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This November 2-5 Team CoreCo raced across Costa Rica as participants in La Ruta de los Conquistadores, one of the world’s most challenging multi-day mountain bike races in order to raise funds for semester student scholarships.  Racing for Team CoreCo in this event was Will Muecke, Travis Hauck, Frank Karbe, John Stimpson, Nat Grew Jr. (CIRENAS BOD member) and Tucker Szymkowicz (CIRENAS Exec. Director).

Tucker and Team CoreCo will post updates to the blog about the race during and after the event.  Help support them in their fundraising efforts by clicking this link.

Tucker’s Daily Blog Updates

October 31st – A day and a half to go!  Just got back to CR this afternoon and my bike box was thankfully not mangled by TSA agents.  Excited for the race but tired from travel, turning in for the night early.

November 1st – I got my bike all put back together and all systems seem to be a go.  Today we will pick up our race packets and head down towards the Jaco area where everything will kick off tomorrow morning.  Apparently the weather has been horrible and the top of Irazu volcano has been getting down to 40 degrees F!  Luckily I have been training in Vermont so I should be more acclimated to that portion of the ride than the 80 degree and humid parts.  Well off to pack my bags.

November 2nd – Team CoreCo assembled last night for the first time in Playa Escondido at the Grew’s condo.  Our most recent addition being our mechanic “Chuz” who has worked with bike teams all over CR and the US.  We ate, talked and prepped for the next day, I don’ think that many of us slept too well, nerves on high gear and anticipation accelerating our resting heart beats.

The race started off OK for me as we left behind sketchy Jaco for the mountains and began to creep our way towards the infamous “hike a bike” section of the race.  I actually enjoyed the “hike a bike” the most, had fun sliding in the mud, slinging my bike over my shoulder and crossing the rivers.  Then after the first aid station my day went downhill or I should say uphill, straight uphill.  The climb out of San Pedro was a 3 hour paved road climb that just never ended, to make it worse it got foggy so I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of me so I kept thinking it was over only to see headlights angled downhill coming in my direction.  Hours later I peaked over the hill and had some fun downhills on our way to Santa Ana only to be met by more uphills that broke my spirit.

I overheated on the way to Santa Ana and jumped in a stream for 5 minutes to bring my body temperature back to normal.  After that I started to get really bad chain suck, my chain wrapping around my chain ring due to the mud gummed up between the links.  Luckily some guys following the race saw me struggling with my chain and pulled over to help me, they sprayed a foaming lubricant in the chain and I was off towards the finish.  Before they left they notified me that I was dangerously close to the cut-off time for the first day so I pedaled with what strength I had left towards the finish.

By the time I crossed it was dark, I had been weaving in and out of the notoriously bad San Jose traffic for half an hour and I was dead tired.  I was relieved but also reluctant to celebrate as I knew I had 3 more days left and I was already mentally and physically exhausted.


November 3rd – I woke up to call Caroline and tell her that there was no way I could go on, then my neighbor and teammate, John Stimpson, said “let’s go” and I suddenly found myself jumping in a taxi speeding towards the start of the race.  John told me that if I could finish the first day then I could make it through all of the next, I just had to keep going.

Day 2 started off great, the climb was hard but beautiful and the downhills went through some wonderful scenery accented with huge views, rivers, forest and farmlands.  I was loving it until about 2/3rds of the way through the race when they sent us to this section of straight up concrete hills where the midday sun was glaring with all of its intensity, shining especially hard, I felt like directly on me.  Later in the day I would find out that my teammate Travis had ridden these hills and that his GPS could not register the grade, it being too steep, crazy!

The concrete hills gave way to a gentler section of of mixed paved and dirt roads that reenergized me and carried me to the finish.  Of course right before the end though they threw in a section of downhill that was pure mud and when I say mud I mean Costa Rica red clay, my bike emerged with mud everywhere but somehow still shifting gears.  I crossed the finish well ahead of the cut off breathing a sigh of relief that I had completed half of the race.  My teammates cheered my arrival, my sister in law, her mother and daughter greeted me at the finish and I felt proud and so happy that I had not backed out as I had planned at 5 o’clock in the morning.

November 4th – I couldn’t sleep last night.  I finally got up to go to the bathroom and vomited a green liquid that I could only discern to be leftover gel packs, energy drinks and hydration tablets from earlier in the day, awful.  I woke up determined to eat whole foods, settle my stomach and finish without all of the crazy energy supplements.  I juiced a ginger, cucumber, beet, carrot mixture which helped to settle my stomach and gathered my things for the day, tonight we would be staying in Turrialba so I had an overnight bag prepared.

We got to Tres Rios where we ended the day before and started climbing the Irazu Volcano.  I loved the first 2-3 hours of mixed trails and paved road but then it kept going and going, the views eventually became obscured by the fog and then by the top a heavy cold rain set in.  My stomach was settled though and I was kept on my toes on the way down by technical rock sections made more difficult by the pouring rain.  Like the uphill the downhill was never ending, it was really fun and probably the longest downhill that I have ever done in my life.  As I descended the weather warmed up and the trails turned to dirt roads where I almost T-boned a cow and then to a super fast, fun section of paved roads as we cruised into the CATIE campus in Turrialba.  On the descent the people and especially school children lined the roads cheering me on and providing me with that last bit of energy I needed to finish out the day.

That night we all got together for dinner, ate a ridiculous amount of food and I laid in my be again unable to sleep, thinking about what lay ahead, the last day.

November 5th – All of the spaghetti and meat I ate the day before fueled my legs as I attacked the first section of the course rolling hills leaving Turrialba heading towards the Caribbean port town of Limon.  I felt great to start, really standing on the hills, keeping up my momentum and having a great time.  After the first hill I ran into my teammates John and Will as they were waiting for a guy they had been riding with to fix a flat.  They told me that we would stick together to work as a team on this next long flat section, so we formed a paceline and headed towards Limon.

Only problem with this new team strategy was they had been finishing a solid hour or two ahead of me each day and their pace was really hard for me to keep.  I kept on falling off the back of the “train to Limon” especially when the famous Caribbean heat began to blaze down on the back of my neck.  I pulled over various times to be have local people spray water on the back of my neck so that I could cool down and continue.  Banana and pineapple plantations lined the sides of the roads and spoke to a past that was still fresh with controversy still seen in the eyes of some of the young men as we pedaled through the small towns.

One of the most famous parts of Day 4 are the railroad tracks.  Each competitor rides in the center of the tracks for miles, most of the time they are filled with large gravel stones but some of the time the cement ties are exposed making for a jarring ride.  These tracks usually lead to a bridge where each person gets off their bike to “cross” the bridge.  This means total focus looking down at the wooden railroad ties towards the rivers below as you either carry or push you bike towards the far side of the bridge.  Local people line up for this, some help competitors cross others just laugh at the spectacle of the competitors crossing the bridges, something the do on a daily basis.

After the last long stretch of tracks we popped out on the beach.  John and Will continued to wait for me despite my water breaks and we left as a team to cover the last 15K.  The sand was firm for the most part but then I would hit these sections of really loose sand where I would lose momentum and control which in the blazing sun at the end of a hard day was discouraging.  I watched John and Will disappear down the beach and rode beside a Tico that had been a part of our train for most of the day and had also struggled to keep the pace.  The beach finally gave way to a road where I was so overheated I could barely think and again just when I needed it most help arrived in the form of an ice cold cooler of water that was poured all over me, taking down my internal temperature and allowing me to continue.

John and Will were there again waiting for me, I was really touched by this desire to finish as a team and felt really proud that I was so close to finishing.  Unfortunately John got a call on his cell phone and did not see me catch the group so he turned back to look for me although I was already up ahead.  Will turned back to get John who had pedaled back a few kilometres looking for me.  We regrouped and headed to the finish on Playa Bonita.  Steps leading to the beach at at the end broke our formation of three across but we all finished together.

They hung medals around our necks and people cheered, reggae music blasted in the nearby bar and racers mingled with locals in the water still wearing their biking clothes, it was quite the scene.  In all honesty I could not believe that I had made it, but even more so I was really touched by Will and John’s gesture of crossing the finish with me.  To me it was the true definition of sportsmanship, they had seen me struggle through every stage and instead of worrying about their own times they held back and made sure that I made it across.  As we all ate the loud reggae music discouraged much talking but smiles lined all of our faces and I really felt proud to be a part of such a great group of people, not just my team but all of the “Conquistadores,” people that had decided to test themselves in one of the world’s most challenging mountain bike races, across a beautiful country in crazy conditions for different reasons but all coming together in the process to celebrate life, personal growth and adventure.  I will honestly never forget this race, the people, the personal struggle I endured within myself and the feeling of accomplishment and enlightenment upon its completion.

Thank you Team CoreCo and the organizers of La Ruta for everything.  I am still thinking about whether to try again in 2012 as it will be the 20th anniversary of the event and has a special “back to our roots” format.  Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and Team CoreCo in our endeavors these donation will go directly to student scholarships for our new semester program and are greatly appreciated!  For anyone thinking about competing in something like La Ruta I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful experience although at times you may think otherwise.  Maybe Team CoreCo will reunite for another challenge but until then as my teammate Will would say “Pura Vida Costa Rica!”