M&MRC Cruce Story #3: Lean on me
Maria and I woke up that next morning to the sounds of people zipping up running leggings, filling running packs with energy gels, brushing their teeth.
“How long do these people need to get ready?” It had sounded as if they had been up for hours.
Equipo 86 laughed at us as we emerged, doe-eyed to the morning. “Bird, there are some people out here with their packs on already,” I said.
Well, that’s just not our style. We pulled on our running gear and set off for breakfast. Breakfast in Argentina consists of little more than a cracker or two and a bucket load of coffee. We went for neither, but had our secret ingredient: peanut butter. A whole jar of the stuff had made it with us, and we devoured tea along with bread and peanut butter. I then sat in the tent and made a huge mess while making peanut butter and lettuce (for the crunch) sandwiches with salad we’d saved from last night’s dinner.
“Do you want slug as well?” I asked Maria, of the companion we had unknowingly had in our salad stash. “Nutritious and delicious!”
After the queue for the toilet and another last-minute toilet stop (birds will be birds), we were off. It was 2km to the starting line. The sun was already shining and there in front of us, as we walked through the village, was the volcano we were heading up. At that moment, we were at about 600m above sea level. We would go to 2200m. How this was going to be possible running, we didn’t know.
It seems others had the same thoughts as some runners dived into the tiny church on their way to the starting line.
The starting line was on the other side of a bridge that the organisers had had to construct for the event. We had to wait a while in order to even get to the bridge and the chip timer at the start, as there was no room for all 1,500 of us to go over at once. There was a nervous energy in the air; calves were bouncing up and down, shoulders were being stretched. We heard the helicopter and immediately all hands went to the sky.
And then we were on the other side. I hadn’t even noticed the chip until Maria shouted at me, “That’s it!” And we were off. There was a sudden jolt in the body and we bounced along through the grassy paths until, after about 50 seconds, Uh, Hill. “What, already?!” we exclaimed. Still, we knew the first half of today was going to be all about going up.
The first couple of hours slowly drove us upwards, through the trees, but with spectacular views as climbed. No one was running the uphills. This was encouraging. We were with normal runners! One lady saw we were hiking without poles. “They really help,” she told us, “you should get some.” Soon, eagle-eyed Maria spotted a good bit of thick bamboo and we snapped it in half. Our walking sticks had been born out of the mountain we climbed.
The further we climbed, the more the volcano revealed itself to us. It was beautiful, majestic and… far away. Still, we kept going. Over our shoulders to our right we could see the volcano Villarrica, and behind us sat the perfectly-coned and snow-capped volcano Lanin. We were in a special place.
We joked with the people they had at turning points. We knew where to turn, it was always up. “Seriously?” we would say to them, astounded the path could be so. And, as if they hadn’t heard the joke a million times already they laughed. “Yeah, sorry about that!”
Above the tree line we could see the path ahead: a track of stones and rocks climbing up and up until there was a line of tiny ants in the white. The snow. We ploughed on. There were photo and Gatorade (Lucozade) stops and we chatted to those we passed and who passed us. Our friends from the previous day asked how we were. There were only three words. This. Is. Brilliant.
Getting to the snow line, people were stopping for lunch, a toilet break and clothing changes. I don’t know how far we had already climbed at that point, but we were going higher still and the wind was going to show its face. Time to put on another top, top up the sun cream and eat a banana. It was also time to sing.
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…”
We had our sticks, we had our voices, we had each other.