By Dre Hestler
Published: January 24, 2011
A stage race is like a big tour and what better way to see a country than from the saddle of your trusty steed? Chile's Trans Andes Challenge takes place in the rugged mountains of the Lake District, 600 miles south of Santiago, amid lush rain forest and adjacent the Argentine border. There are a staggering number of volcanoes, and all this differentiates it from anywhere else in the world.
I begin this blog on the eve of the completion of Day 1. And let's not forget: It's January and no matter the beautiful weather, the amazing countryside and the volcanoes, it's still pre-pre- season/ski season.
For years I and others have ebbed and flowed with the seasons of North America and to a somewhat greater degree the European circuit. With some Australian and New Zealand influence we then heard of the 'endless summer;' the people who link together tours Down Under sandwiched between two North American summers. But not many have stretched out the travel tentacles as far as South America, and it is here that I must admit my own ignorance.
Fact or fiction? South America is a scary place to travel, a dark continent where revolutions run rampant. You may be robbed at any moment and later likely held hostage or forced to work as a drug mule to earn your way home. Pure nonsense, at least in Chile.
Enter the Trans Andes: A wonderful excuse to escape to a warm paradise… just a hop skip and a jump away. They even have wi-fi (crazy I know) and it's only a maximum of five hours jet-lag depending where you're coming from in North America. Many of the international attendees here are logging base miles with the goal of getting a jump on the 2011 season. There aren't many places in the world as hospitable, as exotic and as safe as Chile for an off-season adventure.
The start is at the eco-resort of Huilo Huilo (pronounced wheelo wheelo) and there is no way to imagine this place other than to describe it as the Ewok village from Star Wars. A short neutral jaunt (two miles) up the gravel road and we board a barge that takes us 1.5 hours across the lake to Argentina and the true beginning of this stage.
The statistics are impressive for this time of the year, but we plunge in anyway.
• 90 degrees, 32.5 Celsius
• 38.5 Miles, 62 Km's
• 5,500 feet vertical, 1,700 m
The day is punctuated by two major climbs and while not a long stage, for our off-season legs, it's certainly long enough. I have heard tell of amazing trails here in Chile and this is my goal, and my search. No amount of hardship will deter me from seeking singletrack and trails anywhere in the world, yet to have a supported excursion like this is gold.
Heading up the first climb it becomes apparent that my miles to date are insufficient and I should instead relax and enjoy the panoramic vistas. The day unfolds without much drama—some brutal leg-breaking climbs and some more amazing views as day one of our adventure comes to a close.
Hanging out for lunch with 100 exhausted but happy riders is always fun. Tales from the big ring today are few and far between as the major objectives—completion, miles and adventure—take precedence over competition. Tomorrow may be another story though.