Today was a great day. I wound up selling empanadas and bebidas to participants and spectators after the race. The Cerro Tololo chefs made great empanadas and it was a lot of fun speaking a little bit of Spanish with the people who came up to buy them. Ana, Owen, Julia, Brett, and Gustavo made ice cream with Liquid Nitrogen. In the photo on the left you can see Owen on his knees working with his cream. But that’s not why today was great. What made it great was that I got to participate in the race!
Jump back to Friday night. Right after I wrote my previous post, the gang headed up to casa 17 for a barbecue. I had been using my phone to light up the grill so Kyle could see the chicken when I noticed I had gotten an email. I checked and saw a message from Andrea saying Dan had come up with a way to get two more bikes to the starting line, so Cesar and I could do it! I called Martin before he came to the barbecue and he was able to bring the bike shortly thereafter. I called it a night early so I could get some sleep since I knew I wouldn’t sleep much Saturday night with the race the next day.
Saturday, I headed downtown and grabbed some drink holders to install on Martin’s bike. Ana, Brett, Owen and I went to La Recova for Ana to get gifts before spending the rest of the day laying low and ordering sushi for dinner before I called it a night.
This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to get ready before Andrea and Dan picked Cesar and I up. We got to the starting line before the sun came up and I helped out with a few pre-ride tasks. I felt a little bummed-out that Owen still couldn’t make it because he and I had planned to ride together, but I was also a little nervous not knowing how the upcoming challenge would go.
Any cars going to the summit had to be part of designated convoys/caravans to help regulate traffic. The start of the race was delayed by about an hour and a half because one of the first cars to go up (before the bikes started) drove off the road. Once we started, the first kilometer or so felt great. But a few kilometers later, I felt awful. I felt dizzy, as though continuing might make me lose my breakfast. I took a break for a couple minutes before continuing. The next several kilometers were absolutely brutal, but there was a hydration station along the way. The ladies working there were really encouraging and it was nice to have some unknown Spanish speakers rooting for us.
As I continued, it was hard to distract myself from the seemingly never-ending uphill slope. Juxtaposing this agony with the beauty of the surrounding mountains took a lot away from the scenery. Finally, I reached the top of that stretch and saw an enticing downhill section ahead. I pedaled hard and pretty soon, I was practically flying down the road. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a rush. Taking the turns was exhilarating and I reached a fast enough speed that the wind actually lifted my helmet off my head. It was awesome. Just past the bottom of that hill was the first finish line… a welcome sight after almost 15 kilometers. I gorged on grapes, water, and watermelon as Cesar arrived and then we continued for the second leg. Everyone said the second leg would be easier, but I couldn’t disagree more. There were no fun downhill sections to look forward to, and even if the overall slope was more gradual, it was always uphill. I continued for a while before the sun, lack of wind, increasing elevation, and loose gravel road finally got to me. I stopped and waited a bit for Andrea to come by and we mutually agreed to call it quits. We waited for the flatbed truck so we could toss our bikes in and then asked if we could ride in the back of the truck. The driver said no, and told us we had to ride in the ambulance behind him. The ambulance driver opened the back door and we saw a couple Chilenos waiting for us. It was my first time in an ambulance, and with the conversations we had while getting to know the Chilenos, I have to say I kind of enjoyed it.
We hopped out at the second finish line and jumped in a car to get to the summit faster. When we arrived, I checked in with the casa 13 folks – Ana brought up some granola bars and a bottle of coke I had sent with her, so those were my first priority. I found Dustin at the summit and showed him and his girlfriend around the 4-m. It’s currently in shut-down mode for renovations to the control room, so we got a peek at the new control setup before going up to the dome. Then, I headed down to the Round Office Building, where I sold some empanadas before the awards ceremony. Even though I didn’t go all the way to the top, I’m really happy with how everything went. The sun was brutal, there was no breeze, and I hadn’t even been on a bike since August, so all things considered, I think it went well. I’ve now got a new t-shirt, button, and medal to remember the experience.
Back at the house, I made some cheese dip and we’re all eating as unhealthily as we can while watching Ladder 49.