Conquering Costa Rica |

Conquering Costa Rica

Submitted PhotoJustin Scharp (far left) and Jim Easterbrook take time out from racing in La Ruta de los Conquistadores for a picture as others hurry by.

All three finished in less than 30 hours, then rested tired bones on the beaches of Costa Rica.

Truckee residents Justin Scharp, Rich Coppola and Jim Easterbrook deserved the lounge time after competing last month in La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a three-day mountain bike race claiming on its Web site to be the toughest on Earth.

And it was tough, the trio reported.

“I think we all agreed that the worst that we experienced turned out to be much harder than we expected,” Coppola said. “Everything we imagined it would be, it was much more than that. It was a really hard race.”

Coppola’s partners in adventure echoed his sentiment.

“It was a little more hard-core than we thought it would be, but it was a fun journey,” Scharp said. “It was everything we expected, plus much more ” longer days, lots of rain and tons of hiking.”

Easterbrook, who, like Scharp and Coppola, is no pushover when it comes to physical fitness, described the race as “the hardest mountain biking I’ve ever done, by far.

“As far as the climbing, it was right where I expected it to be,” he continued. “But there was a lot more mud than I expected.”

Especially on the first day, they agreed, when sticky, red clay a foot deep clung to their bikes during heavy rains, making riding impossible at times. The solution to those sections was the rumored, and self explanatory, “hike-a-bike” method.

“It stuck to everything,” Coppola said of the mud. “It made the bike about 10 pounds heavier. Definitely something you can’t train for in a mountain bike race.”

Scharp said the abundant streams along the way were helpful in cooling down and washing off the mud that packed into the tires and gears. Getting wet was not a concern, Scharp said, as the rain and sweat from the tropical heat drenched riders from the get-go. Also aiding in the bike cleanings, and body coolings, were locals who hosed down the bikers as they passed, Scharp said.

After the first day, which Coppola said seemed like a hill climb the entire 70 miles, the race got a bit easier. But not much. Making it worse for Coppola was the fact that he rode separately of Scharp and Easterbrook.

“It sucked,” Coppola said of charging solo. “It did. It’s hard to motivate yourself. You had to argue with yourself to keep going.

“That turned out to be the hardest part. You go through a roller coaster of emotion.”

Coppola’s pride came out on top in the argument with himself.

He hit each check point before the cutoff and finished with a cumulative time of 27 hours and nine minutes. Easterbrook and Scharp finished together in 23 hours and 21 minutes. The winner of the race, Thomas Frischknecht, crossed the final finish line in 14 hours and 32 minutes. Much of the field didn’t finish at all, the Truckee racers noted.

But the trio pulled it off, and they rewarded themselves with a week and a half of vacation back on the west shore of Costa Rica.

“That was the hardest athletic event I’ve ever participated in,” Easterbrook said.

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