-- Reece Billington
There’s something odd about the human mind. It spends thousands of years, in the harshest of climates and most vicious of warfares, undergoing a progressive evolution to ensure its continual existence in an ever changing environment. It amazingly facilitates the bodies ability to walk on two feet, grow opposable thumbs, and communicate, all so we can protect ourselves from the world’s dangers so we can reproduce and keep existing. The human mind is designed to make life as safe, efficient, and reproducible as possible, and yet somewhere along the line, something threw a spanner in the works. All of a sudden, we as humans have decided that it is no longer difficult to merely survive, and we’ve decided that we need to voluntarily put ourselves into difficult and challenging circumstances for satisfaction. We throw ourselves off cliffs, run ridiculous distances, and lift unnecessarily heavy weights, all so life is made that little bit more difficult and therefore satisfying. I’m most certainly not going to say there’s anything wrong with what we’ve become, I just find it a little bemusing, but to try and understand I recently sat down with Emma McCosh, a member of the four person Team Kauri which will be travelling to Chile early next year to take on the Patagonian Expedition Race.
The event involves a 600 kilometre adventure through the isolated, rugged, and demanding region of Patagonia in southern Chile. The adventure will include a variety of disciplines including trekking, running, mountain biking, sea kayaking, and rope handling. Participants won’t know the course, the weather conditions, or the duration of the event until they’ve done it. In the organisers words, the event entails “the adventure and exploration of one of the most untouched and isolated places in the world...while being pushed to new heights by nature’s obstacles and unpredictable weather”. In last years race, competitors survived on an average of 2 hours sleep a night and of the 15 teams that entered, only 6 finished. The others fell to hypothermia, or injury, or simply did not make the cut off times.
The team comprises four people; Emma McCosh, Wayne Hancock, Greig Hamilton, and Petr Sykora. All are experienced multisporters and outdoorsmen, but adventure racing is relatively new to them. Petr has always wanted to do the event, and although he lives in the Czech Republic, has instigated the formation of the team. They’ve never raced together before, in fact, Petr and Greig will have only met once before the event begins. They will be completely reliant on each other over the course of approximately 10 days in the most dangerous and demanding environment with next to no sleep, and yet according to Emma they’re all immensely optimistic of the team's social dynamic. I wonder how a group can get along so well when they hardly know each other, but maybe that’s the secret. Sometimes we can be cruellest to those we love the most, so perhaps we’re nicest to those we’ve only just met, before we’ve had a chance to judge them and form opinions of them, both positive and negative. Regardless, all four team members share a common goal, the event, and that is what will hold them together so closely for the next few months.
It’s difficult to fathom an event that takes multiple months to prepare for. It’s a thorough test of individual fortitude, as well as social bonding. To ensure things go as smoothly as possible when the time comes, it’s important to practice in advance. The team has completed two practice adventures already, the main one being a very challenging multi day adventure through New Zealand’s South Island. The team wanted to simulate the event as best they could in order to iron out any crinkles, so to speak. Pre event anxiety is inevitable, but Emma believes the practice relieved some of it because of the fact that it was so challenging, and that’s spoken by someone who has placed top ten in the 243 km Speights Coast to Coast Longest Day twice. The practice enabled them to realise that there is no hierarchy within the team. It is more of a democracy with Greig being elected as the main navigator due to his extensive experience. Systems were thoroughly put to the test in the practice with a combination of bad weather and nightfall forcing them to make some decisions. Emma recalls Greig citing specific landmarks on the map, before making a choice and then asking the others what they thought. It was the democratic decision making process they’d agreed on which allowed them to finish the practice adventure invaluably wiser. They are in daily email contact with each other and have an inter-team reliance that has enabled the whole idea to become a reality.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the event will require a significant contribution of finances for it to happen. Team member Petr is a successful entrepreneur who is in the fortunate position to be able to partly fund the groups’ adventure. Without Petr’s generosity, Emma admits that she wouldn’t be doing the event and it’s that sort of open transparency that will ensure the team functions as a team when it comes to the event, not merely as four individuals. It helps that they’ve discussed what they hope to achieve and have even summarized their intentions into 6 goals:
To the four team members, the event is not a race, it is an event. Whereas a race is A to B as quickly as possible, an event is a journey. A journey that begins months out and will include many hours of physical training, communication, gear selection, gear testing, researching, more communication, and even more training. It will consume many hours for all four team members and will undoubtedly be stressful at times. To the uninitiated, it might almost sound unpleasant. But those that have ever experienced a commitment of this sort of magnitude will understand - the more effort and energy that you put into something, the greater the sense of satisfaction at the end of it. It’s a bit like Newton’s third law – ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’. The action is this case is the effort and energy expended over the coming four months. And the reaction, the immensely satisfying ability to see things you’ve never seen, do things you’ve never done, and then appreciate the outcome, whatever that is. Emma is extremely optimistic about the team finishing the multi day adventure through some of the world’s toughest wilderness – she needs to be! When asked what they’re going to do if they don’t finish, I received a blank expression. That possibility didn’t seem to have crossed her mind!
Although this kind of adventure is a huge commitment for all involved, it cannot consume every hour of every day for the next four months. Jobs, and families, and friends still exist. Emma is very aware of the overwhelming nature of this kind of commitment, and has taken conscious steps to ensure the event doesn’t jeopardise life’s other obligations. Compromise is a big thing, and it’s something she takes seriously. So too is attention – she doesn’t want it all to be about her. The Patagonian Expedition Race is such a unique adventure it’s no wonder people are interested in hearing about it, and although I’m sure she loves talking about it, she doesn’t want to talk about herself all the time (that might have something to do with the fact that she’s a physiotherapist and is therefore used to listening, rather than talking). Regardless, Emma and the other team members have still got other eggs in their proverbial baskets and will continue to do throughout the lead up to the event.
So having now written all that I want to write, I ponder, why are we as humans compelled to do something so physically and mentally demanding like the Patagonian Expedition Race? And the answer, I’m not entirely sure. But if I was to take a stab, I’d say that life is about living, and it’s this sort of challenge and adventure that makes one feel as though they are truly living. It’s a bit like riding a bike for the first time I suppose. We think we’re going to fall off and that scares us, but it doesn’t stop us. We persist, and eventually, we get it. We’ve pushed our own internal limits to the point that they’ve now moved. It soon becomes easy, and we’re no longer scared. For these four members of Team Kauri, their limits are far beyond those of the general population. They’ve challenged themselves time and time again, slowly evolving and shifting those internal limits to the point at which they’re now compelled to take on one of the most difficult adventure races in the World. It’s this sort of dogged determination and limit-pushing that has facilitated the evolution of the human race I suppose. And as for Team Kauri, I’ve no doubt that this adventure will concrete a lifelong friendship, and I look forward to seeing what they dream up next!
High Beam supports Team Kauri with JR Gear – waterproof gear bags appropriate to the harsh racing conditions of Patagonia.
For more information on the Patagonian Expedition Race, please visit http://www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com/. If you have any questions or would like to talk to a member of Team Kauri, please email us at email@example.com.