Stage 2 - Mud Fest
One would think that 105 KMs in the First Stage would be hard enough, but no one truly knew how hard 51 KMs could be during the 2nd Stage when most of that distance was to be spent slogging it through ankle-deep mud. The mud was everywhere and it sapped the strength of the racers as they slipped, slid, and stumbled up and down sheer inclines covered in the thick, sticky, and unforgiving substance. In some portions of the course, racers frustrated by the mud decided if you can beat it, then join it. They would literally sit down on the muddy trail and slide down to the bottom. Many racers use walking poles, which helped, but the mud was relentless and even caused those using poles to stumble and fall. Going down hill was the worst as every step ran the risk of slipping and falling, or worse potentially causing an injury.
Local villagers probably found our distaste and distain for the mud humorous, since they have dealt with it for centuries. The Sapa Valley, where the race takes place, is home to eight different ethnic tribes and many of them have gathered along side the course to witness this most unusual gathering of funny looking foreigners wearing the most outlandish outfits. Some of the more famous tribes are the Black Hmong, the Red Daos, and the Tays. Each ethnic tribe has settled amidst the Sapa Valley at different points in history and in different locations. The life is harsh and filled with intense physical agricultural labor maintaining a seemingly endless labrynth of terraced fields of rice, corn, and other crops. Even though the work is tough, the reward seems to be a blessing to live within one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The children of Sapa Valley seem to be everywhere and their delightful smiles and curiosity are inspiring to all of us. Many of the racers and support staff are greeted with waves and shouts of "hello, hello" from the kids. One of the Racing the Planet staffers took time at one of the race checkpoints to teach a group of young girls how to count to 5 in English. One of their favorite activities is to reluctantly and shyly have their photo taken and then rush towards you to see the result in the camera's preview display. This scene has repeated itself numerous times and always brings laughter and delight.
My co-workers battled the mud and displayed remarkable resolve. Kim, the most experienced on the team, took a stumble and slashed the skin on his leg almost completely off. The medical team at one of the checkpoints applied some liquid stiches to keep things together. Leighton had the best performance on the day for the team and ended up running the last segment of the 51 KM stage. He told me later in Base Camp that the reason he decided to run was that he wanted to hurry up and get to camp before nightfall. The running seemed to loosen up his tender right knee which has been nagging him throughout the race. The final member of the team, Tilden, refused to quit and his resolve has impressed us all. Tilden finally arrived to Base Camp at around 9PM, just over 13 hours after he started the stage.
Racers spent the evening sipping tea and getting warm around the fire in Base Camp and tried their best to scrape the mud from their tired and fatigued bodies. Many were tring to scrub the mud from their memories as well, but in Sapa during this time of year, the mud is always there and waiting. Stage 3 awaits and attitudes have to be adjusted to now concentrate on the challenge ahead, put the pain and frustration of the day behind them, and to rally their energy and mental edge to keep one foot constantly in front of the other.