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.
As Maria has already written, and as you will guess from the title, M&MRC, Equipo 90 (and all the other names we are now known by!) have made it through the Cruce de los Andes. We have run, climbed, slid, stepped, walked, waded, ducked, rolled over, pounded, staggered, shuffled and run a bit more as if our lives depended on it to cross the line three days in a row and complete what I have to say has been the challenge of a lifetime, thus far.
It has been marvellous, magical and momentous. We have minged; we have mocked; and we have marvelled.
And we have made a mountain of memories.
As stories filter through on this blog over the next days/weeks/months/years/decades (you can be sure) I just wanted to pause a second and reflect on something we discussed yesterday and which came up again in conversation with my mum.
With grins a mile wide, tired eyes and quads which were aching for a massage, we sat on the bus leaving San Martín de los Andes on Monday. We remembered our worst five minutes of the race, we did impressions of those we had met and we generally distracted ourselves from the reality we were facing once it was all well and truly over.
At one point, I said: “I think this has been good for M and F (our boyfriends).”
“Why is that?” Maria replied.
“It will get them used to it, won’t it?”
The fact there was a laugh and a knowing smile instead of words told me all I needed to know.
For, now this challenge is over, there are expectations in other areas of our lives. Another two ‘M’s that like to be thrown at us: Marriage and Motherhood.
I ask myself, are they mutually exclusive? Surely not. We have met people from all over Latin America and beyond who were doing El Cruce 2012 and it was such a mixed bag: old couples, youngish friends, women pushing their boundaries while their teenage children waited for them at the finish line. We met men who train 6 days a week. And they have wives, ex-wives, children and jobs to deal with. But everyone agreed on one thing: the support of their family.
We have had amazing support from our families and friends, both near and far. And I think we’ve both realized that we’re going to have to ask for it time and again as live goes on and M&MRC throws itself at more challenges and feats.
We have proved we can make it. Now we’ve got to prove we can make it work in our lives.
Today as walking down the street Maria stepped in a pile of dog poo, which obviously M&M RC took as a sign of good luck. They also realized at that moment all the things they wouldn’t be taking with them to do Cruce. This includes:
– Having to avoid dog poo when running in Buenos Aires.
– Beating rush hour traffic.
– Having to overtake smokers on the sidewalks.
– Getting fumed out by Buenos Aires colectivos.
– Running at the weekends while others are doing the walk of shame.
– Leaving our boyfriends to sleep while we hit the pavement.
– Literally, we won’t be hitting the pavement.
– Not needing to avoid the hills as we’ll have no choice.
– Not having to fill our packs with books to weigh them down.
– And lastly, not having to run alone.
Now leaving for the airport and the next post will be in San Martin de los Andes!