Immersion. Immersion… That’s the only word I can think of right now as I sit in the post event haze of Andes Pacifico. Total, absolute fucking immersion. As I slowly come out of the all encompassing experience of another week long race, I face the daunting prospect of how to assemble all the words, the anecdotes, the stories, the moments and the “What the fuck is this in front of my eyes” vibe which all contributed to an insane week of immersion in mountain bike racing in Chile.
To be honest, calling it ‘mountain bike racing’ is selling it short, as I will hopefully try and convey it was significantly more than that. Now, hold my hand as I start to drop some cheese dick preachiness on you by indeed confirming this was a ‘life experience’. As the 5 days of hectic, dusty, hot and insane racing tumble dries in my mind and I try to make sense of it all, I’m yet to quite get hold of the right strategy to blog up this mind blowing Chilean escapade. At some stage we will need to collectively come to an agreement on whether this is a series of race reports, or if it’s really an experience exposé. I’m still not sure which is more appropriate, so until then, let’s agree to proceed with an air of inappropriateness.
Indeed the race may now be well and truly over, but that’s meant that another race has commenced. The post event malaise I know only too well has started to creep in, coupled with the fact the clock has started to tick on the fading of memories. The race is therefore on to try and get it all out of a mind terrorised by endless gnar and anti-grip in a manner that not only does 5 days of blind racing in Chile justice, but tries to appropriately portray what a fucking MAAAAD experience Andes Pacifico was.
The self imposed pressure to ensure that I don’t fuck up this legendary tale would make even Peter Jackson squeamish, especially when you consider I’m going to try and do so without using the word ‘epic’ every paragraph, when all I really want to do is exactly that. This pressure isn’t about me wanting a reach around for the quality of my Dirty blogging skills, but it is most definitely about the duty of care one feels to appropriately portray such a unique experience.
I will likely stumble in parts along the way, leaving things out, omitting key moments, repeating myself, using overly intricate and obscure analogies, spewing cliche’s left right and of course centre, but please bear with me as I try and gush what remains of my central nervous system all over your eyeballs after 5 days of Chilean death gnar, anti-grip and above all – Magic.
With all that in mind, I’ve decided to go dusty balls deep on these race reports, which will necessitate coffee and your favourite form of pastry. That’s right, death to 280 characters and down with shit that only takes 3 minutes to read, I’m going all in on the Andes Pacifico minutiae, hoping to smear it all over your eyeballs because let’s face it – It fucking deserves it. I’m going to bathe us all in too many words and a gratuitous volume of images, the experience demands it, so it shall be so.
Right, scene setting melodramatics are over, its time to get covered in anti-grip, good cunts and swearing at oneself, a lot.
Everything starts at Zero
I honestly felt like this thing had been building up since, well, forever. A case of entering very early and then being a bum meant that the anticipation had reached a ridiculous crescendo, and that’s before I found myself sitting around in Santiago making Nazi Gold jokes at the #SwissMissile.
Come pick up time to move to Camp Zero, we got the first indication that perhaps ‘Health & Safety’ hadn’t yet infected Chilean society and robbed it of all its fun or sense of adventure, we didn’t know it at the time, but this was just the tip of the iceberg and as it would transpire, a race of this nature simply wouldn’t happen in a lot of other countries.
Arrival at Camp Zero not only brought me face to face with #tentlyfe after a 3 year separation, and its unique contribution to multi day racing, but it also triggered a flash back to Trans Provence. So then, let’s deal with this shredding elephant in the room now, as I’m sure you don’t want to spend the next 5 posts rolling your eyes thinking “Fucking hell, here he goes again talking about TP“, like most of the dudes I rode with probably did at some point.
Its obviously the natural comparison – multi day ENDURO races in the back country and taking in some epic terrain whilst embracing the camping spirit etc. However, I’ve found it quite difficult to compare the two events in any meaningful way, which has left me to conclude that perhaps its actually grotesque and uncouth to actually try and compare them.
Yes, they are both hard, yes, they are both hot, yes, you have to carry your bike uphill in both, yes, they both offer some incredible racing stages & trails… But it feels wrong to be comparing them to one another. They’re unique experiences that stand alone and to sit there with a scorecard defeats the purpose of doing these events.
Having said that, if anyone ever offers you an air bed with a French accent vs a camp stretcher in Spanish, I can confirm categorically that the air bed is a superior option. However, it wasn’t #tentlyfe and the sleeping architecture that was about to turn me into the Andean Zombie, no that was all my own doing.
Suddenly, a flaw in the strategy emerges
AP just so happened to be my first international mission as a dad, which meant not only a reluctance to depart (turns out this is a real thing and I retract a decade of calling riding buddies ‘pussies’ for their hesitation in times past), but also saw me structuring the trip to arrive as late as I possibly could pre-event. In my mind I would bank one nights good sleep and then turn up fresh as fuck to take on this much hyped anti-grip.
Paint me 50 shades of fuckbag immediately, as my time zone fingered body was quick to utterly reject this plan faster than a bribed American politician can reject sensible gun control. As the hours ticked by and I felt less and less accepting of sleep, a slow panic started to take hold. In my mind every hour that passed without the sweet relief of REM sleep equated to a likely 15% reduction in performance and more importantly, radness. I could feel the transformation from race excitement and anticipation to ENDURO Zombie starting to grip my sleep deprived mind… Maniacal laughter and talking to myself soon followed.
As I lay in bed at 4.30am, having logged approx 0.0 mins of sleep, my first conclusion from Chile was that all the Animals fucking hated mountain bikers. Indeed this was a theme for the week, no matter where we went, there was a representative from the animal kingdom who’s sole task was to ensure our sleep got cunted up at the peak of the REM window. Day 1 had a task force which consisted of a coughing horse, a dog (or two?) with an insanely rabid bark & howl combo and of course, a motherfucking rooster who started work at 5.30am.
I was therefore not the only Andean Zombie aimlessly roaming the campground, unable to work out which sequence I needed to do things in and therefore having to repeat many tasks while I discussed with myself what a total cunt I appeared to be and that yes, perhaps a 16 hour time difference was going to prove to be problematic for the next few days. I finally felt like collapsing into a blissful sleep around the time we started to load the bikes onto the trucks…
In a theme I shall expand on as these reports unsheathe themselves, one thing was very clear: This event had some insane logistics about it and whilst I will keep my powder dry for now on this aspect, it didn’t take long to work out that the Chileans had taken the principle of “Just go mental, its a rental” and taken it to another level… Along with any preconception you may have about what’s an acceptable shuttle road. I can’t seem to find a photo that does what we drove up justice on day 1, but let’s just say I know people who do “Four wheel driving” who would have run a mile from this gnar action, not to mention the fact this was one of the tamer uplifts we had all week:
Today’s Profile in Good Cuntishness (A daily expose of rad cunts) is going to focus on our shuttle crew for the week. With only around 25% of the field coming from outside Latin America, fluently english speaking Gringo muthafucka’s that you could jam into your cultural echo chamber were obviously at a premium. In a move that would make the commonwealth proud, our shuttle was therefore composed of a Brit, A Scot and, er, the #SwissMissile. With the sMissile’s commitment to dressing like multicoloured EuroTrash, we were never going to be able to pull off the stylish matching set up of Mark and Adrian, I may be smiling in the pic below, but this aspect made me sad on the inside.
I know what you’re thinking with regards to the hat, “Are you going fishing cunt?“, but allow me to confirm I can legitimately rock this set up given A) I’m a dad now, B) It has a Santa Cruz logo on it and C) Chilean sun has got it on lock to burn you more efficiently than a sassy stepchild (#yourenotmydad), so this is one fashion item you can’t go without for those already putting the 2019 edition onto their dream board.
I can’t understate the importance of either arriving with a good crew of units, or assembling one from what’s on hand in the camp, as you end up spending a lot of time together in some pretty big transfers (something I shall touch on more in the next daily reports). Luckily for us then we had the privilege of being flooded with GC’s in not only our shuttle, but also in our wider crew with Julian & Joe, the box was being ticked on the rad units front, which ultimately is what makes the difference with these events
The other thing you will have to put up with aside from the hat and me throwing the fucking forks in every picture for this race report is the fact that there will be a disgusting & disturbing volume of Andean scenery shots randomly popping up in these race reports. This is mostly due to the fact that the vista’s on offer are legitimately mind blowing and have to be seen to be believed. Even if you’ve spent some solid time in the Mon-Tons, there is something just utterly vast about the Andes that feels hard to process… Which is extra cray given I had the distinct impression we were only in the foothills… I did my best to appreciate it in between wanting to vomit on myself in sheer sleep deprived exhaustion:
Upon completing the first 2 hour uplift for the week, we even got to look across at the zone where the EWS racers are going to
get their pants pulled down have a great time later on in March, you will be correct in noting that its mildly short on vegetation and most likely laden with tire eating rocks obscured by moon dust. I could feel the EWS FOMO draining out of me at a prolific rate as we all peered into the distance and did the math on how that would turn out. Can’t wait to see the footage from the comfort of the couch while I lap at a bowl of warm milk.
In theory Day 1 wasn’t that ‘hard’ per se, the sole day of the race where we had only 2 stages and it was 3rd out of 5 days in terms of distance we had to race. However, given I was a munted fuck zombie rocking my insomnia, all of a sudden a relatively straightforward 7km liaison transformed itself into a death march, which an emphasis on ‘march’.
Whilst I felt like a dribbling muppet, there was something oddly intoxicating and inspiring about being back in a large group of frothing riders making their way up a mountain without a time limit, thank fuck, as I would have been eliminated on the first morning if these were timed Tranny’s, Oui Monsieur, you would have been Le Fucked.
In between trying to get up in Katie Holden’s grill to infiltrate the Pinkbike Gram story feed (“Hold my narcissism please, someone is live Gramming this shit”), we were treated to our first taste of the Andes vastness, which is something I shall wank on about through most of these reports as a heads up. The landscape changes are mesmerising to be fair and unique… Whilst it may feel like you’ve ridden in similar terrain here and there, as a package this place has to be experienced first hand to be appreciated and believed.
But epic scenery and staged group photos aside, quietly I knew I was fingered as we milled around at the top waiting for the go. It wasn’t just the 2,900m elevation and 2 hours of sleep that had me fucked up, it was the fact that it was hotter than Pedro Burn’s Mom out there (So I’m told), hitting a WTF 29 degs as we sat around waiting for the first off.
I’m told by people who know a lot more about savage backcountry missions that combining altitude with heat is an ideal combo for fast tracking a decent fisting and it felt like I was validating the concept. No such drama for the Swiss porn star (not you Rene) however, he was ready to get this dusty show on the road.
Stage 1 – Rucos De Agua: 6.9km’s with 700m drop
Wait, what? 6.9km’s? For the opening race stage? That may not sound like a lot, but let’s back up the thrashed rental truck for a moment and consider that in the last 3 EWS rounds I’ve done the average stage length was 2.2km’s… Before you scroll down and select the horrified emoji, it was also getting the ball rolling with the 4th longest stage of the week. It was indeed a ‘let’s get into it’ start which would no doubt have similarities with Jared from Subway’s first night in prison.
Dirty confession, I was too preoccupied with sitting on the ground deep breathing and feeling ill to give too much of a thought about the stage at the start. The hike up to altitude and heat had added to the sleep depravation wrecking ball effects. With a jacked heart rate and trying to control my breathing, I did my best to try and not appear like a meth addict as I rocked back and forth.
I was intrigued about what this first introduction to Anti-Grip was going to be all about. What exactly was I looking for? Would it become blatantly obvious and clear to me? Would I learn the dark art of the anti-grip and be able to unlock the secret local code? Or would I eat massive rocky shit… At least they would have sleeping pills in the hospital I guess.
After all the waiting and build up, it was finally my time to slide into the box and get the countdown. I was at last going to see what all the fuss was about and get my first taste of Chilean gnar.
Tres, Dos, UNO! Faaaaaaark
Suddenly it was on… I was alone at last, just me and my pug dog like panting and as I came around the first traverse it became abundantly clear how fucking… Don’t say it… Oh… EPIC this place was. Gaaaaaaaaaaa:
Usually first-stageitis is a disease that has a basis in you having some basic form of understanding of the stage or terrain, but then fumbling around like a teenager who’s just heard “yes” for the first time and massively fucking it up. This was different however, this was your grill being exposed to a Chilean shock & awe campaign as your senses tried to understand what was happening to your tires while you did your best to ignore the insane vista and push out of your mind the thought taking seed that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea for your very first ride in Chile.
Then suddenly Seb Kemp appeared like Obi Wan Kenobi in ghost form, but with more ink than a Nomad 4 and began to speak to me. Was I hallucinating? Was this sleep depravation? Or was it my usual trick of my mind wandering to strange places in the middle of my race run?
“Get there a day or so early, go for a ride and just feel it out. It’s worse than you think but not as bad once you’ve tried it for yourself”
I wanted to slap myself for not taking the sage advice, but I was too terrified to let go of the bar, besides, I had spotted Gary and he was in full sniper mode, so my inner narcissist took over in an attempt to get a decent pic:
But away from the glaring lens of Dirt paparazzi I felt painfully slow. It was like I was some sort of shaved ENDURO research monkey, forced to watch hours of missionary only porn whilst sucking on Volkswagen ‘Clean’ diesel fumes before being pushed down a hill into terrain that purely designed to maim any vestiges of confidence. Luckily for me, Guru Kemp reappeared like a heat fuelled illusion before me…
“Take it easier than you think. My best result on day one or two (in my memory both days blend into a cocktail of crashes and collisions) came when I said, ‘Fuck this fucking bullshit cunting bollocks, I don’t care how slow I go I’m just not crashing!'”
That’s right, tell that hairy bitch to be cool. There are 5 days still to go.
I’m hoping the above picture starts to convey what the nature of the terrain… It was a bit like a rock garden had fucked a sandpit in an exceedingly promiscuous manner and this was their filthy offspring… Which meant it felt like your front wheel had become possessed and had a mind of its own, or you were pedal clipping rocks which seemed to have a radar lock on anything metal. Every time I saw a giant wheel eating sandpit, I momentarily eyed up going off line, only to be greeted by rocks rubbing their sharp edges together and taking bets among themselves how many Maxxis carcasses they could eat.
It didn’t take long before I was introduced to another feature of the week on Andes Pacifico – Loco Locals. The Latin American contingent not only had some experience with the terrain obviously, but they also weren’t shy about dishing out a Gringo fisting and sticking it down lines we didn’t even realise were options, as I found out early in stage 1.
Sensei Kemp flashed back into my view, floating above the choking anti grip and again providing soothing guidance as I started to taste local dust:
“Don’t worry about the Chileans. Ignore them and their speed. Even the guy is on a fucked bike, shirt in ribbons and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, don’t underestimate that guy because he’ll be fast.”
If you look closely at this pic, you’ll see the vague left hander is populated with a substance in its apex that appears to be a cross between talcum powder and dry cement… Suddenly I wanted to cry and go back in time to install a 2.6 Minion, it also got very confusing if I was understeering, oversteering or just oscillating between the two. Was this Anti-Grip? Was this the demon I sought? Was it even a thing, or was it simply everything before us?
Another unique feature that first became apparent on Stage 1 was the multi choice line option, illustrated in the below screen grab, which line do you feel lucky with punk? Which one contained a sniper rock or led you off into a cunted up section of real estate? Which one ended up being a crank eating rut? Which one would save you or cost you 5 seconds? The only good news in this picture is that there were only 2 lines to choose from instead of 4.
I felt slower than Jesse Melamed putting on sunscreen in the morning (Its a mesmerising process to see, there’s a man that takes sun care seriously), but given I had actually done thousands of gravel miles, my secret plan was to make up for my cowardice with a rage fuelled, chain stretching pedal display. As I went to unleash my classified weapon on the next cunty little rise, Chile struck back with another feature of the week, the sprint defeating rock gardens lining the trail. Unless you were millimetre perfect, something I could only dream of in my zombie state, a tour de force in pedal strikes and super sketchy moments awaited you when trying to shower the power down:
This was a stage that felt longer than its notes suggested, and despite the numbers, the volume of flat plateau sprinting and climbing was a shock, even given my zombified state. Stoke levels post stage were… Confusing… I’m not sure what I expected to be honest, but Stage 1 sort of wasn’t what I expected, which is a paradoxical statement I acknowledge, but a vibe that was shared by some of my fellow amateur racers. We all however suspected that this was simply the tip of the Chilean gnar dildo and there was plenty more to come.
So I’m the fuckhead who would say “It’s not really about results this week guys” and then get repeatedly caught like a total cuntbag spending an inordinate amount of time standing in front of the results monitor in the evening while my inner racer either beat off to himself or got exceedingly depressed. In true bipolar self-loathing fashion during the day results were irrelevant, but in the evening it was something to chew on like a Chilean mountain donkey. Fortunately Santa Cruz PRO and mad shredder Mark Scott was in da house, our usual unrealistic EWS benchmark for results comparison, so we shall spend the week engaging in the worlds most unfortunate ENDURO dick measuring contest. Timekeeper, the numbers please?
- Mark Scott – 11.34 for 4th overall
- Dirty Nomad – 16.21 for 64th overall
Data that’s embarrassingly compiled in an Excel spreadsheet tells us I’m usually 46 seconds slower per race KM than Marky Mark, so this was about on par, but given there were 85 starters, it was objectively a cunt of a result. Luckily for me and you who has to read these daily reports, it was the worst result of the week. In all senses, the only way was up. Quick, let’s get back to that maaaaad Andes scenery:
The other word that springs to mind for Day 1 was vastness… The kind of vastness where you feel exceedingly flaccid when trying to capture it with an iPhone, or even describe it to others. I knew we had higher peaks to scale later in the week, but already the vastness of what lay before us was genuinely intoxicating as it was mind blowing.
Stage 2 – Paico Pilar De Piedra: 4.6km’s with 735m drop
Hmmmm, so 2.3km’s shorter than stage 1, but with more vertical drop in it? Fucking A brah, where do I sign up? Actually, I think a lot of my motivation was fuelled by wanting to get down into shade to no longer feel like a deep fried muppet, not to mention wanting to collapse into my creaking camp stretcher in an attempt to rid myself of extreme zombieness.
One thing that quickly became apparent was that after the Stage 1 ‘warm up’, 2 was bringing an enhanced gnar game to the table, there was only one way back to camp, unless of course you got off line and ended up in the chopper.
With a balmy 31 degrees temperature as we sat in the start queue and smelling like a lazy dogs asshole, my main focus was on simply making it down the hill without requiring Chilean emergency services. It felt like it was the end of Day 5 instead of 1, confirming once and for all that the CIA aren’t amateurs for identifying sleep depravation as an effective form of torture. Speaking of torture, stage 2 was happily waiting for carbon wheels…
Luckily for me then that I was rolling the SC Reserve wheels, which as I shall elaborate on in the wrap up post at the end, didn’t flinch once all week. Granted, they no longer look brand new, but thank fuck for their build quality as this is not a place you want to bring a marginal wheel set. Speaking of not flinching, Gary was on point once more to snap me navigating my way towards the festival of switchbacks on 2.
Like it’s numbers suggested, Stage 2 was a completely different beast from our initiation earlier on in the day. It was looser than a 2006 corporate Christmas party, pre hashtag days, and when no one in the toilet queue actually needed to go to the bathroom. Yes, it was basically mental. We’d been given this heads up, but it wasn’t until we arrived in the lower section that it became apparent just how mental… If you’ve ever slept with someone who you were mildly scared of, then yeah, it was that kind of vibe.
But it was really the lower section where shit got wild, all the top section did was to wear you out a little so that the lower half could have it’s way with you. I’m not sure where I could go in NZ to ride trails like this, but its not often you see endless loose rubble and sand pretending to be ‘dirt’, although I suspect dirt would take offence to being associated with such slutty terrain… I feel angry on the inside that I can’t seem to find a screen grab to do this shit justice.
Usually hairpins are fairly predictable, however Chile didn’t get this message and not only could these muthafuckas end up going in any direction, but they were absolutely overloaded with so much rubble it was essentially like riding on a constantly moving carpet of doom. If you’re the kind of rider who craves predictability, a day like this will have you openly impersonating Billy from Predator: “There’s something out there, we all gonna get loose”
That something out there turned out to be Cactus plants… Hmmmm, plants is understating it, how about cactus trees? I think Gary Perkin captured it best when he snipered me here on stage 2 between flora that appeared to be purposefully designed to probe you and/or maim you. Basically any tree, shrub or bush was armed with some form of puncturing device just gagging for human skin, or Maxxis tires.
To be fair, Stage 2 felt pretty rad, fucking hard yes, but more in line with the kind of riding I thought we may get in Chile. The lower half of the bottom section was even, dare I say it, fun? I also felt a little faster on 2, mainly as I simply couldn’t slow down thanks to a combo of zombie fatigue and -35% switchbacks, all laced with that double fisting combo of loose rocky sand and rubble rilled ruts. It was equally thrilling as it was terrifying. It was piss in your pants relief to see the finish line.
Actually, the real result was I got back to camp without breaking any bones to collapse into my 40 deg super heated tent to commence crying on the inside, but given this is a race report of sorts, here are some numbers:
- Mark Scott – 10.58 for 6th overall
- Dirty Nomad – 16.11 for 57th overall
Daily result – So 60th/85 overall for day one and 16th/30 in Masters was firmly in the “Oh cool, you’re not really racing then” camp, but in terms of surviving the apocalyptic day of Zombification it was a success. Half an hour of fucking hard racing banked and a lot more on the very near horizon.
So Day 1 had a kidnapping bag placed over its head and dragged off into the sunset. As I lay in my tent exhausted, 85% shellshocked and generally confused one thing was abundantly clear… This was immersion. Total, complete, fucking glorious mountain biking immersion of the kind you don’t get to experience very often. It was time to drink from the fire hose.