For the next four days, we crested mountain passes, forged muddy rivers, pointed our Land Rovers up impossibly steep slopes, and clicked off hundreds of miles on washboard-surfaced dirt roads. Very little of the trip was on paved roads, and much of the time we were far from civilization. We traveled through four different eco zones, ranging from damp and lush to dry and dusty. We mountain-biked across vast, scenic ridges, popping a few tires along the way. We camped next to the Rio Grande and watched the perfectly clear night sky light up with shooting stars.
As it turns out, I was something of a guinea pig for the physical challenges and the four-wheel-drive routes used for the race. Though the Land Rover team had scouted all these locations prior to our arrival, this was the first time an "outsider" forged through the routes and participated in the physical activities. This allowed the team to gauge the difficulty of each scenario and make changes if necessary.
By the end of the third day, we reached the high-mountain town of Sucre, checked our weary selves into a hotel, and headed straight for a hot shower. I was told to get a good night's rest.
The next morning, as we traveled through lush jungle, it became apparent how much time and effort the guys from Land Rover (many of them former Camel Trophy competitors) put into learning the ins and outs of each foreign country included in the Challenge. They arrive blind, navigate routes with bad maps, and have to learn the proper idiom and behaviors of a new culture. By the time we arrived, they knew the secrets of the countless toll stations (Yankees frequently get overcharged), had established a relationship with the ministry of tourism, and learned enough of the language to transact in a tourist-friendly big city or a small village barely on the map.
All the groundwork and effort will pay off this spring when G4 Challenge athletes start the competition and hit the ground in Bolivia. The transition from one event to another will be seamless, and the competitors won't put a tire, kayak, or climbing rope in a place the Land Rover team hasn't checked, rechecked, and checked again. We can't wait to see them hanging off a bridge, ready to freefall into the river rapids.