Standing on the narrow edge of the Costa Rican highway watching the bob of tiny red and white lights sway, we held our breath as the semi-truck barreled past the Wenger team fading into the dark night. The last thing Helene Compignie, their female cyclist had said to us just moments before: “The hardest part is staying awake. My mind wants to keep my eyes open, but my body just wants to sleep.”
It was about 7 p.m. on the fourth day of the Costa Rican Adventure Race 2010, with 18 teams hiking, biking, ziplining, rafting, and kayaking twenty-four seven through the jungle, across rivers, up mountains and around a volcano. We’d spent the afternoon at a race checkpoint at SkyTrek in Monteverde – the “cloud forest” – watching teams hike the sky bridges in pouring rain then push away down muddy roads on their bikes. We passed the French Wenger team, fixing a flat tire on the side of the road as we all made our way to the final destination of the race on the beach in Samara. But we were in a truck – they were on bikes, legs caked with mud, clothes plastered to their bodies with sweat, feet red, swollen and tingling with trenchfoot.
As we parted, we noticed they were heading in the opposite direction of the beach, and we worried that they might be losing it after so many hours of grueling physical exertion. We questioned them and suggested they check their maps, but, following race rules, were forbidden to advise them. After we said goodbye and good luck, Ana Maria Castillo, the volunteer who’d been checking off teams at SkyTrek, got on the radio to race headquarters to make sure the team was not too far off track. Turned out they knew exactly what they were doing – since race rules prevent them traveling the main highways, they were searching for an alternative route to their next destination – crossing a raging river by boat.
We were having breakfast the next morning at the elegant Villas de Samara with Team Explore of Sweden, who’d bagged the race the night before at 8:07 p.m. following 84 grueling hours, as the Wenger team trudged through the hotel courtyard. They took a celebratory turn around the pool in a golf cart to scattered cheers and applause, then proceeded to the comforts of a clean dry villa, bath, and bed.
More race notes to come!
By Trish Riley; Photos by Ken McMurry