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.

On to Chile

on gravel south of Bariloche

on gravel south of Bariloche

Michelle on cruise through the mountains of the lake district

Michelle on cruise through the mountains of the lake district

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Bariloche. How long I’ve looked at that name on the map and let my imagination soar. The mountains, the lakes and streams, and mostly the vast wilderness terrain ran undisciplined and limitless through my brain from that little dot on a very big part of the globe. Now it was soon to become a reality to me as my bicycle swung south through the mountains along Lake Nahuel Haupi from the beautiful little town of Villa Angostura. What a ride it was – vast forests rising sharply above the lake and rimmed by rugged snow and glacier topped Andes mountains that seemed to have no end. The roadway reminded me of the Highway 61 of my youth before it became emasculated. Narrow, curvy lane that followed the slopes of the terrain – my father would rev the car up the hills just so we could sway and float down the other side. This paved path also fit graciously in the flow of the earth. After about 70K of heavenly biking along the big lake we climbed to a rise and an amazing view below of Bariloche with a background of Andes and fronted by a beautiful blue lake. It looked like all I had imagined. We then pedaled down and around an arm of water to enter the city itself. A town of about 130,000 – it is definitely an outdoor touristy mecca built on a hillside with the water and wharfs in front. Very upscale, it could easily be in the Alps of Europe or one of the famous ski towns of the western United States. We pedaled through the streets and by the shops and restaurants until we reached our hotel just a block from the waters edge. I had a view across the lake and towards the mountains we had just cycled along. Wonderful. This was a town of great restaurants – no pizza for me here. I got on the computer to check Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. Trattoria, one of the best restaurants in town just a block away. Yes. We had just one rest day here but I made sure to get in two wonderful meals complete with top shelf wines and specialty desserts. We’ve had a lot of very limited meals in rough places on this trip. Time now to make the most of the palate pleasing opportunities here.
We had an unfortunate incident between two of our riders. Of course we have some very different personalities in the group with very different goals. Some of our cyclists like to enjoy a more open free wheeling party atmosphere when available while others are more focused on biking and interested in getting sleep to stay in their best cycling form. This dichotomy led to one of our partiers getting slugged by a more focused cyclists late one evening. Not something I would expect from cyclists enjoying a trip like this but we are all just people. One of the two involved has opted to return home from Bariloche.

I wish I had much more time to enjoy this town. I will be back. It has much to offer with hiking, fishing, skiing, kayaking, biking and so much more in beautiful surroundings. After two nights and a day we are back on our bikes and headed south to El Bolson. This is quaint little town which is also surrounded by white capped Andes, heavily forested, and full of outdoor possibilities. A humbler version of Bariloche. Also the place where my climbing friend Lucas grew up. As he has said to me, the lake district is where Argentinians themselves come to vacation. The trip to El Bolson by cycle was another delightful day of fabulous scenery though Ruta 40 had a lot more traffic here. Without shoulders the narrow lanes of this highway leave little room for the trucks to give you much space. So it’s single file for us and an effort to stay close to the white line on the outer edge. We have been seeing clear beautiful trout streams along our byways as well as advertised guided trips. It’s fly fishing only here in the streams – forward thinking in protecting the resource and also creating a sport with a large degree of romantic flavor.

We left El Bolson with very little time to explore. We are headed for Los Alerces Nacional Parque and then on to Chile. This park was created in 1937 to protect the alerce trees since this area has the largest alerce forest in all of Argentina. These trees are one of the longest living trees in the world. Some here in the park are over 3000 years old. There are a number of river systems here with great hiking and fishing available. We are staying in an Andean valley along a beautiful deep clear stream. It was another delightful day of biking with the same chain of Andes mountains following us on both sides. Tomorrow we will be entering a remote part of Chile with gravel roads to cycle and bush camps but we do began this section with a hotel stay in the small town of Futaleufu.

On to Bariloche

biking along the Ruta de las 7 Lagos in Patagonia

biking along the Ruta de las 7 Lagos in Patagonia

Team Norway with Bariloche in the background

Team Norway with Bariloche in the background

along the Ruta de 7 Lagos

along the Ruta de 7 Lagos

Bariloche view

Bariloche view

Patagonia – the land of big wind. We have been experiencing the might of the westerly blows here in the pampas. Wide open spaces with rolling hills and mountains to cross. Today we had a long 161K trip to Las Lagas. That converts to just a little over 100 miles for you reading this in the States. We didn’t see a single village during the whole ride – I don’t even remember seeing any houses. We are in the pampas. Did see a few gauchos on horseback. Ruta 40 follows mostly a southerly route but on the last 35K of this day it turns westerly to the mountains. That was the section we were nervous about after a couple of big headwinds in our last cycling sections. Since the day was so long, ten of us formed a peloton early on and the morning just flew by. Temps were comfortable for cycling, about 60 degrees F. Taking turns leading in the group is really much more efficient than taking off in twos and threes. When we arrived at the lunch truck at 72K it felt like we had just been cruising all morning. We had a reasonably big climb and a couple of short stints to the west with wind after lunch but still an easy day until late when we turned west for good, but took turns leading and came into camp feeling really good about the day. It was my turn to join a group of five serving the meal and doing the dishes. It’s actually quite fun as we jabber away and work as a team. When it’s raining and cold a lot of the fun disappears. Tonight was pleasant and enjoyable. Up one hour earlier tomorrow as we are again heading west – we have a big climb in the morning and expect winds most of the day. This second day started so early we all had to use our headlamps to pack up our gear before breakfast at six. We are leaving this early because previous Bike Dream trips on this route have had terrible headwind problems. In 2008 only four people completed this section. Headwinds here usually build during the day – we had 131K to cover with 65K being unpaved. There was a big climb in the morning and the winds we encountered called for a peloton. Lunch would be at around 52k at the end of the mornings tarmac. The morning went better than most everyone expected despite the wind which took so much of our energy even working together as we were. Bike Dreams Rob had predicted that it would take four hours to complete the climb to lunch – we beat that prediction but only by ten minutes. We still had about 7K to climb on gravel but that proved to be a pleasant effort as the wind had abated – the scenery was reminiscent of the higher foothills and sporadic pines with cliffs, buttes and distant white capped mountains of much of the western US. We again felt good about our effort but plenty tired and happy to be in camp. We are camping every day now – that means that we have more chores to do when we arrive in camp. Our days have also been longer as we are pushing our way through the pampas and on to the lake district. It has been more difficult to find time to write. I find myself tired and having less creativity in my efforts. We also have had a much more difficult time finding internet to post our blogs and photos or even to check emails, etc. So if you are wondering why I’m not communicating better those are the complications. Our third day had a lot of gravel but the surface is good. We are biking past a couple of volcanoes and over a mountain pass today. The winds are treating us well and the day rushes by. We are seeing what are called “monkey” trees here which appear to be a type of pine tree which gets quite large – sort of a huge version of mugo pines which one finds as a landscaping option in Minnesota. One of the highlights of the day is that Michelle came in riding with Joost and Alfred tied for first in the day’s stage thus getting her second win of the trip. No woman has won a stage before Michelle and now she has a pair of victories. We are all very happy for her. These last two days we have finally really left the pampas and entered the land of lakes here in Argentina. It is like night and day – suddenly we find ourselves in pine and conifer forests surrounded by white capped mountains. We have been following the Alumine River which is famous for its trout fishing. It flows through the town of San Martin – a very impressive outdoor oriented location and the first really upscale town we have visited. It is surrounded by the high peaks which provide ski terrain, bicycle shops abound and camping stores share the avenue with great little restaurants and high fashion outdoor clothing stores. Fly fishing shops are on several corners. We stop for lunch and wish we had more time here to explore. We continue our ride . The forests soar up steeply from the deep long cold and dark lakes that we swing around on roads that curve and undulate through this terrain. We have now entered the Ruta de las 7 Lagos. I’ve read about this fantastic loop through the National Park that so resembles the mountain lake valleys of Switzerland or the mountain tarns of Scotland. It is an amazing drive. We spent the night in an old fashioned lakeside campground, just lovely for its timeless simplicity. The following morning we had a cold, drizzly cycle past a number of steeply forested deep lakes to the beautiful town of Villa Angostura. My short description of San Martin is also apt for this lovely mountain town. It is located across the lake from tomorrow’s destination, Bariloche, which is world renowned as a fabulous outdoor recreation locale. I missed the sun on this day since the mountain peaks were obscured by clouds and rainy mist. The road is wonderful as it twists, turns and swoops up and down following the lakes and just below the towering forests. What a great place to be on a bike. I rode with Team Norway (sisters Kristin and Hilde plus Knute) and Dutch cyclist Karel. We stopped at the lunch truck then found time to sit in an old time lodge complete with wood cookstoves and had pastry and coffee. With only 60 paved K’s and all day to ride it was a very relaxed trip to Angostura. This region as well as that south of here, is what really has drawn me back to South America. I so look forward to the weeks to come.

The Path to Patagonia

Bike Dreams cyclists dinner in remote police equipment shed - -2C and raining outside

Bike Dreams cyclists dinner in remote police equipment shed – -2C and raining outside

Cyclists sitting on the water in swimming pool

Cyclists sitting on the water in swimming pool

climbing buddy Lucas in Mendoza

climbing buddy Lucas in Mendoza

Grandma and little girl with giraffe friend at remote Hostel

Grandma and little girl with giraffe friend at remote Hostel

I left our campsite in Mendoza by cab the night of our barbecue celebrating JR’s birthday and saying goodbye to Rien who is returning to Holland from here to help his niece open a new store. He will be missed by all of us. Arriving at the Nutibara Hotel I found my room and the Hotel to be first class – I had stayed here 10 years ago with Gary Tabor and John Wood when we came here to climb. King sized bed, hot shower, ample room, swimming pool, great service and wi-fi that works. For someone who has been in bush camps and some less than satisfactory campsites this is heaven. I luxuriated in it that night taking a long hot shower and climbing into that big comfortable bed with my laptop and that great wi-fi catching up on everything I could as long as I could keep my eyes open. Also a nice cool drink from the bar on the bedside table. I awoke the next morning with the computer still on flopped to one side of me and light streaming through the outside window. What a great feeling being able to close your eyes again and just lay there with the sandman still partially in control. No breakfast at seven and no biking at eight. Just the whole day to yourself. When I did get up I delivered my laundry to reception, had a nice long breakfast and headed out to the plaza area to get the few chores I had done.
That evening I met my climbing buddy from our Aconcagua trip in 2004, Lucas Dauria, for drinks, dinner, and a lot of catching up. It was great to see him again – the same quick smile and easy going personality. He is now 34 and built like a rock from all the climbing he does – both commercially and for the sheer love of challenges. He guides in Peru, Patagonia and Aconcagua. He and his wife have a climbing school together with a climbing wall. I had hoped to meet his two children, both boys, aged nine and nearly four but his wife was busy with clients at the school so it didn’t work out. Lucas is heading to Yosemite for some wall climbing in March
as well as a few other locations in the western US. No walls for him in Minnesota.

My good friends Deb and Brian Bennett arrived at our campsite during our rest days in Mendoza. It was great to see them. They are biking with us the rest of the way to Ushuaia. Delta Airlines managed to lose one of the two bags they checked in at the Minneapolis Airport so there was a little stress around their tent with many things missing for the start of cycling in two days. After a number of calls and a few trips to the Mendoza airport it became obvious that the airlines had no idea where that bag was so a few things borrowed in camp, a few extra items Bike Dreams came up with, and a quick trip to a camping store in Mendoza left them with just enough gear to make it all work. Since then it appears that the bag has been found and should catch up with us at our next rest day in Chos Malal.

On our first day back on the bikes we had a 144K paved ride to a campground in San Carlos. Only 1000m of climbing so it looked like a pretty good day yet fairly long. I cycled with Brian and Deb for most of the day but after our lunch stop we caught up with Terry and Barry and latched on to them to make a more complicated trip through one of the towns easier. Barry and Terry both have Garmin GPS units which make navigating through a lot of turns in town much simpler than pulling out our day’s paper map every five minutes. And it did as we buzzed through all the turns there, however, a little later in the ride we had a turn at a T junction to make. Terry’s Garmin said to turn left on a side road prior to what I understood it to be from my paper map. Brian later told me he had the same concern at that point. We have come to trust the Garmin so totally from three months of it never failing so off on the initial side road we pedaled. A few K’s on we realized we had gone astray and before we knew it we had added 10K’s to our trip. We got back on Ruta 40 and moved up the 20K’s to our campground in San Carlos. Brian and Deb’s first cycling day with us became about 100 miles (155K). Whew! We were treated to views of the high white-capped Andes to our west for most all of our ride. Pretty spectacular!
The next day looked like a tough one as Rob handed out our info sheet, map and profile sheet. Only 18 percent of the cycle was to be paved and about 1200m climbing would make for a difficult day. We still had memories of our trip through Tacota and that horrible loose sand and rock track which took so much out of all of us. Off we sailed the next morning down 20K’s on paved Ruta 40 to our westward bound gravel road . I was biking with Brian, Deb, Michelle and Barry past a small village when Barry suggested we go back the 2 K’s for coffee and rolls – Michelle flew past to the gravel hollering back that she wasn’t hungry – Deb and Brian looked a little hesitant but when I looked back they had decided against the coffee detour. When Barry and I arrived at the coffee shop we found it surrounded by bikes as most everyone behind us had stopped. A fun little gathering as the grouped wolfed down sandwiches and rolls and slurped coffee. Off we went to the gravel with more than a little dread in our psyches. What we found just a couple of K’s into our turn was new pavement as far as we could see. Couldn’t believe our luck. New construction! Wow, a smooth track and no traffic. We have had very little traffic since arriving in Argentina. We moved along swiftly and covered 55K before we spotted the lunch truck to our left just after a detour that we had by-passed as it was unpaved. We pushed our bikes through the sandy dessert terrain the short distance for lunch, then heard that the track we were on would have taken us in the wrong direction while the unpaved old road led to our next camp. The terrain here is best defined as pampas – flat desert terrain with tufted grass and yellow blossomed thorn bushes who are not loved by cyclists as the long stiff thorns are hard on bike tires. Eroded mountains lined both sides of the desert valley but some distance away. After lunch we headed out for the 40K remaining and found the old road to be a loose sand and rock mix – not as miserable as Tacota but disheartening none the less. Also the temps had been dropping all day, a bit windy and now I found a wet mist had joined in the fun. Not a good day for cycling at all. When we get on the bikes in the morning we have to decide what to bring for extra food, clothing and water. Most cyclists carry all extra gear in their cycle jersey pockets so not a lot of room for error. On this day the lunch truck was busy hauling riders with freezing hands and chilled bodies. It is the first of November – late spring/ early summer here in a warm climate. We found out later that this was the coldest November day recorded here in over forty years. It was a cold wet slog up and down hills through both sand and washboard gravel but late in the afternoon I found myself riding with JR into rocky canyon land. We were tired, wet and cold but still pedaling and hoping our bush camp would be just around the next corner. Around the bend in front of us came Walter with the lunch truck. He informed us that camp would be at a remote police facility just 7K’s ahead. Go through a tunnel past a big dam then up a hill to a gate on the right side and into a grassy area. Walter and Annelot were off to search for two of our racers, Yoost and Alfred, who had continued on the new road after missing the lunch truck. Who would think that a detour road and a new unopened road would not just meet at some point. These two didn’t. JR and I continued past a huge dam and a new bridge in the middle of nowhere. The bridge was curved and led to a 500m long tunnel. Neither of us had lights in the back and as I was half way through a vehicle approached me from the rear at an alarming speed. We hadn’t seen a vehicle other than the lunch truck on this whole section of road. Alarmed, I hopped off my bike to pull both it and myself to the side of the tunnel without being sure just where that was. My bike cleats hit the pavement and down I went landing hard on my hip, shoulder and helmet. It was just like slipping on glare ice. Stunned, I lay the for a few seconds, then scrambled to get over to the side. The small four-wheel truck stopped next to me and out popped a burly man who was jabbering at me in Spanish and motioning to me to put the bike in the truck. As I started to see better in the lights of the open vehicle I could see he was a policeman and into the vehicle I went. He picked up JR as well – we had a ride to camp. We were tenting in the grounds surrounding the small police facility and they were allowing us to use their little equipment shed to cook and dine. Given the weather this was a wonderful happenstance.
JR and I were dropped off at the small police compound on top of a sandy desert hill which now had cyclists tents spread out helter skelter anywhere free of bushes. A light cold misty rain was still coming down as we each found a patch of ground for our little homes then headed into the equipment shed where the Bike Dreams crew had set up kitchen and dining. A small space, it was soon crowded with raucous bikers reliving their tough cold day and enjoying a bit of wine, then a great hot meal that our cook Gert had put together. Our lead driver Robert had talked the police into letting us use this crude but dry location – otherwise we would have been 10K’s further up the road eating outside in this miserable cold wet weather. Bike Dreams Rob then made an announcement that Michelle had won the stage that day and everyone got up and cheered. She is now the first female to win a stage on the trip. Alfred and Yoost had been found and were at dinner having had to take shelter in a container until a truck came by that they had flagged down for a ride. They then met Walter in the lunch truck out looking for them. Quite a day. Wet clothes for everyone and a night with a new record low temperature for November.

The following day we had to be out of the makeshift cooking shed by eight so all up, packed and at breakfast by seven. It was cold. I dressed in my sleeping bag. My biking shoes were still wet as were most everyones and it was cold. Two below C when I got up. At least it was not raining. Since we had stopped 10K short yesterday we now had 157K to pedal to reach our campground in Malarque. This was day three of six before our next rest day. It started off with 40K of unpaved before finding the highway again. This section was much better cycling as the sand was not a factor but the misty rain started again – our hands and wet feet were freezing when we came to the lunch truck. with 95K still to ride. Barry announced along with his favorite Australian adjective,” @uck all, I can’t ride another 95K in this cold wet crap. I’m freezin’, man.”
He’s a tough guy but freezing feet and still cold rain is a lot for anyone. Hardy announced that he too was riding on the truck. I decided to keep going and heading back on my bike. Within a half hours time the rain disappeared with brighter skies and the ride looked more doable. The terrain was still unimpressive – pampas. Within an hours time I heard the familiar “Hey Mate” from Barry. The clearing skies convinced him to get on the bike and right behind him Hardy followed. It was a long long day but our campsite in Malarque brought sunshine, a hot showers and even a swimming pool! Not really warm enough to swim in but it still felt good to us that it was there. The best part was that we could dry our wet gear before tomorrow’s ride. Everyone was in high spirits.

Day four looked like a piece of cake when Rob passed out our maps/instructions/profile. Although we had some climbing, there was only 115K’s all paved. We left camp feeling pretty confident of an easy ride. There are no easy rides on the Andes Trail. This section was much more scenic than the last few. Snow-capped mountains again peeked out from between the eroded hills as did a couple of volcanoes we would see for several days. Our climb began early and as we worked our way along we were suddenly greeted by a type of headwind we didn’t expect to experience until further into Patagonia. At times it would literally stop us in our tracks. Down to sixK/hr and pedaling as hard as we could, we forged our way along the long switchbacks up the mountain. It was extremely hard work. As the winding way put you into crosswinds it was difficult not to get blown right off your bike. Deb was swept into a metal guardrail part way up and hurt her ribs and side. On a switchback curve near the top we found the wind behind us actually carried us up the hill for about a block. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. Thinking that the top was going to bring relief from the tremendous winds I was very disappointed to find pedaling downhill still a frustratingly difficult chore. At one point I pulled to the side and got behind a rock for shelter to drink and eat a little. You didn’t dare try to drink on the bike as letting go with one hand would surely put you on the ground. Back on the bike and moving further down the slope the wind slowly abated. By the time I got to the lunch truck it was a pleasant day and a good ride into our bush camp at Buta Billon. This little village consisted of a homestead where were camped in a nest of trees plus a small hostel about half a K beyond where Terry, Barry and I had a cervesa with an smiling grandmother and her two little grandchildren. One of the girls had a toy giraffe taller than herself from behind which she peeked at the three gringoes. Grandma handed us her guest signing book to look at. We found an entry, map and photo from a fellow who pulled a wheeled cart all the way from Columbia to Ushuaia in 2013. Wow. What the hell was he thinking. Here was someone crazier than we were.

Day five brought us a 101K ride with 49K of it unpaved – this time I found the gravel very rideable, much like the gravel roads we are used to in Minnesota. I had lowered my air pressure in the tires for a more comfortable ride and only had a couple of places where I had to peddle hard through sand. The scenery was great with big white topped mountains interspersed with buttes, deep valleys and colored rock. While the climbs made this less than a cruiser day it was very doable. I rode with Terry towards the end of the day and we were joined by the Norwegians, Kristen and Hilde, on the way in to camp in Barranca, a very small village along Ruta 40. We set up our tents wherever we could find room in hostels back yard. This night we were treated to a chorus of dogs most all night. This is a nightly event here in South America. Dogs are loose and roaming during the nights which leads to barking, howling, crying and fighting during the time when tired cyclists are trying to get a little shut-eye after long days. After three months of this I’m getting pretty used to it but some nights it is just too much to sleep through. Here at the hostel the dogs seemed to be right in my tent. A little rough when I arose with very little sleep.

On the last day before our rest day in Chos Malal we were given a choice of routes. We could either ride Ruta 40 on pavement or travel backroad 37 on gravel. The gravel route was 94K and Ruta 40 was 122K to Chos Malal. My behind and rattled bones said take the pavement. There would be no lunch truck or support on the Ruta 40 route with the only village being just 32K from camp so we had to carry extra water and food. Rob warned us that when we turned west after the summit of our climb at 80K we probably would have head winds. About 15 of us headed out on a beautiful morning for the most enjoyable cycle I’ve had for awhile. Smooth surface, no traffic, nice grades on the climbs, big downs and wonderful mountain scenery. When we got to the top of the pass and turned the corner, it hit us. Head wind. Strong. From this point until we got to within 20K of Chos Malal we struggled against this unforgiving element. We formed a pelaton and proceeded up and down a series of climbs and descents. The winds made the descents an event too. At the end of the day, though, it was all worth it. Talking to the gravel route riders later in camp we learned that we had dodged a bullet. This road had a 43K climb that took a very good cyclist, Terry, four and a half hours to manage. Terrible surface. Very hard work and the descent was a bone jarring rattle down corrugated rock and sand. The wind made it hard to stay on the track, it wanted to blow the bike out from under the cyclists. We would no have been spared wind here at all. It took JR six and a half hours to get to the lunch truck – he didn’t get into camp until five thirty. Yuck. Brian and Deb had joined me on the pavement. Brian is having some trouble with one of his knees and Deb is still beat up from being blown into the guard rail and bouncing off her bike on the gravel the day before. We came into the campground here in Chos Malal happy with our day’s ride.
Two days ago we entered Patagonia after crossing the Rio Barranca. This is a place I have dreamed about. A vast wild place of rugged mountains, roaring rivers, kayaking coastlines and wilderness. We are not yet into the lake district of Bariloche and El Bolson. The promise of these places is what brought me back to South America. I am finally approaching this place of my imagination after biking through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. It’s gonna be great.

Hell in Tacota and Heaven in Mendoza

Rien giving me the thumbs up

Rien giving me the thumbs up

road to Tacota

road to Tacota

Sand, what can I say

Sand, what can I say

JR on his birthday

JR on his birthday

Tonight I’m in Mendoza. It is a place that I’ve looked forward to since before my trip even began because of my time spent with good friend John Wood following our summit of Aconcagua. We spent our time walking through the plazas and parks, eating those two inch thick tornado steaks, listening to street music, and just totally relaxing in this great Latin American city. Like all cities and towns in this part of the world the place to be is the plaza (central park). It’s designed to be the physical and social gathering place for the whole community. In a city the size of Mendoza there are several plazas with the main one being the Plaza Independencia. I’m in the same hotel tonight that John and I stayed in ten years ago, just a block from this plaza. There are four other plazas surrounding the main one all just a couple of blocks away. These areas boast large shade trees, walking paths, beautiful flower beds and comfortable benches as well as fountains and statues of past dignitaries. In Mendoza, as well as the whole surrounding area, the lifeblood is the water coming out of the Andes through an amazing aquaduct system. You can actually see standing waves when it is really coming down – children sometimes drown when they get caught playing in it. This system feeds the vast network of vineyards and keeps the 2 million people of this city supplied with water thus turning the desert into an oasis. Argentina and Chile are famous for their wines, particularly the Malbecs, and they both depend totally on the melt from the largest mountains in the Western Hemisphere. The streets and avenues in this part of Mendoza are lined with large old shade trees that have a channel of water on the street side which keep the trees leaning over these surfaces blocking out the hot Argentinian sun. It’s a very comfortable place to be. We were joined in the climb by Gary Tabor, a longtime friend of John’s from Bozeman, Montana and Lucas Dauria from here in Mendoza. Since that trip in 2004, Lucas has married and has two children. I’ll get to see him tomorrow for dinner.

We had six days of cycling since our last rest day in Chilecito – the first two were through some beautiful canyon country and though they were long we enjoyed our rides and the pavement which made our days a little easier. I tried to cover as much ground as I could in the mornings before the heat became oppressive. The afternoon sun in this area can get really hot, creating temps well over 100 degrees F even this time of year here (spring). This strategy worked well for me the first couple of days. It’s also so much more relaxing to get into camp early. Our third day was 135K long with over 1800 meters of climbing. The first 100K’s were paved and I moved along rapidly, biking with Hardy. At the 99.7K mark we moved off the tarmac and onto a gravel road which started out pretty well but after about 6 or 7 K’s it turned into a miserable loose sand and rock mix with periods of teeth rattling washboard. You couldn’t escape the bad surface no matter how you tried to jump from one side to the other. The sand would bog you down and force you off the bike. The only option then was to push the bike along until it looked like the surface was solid enough to hop back on and pedal. The ride had turned into a slog – no way for me to escape the heat. This back country road was also uphill the whole way to our destination that day, Tacota. Tacota is a name which will live along with Cerro de Pasco forever in my memory bank. Cerro de Pasco was the miserable, cold, dirty high altitude mining town in the Cordillera Blanco area of Peru. We never got warm there with unheated hotels, restaurants and a miserable climb in to the town. We all cringe when somebody mentions it. Now we can add Tacota as another name which will bring a curse to our lips. This place consists only of a small national police facility on the top of the desert climb located there so horseback patrols can chaser poachers of vicuna. The Chilean border is less than 100K from here. The last 13K’s took forever for me as the sun produced temps over 100 degrees and the terrain was defeating me. Sand. Bicycles are not designed to go uphill in the sand. I could not drink enough to cool my body. Walk for a half a K , stop and rest, then make yourself get back on the bike and try to push through again until overheating put you back into step one again. I wasn’t having fun. I questioned just what the hell was I doing here. It was a desert with no real redeeming features for me. A road I couldn’t ride. I don’t do well in the heat and this was real heat. Ahead I saw the lunch truck which had passed me just a few K’s back when I was still moving along somewhat like a cyclist. They had a leak to fix in the fuel system. Hardy had gotten on the truck with a half dozen other riders. A full truck. I filled my two water bottles and drank my fill as well then moved on as I was assured that it was less than 10 K’s to go. It didn’t get any better despite the rest stop and precious water. The lunch truck passed me in what seemed like hours later (it was maybe an hour) and assured me that the campsite was in the trees just ahead. I struggled into camp totally exhausted to cheers and encouragement only to flop my bike down and dump cold water over my head. Sat in the shade and drank and drank. Others came over and I found that everyone had struggled mightily and were just as shattered as I was. Other difficult off pavement sections on the Andes Trail had all had redeeming vistas and features that helped move you along. This road to Tacota across a desert just had nothing redeeming to justify the effort. Hardy II rejoined us two days later (he went off on his own after Salta as he had planned) and related that he started on this track, found it too crazy, and retreated to the pavement around this area. After reaching Tacota we still had 54K’s downhill on this same sandy crazy surface the next day and 121K’s total. Some of our stronger cyclists could push through the sand on the downhill but most of us had real problems again moving down as well. I couldn’t really try to push through as I was afraid to fall again on my shoulder. Cyclists should not be pushing their bikes downhill but there I was. The result of this two day effort was a lot of really tired bikers. In my case I also had a problem with my derriere from all the washboard and bouncing. New Argentinian biking shorts added to the damage to my backside. I couldn’t ride the following day – had problems just sitting. I don’t think further description is necessary.

We lose one of my favorite cyclists in Mendoza as well as Ellen, our cook since Quito. Rien is going home to Holland to help his niece remodel and open a new store. He is probably our overall strongest biker when he decides to race, but he is also fun-loving and loves to spend time cycling with all others no matter what their ability. One day you might find him pushing the pace with James, Alfred, Joost and others and the next day just cruising along near the back of the pack chatting away and taking photos. He just loves to cycle. I’ll include a photo of Rien giving me the thumbs up. It’s also JR’s birthday. I’ve known JR from my days skiing the Tour of Anchorage XC ski race some years ago. He joined this Bike Dreams trip without knowing that I was already signed up. It’s great to have him here. Last night we had a barbecue in the campgrounds here in Mendoza to say goodbye to Rien and congratulate JR. Although some of our group had already made plans and left early to get into town, it was a really fun gathering and great food put together by Ellen and Gertie, our cook for the remainder of the trip. I’ll add a photo of JR as well.

Villa Union and the New Road

near Villa Union

near Villa Union

Barry, Terry and Jurg

Barry, Terry and Jurg

along new road

along new road

riding through new construction

riding through new construction

Today was the first in six days of riding before Mendoza and two days of rest. Each morning at breakfast Bike Dreams co-owner Rob passes out the days profile, map and instructions for our ride. Then he goes over it with us to be sure everyone understands and adds any additional information he may have for us. This morning we were surprised when he gave us two possible routes, then mentioned that there may or may not be a lunch truck so bring your own food and extra water. It turned out that our original route is on a road that is not opened yet. It is brand new and still under construction. We are riding today and it is not scheduled to be open until tomorrow. Rob thinks that our bicycles will be allowed to be on the road but our Bike Dreams trucks may not be allowed to travel on it until later in the afternoon. So, our lead driver Rob will take the long 300K round about way to Villa Union from Chilecito with all our cyclists camping equipment and Walter, our lunch truck driver, will proceed to the new road and see what the construction people allow him to do. We can either take the new road the whole way or bike off pavement on a road which leads into the new road about 35K further on. About half of us take the new pavement and the others follow Rob on the gravel road that will merge with the new. I hook up with Barry, Terry, Jurg, Hardy and several others on Ruta 40 to a cutoff that leads to our route. Several other riders had left earlier and we met at the junction. We were sailing along. We have to climb across the mountains during this ride – it is our first real climb for some time as we have been on the altiplano for six weeks and then the flat plains and canyon lands. Pavement is easier climbing as the percentage of grade allowed is lower. It was still a good long climb though of about 15K before we found ourselves at the lunch truck and the start of the continuing construction on our road. Our truck will have to wait until the road construction is over for the day before they can proceed on the new road. We could see snow falling on these mountains while we were having breakfast – by the time we cycled there the snow had passed as had the rain in the lower elevations. The workers were letting us cycle through. It’s rough, rugged mountainous terrain and a real challenge to those designing and building a road winding around, cutting through and forcing its way up and over this land. We find our way past caterpillars, loaders, big trucks, and hard hatted Argentines all raising dust, rumbling and roaring their way through the solid rock. These machines require temporary side roads to get the rock moved and allow themselves to work at the same time. Some of these sections are what we are cycling on – the grade for these byways was steep. It was challenging for my level of aerobic capacity following those days of inactivity after my cycling accident. Huffing and puffing my way along, I followed up and down the rugged tracks with my three fellow cyclists. We all agreed that there was no way that this road should be, or could be, opened for traffic the next day. Sometime during this portion of the climb, the rough surface caused the extra water bottle I was carrying in my cycle jersey to start leaking. I had filled it with Coke for energy in case the lunch truck had not arrived. Barry informed me that the back of my jersey was staining brown. Stopping for a minute, I also found that the emerging sun had melted the three various chocolate bars in another pocket – fortunately that mess stayed in their wrappers. I emptied half of the bottle and got back on the bike. The mountains we were moving through slowly evolved into beautiful eroded canyons much like the country we had cycled earlier in Argentina. At one point in the canyons the sky was full of vultures. Circling, swooping and soaring, their presence indicated a fairly large dead animal about a half K away. Some looked much larger than others and also had some white on their bodies. I thought maybe Condors? Since I only had my I phone I couldn’t get a photo at this distance. Later, I got a look at a photo that Jan Willem had taken – they were Condors! I took photos when I could but the four of us (Terry, Barry, Jurg and I) felt we should keep moving as we had no idea about the coming road surface or the possible head winds as we came out of the mountains. We also didn’t know if the days ride would be 118K or 143K since Rob wasn’t sure about where we would be camping. Those were the two possibilities Rob had listed on our info sheet. When we finally crested over the top of the pass the view was all downhill. A big relief to tired legs. A long, long downhill and the winds were negligible. I moved out of the front and asked Barry and Terry to take over – I’m much slower on the descents. Off we went. Following the long descent we came to the gas station at a junction where our info had indicated would be our destination for the night. I hollered at Terry and Barry to stop, knowing that we were the first cyclists to arrive, I slid past them and into the station. Yay!!! My first stage win! Of course it really wasn’t since we weren’t racing and half of the riders had taken a different route earlier. But I had my fun, and Terry took an arm raised photo of me celebrating. Why not!

I’ve regained the weight I lost when I was sick in Peru. I’m thinking I have to slow down on the ice cream. We burn a lot of calories while on the bike but the lower altitude and fewer climbs make riding easier than it had been. Our breakfasts consist of a lot of bread, jam and granola. We have four meals a day. I did slow down on the chocolate I’d been eating. Back to some balance now.

While I try not to look ahead – to stay in the moment, in the present – I’m excited to reach Mendoza in less than a week. This city was where John Wood and I celebrated for a wonderful week following our summit of Aconcagua ten years ago.This mountain is the highest in the western hemisphere. Our other partner in the climb, Gary Tabor, returned home right after our climb so he missed that week. Mendoza is also where our climbing friend Lucas Dauria lives.
I will meet with him and his family while we are there. Also, my close friends, Deb and Brian Bennett will be joining our Bike Dreams group to cycle from there to Ushuaia with us. We still have five good long days of cycling before our arrival but my mind wanders.

I’ll try to post some photos if internet here allows.

Chilecito and a tired boy

We have just one more in a string of six cycling days before our next rest day in Chilecito which will also be our last hotel until December 8th in Chile. Most of the time we’ll be staying in campgrounds such as where we find ourselves this evening. Other nights will be in bush camps. We started with a 96K ride into a bush camp and then two campgrounds after rides of 94K and 78K to great little Argentinian towns of Cafayate and Santa Maria respectively. Traveling through some beautiful canyon lands on those rides and very little climbing, pleasant days and nice pavement we found ourselves getting a little spoiled. Getting into camp early everyday left us time to relax, get our chores done and added a calm to our time off the bikes. Our 122K ride into a bush camp at Hualfin brought reality back quite unexpectantly. Our day’s profile looked great – no real climb at all. However, we are now in Northern Argentina traveling south. Headwinds. We had a real headwind on this day that wanted to chase us back north. Enough to drive a lone cyclist off the bike. It was back to the peloton for us. For those of you who haven’t read my earlier post about pelotons I’ll just give a brief idea of how we deal with this wind. We had the same type of headwind in the Peruvian desert country on our way to the coast. As we head out from camp, riders informally group up generally according to abilities. In our pelotons we ride two abreast in close quarters with the riders just ahead. The lead cyclists bear the brunt of the wind with those behind finding themselves free from most of the force. Rotating cyclists keeps everyone fairly fresh during the day. However, the headwind on this day was so strong that even this strategy left us all exhausted by the end of the day. “There are no easy days on the Andes Trail,” Bike Dreams co-owner Rob likes to tell us. It was certainly true on this day. There are several major disadvantages in riding in the peloton. If you like to stop to take photos you just can’t do it in a group. You’ll be left behind – for the most part you are busy watching the wheel of the cyclist ahead of you. Most of the time your front tire is just inches from the back tire of the rider ahead of you. If you hit that tire you’ll find yourself on the pavement and so will several of the cyclists behind you. A mistake in a peloton can end the trip for riders caught in the pile-up. Trust is a big part of taking part in this strategy – it’s good to get to know how different cyclists ride so you’re comfortable behind them. In our group we have a policy of stopping when someone has to empty their bladder – if we didn’t then whoever had to answer the call would be left behind. A single rider has a hard time catching up to the energy of the peloton.

We left camp early next morning anticipating a long day with 160K’s to ride and thoughts of yesterday’s headwind very fresh in our minds. We had camped in a little run down resort located in a beautiful box-canyon. It was a difficult place to find; a little maze of single track dirt lanes left several cyclists trying one and then the other before finding their fellow bikers putting up tents wherever we could find shade. The claim to fame here was a hot springs and sure enough there were a passel of youngsters splashing, screaming. jumping and undoubtedly peeing in the pool. Fortunately they had four small rooms a little higher up where pipes brought hot water into individual shower liker facilities. After my quarters were situated I climbed up with shorts, soap and a towel to wait my turn. Kristin was just a head of me so I parked outside and listened to the mother and youngsters who were in the adjoining room just having a ball. Kristen came out looking like she was just back from heaven – I got my turn next. A single pipe poured 37 C water out from six feet above a split level concrete enclosure. That water felt so good I didn’t want to leave. I’m not sure if 37 C just a perfect temp for our bodies or if at this point at the end of a huge day anything would have felt great. I really believe in the 37 C. Nothing else worked including the banos, but that perfectly tempered water put smiles on all of our faces. The ride itself called for a peloton. Even if we don’t get the headwind, the distance alone will go much faster in a group and the scenery has not been inspirational. We were tired and nervous about how we were going to get through the big K day if the wind is like yesterday. Well, the gods were good to us – very little headwind, a beautiful day, very little climbing and a group that worked very well together. It was a very relieved gathering of cyclists relaxing rather early in a little campground that afternoon. Relaxed and relieved. Music playing. Computers out on tables in the shade. A few beers cracked. It’s so nice when it is nice.

With any group of people living side by side for several months there are bumps in the road, personalities that don’t always fit, stresses that are difficult to manage. We have become a large family. The focus of cycling and working together relieves most of these pressures. What was a problem in the morning is dissolved by evening. We have to work together to get our equipment loaded and unloaded each day. Bags come off the truck on arrival and back on in the morning. Dishes to wash and tables to set. Tables and benches to unload, set up and reload. Dinners to serve, tables to clear. All of these things have to be done as a team and efficiently. Teamwork keeps conflicts to a minimum. Of course now that we are camping every night we also have our own tents to set up and take down and our bags to settle inside. Our little homes. A bit of a challenge to keep things clean in this dusty deserty part of Argentina.

The last day in a string of 6 cycling days – we have 120K’s to ride and we are all tired from the previous five. It was hard for me to shake the cobwebs off this morning. Usually I’m awake by five am at the latest, up and organizing my stuff in the tent but this time the sandman didn’t let go until of me until six thirty. Had to hustle to get the tent down by breakfast and bags packed over to the truck. Breakfast down. Teeth brushed, a little water across my face, grab the helmut, get on the bike and fall into my group. A few K’s in I notice I didn’t refill my water bottles before I left. Damn. Luckily it isn’t hot yet and I can get some at lunch. We change the lead every fifteen minutes and the wind lets us alone till about eleven. We do have hills and tired legs though. By early afternoon I’m struggling. Most of the rest of the group is too. As we approach Chilecito and our last hotel until Chile, Michelle is repeating her day’s mantra – Cold cervesas, cold cervesas – to keep her moving forward. Kristin has a chain problem, we all stop and it feels so good. Back on the bikes after a few minutes we finally roll into Chilecito and find we’re staying a little beyond town in some apartments. We like to be right in town so it will be taxi time tonight for dinner.

Tonight Barry, Terry, JR and I are heading into town for a well deserved steak. I’m tired. We want to take a look at the statue of Che Guevarra (sp). I hope to get a photo of him on this blog.