An excerpt from my latest book with PeachPit, Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer, was published in the Fall 2012 issue of the ASMP Bulletin. The excerpt is from a chapter on the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race and some of the trials and tribulations that I experienced while covering that race. For those of you that aren’t members of the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), and don’t get the bulletin, here is the text from that article:
On Assignment: The Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race
Little did I know that while sitting in an October 2007 Web site optimization seminar I was preparing myself for one of the most adventurous assignments of my career. ASMP’s New Mexico chapter had elected to bring Blake Discher to Santa Fe for a primer on optimizing photographer Web sites to appear on the first page of Google searches. While the technical details of this process weren’t exactly exciting, I went home that evening and applied Blake’s advice, optimizing my Web site for the search terms, “Adventure
A month later, I received an e-mail from the Patagonian Expedition Race based in Punta Arenas, Chile, asking if I would be interested in covering “the biggest challenge in the history of adventure racing.” The e-mail went on to describe the event: “Merely equipped with a map, compass and minimal external assistance, the participants will compete in four main disciplines: Trekking, Mountain Biking, Climbing and Sea Kayaking. The race will cover more than 600 km (380 miles) through the legendary Island of Tierra del Fuego, the awe-inspiring Darwin Range, and the mystical Beagle Channel: perfect scenery for an adventure that has no equal.” And all expenses were covered.
My first thought was, this is too good to be true. It has to be spam. But in good spirit I responded, asking for more information, which I received in another e-mail a few hours later. It took me all of three seconds to say, “Yes, count me in!” As a professional photographer, I’ve found it extremely rare for an adventurous assignment like this to appear completely out of the blue. And because Patagonia had been on my list of travel destinations ever since I started climbing, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The World’s Toughest Race
Named for the main sponsor, manufacturer of the genuine Swiss Army knife, the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race is currently the world’s toughest adventure race—bar none. The Tour de France, the Marathon des Sables, the Iditarod and maybe a handful of others come to mind as contenders for the hardest endurance contest worldwide. It’s also an education in suffering. These Olympic athletes, Ironman winners, and internationally ranked adventure teams were pushing the envelope of the light-and-fast philosophy in unmapped terrain.
Each team is composed of four people with at least one female member. Teams must navigate the course using a wide range of outdoor skills over several stages, alternating between sea kayaking, mountain biking and trekking, as well as short climbing sections. In many sections, racers are basically on their own in some of the world’s most remote wilderness areas and rescue is extremely difficult. In that sense, it’s an expedition and safety is always a lingering concern. The race uses a different course each year, normally covering a distance of approximately 600 km (380 miles) in ten days.
Each team must carry a minimum amount of safety gear, including a first-aid kit, a tent, sleeping bag, knife, headlamp and food. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology is not allowed; the teams must navigate with a map and compass. Maps are generated from Google Earth satellite images rather than using topographic maps because the areas are unexplored and unmapped. Hence, orienteering is a major factor. Although the teams must be self-sufficient throughout the race, at each checkpoint they are allowed to switch gear, take on more food and retool for the challenge ahead.
From 2008 to 2010, I traveled to southern Chile each February to shoot the race, which became my yearly “epic” adventure. I can’t say I made a lot of money shooting this, but that wasn’t the point. The race gave me access to locations I could never reach on my own. During my coverage, I’ve explored and trekked through some of the most remote terrain on earth. To see the determination and suffering needed to finish the race is also truly humbling.
The 2009 race was the hardest version ever and one of the most arcane, ridiculous and beautiful events I’ve ever experienced. A full description of this race is featured in chapter 7 of my book. For additional images, check out my extended image gallery in the Projects section on my Web site at www.michaelclarkphoto.com.
My thanks to ASMP for promoting my book and including an excerpt from Exposed in the Fall 2012 Bulletin.