Norma Blogs 2010 Atacama Crossing
My name is Charlie Engle and I will be writing blog entries on behalf of Norma Bastidas about her journey across the Atacama Desert in Chile. I am doing this for many reasons. First, her passion in infectious and I wanted to help out. Second, I am her boyfriend and I believe in her and what she stands for. And finally, I am a runner too www.charlieengle.com
Norma is nothing if not passionate and adventurous..........and maybe a little obsessive. When she sets her mind to to a task, you can bet that she will get it done. As her boyfriend, I have learned very quickly not to argue with her when she gets that determined look on her face. I can either help her or get out of the way. This time I chose to help. It’s the safest choice.
The latest example of just what Norma “does” is the Atacama Crossing, a 7 day stage running race across one of the driest and harshest places on earth, the Atacama Desert. She must carry all her food and gear for the entire time while running about a marathon per day. No hot meals, no showers, no beds. But there will be plenty of hardship to go around. I have done a few of these races myself and I can say that they are very tough. It requires great determination to get through it. I have no doubt that Norma will thrive. She is like a magnet for other people, drawing on her energy and positive outlook.
Normally one would expect that running 250K through the desert spread over 7 days would be the hardest part of a race. In this case, that may not be true. Just getting to the start has been an enormous challenge. And she is not there yet. Norma’s plans were all set a few weeks ago. Her plane tickets were reserved and she just needed to pay for them. Money is tight so she was waiting for a check to come in. Then an 8.8 magnitude earthquake slammed Chile and everything changed, especially for the people of Chile. Most flights were cancelled and the ones that were still going were completely filled overnight as people scrambled to get to Chile.
The race organization, Racing the Planet, let everyone know that the race would go on as planned. To cancel it would just bring more economic hardship to the locals that were being hired by the race. Fundraising would take place in an effort to help out the needy. But the fact was that Norma was now stuck in no woman’s land with no way to get to Chile. She would just have to accept that fact and start planning for the next event.
Okay, maybe that’s what most people would do. But Norma is not most people. She and I spent two days discussing options. Was it possible to go through Brazil or Peru or Argentina? Could she find a helicopter or private plane? Could we shoot her out of a giant cannon? Don’t laugh, she would do it!
At one point it seemed that she had finally reached the logical conclusion that this event was simply not going to happen for her. We even started to plan for her to run a substitute expedition from north of Banff all the way to her front door in Calgary, about 250K. It was Monday night and that was the plan when she said goodnight to me. I felt guilty as I admitted to myself that I was a little relieved that she was not going. The earthquake, multiple planes and busses with no traveling companion just worried me.
My phone rang early Tuesday morning. Norma says “I’m going”. I say, “going where?” She says, “to the race of course”. I said, “Who is this?” (Ok I didn’t really say that but I wanted to). Instead I said something eloquent like, “wow, great.”
Next she proceeded to tell me how things had changed. It seems that the whole world has decided to help her get to Chile. She has offers of plane tickets, bus rides, travel agencies, donkeys and rocket propulsion jet packs ( I made that last one up). Offers were pouring in and Norma was fired up. And it only took a moment for me to get fired up too. I quickly set aside my selfish worries and asked her what I could do to help. Really I couldn’t do much except listen to her and offer an occasional opinion which she usually just politely ignored. She was not going to let her supporters down. She was going to find a way to get to Chile.
Norma lives for her kids. Nothing is more important to her than their health and happiness. She likes to tell them how important it is to honor one’s commitments. She found a flight to Salta, Argentina but it would take more than 40 hours to get there. She found a ride from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama but it would take 14 hours by car. And then there was the matter of money. Nothing was cheap because everything was being booked in desperation. It was a seller’s market for sure. But she haggled and pleaded when necessary and she was able to scrape together the needed funds. She was on her way to Chile. Against all odds, she made it happen. It was amazing to watch.
As I am writing this, Norma just called from Caracas, Venezuela. It is Thursday night, March 4th and the race starts on Monday. We spoke for a few minutes. She sounded tired but okay. She was stuck in the airport for 7 hours before her next flight. It looks like her luggage has been “misplaced”. I asked her if she had shoes and she said that she is wearing running shoes but not the ones she intended to wear in the race. It sounds as if her challenges will continue. She may be borrowing clothes and food along the way. I think she mentioned hunting down a goat if she has to. If challenges make us stronger, then Norma should be a powerlifter by the time she reaches Chile. Oh yea, and then she gets to run 250K.
I will be updating every day if possible depending on the information i can get. Norma wanted me to thank all of her friends and family members for their incredible support.