ZOIC Ambassador Leigh Bowe races the Andes Pacifico Stage Race in Chile

ZOIC Ambassador Leigh Bowe

I never wanted to race Andes Pacifico. This is strange because I love travel and all things Latin American and Andes Pacifico has a reputation for being the experience of a lifetime. Its accolades include all of the goods; amazing meals, views, trails and of course pisco (and beer and wine). Its also well known for Andean desert heat and I have a history of heat stroke. I always figured this one wasn't for me. Alas, my better half (after seeking my consent), signed us up and I reluctantly resigned myself to a damned fine time in the southern hemisphere.

Goal #1, finish. Goal #2, don't be scared.
Day 0 We were fed a delicious appetizer of made from scratch pizzas with scrumptious toppings while we sipped bottomless brews on tap and soaked our legs in the river that flowed alongside our camp. Dinner consisted of a variety of meats, salads, sides (all delicious) and of course delicious dessert and vino. A girl could get used to that sort of treatment.
All of the racers lined up for a massive group shot prior to opening stage 1
Day 1 The first stage was memorable for a very pleasant single track traverse of a transition. To a nice mellow descent. The temperatures were mild and I decided that I liked it in Chile. The second stage was a long one. Especially when I snapped my bars (carbon) in half midway down. The bottom was quite steep and with half a bar and only a rear brake (which is useless on the super steep stuff, FYI). I slowly jogged/slid/tried to ride my way down (Did nobody get a picture of me riding with half a handlebar?) I was optimistic that there would be a replacement bar that would work and I’d be back at it the next day. After dinner, I went back to the Santa Cruz tent where Nacho advised me not to race the following day. I had exploded the bearing cartridge in my lower pivot link. Rough start. Either way, the race was effectively over as the snapped handlebar cost me about 10 minutes. The rest of the race would be about attitude and finishing. Day 2 This was by the numbers, likely to be one of the hardest days of the race. I decided to disregard Nacho’s advice. After all, I survived one day of Andean pistas riding a wet noodle. What harm could one more day be? And I really wanted to finish the race and not miss any stages. I rode very cautiously on the first stage and still managed to pass quite a few riders, thanks to the reverse start order at the beginning of each day. We had a break for lunch before heading to the next 4 stages. At lunch, the Santa Cruz mechanics were waiting for us and Nacho found me and told me he had a fresh bearing kit and would have me all situated within 20 minutes. I helped myself to sandwiches and brownies while Nacho dialed me in like a homesick long distance caller (terrible simile, sorrynotsorry). The next 4 stages were without incident; fun dirt bike trails with a lot of whoops! Day 3 (my favorite day of AP) We were treated to a nice long shuttle up to the top of El Arpa ski area. Then we got out of the trucks, hefted our bikes onto our shoulders and started hiking steeply uphill. We kept hiking for about 3 hours. Things I saw on the very long hike-a-bike: condors, guanagos, wild horses, and eventually Aconcagua (tallest mountain in the Southern and Western hemispheres). The views were alright. The first stage went on forever. We just kept dropping. The terrain was amazeballs. And then we did some more stages. The last stage of the day had us finishing at sunset and I couldn’t see the trail through the dust when Jaime Hill flew by. And then the Trans Cascadia guys passed me and I was blind and eating dust again. (Getting passed is not as fun as passing). And then I crashed unexpectedly, going quite fast. I was ok, but a bit shook up. Worst part is that the crash was only about 200 yards from the finish, so I came through the finish area with a frown on my face and not at all cheerful.
Photo Credit: Vital MTB
​Day 4 (I got lost) We were getting a lot closer to the coast. This was possibly the mellowest day of the race and consisted of fun, ruts, and dust (but virtually hero dirt compared to the antigrip of the Andes). I got lost on the climb and the descent of the 3rd stage of the day. Oops. Still had fun on a flowy trail along a dry arroyo with optional lines and little rock drops and jumps. The locals were cheering us on and it was rad. Day 5 Stage 2 was a fun flow trail. Although we were getting close to the coast, it was incredibly hot on the climbs in the sun. It seemed like overtime we dropped onto a stage, it would get cloudy, no ocean views. Our massive group ride to the coast was cloudy and brought some of the coldest temperatures of the whole week. Alas, we were not taking a dip in the ocean post race. Aftermath ​My biggest regret is how much I procrastinated getting excited for this experience. I really didn't feel the stoke until I was soaking in the river at our first camp. Part of what makes an experience amazing is the build up. Nevertheless, I DO NOT regret going to Andes Pacifico and I hope to return, better prepared, next time.

Read more at Leigh’s blog, check out her ambassador page, and follow her on Instagram @elbowrides