PHARMANEX STRAY DOGS
Mark E. Macy,
E. Mexico Ave., Suite 1000, Denver,
Following is an account of Team Pharmanex Stray Dogs in the
1999 Eco-Challenge. Members of the team included Mark Macy, Marshall Ulrich and
Louise Cooper-Lovelace, ultra runners turned adventure racers, and Isaac Wilson,
one of the country’s most successful full time adventure racers. The course
traveled through the legendary Patagonia region of Argentina. It is our hope
that this account will provide you with some understanding of the course, the
race and most of all, the beauty and wildness of the environment in which it
¨ Day one began, with the dreams of grandeur, anticipation and excitement experienced at the beginning of any extended journey. On a beautiful sunny day, on a crystal clear lake deep in the heart of Patagonia, one member of each of the 55 teams paddled two lake kayaks 1/2 mile off shore. When the gun sounded, the remaining three team members swam the 45 degree water to the awaiting boats and began a 96 kilometer paddle across the initially calm, and later violent arctic cold water. Having concluded the paddle in the dark, at times hypothermic, each team was then required to swim across Class II whitewater. The awaiting shore was only a stone’s throw away, but as distant as the European shore of the English Channel. One member of the Dogs emerged hypothermic, unable to speak or think in the cold, dark Patagonian night. Pharmanex Stray Dogs was off to a great start, in the top 14 of the greatest field of adventure racers ever to compete in the same race.
¨ Having recovered, day two began at midnight with a peaceful ride on magnificent Criollo horses over the pampas and hillsides for which Patagonia is renowned. These athletic creatures, seemingly excited to be part of the journey, pranced and galloped through the sleepless night. The ride emerged in the early afternoon, in a river valley leading to the Patagonia mountains. Team Stray Dogs began the ensuing mountain trek fast and efficiently. Over the course of the remainder of day two and through the cool, wet night which followed, we summitted a high ridge, only to realize that we had made a navigational error that took us up the wrong valley and hence, the wrong summit. From high atop the ridge, we watched other teams climb a distant ridge on the intended course.
On day three, we
continued into the most extraordinary and beautiful mountains, I, personally,
have ever had the privilege to travel through. The mountains of Patagonia are
high, pointed, jagged, and protected at the base by the thickest slide alder and
bamboo imaginable. As we began this section of the course, we were advised that
a snowstorm was quickly approaching. It was strongly recommended that all teams
bivouac at the nearest PC (passport control) and wait out the inevitable storm.
In an effort to rejoin the fray with the contending teams, Stray Dogs, despite
management recommendations, continued on high into the mountains, at first in
the rain and later into a driving snow. Throughout one of the most memorable
nights of my 46 years, we climbed high into the mountains. My hallucinatory
visions of condominiums and custom built homes are still fresh in my mind, as
are the conversations I had with my son Travis, who, that night, was in reality
home in bed several thousand miles away. We bivouacked that night deep in the
woods in a long ago abandoned cave house. Four Stray Dogs with two wet sleeping
bags, huddled together, alternated sleeping and shivering through one of the
best two hour sleeps I can recall. The storm abated after several inches of
fresh snow. We continued to travel high mountain passes and seemingly unending
river valleys. We moved rapidly and efficiently for untold miles; fast enough to
maintain distance between those who chose not to move into the coming storm, but
unfortunately, were unable to contact those “competitors” from whom we had
earlier been separated.
¨ After what seemed to be a long and sleepless night, day four began with the white water kayaking section of the course. The paddle traveled across a long, flat lake, extended into a fast white water section of river with numerous memorable rapids, all of which we passed without sufficient difficulty. As the night began, the temperatures plummeted, ending with several other teams cold, wet and hypothermic; again progressing into a fitful shivering sleep.
began innocuously enough with a climb to the summit of an unnamed peak and
proceeded into the legendary bamboo forest on the opposite side. The race
director warned us of this area, but no warning could have prepared us for
the dense chaos of this, temporarily, impenetrable bamboo maze. We descended
for miles through the unending bamboo; tripping, falling and seemingly
imprisoned in its grasp. These plants which were, as fishing poles, such and
important and happy memory of my childhood, are when encountered in their
natural environment slashing, gripping and unbending trees, which when
broken and fallen upon, capable of castration of the unwary adventure racer.
I will never forget as long as I live the bamboo forest in which I spent
only half of one day in my life.
Day six and
Mount Tronador will forever be etched in my mind as one of the best days of
my life. We began the climb of this famous glacial peak in the Chilean
jungles at approximately 2:00 a.m. We climbed through the mist of the night
onto the shoulder of Tronador at sunrise, emerging from the fog, we climbed
on toward the top of this part of the world with nothing but us, Tronador,
the highest peaks of Argentina and Chile, and the rising sun above the
clouds. We ascended up and across the glacier to the summit of Tronador on a
perfect, cloudless sunny day. Unfortunately, because of the race in which we
were involved, we descended before we were ready, and sooner than the beauty
demanded, back into the thick bamboo jungles below. After another long,
cold, wet and sleepless night, we struggled to pass through miles of bamboo
and slide alder to the final phase of the race. Having for a day been
captivated by the magnificence of Tronador, we momentarily let pass from our
mind that we were still unable, despite our best attempts, to make contact
with those lead teams from which we were separated on day two.
and final day was like most other final days in long adventure races. The
Race was at times forgotten, with minds now focused toward just reaching the
finish line. Thoughts of real food and bed, to some extent, shade the
continuing beauty of a long repel down waterfalls to the lakes below.
Finally, a paddle to the finish line and civilization. Stray Dogs, once
again, completes the worlds greatest adventure race in 19th place with the
best adventure racing teams this sport has to offer.