Atacama Extreme 100: Part Two

At pre-race check-in, the race director did a short slide show and showed us the unassuming dune. I thought, “I totally got this. I’ve ran 50k on the beach. I’ll be just fine.” Have you ever found yourself saying that last sentence?

Those are some gloating words. Sometimes we come into a race overconfident. Sometimes we come in overconfident because we are trying to hide how scared we are. Mind over matter, right?

Right.

Keep talking about it and just be about it already.

Have you ever ran on the the beach? If you have, you know that the footing is incredibly uneven.

The terrain in Atacama varies, there’s hard clay, crunchy dirt where your feet sink into the ground like you’re in snow, volcanic sand and the kind of sand I mentioned in my question.

Uphill at a 45-degree angle is a hell of a lot worse than your every day run on the beach. There are no foot holds and nothing to grab onto. It took me a quite a bit of doing to get up the sand dune. For every four steps I took, I only progressed two steps forward. It didn’t feel like I was making any headway. I wasted an incredible amount of energy going about it wrong. At first I tried walking straight up, but it was tiring and it felt like I was hardly moving. Then I watched as two other women ahead of me walked up sideways. You can see my sideways footprints behind me in the picture below.

It proved to be a success and I managed to finally make it up to the top of the mountain. It wasn’t that bad.

Reaching the top of the mountain.

I followed the orange flag markers until they vanished.

I retraced my steps and looked for the flags. Where were the flags?

The sun was rising high above me and it started to get warm. It was getting warmer and the time was slipping away. I only had sips of water left in my hydration pack. Those damn patatas fritas had dried out my mouth and my phone had lost its signal when I reached the top.

I needed to get off this damn mountain and I wasn’t about to go down the way I came up. I had lost so much time already.

The flags disappeared halfway through the mountain. Thankfully, the top was relatively flat with sporadic giant-sized stalagmite looking rocks (like the one pictured below).

By this time, I was on my third try of retracing my steps. On one particular rock, I found myself staring up at a man and his goat. He was wearing a Peruvian poncho and was waving at me. Naturally, I waved back. At last, maybe he could lead me off the mountain. I got closer to the rock and the man and his goat disappeared.

I realized I was in serious trouble.

I was hallucinating.

I thought about the things in my pack. A whistle. Who would hear me? A mirror. I didn’t know the first thing about making a fire, unless I had the aid of Google. A compass. Sometimes it would say my North was my South and vice versa. I didn’t have a map from point A to B, which would have been the one thing I should have carried. Instead, my life was dependent on finding those small orange flags.

The only thing I wanted more than anything was to end this “adventure” and see my children again. Before I left, I told my second daughter, “You know where my life insurance policy is?”

She laughed it off and said, “Mom, why would I need that?”

“Just in case. You never know,” I replied.

I didn’t want that to be my last words. I was not ready for my time to end.

On the fourth retrace, I kept walking forward. The other side was a steep drop off. Was I supposed to go this way?

You have got to be fking kidding me right now. I continued to cuss the race director out in my head. This was nuts. Then again, I was the one who chose to do this. I had signed the waiver with confidence. I had enough races under my belt to finish this desert run. My mind reverted back to the movie Lion King. Simba says, “Danger? I walk on the wild side. I laugh in the face of danger. Hahahaha.”

Yeah, it turns out that I don’t like adventures that may cause death.

I turned around and tilted my head where I saw the last flag. Since the sun was directly over them, it somehow hid them from view, but when I looked at them in a different angle, the flags started to appear…and they led me towards the steep drop off. Again, no footholds.

I was going to die, but at least I wasn’t going to die there.

I made it off the mountain, practically scooting and sliding on the rocks and sand all the way down.

Lesson Learned

You can be prepared with every tool imaginable, but in the end everything can go wrong. Take a deep breath and follow your intuition. You’ll make it off your metaphorical mountain, but it may not be the way you imagined it. It never is.

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Atacama Extreme 100: Part One

Atacama Desert

May 20-21, 2017

Races in the United States typically begin in the early morning hours and other than getting to the race for pre-race check-in, I had little thought on what time the race was starting. It started at 4pm. I was not ready…mentally.

My hydration pack was filled with the list of required items: red flashers, flashlight, reflective tape, mylar blanket, whistle, compass, rain poncho, hat, neck cover, sunglasses, gloves, batteries, blister kit, mirror, and sunscreen.

I had half the list dangling from my pack and the rest stuffed into my windbreaker that was tied around my waist.

The race begins.

It was still in the 70’s, when the race began. Within the next couple of hours, I slipped the windbreaker on and a pair of gloves.

As the sun went down, the highway appeared like we were in the Twilight Zone. Statues of Virgin Mary kept a vigil over memorials that lined the highway, with most of them giving off a faint blue glow from the lights provided by the living.

Sometime in the middle of the night a light snow coated the ground. I followed another runner, a doctor of psychiatry from Mexico bragging about knowing the race director and his girlfriend. I don’t now where she was going with that. Then again things seem more annoying as a race wears on.

All I was thinking was, “Lady, you still have to finish the race!” Were they going to help her buckle up?

I distanced myself from her. I was in no mood for her antics.

I had a very limited grasp on the language and the aid station volunteers didn’t speak English. After pointing at my aid station fair, they would in turn repeat back, “Patatas fritas?”.

“Si, si…patatas fritas,” I replied. They gave me an understanding smile and a snack sized version of Pringles so I could continue on my merry way.

I had been running for more than 12 hours. I made it to the 50 mile checkpoint and felt like there was little else that could deter me from finishing.

Coming up on the 50-mile checkpoint

But of course there are obstacles.

It occurred with a sand dune, which looks small and unseemly, but If you look really close you’ll see a couple of specks…those are people.

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. Thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned for Part Two.