You can read my full story of the Atcama Crossing 2009 here, in case you missed it.
Sorry I am a little late posting this. I went down to London (150 miles from my house) on Saturday morning, I was going to a concert at the O2 that night. I was taken ill at Euston Station and was admitted to University College London hospital. I was kept in overnight and not released until Sunday night. It seems the infection picked up during the race hadn't quite finished with me. I became sick; fever, dizzy and very cold after just a single mile walk around the shops. It was probably the most effort I have put myself through since getting back home. I had no idea I was still in such a weakened state, I thought I was absolutely fine. I was put in the medical room of Euston with my clothes, 2 blankets and a space blanket on and couldn't get warm, but was still running a temperature. They had no doctors only first aiders, but across the road from Euston is UCL where I was taken. I was admitted to the infectious diseases ward after they heard I had been to Chile. I think they panicked a little, and were testing me for malaria, rabies and all sorts. I did tell them that it was likely just lingering infection, which they in the end did conceded had made it's way into my blood stream by the looks of things.
I was given put on an IV overnight; for the next 12 hours or so, and then had blood taken from various locations; much to my dismay. I was like a pin cushion after a few hours. Cyclizine injected into my IV made me feel a lot worse. They were concerned my heart rate was about 80, instead of it's usual 50 and then two separate doctors told me I had a heart murmur (systolic valve problem they said). None of this did any good for my anxiety levels as you can imagine. I suggested my heart rate would come down of it's own accord overnight, assuming the infection subsided and I was not told I had a heart murmur! Anyway, as anticipated my heart rate came down to 48 overnight, and they were satisfied with subsequent blood results enough to discharge me, about 36 hours after admitting me. I have to go back on Friday, possibly for more tests or just results, I'm really not sure. The last consultant that saw me listened to my heart again, and said that he couldn't hear anything, so it was likely just the stress I was under at the time.
So, I missed my concert, and I am definitely not going to even try and walk a mile until I have got much stronger. My weight is still well down, so I'll be working on stuffing cream cakes into my mouth for the time being. My knee operation, due next Tuesday, may well be in jeopardy now. We'll have to see.
Anyway, equipment review.
Aarn Marathon Magic 30L + 3L (785grams) Backpack
Very disappointing. A zip broke on the first day. I also found the front chest strap design too restrictive of my breathing. I had to release it, and then suffered chaffing on my back as a result. There is a new version of the pack out soon, which is apparently improved. Regardless, I am going back to the Raidlight R-Light, which I will need to buy again to replace my worn out 3 year old one. The Raidlight packs are not very robust, they tear quite easily, but they are number 1 for comfort. The front packs do bounce, but so do the Aarn’s. I always add my own strap around the R-Light whole lot to secure it all tightly to my chest.
Aarn - It's not for me.
Lightweight Jacket - Marmot Motion(145g)
A great jacket, and I really needed it, but on it's own not warm enough to fend off the freezing cold Atacama desert evening and night time temperatures. I usually wore it in bed too. Recommended
Torch Petzl Plus - with 3 x AAA Lithium cells (66g)
Reliable as always, recommended.
Lithium cells weigh less than regular batteries incidentally. The Petzl plus gives out a lot more light that the e-light; the e-light has a design issue, whereby if sand gets into the rotary switch, it is difficult to turn on.
Backup head torch - Black Diamond Ion (29g)
Great backup torch, same weight but better design that the Petzl e-light. Recommended.
Fleece hat (56g)
Any fleece hat will do, but you'll be wanting to wear it in bed in the Atacama. It's cold!
I wore these in bed on the first night too. You'll need them for the night stage probably as well.
P20 Sun cream - 15 minute formula (decanted into lighter bottle)
Hasn't let me down yet. Others borrowed it off me after their sun creams failed to provide all-day protection.
PHD Minim Ultra sleeping bag (376g)
I used this to great effect in the Kalahari, but it is simply not warm enough for the Atacama desert nights. If you want to stay warm you need a 0C sleeping bag. I am going to use my PHD minim 300, which is 0C rated and weighs 650g next time.
Hand cleansing alcohol gel (34g)
Keep on top of your hygiene in the desert. It won't stop food poisoning, but you'll need it for toilet use etc.
Endurolyte electrolyte capsules - (100g) (approx 2 per hour in daily food bags)
A nice easy way to stay on top of your electrolytes, just pop a couple of caps per hour. It's easy to make sure you get enough regardless of how much fluid you have taken in. What I mean by that is if you are using tablets or electrolyte powder, but only drink a couple of hundred mil in an hour you will be both dehydrated and depleted of electrolytes!
Swisscard - knife / scissors (26g)
Always useful for making a cup or bowl out of the mineral water bottles.
Leukotape for hotspots, or pre-taping
I've found it the most effective tape for pre-taping. It is very sticky. It does leave a residue behind on removal sometimes, so ensure you clean your feet properly.
Asics Kayano socks
I usually wear the Smartwool over the Asics and it is effective an reducing friction and thus blisters, when running. In the event the sickness enforced me to walk, when I trained to run, resulted in a blister on my heel though.
Titamium Brunton Spork (Spoon/Fork)(19g)
I've come to the conclusion this isn't a good choice. It folds and food can get caught in between the fold It is difficult to clean and thus keep hygienic. Stick to the one of the plastic double ended spoon/forks.
3 x Spare lithium AA Batteries for GPS(43g)
Again, always go lithium for weight-saving and long life.
Thermarest Prolite 3 small roll mat(382g)
Works great and ensures a layer of insulation from the cold desert ground. I need a new one as mine kept deflating. I burst it on thorns in the Kalahari and despite repairing it, it still deflates.
Thermrest pillow (150g)
150g well worth spending for me. I can never sleep on these events, yet this time I managed to sleep quite well. It is a compressible, not inflatable pillow. I will be taking this in future.
Slippers (lightweight hotel freebies)(105g)
Useful, but the ground around camp was not as rough as at previous deserts, and the camp is much smaller. I will try and get by without slippers/flip-flops in the Atacama next time.
To keep out the snorer. There is always one in your tent.
Chlorine tablets (10g)
I disinfect my water bottles and spork each day with these. If you want to try and stay healthy, I recommend using them.
Camera - Casio Exilim S3(95g)
You might find one on eBay still. It's only 3 megapixel, but takes great photos and is about 4 times the width of a credit card.
2 x 800ml drink bottles - Raidlight(226g)
As long as you pull off the rubber stoppers, or add a valve you won't have any problem sucking juice through them. Leaving the bite-valve attached results in frustration unless you have lungs like Superman.
Leki Carbon Poles (388g if carried on pack)
I carried these to use on the salt flats, and not to use anywhere else. To be honest, I think I would put up with the grief for the 9km of salt flats on day 4 and leave them at home next year. Just dead weight otherwise. I did use them in the race on day 2, but I did burn a lot more calories when using them properly.
Helly Hansen long sleeve top(140g)
I would have frozen to death at night without this. Recommended.
PHD Ultra Minim vest(150g)
I wore this on my legs at night to provide more warmth, since my 8C rated sleeping bag was too cold for the Atacama. This item really gave me a good nights sleep. It was delivered very fast from PHD, within 2 days. I wore it normally during the evening and was never cold. Most competitors wore down jackets or down vests. Seriously consider a lightweight one, if your sleeping bag is not 0C, or you plan to spend much time outside in the evening. Personally, when the sun went down I would head for my sleeping bag and stay there.
The clothes I wore:
Eye Protection - Wiley X goggles/glasses
I didn't need to use the goggle insert, so I just ended up wearing the slightly goofy looking glasses all week. Just take your sunglasses. I should have worn my Oakleys instead.
Head Cover - Outdoor Research Sahara Cap
I have used this for 3 years and I can't fault it. I saw quite a few others wearing them too.
Under Armour long sleeve heatgear compression shirt
I didn't get sunburned and at times my arms did feel cold. Somehow I did miss the loose feeling on the Railriders Ecomesh shirt I have always worn. For future races, I might look into the UV suits (loose fit) that some competitors of the Badwater race wear
Under Armour vent shorts underwear
I have never had any chafing wearing these. Recommended.
Under Armour heatgear tights
No sunburn and I was happy wearing these all week. I was cool in the day, and warmer at night with them on. If I don't use a UV suit, I will use these again.
UK Gear PT-03 Desert Running shoes
The heels totally peeled off on day 3. So did another competitors, and apparently the same fault happened to people who did the Marathon des Sables. The manufacturer is taking the complaints seriously apparently, but they have not pulled them from sale while they investigate (they cost a pricey £110), so right now I would not recommend using them for a desert ultra.
Raidlight black mini-gaiters
Did an adequate job, but the clip which fastens them to the lace by the toe broke on one of them. Luckily they were still tight fitted over the shoe, so no sand got it. I think the Raidlight/Likeys or Sandbaggers gaiters would be fine for the Atacama, as long as they were removed before crossing the razor sharp salt flats.
Timex Bodylink Watch and GPS with AA battery
Rock solid as ever. Separate battery for GPS ensure no messing around carrying solar chargers.
Not really needed in the Atacama if you use them as sand-storm protection, but people like to wet them and wear them around their neck. Humidity is so low in the Atacama they dry up very fast.
My complete kit list and weights of everything I took (backpack weighed under 8.5kg including food), can be found here.
Nutrition and Hydration strategy
Breakfast - Porrage oats 75g, dried milk 60g, 20g Cranberries
540kcals and 155g weight.
I made this up myself from Scots porridge oats, skimmed milk powder and dried cranberries. I found the cranberries added some sweetness and made the breakfast more enjoyable that when I used to use dried bananas. However, the same breakfast can get a bit dull, so I would be tempted to eat flavoured noodles once or twice, just for a change.
PSP22 Carbohydrate loader - 50g
187kcals 52g weight including small bag
I drink this in about 800ml of water to wash down my porridge with, to provide extra carns for the race. I'll continue to use this.
Clif Bar 250kcal 74g weight
Mule bar 240kcal 72g weight
I found the the weight varies up to about +/-5 grams in these bars for refrence. I enjoyed both. I took a variety of flavours. I enjoyed the cool mint chocolate and Carrot cake clif bar, and the pinacolada mule bar the mosr.
Peperami x2 252kcal (for 2) 54g(for 2)
These meaty salty snacks are always a treat, when you want a savoury treat. It's mainly fat and protein of course, not many carbs to be found. I will continue to take these.
Electrolyte (& carbohydrate) Hammer Perpetuem (2 x 35g bags) 260kcal 74grams
First time I have used Perpeteum in an event and I was impressed. I took me a while to get used to the "orange vanilla" flavour but I did enjoy them. I should have taken 3 bags (one for each checkpoint), rather than 2 though. If you struggle to get food down during an event, then this is a good way of ensuring a steady supply of carbs. It is nowhere as sweet as SIS Go which I have previously used, and there were times when I craved a quick sugary drink or snack. I would probably add one of those small lucozade powders each day, just as a rescue rememdy if I get a sweet craving or am suffering low sugar.
50g SIS Rego recovery powder + 5g freezer bag 175kcal 55g weight
As soon as I finish a stage I drink this in 800ml of water. I will continue to do so.
Evening Meal - Mountain House (serves 2 meal) 800kcal 214g weight
Mountain house meals taste better than any other expedition type foods I have tasted. I've tried a lot of them too! The "serves 2" meals, like Rice and Chicken or Spaghetti bolognese have around 800kcals.
Oxo stock cube 17kcals 7g weight
Just to add flavour to a meal in case I am getting bored with a meain meal flavour as the week goes on.
SIS Rego Nocte 149kcal 54g weight
This is a night time recovery drink. I was too sick to drink any of these during the week, and I didn't want to go out of the tent into the cold night to get get hot water before bed. I would probably not take these along next time.
Vacuum seal bag 12g
I vacuum sealed all my food into daily "bricks" (bags) to keep them fresh and reduce the size of the "brick". A few of them must have punctured into the unpressurised hold of the plane though? I may well take my vacuum packer in my suitcase to complete the task when I reach my destination in future.
So, that was my typical daily menu. 2800kcal and about 850g, including the Endurolyte capsules (2 per hour) that were wrapped up in the brick.
A couple of other snacks I took for other days:
Pork scratchings (pork rinds) 420kcal 70g weight
Possibly the greatest ever desert ultra snack food. When you crave salt and fat in the heat, and you do, these hit the spot perfectly. I'll be taking them every time!
Pop Tarts x 2 400kcals 102g weight
A personal favourite. They can be used for breakfast or to eat mid-stage as a sweet treat. They get broken and crushed up, but it just makes them easier to pick at and eat. I have been rescued by these many times. The strawberry flavour is the one to go for!