Transgrancanaria 360° Part 3 - Wandering in the dark
Base camp in La Aldea is crowded and not particularly cozy. There are no beds and what’s even worse - no showers. Resting area, hidden behind the curtains, offers some mattresses instead. It is dark and stuffed with tired runners there. Probably my Latvian buddies are resting there right now. I’m not interested in sleeping, but why are there no showers? A catastrophe. That’s the only thing I really dreamt about coming here - a hot shower… Not today. It is time to head further, but going out there, alone in the dark and cold night, is the last thing I can imagine myself doing right now. I put on a fresh shirt and waterproof jacket. For a moment I consider putting on a clean pair of leggings too, but I’m afraid they would stick to my wounded knee, that’s why I put on waterproof trousers instead. It turns out to be an even worse choice. The cold membrane is sticking to the wound as I move, causing even more pain. No, I’m not taking them off. It’s way too cold outside. Hiding my messy hair under the beany, not forgetting to take another painkiller pill, I put on the heavy backpack and head out in the night.
The streets are completely empty, as usual. Slowly shuffling down the street, feeling stiff and cold, I’m thinking about the next section of the course. There are 41 kilometer ahead to a beautiful village named Tejeda with almost 3000 meters of a vertical climb followed up with 13 more kilometers and 835 vertical meters to Artenara, which is the second base camp. How hard could it be? Difficult to say - it’s the highest part of the island and I’ve got some sickness issues with highs over 1600 meters above sea level.
Outside the city our course leads up the hill, often used by mountain bikers. There are so many tracks, that it is hard to hold on to the right one. The lamps of runners ahead of me are rapidly receding as they are faster than me. The city lights are receding as well as I’m climbing higher and higher. What a view! No time to look back though, as I find myself severely off track. How did this happen? I must have taken one of these false tracks. Crawling up a steep slope following the azimuth, corrects the mistake and I find myself in between other runners’ headlamps soon enough. Maybe I should stick together with someone to avoid such foolish mishappenings. I catch up with the French couple again and for some time we are traveling together. This time they are following me not the other way around. It is dark and the track is barely visible, sometimes it seems nonexistent at all. Herve is searing the path actively, and somehow we manage to stay on the right way while Celine has turned on a vegetable mode. She is too sleepy to do anything more than apathetically following her husband. When he is not sure if the path is right, she just sits down and waits for him to find it out. How convenient! More and more often I find myself rather joining Celine in waiting than Herve in searching the way.
Wandered long enough in the wilderness, we find ourselves on a wide dirt road. Wonderfull, at last I can do some running! Sleepiness is gone and I leave my companions behind. Pace is good and soon enough it feels too hot. That’s great, I was annoyed and tired from all that shivering and extra clothes. I really do enjoy moments like this - only me and the movement, surrounded by the darkness. My mind is completely empty. The only thing that matters at the moment is the next step and nothing else. Moments like these are rare, because my mind always runs ahead of me. Suddenly I find myself at the dead end. At least it seems to me that way. The navigator shows that everything is right, but as I see it - I have to pass someone's backyard to get further. That doesn’t seem right. While I’m standing and wondering, Celine and Herve are here as well. They are not confused by trespassing someone's property at all and boldly go into the yard. I just follow, because it doesn't seem that there are any other options left for me. No way - a real monster awaits behind the corner! A big black dog is sitting in the gateway right in our way. It looks scary, exactly like these drawings on Gran Canarian souvenir t-shirts. It’s eyes are glowing in the lights of our headlamps. Dog is on a chain, but it’s so long that it is not an obstacle for this monster to eat us alive. The French, absolutely cold-blooded people, are not bothered by anything, even the dog. They just pass it and disappear in the dark. Well, here we are - me and the beast. No need to explain here, that I’m terrified of dogs. “Don’t show it your fear, don’t show it your fear…”, I whisper to myself, but it’s hard to do when it feels like I’m going to wet my panties while slowly moving through the gateway. The murderous creature is watching me but it doesn’t move. It probably has eaten enough runners tonight and isn’t interested in me after all. I can exhale only when I feel safe. Now it's time to chase the French couple and turn on a vegetable mode, while getting out of the shock.
We’ve been running for a while, when we suddenly find ourselves by the lake or quarry filled with water. That is so wrong, because we shouldn’t be here according to our maps. Probably no one of us was watching our navigation devices for a while. Turning back always is so disappointing. As a bonus - we can’t find the right turn. When we finally find it, there is no track… and soon enough, we are completely lost. Our navigators are showing different things and there is only one big, steep rocky slope with some lonely bushes. Our paths split. Celine sits down on a rock as Herve crawls further in order to find a way. I’m crawling the other direction, because it feels like my navigator is leading me there and it’s the only thing I can depend on now. It feels wrong anyway. I can't reach the pink line no matter how hard I try. It becomes more and more dangerous. I can hear Celine and Herve calling each other somewhere above me. It’s too steep, I cannot get there. It feels like a bad dream, only it’s real and very frightening. There are some distant headlamps high above me. I desperately need to get there, no matter what. After breaking my way through the bushes a while, I suddenly meet the French couple again but the crazy climb has taken all of my energy and I can’t keep up with them. I’m alone again and the path is lost… again. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I find the way? I’m almost desperate when I see a couple of headlamps a little bit above me. “Please, wait for me I’m lost!” I yell, “Are you on the right path?”. The answer is affirmative. Strangers are kind - they wait as I climb up. “Oh, thank you, good people, I was really tired of being lost.” This is perfect - I’ve got myself some new companions, they love to talk and are quite funny. One of them is from Germany, his name is Martin and the other one - a guy without a navigator - Jean from France. They have absolutely no problems with the navigation, so I can relax and follow for a while. As I understand, Martin tested this segment of the route some days ago, that's why he knows what awaits ahead. Jean is good at finding paths between the aggressive bushes as well, when I ask how he can do it without the map and the navigator he just jokes that it’s his laser vision. Whatever that is - he is good at it. The terrain here is not pleasant at all. There is always only one possible way, where we can barely push through, and that is the right way after all. It’s hard to believe that a few dozens of runners have already been here before us. We feel like pioneers for sure. I have to admit that I wouldn’t want to wander here alone. I wouldn’t feel safe about the choice of the path, if I had to make it alone. It’s good to have somebody to do it for me. Yeah, I’m a selfish bitch. But these guys are not just useful. They are interesting interlocutors as well. Conversations cheer me up and help to stay awake. One of our discussed subjects is the leader of the race - Papi. We try to imagine how he runs through these bushes without any hesitation. It's rumoured that he comes here as soon as the course is published and runs it all the way before the race. That probably is an excellent idea, but the thought of running this course twice makes me feel a bit sick, because I remember how exhausted and miserable I was when I finished it 2 years ago.
My navigator is about to die and I probably need to eat something too. We sit down for a short break and when we are almost finished with our meal a “train” of several headlamps is passing us by. My Latvian buddies Anita and Valters are in the front of it. That’s the chance we can’t miss. If we follow them, we don’t have to navigate at all. I trust their orienteering skills more than any navigation device. So we jump on the “train” and now we can carelessly follow their lead and just entertain ourselves with conversations. Anita and Valters have had a good sleep in La Aldea base camp and rescued a bunch of runners in the same place where Martin and Jean saved me. Among many new faces there is Alexander - the Russian runner I met after the crazy tunnel. He is as grumpy as he was back there, or maybe even a little bit more now. He is very disappointed by the fact that many people didn’t follow the track in that awful place where most of us got lost. Oh, I don’t want to listen to this, I'd rather continue to chat with the nice guy Martin. Yes, this is perfect - pleasant downhill running and pleasant companion. The serpentine road leads us down to the highway. Anita and Valters surprise us by turning right instead of left. What’s happening? They have noticed the organizer's car - we can refill our bottles and take a little break there. Everybody is still resting when I notice that Martin is ready to go. I catch him and we suddenly find an unexpected boost of energy. It’s 4 a.m. in the morning. The paved road is smooth and a little bit descending. What a pleasure! We talk about absolutely normal running themes as we run - blisters, ultras, dehydration and electrolytes. I'm trying to entertain him with my ultra tales. I tell him that my friend calls events like this the festivals of suffering. He tends to agree on that. This is really so true - a bunch of weirdos come together to a small island to suffer and later they boast around about that.
The first light slowly breaks out as we run through the silent valley. Running is easy and we enjoy this feeling so much that we miss the right turn. This was a nice morning run, now it’s time to get back to reality. I ask Martin to abandon me when he feels that I’m too slow for him or when I talk too much. We can see Anita’s and Valter’s train taking the right turn where we missed it. They are fast as they go up the hill. The only one we manage to catch is Jean. He is fighting sleep desperately. Martin finds a caffeine pill in his backpack and Jean is saved. Strong stuff. The ascent becomes absolutely brutal. I’m crawling on my fours, afraid to look down. I feel a bit uneasy about this kind of height. Ok, I’m lying - I’m terrified. The crazy climb is done, but what a surprise - there is no path. When we manage to find the way, it tends to disappear again and again. The course continues up the hill, the sun is up and blazing, but the view is stunning. It gets unbelievably hot. Time to apply some sunscreen. Jean refuses it. He says that getting sunburned is the best way to prove to his colleagues that he was on vacation. We take some time to admire the view. This is one of the reasons to be here. Certainly. Together with the sunlight Martin seems to be recharged and ready to run. He feels that it’s not too late to fulfill his dream about completing the distance in 60 hours, that's why he just disappears. I wish him luck, but I certainly will not follow him. I have my own dreams. Jean stays with me. I tell him the same thing I told Martin - that he doesn't have to wait for me if I’m too slow. But he has no choice, as his navigator is broken. He’s stuck with me at least till he finds somebody else.
Well, we have 10 kilometers ahead of us, mostly climbing up the hill, then as a reward, there will be one delightful downhill run to the little fairytale village surrounded by almond trees - Tejeda. There is one famous cake shop. Oh, yes, I want a cake, a big, fat cake or maybe two. Yes, too cakes are always better than one! From there our path will continue to Artenara, the second base camp, but first things first - let's get these cakes!