Jason and Chelsey Magness and their two teammates were post-holing through deep snow in the dark as 75 mph winds pinned them to a 50-degree slope high in the mountains of southern Chile.
It was too steep to put on their crampons, so they used their ice axes to traverse the pass — with a 1,000-foot run-out to rocks and glaciers below — and eventually make their way down the other side of the peak.
It was one of the scarier moments of the Bend couple’s victory in the Patagonian Expedition Race last month, which they finished in six days, four hours, 23 minutes.
“We got into a pretty hairy situation,” Jason Magness says of that first night. “And that was Day 1.”
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, the Magnesses are experienced adventure racers who were competing in their sixth Patagonian Expedition Race, which is billed as “the last wild race.”
They had finished third twice and second once, and this marked their first win in the race that includes teams of four competitors who trek, climb, mountain bike and kayak through South America’s Patagonia region. The teams use navigational skills (equipped with only a map and a compass) to find a route that will lead them to various checkpoints and eventually the finish. The clock does not stop, so teams can choose to stop and rest as much — or as little — as they want. Mountain bikes and kayaks are delivered at various checkpoints by race officials, as well as food and water.
When team Bend Racing approached the finish at a ski hill overlooking the town of Punta Arenas, Chile, several hours ahead of the Columbia Vidaraid team, they were “screaming and beaming.” Chelsey, 34, says she was speechless.
“It’s a race that we have lots of history with,” she says. “It’s kind of shaped who we are as people and our relationships and our family.”
Jason, 43, proposed to Chelsey after they placed fifth in the 2010 race. After finishing second in the 2016 Patagonian Expedition, the couple made the decision to start a family.
The Magnesses, whose son Max will turn 2 in January, paired up with veteran adventure racers Lars Bukkehave of Denmark and Alex Provost, of Montreal, to win the 13th edition to the race. The team hiked, biked and kayaked about 340 miles, which included about 35,000 feet of elevation gain. Chelsey estimates the team slept only about 12 hours during their entire 148 hours of racing.
Along the way, they negotiated the varied terrain and conditions of late spring in Patagonia, including plains, mountains, glaciers, thick forests, swampland, rivers, lakes and channels, as well as relentless rain, snow and wind.
The Bend Racing team took an early lead on that harrowing first day and never saw another team.
“You don’t see people,” Chelsey Magness says. “There’s no trails. And it’s just the harshest elements you’ve ever been in. It kind of beats you down. But it’s a mystical, soulful race.”
Jason and Chelsey have been adventure racing together for about 10 years. In fact, Chelsey recalls, one of their first dates was a six-hour adventure race.
Through their website bendracing.com, they organize several Central Oregon races each year, including Expedition Oregon next April, which is part of the Expedition Adventure Racing World Series. Expedition adventure races are typically between four and 10 days long.
The Magnesses, who moved to Bend in 2010, compete in about four expedition adventure races each year. They earn their living through teaching acro yoga — a two-person practice that blends modern acrobatics with traditional yoga poses. They have become well-known in acrobatics and slacklining, and they travel the world to teach those disciplines. Jason founded a company called Yogaslackers.
“I got really seriously into yoga when I was a serious rock climber,” Jason says.
Jason traveled the West with his twin brother, living out of a van as they hit the best climbing spots. He also took up triathlon, and he discovered adventure racing “accidentally” when he registered for an “adventure triathlon” in Minnesota.
“It was a 12-hour adventure race and my team got lost,” Jason recounts. “We had all sorts of mishaps. I was hooked. I never went back to triathlon. (Adventure racing) is a much more cerebral sport. Triathlon is a physical test.”
After Jason met Chelsey in 2008, they started adventure racing more and more. Chelsey was a mountain biker, climber, whitewater guide and yogi.
“It was kind of like we got much more serious quickly because we were really competitive,” Jason says of their adventure racing.
Their fourth date was a six-hour adventure race in Tuscon, Arizona, which resulted in Jason’s first victory. After that, he says, they started “looking for whatever the crazy races were.”
They raced the Patagonian Expedition Race for the first time in 2010 and became one of the first rookie teams to finish it. They were second in 2011 and third in both 2012 and 2013. In 2016, holding a 20-hour lead, they were forced to pull out of the race when Jason injured his hip.
“My teammates carried me out in 2016,” Jason says. “It was devastating. We were 20 hours ahead and having an amazing race. And then, I just literally couldn’t walk.”
Years of intense yoga had ground away cartilage and Jason needed a hip replacement, he says. That procedure would not allow him to keep racing and doing acro yoga. So he traveled to India for a hip resurfacing, which would fix the problem and allow him to continue his active lifestyle.
The Magnesses raced many of these events with friend and Bend neighbor Daniel Staudigel. Staudigel’s wife had just given birth and he was unavailable for the 2018 race. The team had raced with Provost in 2016 and they added Bukkehave, whom they knew through the racing circuit, to the team for last month’s race.
“Patagonia is one of our favorite races because it’s the one that’s closest to the origins of the sport,” Jason says. “You’re out there. There were times in this last race when we were 70 kilometers from the nearest access point by four-wheel-drive dirt road that would take the organizers two days to get there.”
The Bend Racing team battled some mental exhaustion near the end of the race to stay the course and get its first win in the grueling adventure race.
“We had a pretty good strategy,” Jason says, “and we stuck with it.”