experience like no other and I will do my best to take it all in!” – they are all about to go deep inside themselves as they get out into the vastness of the true wilderness out there.
There is, unfortunately, no official race tracking of all teams available to the public so the Merrell team will be carrying a Spot Gen3 Tracker provided by SpotAfrica which is visible here so you can check exactly where they are as a lonely dot on Google. Some imagination will be required to figure out where they are in relation to other teams, or even the race route. But the team Facebook page will be updated as much as possible by their media correspondent.
Facebook: Merrell Adventure Addicts
Website: Merrell Adventure Addicts
Race website: www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com
With thanks always to our main sponsor Merrell, we will continue to get Out There and OUT.Perform. Also to PVM Nutrition, Black Diamond, Ocean Eyewear, Llama Bars, ButtaNutt Spreads, Extreme Lights, SquirtLube and Giant Bicycles. All this gear is going on an epic adventure.