Atacama Blog: Day 3

The racers struggle through heat, exhaustion and blisters, but the 'killer' stage is yet to come.

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.

Learning what works as a team

On the second day, our tent mates came in after 12 hours on the course. Rod threw his walking poles out, Charlotte badly banged up her knee, Clancy decided to stay with her to help her in and suffered equally from the different pace, and Kent separated from Rod with a severe waist problem. Lorrie Brophy who learnt to run in his 60s came in just before them. He was happy with finishing the day as he had been pulled out the year before on the second Atacama day. Whereas it makes you feel like you are helping when supporting the others, Lorrie prefers to have no help.

This morning started as usual, grumpy. The only difference was that I needed to sanitize my blisters, cut them, squeeze, and tape them. These decisions involve the whole tent, whoever seems most persuasive on the technique for the blisters is what I went with – Kent in this case who spoke with authority.

The race started in a crusty muddy field with tall grass, most footplants blind, running through the brush. I’m sure-footed and wanted to go fast. Louie further damaged his ankles and he was visibly in pain. Before checkpoint one, I made the call that we had pushed him enough and told him to take over. Put a new goose in front and honk from behind. All day, until we personally break down. Ernie needs to run fast, he is unable to jog. For me, I’m not a fast walker and I don’t handle the heat well. I thought only he knew the pace he could handle and I was fearful to break him; have him decide where we end up as a team today and trust he will give it his everything, which of course he did. I learnt in the Gobi that you always have a little more gas in the tank than you know you have; today we chose not to test it. It worked, we finished first amongst teams, but did it at a pace foreign to Ernie and I. The day was brutal overall. We were out for 7 hours in searing heat. I dry heaved twice baking in the sun; longer than I can handle. I did my business and caught up to the guys. The last 2 stages were uphill in red slate rocks with sand around them. Sand is loose and moving fast is nearly impossible unless you have been serving in Afghanistan.

As Mehmet Danis, Atacama previous winner, said to me, the finish line is the gravity you need. We saw it in the distance, but had to go down 3 steep soft sandy canyons, each time putting a dagger in. We pulled or pushed Louie up each hill – working as a team – he in so much pain he had nothing more to give. Being on the course longer than expected introduced other issues we have to learn from; water rationing and food intake. We all ran out thinking we would have been done in 6 hours as opposed to 7.

We debriefed after the race and the day occurred completely differently to the 3 of us. In the heat of exhaustion, it gets confusing out there. Good news is we are now very clear on how we want to proceed. My secret plan is to make Ernie suffer and take some of Louie’s gear and put it in his back pack to equalize us as Ernie is the strongest – I need to slow him down for our collective benefit.

Tomorrow we sprint out to the infamous Salt Flats – a coral sharp crusty surface which brakes under the impact of your weight; ankle or knee deep in salt water of course. This is rated the ‘killer’ stage. At least we know!

We believe we have about a 2 hour lead on the good guys. Now it’s up to us to bring it home. We do not have results here so these are loose estimates. If anyone cares to send in the time difference, it would help us on the long double marathon day where we will want to mark them. Winning the stage, we went through mandatory testing. This involves going through a detailed inspection of your gear to ensure you are carrying all the necessary equipment and are therefore safe and unaided. When the race was in its earlier days; people would chuck third stuff in the desert to lighten up the load or have it carried by a ‘mule’ at the back.

Good evening to everyone and thanks for the emails. Emotions are amplified here. People reading well wishes from home break down at the cyber station.

Stefan

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