Running Blind Through the Valley of Death
Aniceto Almeida rode his bike more than 3,000 miles to the Atacama Crossing desert race without an entry spot. Vladmi Virgilio, a blind ultrarunner, showed up without a guide. Both trusted that it would all work out.
Aniceto Almeida, who owns a small shop of antiques, rode his bike 3,100 miles over 85 days, from Belem, Brazil, to Atacama, Chile, with hopes of completing the Atacama Crossing, a 155-mile, seven-stage race across sand dunes, raging rivers, and hard-packed earth. He wasn’t registered for the race but felt he had a calling. Vladmi Virgilio, a blind runner from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, was registered but didn’t have a guide. So the two decided to team up. Here, Aniceto, left, gives Vlad a loop of rope to represent their partnership and to connect them during the race.
Boiling water is provided to prepare breakfast at the first campsite. Racers must carry their own gear, food, and clothing throughout the race. Assistance is limited to water provided at each checkpoint (every six miles) and shelter and medical assistance at each nightly camp location.
Vlad and Aniceto dance to keep warm at the starting line on the first day.
The first stage of the course covers all types of terrain. Australian runner Matthew Tompson finds a small opening in a canyon and has to crawl on all fours to get through to the other side.
After almost 23 miles of the first stage, Aniceto and Vlad are still full of confidence and positive thoughts. “The Atacama Crossing, to me, is an event that gives back my dignity as a human being,” says Vlad. “In this race, I am a person like everyone else, with no differences. The desert is magical, and I feel as if my spirit is on a superior dimension.”
During the second stage of the race, runners ford a handful of freezing streams. Here, German racer Angela Zaeh, who would eventually finish as the first overall female runner, makes an icy crossing look easy.
An athlete entering the Valley of Death, a mountainous five-mile stretch of Mars-like features. The terrain blocks the wind, and temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, making this one of the most difficult parts of the course.
A Japanese runner reaches the top of the Valley of Death and encounters an ancient Inca tunnel. Athletes must navigate the nearly mile-long tunnel by headlamp or flashlight.
After the Valley of Death, athletes can see how far they’ve come, from the green vegetation along the river crossings to the uphill terrain of the Valley of Death. The Licancabur volcano dominates the skyline.
After the tunnel crossing, Aniceto and Vlad arrive at a ridge where they are able to absorb the view.