Gluttons for punishment
It’s touted as one of the most grueling bike races on the planet ” sending willing competitors 200 miles in three days, snaking through dense jungles, ascending towering volcanoes and stumbling through deep mud and swollen rivers, bike in hand.
Fueled by that knowledge, Truckee residents and friends Justin Scharp, Jim Easterbrook and Rich Coppola are pumped and prepared to take on the Costa Rican adventure race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores, Nov. 11-13.
Unlike most adventure races ” the three have competed in many, including the Big Blue series that swings through Lake Tahoe annually ” La Ruta follows dirt roads and thus requires no navigational skills. It does, however, demand a high level of endurance and resolve.
“I know this will be the toughest one,” Scharp said, comparing the race with others under his belt.
Easterbrook, who along with Scharp and Coppola is an avid rock climber, agreed that La Ruta is the most imposing race he has entered. Asked if he was nervous going in to the final week before the big event, Easterbrook conceded, “Definitely.
“You don’t really know what challenges you’re going to face,” he said. “Riding 70 miles in one day, that’s burly. So yeah, I’m a little nervous, just the fear of the unknown. I’ve got butterflies for sure.”
Scharp, Coppola and Easterbrook have been friends for about seven years, sharing a common interest in adventure. They all climb, ride bikes and run marathons and along with Kristen McDougall make up team Jingiss in the Big Blue Adventure Series, as well and other race series.
Coppola and Scharp recently climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland and, on another venture, rode 115 miles on bikes through the French Alps, gaining 16,000 feet in elevation in one day, Scharp said. All three together have summited Mount Whitney and Shasta as well as Mount Rainier in Washington ” and other peaks. They’ve also climbed routes on Yosemite’s Half Dome and El Capitan.
Lately, though, the rock-scaling endeavors have been put on hold in order to train for La Ruta. And with families and busy work schedules, many of the training sessions are squeezed in late at night.
“I’ve been riding until midnight or 1 a.m., on 50- 60- 70-mile rides,” Coppola said, adding that his routine has remained the same, rain or snow. Preparing for the inevitable foot travel in La Ruta ” when riding a bike becomes impossible ” Coppola said last week he added a 3,000-foot hill climb carrying his bike. But he’s still not 100 percent sure he’ll be ready.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been training quite a bit for it, but I don’t think you can train enough. How do you prepare for something like this? There’s a lot of unknowns.”
Thirteen years ago race organizer Roman Urbina explored then retraced the coast-to-coast route discovered by Spanish conquistador Juan de Caballon. La Ruta de los Conquistadores was born.
La Ruta accepts 450 entrants, many of whom drop out of the race due to dehydration, insufficient food intake or mechanical problems ” with the latter increasing greatly the harsher the conditions.
And the elements are often harsh in tropical Costa Rica, which, according to the La Ruta Web site, averages 130 inches of rain a year. The rainier the season the more mud and water to contend with, which equals more hoofing and less riding.
The race is broken into three stages ” one a day ” with each requiring completion in an allotted amount of time. On top of the time limits per stage, competitors must also reach checkpoints by a certain time in order to remain in contention. If a checkpoint or stage cutoff time is missed, the racer may continue but will not be considered an official finisher.
Fortunately for the competitors, hotel arrangements are made in advance for the end of each stage.
The first stage starts on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica at 5:15 a.m., in Punta Leona, and ends 70 miles inland in Santa Ana, San Jose. The cutoff is 5:15 p.m., although last year’s winning time was 5:06.32.
Stage two covers 50 miles and connects Santa Ana with Aquiares, Turrialba, starting at 6:30 a.m. and ending by 5 p.m., at the latest. The La Ruta Web site warns to “be prepared for drastic climate changes this day,” as racers climb over the highest summit on the route, 11,259-foot Irazu Volcano. The winning time in this section last year was 4:05.06.
Stage three is the longest, stretching 80 miles from the interior of Costa Rica to Mawamba, Moin on the Caribbean coast. Start time is 7:15 a.m. and cutoff time is 5:15 p.m. Last year’s winning time was 5:26.02.
Never before has a non-Costa Rican native won the race ” David “Tinker” Juarez of the United States placed second in 2001 as did Colombian natives Freddy Restrepo in 1999 and Diego Garabito in 2003.
“I think we’re all confident in finishing,” Scharp said. “We’re not necessarily going to win, but hopefully we get a quality finish.”
Although the three Truckee competitors plan to ride as a unit, La Ruta is an individual race, meaning the fastest man is not going wait if someone is lagging, Easterbrook said.
But they’re all in good shape, and none anticipates lagging. And with competitiveness comes certain expectations.
“I’d like to finish in the top 50,” Easterbrook said. “If I don’t achieve that I won’t be heartbroken, but I’ve got to finish. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t.”