While I’m currently sitting in Santiago reminiscing on the week all I really feel at this current moment is a sense of home sickness. I miss the routine of racing and everyone that came with it. It feels a lot like when you were a kid leaving summer camp. Day one is filled with nerves and anxiety of what the week is going to bring, and by the end of the week you wake up with a routine that brings more excitement and energy than even a cup of coffee can offer.
Trans Andes Challenge was formulated in a scheme to celebrate graduating from graduate school. Also too because this is where I see myself racing going in the future and what better way to end collegiate cycling and ramp up the next step of cycling for myself than Trans Andes?
Everything about Trans Andes ended up being breath taking and almost every hour I would wonder how I was ever this lucky to end up here. Trans Andes covered over 300 km with 28000 ft of climbing and included crossing a swinging bridge that was 250 feet above a roaring river, climbing thousands of feet to meadows that one wonders how anyone ever found this route much less have a bike race cross through it, riding through bases of volcanos where the lava has dried up making it seem that it is Chiles’ version of Moab (only somehow more spectacular), then there were points where once you think you’ve climbed to the middle of nowhere you cross paths with a man on his horse with his dogs and two sons on foot begging for high fives and smiles that warm your heart, and finally descents so steep and fast I am pretty sure the whole town below heard my Industry 9 hubs buzzing.
I’m lucky enough to be able to drag along with me one of my biggest peers Kevin Zirkle so that I don’t have to travel alone quite yet. I’ve never been to South America and I’ve never gotten to race internationally either. Everything about Trans Andes was going to be new and with that all I could feel was excitement.
Zirkle and I started our travels out with ease until our arrival in to Santiago and having to catch our connecting flight to Temuco. There were delays and we were only given an hour to get through customs and check in for our next flight. This was not possible even after getting a VIP escort to our flight minutes before they shut the door. We arrived in Temuco but our luggage did not. It would be on the next flight and they would bring it to the race start in Huilo Huilo two hours away. We weren’t the only ones with this issue and some didn’t even think their luggage was going to arrive that day. With all the optimism I could muster up after 24 hours straight of travel I got into the shuttle and tried not to stress about it as we shuttled our way to the start of the race.
We arrived at the start and hanger was hanging over my head. There was food eaten, a beer consumed, and race check-in accomplished. All that was left was for the luggage to arrive. At midnight it decided to make a “fashionably late” arrival. A deep breath was taken and a smile crept across my face for the first time in a few hours.
After putting the bikes together at 6 am we were off to the start of Stage 1 of Trans Andes.
My plan? Survive Day 1 through all the jet lag and stress that had developed in the past 48 hours. I decided to line up towards the back since I was tired thinking that I would start slow and finish strong! That was a very poor choice. We hit single track fairly early and I had placed myself in a spot that meant walking it instead of riding it. (Deep Breathe) and then we hit the swinging bridge and caos had occurred at some point in front of me because I stood on that bridge for 15 mins waiting for everyone in front of me to cross. I knew that I was pretty far back so I decided I should put the hammer down for a while. Everything started to gain a groove. The scenery was fantastic and ultimately I was happy to be on the bike in Chile! I finished Day 1 in second behind Sonya Looney!
Day 2 was 47km and over 6200ft of climbing and after some much needed sleep I was ready to tackle Day 2 with a different attitude! We had enough gravel at the start for me to move my way up before the single track sections at the beginning and was able to ride and not walk. And even get right across the swinging bridge by riding it without anyone in my way! (If you know me and bridges we secretly hate each other! Everytime I get to a bridge I think of Barnabas and Nick while they laugh at all my tragedies. I smiled and rode right across) the middle half of this stage I started settling in not exactly racing. Then when I was riding up a steep climb that seemed like it was never going to end someone tapped me on the shoulder. I look over and there was my friend Bill from California. He had raced the Pisgah Stage race a year or so ago and I met him there. He was the one who told me I should do Trans Andes in the first place. His partner had crashed out the day before and he had been back riding with his friends for a while.
He told me there was some great descents ahead. He was speaking my language and from there I became a different racer and a new speed was found. While others were walking up the steep climbs we powered the cranks getting to the descent as fast as we possibly could. Bill used to race motos professionally and knows how to let the brakes go and get rowdy on some descents. I wanted to be on his wheel when we got to the top and I was willing to fight for it no matter how many matches I lit. We get to a top point and he said Kaysee don’t forget to look out to the left when we start going down. I took the mental note and we took off! Flying down a pretty steep section I looked out to the left and yeah there it was a breath taking view of white covered peaks! This was just enough of a booster that when we got to the last pitch and saw over ten people walking Bill and I powered up past all of them. Mainly because the legs still felt strong but also because I knew I wanted to pass all of them before the 7km descent that was right over the crest! We had climbed 6000ft already that day and I was ready for my reward.
The best way to describe this descent is that it was like a luge and Bill and I were in the same luge Yelling “Passo” “Gracias!” to everyone all the way down. This was by far the best moment of the week and set the tone for the days to come. Another 2nd place on stage 2 but the gap was smaller.
Stage 3 was 97 km and another 6500ft of climbing but we were making our way from Huilo Huilo to Catripulli however it rained A LOT the night before and had no signs of letting up. With worries of the pass not being passable the race promoter decided to postpone it to the next day. I was slightly devastated. I had already eaten my breakfast, drank my beet juice, and put my chamois butter on. What was I to do? The routine that had just developed had just been broken.
However, this rest day was incredibly needed. We all went and had second “FREE” breakfast. I went and sat by a pool after making new friends from the North East region of the United States, Kevin and Dave, who were crushing the team category. The rain stopped in the afternoon and we all went out for a spin riding and I was actually able to see parts of the community of Huilo Huilo rather than racing past it.
Stage 3 but day 4 we were all up and ready to conquer the 97kms. While riding this course I realized why the promoter was forced to call it the day before. It would have been a sludge in the rain and this day the sun was out and the scenery was incredible! The Hike a bike was not as bad as expected and the 40km climb went on and on but was not quite the suffer fest I had made it out to be. I took in the views this day, stayed strong on all the climbs, and pushed my way through the flats battling with the head wind.
Stage 5 began and it was the “Queen Stage” and was the hardest one of the week with another 6300 ft of climbing and 70kms. This ended up being my best stage. The hike a bike was pretty instant this day after the controlled start and people were biting at the bit. Tires were ramming me in the leg and everyone was trying to pass. I held my line fighting a little harder than I usually do to not give in to these sort of games. After the hike a bike there was some incredibly steep climbing up to meadows that seemed so far off the grid that I wondered how this was ever even found for us to race on. Many racers were walking but I had resisted getting off and powered the cranks over and once reaching what seemed to be the top, the woods cleared and single track appeared. This was just the fuel I needed! A steep single track climb up roots and rocks. Some racers in front of me struggled instantly to make it over the roots so I pushed a little harder and kept making my way up! Thriving in these conditions. We hit a descent and all the bets were off. This is my territory. Having a language barrier with most of the racers here I just started ringing my bell and saying “passo” till they moved over. Here I caught my friend John, who I met at Moab rocks this year, and we rejoiced together in the single track yelling woo hoo all the way down. Once we reached the bottom we crossed over the river to a fast gravel road and I was able to catch a ride on the pain train to aid station two.
This is where we crossed the swinging bridge 250 feet above the Maichin River. Only allowing two of us at a time to cross due to the sketchiness I watched John cross and took a couple of deep breaths to calm the nerves. Finally it was my turn. I kept saying big strides and don’t look down. Instantly there was a gap in the boards the size of my foot, my heart skipped a beat, and I said, “that’s where you do not put your foot.” I was able to cross just fine despite my horror and on to the finish I went. Stage 5 was by far my best day. I ended up top 50 overall and was still feeling stronger.
Stage 6 the day that is rejoiced and covered with a gray cloud of sadness all in one. Summer camp has finally come to an end and this was the last day to rally with all of your friends. Because I had finished so well the day before I was able to get the call up for the last stage, and was not positioned in the very back. We took off down the road and as it descended into a right turn I found myself on the left side of the group and someone’s bar came in on mine and I believe hit the brake, because before I could even react or think about it I was sliding on the pavement full speed ahead. My worst nightmare was unraveling.
The burn was immediate and my body was exhausted which brought the water works full force. I’m usually good about jumping up after crashes and acting as if everything is ok. This time it was the total opposite. To my surprise the guy had not stopped and I found myself standing on the side of the road while I watched hundreds of racers zip by me. Two guys competing in the men’s duo from CCRE were the only ones to stop and come help. They spoke close to no English but we had rode some together in the previous days. I kept saying gracias as they fixed my bike and all they said was “you strong woman, finish!” Zirkle and Rob had rolled up at this point, and Rob gave me his South Africa themed arm warmer while Zirkle looked at me and told me to take a deep breath and in the nicest way to dry it up you have to finish.
I hopped back on the bike thankful for all the help, and the CCRE guys and I climbed up from the back to a gate where hundreds of racers stood in line to get through. The CCRE guys escorted me to the front of the line. At first the crowd was angry but after one of the guys yelled in Spanish some words that I did not understand there were cheers among the crowd and the path parted ways for me to get through! At this point I think all the kindness made me cry just a little bit more but I also rallied and began riding with some anger. At this point it became a game to pass everyone and get back to my original position. The first 25km were harsh with some flat bumpy roads that made it unbearable for my arm to hold on to the handle bars. After that though it pitched up a steep climb for 12kms or so and while others walked I made sure to ride passing numerous people and finally reaching my original spot.
I’m fortunate the route to Pucon this day was beautiful. We rode over the base of a volcano and descended some of the best single track of the week. Once we reached aid station 2 after all the descending there was just flat gravel road all the way to Pucon. A Spanish guy had seen my wreck and I think felt bad for me a little and loaned me his rear wheel all the way back in.
I crossed the finish line and immediately Sonya was there to hug me. Sonya has always been a hero of mine in the biking world, and being able to finally meet her at Trans Andes I was overly excited. I didn’t expect just how nice she was going to be. Once Sonya realized there were tears and saw the road rash she helped me over to medic where the process of grinding away my skin with no pain meds began. I’m extremely thankful the medic team was caring and Sonya was there to hold my hands through all the tears. I have never experienced road rash much less cleaning hours of dirt and sweat out of road rash, and I really hope I never experience it again however I did develop a new respect for roadies.
This was it! The race was over and it was time for our last dinner and podium ceremony! To my surprise there was even a dance party after the dinner. Everyone rallied eating endless amounts of meat and pudding, drinking pitchers of pisco sour and red wine, and then broke it down in the middle of park while DJ MASSIVE spit out jams for our bodies to move around too.
All in all if you gave me a scale of 1-10 to rate the race, I would put it at a 15. It surprised me every day in toughness, beauty, friendships, and overall quality of how the race promoter put on the race.
The race was over but the fun wasn’t. The next day we walked around Pucon and went and had lunch and drinks on the beach before a group of us had to leave for the airport. Then Parker, Bill, Sonya, and I went to go ride the ski lift up to Volcano Villarrica where we discovered the lift was shut down. No disappointment there we will just walk up. Sonya’s words, “Let’s just hike till we get tired.” Great Idea! Endurance athletes hiking up a volcano surely we will get tired at some point. We hiked all the way to the snow where a guy in the full set up (ice picks, crampons, and gortex-lined snow gear) took our picture before we figured we should turn around!
The evening was finished with sitting by the hotel pool with Kevin, John, Zirkle, and Dave drinking rounds of beer before meeting everyone for sushi, cookies, and even a second course of meat for our last supper all together.
Trans Andes offered more than just a tough, fun week on the bike. There were also friendships made with people around the world that you just hope one day your paths will cross again. Maybe even next year at Trans Andes we will all find ourselves there once again ready to suffer for 6 days on the bike in one of the most spectacular places in the world.