Punta Arenas, Chile: There’s a change in the city. A quiet town meandered by backpacking tourists and the odd offloading of cruise ships is noticing the arrival of a different kind of crowd. One plane at a time, athletes, film crews, and journalists from around the world are filtering into the city for the tenth anniversary of the Patagonian Expedition Race. A warehouse once loaded with slumbering kayaks, like giant bananas in hibernation, is alive with the bustling of race preparations and the entire staff at NIGSA (Nómadas International Group SA) is operating at maximum efficiency. While the racing teams have been planning strategy and training hard, NIGSA has been investing in organizing a race to be remembered. There is much to be done in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the race. Equipment is sourced and tested. The race route is planned and planned some more and then locked away in a vault of top secret information, where clues to location and competitors are kept until the opening ceremony.
“A key ingredient of Adventure Racing is the mental challenge of devising and implementing strategy without prior planning,” says Stjepan Pavicic, Founder and Director of the Patagonian Expedition Race. “We keep information secure so we’re certain that all the teams have equal advantage.” As the race comes nearer, the preparations turn to race logistics and gear checks. This week, the warehouse crew have been thoroughly inspecting race and checkpoint equipment. Forty kayaks have to be cleaned and tested. Tents have to be assembled and repaired. Last minute parts have been resourced. And the flags of the finish line have to be dusted off so that they may brightly greet the racers as they complete quite possibly the greatest adventure of their life.
While teams are wrapping up their training and stocking their first-aid kits, Nomadas is performing a logistical symphony. Every team must cross an unknown number of staffed checkpoints on their way to the finish line. Checkpoints typically have crew supplies, tent shelters, and food, though some major check points have medical staff, generators and satellite uplinks, and specific gear for racer transition. And some of these checkpoints are a week’s hike into the impossible terrain of Patagonia. “You have to get the right equipment and supplies in the right amount to the right checkpoint,” says Pavicic, who apparently shops with a dump-truck sized cart. Any miscalculation means checkpoint staff can go hungry while waiting for teams to pass through, or that missing kit could delay a team: something unacceptable for the PER crew. The crew itself is made up of eight full-time employees, twelve rotating intern staff, and over forty local and foreign part-time employees. Organizing a diverse staff like this doesn’t come easy and finding the best fit for each task is one of the hardest challenges. After ten years of hosting one of the toughest races on the planet, the crew knows how to operate.
Over the next few days, the coastal town will be overrun with excited teams and spectators from around the world. The teams and Patagonian Expedition Race officials will do final preparations, checking all the team equipment and testing technical skills before they start the course. Even the Chilean navy will support the event by performing a rescue simulation to ensure the safety of teams during the race.
On February 12th the opening ceremony will welcome some of the most seasoned, possibly insane, endurance athletes to the tenth anniversary of the wildest adventure race to be found. When the gun goes off on February 14th, the Patagonian Expedition Race crew will be ready for their own wild race: Creating the experience of a lifetime and sharing it with the world.
Read more about the 2012 Patagonian Expedition Race.