Latin America

Tempest Two’s ultra-triathlon in Patagonia: expectation vs. reality

The end of every year usually comes accompanied with streams of social posts about places visited, challenges overcome and goals achieved. It’s easy to be coerced into signing up to an expedition, by beautiful imagery and the inspirational words of someone who’s already conquered it. Yet, not all adventures are as easy, or fun, as you think. We spoke to our friends The Tempest Two about their recent ultra-triathlon in Patagonia to find out how the reality matched up to their expectation.

Type #adventure into your Instagram search bar and you’ll be presented with a smorgasbord of photos from every corner of the globe. The content of those posts will vary from mountains to motorbikes, oceans to caves; the word ‘adventure’ means different things to different people. We are The Tempest Two; two friends, who in December 2015 rowed unaided across the Atlantic Ocean, with no rowing or sailing experience whatsoever. The voyage opened our eyes to a world of possibilities, and soon after arriving back, we quit our jobs in London and took on a life of adventure full-time. We now challenge ourselves around the globe, in the hope of demonstrating that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. When we are introduced to people as ‘adventurers’, most people often respond with envy. Those people instinctively desire a life of travel, freedom and personal accomplishment. But what goes into the shiny images that make up the squares of Instagram? What are the ingredients necessary to take on an adventure, and what is the reality? In October, we took on our biggest adventure yet, a self-conceived world-first ultra-triathlon through the rugged landscapes of Patagonia, South America.

 

What on earth is an ultra-triathlon?

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Our triathlon was made up of a 1600km cycle from Esquel to El Chalten, via the famous Route 7 ‘Carretera Austral’ and the desert Route 40. Next was a speed record attempt of the 65km Huemul Circuit, a four daymountain trek widely regarded as the toughest in the region (we wanted to become the first people to complete it in under 24 hours). Following that, we aimed to become the first people to SUP the La Leona River, between the two great glacial lakes of Viedma and Argentino. We had researched our route as much as possible and, with the help of the experts at STA Travel, we sorted thelogistical challenge of getting both ourselves, our bikes, and boards into the region. On arriving into El Calafate, we flew North and prepared our departure on two-wheels.

 

When the weather doesn’t go to plan

An October trip was no coincidence; we had targeted the month in the hope that we would be outside of tourist season, and would avoid the brunt of the Patagonian winds (Patagonia is the second windiest place on the planet, Antarctica is the first!). As ever though, plans don’t always work out the way they should, and our hopes were dashed from day one. Our daily target of 160km on the bikes was in our eyes, manageable. However, we had not accounted for the torrential rains, face-numbing blizzards or the practically unrideable road surfaces. No matter how much you plan, obstacles will present themselves on any trip, and Patagonia was laying a few in our path. 

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Combatting that moment of doubt

We struggled from day one, pushing through the shocking conditions, lugging our weighty touring bikes that are designed for tarmac, but were having to withstand bone-shuddering potholes and sand based roads. We were slow, very slow, and on the first night we had some serious doubts about the trip as a whole, had we bitten off more than we could chew? The following nine days were brutal and saw us battle against the fabled Patagonian weather. The wetness of the route 7 was replaced by the dry, barren deserts of the 40, but we pulled into El Chalten elated and relieved to be parting with our two-wheeled companions. What lay ahead was the component of this triathlon that made us most uneasy. A 65km ultra run along the mountain path of the Huemul. For two men who hate running, and had only recorded 20km as their longest training run, the prospect was daunting. Leaving at 3am the following morning, we set off into the pitch black, snow falling around us, and were soon engulfed by the darkness of the mountain. We scaled glaciers and moraines, traversed raging rivers, crossed mountain peaks with knee high snow, and descended icy slopes. 17 hours later, we stumbled across the finish line, record holders.

When you think things can’t get any worse…

Our naivety was never more apparent than at this point. We had wrongly presumed the boat terminal (the finish line) would be open for business, and we could simply call a cab and make our way back to El Chalten and the warmth of our hostel. There was no sign of life, no light was on, and our phones and GPS were dead. The sudden realisation dawned on us, that we were going to have to hike the remaining 17km back to El Chalten in the dead of the night. This is the darkest moment either of us has faced across all adventures. We could barely speak, our shoes were full of blood, our minds played tricks on us. But after pushing through every barrier our bodies placed in our way, we literally crawled into El Chalten, 25 hours after leaving the previous morning, and slumped onto the porch of our hostel. We had forgotten our key, so slept there for the night.

48 hours if delirium followed, but there was no time for self pity. We packed our kit away, readied ourselves, and were soon standing upon our paddle-boards, heading down the La Leona River. We had only paddle-boarded twice before, so to say we were novices was an understatement. We had 100km to cover, and were plagued by a gusting headwind, that spun us around, slamming us into the river banks and overturning our boards. Rapids were often navigated facing the wrong way, and the frustration of having little to no control soon boiled over. Around us lay towering canyons and rolling hills made of rock and sandstone, millions of years old and littered with dinosaur bones. This was a mecca for palaeontology, and we were polluting the air with the worst words available to the English tongue. We were so embroiled in our own struggle, we barely had a chance to look around.

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The second day brought fairer weather, and we glided effortlessly down the latter parts of the La Leona, heading towards Lake Argentino. This was the first time on the entire trip we had the mental capacity to reflect on what we had achieved and the awe-inspiring land that we had travelled through. We laughed and chatted for the final five hours, a true contrast to the previous day. Patagonia it seemed, was giving us a victory lap.

It all makes a good story

On completion of Project Patagonia, immersed back into normal life, it is hard to look back on those times without a sense of pride. In the moment, you might question why, and wish to be anywhere else, but it is those seconds of perseverance that allow you to grow and appreciate the achievement. The stories we have gained over the past two years, whether it is facing a storm on an ocean crossing, dodging crevasses on mountain ascents, or completing what we did in Patagonia, will stay with us forever. They also make for great pub chat! Whatever you define adventure as, be prepared for the good, the bad and the unpredictable. Set a goal and hold yourself accountable for achieving it. You will come back a better person, and obviously, have some nice looking images on Instagram!

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