Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guest Posting From Abe Valdez on TransAndes

Hello All!
As some of you know, I traveled to Chile to participate in the Trans Andes Challenge.  Now that it is complete, I can easily say that it was the hardest endurance event I've ever done....but I finished every damn day!
I am happy with myself that I've completed this difficult race.  But it did have its complications which made it that much more enjoyable. It was no easy feat, but what an adventure!
Chile is very beautiful and reminds me of Northern California along the Sierra Nevada's. Or maybe even northern New Mexico / southern Colorado.
The Trans Andes Challenge had roughly 170 participants.  Most were veterans, pros, or people that have way more experience than me; I was an amateur that just wanted to test myself.  I mostly trained on my spinning bike using Spinnervals DVDs and heart rate as my gauge.  This was not enough!  I repeat…this was NOT enough training.  I should have used heart rate and power as my measure of performance and started 6 months prior to the race.  Lesson learned.  I will be better prepared for my next trip.
The event staff was top notch including Santiago, Daniel, Carmela, Camilla, Dr. Juan (I think) (others?).  There was a cafeteria, tents, showers, latrines, a place to charge your electronics, two bike mechanics and support staff to wash and tune-up your bike, a full-time doctor as well as medicos.  They provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  At dinner time there was a short movie and slideshow of the current day, and they discussed the next day.
The trails were good, but could have been a better.  Most of the uphills were on dirt roads with cars passing you.  This would create enormous amounts of dust that you would breathe in.  It got real annoying real fast.  They were also extremely steep – I walked my bike up some of them on every single day.  Everyone did – it was just too steep to climb on your bike.  I would have preferred more singletrack or technical climbing rather than the constant dirt road (one day did have a little technical uphill).  Once you reached the top, the downhills were dirt roads, singletrack, or a gully   Of course I preferred the singletrack or gulley – it was just a ton of fun!  I really enjoyed the downhill when I wasn't too tired.  I've ridden an endurance race in Costa Rica, and the Trans Andes Challenge blows that one away with regards to downhill – it was just so much better than Costa Rica.
With that brief intro, I’d like to say that the 6 days of the Trans Andes Challenge were brutal (at least for me), so let’s begin...
Day 1: I almost gave was ~90 degrees with no shade, I was dripping sweat like an open spigot and my mouth was dry no matter how much I drank, it was around 50-60% humid.  The uphills were extremely long and steep (6000 feet up), and I couldn't keep my heart rate below 160 beats per minute (my anaerobic threshold) even walking up my bike. I burned 5000 calories that day according to my heart monitor. Needless to say, I was cramping like a son of a bitch and hungry half-way into the race.  I came from California where it was 45 degrees in the middle of the day with no humidity.  I believe Alison ended up getting mild heat stroke - I saw her hooked up to an IV in the Medical tent.
At the second and final aid station (2/3rds into the race) I was feeling so hot and lightheaded that I had to lie down for 15 minutes. I actually asked the officials when I arrived, if they could give me a ride the last 1500 feet up and drop me off.  After some rest and fluid and caloric intake I decided to say screw it...I might not finish Day 2, but I am fucking finishing Day 1.  I walked my bike up the rest of the mountain...most amateur people did.  I would walk up about 100 feet, my heart rate would rocket to 170 bpm, I would sweat profusely and cramp, I would stop and lean on my bike until it dropped below 150 bpm and the cramps stopped, then continue on.  I did this over and over until I got to the top.  It seemed like it would never end and I still had a long technical downhill.  By the way, I love single-track, but I was so tired that I just wanted it to end.
But I climbed Mt Motherfucker (yes, I did name some of the mountains in my head – it personalizes it for me) and finished that damn day - It took me 8 hours and 39 minutes!!!  That is a very, very long time to be on a bike or pushing it – especially in pain.  I was depressed. I was disappointed in myself at how poorly I performed and at the next 5 days I had facing me…taunting me. When I crossed the finish line, I was just so relieved that I didn't have to go any further and sad that I had to do this again the next 5 days...I wasn't happy that I completed the day. How was I going to even complete the next day with my body so exhausted, much less the rest of the week? When I got in, they were just about to serve dinner.  So I decided to eat at the hotel, shower, and go to bed.
Day 2: I stayed at a hotel, so no one told me they changed the start time from 9:00 to 9:30.  They moved it up to avoid the heat. I showed up at 9:20 with no one there but the crew packing up the tents, cafeteria, and the rest of the camp. So I started the race...alone. It is funny and sad at the same time. :) I would end up passing some people on the course, but for the most of the race, I was by myself on the mountain and at the aid stations.  My official time was 7 Hours and 58 minutes (though I started 20 minutes after everyone else).
I believe this day the temperature dropped to around 80 degrees.  My body was exhausted from the day before and I could tell on the very first uphill that this was going to be a very long day. I believe I named that first mountain Mt Asshole as it tried to get the better of me.  However, I was not going to repeat the first day, so I had to change my strategy.  I was going to keep my heart rate below 160.  I didn't care how slow I went, I did not want to cramp and I was going to eat and drink as much as I could at the aid stations. Unfortunately, I ate too many bananas at the second aid station and had to puke some up as they made my stomach feel terrible. What is funny is that I couldn't even look at bananas for the rest of the event as the sight would make me gag.  That day took me forever, but I finished the day with no cramping and in better spirits. I made it into camp a half hour before dinner.  I figured out how to keep me from cramping…do not let my heart rate cross 160 bpm.  Lesson learned.
If I recall, on Day 2 after I crossed the finish line, I still had another 5 or 6 miles to the camp.  That actually pissed me off.  After I cross a finish line, I want to eat and shower.  It was not something that I expected, though I’m sure that they mentioned it to me the day before.
Day 3: The human body is amazing! I kept the same strategy as before, and I could feel my body adjusting. I can now climb hills on my bike at a much faster pace that I could not climb before. I was feeling more confident because I could see me actually finishing the race where just a few days before I was questioning why I was even here away from my wife and kids that I love so much. Confidence! Let me just say that the first five days are all equally brutal, but at least this day I was climbing in the shade.
At the beginning there was a long stretch that was flat - I used this to draft behind Erik (he is from New Zealand).  It was great because his pace was comfortable for me.  I did this numerous times throughout the race and I hope he wasn't annoyed by it!
Once we get to the top of the mountain, we were treated to some excellent singletrack that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would like to say that most people here will beat me up the hills, but there aren't many that can beat me down!  Of course they gained hours on me on the uphill where I would gain 5 minutes on the downhill.  But I loved those 5 minutes, damn it!  J
As I was riding along, about 5 miles before the 2nd aid station, there was a small stream about 10-12 feet wide with wooden beams that you would use to cross it (each beam was about 15 inches across). The beams have a gap of about a foot between them and the beams are about 5 feet above the water. I decided to ride the middle one across the river. Well...I lost my problem, I would use the next beam over to my right to put my foot on. However, while looking at it, I unknowingly steered my bike to the right, too!  My front tire fell between the two beams before I could put my foot down and…WHAM!  I face planted into the middle beam.  I was tangled in my bike and laying on the middle and right beams.  Fuck that hurt!
As soon as it happened, I froze where I lay and did a body check (I do this every time I wreck).  Legs are good, pelvis is fine, stomach area seems OK, chest doesn't hurt, no cracked ribs, head, neck and back feel OK  right bicep hurts, and my lip and chin hurt.  A friend named Liberty grabbed my bike off of me and I got up and walked to the other side of the stream.  I ended up smashing my face and right bicep, and scraping my left arm and knee.  I cut my bottom lip wide open on the inside with my teeth. That startled me.  I walked down to the stream and rinsed the blood off of my face and arms.
Liberty asked if I was all right.  I said I felt OK   He said "That’s good…I've got to take a picture of that lip!!!"  He took a picture. J I also remember Alison and Michele riding up and looking at me.  Alison says - "Do you know how bad ass you look right now?"  Or something like that.  That was funny!
I rode to the next aid station to see the medicos.  When I arrived, there was no medical staff, just people keeping the food and drinks refreshed.  No problem...I ended up finishing the next 15 miles with a bloody face, arm, and leg.  I got to the finish line in 6 hours and 37 minutes.
When I arrived at the finish line and saw the doctor (there is a full time doctor at the camp), I was told that I would need stitches on the inside my mouth, but he couldn't do it because he didn't have the proper equipment. So a girl named Camilla drove me to the next town (Pucon) 45 minutes away with a hospital. The doctor there was very cautious, and did a decent job. I asked her for some besos (kisses) and made some kissing gestures, but she laughed and declined.  That was funny!
When I got back to camp it was 8:00 and I had not gotten to eat lunch. The doctor told me not to eat lunch before I got stitches for fear of infection (on these races you have to eat...calories are paramount). Another meal missed. I ate dinner.
I was pretty beat up. The two doctors advised me not to go on, but screw that! I'm half way through this damn thing. Three stitches, a bruised bicep, and a lack of calories aren't stopping me at this point!
Day 4: I continue on in pain. My lip and bicep hurt and I was so body exhausted. Most amateur people were. But this was a great day, though!  My legs felt stronger and my heart never crossed 160. If I saw it creeping up, I would slow down. But it was not an easy day…it was still brutal, but I could see the end.
Some ibuprofen helped to rid the pain. I was surprised that I was passing people I normally don't meet on the trail...they finished way ahead of me in days passed. This was very encouraging!
On this day, about half way through, I was past the big uphill and I was making great time on the downhill. There was a lake we came to so I jumped in.  It was so refreshing and warm!!! When I got back on my bike, however, I noticed that my rear derailleur was bent and not working right. I must have damaged it on the single-track.
After the lake, I continued down the awesome single-track while baby-ing my derailleur so as not to damage it anymore. It was working. At the end of the single-track we hit more uphill. I made sure to keep it in the right gear, but about half a mile up, the whole derailleur broke off!  No one carries a spare, including me.
Damn it! I was doing so well...and passing more people! I started to disassemble my chain to take off the derailleur so I could at least push my bike when this fellow from Britain, named Bernie, comes along. His backpack is enormous! I explained to him my situation and he told me he has a spare derailleur.  I was shocked!  Sure enough, he pulls it out and gives it too me as long as I promised to replace it. I said 'deal.'  By the way, I could have made my bike into a single speed, except it didn't cross my mind at the time.
Bernie takes off, and 20 minutes later I have it installed and am on my way! What luck. I still can't believe it! If I didn't pass him 10 min earlier, I would have missed the opportunity!
I am riding along, about 2 miles from the finish line, when I see a group of people huddling around a bike. As I drive up, I notice that it is Bernie and some other people. I stop. I thought he was helping someone else when he tells me that his derailleur broke off like mine. Holy crap! What are the chances? And I took his spare! I felt terrible. I offered to give back his, but he said that he and the guy helping him were converting his bike into to a single speed. Ten minutes later we were done. We are back on the trail, though there are three of us pushing Bernie on the flats and uphill.  Otherwise, he would be much slower with his single speed bike. Thirty minutes later we cross the finish line I finished Day 4 in 7 hours and 54 minutes.  Bernie is awesome and very generous - I’m very happy we have crossed paths.
What a day! J
Day 5 and 6: These were my best days! I started each day extremely tired, but I had my best times all week! Day 5 I chugged along with no incidents and finished with a smile on my face. :)  I finished Day 5 in 6 hours and 54 minutes.
On Day 6, I got stung by a bee.  I also wrecked, pulling all my old scabs off from Day 3 and creating some new injuries.  But no big deal, it was the last day!!!!! I was also treated to some Peru like single track that I ripped through.  It was so fun!  I also passed people that I have never seen before on the trail.  It was awesome!  Day 6 took me 2 hours and 39 minutes.  That was a great day!!!
When I crossed the finish line on day six, it just felt sooo good!  I didn't let that first day, or the bad wreck I had on Day 3 beat me.  Overall, it is an event I will never forget.  I had a great time and loved every minute of it.  I would do it again in an instant, though next time I will be in a little better shape.  The people I met were so awesome - we all had similar views.  We love mountain biking and travelling.  Plus we all want to finish this race to see if we can overcome this huge challenge.  I will keep in contact with some of the people and hope to see them in the future at another race.  Bernie, Liberty, Hans, Alasdair, Carlos, Gustavo, Joana, Javier, Greg, Erik, Michele, and Alison are some of those people.  Hans is in a league of his own when he is riding - I never saw him on the trail (57 years old and a bad ass!).  The rest of us were crossing paths on the trail, so I was fortunate enough to meet and talk with them.
Every amateur here is just amazed that they were able to finish this race…at least I was!  I feet a great sense of accomplishment that I finished – I completed it on my own and mentally pushed myself even though my body didn't want to go on.  The pros are prepared...they do nothing else but train, train, and train for it, then move on to the next competition.
The last night there was an awards ceremony with some great food.  I, unfortunately, was staying in a hotel and missed the kick-ass party afterwards.  Lesson learned!  Next time I will stay for the whole event.
The day after the race four of us (Bernie, Alasdair, Hans, and I) did a pub crawl.  We must have hit about 5-6 bars and got pretty wasted.  At least I did.  That was fun and something I will always remember.  I should have bought a mug or shot glass to keep – next time.
Overall, I had a great time on the trip, met some great people, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I will never forget this adventure and look forward to the next one.  I'm very luck that I have a wife and family that let me do these kinds of things...I want them to know that I am extremely grateful and thankful, and that I love them!!!


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