Chilean Musings

CX Nation

I really do enjoy traveling, although the long flights and time away from home is a little rough on me.  But there are some many parts of the world that are so different.  It is nice to get a little perspective.  All the little cultural differences make for some funny stories and interesting musings.  Some observations I made along, in no particular order, way with some extra pictures not included in the previous posts.

1.  As Americans we are always looking for Wifi.  I’ll be damned if I can’t Instagram or Tweet from this country.  But we were literally in the middle of nowhere.  No wifi, shit, now I have to talk to people.  There was no Wifi in Chile.

2.  For breakfast the hotels always put out this chocolate cereal.  I normally would’t eat chocolate cereal, but I needed so many calories that I ate almost anything.  As I found out on the first day though the milk to go along with the cereal was always warm.  That’s a shock to the palate.  But it just made hot chocolate when you were done instead of chocolate milk.  “I’m Cuckoo for Coco Puffs!”

3.  The coffee in Chile sucks, period.  Sorry guys.  Nescafe does’t cut my buzz, so I was a black tea guy throughout the trip.  I think it has more caffeine.

4.  As I mentioned before…Attention Non Americans:  Make everything you want, but don’t try to make a hamburger.  Just don’t do it….

5.  Chile has several rules when you enter the country if you are from the US.  I understood none of them even though I had been warned.  Pay $160 and it is good for the life of your passport.  Then fill out this card that has the same information as your passport.  Make sure you do it in duplicate.  I didn’t. To the end of the line.  Then, keep the card along with the duplicate for your stay and return with it when you leave.  Fail on that one too.  So try and convince a pregnant “police officer” at the airport that you really want leave the country while she is talking on the phone to her mom.  They had mercy on me.

Chilean Vehicle of Choice

The vehicle of choice in the region we were in – 4-door pickup to handle those crappy roads.  These were everywhere.

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Old school, bottle delivering Coke truck at the airport

Gel Aromatizer

Lost in Translation – “Auto Style Gel Aromatizer” Do you eat these or is it car freshener? Unknown.

DCIM100GOPRO

Drive too fast in any country and this is what happens, especially on a dirt road. BT thought we could all tip this car over.  Not….

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A hotel in Huilo Huilo. Lots of time went into this hotel and it was like The Shining. Didn’t seem like anyone was there.

Plastic Bag Wrap

A new phenomona that was unaware of…wrapping your luggage in plastic. Say what?

DCIM100GOPRO

Walking on the tarmac at Temuco Airport – TSA take note…you don’t need your security system to keep people safe. I could have down the plane if I wanted to.

Last Day

It was Saturday and our last day of racing.  Since we missed one day completely and had a time trial take the place of another day we actually didn’t do two stages…sort of.  The organizers decided to combine Stage 5 and 6 together, minus one climb, and race it on the last day.  I don’t have a stage profile on this one, but I think it was something like 55 miles and 8,000+ feet of climbing.  What a way to end the day.  For the past three days we were lucky to have stayed in one cabin the whole time.  I was sharing a queen bed with my uncle BT, not so lucky for me.  Sleep was at a premium because BT gets up all night long.  Being a light sleeper helps at the fire house where I work, but not on a “relaxing” mountain bike vacation.

We hit some crazy single track at the beginning and there was log jam at a couple fences that we had to go through.  Funny story…so when we get to these fence openings it is one at a time and very slow going.  At the first one this girl from Spain comes fling up on my right and tries to cut in front of 5 os us waiting to get through.  I inch my bike a little forward and don’t budge.  She goes behind me.  At the next opening, she did the same thing.  This time I took my bike, rammed it into hers and told her “No”….and some other nice American words.  I don’t get it…wait your turn, yo!  No one is going to make up ground here.  We rolled through some awesome terrain.  t went up again and again and the wheels slowly fell off my wagon.

Crazy Bridge

One of the many old logging bridges in the race. You had to be careful where you rode because you could get sucked down into the raging river below

I made it to the first feed station and directly after that was the infamous “hiking” portion of the race.  I had heard about this from a buddy of mine who had done this race.  Nothing could have prepared me for this.  Muddy, wet trail that averaged 15% for 45 minutes to an hour.  I lost track of time after a while.  This just shattered me psychologically.  I wanted to throw my bike off a cliff at that point.  But wait here was some single track…onto a road, onto pavement!  Oh glory!  Nope, they turned us off the pavement immediately.  Didn’t want us to have too much fun.  Up and down and up and down.  Simon caught me rollers after Ted had dumped me on the hike.  I was a shell of my original self.  Bridge to engine room…no power.

I sucked a guys wheel for a while and then saw a course marshall.  I asked him how far to water and he said 2km.  Immediately I was at high alert because I am not sure what it is about Chileans, but everything was 2km away.  The grossly misjudged their distances.  We always found that it was 2km, plus a km’s more.  Sure enough the last feed zone was 6 km away.  Now these feed zones were located at strategic portions throughout the stage.  There were always two and they were stocked with water, Gatorade, and all sorts of food products.  There was candy, peanuts, cooked potatoes dipped in straight salt, granola bars, etc….  It was table full of Hepatitis or dysentary waiting to leap up and grabbed you.  It got me on this day.

I again sucked the wheel of two Chilean guys for the last 10 km.  We rode over another suspension bridge near Pucon and then guess what….single track into the finish line.  Done and done.  Finished and finished.  Collapse on the ground, dry heave, cry…the normal routine after a race.  A huge accomplishment I must say.  Will I be back…nope.  I can say that 100%.  I would like to come back and maybe check out the countryside.  I saw a lot of my handlebars and the rear wheel of the guy in front of me.  Not spectacular views.

Bike Cleaning Chilean Style

Bike Cleaning Chilean Style – They use hot steam to get dirt off of bikes. It works ok in that it just blows the dirt particles off the bike.

We hung out for what seemed like hours, got our bikes cleaned, ate some more of the same food; although they had hamburgers for lunch….ah no.  I didn’t fall into that trap.  There are few things around the world that I trust and a hamburger made by an American is one of them.  You foreigners just can’t do that one.  I wasn’t even sure what type of meat it was.  After packing our bikes I started to get a little hungry again, although I was having intermittent stomach cramps.  It looked like dinner was getting started because of this….

Lamb Cooking

Fully skinned lambs on bamboo spears. They pulled the lamb out of a couple sleeping bags and stuck them on these sticks.

Dinner was not to be.  The awards ceremony brought the sun down.  Ravenous mountain bikers started lining up at the mess tent.  The awards went even longer.  The riders got agitated.  A riot was narrowly averted when they finally opened for dinner at 10pm.  By that time I was going into hypoglycemic shock.  I ate as much as I could, but the bug that I picked up started to take over and I had to get to our hotel soon.  “Soon” could not have soon enough.  After messing around with the organizers for an hour, a ride finally showed up and drove us literally around the block.  Ugh….  The hotel had no reservation for us, but luckily they had a cabin for us.  We all laughed because this had been happening throughout the trip.  The driver summed it up for us when he said, “This is Chile.”  I hopped, skipped and jumped into the toilet and from then on no words are needed and I took the paint off the porcelain.  I managed to get my own bed and own room for the first time and passed out.  Three more bathroom trips in the middle of the night and a fever of 103, along with some medication from the good doctor, and I was feeling better by the morning.  Now to begin the long road home…..

Volcano and Horse

Pre-dinner entertainment

Stage Unknown

Well the weather finally cleared and we made our 5th 2 hours trip back down to Conripe for the start of the original Stage 3.  They really wanted us to do this one.  Actually I think they wanted a way to get all the riders and their bikes out of this river valley.  Riding was really the only way.  This was supposed to be the most demanding stage according to the guidebook, but I actually enjoyed it the most out of all of them.  It was just one huge climb out of the river valley and into The Villarrica National Park.

Stage 3 Profile

Finally Stage 3 – 50 miles 8760 feet of climbing. Easy right?

The race started on what the Chileans call a “secondary road”.  It could be called “all-terrain” or “beat the shit out of your car” road.  Either would suffice.  It wasn’t bad on a bike though because you could slip around the massive potholes.  Before the start I got a little scare in that I noticed a bulge in my sidewall of my tubeless tire.  I had another tire, but not with me.  It was back at the hotel.  I was just going to roll the dice on this one.  This was not the worst of my mechanical issues today.  I was near the front at the start and got into a good group for our warm-up 9 km climb out of the valley.  As I was riding along I noticed a rattling on the bike but couldn’t pinpoint the source.  First rest stop and I wiggled stuff around…nothing.  SO I took off up the 14km climb.  It probably averaged 15% the whole way.  About 4km away from the feed zone I realized that my cassette had come loose.  It appeared that the base ring had sheared off and there was now a gap of “one spacer ring”.  The last three gears were just dangling free.  It would only affect me going downhill and there wasn’t any of that in the near future so I left it only.  Lots of water on the way up.  Feed zone was right at the top and I asked a neutral mechanic to take a look.  Three guys jumped all over it.  I just turned my back and hoped for the best.  They supposedly fixed it and I was off on some pretty awesome single track down the mountain.  That turned into some very fast downhill “secondary roads” past all sorts of sights – best seen going at fast speeds.

Monkey Puzzle Tree

The Monkey Puzzle Tree of the Villarrica Volcano National Park

The cassette fix didn’t last long on these rough roads.  It came loose and I was constantly being dropped from group after group because I couldn’t engage the cassette.  I finally made it the main road where we had 7 km to the finish.  I hooked up with this Costa Rican and we “drafted” each other on our mountain bikes due to the 25 mph headwind.  As usual some single track at the end and we were at the finish.  Again we were convinced the organizers purposely put the single track at the end of the day so we would forget how horrible the rest of the day had been.  Smart….

Villarrica Volcano

Our first view after all the storms – oh there is a volcano out there?

Stage 3 or is it 4?

The storm continued throughout the night.  We had moved to our next cabin in Menetue and now had to make the long commute back to the start.  Two plus hours on mostly gravel and potholed roads.  Rough start to a long day.  With the weather still reaping havoc, the race directors delayed a decision till 11am.  So all of us sat around the chow tent and waited and waited and waited.

The crew waiting

Simon, Karen and Sully waiting the storm out in the circus tent

The scene

The tent scene

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Our “daily bread” cafeteria style. Lots of carbs, tomatoes, cucumber, and some sort of meat. Got sick of it after 6 days, but you had to eat it.

Things started to get a little crazy once the DJ started to get it rolling.  You heard right…the DJ.  How many bike races have their own DJ?  This one does and he was pumping some tunes out.  And then the dancing started and craziness followed shortly.  Congo lines, techno music, Euros, Southies (people from South America fyi) and all the others hit the dance floor in cycling shoes.  A guy even did the centipede (it’s an 80’s break dancing move folks) on the tables in the dining hall.  It was on!  Then the sun came out and we were going to race….a time trial.

A time trial on a mountain bike.  It doesn’t get any more senseless than this.  Go really fast on a 20 pound bike with fat tires.  Silly…  But we were going to ride.  It was a 20 km race and something that I have the skills for.  Any time I know there is an end to pain, I usually do pretty well.  That’s why cross is my thing.

So we all hit the course and it was up and down and then we turned around and came back.  After the race it was back two hours to the hotel, but we finally got some of the views that we had come here for.

Stage 3 – Conripe to Menetue

CANCELLED!  That’s right. We showed up at the start and by 11 am the race was cancelled.  Probably a smart choice based on the weather.  River

I washed my bike in this river the day before. Now it is raging and about to crest the banks — yeah rain.

Tent City in Storm

Tent city next to the river

So in case I haven’t already explained, most all of the riders are staying in this mobile city/circus in tents.  There is a chow tent, mobile shower and toilets.  200 of your closest competitors snoring away in the comfort of a rocky field.  BT did us right on this on and we didn’t opt for the tents.  In fact I probably would not have gone if we were in the tents.  Ok, yeah I am a little soft.  The germs, snoring, sicknesses, it would kill me.  We had all that in our cabins.  haha. So BT set up cabins for all of us.  This being Chile, most all of the cabins had some sort of problem, like we didn’t have a reservation.  Minor details….  It always worked out though.  Thanks BT.

Shimano Tent in Storm

Shimano provided neutral service, but only on Shimano parts. If you had SRAM, you were out.

A little wind

Wind

 

 

Stage 2 – Huilo-Huilo to Conripe

Recovering from Day 1 was a major chore.  Usually a stage race will break you in nicely with a shorter stage on Day 1.  This race did just the opposite and our team was a little demoralized – wondering how we would finish this thing if it kept up like this.  Rest did not come easy for me as BT was up all night – doing what I have no idea.  Mumblings of a “dragon with a tiny bladder” was heard throughout the cabin.  Don’t ask….

So we rallied for this….

Stage 2

Stage 2 from the race book – 44 miles, 8,500 feet of climbing

In case you haven’t noticed we are doing a lot of climbing.  It seems like it is either up or down.  Where is all the flat?  Not in Chile.  It had rained all night and was raining at the start.  It wouldn’t stop for days.  We started out on some great single track with a crazy, muddy decent.  This weather limited my Go Pro use, as I didn’t want to mess up the camera in this junk.  We continued riding on mostly single track and logging trails for miles.  I was mostly riding by myself and was alone when I came across a cow.  A cow!…in the middle of nowhere.  It was a momma and it was big, but why was it mooing?  I rolled around the corner and there was her calf and dad.  Ok, no eye contact, just keep rolling because these guys look like they could trample me quite easily.

I eventually caught up to a husband and wife couple from Minnesota, Patty and Al.  We made it to a house (again these things just keep coming up in what appears to be the middle of nowhere).  There was a guy standing there with his German Shepard, cheering us on.  Ok…. Then the walking began.  The mud was so deep we couldn’t ride.  We walked for over 1/2 hour.  After finally making it to a road we bombed down to the second aid station of the day.  There were two on every route, every day.  More on that later.

After the aid station there was a climb, surprisingly.  This just wasn’t any climb though.  Patty has an inclinometer on here Garmin and at one point it read 32%.  32%!!!!  The climb averaged 20%.  Needless to say I didn’t ride most of that.  Adding insult to injury I lost my sunglasses at some point on the climb.  Oh well.

As was becoming a joke with our group there was an awesome singletrack that lead us down to the finish.  The race organizers are pretty smart.  Just when you say to yourself that this is the worst race ever you get some awesome single track at the end of the stage and you change your mind.  Smart….

Finish Day 2

The finish on Stage 2

We finished next to a nice river that was spilling into a lake.  BT was there at the finish.  After a rough night he decided to forego this stage and go direct to the finish.  Probably a  good choice.  That night we all holed up in a cabin down the road about 2 km.  Another joke with us.  Not sure what it is but the locals always said everything was 2 km away.  It never was.  Always longer.  Not sure why they wouldn’t just tell us the real distance.  Maybe they were bad with distances, but 2 km every time?  Our cabin was quaint with a wood burning stove and bunk beds for the boys.  What?!  Bunk beds?  Here comes the Brady Bunch.  My bunk felt like it was going to fall apart or I was going to fall to ground in the middle of the night.  All I could think of is the movie Step Brothers….”there’s so much blood. Whose idea was it to make our beds into bunk beds?”  I put my mattress in the floor.

That night the storm got larger and larger.  I would guess 50 mph winds were blowing and a lot of rain.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  Before we even got to the stage start the storm brought the sewage up through the shower drain.  Yummy way to start the morning.

Stage 1 Trans Andes – Here We Go

Finally we get to ride on our bikes for real down here with the start of Stage 1 of the Trans Andes today.  All I can say is that today was the hardest day on the bike I have ever had…and it continues for 5 more days.  Ugh…. They decided to change the route today because there were too many people signed up.  Usually it starts with a 2 hour boat ride across the lake and then it’s “Go” once the boat hits land.  Well I guess we all couldn’t fit on the boat, so we started from Huilo-Hulio and they added more mileage.  Thanks.  A 27 mile day turned into a 43 mile epic ride.  Oh….and there was 7000 feet of climbing.

Team USA

After the team meeting last night Team USA heads back to cabin – Great team shirts

Route Map

Stage 1 in the Race Bible

Start of Stage 1

The start and finish today

At the start

The boys at the beginning – the calm before the destruction

We started out in cool weather with a forecast of rain which only materialized right at the end of the day…lucky us.  Next 3 days calls for rain and it is pouring right now.  Did I have to go to Chile to get winter?  Remember it is summer down here.  The race started like cross race with 200 participants.  I don’t do many mtb races but I guess they start like this too.  Most people were nice since we knew what we had in front of us…or did we?  We hit some sweet single track right off the start and then some fire roads with 3 inches of sand on it.  I was flying through this stuff while others were struggling and crashing.  Cross skills.

Then the misery started.  That misery was named climbing.  We climbed shale roads, muddy dirty roads, sandy roads…you name we climbed it.  The clouds were low so we had no view but the front wheel on our bikes.  I eventually hooked up with Simon in our group at a feed stop where I consumed cooked potatoes for the first time….dunked in salt.  Oh so good.

Simon and I made our way to the top of this mountain and we descended some amazing single track.  Too bad we couldn’t really enjoy it because we were 5 1/2 hours into riding.  We just wanted to finish.  We did end up getting some cool video footage of riding across this suspension bridge with planks broken out.  Totally sketchy, but not for these guys.  Reminded me of the bridge in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade…”You call him Doctor Jones.”  So 6 hours and 7 minutes later we finished.  Ate tons of food and waited for the others.  We were getting a little concerned about my uncle who finished in 9 hours or so.  I guess he took a wrong turn, but eventually made it back.  Crazy….  Tomorrow is a shorter day…only 35 miles.  This is going to be one crazy race.

 

Day 3 – Getting Ready

CX Nation

Today has been a prepping and otherwise lazy day around here.  News has been spreading that rain is in the forecast.  What!  Noooooooo!  I came all the way here to get out of winter (which has been 70 degrees and sunny in California)  and now it is going to rain – and heavy!  They are calling for over an inch tomorrow, then taper a little for Stage 2 on Tuesday, then back at it on Stage 3 on Wednesday.  Then the forecast shows the temperature dropping to the 40’s.  Wait what?  I was not expecting this and my clothing will not help me here.  Lesson learned…always bring clothing for all conditions.  And while I have a rain jacket it might be the only foul weather gear that I have.  Prepare to suffer even more…..

All 6 of us also made a decision on the water down here.  More specifically if we were are going to drink it or not.  So in a restaurant last night they gave us bottled water.  But the race organizers don’t have bottled water, so….what to do?  BT asked a girl at the hotel nearby if it is ok to drink the water and she said “yes”.  I asked BT if he believed her.  He said, “Of course I do, she is from Germany.”  BT is of German decent and proud of it, so there you go.  I am German in decent but I am not sure what it has to with drinking water.  So we are drinking the water….there you go. Problem solved.  See you in the emergency room.

 

We went for a little ride  to stretch the legs.  Only an hour of so.  I have to say…not really impressed.  I know, I know, quite snobbish.  But the roads are very dusty or loose with volcanic rock, or loose with big rocks.  We started to climb this big hill with loose rocks and it went on forever.  We have been warned about the volcanic rock.  It eats front wheels and crashes people out.

After a great lunch where I had boar’s bacon, I have finally found the  internet “spot” is in the hotel.  There is always one spot that is really hot.  The best reception happens to be on a couch overlooking the forest from 3 stories up.  Perfect…..  Hopefully I will be able to update as the trip continues…and take pictures and video.  Weather will have a play in that.  Till next time…Adios! or as they say here Ciao!  Huh?

Trans Andes Base Camp

Looks like King Kong might be behind these gates – nope just the Trans Andes Challenge

Day 2 – Arrival

CX Nation

And the travels still continue…. After our overnight flight from Miami to Santiago we got through customs and then headed to our next flight to the town of Temuco. After arriving in the tiny airport of Temuco there were about 20 of us that loaded our bikes and bags into an old fish truck and off they went to the base camp for the race. We loaded onto a big bus and began our transport to the start in Huilo-Huilo. More traveling as one hour turned into two turned into three. The last portion was on a dirt road. We were flying up this road and literally forcing other cars into the ditch. Ass we rounded one of the bends a car going the opposite direction was turned over on its roof. No one was hurt luckily.. Uncle Bob wanted to roll the car over with all the guys on the bus….. The rest of us weren’t too excited about that and the bus drivier didn’t stop as we drove by, so we really had no choice…thank God. I can see all sorts of things going wrong with that idea.

We got a great cabin here in Huilo-Huilo which is where we will be for 3 nights. It looks like this resort was at one time really bustling, but now had fallen onto tough times. The two story carpet slide wasn’t even working. Bummer for us. After a great dinner and some good laughs we are finally going to get a well deserved rest.

Huilo-Huilo Hotel

The hotel straight out of the Ewok forest

Hello Chile – Hello Travel

Pacific, Atlantic, Pacific

So the seed for this trip was planted about 4 months ago when my wife and I visited her Uncle and Aunt in Maryland.  They have always been trying to get us to go on one of their crazy adventures.  Honduras over Thanksgiving, Mongolia over Christmas, etc….  Really hard if you have kids, job, family etc…  But they are so generous and we had to oblige one of these days,right?  So Uncle Bob, aka BT, starts chatting up about some crazy mountain bike race in Chile called the Trans Andes.  6 stages, average 40 miles a day and millions of feet of climbing.  Hmmm…I used to stage races on a road bike, but on a mountain bike.  Sounds grueling.  The seed was planted and watered pretty much every day for two months as he sent me email after email trying to convince me to go.  I finally got the green light from my better half (actually it took more convincing from myself than from her) and I started planning.  Two more months and here we are.

 

Day 1 of the Trans Andes Challenge means lots of sitting in airplanes, head nodding on your neighbor in cattle class and more sitting. All the while trying not to get sick. Is it better to have the air on or off? It’s an age old mystery. Blowing the germs away and breathing recycled polluted germ air…or not. I chose air. So I started out in Saint Helena at 2am Pacific time after a whopping 4 hours of restless sleep. I got to SFO at 4 am and the ticket counter wasn’t even open. Now that’s early. So I was first in line and there was some question about my bike bag. I guess LAN, Chile’s national airline, has some 80 inch rule. Mine was 87 inches. It took 20 minutes by the American Airline ticket lady to convince the LAN representative that the bag cinches down and would be ok. She really went to bat for me. I couldn’t imagine doing all this planning and then not being able to go because of 7 inches. It’s really not that much, if you know what I mean.

So I holed up at the B terminal at SFO. Wow, guess I never travel in this terminal. Ausitn Power pod chairs and Napa County food court at our disposal. Way to go SFO. Bye, bye Pacific. Hello Atlantic. Made it to Miami. Why Miami? Well there are 6 of us traveling down to this race and I thought it would be better for me to hook up with my BT because he is the leader of this motley crew. He is also the generous support for me on this whole trip, which was a big motivator for me to go.  Most of the riders are staying in tents, while we are going “bathrobes and slippers” by staying in cabins/hotels throughout the trip.  adventures with them.  So here I am heading to Chile and back to the Pacific on an overnight flight. Oh gooddie….

Bye-Bye SF

Sunrise in SF. The start of a 40 hour day of traveling.

BT in Miami

The master – BT – in Miami trick!