Atacama Blog: Day 2

Old Guys Rule still dominating in second day of race.

Mandrake CEO Stefan Danis blogs about running the Atacama Crossing (Chile) – a 250 km, one-week trek unaided in the Atacama Desert – to raise funds for NABS.

Opportunity Knocks

Laurie Brophy came in last night and he wasn’t last on the course. It was humbling to see him come in. I laid out my mat down for him to help him rest – he sleeps right on the ground to take weight off his backpack. I walked him to the Medical tent, his hands were burnt with numerous bubbles.

And yes, we uncorked champagne in our tent last night and drank warm fizzy liquid. The perfect way to capture a special moment. We invited Ash in, another CDN who is running fast here, to join us; he is an experienced runner who is a close friend of Mehmet Danis who won here last year. It was a good thing we had it as I would have hurled it in the sandy desert today. My shoulders are so sore, I wept in the tent as Louie tried to untie my knots.

As I write this, Laurie and Kent, Rod, Charlotte (an ER nurse and everyone’s soon to be mother here), and Clancy in our tent are not in yet. We are concerned, they have been out for 11 hours in 40 degree heat. I was feverish on the last section; and that was more than 5 hours ago. Not sure how they take the suffering. My friend Bez came in an hour ago and she was very emotional. It was good to hold her; she is here on her own, her travel mate unable to make the trek. She switched to running with crocs out of frustration with the amount of sand getting in her shoes. It was a brutal day for all of us.

I woke up cranky; second night without sleeping. I try to work on my breathing but simply can’t fall asleep. I was out for an hour around 2AM doing stretches outside – temperature is decent at lower altitude (8600ft).

The plan today was to stay back, observe and play D with the strong guys. We started in the middle and within 3 minutes, Ernie had basically parked himself with the fast guys. It was a bit odd but his body language suggested they may still have a guy suffering. We all tapped Andy on the back and wished him well and we threw the plan out the door and intuitively decided to lay down our cards instead and go for broke. We went as hard as we could as long as we could. We ended up in a slot canyon crossing the same river 10 times and running in it for 500 yards. Depth varied from ankle to thigh high. Ernie rolled an ankle and I took over, each time putting my hat in the river to freshen up when crossing. It was a pure adrenaline rush to run in water, cross the river, but for the wet feet with overactive sock movement. Louie could smell opportunity and was going hard. For Louie and I not being the best runners, difficult terrain is a great equalizer. The canyon was spectacular and I ran ahead and would pull my camera out to capture the guys on film.

When we hit the first checkpoint we were greeted as the ‘bad guys rule’ as opposed to the ‘old guys rule’ given that we had a drink and carry cigars. We then ascended a long steep old mining road where all you could do was to walk. We all kept up and disappeared in a 200m long tight tunnel, and were spat out on the other side. There we climbed some more, so steep we were at times moving on all fours. The reward at the top is possibly the best view I’ve had of this type – suitable to climb for 90 minutes. We were perched on a plateau, next to a cliff overlooking the jagged, clay mountains reminiscent of a few hundred Canada’s Wonderland showpiece mountain all intertwined. We also could observe where the other teams were. Nowhere. We ran the ridge for another hour or so and then, sharp left we jumped in a 700 foot 50 degree sand dune and ran downhill. We were leaping gazelles, more airborne than on sand, each foot landing powder soft – running meets powder skiing. 90 minutes of climbing, down-hilled in 90 seconds. I flew down and parked myself halfway and made a video of Louie, himself flying down with a million dollar smile on. Many people weren’t running as it looked intimidating, but if sure footed, it was a priceless moment.

We reached the half way point and then things turned. As exquisite a moment as we had earlier, now the 40 degree oven was frying us. I started melting down, tempers flared over our tactics, and the noise of my argument with Ernie got the attention of the local lamas. Louie had to interject. 2 minutes later we high fived and were back on track. We were in soft beach type sand, with nothing to pull us forward. Playing with the lead is far more challenging than chasing for us. We had to resort to playing imaginary games to challenge ourselves and construct a logical argument to push. At first we would run 3 flags and then walk in the sloppy sand. Within an hour we were walking one flag and running the next, exhausted. Negotiations ran through Louie who is banged up. Our job is to push him and keep him healthy to fight again tomorrow – a delicate balancing act. I got feverish and thanks to various sugar cocktails, I managed. We were baking and passed a guy who was stumbling around haggardly.

We did our best today, just under 7 hours, good enough for mid 20′s. A good team day and lots of lessons learned about how to manage each other. We finished 80 minutes in front of the good guys. We now have to choose how to proceed. Key is to remain healthy and continue to evolve how we work together as a team. We are in various stages of pain and are on a first name basis with the medical crew.

Our camp site is next to the salt flats. 3 gorgeous ponds surround us. No bathing though – they are salt ponds and you float in them. With no way to wash, it would be unbearable. The drums are being played right now meaning someone is coming in. It has now been 11 hours. I will go cheer them in.

FYI – Thanks Mehmet for the email. I will put the strategy to good use on the Salt Flats.
Jason, need you to forward me the Intel we discussed…
Thanks to all the well wishers, it is a real pick me up.

Until tomorrow; rated as the toughest day due to loose sand.

Stefan

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