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. However, 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. 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 in 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 got 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 too good to be true. I laid in my tent and listened to music. There had been some close calls on the roads since we started this trip in 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 wear just 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 some police parked and others driving at different points during the morning, an escort was not organized and we fell into cycling in 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 ready 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 a 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 now that it was almost over. We got back on the bikes and rolled 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 runners-up with champagne and received the same back. James was the men’s winner along with Alfred and Joost on the podium. After an afternoon in the unexpected sun, I started to feel the heat 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?” as we struggled up this steep grade. “Rob,” was his simple answer, and 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.
weathered fishing boat on beach in Tierra del Fuego
biker along coast of Tierra del Fuego
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Michelle on cruise through the mountains of the lake district
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.
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.
Bike Dreams cyclists dinner in remote police equipment shed – -2C and raining outside
Cyclists sitting on the water in swimming pool
climbing buddy Lucas in Mendoza
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.