As someone who loves surprises, I always welcome those moments in life when people, or something else entirely, enter it and come to the rescue. These moments are all the sweeter because you are, a) least expecting it and, b) later realise what could have happened if they hadn’t stepped in.
After doing El Cruce Columbia, our 3-day 11okm run/trek from Chile to Argentina, neither Maria nor myself can look back on the whole fabulous experience without paying homage to our running friends and neighbours, Equipo 86.
In the first camp, where we spent two nights, Equipo 90’s tent was right next to 86 on the beach of the lake which laps at Puerto Fuy, the village where we started. Equipo 86 was two guys from San Luis, a small province in Argentina which borders the mountains and wine growing region of Mendoza and the green hills of Cordoba to its east. As they said, it’s a place which is muy tranquilo.
Jose is a PE teacher and Gonzalo works in HR and that first day we got to know them over mate and cookies. We talked about the adventures we knew were coming, how we trained in such different places and what the hell this young American bird and young Brit bird were doing in the middle of all this. We traded jokes and stories and we were all there for the same reason: to take it seriously, yes, but to also enjoy the experience more than anything.
As we lay in the tent that first night, excited and nervous, giggles errupted from our neighbours (with over 750 tents on the lake shore, you can imagine how close we all were) We laughed with them, called out to each other and built a Cruce bond. The next morning they laughed at us as we were some of the last ones up, while they had everything prepared and were ready for the off. They would go off and end up doing very, very well.
After that first tough, but wonderful day, we came back to them shouting for us, smiles wide and expectations high. They shared in our feat and we exchanged more stories of the day. Tired, we put ourselves in the lake to cool the muscles and while we went to get some food, they dug a canal around our tent in preparation for the coming rain that night. We hadn’t thought about doing that. Nothing worse than waking up to a flooded tent and having to pack wet stuff or put it on to run in. Equipo 86: looking out for more than themselves.
That night we were stuck in our tents as the rain tried to drown out, unsuccessfully, the laughing between our tents, and the next day began the same. Lots of luck passed between us as they set off first for the starting line, spritely and organised, and we did it in our laid back style. And what a day that was, but for now, let’s say it was long and tough, wondrous and hellish, and full of surprises. We made it to camp after ten hours. The moon was high over the lake, it was still light. We we wet, hungry and exhuasted.
The second camp was on the southern shores of the same lake, though this time, while we had made it before night fall, our backpacks hadn’t. This meant no sleeping bags, no dry clothes, no plates and cutley to eat food with. As the stars shone brighter, we grabbed a place by the fire and took off our trainers and socks to dry out a bit. Sitting eating sausages from the grill, wondering what to do and trying to stay warm, two familiar shadows suddenly loomed over us.
“EQUIPO 90!!!” There stood Jose and Gonzalo. Two angels ready to save us from cold and hunger. They had arrived some 4 hours before us, as had their bags. They waited for us on the beach and started to get a bit worried. Still, we had made it. They lent us warm clothes, bowls to fill with pasta, mugs to fill with tea and socks to cover soggy feet. They did our washing up. And, as many slept shivering around the dying fire that night while waiting for their bags, we were on inflatable mattresses in front of a mud oven, hot and cosy. They had heard there was a cabin, and although it was full, after we had eaten, they took us over to a small cafe and got us a place on the floor of the kitchen. We slept warm and dry, and better than we would have done in the tent.
Equipo 86 had stepped in, and we had warmth and comfort because of them. This meant that for the last day of the race, we were refreshed and relaxed, and we could improve on our positioning. We had a great last day and did so. So many others between days two and three dropped out and dropped down. I am not sure we would have finished so full of beans had it not been for Jose and Gonzalo taking care of us the night before.
Of course, Equipo 86 were in San Martín when we finally made it back to civilisation and we celebrated our achievements over wine and beer and food. It was the perfect and right end to our adventure. They had shared our highs and lows, they knew the sacrifices and moments of pain. They understood the high we would be feeling for a long, long time.
And they had helped us. Our humble angels from San Luis had flown in where others never would. They were never absent from our struggles, so they deserve to share in our success.
To Jose and Gonzalo, Equipo 86 and our Cruce Crusaders.
The wings of angels are often found on the backs of the least likely people. ~Eric Honeycutt