At midday, in the small town of Jose Fassardi in central Paraguay, the 2022 Adventure Racing World Championship began. When the start gun fired, fifty-three teams set off to race a 550km course, racing non-stop over the next 7 days and nights. They will trek, ride, climb and paddle, staying together in their teams of 4 the whole way, as they explore the mountains, rivers and countryside of Paraguay.
The teams had an early start, leaving the race hotel in Asuncion at 5am for the 4 hour ride to the start line, and those who were not too nervous and restless slept on the coaches. The busses took them to the main road in Fassardi, where there is a palm lined avenue flanked by a garden with many brightly painted seats, and this was where the start was set up. (The main road is not that busy and the start took up one of the carriageways.)
The teams were directed into the town sports hall across the road, which was set up with tables, one for each team, and they were given a packed breakfast and drinks and had time to relax a little. At 10.00 it was time to open the packets of maps on each table and to study the course for the race ahead!
Each team were given a total of 24 maps to cover the whole course, a route book detailing all of the checkpoints and another book showing pictures of checkpoint locations where they would have to take their own picture to prove they’d been there. (There is always a distinctive feature at these points like a gate or building.)
Many of the maps were aerial surveys, showing a lot of detail of the ground cover at 1:25,000, while others were topographical 1:50,000 maps. The checkpoints were already marked and the navigators began their job of selecting the best routes between them. (You can see the race maps on the tracking page and those called CP’s are mandatory, while those named as EXP are optional. The short course teams don’t do the EXP’s, and full course teams will drop in the rankings if they choose to miss any.)
Many different coloured map markers were soon being put to good use, and with each team having two sets of maps there was work for second-navs to be getting on with as well. While this was going on each team had their phone sealed, to ensure they couldn’t use it for navigation or assistance, but to have it available in an emergency.
Nick Gracie of Brazil Multisport commented, “It does not look too bad, but I think this opening 122km trek will be the hardest and I think finding water could be difficult today.” He knows the country and could well have been in the area before, and it was already becoming a hot day under a clear blue sky.
John Collins, the navigator for Merrell Songlines, was impressed with the map quality. “I’m very happy with these,” he said, “there is a lot of detail on the aerial maps and we’ll need to concentrate hard on it all the time.”
As the clock ticked close to midday the time had finally come to start and teams gathered out on the road behind the start funnel, taking last minute selfies and photos with family and friends who had come to see them off. Gustavo Borgognon led the countdown, and the teams streamed under the banner and along the road towards the nearby hills, which filled the horizon.
They quickly found there are a maze of trails in the farmland, especially near the roads, as they headed for CP1, wading a small river to reach it, then climbing up into the forested hills. They would spend the rest of the day, and the night, trekking in the low, but steep sided hills, and at CP6 would visit the highest point in Paraguay. (Cerro Peró which is 842m high.)
The trails were dry, loose, red mud, and very stony and when not in the forest the teams trekked across scrub and rough farmland on narrow trails, which were not too hard to find in the daylight, but there were many of them, and finding the best route at night will be much harder. During the day they had some impressive views out across the surrounding plains, and it remained hot, with a dry and warm wind blowing steadily.
The teams set a strong pace early on, slowing down in the night, when the weather remained dry and clear, but with no moonlight to help. So early in the race there was little distance between the leaders, with the race favourites among the frontrunners, and Merrell Songlines (RSA), Life Adventure Imptek (ECU), USWE (Sweden) and Nordisk (DEN) among those pushing the pace in the front pack of teams.
By the early hours of the morning the leaders will be arriving at CP19 where there are two ziplines and here they will pick up their climbing gear to carry and use for the remainder of the stage. This includes a waterfall rope climb (EXP22) and a canyon (CP24) with two roped waterfall descents. There is also a river crossing just before they reach TA1, which the leaders are not expected to reach until after dusk tomorrow.