Atacama Crossing Blogs 2022

View All Posts 2022 From : Keith Gayhart

Keith Gayhart
I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

02 October 2022 02:05 am (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

This week I snapped an O-for-3 streak with Racing the Planet, completing their Atacama Crossing, a 7-day, 250K, self-supported race through the driest place on Earth. It was a challenging, beautiful, mind-boggling and exhausting event.

We scrambled through a miles-long slot canyon, crossing and recrossing a rushing stream filled with knee-deep, icy water and complemented by a slippery, rocky bottom. We passed over several long sections of egregiously misnamed “salt flats.” I say misnamed as,-although appearing flat-as-a-pancake from a distance, they are anything but upon close contact with one’s feet. We encountered wildly crusty surfaces that sometimes supported body weight, more often did not. The flats came in many variants and were often dotted with prickly shrubs and rocky gullies, making navigation difficult and fast motion treacherous. I presume the “salt” part was correct.

We scaled one massive sand dune and dashed headlong down another. In truth, my fellow competitors did the dashing, I tiptoed down the acute slope fearing for my life. We got caught in a wind storm whose ceaseless gales surpassed 60 mph and splattered us with biting sand. It temporarily brought the race to a halt.

We were treated to breathtaking, panoramic desert landscapes and spooky moonscapes. We met the occasional grazing llama and dogs who followed our camp in search of a free lunch. We chattered our teeth through sub-freezing nights. We scarfed down pizza and soda pop at the finish line situated next to a rusting hulk dubbed the Magic Bus.

Completing a race like this could be seen as an impressive personal achievement, but as the week wore on, I realized again and again how mistaken such a view is. My journey from start to finish was aided by dozens of individuals without whose support, encouragement, wisdom and wisecracks I surely would have failed.

The most obvious are the race organizers who designed a course both stunning and difficult. They tempered it by providing resources in the form of checkpoints manned by volunteers with water bottles, neat campsites with tents, hot water and port-a-potties, pink ribbons marking every twist and turn of the course, and other thoughtful touches all calculated to help competitors succeed.

My fellow racers provided mental, physical and emotional boosts. A competitor named Dean buddied up with me near the 10-mile point in the Long March and squired me through the remaining 32 miles, setting the pace, looking out for pink flags and tolerating my dull jokes. Three strong women, two British, one American, led the way through the salt flats while singing songs from The Sound of Music. My tentmates pretended not to mind as I flopped about all night in my sleeping bag like a bass dropped on the floor of a row boat. Jon, a competitor, and Michael, a race photographer—who’d witnessed my most recent failure in Georgia—gave me attaboys every time I finished a stage.

This was a race and there were winners. I did my bit by continuing to amble along, even when my feet and legs ached, and I smelled to high heaven. But, at heart, this was a group experience created in common by everyone involved: competitors, staff, volunteers, medical team, media crew, course designers and local crew. Each individual contributed something essential that in sum produced an amazing outcome.

 

The lesson here applies beyond adventure racing. All our triumphs, achievements and joys are made possible through the support and goodwill of those around us. No one gets to the finish line alone. The networks that surround us, that inspire us, that keep us going are not merely an aspect of life. They are life.

My profound thanks to my supporters, especially those back home, my wife Lindi, my kids Dash and Tess, my running pals and other friends. I love you all. You provide the wind in my sails.

A few grey Federales say

They could have had him any day.

They only let him go so long

Out of kindness, I suppose.

“Pancho and Lefty” --Townes Van Sant

 

Comments: Total (5) comments

Lillian Forward

Posted On: 06 Oct 2022 02:03 pm

Keith, I’m not sure why you have the intrinsic motivation to even try these impossible treks, but every time I read about your adventures, I always feel like I am witnessing someone becoming more fully human and it fills me with joy.

Karen Wei

Posted On: 03 Oct 2022 10:56 am

KEITH! Not only are you a stud of an ultra runner but an eloquent writer too. I want to plagiarize every word of your last blog post, #truth right there. It’s been fantastic to meet you in person and to be able to add you to my growing list of “desert buddies” (aka my tribe). Some hard and well-earned R&R awaits you, enjoy it and see you sometime somewhere! Best, Karen x

Clancy Johannsen

Posted On: 03 Oct 2022 01:32 am

Good on you for the finish. Truly it is a spectacular race and yes, it can’t be done without the amazing volunteers. I was lucky that I convinced my sister to volunteer and that she still talks to me. Congrats and enjoy the moment.

Clancy Johannsen

Posted On: 03 Oct 2022 01:31 am

Good on you for the finish. Truly it is a spectacular race and yes, it can’t be done without the amazing volunteers. I was lucky that I convinced my sister to volunteer and that she still talks to me. Congrats and enjoy the moment.

Jennifer Wilson

Posted On: 02 Oct 2022 02:22 pm

Keith Sounds like a great adventure! I’m so impressed! I am smiling ear to ear reading about all you endured and could picture you entertaining the other runners around you just as much as they entertain you! This is my favorite part No one gets to the finish line alone. The networks that surround us, that inspire us, that keep us going are not merely an aspect of life. They are life. Well will you make a 4th attempt? Jen
Keith Gayhart
Training Days

28 August 2022 12:07 pm (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

I’ve had a curious time preparing for Atacama Crossing. For complicated reasons, I haven’t been driving since May, making it difficult to reach my favorite trails and obliging me to improvise alternative routes.

For my long, Saturday hikes, I leave my home in West Los Angeles at 4:15 a.m., hop on the Metro and ride to Santa Monica. From there, I stroll along the Pacific Coast for five or six miles until I can access one or another trailhead. Then, I can toddle along for 20 miles or so before arriving at some obscure cul de sac where my angelic wife picks me up.

It’s unorthodox, but I imagine many of my mates scattered across the globe have similar routines. Lucky is she who has immediate access to bucolic landscapes, but many others must content themselves with whatever is accessible even if it happens to be an urban jungle. In all cases, race preparation involves many solitary, hours-long jaunts while hauling a pack stuffed with the equivalent to the 40 or so items on the mandatory equipment list and attracting curious stares from passersby who haven’t a clue what you are up to.

During the week, I am sometimes picked up by generous friends and able to train in the mountains. Other times, I do an out and back from home. My go-to course takes me due north into Beverly Hills where I make my way up winding, tree-lined streets and past tony residences to Mulholland Drive. It’s a 1,400 foot climb at a 14 percent grade. So, no slot canyons, sand dunes or salt flats for me, instead it’s “swimmin’ pools…movie stars.”

I look forward to seeing my RTP friends in San Pedro de Atacama. I’ll be good to go.

Comments: Total (5) comments

Gudrun Siegle

Posted On: 01 Oct 2022 01:45 pm

Hi Keith Hope you will write a blog about the Atacama crossing - looking forward to reading it. Would have loved to join you guys, see you are all having a blast, sandstorms included. The long run was surely notable, running and hiking under the stars… Have some pisco sours on me! Bestest Gudrun

Roberto Rivola

Posted On: 22 Sep 2022 11:46 am

Go for it, Keith! Atacama is a wonderful course - I would like to be there ... Enjoy your race so as the old and new friends, Roberto

Donald Feinstein

Posted On: 31 Aug 2022 10:37 am

Hi Keith: Best wishes in your training and the actual event. If you have time, would like to know what your personal pack contains in prep, and for, the Atacama Crossing. Thx.

Donald Feinstein

Posted On: 31 Aug 2022 10:37 am

Hi Keith: Best wishes in your training and the actual event. If you have time, would like to know what your personal pack contains in prep, and for, the Atacama Crossing. Thx.

Jim Green

Posted On: 29 Aug 2022 09:41 pm

Is your pacer Jed Clampett?