Fireflies Patagonia 2020 begins

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 Photo: Matt MaynardPhoto: Matt Maynard

By Matt Maynard
“You are not here to ride for yourself you are here to ride for the children. And that can give you all the power.“ With these words, Alan Weschler opened the 2020 Fireflies Patagonia bike raid - arguably the hardest gravel bike event on the planet.
Fireflies Patagonia, now in its fourth year, raises money for respective Chilean and British children’s cancer charities Vivir Más Feliz and Bloodwise.
The raid (it’s not a race) sends cyclists on a helter-skelter ride over Chilean volcanoes and mountain ranges, through glacial rivers and monkey puzzle forests, from the shore of Frutillar in the Chilean Lake District to the lava slopes of Corralco in the Araucanía region.
Over the next nine days, Fireflies riders will cover more than 1000km of gravel roads and single track on either side of the Andean spine between Argentina and Chile. The remoteness and distance of the ride draws parallels with the Carretera Austral in the days before it became popular with cycle tourists and increasingly paved. 
Photo: Matt MaynardPhoto: Matt Maynard
Photo: Matt MaynardPhoto: Matt Maynard
Dressed in their distinctive red jerseys, the riders will climb over three times the height of Everest from sea level. The event then culminates in a punishing final day’s ride on March 15, going from Santiago to the Valle Nevado ski resort, situated at 3000 meters. 
Weschler is the general manager of the Vivir más Feliz foundation. The TROI center for children's cancer and bone marrow transplants at the Luis Calvo Mackenna Hospital in the Providencia neighborhood of the Chilean capital currently receives 600 patients. 
Fireflies Patagonia sponsored riders have now helped raise US$1 million of the US$3.5 million needed to open a new regional Vivir más Feliz children's cancer center in the southern Chilean city of Temuco.
Fireflies first began in 2001 when famed Blade Runner film director Ridely Scott created the original version in the Alps to raise money for British cancer charity Bloodwise. The concept was later exported to the United States in 2007, and in 2015 a Fireflies event was started in New Zealand.
Photo: Matt MaynardPhoto: Matt Maynard
But the solidarity of the riders who always wait for the slower members (sometimes even helping literally push them uphill) is present in all Fireflie rides, as is the motto linking the gruelling bike event to the charities: "For those who suffer; we ride."
Today, the first day of riding takes the cyclists around Lake Llanquihue for over 130km before confronting the almost wall-like 1000m ascent to get to the Refugio Teski lodge on the flanks of Osorno Volcano. 
The Vivir más Feliz foundation has an innovative approach to treating children, Weschler explained last night in Frutillar, putting well-being first. “You are showing all the people,” he told the Fireflies, “that the sport can be collaborative.” Raising his glass he added, “Fireflies are something that gives light.”  
You can join the riders on their final day as they pedal out from Mall Sport in the Lo Barnechea neighborhood of eastern Santiago to the eagle’s nest of Valle Nevado ski resort this March 15. Apply here:
Donate to Chile's Vivir más Feliz foundation here, and British cancer charity Bloodwise here

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