Exposure

Running Blind Through the Valley of Death

Aniceto Almeida rode his bike more than 3,000 miles to the Atacama Crossing desert race without an entry spot. Vladmi Virgilio, a blind ultrarunner, showed up without a guide. Both trusted that it would all work out.

Light
Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto Almeida, who owns a small shop of antiques, rode his bike 3,100 miles over 85 days, from Belem, Brazil, to Atacama, Chile, with hopes of completing the Atacama Crossing, a 155-mile, seven-stage race across sand dunes, raging rivers, and hard-packed earth. He wasn’t registered for the race but felt he had a calling. Vladmi Virgilio, a blind runner from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, was registered but didn’t have a guide. So the two decided to team up. Here, Aniceto, left, gives Vlad a loop of rope to represent their partnership and to connect them during the race.

 

 

Photo: Thiago Diz

Boiling water is provided to prepare breakfast at the first campsite. Racers must carry their own gear, food, and clothing throughout the race. Assistance is limited to water provided at each checkpoint (every six miles) and shelter and medical assistance at each nightly camp location. 

Photo: Thiago Diz

Vlad and Aniceto dance to keep warm at the starting line on the first day. 

Photo: Thiago Diz

The first stage of the course covers all types of terrain. Australian runner Matthew Tompson finds a small opening in a canyon and has to crawl on all fours to get through to the other side.

Photo: Thiago Diz

After almost 23 miles of the first stage, Aniceto and Vlad are still full of confidence and positive thoughts. “The Atacama Crossing, to me, is an event that gives back my dignity as a human being,” says Vlad. “In this race, I am a person like everyone else, with no differences. The desert is magical, and I feel as if my spirit is on a superior dimension.”

Photo: Thiago Diz

During the second stage of the race, runners ford a handful of freezing streams. Here, German racer Angela Zaeh, who would eventually finish as the first overall female runner, makes an icy crossing look easy.

Photo: Thiago Diz

An athlete entering the Valley of Death, a mountainous five-mile stretch of Mars-like features. The terrain blocks the wind, and temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, making this one of the most difficult parts of the course.

Photo: Thiago Diz

A Japanese runner reaches the top of the Valley of Death and encounters an ancient Inca tunnel. Athletes must navigate the nearly mile-long tunnel by headlamp or flashlight.

Photo: Thiago Diz

After the Valley of Death, athletes can see how far they’ve come, from the green vegetation along the river crossings to the uphill terrain of the Valley of Death. The Licancabur volcano dominates the skyline.

Photo: Thiago Diz

After the tunnel crossing, Aniceto and Vlad arrive at a ridge where they are able to absorb the view.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto and Vlad run down a dune at full speed. Vlad took the lead, pulling Aniceto to the bottom. At the end of the dune, Vlad confessed that it had been some time since he last felt the sensation of being so alive, so free.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto and Vlad cross the finish line of stage two.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Camp four, at night, under a full moon.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Competitors, seen from above, leaving camp at the start of stage four.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto and Vlad descend a steep dune. Aniceto carefully narrates every step, making sure Vlad is aware of what is ahead.

Photo: Thiago Diz

At every checkpoint, the athletes receive a cool spray of water. But relief from the heat lasts only 20 seconds before the water evaporates.

Photo: Thiago Diz

A double exposure of an Austrian team walking through the salt flats in stage four. 

Photo: Thiago Diz

Natural sinkholes hold fresh water along the course.

Photo: Thiago Diz

The best spot in the desert. Fire, food, and laughs under a clear full-moon sky.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Vlad and Aniceto are seen starting their climb up a dune that’s more than a mile long. The sand is so soft and the dune so steep that progress is hard-earned. 

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto and Vlad almost at the top of the dreaded dune.

Photo: Thiago Diz

An athlete gets emotional seeing the race’s halfway mark.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto and Vlad leave checkpoint five. Sunset marks the beginning of a long walk through a very cold night.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Aniceto leads Vlad into the cold night on their way to the race’s finish. 

Photo: Thiago Diz

The men arrived at campsite six at 11 p.m., 14 hours after the starting line that morning. They walked 48.5 miles with hardly any food, completing the stage with just water and a small bag of peanuts.

Photo: Thiago Diz

Vlad and Aniceto arrive at the finish line after the final stage, a six-mile sprint to top off the race.

Holiday Subscription Sale! Save 79% and Get a Free Gift!

Subscribe
Pinterest Icon