Atacama Crossing 2023: Post Race Reflections
It has been a little over one week since crossing the finish line in the town square of San Pedro de Atacama. I hope everyone has recovered well.
Arrival at Camp 1.
As this was my 2nd attempt at the Atacama Crossing, withdrawing last year at CP3 of Stage 2, the first two Stages of this year’s race were very familiar but after that each day was a new story. My pack weighed in at 6.25 kg not including what I was wearing. I was stunned to hear that Russell’s pack was only 4.5 kg! Lower pack weights make a big difference in getting through the race.
Stage 1 was very nice with the shaded slot canyons and vast expanses. However, CP3 to camp got very hot.
The water crossings during Stage 2 were just as fun as last year. A little slip resulted in me getting dunked up to my waist but it was refreshing. I was a little apprehensive on Stage 2 between CP2 to CP3 because that is where I withdrew from the race last year. After getting myself together at CP2, I set off. This time the mine road seemed easier and shorter. The left turn after the tunnel with the steep ascent was not bad because I took small steps with my head down not worrying about how far I had to climb. This strategy also worked well for sand dunes. Then the long trek along the plateau was very nice especially in the company of my tent mate Ivan. By the time I got to the sand dune, I was ready for a fun descent. At CP3, I took a moment to remember last year as the place I withdrew from the race but I was ready to move forward. CP3 to camp was made easier by chatting with Chris.
Following Lynne in the slot canyons.
Stage 3 is a blur except for the final scramble up a steep dune to the finish. I was wondering what evil person designed such a finish. A dip in the pool at the nearby farm was nice to wash some of my clothes and rinse my hair.
Stage 4 was very eventful. I was with Dora and Tetsu moving along well when we arrived at CP2. Dora and I got ourselves together and headed out onto the salt flats. Minutes later CP2 was closed, holding competitors there because it was going to be too hot, and if someone got in trouble access was limited. Oblivious to this, Dora and I kept moving forward. We didn’t realize what had happened until we saw Doctor Lisa with a horse with extra water just before CP3. We learned the competitors held at CP2 were being transported to camp. After CP3, we saw Sam at a bus stop looking very serious. She told us what had happened and offered to have us driven to camp with a time penalty, but Dora and I decided to do the final 4.2 miles to camp. I would not have completed Stage 4 if it hadn’t been for Dora.
Dora points the way during Stage 4.
Dr. Lisa on the salt flats.
Stage 5 was checkpoint to checkpoint with varied terrain. The magnificent sand dune loomed far in the distance and was fun (and tough) to climb. Around this time, I teamed up with Doreen to do the final distance in the dark with a bright full moon and clear sky in the middle of the Atacama desert. Priceless. At one point after CP6, I asked Doreen, is that a large sand dune that we have to climb? Again, I questioned the course designer’s intentions. Ultimately, we made it to camp between midnight and 1 am.
The incredible dune we climbed between CP3 and CP4 on the Long March.
Finishing the Long March.
The Rest Day started with the arrival of Yui around 8 am (~24 hrs after the start), making the cut off with about 15 minutes to spare. It was a very emotional finish for the Long March. The rest of the day was to recuperate and let our ankles and feet swell so that they would feel tight in our shoes for the final run. Ha!
With Yui at Camp 1. We are determined to finish this time!
Stage 6 started in 3 waves. The bottom 31 competitors started at 7:30 am, the middle group at 8:30 am, and the top 9 at 9 am. In the first group, David, Dolores, Tetsu, Jun, and I were determined to run. At some point it was Dolores trotting ahead of everyone, followed by David, me, and Tetsu/Jun. I was sure the competitors from the other groups would catch us but to my surprise I crossed the finish line soon after Dolores and David. I was especially happy to have Sam place the medal on me.
A few more thoughts: My general nutrition, hydration/electrolyte plan was similar to the Gobi March but I soon realized that each race is a bit different. Mostly, I rely on Infinit and Skratch drinks, sipping every 10 mins. Fritos and candied pecans were snacks. Because of the altitude, heat, terrain, and fear of failing, I didn’t run much. So, I was on course longer than anticipated, taxing my nutrition and electrolytes. Fortunately, I had a bit extra.
This time I used RL gaiters. I had Velcro glued and sewn onto my shoes. They worked perfectly.Not a grain of sand got in. Another benefit of the gaiters was that my feet and socks were not filthy at the end of the Stage.
Thank you to all the volunteers, medical, photography, and local support staff. Everyone was so wonderful and supportive, always encouraging us. It was an honor to meet and race with all the competitors. Ivan and Ryoji were great tent mates. It was wonderful to race with friends from the Gobi March, including Fer, Dora, Kristof, Ivan, Doreen, and Rafiq.
At the finish with tent mates Ivan and Ryoji.
Janka always brings the energy!
Congratulations to everyone who made it to the start line and began the race. It is a big achievement. Last year when I withdrew from the Atacama Crossing I was puzzled and disappointed but with wonderful advice from the generous competitors I met, I was able to regroup and come back to finish. This makes me appreciate this finish even more.