Saturday, September 10th was the “Desafío a los Senderos” (Challenge at the trails) mountain bike race/rally. (Notice the English language influence in the poster- rally, mountain bike, biker. Subway and Gatorade were sponsors; we all got a Subway sandwich and a Gatorade after the race!)
We have been getting to know a husband and wife who run a local bike shop and we have had an open invitation to join the shop employees and friends on their twice-weekly training rides. I finally had time to join them three days before the race and for the first time saw firsthand the off-road trails of Mendoza. These trails were originally pioneered by motocross motorcyclists so the descents and climbs can be quite challenging on a bicycle, in some cases you just have to put your butt way behind the saddle and pump the rear brake in what becomes a semi-controlled slide among loose dirt and grapefruit-sized rocks.
I road a bike from the shop and after the ride I told the owner, Héctor, that I wanted to rent the bike for the race. On Saturday I met him at the shop and we road up to the start in San Martin Park. He and his 11 year-old son, who was the youngest rider at the rally, road in the 27k open ride. I chose to ride the 35k competitive ride, which is the more or less the same distance as the City of Lakes Loppet ski race in Minneapolis. Since I am not much of a runner, I considered this my bike ‘marathon’, albeit without much training. In summary, the ride was very demanding, but enjoyable. Lots of climbing, the longest of which was about 40 minutes. And lots of nasty, rocky, descents. I came to appreciate the limitations of my ‘elastomer’ front suspension fork, which uses a springy, rubbery material to cushion the ride. The fork was no match for the demands of the rocky descents and my forearms were rather fatigued. The scenery was great -when I could actually take my eyes off the trails to look at it!- kind of a combination of badlands and canyon country. But even staring at the ground for 3 hours brings new insights, such as the changes from brown to red ocher in the soil, the varied textures of rock, soil, and gravel, and the presence of salt precipitates in the stream beds.
I remember one descent that took riders into a slot canyon barely wide enough to ride down. Quite fun and hairy at the same time! In addition, it was interesting to hear the Spanish chatter and commentary among the riders, and learning how to request and grant the right to pass another rider. I finished the course in 3 hours. The elite riders finished it in 2 hours! I am not really much of a bike racer, but events like these seem like good ways to establish markers of our experience here in Mendoza.
What made this race uniquely Argentine was the after party. Hector and his family, brought me to an after-race ‘asado’, the Argentine barbecue we have mentioned in previous posts (See Jenny’s post on the Asado). Lots of great conversation and consumption of meat, wine, coke with Fernet (this drink deserves its own post in the future), water, and beer, potentially, but not necessarily in that order!
I am quite grateful to Héctor and his family for facilitating the experience and giving me the chance to ride in the race and experience it like a local. There was one rather humorous detail that clearly labeled me as a non-local. When I went to look up my race time online, for reasons not entirely clear to me (was it a joke or because they did not have my full name?), I was listed as “John Rambo!” I guess that is one American icon that just refuses to die.
I can say this, mountain biking is alive and well in the Cuyo region of Argentina. (Riders beware, Rambo is out there on the trails!)