My head is still spinning. My feet are damaged but on the mend. To say the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race was a crazy time would understate the experience. After almost seven straight days of racing--and hundreds of miles traveled on bike, foot, and kayak--my team completed the race course on the island of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and managed to grab a fourth place finish.
Team GearJunkie.com traveled together the entire race. We traded jokes and encouragement. We shared food and drafted in line on our bikes. We huddled together for warmth at night.
In adventure racing, the clock never stops. You set out from the start line geared up and ready for long days--and even longer nights--of perpetual motion. This year in Patagonia, we slept just one hour the first night of the race, surrendering at 3 a.m. on the floor of an abandoned farm shack. The alarm on my watch pierced the dark before dawn, a shrill beep that got us up and hiking again toward a checkpoint still miles south through arid terrain.
We ate "breakfast" on the move, Clif Bars and cashews washed down with electrolyte drinks. This was the first sustenance on a typical 6,000- or 7,000-calorie day. When done, we ran in a line as the sun rose, jumping cracks in the dirt, the expanse of Tierra del Fuego falling forever ahead.
In an adventure race, you go on like this for days. Your mind shifts, your focus narrows. Things get basic and primal. It's you and the land and the task ahead. Eat. Drink. Bike. Trek. Paddle. Navigate. And repeat.
Gear keeps you alive. A headlamp illuminates a cliff edge in the night. Wool base layers are your second skin, wearable for days, warm even when wet. Your shell jacket--a thin sheen, waterproof and breathable--saves you when it sleets and snows.
Gear makes you fast. In an adventure race, you count every ounce. You balance survival with speed. For example, a two-pound tent that flaps in the wind, a tiny sleeping bag barely warm enough for the night, and running shoes--not boots--to keep you moving for hours and days on end.
Trekking poles save your knees. Tiny pills purify water. You haul your food between distant resupply drops, all calories counted, your bars, granola, gels, chocolate, cookies, and nuts packaged and divvied for days.
You follow a topo map, your sole guide. GPS is not allowed. You trust a compass needle to direct your course through harsh, deep wilderness. In Patagonia, pushing far south in the Darwin Mountain Range, we went for days without a sign of other humans.
But the maps directed us ever southward, toward the tip of the continent. We raced on, straining to catch a team up ahead. The end of the Earth was beyond, and the finish line somewhere, too.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com, where you can find additional reports and photos from the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race.
Photographs by T.C. Worley