At 8 pm on Feb. 8, the first of the 15 teams participating in the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race passed Checkpoint Two, the end of the kayak stage, and began on the third section of the race: a night-time trek through forests and wetlands towards lakes and fjords.
Last year’s champion team, UK-based Adidas Terrex, were the first to arrive at the checkpoint, followed closely by Gearjunkie.com of the USA and Roadrunners Adventure Team from Australia. All the top 5 teams arrived at the checkpoint within seven minutes of one another.
Powerful winds proved the greatest challenge for the first day of the competition, particularly in the opening leg of the race, which involved 60 km of biking along the famed W-route through Torres del Paine National Park.
“I am told this was about 85 percent of the Patagonian wind’s potential,” said Fi Spotswood of the Adidas Terrex team, upon arriving at Checkpoint One. “We had to walk a couple of times, and at one point…I spun round and ended up facing the direction I had just come!”
Despite their arriving at Checkpoint Two in first place, Spotswood’s team finished the first leg last of the five leading teams due to technical difficulties caused by wind. Winds were also responsible for a delay to the start of the second leg, kayaking from Lake Gray, with its massive glacier extending from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, down Gray River to the Serrano River, which in turn runs south out of the Park proper.
“The wind is coming off the glacier and when it hits the current of the river, that is a bad combination,” said race organizer Stjepan Pavicic as teams battled against the elements along the first leg.
Though the winds delayed and aggravated the teams, they also cleared the clouds that so frequently hover over Torres del Paine, allowing participants—particularly those making their first visit to Patagonia—a glimpse of the natural wonders of the region.
Noel Duffy of the team Dancing Pandas, a joint team from Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., commented particularly on the views. “It was an intense cycle and it was stunning, with amazing guanacos everywhere, lots of spectacular mountains, lakes, snow, and gorgeous intense blue water lakes.”
As of now, the top teams all remain in close contention for the winning title. With seven days of racing still to go, it’s impossible to say who will finish first, and what other natural obstacles could influence the outcome.