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The Cross-Border Multi-Day Adventure Challenge is sure to get your adrenaline pumping! In this endurance event, participants use multi-modal transportation as they make their way from the tiny climbing town of El Chaltén, Argentina, to Candelaria Mancilla at the Chilean border.
In this race against time, participants face expiring dog import paperwork, consumption of all fresh produce prior to entering Chile, boat departures, and a 22km trek that sees them from the Argentine to the Chilean border.
Participants sit idle for days in El Chaltén, until clear weather permits safe passage over the 40km gravel road leading to the boat launch for the Argentine border at Lago del Desierto. All the while, the clock is ticking on the 10-day health certificate for guaranteed dog-entry into Chile.
Upon arrival, racers set up camp and rest up before the big day ahead where they must summit a steep and narrow 6km trekking trail with their loaded touring bikes and dog trailer and then cycle down the muddy and slippery 16km road that follows, where they will then be stamped into Chile. This must be completed within the same day, otherwise Chilean authorities force you to return to Argentina to complete the trek all over again.
Sound easy enough? Think again!
Undoubtedly, the Cross-Border Multi-Day Adventure Challenge will be the most difficult physical struggle you will have ever faced in your life.
This year, we created a category unlike anything you have ever seen in adventure racing: Doggy Style.
Doggy Style participants MUST include a dog, and their heavy touring bikes, trailers are encouraged, but not necessary. This year, we had two entrants, the Long Haul Trekkers and Kiwi and Turkey.
We followed the Long Haul Trekkers from El Chaltén to see how they fared in this year’s challenge.
After spending four days in El Chaltén, with 120km/h winds keeping them off their bikes, the weather gods finally granted Dave and Jen an opening and they set off early one morning, with two days left before their dog, Sora’s paperwork expired.
The gravel road through the mountains between El Chaltén and the boat launch for Lago del Desierto slowed their pace significantly, given their narrow tires and heavy load, however, they made the departure with 40 minutes to spare.
Upon arrival, they set up camp, made a dinner of chili, utilizing every last bit of produce they carried in their food bag, and talked strategy with their fellow participants. They were the only two on bicycle and with a dog.
The following morning greeted racers with blue skies, warm weather, and a glorious view of Mount Fitz Roy’s north face glistening over the lake. After filling up on oats, Dave, Jen, and Sora took off around 9 o’clock, once they had received their departure stamp from the Argentine border patrol.
Past race participants had informed Dave and Jen that the first two kilometers were the hardest, with narrow paths that scarcely fit panniers, rooted obstacles, and deep trenches that render pushing bikes nearly impossible. Their plan was to leave their bikes at the bottom of the hill and carry the trailer over the first two kilometers, the rest would be a piece of cake.
Or so they thought.
For two hours, Dave and Jen carried the 25kg trailer up and over roots and rocks, through the narrow trenches, and over unstable log bridges. Awkward to carry, their wrists and forearms suffered while Sora won off leash freedom by constantly hindering their progress.
By the time they reached the two kilometer mark, just before a river crossing, they began to wonder whether they had taken on too much.
They left the trailer to retrieve their bikes. Twenty minutes later, they were reunited and began the trek to meet the trailer. With the sun warming their backs and Fitz Roy guiding their way, the steep, narrow path and trenches slowed them, but they were so delighted to be in nature that their spirits lifted and they gained momentum.
Upon reaching the trailer, Dave guided the two bikes and trailer barefoot through the glacial stream. With four kilometers left to go and the day fading quickly, the Long Haul Trekkers proceeded carrying the trailer to the peak’s summit.
Several more icy water crossings, a 50-meter long mud pit, even steeper terrain, and constant rocks and roots forced Dave and Jen to carry the heavy trailer the majority of those four kilometers. Toward the halfway mark, their wrists began to writhe in pain, and their grips failed them after several steps. It wasn’t until 6:30 that they had finally reached the summit. And they still had to retrieve their bicycles.
Leaping and bounding their way back, adrenaline drove them towards their rigs. Back they went through the frigid waters and sole-sucking mud field. Despite the quickly cooling weather thanks to the setting sun, Dave and Jen simply plowed through the obstacles, carrying along with numb toes and mud up to their calves.
By the time they reached the summit, the skies had darkened and a cold rain began spitting from the sky. It was 9:30PM, they still felt like they could reach the border before the stroke of midnight. Assembling their gear, they set out along the gravel road to the Chilean border, still 16km away, guided by their headlamps.
Cycling in the pitch black, they lost their way several times, once riding along a pending aiport runway only to find a dead end. They began to fear that they would become lost in the darkness, unable to make their way to the border.
Glowing eyes reflected back in their headlamps and Jen began to panic. “They can’t make me come back and do this tomorrow!” She wailed. “ I WON’T DO IT. I CAN’T. My muscles don’t even work anymore!”
Contemplating a DNF for the adventure challenge, the Long Haul Trekkers debated whether to set up camp right on that proposed runway or to continue on.
At that moment, Dave spotted a mile marker indicating the correct way. They agreed to push on in the cold and the rain through the thick mud and rocky roads.
At midnight, with seven kilometers remaining, they consumed their leftover chili from the previous night. Filled with exhaustion and dread, they robotically ate their meal in silence before slithering back down the road.
The final four kilometers were so steep and filled with loose rocks that cycling was impossible. Jen walked her bike the remainder of the way, her wrists aching from the constant depression of her brakes.
By the time Dave and Jen reached the border, it was well over midnight. They had failed in completing the The Cross-Border Multi-Day Adventure Challenge. As the border guard dog altered the customs agent to their arrival, they were let in and explained their situation, pleading the case for entry.
After listening to the story of our experience, the border guard looked at them and asked whether they carried a tent. Yes, they replied. He asked why they didn’t camp.
Jen explained the race rules as she understood them: That participants must stamp out of Argentina and into Chile in the same day.
The guard laughed and said “those Argentines don’t know anything about our borders! Oh! And it looks like your dog paperwork has expired! Come with me and I’ll give you an unused house where you can spend the night. You can come back tomorrow whenever you want to stamp in and take a shower at our office.”
Bewildered, Dave and Jen followed the kind guard, set up their beds, and let the aches and pains from the day fade away.