2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race – Part VI: The Finish

Race Day 07. Monday, February 14th

Juan, the Gaucho that takes care of the ranch we were camped out on at PC13.

I awake to a buzz of activity outside my tent. “The French are starting!” It’s 10am. The British and GearJunkies.com have already left a few hours ago for the 188 kilometers of biking to reach the finish line. Somehow I slept through all of that commotion. The French assemble their bikes and head off to the east toward Pali Aike. “Tony, you go in the truck and follow the French. Scott, you can follow the Croatians in the next truck,” the organizers tell us. Just as the French start their day, fresh from a rest, semi dry, they reach a small creek they have to cross – just deep enough they have to get their feet wet, once again. They become specks and disappear over the next hill.

Don’t stop here. More photos and story after the Jump>>

Raymond Pascal (France) and Stiven Vunic (Croatia) prepare for the last leg of the race, biking 188kms to Pali Aike. Stiven borrowed my sunglasses for the trip.

France’s Vaucluse Adventure Evasions take off for Pali Aike.

The Croatians gather their things and start off toward the creek. The majority of the media left in the last truck, so they go with much less hooplah surrounding them. I look around for anyone assembling in a truck. No one seems to be moving. “Is anyone going to the finish?” I ask to anyone that will listen. Everyone seems to be busy with their own tasks. The last truck leaves, but they are headed back to Punta Arenas, not the end of the race. Looks like, once again and not surprisingly, I’m stuck. But I’m surrounded by good people in a location much more comfortable than any of my previous detentions. I’ve got friends, good food (a welcome reprieve from paté and chocolate), and the ability to be mostly dry.

Dario Rocco checks his gear before their last bike section.

Darija Bostjancic (Croatia, Ad Natura-Karibu) takes her bike from the barn before finishing the race.

Darija Bostjancic

The Croatian team get their feet wet after finally being dry for a night.

Race Day 08. Tuesday, February 15th
The teams that were ‘rescued’ and delivered to PC10 trekked out with the crew. Denmark and the mostly American team, Perdido en el Turbal, were brought to PC13 so they could finish the biking section, albeit a day later than the other teams. In all only six teams made that final journey, down from the fourteen teams that started the race seven days earlier.

The Danes take off towards the finish.

Perdido en el Turbal prepares to finish the race.

The teams are all gone. It’s just us: the volunteers, interns, and what’s left of the media. We have no where to go and nothing to do, except hope and speculate when the race will send vehicles to come pick us up. We stand around the firepit trying to stay warm, trying to think up things to do. My best idea: glove racing. Place rubber gloves on the guylines from the tarp and bet on which glove will reach the ground first. Pure excitement.

The ranch we were camped out on was so eerily beautiful.

Compliments of the workers of PC13

The beautifully twisted trees that line the property

The report from the finish. There are many trucks sitting at the finish with not enough drivers to drive them (many of the drivers are at PC13 with me). The carabineros (the police) show up in their Toyota four door four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Someone from the race asked them to come pick up some of the drivers and take them to Pali Aike so they can return with vehicles to pick everyone up. But word spreads through camp that they are having a huge party at the finish line. “We should have our own party here since not all of us can go to the finish,” people start saying. They’re crazy. I just want to get out of here. I’d rather go to the finish, but it wouldn’t be bad to be back in Punta Arenas. “The police are going to take a couple of us to buy drinks. Do you have any money to donate?” The police came to rescue us, but instead…they bring back alcohol. Someone gets a pig and Peter starts barbecuing.

I wake up in a huge cabin tent by myself, weary eyed and wondering where the rest of the inhabitants are. The previous night a bit of a blur, I stumble back to the shack to find Peter and a few others cleaning up from the festivities. If this wasn’t some ranch on the edge of pure wilderness it would resemble the aftermath of any frat party. I need to clear my head. With the rain holding off British Pete and I go for a hike exploring the forest surrounding our camp. The forests have such a strange beauty with its bent and twisted trees covered in hanging moss. The good news greets us as we return: two trucks have come. A select few of us get to go back to Punta Arenas. We won’t be missing the closing ceremony happening this evening. I hurry to get my tent and bags packed so as not to miss this boat out. The truck takes us to a waiting van and goes back for a second set of lucky travelers. The driver of the van tells us we cannot get in yet and goes to work underneath the van. It later becomes apparent what he was working on. The clutch doesn’t work. We bounce down the road, stalling and grinding the gears all the way back to Punta Arenas.

I would love to come back and just do a project on these trees.

It’s all over
After the closing ceremony, after the party, after all the athletes leave the staff, interns, volunteers, and a few of the media are still left in Punta Arenas. I had planned on spending a few days processing images before my flight back to the US on Sunday. “Scott, would you like to join us on our flight to Antarctica with DAP Antarctica? We can try and change your flight so you can stay a bit longer,” Anne asked me. Man, how do you turn down an offer like that? But I have to. I am teaching at a University and have already missed two weeks because of the race and another because of a snow day. I need to be there. I have to be responsible.

I say my goodbyes and get ready to go to the airport. “Wait, Scott. Don’t go yet. Your flight has been cancelled!” What? There’s not a cloud in the sky? The weather is amazing. How is my flight just cancelled? Not just postponed, but cancelled. The timing was perfect: I’d leave Sunday, arrive Monday, have Tuesday to recover before my class on Wednesday. But with the cancelled flight I would not arrive until partway through my first class, making it very unlikely I could get there in time for any of my classes. Anne says, “Guess this means you get to go to Antarctica with us!” The head of the art department at my university gives me the go ahead. My flight is rescheduled for Friday.

“Be at the office at 6am Wednesday morning. We will leave from there. But it all depends on the weather,” we’re told. My roommate Brad and I show up at six to find only the other American’s waiting. No one in the office knows anything, and anyone that would know something is not in the office. Probably still comfortably asleep, knowing something we apparently don’t: We are not flying to Antarctica today. Again, Thursday morning we Americans show up only to find no one else around, more in the know apparently. Sadly, Friday I have to fly home, so I say goodbye to all my friends from the past month as they start their adventure to touch Antarctica.

My entire time in southern Patagonia has been such an amazing adventure, and I cannot wait to come back next year to cover the 10th Anniversary race. I learned a lot, and I hope to be much more prepared next year, both physically and gear wise (I hope to have my waterproofing much more dialed in – ziplock bags only work so well). I wonder who I will see again at the race?

One thought on “2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race – Part VI: The Finish”

  1. Wow, what an amazing trip! The terrain and weather conditions sounded brutal at many points. Hearing how difficult is was for you, I can only imagine the racers' experience doing the whole course on little sleep.

    The scenery was so diverse and incredibly beautiful throughout the trip. You did a great job capturing the people, race, and country. Thanks for posting your account of the trip.

    It's also awesome you will be there next year. Hopefully the logistics (transportation and food) are better so you can document more!

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