After deciding to do La Ruta, I realized that I should start some kind of training. So I attempted some longer races like the Epic 8 hour in Mansfield in the spring and Lost in the Rocks in Trees mid summer. I bonked in both races. Hard. I was (obviously) really worried about how I would do at La Ruta because of this... read on to find out what happened.
Andrea gets overheated, weak and dehydrated right away...all the things you don't want to happen at the start of a 3-day stage mountain bike race across Costa Rica. My other teammates, Monilee and Caroline have shot ahead and do not realize that Andrea is struggling. I stay with Andrea and try to encourage her to keep going. We fall back from the rest of the racers. We are pushing our bikes up an unridable steep muddy mountain. No one is on their bike. Its about 40 degrees Celsius with the humidity. I tell Andrea to drink repeatedly.
Despite this, she seems to be getting weaker so I have no choice but to push her bike up the mountain for her. I do this because otherwise I feel that we won't make the cutoff time for check point 1. This was not an attractive option for me, after all the training and hard work we did in preparation for this race during the last year. So I alternate dragging my bike and Andrea's bike up the steep incline. Andrea is then able to walk up the mountain at her own pace. This seemed to help a bit.
We finally arrive at check point 1, after about 2 hours and before the cutoff time. Andrea suddenly starts vomiting. The camera guys are eating this up. They are trying to be discreet and respectful but you can tell they are glad they caught this on tape.
Looking back at this moment, I realize I should have stopped Andrea from continuing to race . But hindsight is 20/20 so I keep encouraging her that she can do it. Andrea tells me she wants to go on.
When Andrea seems to be doing better we head off to the next section - the dreaded jungle. This is supposed to be the hardest section of the entire race.
The jungle is a nightmare; its hot and sticky and there are an endless amount of hills to climb and descend. Andrea is extremely overheated and cannot seem to cool down. Long rocky downhills lead into rivers and streams. Andrea dunks herself into each one, desperately trying to cool off. The downhills give way to even steeper uphills on the other side of each stream. Which meant more pushing the bikes. Finally after 5 hours we reach checkpoint 2 - one hour too late. They told us we were done and wouldn't let us go any further. Needless to say, I was very disappointed because I really wanted to continue.
Andrea started to feel bad very quickly. One minute she was joking around, the next she was lying on the plywood floor of the race van. She could barely speak; all she could say was that she felt empty inside. Luckily there was a doctor at the checkpoint. She told me to keep feeding her Gatorade. I anxiously comply.
After waiting an hour for other racers to straggle into the check point (we were not last!!) we finally start driving. The roads of Costa Rica are worse than any I have ever experienced. These roads should only be traversed on ATV's but we were 10 riders packed in the back of a cube van sitting on the floor holding on for dear life. We were bouncing around so much I spilled Gatorade all over Andrea and myself. She was lying in the fetal position on the floor. I kept telling Andrea to drink. I had never seen anyone this bad before...I was actually scared that she was going to become unconscious. I kept trying to talk with her and comfort her. We drove in these terrible conditions for an hour. It felt like days.
We made it to checkpoint 2 where an ambulance was waiting for us. They picked up Andrea and I to take us to the medical tent at the finish line. This involved yet another hour drive; thankfully on paved roads. This time Andrea was comfortable lying on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance. The paramedics assured me she was going to be fine. Costa Rica has one of the best medical care systems in Central America so I felt somewhat confident she was going to be okay. She was in good hands and seemed to be more alert now.
Finally we arrive at the finish line. They start pumping IV into Andrea. Slowly she comes back to life.
I found out that while I was in the ambulance with Andrea, the race officials have lost the front wheel of my bike when it was packed into the bus. Since I wasn't there to watch it, I have no idea where to begin looking for it. The race officials are so overwhelmed with everything else going on at the finish line that they are of no help.
As I search for my wheel throughout the grounds I meet a lot of people who are hurting and need my help so I soon forget about my wheel and start helping any way I can. I was running back and forth getting food and bags to people and checking on Andrea in the medical tent. Suddenly I start feeling wonky, cold and kind of teary. I realize that I haven't eaten or drank since I stopped racing and I was still wearing my wet bike shorts and jersey. The race ended over 5 hours ago. Stupid. After chastising myself for being so dumb I changed into warm clothes and found Andrea again. She was feeling much better and begins to take care of me. She washed my bike and gave me some food. Things were looking up after that.
My wheel is still not found when we leave the finish line area at 7pm. I have talked to race officials who say that I should come to the start line tomorrow and they will take care of finding my wheel tonight. This sounded reasonable but if I have learned one thing so far: nothing was certain at La Ruta de la Conquistadores...
Stay tuned for part deux next week "Will Tanya find her wheel?"