“It was #$%^ed up” was the first words by Riana when she came home. It was around 2 am the morning after she finished second in her age group at the 2018 Ultra Fiord 50 km event. “This is more than just a trail run, its pure survival out there”. We are in Patagonia where the forests are dense, the wind wilder and alpine conditions start at 600 m above sea level.
In her mind she pleaded with me not to do my event two days later, but never voiced it. I went on to do 55 km of the 70 km event and endured extreme physical exhaustion, drugged-like hallucinations of snake-type creatures and lurking Lord of the Ring-type trees and of course extreme cold, lashing wind and blinding snow atop some really hard going mountain passes.
Now, after being home for a couple of weeks, I think the immensity of the race, the welcoming nature of the Chilean people and the enormous task of putting an event like this together is probably sinking in. Although both Riana and I need some time to reflect on Patagonia and Ultra Fiord 2018, I look back at those silver lined mountains, the immense beauty of the thick forests, the continuous slogging through the mud and the eery stillness while enduring the night, with a huge sense of achievement. To be able to be part of a race that captivates the human spirit in its rawest form, is something that is hard to explain. A race that epitomises our very existence on this beautiful planet.
This race is not a trail run, it was never meant to be. Patagonia pleads with you in its forests, on its mountain passes and through its mud that clings to your being. It pleads – “share me”. But that’s hard. Its hard to share the immensity of the place with anyone that’s not been there. Hard to share the wind howling in my ears as the snow drift slams into my face. My wooden hands unsure if they are still grasping my last trekking pole after the first broke some way down – somewhere in the mud. The mud. Hard to share the mud. Sinking in to my waist, wondering if my shoes are still on my feet. What to do if a shoe stays behind? Mud that filled my shoes, my socks, my existence. Unending, relentless mud.
Hard to share the feeling that there is no escape in the race. Once you start, you have to endure to the end. Stay mentally and physically strong. On ascending to El Passo (our highest pass) the wind picked up and with it came the snow. Waves of freezing snow drift that whitened the vertical rock-strewn gully. My headlight pierced the damp dark and I forced my fatigued body up towards the probing, bobbing cocoons of headlights far above. Just get up and get down – up and down – up and down I kept repeating to myself. It was late at night, with a very long way to go still. And on the other side of the mountain pass the snow had turned into ice. My second and last trekking pole snapped and I had to slide much of the way down. Slide walk fall, repeat.
At last I reached the snow line and went straight back into the mud. Trees huddled in knee deep mud lined the track. My headlight catches reflections of the route beacons, or is it other runners? Hallucinations set in and I jump when the roots start to move. Sliding from tree to tree without my poles – grasping at branches, at leaves, at anything. How do I share that feeling of being utterly alone, cold and fatigued in some of the remotest parts of the planet. My emotions run wild, I run walk stop sit rest and walk again. Or did I just sleep while sitting? Sharing the moments of this race, the immensity of it all is hard. But needs to be uttered. Patagonia has an inhospitable beauty that needs to be shared.
At last seeing the glowing, floating ball of light on the road. The tent at 55 km. Extreme relief overwhelms me and I know that the only way of sharing this race, the only way of sharing Patagonia is to be grateful for her. Grateful that a place of such beauty and surreal wilderness still exist on our planet. Grateful that I have been able to run, slide and survive Patagonia.