The opening trek of the 2022 Adventure Racing World Championship has delivered some amazing scenery for the teams to enjoy, and at the same time tested them to their limits and beyond.
The leading teams completed the 122km stage on the afternoon of day 2 of the race and they were looking footsore, battered and bloody. And the slower teams will be on the stage for another day, if they can finish it, that is.
The hill trekking has been hard, with continuous ascent and descent, and some dense vegetation at times. At the zip line yesterday Silver Eensaar of Estonian ACE Adventure had a wound in the centre of his forehead and said, “I walked into a branch and there was blood everywhere.” Other team members had scratched arms and legs from struggling through the bush and like most teams they said they had made some navigation mistakes, losing time. This was a common theme among the lead teams, except for Avaya, who opened up a lead on the first night.
“Chris (Forne) was on fire,” said Nathan Fa’avae. Forne’s navigation is so often in a different league and the New Zealand team didn’t find the conditions too challenging. “It was just small trails in the bush,” Fa’avae said.
The zip line was a welcome break for the teams, and was set by a cafe in a forest clearing, where they could eat and organise their gear in the sun. The checkpoint was on a large cactus plant and it was a short walk across the clearing to reach a cliff to with a stunning view out over the forest canopy to the plains below. The zip lines ran parallel to the cliff, passing the small waterfall that tumbled down it, and in each direction, so racers could go out and back.
There was more rope activity later in the stage, set around a small canyon, where teams descended alongside two waterfalls before making their way up the canyon, which was choked with boulders and tree debris. There were 40m high walls at the head of the canyon, split by a small waterfall, and it was here teams climbed back up on scramble net the race had set up.
It was a demanding stage set in the hidden canyons of the forest, which are rarely explored or visited. The stage remained open throughout the second day, but on the second night of the race big electrical storms lit up the sky and heavy rain storms began, continuing right through the night and into day three. This necessitated closing the canyon stage for obvious safety reasons, and later teams took a route around.
On the final stage of the trek teams came down out of the hills to walk across grass plains to the first transition, but there was a sting in the tail of the trek. One kilometre short of the transition there was a wade across the river, which teams would soon be paddling on. This wasn’t wide or deep, but the bank was flanked by dense bush and it was difficult to find a path through to the river.
The leading group of teams passed through, with Avaya arriving first, then just before sunset SAFAT, Estonian ACE Adventure La Sportiva and Life Adventure Imptek, all arrived close together. Fa’avae said he thought teams would find it very hard to find the right trails in the dark there, and when Merrell Songlines and Brazil Multisport arrived shortly after dark, he was proved right. They took hours longer to fight through the bush and cross the river in the dark. Had they arrived 30 minutes earlier it might have been different.
When Merrell Songlines finally arrived in the transition in the Sports Hall in the village of Dr. Bottrell they were in low spirits and exhausted, and decided to stop and sleep for a while. With the mosquitoes on the river bank (and the heavy rain later on) that may have been a good choice.
Ahead of them Avaya had left first for the 80km paddle on the Rio Tebicuary, passing the 3 incoming teams in the doorway. Of the arrivals SAFAT were last to arrive and first to leave, perhaps energised in transition by seeing Avaya. The leaders, and all of the teams. needed to sleep and rest on the second night, and the first teams opted to stop on the riverbank somewhere, though how well that worked out in the storms and torrential rain we won’t know until they arrive at TA2. The majority of teams are still trying to reach TA1.