A Close Call – then Ushuaia at Last

Finished at waterfront park in Ushuaia

Finished at waterfront park in Ushuaia

The ride from Rio Grande to a campground in Tolhuin started out with everyone in high spirits. We had finished our last ride two days before traveling fast with favorable winds, today seemed to have that same promise. As we moved through town and settled back on the main road we were met by a nasty headwind that forced everyone to plow forward at a mere 9 or 10K/hr working hard. Visions of a very difficult 10 hour day ran through our minds. Damn. However, thankfully, after 9K of struggle, the road swung to the left and heaven returned to earth. Now the speedometer jumped to over thirty and the legs were required to do very little. Yeah, this is more like it. The K’s started to fly by. Our road was narrow with no shoulders – there was a lot of traffic by Patagonian standards. I was riding with Barry, Yurg, Brian and Deb single file since there was no room to do anything else and little room for the cars and trucks either. At a police checkpoint they stopped us to ask that we stay in single file due to traffic and it being a weekend. No problemo. We were following the seacoast on our left and mountains had started to appear ahead of us, the sun was out. Life was feeling very light. It was a happy group at lunch but as we studied the map we saw that we would have some more headwind for a couple of sections ahead. OK, let’s get at it. We still had 65K to do to reach our camp with a stop at a panaderia (bakery) about 5K’s from the end. Traffic here zoomed pretty close to our bikes and a couple of times vehicles flashed their IQ’s at us despite our efforts to stay on the right hand white line. We pulled down into the pastry shop relieved to get off the road and ready for a cold drink and some treats. It was only after we left the shop that Yoost caught up to us with the frightening news that Michelle had been struck by a car and was being brought to a hospital in town. Initially this type of news is a shock. No. It can’t be. Then it starts to sink in and your stomach tightens and your mind moves through all types of scenarios. We moved as rapidly as we could to the campsite for news. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask right away – wasn’t ready to hear really bad news. Went through my routine, found a spot and set up my tent. Grabbed my bags and get them situated creating my little home. Didn’t want to hear any rumors or speculation so I skipped by my mates and headed over to Robert. “Did you hear? “ he asked, “Michelle was hit by a car. She’s at the hospital with Annelot. Nothing seems to be broken is all I know.” I settled down inside. Nothing broken and seems to be all right sounded almost to good to be true. I laid in my tent and listened to music. There were some close calls on the roads from Quito. Patrick was clipped by a car and knocked down somewhere near Cusco. Most of us have had narrow misses. You wonder if they just don’t see you. Michelle had had close calls before. Today someone gave me the finger as they zoomed by. I was riding on the right hand white line. I couldn’t possibly get over any further. We have been treated with such respect most all the way here. Why does this happen now with only 110K left to Ushuaia? Rob brought us updated news after dinner. Michelle has no broken bones or internal injuries but is really banged up, particularly one leg which will be quite
black and blue. She was very lucky. The car struck her in the left side of the rear bike wheel. She was thrown forward and to the ditch side away from the car. There are other bruises of course. We walked out to look at her bike. Totaled.

This is a dangerous sport.

We rode to Ushuaia on a bluebird day in Patagonia. It was warm enough to just wear your cycling jersey and a light windbreaker or an under layer. Speaking of wind, there was very little of that either. We all left together with a plan of two groups and a police escort for the 100K’s of travel. That didn’t materialize. Although I saw the police parked and driving at different points during the morning, an escort was not organized and we fell into cycling with small groups as usual. We had moved from the Patagonian Steppes back into forests and mountains. It was simply beautiful. Of course mountains meant more climbing for us cyclists but we never had any seriously steep grades – maybe 3 percent – no problem for bikers who had conquered the Andes throughout this 11,000K journey. I rode with Brian and Deb much of the way, then stopped for photos. Barry caught up and I rode with him to lunch at 80K’s. We waited there for all to arrive so we could bike together the rest of the way. The police had gathered us into groups just past a construction area before lunch and now were waiting to bring us into Ushuaia. We waited some time as it turned out that Knut had a flat and perhaps a slight hangover from a pre celebration the night before. All was good when he rolled into our stop – a little time for his lunch and off our group went to end a four and a half month adventure at 55 degrees latitude South. The police stopped all traffic so we could gather at welcome kiosk for Ushuaia and take celebratory photos. I know we were all experiencing mixed feelings of joy, relief and a touch of sadness somewhere inside that it was now about over. We got back on the bikes to roll into town to a waterfront park where we were met with champagne, food, a blown up Finish marker and an Ushuaian cycling group who welcomed us to the party. It was time for hugs, handshakes, sharing memories and, of course, a few beers and champagne. We also had trophies for the three top male and female racers. In amongst all of this wobbled Michelle on her bruised legs and body – what a blessing to see her, as exuberant as ever even after her near tragedy with a car the previous day. Michelle was the ladies race winner. She promptly sprayed the two Norwegian sister runner-ups with champagne and received the same back. James was the men’s winner along with Alfred and Joost inn the podium. After an afternoon in the unexpected sun, I started to feel the sun on my face. Time to get to the hotel. We were right at sea level and had a little alcohol in our bloodstream when we discovered that the hotel was quite a ways up a steep hill. I asked Barry, “What sadistic bastard planned this?” s we struggled up this steep grade. “Rob,” was his simple answer, then we both laughed. The same guy who led us to the miserable cold Cerro de Pasco, who put us on that horrible sandy rocky washboard ride up into Tacota, and who routed us west into the gale-force winds of Patagonia. Would we expect anything else? Hell no.

We have a group dinner tonight.

The end of a great journey for me but the beginning of a new one as well.

Tierra del Fuego

weathered fishing boat on beach in Tierra del Fuego

weathered fishing boat on beach in Tierra del Fuego

biker along coast of Tierra del Fuego

biker along coast of Tierra del Fuego

sheep and estancia (ranch) along coast

sheep and estancia (ranch) along coast

Tierra del Fuego. Land of fire. A wild place in my imagination. We took the ferry from Punta Arenas across the Straits of Magellan to this wild place. It was a two hour trip on the slow moving boat. We bikers joined the cars and trucks up the middle metal gangway where we all parked our respected vehicles. There were about 15 motorized machines and 26 of us bikers joining all those travelers who were dropped off at the ferry and met by others on the far side. We all found warm comfortable quarters indoors as there was a strong cold wind happening on deck. Poznir was the name of the small town that greeted us on the far side – nothing to distinguish this place except the ferry. We had 90K’s to ride on an unpaved road to a bush camp just somewhere on the side of the road. Thankfully we were heading east away from the strong west wind – the road was one of the best gravel roads we have traveled here in South America. No corrugation, loose sand or rocks. We soon found the ocean inlet which we would parallel all day – Grassy slopes piled away from the water. No trees, just bushes, occasional sheep and a few guanacos to entertain us. The tailwind helped move us along. One could see the more mountainous land south across this inlet where on the southside lay our eventual destination, Ushuaia. But we need to follow the land here around to the east then south and back west to this final landing place for us bikers. The road wound around, up and down, over hills and down drops all the while keeping the water next to us. The terrain reminded me of some of the large fishing bays in northern Alaska – occasional temporary shacks with rugged fishing boats slid up on skids helped bring this thought to the front of my brain. We also passed remote Estancias (ranches) with corrals and sheep. It was a wonderful day of cycling. This place seems so unreal. Romantic in the imagination. The sea, the rolling terrain, the old weathered detritus of fishermen along with their rough heavy boats on deserted beaches. The K’s rolled by, I stopped for photos and conversations with fellow cyclists. We only have three more rides left in this long journey and the end doesn’t seem real either. Such a simple rhythm of life we have all fallen into for these last four plus months will come to an end – and replaced by what? None of really know what we each will retain of this lifestyle. I came around a corner in the road and there it was – the Bike Dreams flag signifying our camping area. Slid down a small finger of a trail toward the sea and the few tents already up ruffled in the wind. This is where I am for now. Today we followed the sea inlet east until we arrived at the Argentinian border. We passed several large estancias and a few flocks of sheep but basically the terrain was flat and uneventful. So was the border crossing with the exception of the music playing in the Argentinian side where we listened to the likes of U2 while they looked at our passports – they didn’t even look at Roberts truck probably because it was so windy they didn’t want to be outside. Off we all headed into Argentina again. As the inlet narrowed and ended we paralleled a large hill until it too ended and we headed south with Atlantic waters now on our left. It was very windy and the tailwind we had traveling east now became a strong side wind on our southern route. The total distance today was pretty big (158K) since we were combining two days into one. The camping place in San Sebastien is no longer available so we have a long day to reach a hotel in Rio Grande. Tired bikers today but a rest day tomorrow and hopes of lighter winds when we continue our journey on Saturday. Today was also the last of our gravel road travel for the trip – paved road for the last two cycling days into Ushuaia. The last day we have to travel west and it could be a tough day if these winds don’t subside. Terry left us in Punta Arenas. He took a bus to Ushuaia because he is flying home a couple of days early in order to attend his son’t graduation from medical school in Australia. I wish he could be riding into Ushuaia with the rest of us on his bike but priorities prevailed. He has been a great guy to have on this trip and has become a very good friend of mine. I hope we will get together again sometime in the not too distant future. He’ll have two days in Ushuaia to enjoy the attractions there. It is a beautiful small city surrounded by high snowy mountains and the ocean in front. Also an outdoor adventure headquarters as well as a departure point for those traveling to Antarctica. I look forward to seeing it myself. I will update again after we arrive in Ushuaia.

Punta Arenas

Torres del Paine with iconic towers on right

Torres del Paine with iconic towers on right

We left Torres de Paine after a night of fierce winds and sideways rain. Tents were flapping incessantly all night long which left some sleepy eyes at the breakfast table. Forecasts for this day were for winds reaching 99K/hr but we were all assuming that the winds had come early during the night and this mornings quiet conditions showed real promise for a beautiful day. The sun felt great on the tents early – it’s light here now before five am and stays that way till well after ten at night. The route to Puerto Natales takes us back to salt water along Chile’s inland passage. It was almost all gravel through the rest of the Park – we retraced our route in but then turned right when we reached the main road. It was when cyclists reached the top of a long climb that the winds hit with full force. It soon became unridable. Everyone had to get off the bikes and walk as best they could into this gale all while trying to hold onto the bike and keep both from being blown off the road. Alfred had his bike pulled out of his hands, then the wind switched suddenly, and the bike was now chasing him. Hardy has that on video. Brian’s bike flew out of his hands and into the ditch along the road. Deb was blown off of her bike as was James. Joost and Michelle both caught tailwinds during the day that pushed them up to uncontrollable speeds. The lunch truck was at 48K – the earliest riders to reach that mark took five hours. Most riders didn’t get past the 23K mark and ended up laying in a group in the grassy ditch along the roadway waiting for Walter and the truck to come and get them. Brian and Deb had to get off and push their bikes. They, too, gave it up at 23K. They could make no headway against such a force. Only six riders completed the trip today – they all had several scares and a very long day. There were more riders needing a truck to pick them up than Walter’s truck could carry. Our lead driver, Robert,had to go back to the 23K mark to get the rest of the cyclists. A crazy day. The last cyclists came into camp just before 8pm. We started at 8am. Dinner was a very late affair, especially after such a demanding day. Bike Dreams Rob was asked if this wind was typical for previous trips. He laughed and said, “No. This was truly extreme. We have not had such a wind before.” Extreme, even in Patagonia.

That night the wind continued along with intermittent rain and became quite cold. I awoke early but was reluctant to leave my cozy little tent. We were camping in the yard of a hostel/restaurant and had the use of the kitchen and dining room for cooking and dining. I dressed in my sleeping bag but waited until the hostel doors were open to get outside. It was really necessary to have indoor facilities in this kind of weather. Plates fly, full cups skitter across tables, milk pours sideways into someone else if you give it any chance. Too much. We had a big day with 148K to travel and are leaving an hour late to give everyone a little extra rest after yesterday. The first hundred K’s we traveled east and southeast. It was really delightful to have a big tailwind to push you along. Big, but very controllable. I rode with Deb and Brian. Often we didn’t have to peddle at all. The wind just moved us along freely. Brian and I tested the strength of this force by seeing how fast we could go without pedaling at all. I hit 53K/hr and Brian was close to that as well. Very little energy was spent getting to the lunch truck. We knew, however, that once the road turned southwest at around 100K we would have problems. At best it would be a sidewind that we could control – however, turning that corner it hit us with an alarming force. The blow came directly across us from the west and wanted to throw us over into the other lane. It took tremendous effort to keep the bike under any kind of control. We were actually leaning sideways at about a 45 degree angle against the wind just to keep the bike under us. We came across a field where the soil was being lifted and which engulfed us with dust and dirt so we couldn’t see anything. Very frightening. My eyes were choked with dirt. I couldn’t clear my right eye and had to stop temporarily to try to improve my situation. The wind blew my bike shoe cleats along on the pavement and it was all I could do to bring me and the bike in my hands to a halt. After getting through that section we had no more dust storms but the sidewind made for a trying afternoon of riding. Brian was blown right across the road in front of the Bike Dreams truck as it approached him. We all struggled to keep our bikes in some kind of a straight line. Eventually the road turned slightly and we found ourselves with somewhat of a headwind. We were now moving quite slowly into it but more safely. Our destination, Villa Telhualches, was a welcome sight. It was really nice to get off he bike and into a bowl of hot soup. We celebrated a Dutch tradition after dinner. Everyone had earlier picked a name out of a hat – they then bought a gift for that person (limit of 100 Argentinian pesos) and wrote a poem about the person. These gifts were pulled out of a gunneysack one by one last night with the recipient reading the poem about them out loud. It was a lot of fun, some great limericks, and cute gifts. I received a Perito Moreno glacier shirt and a very cute poem which contains language not appropriate to include in this blog. This Dutch tradition takes place on December 6th and celebrates Santa Claus.

The winds subsided today and allowed us to have a pleasant ride to Punta Arenas. We all got in early for a change, I have checked in to a hotel in town as we were booked into a hostel with three and four to a room by Bike Dreams. I just wanted wi-fi that works and a little quiet to get a few things done. Including writing this blog. I’m meeting some of the gang for dinner this evening. I’m going to go to see the replica of the iconic James Cairn – the lifeboat that Shackleton sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia in his epic journey to save the rest of his men left on Elephant Island. If I have time tomorrow I would like to take a boat out to see penguins and sea lions at one of the outer islands from this city. An indication of how far south we have come now – penguins! We have only 4 more riding days until we arrive in Ushuaia, the end of our biking adventure,

Torres del Paine and Chilean Patagonia

Tonight we are in a bush camp. We joke that a bush camp is somewhere that there is no place to pitch your tent and no place to go to the bathroom. It may be a joke but quite often it is close to the truth. We have camped in some really lousy spots. My personal worst was early on in the trip when we camped in a dusty dirty gravel pit next to a main road. It was an operating gravel pit so big trucks were driving through camp raising even more dust. There was no where to go relieve yourself without being seen from the highway, the camp, or the workers site in the pit. The dust got into your every pore, all your bags and into your tent itself. It was hot and there was no shade. There have been others that had their own miseries as well. Basically a bush camp is where we stay when there is no place to camp. Tonights camp is a large grassy field just below the road and is quite comfortable but on this treeless plain there is no cover – no bushes, no private place to do your business. We now take it in stride as we have all developed strategies to get around our inconveniences in these remote stark places.

Tomorrow we will enter Chile for the second time on this trip – we are on our way to Torres del Paine Nacional Park. This park consists of numerous glaciers, lakes, mountains, steppes, woodlands, a desert area and of course the famous rock towers, the Torres del Paine. There are also numerous guanacos, fox, condors, rheas and flamingos as well as other types of birds and a few more mammals including cougars. This visit will certainly enliven all of us after the constant daily view of the pampas and steppes we have lived with since leaving the lake district. The only relief from that was our one day stay in El Calafate.

The border crossing went very smoothly with just a couple of small incidences with our lead truck. Our driver Robert spotted a tour bus ahead of the truck on the gravel road with just a few K to the Argentinian side of the border. We need exit stamps and custom clearances from their side before Chile will let us in. Waiting for all the people in the bus to clear immigration and customs would have taken some time so Rob put the pedal down and passed them with just a K or so to go. The bus driver laid into him as he was standing in line, accusing him of speeding and passing too close to the bus. Rob was not near the speed limit on the rough gravel road and also had plenty of room to pass. Then the driver complained to the deaf ears of the Argentinian officials. He was a fiery Latino and not happy. When Rob and crew went through the Chilean side of the border they were asked to open just three bags to look for forbidden fruit and other articles – if those bags were all right then they wouldn’t look at any of the rest. Rob took three that he was sure would be fine including his own. Lo and behold Rob’s own bag had an apple in it that he had forgotten about. Damn! As luck would have it the apple had been there since we were last in Chile and had a Chilean sticker on it. Talk about truly blind luck. They let the truck go on. I saw 5 rheas and a condor on the ride today then two more condors overhead as we were eating dinner in camp. They sure are an impressive bird with huge wingspans soaring overhead. Camp here was in somebody’s backyard in the small town of Cerro Castillo.

We had a spectacular ride into Torres del Paine. The wind remained light all day, we had sunshine all morning, the views were wonderful and the wildlife cooperated as well. Throughout most of our Andes trip we had thought ourselves fortunate to see three or four guanacos – today we saw large herds of them. Right next to us as we cycled along. As many as seven condors were seen at one time, a fox ran by with a fat little hare, a rhea stood within a few yards of JR and posed, and a few gauchos were herding cattle – all with the stunningly beautiful background of the rock towers called las Torres as well as the adjacent snow covered mountains and glossy blue glaciers. It was simply a wonderful day here in Patagonia. Our first 30K were paved and moved along rapidly – then on to the gravel. It was a rough road but our frequent stops for photos seemed to soften the jarring. At 55K we officially entered the park and 8K’s later we were camped in a wooded glade just below the towers and only a half K from the trailhead to the base of the three famous rock edifices.

The trip up to the rock towers was a lot like the trails we are used to running on the hiking trail – up and down with rocky rutty surfaces and scenic vistas. Deb, Brian and I started our trek after breakfast at a hosteria just a couple hundred meters down from our campground. Bike Dreams does not have meals on our rest days. It is a day off for everyone. It was a great rhythm for the three of us as we are so used to running together. This hike put us back into that place and we really enjoyed the 10K hike to the cirque where the three towers sit above a beautiful aqua colored glacial lake and surrounded by white capped mountains. The wind was strong when we approached the area but as we moved down to the lake and sat behind a rock we were protected from both the cold and the strong breeze. The temperature was what our mechanic and buddy Lucho would call “frio.” Of course that means cold. The mist and fog can sit into this area despite the sun warming out area below in the camping area. And that is what happened to us. We sat there at the tarn waiting for the fog to lift for photos of this iconic landscape to no avail. After fifty minutes we started our trip back down the to the trailhead. Of course on our way down we spotted the three towers and wished we were back up but we have had many views on our way in. It was a great hike and a wonderful day.

El Calafate and the race to lunch

Patagonian wind

Patagonian wind

We have arrived in El Calafate, a beautiful little tourist town of about 6000 people nestled in the Andes at about 50 degrees of latitude and situated on Lake Argentina – a smaller more remote version of Bariloche. It’s conveniently situated to Los Glaciares Nacional Park making it a busy jumping off point. It is also only 80K from the Perito Moreno Glacier with regular trips leaving from here several times a day. You can visit this huge glacier by boat, car, bus or van depending upon your situation. The trips usually include opportunities to walk fully equipped with crampons on the surface of the ice. Of course there are many other glaciers in the area but the Moreno glacier is huge and one can experience the power and roar when the ice calves in to the waters it meets if you are willing to spend the time waiting.

Our ride into this gorgeous setting was eventful. We had 109k to cover starting out moving southeast then swinging to the southwest during the first 73K before the paved road meets the Lago Argentina and finishing with 30k directly west. The reason the directions are important to us is the mainly westerly direction of the winds here. What that meant was that we would have a slight tailwind during the first portion of our ride then a strong sidewind as we moved southwest and ending directly into a headwind for the last 30K. This could be a difficult day. It proved true to form. A good day to ride in a peloton (group) so you could switch off from the hard work of leading to the easier going protection of riding behind in the group. I biked with the Norwegians during the morning – since it was a sidewind our foursome staggered across the lane with the inside person taking the brunt of the wind. There was another foursome just ahead of us and a couple of newcomers who hadn’t mastered the discipline of the peloton moving ahead and behind as their energy allowed. We made good time but I ended up spending almost all of the morning on the inside lane since the cyclists moving ahead and behind didn’t leave room for us to rotate as we normally did. There is not much traffic on this two-laned highway so vehicles behind us could easily pass when they approached our groups. The lunch truck was waiting at 67K and there were a half dozen cyclists there when we arrived. The race today was to the lunch truck and those here before us had been racing that morning. I was anxious to talk to Terry about the results since he had been hoping to help Barry get his first stage win here by working together with another racer to allow Barry to rest behind them until the opportunity to pull ahead might arise late in the event. Terry was quiet about it when I walked up to him now and said that it had been quite a morning – he would fill me in later. I noticed Barry wasn’t there and quizzed him. Terry replied that Barry had fallen from his bicycle and was taken by a car that they had flagged down to the hospital in El Calafate. Barry had appeared to have fainted and fell right in the lane of traffic though he didn’t seem to have sustained any physical injuries during the fall as he had slowed considerably prior to falling. No. What went through my brain as I sat through lunch – a stroke? A spastic fit of some type? A sudden drop in blood pressure? Why? Will he be alright somehow? We left lunch as one large group. A different strategy is followed in the peloton when going directly into the wind. We pair up and ride in as tight a group as we can trailing each pair behind the next and rotating with the leaders falling back to the end of the group and the ones previously just behind them now taking the lead. We had another near tragedy as James pulled out of his turn in the lead he drifted out into the lane of oncoming traffic without looking and came within inches of being struck by a fast moving car . He didn’t even notice it with the sound of the strong winds. I was shocked at the suddenness of this event and how close we all are to this kind of moment. Again, we had some new riders who didn’t fully comprehend the discipline and were a bit of distraction as they flitted in and out never realizing their role in the team effort and being very ineffectual throughout our 30K struggle against our common enemy the Patagonian wind. We were fortunate in that the wind velocity never did reach what we had been experiencing the previous couple of days – it was a force but not overwhelming and we came into El Calafate in under two hours from the lunch truck. Terry and I gathered our bags at the campsite, grabbed Barry’s as well and took a taxi to the hotel. After quick showers we headed for the hospital. As it turned out we had missed Barry by just minutes at the campsite – he had been checked out of the clinic and we ended up seeing him when we returned to the hotel. A CT scan and X-ray revealed no problems there. Of course we hit him up with the old joke that the brain scan had come up empty. Barry seemed his old self although tired. It was a big relief though we all wished that we knew why this had happened.

I had a very quiet rest day after nine full days riding. That is what “rest day” needs to be about now so we can be ready to get back on the bike and move on with new energy. This stop has only one day which means basic chores have to be done such as getting laundry cleaned and cleaning and tuning up our bikes as well as a myriad of other individual things that need to be cared for. I chose not to go to the glacier for these reasons. If I hadn’t experienced glaciers through climbing, hiking and kayaking many times in my life I would certainly have gone. Instead, Barry and I drifted slowly through town stopping for coffee, lunch and some small shopping then on for a siesta in the afternoon. Tonight we are going to La Tablita, the premier restaurant in a town of great restaurants. The currency rate here in Argentina makes great meals more affordable for us. I might have a glass of Malbec as well.

Argentinian Steppes

A bad sign for bikers

A bad sign for bikers

A Gaucho visiting our campsite.  Loved his hat!

A Gaucho visiting our campsite. Loved his hat!

Gaucho's horse with wannabe at her feet

Gaucho’s horse with wannabe at her feet

Glacial stream in Chile

Glacial stream in Chile

Since our border crossing back into Argentina we have left the lakes, pines and rain and are back to the pampas. That has meant wind. Real wind. Patagonia wind. The predominating wind direction is from the west so for the first day or so that we were going mostly east the wind was our friend but today our course took us southwest. Right into the teeth of the western gales and we felt it big time on the bikes. We were heading to a campsite in the little town of Bajo Caracoles from our last nights stay in Perito Moreno. The trip is 131K with about 1300 meters of climbing. It started out well for the first 40K despite a few good climbs, then we crested a big hill and were hit like a ton of bricks by the western blow. The serenity was gone – replaced by the relentless fury of mother nature. Wind is probably the most unforgiving element in the natural world. It pities no one. All you can do is shift down a few speeds in a lower gear and keep your legs pumping those pedals. Stopping is not a solution – the wind is not going away in this part of the world. In fact it usually gets stronger as the day gets longer. On this day it often stopped us in our tracks. It also pushed us crazily from one side of our lane to the other without warning. One had to lean into it sideways to keep from being blown over. Pelotons were difficult with these unpredictable sideways swings. I don’t know the velocity of the wind but I do know that you couldn’t hear the person next to you and we could pedal as hard as we could and often be going only 6K/hr. That’s less than 4 MPH. You can walk faster than that. But not into this wind. The hours went by – at about 95K I stopped to raise my bike seat – it has been slipping despite my efforts to get the clamp as tight as possible. The cyclists I was pedaling with continued on. After that adjustment and another to put on more sun screen I came around a big corner into a straight section where I saw Brian and Deb about a half K ahead. They didn’t seem to be moving but with closer inspection it appeared that they were pushing their bikes. I pedaled crazily forward as the wind was still pushing me around in the lane. When I finally reached them they had stopped so I just pulled up and got off the bike. “I think we should catch the truck,” Brian said, “at this speed it’ll be another two and a half hours of this crazy shit.” I looked back. The lunch truck was approaching at about a K away. “Yes, why not.” was my quick reply. So we joined eight other cyclists plus our team doctor Annelot in the truck with Walter. Hardly room to take a deep breath. But we were very happy to be out of that wind. We had cycled 106K and were damn tired.

Our next stop is Las Horquetas 109K away. There is only about 600 meters of climbing but we awaken to the wind blowing just as hard as when we went to bed. Our campsite had ended up in somebody’s backyard since the people at the little hostel/campground were closed and out of town. One might say what town? There were just a smattering of dilapidated houses and a small hotel/gas station besides the little campground. It was the neighbor of the closed hostel who let us use his backyard and also one of his little houses so we could cook indoors. I used our shovel to move some dog poop and a duck’s head out of the way to put up my tent. It was blowing pretty good but the tent was secure. Wine at dinner helped. I had to put on my down jacket to stay warm enough to get through dinner then retreated to my little house (tent) to do some writing and a little reading then on to bed. It’s light here till about 930 and I know that I was asleep before the sun disappeared. The morning brought a decision for many of us with the wind blowing another gale. I put my cycling clothes on in the sleeping bag since it was cold, already having made my decision to cycle. A number of others opted for the truck. After an initial tough 5 K’s in the wind we turned southeast – the wind was no longer in our faces and most of the rest of the morning went well. I wanted to get as many K’s in as possible before we turned southwest directly into our nemesis. Lunch was at 50K – I didn’t dawdle. The winds typically get much worse after about 2pm. I didn’t want to be still cycling at that point. After lunch I cycled with one of the new guys who started in Bariloche. We took turns in the wind until I took over on a hill – when I looked back after few K’s he was no longer there. There was a group of four about a K ahead of me but otherwise no one so I just pedaled on by myself. The winds became more and more of a factor as I pushed along. In places they stopped me in my tracks. Other times they threatened to blow me over. JR had been blown off his bike two days before and Michelle was blown into a guard rail yesterday. Deb had fallen on the gravel two days before – her arm and hand were very swollen and painful. JR’s left side was too painful to sleep on. I didn’t want to join them so was careful on the corners where sudden big gusts can catch you. At the 100K mark our route turned to the east and I was sailing on into our new camp amazingly quickly. What a relief – the absence of wind. Actually it was still there but just no longer into our faces. We have ended up in a building in Las Horquetas that was only two rock walls in 2012 when Bike Dreams was last here. Now it is a future restaurant and hotel with seven rooms – there still is no running water, working kitchen or heat and electricity in the room I am sharing with Alfred but it has been a real blessing for Bike Dreams since we are not cooking and dining outdoors in this cold wind. As far as I can see this town has no other buildings.

Today we had a 48K time trial to start the day. The road was paved, slightly downhill and perfectly straight. If you’re going to hold this type of race this is the place for it. Add to that a big tailwind and we’re looking at flying down this road. Rob asked Bike Dream cyclists to each find a partner, we would take off in intervals and Lucho would be waiting with a chart and a timing watch. About half of the bikers were excited for a little competition, most of the others took it as just a fun ride and a few of us had no interest in timing. I rode with Kristin and Hilde just for fun. I also didn’t take part in the single 7K time trial when we were in Salar Uyuni (salt lake). The races and timing just don’t fit in to why I am here though I certainly respect those who are enjoying these competitions. I’ve done a lot of racing in other sports. Terry and Joost won the overall competition with an average speed of 51.5K/hr. Deb and Brian came in second in the mixed doubles division with 42K/hr. Kristin, Hilde and I won the mixed triples. Following this fun little affair we headed onto the gravel to complete our ride to La Angostura where we found a nice campsite in a small but very well done resort with motel units. The family had located their livelihood with wetlands in front and a vast tract of open rangeland beyond all surrounded by sweeping hills. This is not a landscape dominated by trees. There was a large variety of birds including wild geese and pink flamingoes. Horses roamed on the wetland edges and beyond. It is very different from the pampas which have been desertlike with swtchgrass, bushes, cacti and assorted succulents low to the ground. What we have here is a natural prairie. We have also seen some flightless birds which we have been confused about – we have now identified them as Patagonian Rheas, a much smaller version of the emu o Australia or the ostrich of Africa. There is nothing else for many kilometers around. We all wonder why this business is here and how it can be successful. It can’t be seen from the little traveled “main” gravel road and has just a small hand painted sign on the little side road which will take you 5K down to the site. However, other guests showed up while we were here and the proprietors are busy completing five more units. More power to them. We are enjoying our stay here. This afternoon the wind died for the first time since we left the lake district, We basked in the sunlight and wondered what tomorrow may bring.

Our last three stages have been relatively uneventful from a biking standpoint. Each day the wind blows hard out of the west – since we are traveling primarily south and west we get strong sidewinds or strong headwinds. The biking can be very taxing because of this. With Ushuaia only two weeks ahead many of the cyclists are now starting to look that direction and thinking more of home. Many are running out of gas as far as biking goes – it is becoming more of a chore rather than the joy it has been for most of this trip. The pampas, the wind, bikes starting to break down in various ways and the remoteness of this last section have all played a part in the current state of affairs. A very few individuals are also wearing on the rest of the group. We are running out of patience with the behavior of a couple of people – it’s getting harder not to react. I think that getting into El Calafate tomorrow, enjoying getting caught up on laundry, internet, a chance to visit the famous Mereno Glacier and the prospect of seeing the Torres Paine Nacional Parque in Chile soon should put a little more life back into everybody’s worn out little bodies. Southern Patagonia is not a place without its trials but it also has great rewards for those who are looking.

Rain Forests in Chile

Reflection on lake along route in Chile

Reflection on lake along route in Chile

Bike Dreams rider along route - Brian  Bennett

Bike Dreams rider along route – Brian Bennett

Bike Dreams lunch along the way

Bike Dreams lunch along the way

Since leaving El Bolson and the Las Alerces Parque just to the south we’ve been heading through the winding valleys and waterways between high Andes peaks on our way to a remote and scenic part of Chile. It continues to be an extremely scenic tour which one has keep pinching oneself as a reminder that yes, this is real, and we won’t be here forever, keep focused. These mountain lakes are incredible. The forests are thick. As I look at these peaks just above the sharply pitched hills I realize that there are no glades – no softening of the angles or of the greenery until the rock takes over. Backcountry skiing would have to be limited to the bowls high above. The rivers that tumble down from these spillways have that somewhat milky green hue that only glacial run off can boast. We are traveling on a mix of pavement and gravel. There is a lot of road construction happening here – by the time the next BikeDreams trip here happens this whole section in Argentina will be paved. Villages here are the exception. We are heading for one now just across the Chilean border called Futaleufu. That means dealing with customs and immigration on both sides – Argentina for an exit stamp and Chile for an entry stamp and inspection for banned fruits and vegetables. Chile is concerned about fruit flies being introduced to their country. Bike Dreams has been gradually depleting our food reserves of banned items during the week prior to our entry date. “What, no bananas?” has been heard throughout camp. Complicating matters is that there is no place to really fill our food coffers on the Chilean side until we hit the larger community of Coyhaique on our fifth day in the country. The food issue caused us to stop 18K earlier than we planned after entering Chile – we had planned a bush camp and instead stayed in Futaleufu in a hotel where we could also have dinner. The border crossing itself was a breeze. Since it is remote there were no lines. The officials here, in contrast to Peru and Bolivia, were helpful and friendly. No problemo. Futaleufu may be remote but one could see the effects of its outdoor recreation opportunities. There is some money here – second homes and well-coiffered Eddie Bauer types on the streets. We found that the only source for Chilean pesos was the ATM in Futaleufu – it didn’t accept Visa cards thus complicating finances for most of us. The hotel overcharged us for a poorly cooked salmon dinner because it could. Bike Dreams boss Rob covered our cost until we can get funds in a few days.

The gravel roads here are not like those we are used to in northern Minnesota. The one we experienced in our trip to Tacota was a miserable sandy loose rock body shaking mess which really was not bikeable. The roads we’ve been on here are at least bike able but you won’t find them in this condition in Cook County. They are a loose rock corrugated mix of dust and cuss words. Tough on bike tires. Tough on bikers. Tough on bikes. Today I had my first flat tire on this whole trip from Quito to here, south of Bariloche. I had researched these tires extensively because I hate flat tires. Schwalbe marathons. The flatless bike tires. They’ve been great. Things caught up to me today. I had my first flat. And then I had my second flat. And then I walked my bike 5 K’s till I met the lunch truck coming back for me as Michelle had biked past me and carried to word to Walter. I could have patched one of the tubes but I had been unable to find anything wrong inside the tire itself yet knew there was something there. Might as well wait for a more thorough inspection in camp. I did find a small wire barely protruding on the inside and am hopeful that there will still be air in that tire tomorrow.

The Patagonian pampas was wind. Chile is known for rain. It is raining right now and has been since we reached our bush camp in Villa Vanguardia, a town of about 10 houses and one small bodega (shop) which is closed for a couple of days since the owners are out of town. We have commandeered a small half-completed home with at least a roof overhead to do our cooking and dining this evening. It is a blessing. This rain is acting like an all nighter.

It was an all nighter. Things were wet. The ground had quickly saturated. Diedrick’s tent was now in a swamp. Barry’s was so wet he didn’t have anything dry to cycle in and had to take the truck. I know that if a truthful poll was taken this morning all would love to be in the truck. This is a very lush area – all the rain makes it so. We gathered in the small partially finished building and were very thankful to have breakfast out of the steady drizzle. It wasn’t that it was pouring but it was constant and enough to keep you and everything you own wet and cold. My tent was pitched on a small protected hillside with good drainage. High and dry. Two corners of the tent that I hadn’t stretched quite taut had very small pools formed but they had no affect on my sleep or my belongings. This coming night I’ll be sure to get them tight. Lots of wet tents go into bags and into the truck. A few wet sleeping bags will be opened tonight along with that cloudy foggy damp funk that fills your nostrils. We had 107K to pedal along the gravel Carreterra Austral. As much as the sun had accentuated the beauty of our surroundings the last few days, the fog mist and rain kept them a shrouded secret today. It was just plain a wet, cold, rough, body beating slog today. Lots of road construction which today meant slop, mud and mire. We were following a series of mountain lakes – glacier fed rivers ran across our path on their journey to cool and replenish these tarns. I rode most of the day by myself, finally hooking up with Joost, Michelle, Brian, Deb, Terry and one of the new Aussies who joined us in Bariloche, in the small village of Puyuhuapi where we found apple pie ,coffee and tea. Mmmmm, that almost made up for the rain. Now we had also reached the sea – waters of the magnificent Pacific Ocean. The Canal Puyuhuapi that we are now pedaling alongside is a relatively narrow inlet from the sea. The sun was occasionally peaking out and we had pulled off our rain gear for the last 30K’s to our camp in a National Park featuring Glacier Colante – a hanging glacier which sits right in front of our camping area. It has a beautiful waterfall and an impressive massive presence high above our level.

We awoke to the light drumming of raindrops on our tents again. Weather reports don’t mean much in this coastal rainforest. In San Diego you’re safest to say 75 and sunny – here the daily answer should be 60 and rain. Right now 45 and rain is what we have. Bike Dreams Rob gave us all a chance to hike closer to the hanging glacier Colante by calling for breakfast at 9 and biking at 10. We loved the chance to sleep in but the weather precluded a hike in the rain and fog. I used the morning time to try to get some of the sand, grit and gravel out of the working parts of my bike. These roads are really tough on bikes. They are also tough on bike riders. There has been a steady stream of road construction on the Carretera Austral since we hopped on it after Futaleufu ,which makes the travel even messier. Today we had several unscheduled stops along the way for rock blasting and clearing. It won’t be long before pavement will take over these byways. We ended our 77K day with a camp on Lago Las Torres at a small fisherman’s campground. Another deep mountain lake surrounded by snowy peaks. The old boy who runs the place has been dragging out a few small logs and cutting them for a campfire for his bicycle guests. Excited to have us here, he chatters away in Spanish and doesn’t seem to notice that we are not answering. Probably hears as well as I do. There are two birthdays to celebrate tonight including one of the Norwegian sisters, Hilde. Team Norway knows how to party. Look out, Charlie Brown. We have a building available here that is just barely large enough to fit us cyclists. Tomorrow we head to Coyhaique for a rest day – Rob has set us up in a campground but did mention that there are several hotels available in town. I will be looking for a room after so many days of camping.

I arrived in Coyhaique after a paved ride of 137K in overcast skies and mist shrouding most of the taller peaks. The terrain is lush – much like the rain forests of the northwest US only much bigger. We are in a campground about 2K outside of town and most of us have opted to get hotel accommodations since we have been camping everyday since Bariloche. It also allows us to have internet to catch up with our communications. I haven’t explored the town yet other than to find my hotel but will be out tonight searching out either a steak or some fish. The currency here makes one feel wealthy – 550 pesos to one dollar US. It may sound like things are inexpensive but despite the peso exchange things turn out to cost about the same as they might at home. Argentina is a bargain. Chile is more like what we are used to paying. I have very limited experience with finances here tho since we have been staying in bush camps and campgrounds all but one night and that was in a remote town. I am tired tonight after seven straight days of hard cycling – this day off feels well deserved. We will spend one more day cycling in Chile and then head back to Argentina. We do still have one more swing through Chile before we get to the end of our trip however.