It’s pretty early on in the season for a big race, but this was one event that I wasn’t going to miss. I’ve never been to South America and I love being involved with new events, so off to Chile it was. Upon arrival it was anything but chilly, it was bloody hot. Heat like what we’re used to in South Africa, and I knew right then, that this stage race was not going to be a breeze. The heat is what was going to make this event a tough one, and the “anti-grip” dirt that everyone has been going on about.

Santiago was big, 6million people big, surrounded by massive Andes mountain peaks all around. It was dry, barren, polluted & dusty almost like Las Vegas, a city that just popped up in the middle of nowhere, but it was alive, colourful & bustling. It reminded me a lot of South Africa, the constant contrast between wealth & poverty. The shanties you drive past in your fancy car, the electric fences and gates in the neighborhoods. The maids. Only difference were the dogs, strays were everywhere, but they were all so friendly and non aggressive, unlike most South African dogs. Anyhow, those were my first impressions driving into Santiago. The greatest thing to me, were the friendly, warm people. Everyone, wherever you went were such amazing people. My lack of Spanish left me frustrated at times, wanting to communicate and chat, but our charade games would make do most of the time. We were welcomed into strangers homes like we were family, and that was to be the precedent of the entire trip. That and fruit cups. Delicious fruit cups.

The race was amazing. It was incredibly tough. We started high up in La Parva and finished up on the beach in Maitencillo. The 38 – 40degree Celsius heat turned it up a notch and the hike a bikes in the midday heat, made for some very long days out in the desert. The race stages were hard, technical, steep and strange. Strange in a good way, just weird to ride. Dirt like most of us have never experienced. You’d pick your line, go for your line and not even ever get anywhere near your line. This was to be the battle of the week, trying to pick and stay on line or on track. As soon as we’d feel a little more confident, we’d move to a new area with slightly different, anti-grip dirt and the learning curve would start from scratch. It was fun to try and figure this out, but also frustrating at times when the track looked straight forward, and usually you’d be able to let it go, but you just couldn’t out here. Not to mention the size of the cacti & its thorns that loomed around every corner. Besides the giant sized cacti, the rest of the vegetation scattered along the tracks were also thorny and they didn’t move. Our hands and forearms were cut up & battered to smithereens, and our legs looked like we fought with some samurai masters. This is what I love about these sorts of adventures. Everything was new, everything was exciting, and everything was scary. This is what riding bikes is all about to me. The adventure of all of this, thrown into a race with all the variables and the unknown factors is what excites me and why I love to do these sorts of events. It is a race, yes, but it is an adventure. It is an adventure with a group of awesome likeminded people and you have to embrace anything and everything that gets thrown at you.

It was like a reunion of sorts with all our friends meeting up from all over the world for another suffer fest. The dark cloud crew’s early reunion with loads of other familiar faces from previous adventures. Sven had a really bad first day, riddled with mechanicals, flats and of course crashes, that made him decide to focus on photographing the rest of the race. Everyone struggled with the stages, they were hard. Everyone crashed, got lost, got stuck and such, but everyone finished off the long days with a big smile and a sparkle in the eye. The food & the Chilean red wine helped ease the aches & pains after each long day, with loads of speculation of what the following day was going to be like. During the day, when you’re struggling, you keep thinking of the end of the race, but when it comes around, there is that sad, flat feeling of the adventure being over. The Dark Cloud crew had their fare share of mishaps – as usual, but nothing too serious. We all made it. We survived the crazy Chilean backcountry and crazy tracks. I ended up taking the win, with Pauline Dieffenthaler in second and Julia Hobson (fellow Juliana ambassador) in third place. In the men’s, Jerome Clementz took the win, with local Chilean Nico Prudencio in second and Francois Bailly-Maitre in third. Chris Ball also killed it as usual and Will beat me this time around. Damnit!

No rest for the weary as we managed to do some laundry and head South for about 5 hours to the mountains of Chillan to check out the area where the first round of the EWS will take place in a few weeks from now. Feeling pretty tired and beat up, all I wanted to do was sleep on the beach and eat more avocado everything, but it was time to do some more riding and exploring. I was loving this area. It was green and lush with beech forests – it felt like home! I loved seeing the smaller villages and towns and the quaint houses and gardens, this was the Chile that I had pictured in my head. We rode & explored for two days, did bits and pieces of one track; hike a biked to some steaming hot fumaroles to catch the most stellar sunset and to cook an egg. It smelt like Rotorua. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted to keep going further south, to see more lush forests and lakes, but this will have to do for now as our time has run out.

We bee lined it back to Santiago, got home around 3am, woke up at 7am to wash & pack our bikes and to get to the Aquitaine Winery by 10am for a wine tasting tour with Eduardo at his family vineyard. This was a first for me, drinking wine at 10am, blending my toothpaste with tannins. Bloody hell, was it tasty. I could get used to drinking these delicious wines on the terrace at 10am. It was time to head home, back to NZ.

It was a whirlwind trip, with a wonderful race, in a magical country. It has been a little teaser of a big country that I cannot wait to return to and explore properly. Thank you Chile & its amazing people & scenery for a wonderful adventure. Thank you also to Mountain Works & Santa Cruz Bicycles Chile for all your help & late nights helping me with my bike, and to all the organizers for putting on such an amazing event. Eduardo, Nacho & Matias, Maria Eugenia & her family, Montenbaik, Sarita & all the chicas who ran everything. Cheers to all the drivers and everyone involved, it was magical and unforgettable & I’ll be back!

Next up: Trail riding trip with the SRAM family in Craigieburn forest & Nelson.

Peace out x

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