Day 6, The Holy Grail, A Sacred Win
The finish line was set up in the grounds of the Club Andino ski resort in the mountains overlooking Punta Arenas. At 09:30, waiting inside the large white heated dome for the first team to arrive, it was a brief moment of reflection to ponder the magnitude of Bend Racing/YogaSlackers’s quest. We had been up all night, watching their tracker as they battled the sleepmonsters on the last 34km trek to the finish line.
They were moving through this section at night and we’d all winced at several points as their tracker reflected their struggles. Anything can (and does) happen in adventure racing and it is never, ever, over until a team has physically crossed the finish line. Team Columbia Vidaraid had been relentlessly hunting the lead team and are known in AR for a lethal strategy; being able to push long and hard with little sleep, and to pounce at the last minute.
Throughout this race, the only information that teams have had on the position of their rivals is what is given at the checkpoints and there have only been seven on this race. They have not seen another team since the race started, so the pressure peaked for Bend Racing during the last night: could they maintain their substantial lead and cross the finish line victorious or would they stumble at the last hurdle?
The energy at the finish line was tense as we held our collective breath. Bend Racing’s media team of three had spread out up the ski piste leading into the finish line and their tense WhatsApp chatter conveyed their angst, “Are they even moving? What the hell are they doing up there?”
Then a shout rang out from the top of the slope where the organizers had placed a sentinel; team spotted!
The weary warriors rallied for a final jog through the wooden finish line arch. Crossing the finish line at 10:23,( according to their timing sheet,) team Bend Racing/YogaSlackers achieved the holy grail. After approximately 6 days, 4 hours and 23 minutes the winners of the 2018 edition of the Patagonian Expedition Race were welcomed home by the race director, Stjepan Pavicic.
After the customary finish line photos and champagne corks popping, the team was ushered into the finish line tent. Four red plastic chairs had been set up in front of four huge photo panels depicting scenes from previous PERs. The victorious team was served hot food and then accepted interview questions. This moment was unlike any other; it was a sacred moment. Everyone present in that finish line tent felt the sanctity of that moment. This win was not only a sporting victory for accomplished athletes, it was the culmination of a quest spanning six editions of PER. And in that time span, the athletes had had the full range of the human experience, from the highest of highs to the lowest of low - Team Bend Racing/YogaSlackers' win was an archetypal one.
During the interview, the team spoke about the experience of racing with a new squad. Alex had raced with Chelsey and Jason in 2016 but Lars was new to the group. The team had sent this Danish viking down a month and a half earlier to Patagonia, telling him that he’d need that amount of time to truly understand what the race and these wild lands are all about. Jason said that because they hadn’t raced extensively as a team before, they didn’t know the signals when one of them “was going crazy.” There was great laughter as they related several incidents of momentary madness during the race. Chelsey added that although they hadn’t always recognized each other’s signals, communication had been excellent as each person was allowed to speak their truth in that moment.
Jason said that on the first section into CP-01, the pressure had been intense on him as the team captain, but also as a husband. The winds crossing Cerro Pratt had been so violent that it had literally pushed them uphill and against the mountain side. Chelsey was uncomfortable at this point and he’d reassured her saying that everything was ok. In the finish line interview Jason insisted upon the importance of moments like that; there has to be total trust because your word is your honour and you cannot make a mistake with the trust and lives of three others.
When asked if the team would come back to race PER, now that they had reached their first place podium, Jason said yes. He elaborated by stating that he would like to move into a role of mentoring athletes, much like Merrell is doing in South Africa. He feels that it is possible to finish this race, with proper guidance, and that all of the athletes who are accepted to race here have exceptional skills but that is not enough to finish The Last Wild Race. It speaks volumes of his character that he would want to share the mystical experience of racing here with others.
When asked what they thought about racing in Patagonian spring instead of the usual February date, Chelsey said she liked it, that she preferred the “dry cold to the wet cold.” All of the team questioned if there really was less wind at this time of year, saying that they’d experienced stronger wind than in any of the other editions they’d raced.
When asked about the difference of racing this edition as a new mother, compared to when she had simply raced as a couple with Jason, Chelsey said, “This race it was actually the easiest race yet being away from Max, I think because a) we have an amazing family who he loves and takes care of, and b) I can’t wait to show him all the places we have been to.” She also added that “I also believe adventure racing teaches you so much about communication, relationship,hardship and overcoming obstacles. All of these things, in turn, I believe help me become a better mother.”
Their Viking teammate Lars took up the conversation, speaking about their race strategy. He said that they knew they couldn’t race like Columbia Vidaraid does, with long periods of sleep deprivation and a stinger in the tail at the end. Nor could they race like East Wind, who race as a metronome. The team had analyzed all of this beforehand and had simply raced their own race. Alex said that it was the most “punished” he’d ever been on a race, and Jason chimed in, “You say that every time!” But the team said that they had collectively agreed, walking down the final slope towards their victory, that the true winner was Patagonia.
Team Captain Jason Magness then signed their passport for the last time and a collective cheer went up in the tent, mission accomplished, after six editions and six days of racing; a place in adventure racing history secured.