Team Uruguay Natural at Eco-Challenge. Part 4 - Cold and Heat On The Way To The Last Camp
We have a 300-meter jumar climb ahead of us, with multiple rope changes. The temperature is quite high and there are 4 ropes to climb so we try to make Federica's and Gonzalo's the least difficult, while Thiago, who is an expert, and I, who have a lot of experience, start climbing the most difficult ones.
Shortly after starting the climb, at the first change of rope about 20 meters from the base, we see that this precaution is useless, what was simple below is complicated above and the routes have a similar degree of difficulty. We cannot wait for anyone, the team is separated and the security personnel force us to continue advancing. We try to encourage Gonzalo, with advice and words of encouragement, but I try to measure that support well so as not to overwhelm him.
He is having a hard time, although as he climbs, he gains some confidence. But his changes of anchorage take him a long time and I see him stressed out. Federica climbs slowly but surely. This will take a little longer than expected. We see that, from the bottom, Bones has arrived and with great skill they begin to climb very efficiently, all four at once. Before reaching the final stretch of the climb, they overtake us, although seen up close, they too suffer.
We arrive at the top with Thiago pulled up by the staff, look down and see that Federica is in the middle of the last stretch and Gonzalo at the beginning, so we get ready to receive them and check the map. In that place is the fourth medallion, "Highland". We notice that up there it is not hot anymore, the afternoon starts to fall and at that height the air is quite cold.
We left there a few minutes behind Bones, who were very nimble, and up ahead we have another short climb. When we finish it, we take off our climbing equipment and quickly continue, because we know that now we will have a stretch that will involve swimming. The expense of calories, the accumulated fatigue and the sharp drop in temperature make us hurry up.
The Jungle Swim
A local man coming out of nowhere gives us a piece of advice. He points out a tree on the other side of the first pond and says that there is a path that will lead us to where we are going. It is not on the map, but we never disregard information like that, so we try. We swam there with our short wetsuits on and the water is much colder than we thought, or maybe it is our skin being warmed by the sun that does that, but the result is the same. The path is terrible and when about 30 minutes later we appear by the river, it is a relief.
We have the short neoprenes on, so we go into the water again. From time to time we can walk by the shore, but after a curve it gets deep again, and we must swim. It is already night; the cold is getting into our bones. I try to go ahead to see if it is possible to get out of the water at some point and have a rest. Thiago and Gonzalo do the same, while Federica has not spoken for a while, she moves forward silently and shivers. To top it all off, the few meters that can be done in shallow water, is walking on stones so slippery that they cause continuous stumbling and falls.
At one point, when we are about to get out of the water and wrap ourselves in our thermal blankets, I see a light ahead. We have been in the water for over three hours now, so this could well be the path we are looking for. I tell the others and it seems to be working, an injection of optimism drives us. We go forward and forward, the light is sometimes seen, sometimes not, so little by little I am reasoning that it is Bones, not the CP. I don’t comment on that, I prefer to keep that conclusion to myself, as it would not contribute anything right now. Everyone soon realizes so the desperation appears again. Federica is on the verge of collapse, I am afraid to continue, but also afraid to stop. We must get to the CP, which has a medical tent and time neutralization, because the organization has foreseen that this will be a critical moment.
When my optimism is no longer having any effect on the team and our strength is about to fail, I see a large mound of grass and behind it a column, next to what looks like a small dam. I shout with all my strength "We got it!", and I step out of the water after more than 4 hours swimming along that icy course. We are infused by joy, and I invite the team to run a little to warm up, but we are too cold and our legs won’t move properly.
When we arrive at the tent, a small army of volunteers and medical staff help us get inside. It is warm, there is soup, chocolate, hot food. They massage us, change our clothes and leave us in good condition to show up 40 minutes later after neutralization, where we will again prepare the stand-up paddles for a journey of about 25kms up a small creek.
Paddle Without A Creek
I cannot agree with Thiago on the direction to take, the course seems clear, but we do not understand why there is no water there. The confusion lasts about 10 minutes, until our brains can reason properly again. We see Bones were confused too because they went out in exactly the opposite direction and now they are coming back. We keep paddling for hours, they go ahead, but as soon as the course gets winding, we decide to get out of the water and walk with our boards, so we overtake them.
The manoeuvre is useless, because soon after, the water is gone. The water is only enough to cover our ankles and we do not know exactly where we are. After a while we find our position and moments later we are dragging the boards to a road and get to the PC, while little by little our fifth night of racing is over.
We clean the mud, eat, but don’t take any food with us because we remember the next trek to the transition will be short, about 10 kilometers on roads. We leave almost at dawn, and at a good pace do the stretch to the next CP. Before we get there, we must unfold the new map to see what is next, and we have made a big mistake. The new map shows us that this is the longest trek of the race, more than 40 km to the next camp. Federica receives the news with regret, but she recovers quickly and starts with great speed without thinking about missing food or criticizing that big, stupid mistake.
Gonzalo has some snacks to eat, so he keeps them as gold and from there we will go on with just those. We are moving forward at a good pace, although I notice that Federica is not comfortable. She is not complaining, but I know she is not well, and I see now why she suffered so much from the cold in the water: possibly she has some fever. We enter a maze of paths as we cross a mighty river before climbing a small mountain range that we will go through to cross the center of the island, where we see Bend Racing ahead, disappearing into the jungle.
The Hot Center
Federica decides to cut her leggings above the knee because the inflammation bothers her. I do not mention it to her, but her knee has taken on a purple coloring that worries me. We go up at a snail's pace because it is already midday and the temperature is almost 35 degrees. I suffer in silence through the high pastures where there is not a breath of air. I try to keep up the pace, but the heat makes me dizzy. My companions notice and give me encouragement, they know about this weakness in my performance and it gives me joy to see how they take care of me. We find a small shady watercourse; stop to load the bottles and drink fresh water running between the stones. Thiago signals us to be quiet when he sees the Bones team is sleeping nearby, probably trying to lower their temperature like us.
From there I'm recovered and we devour kilometers navigating well, so the afternoon starts to fall and we find ourselves descending at an agile trot to the river that will take us to the last camp of the race, from where we will undertake the last stretch of this Eco Challenge. As soon as we cross it, we catch up with Mike Kloser's ‘Out There’ team, who show the marks of a difficult day on their faces. This was one of the teams that in theory we were not going to catch up with, so we have the consolation prize of passing them, because they are really powerful.
When we reach the vicinity of Navala, a choir of children with contagious vitality accompanies us the last 400 meters to the checkpoint. They are so happy that they seem to be injecting us with the strength to go all the way, surprising Lali, who was expecting to see us later and in worse condition. Federica goes into the tent to treat her infected wound and Lali gets away from us a little to take care of her better.
We will sleep the last 3 mandatory hours, eat everything we can and go out at night to race as hard as we can. The distances are great, and I feel that we have just enough to finish.