Highlands Challenge 2022, Tierras Altas, Panama

Running mostly uphill 2.45 km, biking on a rocky, muddy mountain path 8.34 km, teamwork to reach 3 m up a rope, hiking 1.59 km through a forest, swimming 120 m across a laguna, building 2 tripods to hold a hammock, and biking 2.85 km to the finish line! These were the elements of the adventure race in our town in Panama called Highlands Challenge 2022.


On Sunday, May 1, @apanamakid, @panamapilgrim, and I participated in this adventure race. This mama was not properly prepared. You see, when we signed up six weeks before, it didn't sound that terrible. They sent us a map a few days before and it didn't look nearly as bad as I was picturing in my head...

You see, when you look at something on a map, you can't really tell the details of the trails...or the actual amount of uphill running you would be doing with jelly legs, out of shape. Here is my story.

We got up and out of the house at 7:15 on Sunday morning. Not surprisingly, we were the first people at the starting point, Barriles. Other people started showing up a little later and I figure most assumed we didn't speak much Spanish. I talked to a girl I recognized and a few others ventured over to say hi. We also toured the area as it is a pretty famous archeological site.

Around 8:50, they gathered us all together to say a prayer, well wishes to the group, and take a group photo. At 9:00, they counted us down, and we were off! Those first few minutes, everyone was running and doing great...and then the hills started!

It was time to walk some and we saw that there was a team behind us with the truck behind it. Suddenly, the truck was following behind us and we were the last team. No idea where the other guys went, but I should have taken a hint from them. Ha!

We walked/ran the 2.5 km to the part where we transitioned to bikes. Our friend was there watching our bikes, we got on and headed down the steep incline. It was literally 2 km downhill! We know because I fell off toward the bottom and hit my hip on a rock. @panamapilgrim saw me, dropped his bike, and came to check on me. When he did, his tire popped!!


At that point, there were a few teams right there with us, so we weren't that far behind. Another was having some issues, and while we pulled over to replace @panamapilgrim's innertube, they started walking their bikes. I figured we'd see them at some point.

There was also a guy standing at the 2 km mark where we stopped to change the tire, and a guy on a moped also. He checked on me, told me he could help with a popped tire, or help with anything we needed. I told him about the innertube (we had a replacement and tire pump thankfully), and he rode off on his moped...never to be seen again!

The next 6 km, to me, were torture. The road was slick with mud, water, and big (often loose) rocks. We had just gone down 2 km and it was now time to start working our way back up. Around 4 km, we ran into another checkpoint with some people trying to encourage us. I explained to them that @panamapilgrim was the oldest competitor, I was the next oldest, and our son was the youngest! Then we went on!

Hoping to see other teams, we kept going, but, sadly, this would not happen. I was totally discouraged many times and quit at least 27 times, but @panamapilgrim kept telling me I could do it. We probably took 100 breaks for me and walked more than we rode! It was tough, and having no "mile markers" was so discouraging - how much longer did we have? No one knew!

@apanamakid kept saying how fun it was, so I am glad one of us enjoyed the experience. He could literally ride or run circles around me!

Finally we reached the end of the 8 km bike ride and found that the "ropes course" was next. We took turns climbing on @panamapilgrim's shoulders and touching the top of a rope about 3 meters up. Thankfully it wasn't that tough, and they sent us on our way.

The next part involved following a "map" up to the top of a hill that overlooked the lagunas. Thankfully others had taken the trail, so we mostly knew where to go. The map was pretty worthless... Once again, my lungs and legs were done, so we took a few breaks. At that point, I knew we were closer to the end, but I was seriously done.


We made it to the top, saw where we needed to go, and started walking over there. When we got to the lagunas, some of our friends were there to encourage us! It was around 12:30 and they had been there since 10:30 waiting for us! It was great to see them and their signs!

At that point, we decided to leave our shoes on, jump in the water, and get across by pulling ourselves with the rope. The lifeguard swam next to me, thankfully. A little more than halfway, my arms turned to jelly and I was done, so he pulled me on his flotation device the rest of the way. He only told me a few times that there were sharks in the water, but thankfully my Spanish brain wasn't working and I didn't understand his joke. Ha!

We got out of the water, walked to the other side of the lagunas, and saw our friends again. I had a burst of energy and decided to run ahead of the team. Ha! We got there, chose our bamboo and started tying them together to make our tripods. We had gone to the teacher's house to learn how to tie them securely the day before. We did it in one try - @apanamakid got on, lifted his feet, and we were done with this part.


Now to get back to our bikes and finish the path over to the airstrip where the end would be. As we left, it was extremely muddy and our now wet shoes got covered in mud.

We got on our bikes and started out, with @apanamakid hoping to beat at least one team. As we went around a corner, he started yelling that he could see the green team! They were having some bike difficulties again, and we were able to ride past them.


It was only a 2 km ride, but my legs did not want to go anymore, so I got off and started walking. At that point, they started yelling that the green team was catching up to us - they could see them! I tried to push a little harder, walked just a bit, and was able to get back on and ride across the finish line...a few minutes ahead of the green team!

Our pastor, his family, and our photographing friends were at the finish line to welcome us! It was great to see them, and get a banana as a reward! Ha! A lot of the other teams were there cheering us on and shaking our hand when we finished. I asked the guy I thought was going to win if he did, and he said he didn't, but Senafront won. They are professionals and basically do this everyday!


So after that, we took some photos, had a closing prayer with all the group, found out the finishing times of each team, and received a little bag from some ladies who were there promoting their vitamin drink. The first and last team also were given a chance to talk - I was so glad we didn't come in last at that point!!

The guy in charge said they expected the first team to finish around 1:00 and the last around 3:00. The first team, however finished in about one hour and 40 minutes, and we finished in about four hours (at 1:00).

I was so glad when it was over and didn't feel overly sore at that point. I was glad we stuck with it and finished - mostly me! It was tough, way harder than I thought it would be! I was so glad for @panamapilgrim's encouragement throughout. He kept telling me I could do it, and I did! We did! We celebrated by going out for burgers and ice cream for dinner.

Here are about 100 photos our friends took of the different stations. Check it out!

Are you interested in visiting Panama to learn more about moving here? Check out Panama Relocation Tours if so. This tour will take you to many cities in the area where expats have settled and introduce you to many helpful people. Each tour is 5 nights and 6 days across the entire country (and you get to meet me)!

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