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Team Uruguay Natural at Eco-Challenge. Part 5 - Keeping The Team Together On The Road To Hell

Ruben Manduré (Edited by Rob Howard) / 16.09.2020See All Event Posts Follow Event
Tough cycling conditions at Eco Challenge - World's Toughest Race
Tough cycling conditions at Eco Challenge - World's Toughest Race / © Amazon Prime Video

I cannot sleep in the hustle and bustle in Navala and get up. It is already dark on the sixth night of the race, which, if all goes well, will be our last. As I leave the tent, I see that my companions have been through the same thing, they are sitting in the comfortable chairs that Lali set out for us, with a good variety of food to eat. I look at Federica, who is installed next to the empty seat that awaits me, she looks happy.  She was with the medical staff and with painkillers and anti-inflammatories she seems relieved, although the appearance of her leg has not improved.

Thiago is waiting for me with the map unfolded and we start discussing the characteristics of the route, which is terrible. It is 50 kilometers of permanent up and down cycling, 2500 meters of climb, interrupted in the middle by a short trek back and forth to a waterfall where we will abseil to pick up the last medallion. I exchange a few words with Gonzalo, I know that this stretch will be particularly hard, and I am confident in his ability to be a help in the moments to come. His serious look admits no doubt, he will give it all he has got left.

Exactly at 10:45 p.m., the time set for our departure, we set out on the road after saying goodbye to Lali, who has tears in her eyes. We are accompanied a few steps by a crowd of children and without saying a word I set a demanding but sustainable pace. The team responds perfectly, and despite the brutal slope, the pace is strong.  We devoured kilometers on that fresh and windless night, crowning each climb without weaknesses. In less than three hours we reached the vicinity of the checkpoint where we must leave the bikes to go to the waterfall.

We make a quick transition, put on the harnesses, and go jogging on a descent to the next CP. When we arrive we rappel down without incident. Once down, one of us must go into the water to find the medallion, which, according to the road book, is behind the waterfall. I don't even raise the question of who's better off to do it, the team is going so well that I don't even think about breaking that delicate balance.  So I take off my harness and dive into the cold water to swim about 15 meters to the vertical wall covered by a dense curtain of water. I go straight there, and the impact of the water is strong, it blows my headlamp off, so I must dive back in to rescue it.

The CP manager takes pity and confesses that despite what the instructions say, the medallion is outside the waterfall. From there I have no perspective, so I ask my colleagues to light up the wall to see where it is. The place is close by, I swim there and climb up the slippery stone to get the blessed medallion that is about 3 meters high. I get it and go back to the shore to dry quickly, because it is cold, and I start to shake.

We mark the CP while I change and put my shoes back on. When I stand up I slip and give myself a strong blow that leaves me stunned, my hip and right elbow have suffered the impact, so they help me up and bruised I start the trek back to the bikes by a different path, longer and steeper.

The Road To Hell

When we arrive we leave the climbing equipment with the organisation, and the manager of the CP tells us that 2 teams arrived after us and are nearby. We are not interested, now the goal is the finish line, not to fight unimportant positions around the top 15.

We pedal to get back to the rhythm we had before. Already on the first ascent, which is particularly steep and long, I see that it will not be possible. Thiago is exhausted and is not going well, so I slow down a bit and look at Gonzalo because soon we will have to help.  Shortly afterwards Thiago's performance drops even further, he stops, vomits, wants to sit down. We quickly tow him, a stop will be counterproductive, we will take longer, and problems will arise. Even for him, the sooner we finish of the ride, the better. We distribute the weight of his backpack, even Federica takes some, which gives me an indication that she is well, better than we expected. We go back to the road, do a relay push with Gonzalo and leave our soul on each climb, because the road is cruel, with ramps of 15%. We manage to continue at a slow pace, but without stopping.

The sun comes up and we keep fighting, the temperature quickly rises, and at a stream where we fetch water, I see on the map that we still have a last difficult ascent, then the road will be friendly, but with a high temperature in that part of the island.

We pedal and pedal and keep Thiago on the bike, even though he hardly pedals at all and is collapsed. Suddenly, I look back and see that Federica has fallen behind. I tell Gonza to go on alone with Thiago and I wait for her. She arrives distraught, with a somewhat lost look in her eyes and I reproach myself for not having paid due attention to her, trusting in her usual strength. From that moment on I stay with her and work as hard as I can to ease her journey. I try not to look at or mention her leg, but at first glance it looks bad, and the sun is beating down on it.

We navigate well in a last suburban maze before we reach the transition and when we do, I breathe easy, now there is only a paddle and that always helps us in one way or another.

As we inflate the stand-up paddles and lower them down a muddy embankment to the riverbank, the medical staff has taken notice of Federica and they are preventing us from going out until they make a diagnosis of the situation. They exchange messages by radio and we live a moment of uncertainty, because they are evaluating if she is in condition to continue. The Bones team arrives, makes the transition and leaves in front of us. The staff in the CP tell us that we can continue but they will monitor the situation with Federica. She does not speak and with a look she tells me that she wants to leave now to start the paddle.

We leave, it is very hot and the river has no breeze.  We advance slowly, paddling between mangroves while we approach the river mouth in the Pacific, from where we will paddle to a beautiful beach where we will make the last transition. It is already past noon when we arrive almost with Bones, who choose an outrigger and prepare to leave. The person in charge of giving us the instructions approaches and tells us which boats are available. “I want that one”, I tell him without hesitation when he shows us a thoroughbred, which, according to him, is very fast. "But there are no free lunches", he adds, "what is fast, is unstable" and there is a storm warning too.

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