We decided to head down to the Amazon jungle this weekend for a 2 day stage race along the Napo River (where I am constructing my hydrological models actually-so I recognized a lot of the stream crossings and areas we passed through from raster maps!). The race, called La Ruta de los Rios, was part of the Fiestas de Tena, the celebration of the founding of the town.
We found out about a van service (Autoexpress) that offers transporte from Quito to Tena and was willing to take our bikes for an extra charge. We were supposed to leave at 6am but the van didn’t show up until 730 because they were waiting for 5 models who were going to the Fiestas de Tena for some reason or another. The van picked us up first, then two German girsl, and finally we went to pick up the models, but of course they weren’t there. Finally by 8am, 2 of them showed and then we had to go pick up the other 3 at a different locations. Even though they made everyone wait for 2 hours, they were completely unconcerned…at least about those around them, but they were very concerned with their own comfort and complained about everything. They were so plastic looking that they weren’t even attractive. All had breast implants and some had huge butt implants, fake lips, you name it..I actually saw them later on in Tena in their full on outfits and they looked gaudy, cliché crossdressers from the 80’s. They really gave models a bad name!
We arrived in Tena at around noon. Tena was nice enough, but good food was hard to come by. We ended up eating burgers at a little cafe below our hostel. I then took a walk over the bridge to an island in the middle of the river that they’ve turned into a zoological park with monkeys and tapirs out in the open and all sorts of cool jungle flora and fauna. I even caught a couple tortoises in mid-copulation (the groans were odly human like).
It was pretty cool actually. By 2pm it was an absolute sauna in town. Almost 40 degress C, humid, and no wind. I had thought Id be ready for the heat after the TNGA, but this made the Georgia summer seem down right pleasant, no joke!
We went for a quick dip in the Napo to cool off, then rested until about 4pm when we went to grab some food before the first stage of the race, and urban night xc shortcourse, that began a “6pm”. We couldn’t really find anything that looked appealing but saw some empanadas on the street and gave them a try. They were surprisingly good, but didn’t settle well in the heat before the race.
We started warming up around 5pm expecting a 6pm start. The course was mostly along the riverwalk through town and crowds were starting to gather for the evening festivities. 630 rolled around and they finally called everyone up for a warmup lap as a group. When everyone was back at the start line, they informed us that they would start with beginners, then older beginners and all female racers (there were only 4 including Abbey), then open men in 2 waves. That meant I wouldn’t be racing for another couple of hours, which was dangerously close to my bedtime! I was pretty annoyed at this point. My warmup had been pointless. But it was so hot, at least our muscles didnt cool down!
There was no elite women’s category so Abbey destroyed it in her race nearly laping all the other girls and giving the top beginner men a run for their money. I think the locals were surprised to see a fast girl. Abbey was even given a leader jersey to wear for the next stage.
My race didn’t go so well. I started off in the front, but there was a staircase section which you were required to run. I couldn’t dismount, run down the stairs, and remount as fast as the other racers and started falling behind. I was giving it my all, but just could’t hang. I finished towards the back of the pack. It was definitely the shortest, most high intensity race I’ve ever done, and was definitely out of my element. I would have benefited from doing some cx races-but this just kind of reinforced my suspicion that I’d be terrible at short races. It just takes me too long to get going. Give me 20 hours and I’m ready to roll, but 20 minutes and I’m dying!
In general, we were impressed with the local racers. Some of them were absolutes machines and didn’t seem bothered by the head. Some local elite racers from Quito were also racing. I new the XC Endurance race the next day was going to be brutal. I wasn’t disappointed.
We were supposed to start at 830am, but that quickly turned into 9am. But at least for the 2nd stage, the elite racers started first. The pace started off pretty slow and I was unfortunately at the head of the pack for the first 5km or so. We had a police escort through town and for the first part of the race, which I thought was cool at first. About 10km into the race, we realized he didn’t know where he was he going and had gotten us LOST. Then began the most ridiculous 40 or so minutes of “racing”. There were about 20 of us, all the top racers doing the longer 60km circuit, and we were all hopelessly lost. We argued about which way to go, went back and forth on several different paths, before heading back to town. I thought (wished???) the day was done at this point but once back in town another cop put us on track and the pace began to quicken. I asked some other guys if we were now racing, and they confirmed that we were indeed.
On the first brutal climb, a couple of guys flew past. I was giving it all I could in the heat, with my heart rate getting up to 190s and decided I needed to back off to make it through the day. The top guys in the race were just in another league (and more heat resistant than I). I slipped back a few positions and settled into 4th or 5th. I held off other racers for the first 15k climb but then we got to a road section that was pretty easy, but two guys (luckily in other categories) flew past me on the road kamikaze style. They were using both lanes, taking curves on the other side of the ride and narrowly avoiding head on collisions with oncoming traffic. I decided not to draft them as getting nailed by a truck head on wasn’t worth it for this race!
After that I raced by myself for about 20km through small jungle towns, manioc fields, and the occasional jungle section, but unfortunately the gravel roads and trails received absolutely no shade. The mercury kept climbing as the day wore on and my blood was boiling. It was so hot, I couldn’t even get my heart rate down on the descents. The saving grace was that tons of locals were out cheering us on and throwing cold water on us. I don’t think I couldve made it without their help. We rolled through a slightly larger town and onto a paved road where I dropped my chain as I was trying to shift to the big chain ring. It got really tangled and I lost a a minute or so dealing with it. A few minutes later I followed an arrow that appeared to pointing to the left, but after some time the trail dwindled to nothing and I realized I had gone the wrong way. I wish I had a picture of this arrow, it literally pointed you in the exact wrong direction. I probably lost another few minutes and some degree of composure with this setback.
On the next big 10km climb it was so hot that I started to doubt if I’d finish the race. I just kept hoping that it would cloud up and pour rain ( I mean this is the Amazon Rainforest after all!!) but that never happened. There wasn’t even a breeze. Luckily I passed two other guys who had passed me earlier on, but I don’t think they were in my division either. Still, it gave me some confidence to see that I wasn’t the only one dying from the heat, and I pushed on. I usually like suffering, but this heat, coupled with the pace of the race, took it out of me mentally and physically. Usually on longer races, the pace slows a bit, but these guys raced the whole thing like it was an XC race!
After the brutal, hellish climb in an oven, we had a muddy section of single track but at least it was technical and sloppy enough to take my mind off of the heat. I slogged through the singletrack for a couple of kilometers, then on to a nice gravel flat section. A guy in the 20-29 elite division caught me here and asked for water. I was really worried about my own water supply, so I told him I’d give him some if it was an emergency. He said he’d be ok until the next aid station and we started racing together until we came to river and he filled up (I would’t have drunk the water, but he must have had guts of steel). I pulled ahead of him there, but the water must have re-energized him and he pulled ahead on a road section. Even though I had gone about 50km at this point, we were only at the 40km mark where Abbey’s race turned off and finished in town. We turned off on a brutally steep paved uphill. At this point the wind started to pick up which helped with the heat, but unfortunately it was a head wind and made the climb really difficult.
The pavement ended and we rolled through some really off the beaten track jungle villages consisting of a few clapboard houses on stilts. I was really hurting through this section, but at this point the quickest way back to town was just to finish the damn race, so I kept rolling. I passed the “out of water” guy again as he was filling up at a spigot in one of the villages. He quickly caught up to me, but this time we raced together. The final few kms back into town seemed to take forever. When we finally rolled through the finish line my only thought was to get to the river and bring my core temp down.
Cold water has never felt so good! After bringing down my core temp, I noticed that I was starving as I had only been able to stomach one small squirt of hammer gel the entire race. I guess I had been bonking on the last few km. Abbey had won her 40km race by about 45 minutes but had a good time. Couldn’t say the same for myself.
We found a restaurant and I raged a plate of rice, chicken, and beans and Abbey had a steak-all for about $6! We then called the van service for our pick up only to be informed that they couldn’t take our bikes! I was furious. I really didn’t want to stay another night in the sauna (as our room had no AC). Fortunately, we had met some really cool Quiteño racers (Miguel, Fernando, Renato, and his wife who’s name escapes me at the moment) with whom we shared mutual friends and they gave us a ride back to town! The perfect 45-75F temps in Quito never felt so good!!