A year ago, after close to five years of racing enduro mountain bikes professionally, we found ourselves burned out and ready for a change. But we still wanted to race. We just wanted that racing to be a little bit, well, more meaningful. Not that racing can’t be meaningful in and of itself, but after pursuing the same national and regional series year and year, the truth is that we were no longer sure why we were doing it. And so, starting in early 2018, and with support from PEARL iZUMi and other sponsors, we reframed. From here on out, we would be racing for the experience. We would be racing for us.
And so, it’s not surprising that we found ourselves high in the Chilean Andes in early February of this year, preparing for a five-day stage race called Andes-Pacifico. After all, the race’s tagline, “the experience of a lifetime,” felt like it had been written for us.
But here’s the thing about racing for adventure and experience — you have to let go of certain expectations, like getting a good night’s sleep, eating your preferred pre-race breakfast, or even knowing when the heck the race is actually going to start. As they say, the best adventures are often only “fun” in retrospect. And I think most serious athletes can resonate with this: what is fun and comfortable at the moment rarely makes the best memories. Fun sometimes just isn’t the point.
If you want to travel to race your bike, here are five things to keep in mind:
1. You’re going to need to let go of your expectations. Things will not go to plan, but that is the beauty of it. As athletes we are often used to controlling every aspect of our racing — when you travel and do an adventure race like Andes Pacifico, this is simply not the reality of the situation. Race start times will be unpredictable. Shuttles will take longer than anticipated. You might finish a final stage of the day staring into the blinding setting sun. Dinner will be served hours after you would usually go to bed. It’s okay. This is what you came for.
2. That said, you should definitely bring earplugs.
3. Train to be adaptable. Or, in other words, prepare to be surprised. We did most of our training for this event in Ohio in December and January. It was snowy and icy and at sea level. The Chilean Andes are…the opposite of all of those things. And so, instead of training specifically for this event, we trained to be adaptable. We trained our bodies to handle diverse movements and long days and the utter exhaustion that we knew was coming.
4. These events are a great way to work on your mental strength as an athlete. Look at it as a testing ground for your mental resiliency. Prove to yourself that you can race just fine on five hours of sleep. Prove to yourself that you don’t need to know when your start time is to show up and race your heart out.
5. Embrace the community aspect, even (especially?) when it might interfere with your race performance. By the end of five days at Andes Pacifico, we felt like we had known some of our fellow racers for years. YEARS. So, if you have an opportunity to do a race like this, remember, it’s more than a race. Take advantage of meal plans and group campsites even if these threaten to disrupt your normal pre-race routines (refer back to point 2 because at least some sleep is nice).
With Andes-Pacifico, we got what we came for. We were pushed both physically and mentally, although perhaps not in the ways we had anticipated. For five days and six nights, we slept on the ground, raced our hearts out, found ourselves embroiled in simultaneously lovely and infuriating cultural misunderstandings, ate dinner at 11pm (this is Chile, after all), fixed our bikes at midnight, dreamed in Spanish and then got up to do it all over again. You can follow our adventure in further detail in the three vlogs below: