Eco-Challenge, Argentina 1999

Eco-Challenge, Borneo 2000

2000 Raid Gauloises

Adrenalin Rush 2000


 

PHARMANEX STRAY DOGS

Mark E. Macy, 

3900 E. Mexico Ave., Suite 1000, Denver, CO 80210

Tel. 303.691.3737, Fax 303.757.5106

E-Mail: macy@sprintmail.com 

January 5, 2000

 

1999 ECO-CHALLENGE

PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA

 

Following is an account of Team Pharmanex Stray Dogs in the 1999 Eco-Challenge. Members of the team included Mark Macy, Marshall Ulrich and Louise Cooper-Lovelace, ultra runners turned adventure racers, and Isaac Wilson, one of the country’s most successful full time adventure racers. The course traveled through the legendary Patagonia region of Argentina. It is our hope that this account will provide you with some understanding of the course, the race and most of all, the beauty and wildness of the environment in which it occurred. 

¨       Day one began, with the dreams of grandeur, anticipation and excitement experienced at the beginning of any extended journey. On a beautiful sunny day, on a crystal clear lake deep in the heart of Patagonia, one member of each of the 55 teams paddled two lake kayaks 1/2 mile off shore. When the gun sounded, the remaining three team members swam the 45 degree water to the awaiting boats and began a 96 kilometer paddle across the initially calm, and later violent arctic cold water. Having concluded the paddle in the dark, at times hypothermic, each team was then required to swim across Class II whitewater. The awaiting shore was only a stone’s throw away, but as distant as the European shore of the English Channel. One member of the Dogs emerged hypothermic, unable to speak or think in the cold, dark Patagonian night. Pharmanex Stray Dogs was off to a great start, in the top 14 of the greatest field of adventure racers ever to compete in the same race. 

¨       Having recovered, day two began at midnight with a peaceful ride on magnificent Criollo horses over   the pampas and hillsides for which Patagonia is renowned. These athletic creatures, seemingly excited to be part of the journey, pranced and galloped through the sleepless night. The ride emerged in the early afternoon, in a river valley leading to the Patagonia mountains. Team Stray Dogs began the ensuing mountain trek fast and efficiently. Over the course of the remainder of day two and through the cool, wet night which followed, we summitted a high ridge, only to realize that we had made a navigational error that took us up the wrong valley and hence, the wrong summit. From high atop the ridge, we watched other teams climb a distant ridge on the intended course. 

¨       On day three, we continued into the most extraordinary and beautiful mountains, I, personally, have ever had the privilege to travel through. The mountains of Patagonia are high, pointed, jagged, and protected at the base by the thickest slide alder and bamboo imaginable. As we began this section of the course, we were advised that a snowstorm was quickly approaching. It was strongly recommended that all teams bivouac at the nearest PC (passport control) and wait out the inevitable storm. In an effort to rejoin the fray with the contending teams, Stray Dogs, despite management recommendations, continued on high into the mountains, at first in the rain and later into a driving snow. Throughout one of the most memorable nights of my 46 years, we climbed high into the mountains. My hallucinatory visions of condominiums and custom built homes are still fresh in my mind, as are the conversations I had with my son Travis, who, that night, was in reality home in bed several thousand miles away. We bivouacked that night deep in the woods in a long ago abandoned cave house. Four Stray Dogs with two wet sleeping bags, huddled together, alternated sleeping and shivering through one of the best two hour sleeps I can recall. The storm abated after several inches of fresh snow. We continued to travel high mountain passes and seemingly unending river valleys. We moved rapidly and efficiently for untold miles; fast enough to maintain distance between those who chose not to move into the coming storm, but unfortunately, were unable to contact those “competitors” from whom we had earlier been separated. 

¨       After what seemed to be a long and sleepless night, day four began with the white water kayaking section of the course. The paddle traveled across a long, flat lake, extended into a fast white water section of river with numerous memorable rapids, all of which we passed without sufficient difficulty. As the night began, the temperatures plummeted, ending with several other teams cold, wet and hypothermic; again progressing into a fitful shivering sleep.

¨       Day five began innocuously enough with a climb to the summit of an unnamed peak and proceeded into the legendary bamboo forest on the opposite side. The race director warned us of this area, but no warning could have prepared us for the dense chaos of this, temporarily, impenetrable bamboo maze. We descended for miles through the unending bamboo; tripping, falling and seemingly imprisoned in its grasp. These plants which were, as fishing poles, such and important and happy memory of my childhood, are when encountered in their natural environment slashing, gripping and unbending trees, which when broken and fallen upon, capable of castration of the unwary adventure racer. I will never forget as long as I live the bamboo forest in which I spent only half of one day in my life.  

¨       Day six and Mount Tronador will forever be etched in my mind as one of the best days of my life. We began the climb of this famous glacial peak in the Chilean jungles at approximately 2:00 a.m. We climbed through the mist of the night onto the shoulder of Tronador at sunrise, emerging from the fog, we climbed on toward the top of this part of the world with nothing but us, Tronador, the highest peaks of Argentina and Chile, and the rising sun above the clouds. We ascended up and across the glacier to the summit of Tronador on a perfect, cloudless sunny day. Unfortunately, because of the race in which we were involved, we descended before we were ready, and sooner than the beauty demanded, back into the thick bamboo jungles below. After another long, cold, wet and sleepless night, we struggled to pass through miles of bamboo and slide alder to the final phase of the race. Having for a day been captivated by the magnificence of Tronador, we momentarily let pass from our mind that we were still unable, despite our best attempts, to make contact with those lead teams from which we were separated on day two. 

¨       The seventh and final day was like most other final days in long adventure races. The Race was at times forgotten, with minds now focused toward just reaching the finish line. Thoughts of real food and bed, to some extent, shade the continuing beauty of a long repel down waterfalls to the lakes below. Finally, a paddle to the finish line and civilization. Stray Dogs, once again, completes the worlds greatest adventure race in 19th place with the best adventure racing teams this sport has to offer. 

 ¨     Having finished tenth in last years Eco-Challenge, our initial feeling of a 19th place finish was one of some disappointment. Now, weeks later and with further reflections, those thoughts have changed to ones of complete satisfaction and accomplishment. The characters of the team and its members as individuals withstood the test of adversity created by the course itself, personal injuries to one of its members, and most importantly, the initial disappointment of our navigational errors. We continued through the course despite the fact that the race did not begin and end as we anticipated and most importantly finished the task, as competitively as possible, which had been foremost in our minds for the many months preceeding it. While we missed the train upon which the contending teams rode on day two, we continued with class and dignity and had the good fortune to travel through some of the most awe inspiring wilderness on earth.

                                                                                                Mark Macy

 

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