I am sitting in my tiny room at the Hotel Don Tomas re-inspecting my pack while I anxiously await tomorrow’s check-in. I am so mentally ready to begin this race that tonight I am not sure if I’ll even sleep. I have been here for four days watching this town slowly come to life as the other runners trickle in. When I first arrived it truly seemed like I had just stepped onto the set of an old western.
I found myself waiting for Zorro and his side kick Bernado to come riding down the dirt street at any moment. The atmosphere here is not far from what we all watched on T.V. as kids. Caballeros do ride down the street on horseback, dogs roam freely and merchants stand outside their shops chatting. There is one main street where most of the restaurants are located alongside tiny grocery stores and the occasional bike rental shop. The main square plaza is the meeting place, which has the Church of San Pedro de Atacama, museum and police department surrounding it. The entire town is approximately 6 to 8 blocks but surrounded by the most amazing rock formations, hills, snow capped mountains and a dormant volcano in the distance.
Each day I woke and started my day putting on my running shoes and heading off for a training run. To my surprise two dogs, a yellow and black lab, greeted me the first day as I followed the dirt path behind the hotel. I think they were just as excited as I was to go for a run. With one in front of me and one beside me we jogged past homes, fields of flowers and a beautiful horse stable. Not acclimated to the altitude I found myself walking a bit until the dogs turned around, noticed that I was walking, stopped and waited until I reached them and urged me to pick up the pace. I found myself laughing inside and even talking to them a bit saying “come on guys, this gringo needs to take it easy today…slow down!” Reaching the main road I turned around to head back thinking my new friends would continue on without me. No way, they were intent on escorting me all the way back to the hotel. I couldn’t have asked for better bodyguards.
The second, third and fourth days my runs were out into the desert and up a hill within the Valley of the Moon. I ran through rock-covered dirt preparing myself for the terrain I believe we will encounter in many areas of the race. As I traversed and carefully maneuvered I was very conscious that a twisted ankle could happen at any time. Focus is going to be key for me. I will not have the luxury of zoning out while running which I had to remind myself even on these training runs. I couldn’t help but notice the magnificent pallet of colors in the desert. Shades of brown, red, yellow, green and the occasional purple flower sitting by itself drew me in. I can only imagine how the changing light will magnify and enhance this visual feast for the eyes.
I will sign off for now as taking one last trip down the dirt path into town with new, and old friends is beckoning. My next blog will be from the campsite after Stage 1. Until then send me all your positive energy as I take a deep breath and head into the unknown!