Although training and racing rule my world, I also enjoy getting some normality back into my life….. bungee jumping, sewing, crochet, lawn bowls…combined with a healthy dose of mountain biking, off road running, meals with friends, a few vino tipples….i love the off season! So, leaving the log book behind at the end of November I travelled to the Argentinean town of Mendoza for the nuptuals of one of my best friends from Nepal, Augustina and her fiancé Seba. I was joined there by a few more of my closest, Nepal era buddies – including Helen, the Aussie bike aficionado, and Billi the high attitude mountain goat (aka ‘Champignon’ after her fondness for oversized cycle helmets that make her look like a fungus) – both of whom have enough spirit to put a Russian vodka factory out of business.
Being a meagre 80km away, we decided to arrive at the wedding in style. On two wheels. (style not, however, being the operative word when it come to our lycra outfits). It needn’t have mattered. The event itself was as relaxed as Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Plentiful southern hemisphere sunshine, latino music and salsa (or erratic funky chicken moves on my part), red and white coloured beverages, and a swimming pool. The latter – wine/water combo – being a recipe for hilarity and/or disaster depending on the swimming prowess/inebriation of the wedding guest.
Once the nuptials were over it was time for the newly-weds to embark on their honeymoon. A romantic cycle tour in northern Patagonia. Accompanied by four of their closest, and most mentally deranged friends. Not wanting to opt for an easy, relaxing holiday we decided to do it Star Trek style, and go where no bikers had gone before. Suitable only for horses and the Starship Enterprise, the path (in the loosest sense of the term) was not really designed for anything on two wheels or two legs. Undeterred by the enormity of the task at hand the six of us set off from the town of Malargue, with the 300km ish round trip ahead of us. Our sturdy mountain bikes (rented from www.condorbikes.com.ar) laden with paniers – filled to the brim with sleeping bags, clothes, tents, ropes, harnesses, stoves, and enough culinary delights/cardboard tasting dehydrated food to feed Dr Spock and his crew. The steeds weighed in at around 35kg, and were about as aero as your average tractor. But aerodynamics counted for little when pushing up 20% sandy slopes, across glaciers or standing beached in the middle of rivers.
We gave a new meaning to the term ‘push bike’. We biked and pushed by day, and camped under the blanket of stars by night. Our progress was somewhat slothful – impeded by an exigent assortment of sand, rocks, snow, the odd river and my total ineptitude at manoeuvring my ten tonne tractor over the said hurdles. Technological advances such as wooden bridges had seemingly failed to find their way to Patagonia, and we were forced to cross the glacial waters by erecting ingenious, yet precarious, rope/pulley type contraptions. There were a number of close shaves/swims as we struggled to regain control of paniers, tractors and the newly wedded Tina as they all hovered perilously over swirling water. But all around us, against clear blue skies, soared Andean peaks and 747 sized condors, and beneath our wheels lay wild flowers and some of the most amazing fossils I have ever seen.
One day we managed to clock a phenomenal 16km – 1000m plus of climbing/pushing, three river crossings and one glacial traverse……and an average daily breakneck crawl of 2km/hr. A sedated slug could have gone faster. This less than record breaking progress was, nevertheless, celebrated in style with a bottle of red (we packed all the essentials). The next day was easier. Relatively. Largely downhill. On sand. With a headwind. And we ran out of food. But luck was on our side that evening. A local farmer took pity on us, and slaughtered a goat on our behalf. I ate the liver. Much better than packet pasta.
We finally made it back to Malargue. Unwashed, somewhat smelly, full of goat, covered in bruises, scratches, boils, blisters and the odd bite – but overjoyed to have managed to complete the newly named ‘Luna de Miel’ or ‘Honeymoon’ Route – and what has to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. The Andean off season, off road adventure was about as far away from triathlon as I could get and no amount of World Championship titles could make it any easier. There were times when I seriously though that we weren’t going to make it. Times when I was turned another corner only to see the path snaking up the side of yet another mountain, my puny biceps screaming as I tried to lift my 40 tonne tractor over rocks the size of houses, and the wind blowing sand into every bodily orifice…….but I know that when I hit a low patch in training or in a race I will think back to northern Patagonia and the Luna de Miel Survivor episode and know that you can conquer anything, with a bit of bloody mindedness, a few ropes, a bottle of red and a goat.
So now I am back at home, in the UK, just in time to indulge in some festive spirit – tis the season to be jolly after all. There have been quite a few changes since Hawaii, not least in coaches (not once, but twice – lending weight to the argument that women just cannot be trusted to make up their minds). I am looking forward to spending some time with my family and friends before jetting off again in the New Year, to the US. Helen is heading back to Aussie. Billi is going to climb Everest. Tina is going to have a proper Luna de Miel without bikes, packet pasta or four friends.
A huge thanks to everyone that has supported me this year – friends, family, sponsors, race directors, other athletes, goat herders. I hope you all have an awesome, relaxing festive period. Eat, drink and be merry and may 2009 bring you everything you wish for and more.