Words by: Chelsey Magness
Images by: Bend Racing
“So, do you want to do this thing next weekend? I think you would really like it, we are going to run around the desert and use all of our gear for a few hours.”
“Yes! Of course!”
In all truthfulness, I would’ve done anything, as long as it included him.
A few days later, I stepped on to the start line with a group of other athletes. We all looked like we were about to play an unsupported game of soccer. We were clad in shin guards, front pockets filled with food, sunscreen not rubbed in all over us and for the first time I felt a little bit of competitiveness brewing in the pit of my stomach.
After the race director yelled “GO!” – our team sprinted off into the lead and never looked back.
4 hours later, we crossed the finish line in first place, scratched up, sweaty and full of excitement.
My heart and body were buzzing. For the first time since I could remember I felt completely exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I was hooked. On both Jason and this strange sport called “adventure racing.”
Fast forward a few years filled with a lot of races, big missions, and road trips.
The founder of GearJunkie, Stephen Regenold, sent us a little video about this race called the Patagonian Expedition Race and told us that he had a media team entry. “Would you guys want to do this with me? The short video showed people in dry suits dragging their kayaks in waist deep water, followed by another clip of a team bushwhacking through the thickest bushes I had ever seen. Both Jason and I looked at each other. “YES, we must go.” We had no idea what we were in for, but there was so much excitement and stoke, you could really taste it, even through the phones. We all agreed that there was no point in starting something like this without having a goal. Statistically, only a few first-time teams had ever completed the whole course, so that first year our only goal was to show up and finish.
Physically getting all of your teammates and gear to a race of this magnitude is often the hardest part. For our team, this was more than true. One week before boarding a plane, I dropped to the ground and had to be rushed to the emergency room with severe abdominal cramping.
I had no idea I was pregnant, as I’d had an IUD for several years.
Nine days later, I stepped on to the start line on a remote Chilean beach with my team. I was extremely scared and excited. Could my body hold up both physically and emotionally? I still had so many hormones pumping through me, but deep down, I knew this was the best healing I could do for myself. I couldn’t think of any other place in the world I would rather be. We’d discussed possible complications with my doctor, and we all decided that I could still attempt the race, but that I’d probably not be able to finish it due to fatigue, and the recent trauma.
While the first day or two of the race were a major struggle for me, by day three, my body was the strongest I had ever seen it. I was taking weight and leading the charge. The race was epic, we all saw and experienced things we all had never even dreamed of. We crossed vast amounts of land without ever seeing another human. The constant scouring wind helped us shed unneeded layers of ourselves and the raw beauty inspired us beyond words.
We were the only rookie team to finish on the podium that year. After the race director gave us our medals and hugged us, Jason asked to take the stage. Before I knew it, he was down on one knee asking me to marry him. He also asked if I’d come back to race the next edition of the Patagonian Expedition Race. I said yes to both!
The next year, 2011 our same team returned with a new sense of confidence and an insatiable hunger to go for the win. We ended up in second place after an intense battle chasing the leaders. We floated unknown whitewater rivers on our inflatable sleeping pads, hallucinated talking rats in top hats, trekked for nearly 100 km wearing dry suits, and nearly froze to death swimming a 2 km glacier lake…all in the effort to catch and pass the one team ahead of us. But it was worth it. We came within a few hours of catching a team that were former Adventure Racing World Champions. And in a race that lasts nearly 200 hours, a couple of hours boils down to just a 1% difference in overall speed.
In 2012 and 2013, we came back. Stephen was busy starting a family, so we returned with another young adventurer named Paul. Our races these two years were plagued with injuries, food poisoning and intestinal parasites that wreaked havoc on Paul. But we struggled through, barely making the podium each time. But along the way we continued to build our legacy as a team that chooses challenging routes and thinks outside the box. One year we carried tiny pack rafts and paddled them (two to a boat!) across a fiord that took us off the maps for a while. Another year we opted to take a direct and technical route over some unknown mountains, succeeding in pioneering a new route and getting to name two mountain passes after our team. (https://gearjunkie.com/geographic-naming-rights)
For the next couple of years, the race director took a break from putting on the race and our team set our sights on other big races. We managed to compete in a couple World Championships and World Series races and do well enough to get a top ten ranking for our team. With a little more experience under our belt, we were feeling excited and ready to head back down to Patagonia.
In 2016 we returned again, this time with Canadian Alex Provost – an experienced expedition racer we’d competed against many times. Jason, Daniel and I knew that this was our year. This was to be my last race before trying to start a family, and Jason’s last race before having reconstructive hip surgery. Jason had been combating a hip injury and the onset of severe arthritis since 2011, but we knew he had what it would take to push through. We made a plan to take most of his weight for all the treks and he assured us that he was comfortable being in the “pain cave” during step. Our plan worked for much of the race. We started at a blistering pace on the 30 km beach run – straight into 40 mph headwind, the rocky beach was strewn with millions of baseball sized stones. It was brutal, but we never looked back. This was followed by a 270km mountain bike ride (the longest continuous ride in the races history) into an even stronger headwind. We didn’t sleep and carried a huge lead at the end of it. 4 days in, we held a 24-hour lead. However, in the middle of a big mountaineering stage, Jason collapsed. He shut down. His hip could no longer take weight, and he was dangerously unstable on any uneven terrain. Alex and Daniel had to carry him out of the mountains. After leading the field for so long, it was so hard for us to watch the teams pass us by, as we continued at a snail pace.
In the moment it was tragic for us. After the race, we all didn’t know if we would be back, or if the race would even continue. Maybe this was our story – to come so close. Maybe that was as far as we would go with this race. We left the race feeling both disappointed and defeated, doing our best to look forward to the big changes looming. But both Alex and Dan were more positive…excited that we’d truly tested ourselves and learned that we could win.
For the rest of 2016, Jason and I got to work on the family and a new hip. We traveled to India for three weeks to get his hip resurfaced. Two days after his surgery, we learned that I was pregnant. And a few weeks after returning home, we learned that it was twins. 2016 became a year of recovery, reflection and preparing for our growing family. At the beginning of 2017, our boys were born. And like the recent Patagonia race, it was a lesson in trying to find the positive amidst the pain and devastation.
One boy decided to not come to the physical world. Spirit B’s heart stopped on Jan 16. His brother Magnus was born on Jan 18. We held them both for 24 hours before we could bear to let Spirit go. He has become our family’s whispering guardian and reshaped everything.
This experience restructured how we think about our life, (and life in general). Instead of worrying about everyday things, we let go of a lot of what we thought was important and instead focused on the big things. We made a pact to do whatever made us the happiest and to let go of what ever brought in unnecessary stress. Being outside, traveling, racing and spending time with our boys became our highest priority. 2017 became our year of healing and being the best that we could be. Jason raced on his new hip, I spent a lot of time meditating, racing, playing with Max and spending time with Spirit B in the woods. We healed. We changed. We grew.
Towards the end of 2017 The Patagonian Expedition Race released a teaser video saying that it’s 13th edition was coming out in November of 2018. The timing was perfect. My heart, while still broken, was beginning to heal and I was getting a handle on my grief. After watching the video, I instantly knew we were going back. There was no question. We were the first ones to email them and put down our deposit. We were in. While we didn’t know in what capacity, we did know this time would be different. Just being there would be winning.
Jason and I took all of 2018 to prepare for the race mentally, physically and emotionally. We briefed our parents and prepared them to be able to take Max for three weeks. We raced a couple different expedition races and started to dial in all of our gear and food systems. Alex (from 2016) committed to our team again, excited to try again. Daniel, our long-time teammate and neighbor was starting his own family but supported us through the months of training. We filled his spot with an enthusiastic Dane named Lars Bukkehave. His accent was strong, so we figured it would be good for a laugh when we were sleep deprived. Lars was also an expert mountaineer, navigator and kayaker. He’d been dreaming about the race for years, and it made us remember how we felt when we first saw the race footage years before.
A week before we were to head down to the race, I started to get really nervous about leaving Max. On the night before I left, I went into his room and looked down at him sleeping. A feeling of overwhelming calm came over me and a voice came into my head “this is your time Mama, he’s going to be more than fine.” And he was. Even though the act of leaving him was extremely hard, once I was in race mode, I knew everything was going to be alright and that I really needed this. As I stepped on the start line with my team the wind whipped snow across the looming mountains I looked over at Jason and knew this was going to be one amazing race for us. He had the biggest smile on his face and I had that same feeling that I had years ago when I first stepped on a start line with him. I would do anything as long as it included him, only this time it included so much more. We had been through a lot together, and Patagonia had become a bit of a testing ground for us. It was a place and a race we came to again and again throughout our life to reset ourselves. To let go of all the things we no longer needed, and to take steps toward an inspiring future. Patagonia’s taught us to look out at impossibly distant goals and to not be discouraged. Just take the first step. And then take another.
Our race ended up being flawless. Five hours into the race, we took the lead and never saw another team again. Our teamwork and communication were stand out, the navigation was almost perfect and the race itself was as epic and beautiful as usual. We got kissed and kicked by the wind, frozen by the cold water, warmed by the intermittent sun and were endlessly inspired by the vast, raw scenery everywhere around us.
6 days, 4 hours and 23 minutes after starting, we crossed the finish line in first place. Feelings of joy, giddiness and exhaustion overwhelmed us as we got ushered into the finishing tent where we finally got to sit, eat and talk about our race.
While I couldn’t say it out loud to anyone but Jason at the time, I knew that we had crossed the finish line with a tiny fifth teammate. On the night before the race start, I couldn’t sleep. Jason and I had always joked that the only thing we hadn’t done in Patagonia was make a family. “Why not? At least we could say we tried” we said.
Three days later, as we were weaving up and down through endless small valleys, I looked over to see a giant, bright rainbow that seemed to be following us. “This is your rainbow baby Mama” ” You are pregnant” It was Spirit B.
At first, I couldn’t believe it, but as the days went on, I could feel that there indeed something shifting inside me.
“I am pregnant” I told Jason during a massive bike leg.
Really!? He asked excitedly, “How do you know!?”
“Spirit B” told me so.
Our newest edition to the family is due in late summer and I have a feeling we will have to name him or her after something in Patagonia.
Patagonia had seen us get engaged, helped us in the decision to make a family, and now we’d actually made a baby in Patagonia. Once again, Patagonia delivered.
Professional adventure racer and proud mother Chelsey Magness is based out of Bend Oregon. Her writing can be found on her blog Endurance Mama or on at Gear Junkie.