03:23 Need a wee. Good sign, this means at least I am drinking enough for once. I squirm around a bit in the hope that the wee will find a space which it hadn’t before found to rest for a bit, and leave me alone to sleep. It won’t so I crawl to the doorway of the tent. A misplaced knee catches some of Kath’s hair, a noise is emitted from her side, I grumble an apology, zip goes up, my feet don’t work so i just crawl to the doorway and wee out. I feel groggy as hell. Quick little breath of air to re-inflate the sleeping mat then i reverse back in, missing my silk bag by a mile and clipping Kath again, who lays a sleepy arm over my side once I´m more or less back in our matrimonial stitched-together feather bag.
06:00 Alarm goes off, both utter a grumbling swiping motion to track it. Somehow i am responsible for turning the blessed thing off, not sure why. I hit enough buttons to make it stop, but it usually finds a way of piping up again in 10 minutes. Its resilient. The sun has broken over the horizon and promises strength today. 3 months ago we´d have been scraping layers of frost of the inside of the tent and trying to dress in bed, delivering blows to each other as frozen socks were prised onto feet, but not now. Now the sun is a ticking time bomb, if we are still running this afternoon we´ll regret a lazy start.
06:10 Alarm goes again. Its real this time. I straighten up outside the tent but cannot walk, not yet. The legs are seriously wooden, both Achilles are protesting by not moving an inch. It´ll be this way for 15 minutes or so, waddling around on pegs. Its everyday so it no longer scares me. Kath gasps as she straightens up, it’s her back. It´ll warm up too, we are coming to know the signs and symptoms of the common woes, and listen intently for anything untoward.
06:55 Tent is packed up before the sun can see it, belongings all have a place and are corralled into it. Oats are soaked in milk powder, drizzled with raisins, sprinkled with water, and peppered with pills (glucosamine, vitamin pill and ibuprofen if any part of the body is calling for it). We tried porridge once but you simply cant stack enough in with all that water. The bowl is passed between us as we stuff the little brightly coloured bags with things that don’t seem quite designed to fit. Bags are strapped above and below the trailer, and the weight carefully manipulated to make sure the harness end is fingerlight. I´m “in the box” first so need the GPS watch. Where is it though? After a lot of cussing and unpacking during which the tent bags blows away, all bags are repacked, bags retrieved, the watch has been located in the dirt. We’ve wasted two extra hours, and the usually happy ambiance between us needs a little TLC!
09:20 There is still a freshness in the air but it’s going to be warm. We wear shorts, running tops, sun gloves, glasses, and, for now, lightweight overtrousers and jackets. Time to do a bird survey before we leave (we record all species encountered in four 25m diameter plots distributed 300m apart towards the four points of the compass). Last night was slept amongst a young stand of poplar trees sapping scant moisture from a rare stream, otherwise its desert scrub. We push past the wire fence and scrubby bushes sporting 4″ spikes. We stand for 5 minutes and wish in the avifauna. Today we are lucky on three plots and see a mix of species, many times its not this way.
09:55 Nothing else to delay us now, no excuses, I am strapped into the running harness, the GPS watch started and we are off. I say, jeeez, I cant believe it’s that late!! Kath reminds me I say this at this stage everyday. We walk our warm up mile.
10:51 On my third running mile, they seem to drag this morning. Kath is running two steps ahead of me, literally, to block some of the wind as I drag the trailer. I concentrate on her stride to ensure I don’t run her over. She tries to talk to me, I try to talk back, we yell “what?!” to each other a lot.
10:59 I stare at the GPS watch intently 3.98 . . . .3.99 . . . .4.00, each 0.01 mile is the length of our boat Lista Light and I visualise running up her decks to distract the mind.
11:10 Shoes are swapped (we have INOV8s for running in the trailer, and VIVObarefoot when running free), Kath pulls the straps tight and leans into the trailer. I run free. It’s a word of difference and I feel like we can make 30 miles today.
11:23 A lorry passes casting dust into the air, he hoots his horn and we wave as enthusiastically as possible. The only other car this morning took a photo of us from inside the window without even stopping! Its always easier to be in the trailer for these moments, because to us it feels like the passers-by is quickly forming a judgement of how the expedition runs based on that second. Either they see a man horrendously mistreating his dear wife by making her pull the gear or a lady relying on her man to pull the heavy kit. As they haven’t stopped we can’t explain the reality of this shared task.
12:10 Kath says she needs the loo, I try to be understanding by suggesting that girls bits aren’t very visible and she could just as well go there next to the trailer. Her knees buckle and squirm, its not that sort of a loo experience. She scans the horizon for a suitable bush, finding only a very thin scraggle within a waddle of the road. As she disappears behind it I see her pink hat and that’s all, intently scanning for the passing of traffic. An amount of time and some excavations later we are trotting side by side, trying to find a rhythm
12:39 A large riverbed crosses our road, the map has it as a major river but its barely a trickle. No matter, I sit for some minutes pumping water through our water purification pump into the water bags. The brown trickle is poured into the jug, clean drinking water comes out. It takes a while but it is alchemy and I admire the little device. The water is glacier-melt and is cool, and the first mouths are a blessing to drink
13:23 A rapid flash of wingbeats – kath stops to rip out the binoculars to identify it from a dozen hawks which look almost identical in the field guide. It’s a red-backed hawk we agree, or I concur. As we are stopped then we pull out the sesame seed crackers and eat them intermittently with a gulp of olive oil straight from the bottle. It looks a little odd but we tried pouring it on and it seemed to pour off just as quick, this way there is no wastage. We need those calories, social graces ebb as we run on these remote routes.
13:49 We hit mile 15. Psychologically this is a huge milestone, we know we´ll get the full 20 once we get to 15. But we´ll be fighting to make for the next 5 miles. Things that were obeying the minds control start to rebel, the anaesthetic power of the endorphins has runs its course. My right knee will flinch with almost every step, and Kath is moving the trailer really slowly now. It’s the culmination of 5 months of this running regime and 5 days since the last rest day. The last mile we walk to warm down, we hug at mile 19, everyday, because we are genuinely beat and emotional. We hoped we´d become accustomed to the 20 mile routine but for now it seems there´s never an easy day.
15:04 The thermometer is reading a shade over thirty degrees, the wind is dry. The GPS is reading 20 miles but there is nothing that can be described as cover here. A car just stopped with two jovial Argentinians, they offer us beer, from a fridge in the car. We are bashful and disorientated and refuse, we couldn’t possibly accept, but we talk in Spanish permeated by catching our breath. We talk about the natural world and why these places are special, they concur, and drive off waving from their open windows, as if part of the team. As they head out of reach we are beaming because these interactions are always rejuvenating and hugely flattering. But we are left to dwell on their kind offer “Kath, I´m an idiot – are we nuts?! Never let me turn down a beer again!!!” I dream of the cool liquid. I say “I hate my life” in jest, she reminds me I say that everyday too.
15:30 We’ve given up on making it to the clump of poplar trees in the distance that offer both shade and the possibility of water. We are the walking dead, and we’ve learned that “in the distance” in Argentina’s great scale could mean another 5 miles. We drop the harness and start to stare aimlessly at the scratchy bush to discriminate for anything that will provide some cover from the wind that has abated for now, but who´s torment we know well. It’s ridiculous, there s nothing, but tired and desperate we pass through the goat fence and wonder in circles looking for something. A spine pierces Kath’s shoe and she yelps and recoils. I sit down to help pick it out and land on a smaller spikey seed, deep into my bum, leaping up with a fright! I swear, what an odd life we lead this year! Dust is everywhere. The ants distract Kath while I grumble around imagining our tent in various locations… We are astounded and inspired by the large twig one of the ants is heaving through the sand, and mystified why he doesn’t just collect one of the 5000 nice little ones about 4 metres closer to his home that he walked past absentmindedly.
17:00 A site has been located in some scrub, and for tonight, because the wind is lighter, we´ll try just putting up the inner. We use a lot of guy lines and boulders to anchor in case of a change, the whole place is like a cats cradle and it´ll not be long before one or the other trips and pulls the pegs out of the weak ground. The laptop comes out and solar panels charge for the few remaining hours of the day. Kath calls out the species encountered en-route, in reality I have probably noticed only 50%, she has an incredible sense for it. I record our miles and make a tweak to the spreadsheet to somehow reward ourselves for these 20 little miles. We rig up the satellite phone and call in to our voice blog, our umbilical cord to home.
18:30 The site is astonishing really. From the dusty ground we can see the whole of the snow-covered Andes ridge spanning our Western flank, and to the East is a plain extending hundreds of miles well beyond the eye. It’s beautiful, dry but beautiful. The insects are churring, a type of fly larger than my thumb makes a giggling sounds as it flies, bizarre! A shuffle in the sand gives up a beautifully disguised Darwin’s Iguana (or horse-eating frog!!). The mourning sierra finch makes his squelching two-tone calls and a nightjar sweeps past. We are within 150m of the road but its a different world. I guess no one has camped here before…
19:32 The limbs are starting to set into place as I peel 15 garlic cloves to fry off on the petrol stove (we are not very good company unless you like garlic!). We are relaxed now but I don’t want to move far so ask for Kath to throw the last onion. She is reclined into the drybag stitching a glove to protect her hands from the sun. We have some sausages which are starting to become a little lively, they haven´t survived the two days well. The flavour will permeate the plastic of our bowls and breakfast will remind us of dinner. The pasta goes in next, one-pot cooking. We didn’t used to have a bowl each and this was always a fraught part of the day scrapping like wolf cubs over the pickings. Now we can recline in the warm evening replete with our very own bowl and feel peaceful.
21:00 The sun has gone, we make our way to bed using the powermonkey battery with USB torch, our solar light. I´ll sleep within minutes of hitting the pillow and Katharine, writing her diary and deep in thought, will be startled by my early snores! It’s this way every night.