It was 9pm and I had just finished a beer, my hand was reaching for another when that little voice inside my head started screaming ‘go home and pack you idiot!’. Ah right, I was due to fly out to Chile the next morning and my 4am wake up call was looming dangerously close. It was hard to tear myself away but I said goodbye to my friends who I hadn’t seen for nearly 3 weeks to go home and pack up my things. Last minute advice from my buddy Davis, who had done the race the year prior, rang in my head as I jammed stuff into the bike bag, ‘bring as many tires as you can, DH ones, and tubes, and brake pads – you’ll definitely need brake pads’. By the time I was done you can hardly see the beautiful new Juliana Roubion tucked away amongst all the gear.
This was the start of my whirlwind trip to the Andes Pacifico in Chile. I had only signed up for the race a few weeks before it started and since my work has me taking care of a backcountry ski lodge, training on the bike wasn’t really an option. Organizing the logistics of the trip from my snowy office in the mountains proved to be slightly challenging but having amazing friends to help pick up and drop stuff off, set up and pack my bike, and give me advice made it all possible. Once I was down in Chile the reality of it all really sunk in, I was about to ride my bike for 5 days, some at high altitude in a totally new and unknown place. I was stoked to say the least and it just kept getting better!
We arrived in camp on the first day and it was like a reunion of sorts, seeing people who I’ve met at other races or just via trips riding bikes in other places. The Andes Pacifico does social time really well, every day there’s a delicious afternoon snack and a van set up with craft beer on tap! Needless to say we did a thorough testing of the craft beer selection on the first afternoon, enjoying catching up and soaking up some sun. Lots of us had come from winter so to be down in the hot Chilean sun was such a nice change.
Waking up the first day of the race was exciting and a bit disorienting at the same time. It takes a bit of time to figure out your morning routine if you’re just starting a multi-day race. Getting up so you have enough time to enjoy breakfast, pack your things for the day, find your shuttle driver, and generally get the lay of the camp set up. The Andes Pacifico crew had a pretty dialled camp set up wherever we went; tents all set up for you, a medical tent with great staff, logistical help if you needed it, and lots of good food & drink. The first day I hopped in a shuttle van and met our driver Nico, he was a really great guy who would end up being our driver each morning for the whole week. Every morning he would grab my bike from the bike stash and have it waiting in the truck for me, what a guy! That first day we drove out from camp and I was a little nervous, this was going to be my first ride on the Roubion and my first time back on the bike in a few months. We drove up to the La Parva ski hill outside Santiago, past all sorts of fancy ski chalets that seemed slightly out of place in contrast to the dry sunny summer landscape. We arrived at the bottom of a ski lift and hopped on for a lift up the slopes before we started a quick hike a bike to the top of our first stage at over 3000m. The views were incredible, dry rocky mountains with huge glaciers surrounded us.
I had heard about this notorious ‘Chilean Anti-grip’ and was a bit nervous about what exactly that meant… I tried a few practice turns that turned into slow drifts and quickly realized that perhaps slower was faster on this slippery dirt. It still seemed surreal that I was about to drop in at the top of the first stage but once I was on the track I started to get the feel for the Roubion and the fun began! The tracks were all pretty long and tough on the upper body and more than a few times I had to peel my fingers off the bars at the end of a stage. Starting up high we rode down the rocky slopes and pedaled around the mountain a bit, dropping through a variety of terrain and ending up down in the valley back in our awesome camp to finish the day off with a cold bevy, snacks and a dip in the river than ran next to camp.
The following days were filled with equally challenging trails with new obstacles, stunning vistas and the best part, getting to meet tons of great new friends! Each day an elaborate lunch was set up somewhere along the route; sandwiches, delicious fresh fruit, nuts, chocolate, and hydration drink. But instead of just grabbing your food and racing on everyone stopped, sat down and ate. This is what we learned was part of being on ‘Chilean time’, there’s no rush, things will get done and it’s best to just relax and enjoy the time. Being on a relaxed time schedule allowed time to meet a whole bunch of new people and also spend more time hanging out and really getting to know the group. Our group of girls was fairly small, I think there were 10 of us, and it was so nice to hang out with everyone and get to know more than just the general ‘where you from’ type stuff. One of my favourite days was when we got back to our second camp spot a bit earlier than the previous day (the day before we arrived in camp around 11pm), our camp had an outdoor swimming pool and so of course we jumped in and had a relaxing afternoon swimming, sunning, chatting and playing with the random stray dogs following us around.
As we got closer to the beach, my body started getting tired, more used to skiing down white slopes than ripping down dusty trails. The first glimpse of the ocean was a welcome sight and the view from the top of the final stage was amazing. We were perched on top of a hill looking out down the beautiful pacific coastline, waves crashing along sandy beaches and rugged cliffs. The final stages were so fun, fast and flowy with lots of fast loose corners that would catch you off guard and drag you off your bike. Before dropping into the final stage, halfway down from where we started up on the hill you could hear roars of cheering erupting from below, it was so cool to see and hear so many people come out to watch and cheer us all on. The track was lined with spectators and hecklers along the way, cheering and encouraging us on for the final sprint to the finish, a real punisher as it was a long and fairly flat stretch to get to the line. Our crew of girls waited for our leader, the outstanding Tracey Mosely, to finish and celebrated with hugs and high fives all around.
Riding into camp after finishing the race we came up to the sports field a block from the beach where the tents were set up and found a crowd of fans mobbing around wanting autographs and trying to get Jerseys off the ‘top dogs’. It was so cool to see so much stoke and excitement from the locals who came out to cheer, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mob of fans waiting at the finish of many races back home, save Crankworx. All the top guys were so good, giving away their jerseys, signing autographs and posing for pics. The Santa Cruz team manager took it one step further and gave his entire bike away to one of the kids! The vibe was so full of just pure enjoyment that it was so nice to relax and revel in the beautiful location we were in and the great company all around. Hanging on the beach until sunset was the best way to end the adventure… that was until the Pisco (a high proof spirit made from distilled grape juice) came out and then the real party started! Chileans know how to mix a cocktail so be forewarned, the Andes Pacifico truly is the experience of a lifetime but beware the Pisco and you’ll be just fine.