Bouncing down chunky mountain roads, we hit the coastal plain and smooth pavement as another tropical night enveloped Costa Rica. Suddenly, out of thick darkness, a cluster of bikes flashed in our headlights. We stopped… Helena Compignie of the French Wenger team was helping to fix a flat by flashlight. “The hardest part is staying awake. My mind wants to keep my eyes open, but my body wants to sleep,” she said.
We were chasing Costa Rica’s Adventure Race, a five-day, 500-kilometer dash, biking, zip-lining, whitewater rafting, and kayaking across mountains and through rainforest to the Pacific coast. We had just come upon the French Wenger team, caked with mud, feet split with fissures. It was hard to fathom why these racers put themselves through such an ordeal.
This year’s race is one of nine championship races whose winners will compete in the grand finale, Raid Bimbache, in Castilla, Spain, Sept. 30 – Oct. 9, 2010.
Next day in the cloudforest at Monteverde, we chatted with Loreto Fuentes Garcia, of Spain’s Bimbache team, stunningly beautiful in spite of it all. Asked why she put herself through such trials, she suggested we discuss that after the race was over, then biked off with her team into the rainy jungle, bound for the seashore.
By the third day, two teams had already bailed: Finland’s Omjakon and Brazil’s Quasar. “Their feet were totally destroyed,” said Alejandro Martén, a photographer who’s also a racer. “Those who take time to stop and put on dry socks will be the ones to go the distance.”
The final morning, around a sunny breakfast on the coast at Villas de Sámara with the Explore Team of Sweden, who’d bagged the race the night before in 84 grueling hours, the Wenger team arrived. They took a celebratory turn around the pool in a golf cart to scattered applause, basking in endorphin-soaked glory.
Waving to Wenger, Jari Kirkland of Team Explore shared stories of landslides and raging rivers. “I looked at Per [Vestling] and only his handlebars were above water.” The team had four pairs of fresh shoes stashed to keep their feet dry.
“You have a lot of experiences you don’t have in normal life,” explained Fuentes Garcia as she joined the hotel’s wounded. “One minute you’re thinking, ‘this is terrible, I can’t do anything.’ Then the next, ‘I came here to climb this mountain, and I’m going to do it!’”
Fuentes Garcia stuck it out with the support of her team, including her husband, David. The pair married just before the Patagonia Expedition in 2008. The race was their honeymoon, with a few days at an island resort. “It wasn’t much of a honeymoon. But this is what we love to do.”
Story and photos by Trish Riley and Ken McMurry