Dispatch: On The Road To Pucón

The highlight of Holly Bennett's 10-hour flight to the Chilean hub of Santiago was getting to know an attorney-turned-REI-employee.

“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on and check back throughout this weekend for updates from Pucón 70.3.

En route to my final destination of Pucón, Chile (where I set out to spend the weekend covering Sunday’s Ironman 70.3) I embraced the long travel with an adventurous spirit and an open heart for the folks I would meet along the way. The highlight of my 10-hour flight to the Chilean hub of Santiago was getting to know my seatmate Jim MacMaster. Jim is an attorney-turned-REI-employee who runs the warehouse at the company’s Folsom store and relishes the outdoor-loving lifestyle his second career supports. This is Jim’s fifth climbing trip in as many years to South America, his goal each time to conquer the summit of Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits and the highest mountain in the Americas at 22,837 ft., as part of a guided group led by Alpine Ascents International ( For a variety of reasons – illness and weather among them – Jim’s best ascent has fallen just shy of the summit in the past four years. We spoke at length about the factors that come into play on such an endurance excursion, which is expected to last 23 days in ideal conditions, and I couldn’t help but draw similarities to triathlon, especially the longer distances. First there’s the training, which begins up to six months in advance and is intense to the extent that it often consumes six days a week and excludes time for much else other than hardcore hill repeats (with a heavily laden pack) and cardio base-building. Nutrition is critical in climbing, as is choosing the proper gear. And according to Jim, when you reach such high altitudes toward the end of your trek, the littlest things become huge obstacles and all energy must be conserved and focused on the task at hand. Sound familiar? Of course there’s the emotional roller coaster as well, especially heightened when one is unable to reach the finish line, whether due to lack of fitness, illness or injury, an off day or weather conditions that are beyond one’s control. This trip will be Jim’s last attempt at the summit – he’s ready to move on to new and varied pursuits – and he’s optimistic his final fling with Aconcagua will be a success. The glimmer in his eye as he described his dream and his purposeful positive energy reminded me of an Ironman athlete on the brink of achieving his or her first full 140.6. My hopes are high and my fingers crossed that my new friend will realize his goal.

South America seems to have a magical draw for explorers like Jim, and I’m sure Pucón provides a launching point for many of them. Nestled quaintly on the shores of Lake Villarica in Southern Chile, with the live Villarica Volcano as an ever-present and dramatic backdrop, Pucón is renowned for it’s outdoor activities. There are trekking expeditions to climb the volcano along with river rafting, fly-fishing, thermal hot springs, mountain biking and of course the Ironman 70.3 Pucón. The area even offers skiing and snowboarding during Chile’s winter season (North America’s Summer). It’s an easy and accommodating place to play – according to “Lonely Planet” (my go-to guide book for all things travel), “Pucón boasts the best small-town tourism infrastructure south of Costa Rica.” I can’t wait to experience a few days in this South American stronghold of athletic adventure. Be sure to watch for the daily “Dispatch” as I report on all the Ironman 70.3 Pucón action and share a gallery of images from my perch in paradise.

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