Sunday, March 5, 2017

7th Continent (Punta Arenas, Chile and King Goerge Island, Antarctica Jan 27-Feb5, 2017)

I’m not one of those people that had a primary goal of ticking off the 50 states or 7 continents, though I'll admit I have a pathological need to get away. But after the Great Wall Marathon 5/2016,
6 down already, why not just finish the 7th?

I knew several people who had run the standard Antarctica marathon which occurs in March and involves flying to Argentina, then a several day cruise aboard a Russian freight ship through the Drake passage, and has a 3 year wait list. There was an alternative tour which flew directly from Chile and involved camping overnight on the island, no wait list. I’d already been to Argentina x 2, and as someone who gets sick even in stick-shift cars, the no- boat tour was more my cup of tea!

A few things about Antarctica.
It is not a country. It is the only continent without a native human population. It is actually defined as any land mass or ice shelf below 60 degrees S latitude. The marathon is run on King George Island, which is actually the largest of the Shetland Islands, >7000 miles from the South Pole, but still technically Antarctica. And though there are more hard core runs on the main continent, most tourists run on KGI. I’ve never felt the need to be a purist/ hero, plus the mainland run is always the same week of Quadzilla and costs nearly $20,000. BTWthere are no polar bears there (wrong pole), just penguins.

Back in September at the Woodinville Wine Country half marathon I met CAZ’s friend M, a fellow marathoner and veteran of Mt. Killimanjaro. It was a rainy day and we were huddled under a tree prerace pretending it was offering shelter, and I heard her say she wanted to run the 7 continents. Well, what a coincidence, I was running Antarctica in Jan, and there was a South America the same week, one could knock out 2 continents for the price of 1. Several weeks later, I got a text from M, she was in- yeah!  

The weeks before departure I was back in a dark place. The holidays are always rough, work was killing me. I knew I should be grateful but that only made me feel more lethargic and pathetic. The morning before I threw some stuff in my bag and looked forward to airplane movies and international flight meals/ wine. 4 hours to Dallas, layover, 9 hours to Santiago, another 3.5 hours to Punta Arenas, leave home 9 AM Friday, arrive Saturday midday.

I found my suitcase had cracked on transit, but luckily there was a North Face store in town where I got a much needed waterproof duffel. Punta Arenas is actually a fairly large city of >100k, the capital of the Magellanes area of Chile named for the explorer Magellan, full of restaurants and many people speak English. It was summer in Patagonia but I knew the winds could be killer. Walked around town and met with M that evening. Sunday we walked around town and I had an unfortunate face-plant incident (I blame my new progressives) while filming on my iphone.  
Bloodied my legs,
shattered my lens cap (fortunately not my camera lens!) and was shaken for several minutes, kind locals came up to me offering to pour water on me.

Got to take a ferry to see the national penguin colony

Monday at noon, the runners from the Triple 7 Quest flew in. These folks did 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, (Perth, Singapore, Cairo, Amsterdam, NYC, Punta Arenas, Antarctica). They were able to apply for Guiness records since all their races were open/ public, with commercial flights, for a cost of $14k (total $22k with flights) as opposed to the World Marathon Challenge people who had chartered jets and private races, for a cost of 36,000 EURO. Basically they had to land, run, sometimes in 104 degree heat, get on a plane and run the next day. This may seem pointless to most people, but no one had to explain to value of this to this particular group.

The Southern Cross marathon was 4 x out-and-back on the Punta Arenas waterfront (here is a view from our hotel room). All the Triple 7 runners but only a handful of us White Continent runners, it was a crazy windy day with brief rain. Something I ate did not agree with me, I spent the evening puking up everything and having to leave the pre-race briefing half a dozen times to puke, so got no food in after the race.

But luckily the weather gods were truly smiling and we were able to fly out to KGI next morning at 9 AM. We had to be ready, dressed in our gear by 3 AM. Got my hair braided by Val, another runner who was doing crazy braids on a lot of the women in like 2 minutes.

It was windy but not that cold (mid-30s) on KGI. Colder and more snow in Seattle! We waited for our bags to be unloaded and hiked 2.5 miles to the campsite, which was about ½ mile from the Chinese research base.

On arrival we were told the race was starting in 20 minutes. There was a scramble to find a bucket to pee in. We had to pee in buckets and pour our pee into a barrel, and poop into a bag and put the poop bag into a poop barrel. Leave no trace!

I had been warned that the course was hilly and rocky, there were a few puddles but overall, not as rugged as one might imagine Antarctica to be. A couple penguins but really no ice on the trail. I was waaaay overdressed and had to unload a bunch of clothes, and poop, but you’re not allowed to just go off the trail. Had to wait for them to assemble the poop tent, and even then, the poop chute was not ready so a very nice race employee disposed of my bag. I was so constipated and pushing to expel that I nearly broke the poop chair, that would have been ugly. 

M finished way sooner and was kind enough to shlep my bag into our 3 person tent, where out tentmate Deborah (the women’s marathon winner) was resting. I changed and got out to walk though by then it was after 9 pm it was still light out. We spotted these penguins and walked right up to them!

We hiked to the Russian orthodox church and a tour guide found us and drove us back in the truck just before sundown after 11 pm, SCORE!

I knew we would be sleeping in 3-person tents that evening.  No matter how much we thought we could hold our pee all night it was just not happening.
All sticky from the race, cold, needing to pee, starving, I said to M, “if this is supposed to make us feel grateful, its working”. How absurdly privileged we were to be there but one night camping there was quite enough.

It was so nice to be back in a bed and to shower. The next couple days we just walked around eating all the local foods, including the Chocolatta cafe which has the world's best churros and chocolate raspberry cake for breakfast, with an amaretto cafe (I felt bad for anyone who was not there), a local dive where I got "choriqueso" (english muffin with mystery meat spread) and banana milk, sampled local Chilean seafood and wine, went on an archeological tour with wax statues

where a history professor spoke about the history of native Chileans, caught amazing sunsets which changed by the minute....
acting like 6th graders and shopping for goofy souvenirs.

Then the highlight of the trip was the tour of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Guanacos (antelopes) and Rheas (ostrich-like birds) just hanging out in the roads.

Saturday was the Punta Arenas run, and several of the Triple 7 people opted to run an 8th race. The weather was wonderful, but the last loop I was informed the course was short and I had 3 bonus loops to do at the end. How deflating! But still managed a 5:22 (first place female out of 2). I even won the finish banner as a door prize!

Next day I hung with 3 of the Triple 7 quest ladies at the airport. 2 were grandmothers (one 70 yo!), the other a marine corps veteran and first African American woman to run the 7 continents in a week.
They joked I would do it next year. It is now a triple 8 quest with the new continent, Zealandia. Who knows…

No comments:

Post a Comment