submitted by : Michael Broderick
A fine spray of Mary's breakfast floated through the air and adhered to my body as we made what turned out to be too big of an effort to squeeze ourselves past more riders just before the track turned single file again. The narrow chute meant Mary on point for the clear view and me following close behind to avoid at least some of the extreme volcanic dust that clung to every piece of everything - inside and out. No denying that there were some low moments but in an extreme endurance event like the Trans Andes Challenge these are to be expected and handled as part of the experience. As tough as it was watching Mary ride sick for the entire 5th stage, this off day served as a potent reminder of how solid and lucky our ride had been so far.
We pedaled on through the latest adversity within another cool ancient forest, on rudely gouged roads and whispers of sweet single track, past tremendous rivers and smoldering glacier capped volcanoes that all but litter the National Parks surrounding the exceptional "lakes and rivers" region of Chile. The scenery at times seemed jurassic and un-real but the feeling in our legs from battling our way through it all, was as a sure sign that it was!
We knew what to expect from our past experiences racing and traveling in Chile and so the little things like the dust masks, physical barrier sun protection, long lasting dry chain lube and fast rolling tires were in effect. This year though we brought along some radically different bikes and as the racing unfolded we happily realized that there were big rewards to reap. Very little doubt in our minds now that a dual suspension bike - like our Intense Spider Comps, outfitted with a dropper post will enhance just about any stage race experience and likely each and every ride thereafter.
We shouted out loud laughing to one another, "Duallies! " numerous times in response to the gleeful feeling of floating through sections that had rattled us in past editions. Even with the significant and often abrupt climbing that clearly rewards the lightest weight, we were always happy to have brought equipment that would allow us to ride with enhanced control and precision even while deep into fatigue. This became important over and over as we blindly negotiated countless gnarly sections, screaming gravel downhills, and intimidating kilometers of dusty debris strewn logging chutes. Oh, we went down for sure. I think everybody lost some skin at this one. But by the end, the toll on our bodies was significantly less in using such capable trail bikes.
No doubt that the hardships of multi day stage racing takes some getting used to, no matter what you are riding, but as you become accustomed it seems that each successive one is, perhaps not easier, but certainly easier to wrap your head around the idea of getting through. There is no good substitute for experience and this is also true for those putting on the event. Now in it's seventh edition The Trans Andes staff was able to manifest by far the best version yet in the 6 years we have attended.
Chile is really changing quickly with large summer crowds and a chaotic feel overwhelming many of it's destination resorts and towns. In reaction to this, the event has made some key changes, now with some campground stays negotiated with local land owners rather than upper class resorts, leaving the hot springs well within reach while the vibe of the Trans Andes is left more to it's own energy rather than having to deal with stress from alternative events.
Even more importantly several stage routes have now been re-routed to avoid the ever busier main thoroughfares. The rugged and wild mountain bike experience was enhanced by the inclusion of more secondary jeep roads and some remarkable new access to sections of private land with new trail. At this point the Trans Andes event is revered by the country's tourism board and is rightfully seen as a major source of international exposure for Chile. With 26 countries in attendance and a lot of international press, it is clear that the event has come into it's own!
THE STAND OUTS
At this event are many - but the social vibe is certainly without compare in all the racing we have seen. There could be no better host than a Chilean and the race director, Juan Pablo Santiagos and the entirety of his hand picked crew did their best to make sure we were all taken care of!
THE RUGGED RIDING
There is nothing "bike parky" about this ride, the terrain is rough and often not bike specific. This makes for a really cool pioneering feel. Absolutely critical to keeping your head up at all times and show up with your old school handling skills as well as some hike a bike mentality, if not fitness. I am pretty certain that most of the trails we rode will not be ridden by as many riders until we return next season.
Mary and I found it inspiring to be surrounded by so many incredible individuals at this event; dedicated athletes and people seemingly consistent in their striving to do well in all areas of their lives. These are people willing to get the job done - even if that means throwing a tattered leg over the saddle and riding to exhaustion over six days of easily the most intimidating terrain they have seen, all the while aware of how lucky they are to be taking part in such a deep experience. We were surely in good company!
The TAC is a unique opportunity to get an intimate look into a stunningly beautiful and little changed part of Chile.
SALUDOS! to all who took part in the the seventh edition of the TAC! The staff, the families and the riders all contributed to what was overall an outstanding week on the bikes! We are really happy to have had the chance to return to Chile a and are stoked to be celebrating another successful Trans Andes Challenge alongside many friends, old and new.
Mary and I are excited for the coming season and all that it will bring knowing well that we will be better prepared from this experience! Thanks to all who helped to make this expedition a success for our team and especially to Mary McConneloug for going big with me once again and forever!