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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christophe's Struggles

January 13 – Santiago – San Juan

The conventions that govern movies in the western world are so entrenched in our consciousness that we can almost sense when a crux event is about to take place.
Not so real life.
The day began early. Guido, the Argentine photographer now joining us in the Fiat awoke me at 2.30 am. We were in the car, winding our way up through the Andes by 3.00am. by 5.00, we had stopped and I was hiking up an empty trail to get a dawn view of Mount Aconcuagua – the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. The air was freezing, as one would expect at an altitude of 3000m. Despite two fleeces and a jacket I was shivering, and, as I tried to shoot images of the majestic peak, I genuinely worried about frostbite to my fingers. But what a sight – over 6900m of pure beauty in the perfect dawn light. To complete the dawn tableau, I watched a mule train weave its way up towards base camp, carrying supplies for the climbers no doubt preparing for an attempt on the summit.

I had few thoughts of the race as we started off once more, heading down through the mountains, enjoying the views, contemplating climbing or hiking trips in the area with my wife and daughters.
I look back now, barely 10 hours or so later and realise I had started to see us making it to Buenos Aires as a given. Since the dramas of 3 or 4 days ago, everything had gone smoothly, stage after stage taking us closer to a happy ending. Yes we were tired, dirty, hot, ready to go home, but we’d be heading home victorious. Now we are tired beyond anything I’ve ever known, dirty, hot and ready to go home, but an agonising question mark hangs over whether Christophe can finish this merciless race. The Dakar has pulled yet another card from the banker’s deck – remains to be seen whether we can trump it.
We stopped at a point not far from Checkpoint 1 to shoot some images of the special. It was spectacular stuff, in a spectacular setting. The cars, bikes and trucks drawing long plumes of dust through the scrubland as they raced up a valley that creates an impression on the spectator of a natural fish – eye (or have I been spending too much time staring through a camera lens?). I fired off a minute or so of footage of Christophe as he passed – comfortable, in control, every kilometre taking him closer to Buenos Aires.

It can’t have been very long after this that it happened.
The bike fought out of Christophe’s control. He hung on with such fierce desire, reasserting his command with such an adamant refusal to give in to the bike’s dark intent that he tore the triceps of his left arm.
It was about 5.30 pm as we pulled into the bivouac – about 15 hours since we set out. We headed straight for Christophe’s camp. “Just three to go”, I said, slapping him on the back. In my mind I was contemplating a potential white water rafting trip tomorrow after shooting the start of the special. That was before I saw the bandage, heard the story of 150 agonising kilometres over harsh rocky ground and felt the lash of a new twist in the tale.
I filmed Christophe over dinner; unable to keep the lens off the mask of grim determination that has overtaken him. He couldn’t get much down, despite having been extremely hungry. I couldn’t pull the lens away. We sat opposite each other, silent, knowing what we have shared, are sharing, what we have set out to do. The camera somehow the bond that joins us in this insane adventure. Scenes like these can’t be scripted; they have to be lived.

On the falsely cheerful walk over to dinner, Christophe told me the story of a one armed guy on the Ivory Coast who used to compete in motocross. “If he can do, so can I” is what he said. Perhaps he can. But what had appeared to me as three formalities are now three long, painful stages – tomorrow over rocks, the next day over sand dunes and if, against what any sane human being would rate at the very least as long odds, he gets through those – a final leg into Buenos Aires.
I believe. We believe. We didn’t come this far to go out before the end. The Dream is still alive

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