It shouldn’t have been a surprise. We had been warned. Day two is harder than day one. We woke up the next morning, the rain had gone. So had my thighs.
In the queue for the toilet, everyone was stretching out their quads this time. Some people came out of the portaloo looking as if they really still needed to go for a number two quite badly. The volcano had shot a lot of muscles. But today, there was further to go. We had come here for this: challenge, mystery… seeing how much we could take.
So, our training hadn’t been in the mountains. That didn’t matter now, the super steep was over. All we had to do was keep moving. After packing up our backpacks and dumping them on the beach, we set off on the same walk through the woods to the starting point over the bridge. We would follow a brief section through the forest as per yesterday and then veer off through the green mountains bordering the lake we had boated up two days before. Our second camp was on the southern shore of the lake in the tiny village near the Argentine border. Just a short diversion of 40km to get there.
The sun shone down on us again, breaking in golden strands through the trees. This part was undulating, but we had a pattern of jogging and walking to suit the legs. The worst bit for the thighs was the downhills.
“Eee, ow, ooh, ahh, heee, uhh, ouch!” were the acoustics to the downhill steps. We happily ran the flats. “It’s actually easier to run once you get into a rhythm,” Maria said and I agreed.
We left the forest and hit some open countryside. Green mountains encased us as we jogged on dirt tracks through gold and jade fields. Behind us rose the previous day’s challenge, that majestic volcano. With each step it became some far away land we had dreamt of. We passed a llama farm; we stopped at streams to fill up on fresh, cold water. The sun beat harder.
People passed us and we passed others with fleeces tied to their packs. “Why would you run in this weather with a fleece?” I asked. “Completely stupid,” Maria agreed.
After a couple of hours, the track started to point upwards. This was the climb we had had to save ourselves for. We were now back among the trees and couldn’t see anything beyond the next curve. Lining the route were flowers bursting with bright orange and yellow colours. Above us birds sang. They could see our route. We knew nothing of what was ahead.
“Anyone got a GPS?” This was a dangerous question. No one knew at what point it would level and we’d be going down again. At one stream, Maria jumped down to get fresh water and I heard someone clocking 23km. We were around four hours in. Well, it can’t be much further to the top, we thought.
The climb carried on, and we continued pounding up switchback after switchback, hoping to see some peak, some sign of blue bodies disappearing over the horizon. But we could see no horizon. We enjoyed the scenery: the further we climbed, the further we could out from the mountain. The lake, our home, our destination, was behind another belt of emerald mountains. Even when we hit the top, we had to get down through them. Somehow.
There is a feeling you get when you are exhausted and waiting for change. It’s hope. You grasp onto any little sign that the next corner, the next moment will bring some relief. “Where is the peak?” we asked ourselves, time and again.
And then, high up above the trees, now above many birds, our twisting mountain track hugged the peak and opened out. Just a few more dips and rises and we would be there. It was an incredible view. In our tiredness you still had to appreciate it. And as we hit the crest of our long and winding climb, there were those magic digits.
30km. Set into the mountainside written with stones. A wondrous sight. Hope and truth rolled into one. It was downhill from now on, still painful and uncomfortable, but a mere 10km going down after all that? Sounded like heaven. And just 10km before home? Easy peasy. We’d be on the beach in no time.