One thing has been constant since I was a little girl is that I never shy away from a challenge or adventure. When Jeff asked me if I wanted to come along to Costa Rica with him to race the RIncon de la Vieja 100 Challenge I’m not sure I even let him finish his sentence as I was quickly ‘eugoogalizing’ what I was getting myself into.
The Rincon de la Vieja is Latin America’s first and ONLY 100 mile mountain bike race. What further sets this race a part is the course’s profile is like a saw blade that cuts through 5 different microclimates while circumnavigating an active volcano! I’m not sure I could think of any other event that could test all my weaknesses; distance, extreme temperatures, and a weak stomach in a foreign country. Challenge aside, I was fueled and motivated by the pure adventure the race would provide. Not to mention getting to share it with my partner in crime.
Our travels were quick and easy. Each flight I was glued to the window as if it were my first time on an airplane, and as we made our landing into Liberia, Costa Rica I was like a little kid hopped up on pixie sticks. The race director Juan Carlos Villa Solano, his wife Laura and crew made our logistics seamless from the moment our feet touched Costa Rican land to when we headed back to the USA. His wife Laura who seemed to have the event running smoothly by the huevos picked us up from the airport with a crew. We were joined by four other Americans, Sonya and Matt Ewonus, and Brenda and Lee Simril.
The race photographer Adres Vargas of Lead Adventure Media drove us to the hotel we would call home for the next four days; Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin. I was happy he was driving as the roads were narrow, winding, rough and there seemed to be no speed limit. Throughout the week I was constantly amazed how everyone got along on the roads with no aggression (American fail numero uno). Cars, trucks, bicycles, farmers herding their animals – everyone shared the narrow sometimes single lane roads and no birds or curse words were thrown out.
Our accommodations were perfect, the beds were comfortable, we had running water, and the food was amazing. It was the first resort I have been to where I knew what I was eating came from the land within a five mile radius of the resort. No sign of a waffle batter self serve machine, packaged pastries or fake sugar packets near the coffee. (American fail numero dos) Our sector of rooms were quickly renamed the American compound. The only noises we heard around us were the sounds of the farm animals waking up, cicada screams, and the occasional monkey squeal. None of which was a nuisance but more a comfort bringing me back to growing up on a farm. I quickly befriended the free range goat, farm dogs, and was the first to climb the giant tree filled with vines out or front door.
As the race time was nearing the excitement was building. Maybe it was that I had no idea what anyone was saying during the race meeting or that I couldn’t understand anyone’s nervous chatter around me, but I was 100% calm, ready and excited for the adventure ahead.
The race was broken up into 6 aid stations, referred to as PC1, PC2, PC3, and so on. Our race start was scheduled for 5:30 am which due to some delay from all the racers getting there actually started rolling at 6:00am. Starting in the Northern Pacific dry plains of the Pampa Guanacastera we had a 30 minute neutral roll out, downhill on what would be the finishing climb at the end of the race. This was probably the only ever true neutral rollout I have ever experienced. Besides some yo-yo’ing from the pack and the occasional rear tire skid from riders around me it was fairly smooth and uneventful. I had a great position and separated myself from the mess fairly quickly as we set off on some of the steepest roads I have ever raced on. You knew the road was going to kick up to a wall when it would go from gravel to paved. I found myself getting a little caught up in the excitement of these aggressive roads and looking back probably went too hard within the two hours of the race. Something coach Lynda warned me about, but my age in racing really showed and I was just having too much fun!
The parent like voice of coach Lynda was starting to get more stern, so I scaled it back as we began our venture into the Cloud Forest. This section was cloudy (obviously), wet, muddy, and full of river crossings. Temperatures were perfect ranging from mid 70′s to low 80′s. Moments of this microclimate were eerie but oddly calming. I saw rivers that were so crystal clear and blue that they looked fake, and the BUTTERFLIES! HOLY COW, the butterflies were the size of your HEAD and as blue as whatever those blue things were in the movie Avatar.
Next, was the climb up to their Continental Divide into the Tropical Rainforest. Finally, we had a long, somewhat “settling in” climb which felt similar to Colorado terrain. As I began my descent off the Continental Divide, my body was craving a long, ripping downhill for some fun and enjoyment. Instead, it was like I was in a boxing match with a low grade descent that required big ring pedaling with a few blows of steep pitches thrown in for good measure. This is where I started really feeling the heat as we were now consistently staying above 90 degrees.
I knew my body was beginning to shut down when I would have to stop multiple times on one of the few fun trails thinking I had to pee, but could not. Instead I would sit there with a nauseous pain that couldn’t be relieved. Thinking maybe I was just behind on fueling or hydration I pounded anything I could, Fanta (while singing “wanna Fanta, dontcha wanna), salt pills, Honey Stinger chews – nothing seemed to relieve this odd pain I have never had before.
Carrying on, I gained a second wind through a challenging section of Moab like terrain, but instead of red rock it was a blinding white limestone rock. I road the coat tails of my second wind all through this section, clearing steep, loose climbs with locals cheering in Spanish “VAMOS VAMOS, VAMOS CHICA!”. We were now at the Junction of the Rincon de la Vieja and Miravalles volcanoes and this area until the finish served up the hottest temps staying above 100 and maxing at 111!
From PC5 to PC6 is when things were getting quite foggy. My lower abdominal pain became more frequent and I still could not pee, my vision started to blur, and the hammer inside my head seemed to be endlessly pounding.
I stopped at PC6 and spent a good 15 minutes trying to pee and hanging out in the bushes where I’m sure there were many snakes ready to latch onto my blindingly white Caucasian bottom. When I saw the other American couple Brenda and Lee roll up I thought, “Oh good, maybe I can ride with them and try to spin out of this fog I have gotten myself in”. I jumped on their wheel and it quickly seemed like I was following someone with two rear wheels vs one. I knew I had to ride alone, take breaks, and not push myself too far into a hole.
This teeter tottering of symptoms continued until a mere 10k from the finish where I stopped by a car that was casting just enough shade that seemed so inviting for a little siesta. A kind woman, Lina tried to help me as much as she could but my responses were confused, slow and delayed. At this time all i wanted to do was fall asleep. Lina, who later I realized became my angel poured cold water over my head. I will never forget how shocking this felt. It completely took my breath away, sent an aching pain throughout my entire body and all I could do was rest my head in my hands to compose myself.
My race was done.
Turning down medical help I went back to my room and laid in the shower under the luke warm water fully dressed until I could clean up and curl into bed.
I later found out that 100 people did not finish out of 250 riders due to the heat. Sonya and Jeff told me similar stories of their races which always sends a pit of pain in your heart being the one that didn’t finish. However, I knew I made the best decision for my body and have learned a great deal in just one day.
Mountains of gratitude goes out to Juan Carlos, Laura, John, Courtney, Andres, Lina and the rest of the crew that made this experience possible.
All things said and done, I cannot wait to go back and do it again.