I have new eyes!

I enjoyed perfect vision until my mid 40s. Then, as happens to most people, my lenses gradually hardened, making focus more difficult, especially close up. This condition is called Presbyopia. By the time I was in my late 50s, my distance vision was affected too. I switched from wearing reading glasses to multi-focal glasses that I could wear most of the time. They worked pretty well and weren’t expensive but I just hated wearing glasses.

I had started researching surgical fixes for presbyopia back in 2013, but wasn’t encouraged by what I found: many methods, none sounding great. In 2019, while I was riding through South America, my Danish friend Jens mentioned that he had heard RLE (Refractive Lens Exchange) was now the way to go. RLE is commonly used for people with cataracts too. He is a little younger than me and maybe had slightly worse vision. When we said good-bye in Salta, Argentina, he promised to let me know what he found out about it.

Four months later I was back home and Jens texted me:

Encouraged by this excellent news I started looking for a local doctor. I looked at quite a few, watched many patient “testimonial” videos, read reviews and finally settled on an office nearby in Mountain View. I made an appointment and was excited to see if I was a candidate. Then the damn corona virus hit and everything was locked down. My March appointment slipped to April, then to early May but finally I got to go meet Dr. Liu at Peninsula Laser Eye Medical Group. I spent a couple of hours there being tested by many machines and talking with the doctor and the surgical coordinator. I decided to go for it and they said they’d call once they had approval to restart non-essential surgeries like this. There are a number of lens choices available, but I decided to go with what sounded the best, not considering cost: the PanOptix Trifocal IOL. It has been in use in Europe and Canada for several years but was just approved in the US in September, 2019. Dr. Liu does lots of these.

AcrySoft IQ PanOptix Tri-focal IOL: 13 mm in diameter with a central optic of 6 mm. The 6mm optical zone is composed of a central 4.5 mm diffractive area with 15 diffractive zones and an outer refractive rim. Compared to a 17.91 mm US dime.

California and Santa Clara County relaxed the stay-at-home order at the end of May so on June first I was able to have my right eye done. The surgery really did take only about 15 minutes although I was at the surgical center for 2 hours, mostly waiting for eye drops and other drugs to take effect. I had never had Valium before and was super relaxed but completely conscious throughout. There was not a single bit of pain – you see three bright lights during the procedure and I was instructed to look one direction or another a couple of times. It did take quite some courage to actually walk in that door and let the doctor poke a tiny ultrasonic vacuum straight into my eye to destroy and suck out my old lens. There’s no going back from this surgery for sure! If you’re brave, watch this video (warning: I did not watch this until after my surgery – you might not want to either as you can’t unsee it).

Minutes later I was sitting in the recovery room looking around, VERY happy that I could see though my right eye. It was encouraging that text looked more in focus than with my untreated left eye. Even though there was haze clouding my vision, I believed the doctor when he said it went perfectly. I had a long nap at home (due to the drugs I guess) then had a fun time that night, staying up reading and watching videos until 2am, noticing my vision getting better each hour. The next morning, the haze was gone and it was hugely better. It was so much better than my other eye – I marveled at how my brain was able to take the two different images and blend them, and see such better focus than before. In the afternoon, I had a post-op check up and Dr. Liu said the placement of the lens was absolutely perfect. All I had to do was keep up with a regimen of three different types of eye drops, four times a day, and just enjoy my eyesight getting better.

Selfie when I got home: right eye very dilated

A week later I had another check-up and my vision was approaching 20-20 in the right eye (about 20-70 or 20-80 in the left). It was a miracle. It wasn’t perfect but I didn’t need glasses for driving or reading (except really small print). There were certain things on computer and phone screens that looked slightly funny/out of focus. There was a weird texture to the print when reading a Kindle book on my tablet. Biking has been fantastic now that I can really see my bike computer, I learned about several nice features I couldn’t use before. It is clear and crisp and super easy to read.

A week after that, I had the second surgery. It went the same as the first one, also a little scary to walk in, but, really, no problem. Grace drove me home again, another nap, then better vision by the hour and no haze and miraculous vision the next morning. I notice “halos” around bring lights and reflections – a known side-effect. But it’s not a problem at all and supposedly reduces over several months.

It’s been a week after the second surgery and glasses are a thing of the past. My close-up vision is amazing. I can read any size font. Distance vision is great. Other than occasional halos, there is nothing wrong or strange about my vision. I’ve stopped eye drops in the first eye and have another check-up in a few days. My vision should continue to improve slightly for some time.

I think this is the best investment in myself I ever made. If you’re wondering how much it costs, it’s not cheap. I paid $5807 per eye, including everything. I read that with mono-focal lenses, the cost averaged $3800 per eye in 2019 in the US and the multi-focal type I got costs at least $1500 more. One nice thing is that this type of surgical correction is permanent. I would 100% do it again – I wish this had been available a few years ago.

[Update about a month later] It is phenomenal! I can read anything, see anything, I don’t squint any more and my eyes don’t get tired!

[Update mid August, 2 1/2 months after the first surgery] While my new vision was awesome and I didn’t ever need glasses, my new left eye never got quite as good as the right. I had a couple of check-ups in July and at the final one, Dr. Liu told me my problem was astigmatism in the left eye causing the focus to not be as crisp as in the right. I had this before but for some reason it had worsened since my first surgery. While my right eye was seeing 20-20 or better, my left was 20-30 or a little worse. Both together worked fine, but he offered to do a simple procedure in his office called Limbal Relaxation Incision (LRI) to improve it. He offered this at no charge so after some research, I scheduled an appointment and had it done. The incisions themselves took maybe a minute but numbing eye-drops and sterilizing the area etc made the total time more like 15 minutes. After the incisions, he put a “0 power” contact lens on my eye. At this point my left eye vision wasn’t any better or worse.

I got used to the contact lens after a couple of hours and for two days applied an antibiotic eye drop four times a day. Then I went back in for another exam and Dr. Liu was very happy with the healing. He removed the contact lens and I drove home. During the drive I noticed my eyesight seemed better. When I got home and looked at Grace’s face – wow, it was even higher resolution than before! I am so glad I had this second procedure! I continued the eye drops for a final two days. Now it’s been a week since then and I pronounce the whole thing a 100% success! I donated all my old pairs of glasses to charity and both eyes are 20-20. It’s like a new life.

Antarctica!

Since the Andes Trail bike tour ended in Ushuaia, where many Antarctica cruises start, it seemed natural to go there rather than just head straight home after finishing biking. Grace came down to Ushuaia too. She didn’t go with me on my exciting unicycle Antarctica trip back in 2011. This time we went with G Adventures, mainly due to the perfect schedule, matching the Andes Trail bike tour end. But also partly due to my friend Ira, who works as their photographer and recommended the trip highly. I met him on my previous trip in 2011. Getting back together with Grace was great – and it was better for us to be away from the distractions of home to re-unite. Real communication was difficult while we were separated for so long, in different time zones, with me having unreliable cell service. And phones just suck compared to being with someone.

As for great insights attained by riding 10,500 km across South America…I am not so sure. I found out that I really like biking after so many years on one wheel. I learned that many people are way tougher than me in terms of what they physically and mentally can put up with. I think I had it pretty easy, relatively, on the biking trip. One last thing I did is make a slide show of all the riders, over 50 people total, who participated in the 2019 version of the Andes Trail.

Here’s my whole Andes Trail ride, from Strava – look close and you can see where I was sick in Peru twice

Back to Antarctica. After a few days in Ushuaia, we moved to a hotel where everyone on the cruise stayed one night. On the afternoon of the 23rd we boarded a bus for the short drive onto the pier and to our ship, called the Expedition. It was pretty exciting boarding and finding our cabin.

The Expedition is a bit more upscale than the ship I took last time. We had a very comfortable cabin with non-bunk beds and our own bathroom. It’s also a bit bigger, 126 passengers instead of fewer than 80. We explored the ship, hung out on the top deck, and then watched the pier disappear as we headed out the Beagle Channel.

Crossing the infamous Drake Passage takes about two days and can be quite bumpy. At the briefing that first evening, our expedition leader estimated it would be about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is smooth sailing and 10 is you wish you were dead). Everyone cheered. We had a fancy dinner and it was great eating with Ira and chatting about the many many trips he’s done since ours together nine years ago. After more time on deck, loving the late night sun shine, and trying out our new G Adventures parkas, we settled down to sleep, the seas still calm in the channel.

In the morning, we had breakfast – the chefs and staff are really amazing on this ship. We met more of our fellow passengers, attended lectures, and Grace had to take some medication for the rolling. The ship is stabilized but even a “3” crossing is a bit bumpy. We saw our first iceberg – there was a contest to guess when that would be.

We crossed the Antarctic Convergence – the line where cold water meets warm. Conditions were good, with a tailwind, so we looked to be ahead of schedule. We were told we could probably even do a landing the second afternoon which is unusual.

On Dec 24, we were in sight of various of the South Shetland Islands in the morning already. After lunch, we tried a landing but had to abort due to high winds. The ship moved over to Halfmoon Island and we were able to launch zodiacs and take a nice hike around the island, seeing penguins, seals and other birds.

The highlight was watching a skua steal a brand new penguin chick out of a nest! I had been on a similar hike here in 2011, on my last day in Antarctica. As before, it was raining but that didn’t ruin anything for anyone. It was great fun walking through the snow and watching the penguins do their thing. The setup for leaving the ship is amazing on the Expedition. There is a giant “mud room” where everyone is assigned a seat on a bench and you can leave your boots, life jacket, outer clothes etc between landings so you don’t have to store anything in your cabin. Super luxurious. They have the whole process of cleaning boots before and after and swiping in and out of the ship down cold – much more organized than I had before.

It was Christmas Eve so dinner was especially decadent and Santa came to the lounge after.

We woke up on Christmas morning further south down the peninsula at Danco Island. After breakfast I tried out riding the stationary bike in the gym. It was funny watching Antarctica outside as I cranked away on the bike, sweating massively. I resolved to ride everyday to try and counteract the amazing food.

There were two “operations”, as they are called, on Christmas, and both involved excellent hikes. First, we hiked to the summit of Danco Island, about 200m up, with amazing views in all directions. We could see the ship from the top, moving away unexpectedly. It turned out some icebergs were threatening so they moved away. Even though it was cloudy and gray, the views were just great in all directions.

At the summit of Danco Island, quickly down to T-shirts for a photo
A more realistic photo – sitting on an Antarctic couch on Danco Island

In the afternoon, we landed on what was called “the big bit”, meaning the Antarctic continent. Grace and I had signed up for an extended hike – we were dropped off at one location, would hike along and over a pass, then slide or hike down to the regular landing zone. I think 32 of us were able to do this, four zodiacs full. We traversed on a kind of steep slope for a while, watching penguins close by and whales below. We got higher and higher and finally the expedition leader, Jonathan, said, “Who wants to go up and climb that peak?” My hand was up in a microsecond. Most of us went up with another guide, Eric, who has climbed Everest recently without oxygen, a true mountaineer. He led us up and it wasn’t difficult but he did give some funny direction at one point, “Don’t fall here”. Yes it was good advice as you would slide a long way, but I don’t think it helped people very much. Anyway, we all got to the top and had a great view down to the bay where the ship was waiting and the kayakers were kayaking. We could see ant-like people (red penguins) more than 200m below at the landing.

Starting the climb
“Don’t fall here”
Summit shot
The view down

What a treat – I never got to do any hikes like this on the last trip. We hiked down to the saddle, then slid/hiked down to the landing.

Back on board it was about dinner time and it was a jolly Christmas dinner for sure. After dinner, everyone who had signed up for camping, took off and set up tents on a nearby flat island. We were in Leith Cove in Paradise Bay. Grace and I stayed on board instead of braving the elements. I did camp out in 2011, with no tent at all!

The 26th was supposed to be an exciting day going south through the narrow Lemaire Channel but the weather didn’t cooperate so we eventually circumvented this route and blasted south through the Nimrod Strait. We basically spent the day on board, attending lectures, sleeping and eating.

We crossed the Antarctic Circle at 4am on the 27th which was the goal of this expedition. We stopped at Horseshoe Island and conditions just kept getting better so it was decided that the “operation” to view the old British Base Y would also include a chance for a Polar Plunge! Grace was hot to take this on and had a great time, wading into the water, then when in enough, falling backwards in. Her feet were numb right after entering the water. It’s 0°C/32°F at this time of year.

I don’t know what the temperature of the air was but it was warm and sunny and nice. After her plunge, we walked around, looked at the restored British base, and took photos – it was a great day.

Back on board, to further take advantage of the weather, it was BBQ night, on deck! We sat outside eating, wearing shorts, it was great. So so scenic and fun.

We slept well below the circle, then on the 28th, tried for a morning “operation” at Stonington Island. Ice blocked the route there so we headed over to Red Rock Ridge where rising winds and high waves caused us to have to bail from leaving the ship, but the consolation prize was getting so far south, to the very bottom of their chart, 68° 18’S. We headed back north after lunch, with good views along the way.

On the 29th, we tried again at navigating the Lemaire Channel only to be shut down again, this time by huge icebergs filling the 1.6km wide opening. So after lunch we redirected to Port Lockroy, run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I had visited in 2011 and had a passport stamp from their post office. This time, Grace and I sent ourselves a postcard, we bought some souvenirs, and marveled at the old stuff there. We also got to explore nearby Jougla Point, walking around, lots of penguins (with babies) and seals etc. That was great.

The 30th of December was supposed to be an awesome day. We had headed north all night and were now near Antarctic Sound, the entrance to the Weddell Sea that I had dreamed about visiting since reading Shackleton 50 years ago. Initially it looked good for an “operation” at Gourdin Island but in the end, the sound was completely blocked by ice. We redirected to Astrolabe Island, a very rarely visited (landed upon) island. We did manage to land, a first for every crew member, even those that had over a hundred expeditions under their belts. It was fun; we hiked up the slope a ways then just sat down on some rocks for quite a while and watched penguins next to us and kayakers far below. It was cloudy and gloomy and Antarctic looking. In the evening, we had an hour of stories by one of the staff members who has been working in the Antarctic for 48 years!

For New Year’s Eve, we had a good walk around at Portal Point in the morning then headed over to Cierva Cove for a zodiac cruise. This would be one of the highlights of the trip due to the amazing whales. They were right next to the kayaks – it was almost scary.

In the evening there was a fancy dinner, then a talent show in the lounge. Grace had written a poem and told it really well, which earned second place overall. For the next days, so many people complimented her.

Last seconds of Grace’s poem and the crowd reaction
The winning act

After the show, we moved to the Polar Bear Bar, for the last performance of the ship’s band, the Monkey Eating Eagles. After some dancing and fun Grace and I took a short nap with our alarm set for 11:45pm. We got up and rejoined the party, toasting in the new decade out doors on the back deck with everyone REALLY enjoying themselves. By this time the ship was rocking back and forth quite a bit so you have to imagine the whole dance floor full of people moving back and forth – very fun. At one point maybe 60 of us were dancing in a line cruising in and out of the bar, lurching and laughing uncontrollably. So funny. Here’s to 2020!

10pm, The Monkey Eating Eagles
12:01am, it’s 2020 and we’re out on deck in the middle of the Drake Passage

Jan 1, 2020 was out on the Drake Passage, a little rough, and I even got sick in the early evening. We were at the briefing before dinner which is in the lounge at the bow and I got there late so had to sit all the way up front. That got me a little queasy then it was immediately time for dinner. I had signed us up for a special treat: dinner with Eric, our resident mountaineer, who was hosting a special table dedicated to mountaineering. I found that as soon as I concentrated on his face I got seasick. I took some of Grace’s pills but it was too late and I had to go lie down (with a quick heave over the side of the ship on the way). I felt fine laying down and Grace brought dinner for me later. It was the only time I felt bad on the trip.

On the second, we continued the life at sea, lectures, films, eating, working out on the bike machine, etc. In the evening it was calm as we were back in the Beagle Channel and we docked in Ushuaia after dinner. We had one last night aboard, with a fun dinner and many goodbyes, then disembarked early on the 3rd and checked back into the Hotel Ushuaia. We spent three more days, hiking and enjoying the town, then flew home, arriving on the 7th of January, 6 months and 4 days after leaving in July on this crazy adventure.

These maps show the northern part of our expedition
Here’s a chart showing everywhere we went in Antarctica on this expedition

It is great to be home, for sure, and I’m fine without riding all the time. But I have signed up for another big Bike Dreams cycling trip. I’ll be riding from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal from September 6 to November 18, 2020! More about that later…

Andes Trail 2019 Summary

It’s been a few days and it sure feels strange living a non-biking life. I’m still in Ushuaia, now with Grace, and my bike is stored in a box at the hotel until we come back from Antarctica and fly home in early January. We’ve heard the official news that Bike Dreams will likely run the Andes Trail one more time, in 2022. So if you enjoyed reading about it here, you have about two years before you need to sign up. If you want to go, sign up early and commit yourself.

It’s amazing to look back on the whole trip. I scroll through my photos, I re-read my blog posts in random order, I look at the rides on Strava, everything brings back intense and detailed memories. Before the trip, it was hard to know what to expect although for the riding at least, I knew in advance how far, how much climbing etc. But the numbers don’t tell it all, don’t tell about wind and rain and heat and cold and dog attacks and dust and flying stones and crazy traffic and high altitude and sore butts and long border crossings. So the riding ended up being a bit harder than I expected. The scenery and travel was pretty much an unknown for me and, as expected, I loved the great parts and didn’t love the boring, long, flat parts. The thing I really couldn’t anticipate was how the group would work together.We had a core of 21 riders and 6 staff who were planning to go the whole way. In the end only 16 riders actually completed the tour, and of those, only three rode the whole way, EFI, every full inch. We also had 29 other riders who did sections, from just two weeks to half or so of the tour. Some of those were replacing riders who had to go home due to injury or other reason. Some staff rode some or all of the time too. So the group was always changing which was both great and sad when you lose friends along the way. For those of us who did the full tour, the feeling of comradery was amazing. It’s like I’ve gained a bunch of new family. We camp together, ride together, eat together, talk together, laugh together, cry together, for such a long long time. It’s hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

I feel so lucky to have been able to go on this trip at all. And to have had no bike problems, not a single flat tire, was a super treat. At one point after a particularly crazy, rocky, fast descent I got off and literally kissed my bike. By the end, it completely felt like a part of me, like I never stopped biking for those 20 years where I only unicycled. I REALLY recommend a bike like mine:

Besides cleaning, lubing the chain and occasionally pumping up or strategically letting out air from the tires, here is the list of bike adjustments and replacements I did:

  • Stage 4 adjusted derailleur cable slightly
  • Stage 38 new chain #1
  • Stage 53 tightened headset slightly
  • Stage 69 new front brake pads
  • Stage 75 new chain #2

I couldn’t believe that my rear tire actually ran for 10,500 km including 2,000 km of dirt and still was ok. The front tire looked like it had thousands of km left in it. In stage 53, I donated my spare tube to another rider. This tube was brand new but had been in my seat bag for 53 stages. When he tried pumping it up, it was a joke – several large holes had been worn into it by the vibration. Lesson learned, protect it better and carry two! People asked for stats such as our total number of flats etc, and I can’t answer. Some people had lots of flats, multiple in a day sometimes. I know I was not the only one with zero flats; there were at least a couple of others. But probably none except me had lightweight gravel-specific tubeless tires, only 615g each.

Front on L, rear on R, Specialized Sawtooth tires after 10,548 km including lots of rough dirt

I think the most important thing about your bike is that you love it and are comfortable and familiar with it. You know how it feels when the brake pads need changing. It feels like part of you. You can easily fix a flat and you know the rim/tire combination you’ve chosen is perfect and you don’t need a pressure gauge to pump up your tires. No stress about the bike.

Some numbers about the riders

  • 21 full tour riders registered, 7 women and 14 men
  • 50 total riders, 16 women and 34 men
  • Riders ages ranged from 23 to 69. Just a few under 45, many 60 and over.
  • We’re quite an international group:
    • Riders: Holland 21, Australia 8, USA 5, England 3, Switzerland 3, Belgium 2, New Zealand 2, Austria 1, Canada 1, Denmark 1, France 1, Germany 1, Poland 1
    • Staff: Holland 5, USA 3, Colombia 1, Peru 1
  • 5 riders went home early due to injury or other medical issue
  • 5 riders were injured on the trip, missed more than a few stages, then continued
  • 3 riders, 1 woman & 2 men, plus Rob (guide), biked every inch of the tour
  • 1 rider passed away due to a heart attack in his sleep. RIP Jan.

Some numbers about my rides – follow me on Strava or Relive:

  • Of the 109 stages, 2.5 were cancelled and I missed 3.5 due to sickness, so I rode 103
  • I rode 10,403 km and climbed 103,906 meters in 470 hours 32 minutes (19.6 days)
  • I rode 1,991 km on dirt, 19% of the total
  • I rode every inch in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, missed 282 km in Peru
  • Longest ride: Stage 40, 161.6 km, 100.4 miles (see lowlights below)
  • Biggest climb: Stage 25, 2,452m, my hardest day, 103.2 km with 42 km dirt
  • Most dirt: Stage 106, 96 km out of 138 km
  • Longest time spent riding: Stage 66, 7:20 for 132.7 km, 2,001m climb
  • Shortest time spent riding: Stage 105, 0:42 for 12.3 km, 58m climb
  • Average time spent riding: 4:19
  • Highest elevation ridden: Stage 22 to 4,883m / 16,020′
  • Highest hotel: Stage 25 at 4,355m
  • Highest camp: Stage 21 at 4,163m
  • Average sleep elevation: 1,734m
  • Average daily high point: 2,196m
  • Number of nights sleeping over 4,000m: 3
  • Number of stages riding over 4,000m: 12.

So what were the highlights and the lowlights? I’m sure everyone has different answers, but here are a few of my highlights in no particular order:

  • Riding 100km across the salt at the Salar de Uyuni, stage 50
  • Riding over a 4,883m pass in Peru, stage 22
  • The whole San Martín de los Andes region in Argentina, especially our camp in Villa Traful, stage 80. Can you say awesome?!
  • The gorgeous ride to Salta, stage 57
  • My “doctor” on stage 24 – see also below in lowlights
  • So many wonderful rest day dinners, like Cuenca, Mendoza, Bariloche, El Calafate
  • The campground in Mendoza, also others in Argentina like San Carlos
  • An all around incredible ride, stage 34, so scenic and fun
  • Staying two nights in the hotel in Huancayo, Peru after stage 28
  • Rest days in general, maybe except Salta.
  • The beginning of stage 1 in downtown Quito – what a great day
  • Making so many friends who helped me so much – especially Miranda!

Lowlights – well there were quite a few, but I especially remember:

  • Riding in the worst rain and wind of my life on stage 40, dying to keep up with Wytze
  • The sandfly camp at Mayocc on stage 30. A absolute dump and I got really sick.
  • The feeling I had trying to climb the stairs to get to the soup at the end of stage 25, after climbing 2,500m to 4,355m. So hammered!
  • Climbing to Tocota with Twan on stage 66 – I drank 7 bottles of water that day
  • Standing around at the Peruvian border for hours waiting for everyone to get into the country on stage 12, then having to ride 125km starting close to 1pm.
  • Also on stage 12, staying in my least favorite town in Peru, our first night in Peru: Chulucanas. Never go there.
  • Riding through Juliaca, Peru on stage 41. Hell on Earth. Really don’t go there.
  • Trying to sleep in Macará and the next nights after a million sandflies bit my legs. Stages 11 and beyond in Ecuador.
  • Crashing on stage 24, the fateful day when many of us went down and poor Karin injured her shoulder so badly. A 2,100m descent through 60km of dirt construction zone, terrible traffic jams, bad afternoon.
  • Seeing my friends in so much pain after crashes. Karin and Big Chris especially.
  • The ultimate bad day, waking up after stage 98 to learn Jan had passed away in the night.

During the trip I tried to take a photo of every rider. I didn’t quite succeed but they’re in a Google photo gallery, with each riders name, where they are from and which part of the tour they did. Check it out.

I had never used a Garmin bike computer for navigation before and in the extra week I had in Quito before the tour started, I did some rides by myself and learned about the software and some tricks for dealing with maps and tracks. I summarized it all in a Google doc you can read if you want. It covers Garmin, OpenStreetMaps, Strava and Relive.

I’ll post again when we get back from Antarctica. Maybe I’ll have some more insights. What did I really learn by taking this trip? Sure it was amazing but am I a better person and why?

At the Equator near Quito on August 2, 2019

Andes Trail Stages 108-109 Dec 16-Dec 17, 2019

Stages 108-109 of 109, days 140-141 of 142 – the ride is over!

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,6932,000107,523
Andes Trail10,3921,991103,782 X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,72499540,795
    Chile1,03322910,574

Missed distance: 3.5 stages sick in Peru (19-20 and 31-32) – 282k and 3 stages cancelled/shortened in Chile (100-102) – 120km.

What an exciting time – it seemed we’d be riding this epic tour forever but the end finally had to come. There’s some sadness but with all the things we’ve been through, mental and physical, it feels like a good time to be ending.

It looked funny when I fired up my Garmin for stage 108 with only two choices for courses to ride.

Our second to last stage started at 9am, leaving the hotel in Rio Grande into a pretty stiff headwind. I stuck with the A-team the whole day which may have been a mistake. Pushing so hard just to go a few kph faster sometimes doesn’t seem worth it. I know I felt spent at the end of the day. Say it all together now: soft cock! We rode out to Ruta 3, then followed it all day to Tolhuin. The wind was mostly from the front and side, not as strong as our previous day’s tail wind, but enough to cause us to work hard. The road also has a lot of fast traffic so slanting pace lines aren’t safe but we did it anyway.

After rotating out of the hot seat, you get to rest in this position

Lunch was “about halfway” as Rob always says, then we continued on again. We rode through Tolhuin to the Panadería La Unión, supposedly the most famous bakery in all of Argentina. I don’t know about that, but all seven of us loved sitting down, out of the wind, and eating pastries in the crowded, fun place. A couple of churros and some other pastry set me back 75 pesos, just over $1.

From there, we had an easy dirt ride down the hill to our campground on the shore of a large lake, Lago Fagnano. Camping Hain is a crazy place with the owner cruising around greeting everyone multiple times on his fat bike, and “interesting” artwork all over.

We put our tents up inside teepees or other shelters although there weren’t enough for everyone. Twan and I fit both tents in one shelter. There was a warm kitchen hut where we had delicious soup and snacks, then it had warmed up and I had a snooze in my tent. The hut was FULL of signs made over the years by many travelers.

Last post ride soup

Our last camping dinner was fun, squeezed inside the hut. After eating, Anneke was Santa Claus and gave out presents Dutch-style. Each person got a personalized present, or in my case, many. I received a box full of many yellow items: peanut M&Ms, a yellow streamer, a yellow drink, a yellow dish sponge, a yellow bag of potato chips, and several more items. It was really fun although dinner was quite late and I was so hammered I went to sleep right after and slept like a stone.

Anneke is Santa

In the morning, it was raining, even a little inside our shelter. It was better than sleeping out though. I unzipped my tent and a friendly dog was curled up right at the door looking like he wanted to come in. We packed up in the rain, ate breakfast and got ready to ride. By the time we actually started, the rain had almost stopped. We had a few km of dirt back to Ruta 3, then headed along the lake.

I could still feel my legs from yesterday so rode easy the whole day, chatting with Miranda and Cees. The kilometers passed so easily and quickly it was amazing.

We stopped for coffee/hot chocolate after 40km, then did a 400m climb up into the fog. All this time the scenery was getting more interesting, higher mountains, more beautiful, although we didn’t even stop at the summit mirador as it was fully fogged in.

We came down the other side toward Ushuaia and wow, it was gorgeous. Soon we even saw some blue sky ahead.

Lunch was at 75km, not really halfway, but who’s counting? We regrouped there, sitting in the sun, enjoying our last Bike Dreams lunch.

Sonja arrived (and someone of course said “let’s go” as she pulled up) and after a reasonable time, Rob said, “Let’s go” for real and we all followed him in a group. The plan was to arrive all together which was great. The scenery got better and better.

The pace was slow but before long we were stopped at a set of giant Ushuaia signs – the final regrouping point.

After many photos and hugs, we continued together the last few km into town. I recognized it from nine years ago but there are many new buildings and it looks much more prosperous now.

Arriving in Ushuaia

I was expecting the Finish Ceremony to be at the classic “Fin del Monde” sign downtown but that area is more built up now and the trucks can’t get there. Instead we stopped at a giant new Ushuaia sign at the waterfront. The was a giant finish arch, music playing, champagne and many many snacks. The champagne was served by Kees who had left us in Cusco but came back with his wife for a trip to Antarctica. He looked great and I really wish he had been able to ride the whole way with us. There were so many congratulations and hugs etc, it was awesome.

We did a group photo on the Ushuaia sign, shot by Rob standing atop one of the Bike Dreams trucks.

Then we rode to the famous “Fin del Mundo” sign.

The last ride was a couple of km up to the Hotel Ushuaia above town. I got a nice double for the last time with Andrew. There was some screw up with dinner plans so we ended up all staying in the hotel until 9:15pm but that gave us time to get bike boxes and start packing and drink a number of beers. We walked downtown in the rain and I recognized several stores and bars I had been to before. We ate at a Chinese buffet place, not the greatest but it was improvised at the last minute. Everyone ate their fill and Rob gave a bit of a speech, kind of summarizing the whole trip.

Andrew got up and thanked Rob for the trip and for his sense of adventure. Wytze and Miranda presented the last quiz of the trip: a couple of words to describe each staff member, then we had to guess who it was. We walked back and it was midnight and I was so tired I couldn’t even have one more beer or Pisco Sour. What a day. What a trip! In a day or two I’ll try and write up some impressions of the whole trip but my brain is pretty full right now.

Andes Trail 2019 finished in Ushuaia!

Andes Trail Stages 105-107 Dec 13-Dec 15, 2019

Stages 105-107 of 109, days 137-139 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,4741,995105,553
Andes Trail10,1751,986101,812X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,50598838,945
    Chile1,03322910,574

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

We had a rest day in Punta Arenas and I think most would agree it was really needed. I was sore and hammered by the previous days. Mostly I think it was racing so fast on stage 103, but also the stress of the last week caught up with me, and others. I carefully made no plans at all for the rest day. Quite a few people were more ambitious and took a boat to visit the penguin colony on a nearby island. I just went out to breakfast, lunch and dinner and otherwise hung out in our nice little cabana.

Breakfast at the Wake Up Cafe
Punta Arenas waterfront

We left Punta Arenas on Friday the 13th quite early due to the ferry schedule. It had started raining in the night and it was coming down as we headed out at 7:30am. Best line: “Don’t even think about laughing” – Wytze wearing his rain pants up to his chest. It was 5km down the coast to the ferry terminal and there was a sheltered place there to wait until boarding.

Crossing the Strait of Magellan

We walked on with our bikes then headed upstairs and sat in the warm cabin. We crossed the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego from 9 to 11:30. During the ride, Anneke told us that we would be staying in a hotel in Porvenir, the port town, rather than riding 85km to a bushcamp. The rain stopped and we rode into town, had lunch by the shore, then rode around looking for a coffee shop, eventually finding the Bike Dreams truck and Anneke, at a pair of hotels, with rooms for all of us. It was a little strange ending with a total of 12km for the day, but we had a relaxing afternoon, then went out to dinner at a nice restaurant.

Rainbow in Porvenir

In the morning, it was gray, cloudy and windy, but the wind was blowing in the right direction. We left at 9 on a dirt road. We had to do nearly two stages today, a total of 138km, but Rob had heard that instead of being unpaved the whole way, the last 40km was now paved. The dirt road went up and down, sometimes steeply, with a good surface, and the tailwind was awesome.

With Twan on the 96km of dirt

The downhills were fine at over 50kph and we typically went 30-35. But you know that neither good things nor bad things last. Sure enough, it started raining, the wind shifted to the side and the surface got quite muddy. We slowed down drastically.

It rained for the next 50km to lunch which was at the “14 Trees” campsite. This area really is barren, just some grass and a few bushes, as far as you can see. But there is one place with 14 trees and a new little 2-person refuge hut which we sat in to eat our lunch. I think everyone was glad to not camp there.

The wind was from the left so everyone was muddy on the right side
Power lunch with Bastiaan and Twan
Rob plus our ace lunch team at “14 Trees”: James and Ype

After lunch, the rain died off and we cranked out the last 22km of dirt to an intersection where we could take a 15km detour to a King Penguin colony, or just head the last 40km to our campsite at the border.

The view back of our dirt road, the last serious dirt of the tour
Some bike love needed

I opted for the direct route since the wind was strong and tailwind that direction, although I would’ve loved to see the King Penguins. I rode with Cees and we had a great time, although by the end we were both ready to be done. The place where Anneke and crew were cooking was sort of an abandoned set of buildings with graffiti from many cyclists. It was really dingy and we heard the crew did a huge amount of clean up before we saw it. The ground was really wet, puddles everywhere, so I upgraded to a room, a small triple in the hotel across the street with Winnie and Cees. There were only a couple available so many people set up their tents in the small yard. Not our finest campsite for sure. We had soup and snacks, then dinner later, a special dinner since it was both a weekend and James’s birthday – he’s 69 years young – he’s the guy who won the whole Andes Trail in 2014 back when it was a race. He’s now our lunch truck driver. In his honor, we all had Pisco with rhubarb cordial cocktails with dinner, very strong and nice.

James’s birthday dinner
Typical graffiti
Poster at the hotel bar

After dinner several of us drank many beers over at the hotel – I had already used my last Chilean pesos but many others threw it all down so there was plenty of beer. Around midnight I staggered in to bed, climbed to the top bunk, and fell asleep in one second.

In the morning the sun was partially out and it was quite windy. The wind direction looked great and I was thinking I might finally get what I had been wishing for: a full day of strong tailwind. Breakfast was at 8, a special one with champagne and other treats, shocking the three Swiss cyclists who were staying with us.

Now that’s breakfast!

We left at 9:20 and riding the 600m to the border took just a couple of pedal strokes to get going. The wind was blasting! We got out of Chile pretty quickly but had to wait for the trucks to get cleared.

Waiting for the all clear signal

After that, Twan and I headed out at 40-45 on the beautiful paved road into no-man’s land. That ended after 3km and we were on hard-packed dirt, 10 more km to the Argentine border. Entering this time was easier and they didn’t look in the trucks. It’s so unpredictable. Soon we were blasting along at 45, pretty effortless. The sound the tires make at high speed when you’re going just the speed of the wind is so great.

Getting so close we can smell it…

Then a funny thing happened that hadn’t happened since stage 88. Wytze came cruising by at warp speed. His bike makes a great sounding hum and he looked happy to be back at full speed. Everyone wondered if he had authorization from his wife, and of course he didn’t. He just couldn’t resist. Lunch was at 48km, and most everyone was together again for the second day in a row, very unusual. The shelter of the truck was imperfect and at least one lunch took a face down tumble into the dirt. After that, we had another 44km to Rio Grande, where Rob said we’d be at a hotel rather than camping. There were a couple of sections of side/head wind, but mostly it was quite fast. The total for the 93km day was 2:39 for me and only 2:26 for Wytze. I rode the last 10km with one of the Swiss guys. They’re out for a month and a half with SO little baggage, it’s amazing. They go the same distances we do and are fast and strong.

Fully loaded touring – with tents, sleeping bags, stove and pots etc!
Taken at over 50kph, the Atlantic Ocean visible
Wytze at the hotel showing how he goes so damn fast

Sure enough we were at a hotel, a really nice one. I got a double with Andrew, and after hot showers, we had snacks downstairs. Jan had spent all his Chilean pesos on beer in the morning which he stashed in the truck, so we had cold beer, then naps, then Wytze bought an impressive amount of beer and snacks that needed quick drinking. By the time we finished most of that, it was dinner time. 10 of us walked to a pizzeria and had massive pizzas, I skipped beer in favor of strawberry juice. Ice cream for dessert finished it off.

Dinner, biking style
Good marketing for cigarettes

Now there are only two more stages to go! We’re so close. We’re sad and happy at the same time I would say. Everyone is so comfortable with the life and each other, it’s magical. But we all know that life has been going on in the real world without us and our life can’t go on much longer. We plan to get as much as possible out of the last two days.

Andes Trail Stages 103-104 Dec 10-Dec 11, 2019

Stages 103-104 of 109, days 134-135 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,2301,889103,756
Andes Trail9,9311,880100,035X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,41397838,529
    Chile8811339,213

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

We had a couple of unplanned rest days in Puerto Natales after our tragedy on stage 98. Ten of us rented a mini-van and headed up into the famous Torres del Paine National Park. The weather wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good – not raining and the wind was reasonable. We ended up doing a large tour all through the park, driving about 300km, doing a few short hikes and having lunch at the fancy restaurant in the park. Here are some photos:

The towers, our first view
Guanaco
At Lago Azul
Strong wind!

After we returned, we ordered take-out pizza and bought beer and wine to eat at one of the hostals.

The second rest day we had planned to drive back and do a long hike but no one really wanted to spend four or more hours in the van again. Instead we drove a bit out of Puerto Natales and found a trail we saw online. It started at a ranch by a lake and headed up a small mountain.

Lake where we started hiking

It was a little disconcerting when it turned out the owner charged quite a bit (total was about USD 125 for eight people) but luckily the man who could actually collect the money was out so we just started the hike anyway. It went up a nice hill, very scenic, then up more passing a condor nesting cliff, then a long way up to the top of a small mountain.

Many condors nesting here

We stopped for lunch maybe half way and then decided it was a rest day after all, so we should take it easy. After a really relaxed time watching the condors, we hiked down and six of us hiked out to the main road on a little used “trail” and Cees and Miranda went back for the van (being careful to avoid paying when passing the ranch house).

It all worked out great and we were back in town before 3pm. Since we had avoided paying 96,000 pesos, we decided to check out the Hotel Singular, a luxury hotel at the edge of town. It turned out to be really fun, an amazing place built in an old Cold Storage warehouse with a museum, a little 50m long funicular to go from reception to the bar, and a fantastic dining room/bar where we had fancy cocktails and snacks.

Calafate Sour with dried grapefruit
Nice dining room!

Back in town we relaxed for a while, then went out for yet another extravagant dinner, this time at a seafood restaurant called Santolla. We had king crab and lots of wine and were living large as usual in these situations. Dessert was lots of ice cream then it was time for sleep.

Have a little ice cream for dessert

In the morning, December 10, we had breakfast over at the main hostal at 7:30 then took off for Villa Tehuelches, a ride of 146km. We left in a big group but soon it was down to seven fast riders, then down to four. We powered to lunch and averaged 31kph which was nice – the wind was from the side and back which helped. That was over 62km with 500m climbing. After lunch, the road turned so it was really a pure tailwind for nearly 40km. We cranked that out in an hour so ended up at the 100km mark before three hours.

The promised coffee shop didn’t exist so we just cranked out the remaining 46km to camp. This part of Chile is not as beautiful as most of the other places we had cycled and almost looks like they should’ve let Argentina have it.

Pace line action at high speed

We were camping in the Rodeo Grounds in the very small town of Villa Tehuelches. After soup and lots of snacks, we set up tents – I put mine inside a little shed with a waterproof-looking roof. It didn’t look like rain but why not? Then Andrew and I rode downtown and found a cafe. They didn’t have beer but the owner let us buy it next door and bring it in. I bought 1L bottles for Andrew, Rien and me, and soon we were joined by a few more riders.

We met a couple from California who had taken 18 months to ride here from home. They were going slow, trying to stretch out the remaining trip to Ushuaia to 10 days. After we had our recovery drinks, I had a nap back in my tent and failed to wake for my 6pm dinner duty – Miranda covered for me. We had a memorial ceremony for Jan Thole who had passed away 5 days earlier. It was organized by Cees and was in a nice little church right near camp. Jan’s bike was in the center and the pews were moved to surround the center.

Jan’s bike which he had custom painted for the trip

Anneke gave a very nice description of the few days she spent with Jan’s wife Lia and described how Lia had just made it home to Holland, Jan’s body to follow. We all were in the same boat as no one knew Jan before the trip so there were no really close friends among us. But many people stood up and told simple stories of how Jan had touched them. Andrew resisted telling the towel story which was probably good. After that, we had dinner, then I went to bed pretty quickly after dish washing. It was COLD outside but nice in my tent.

Our little water proof house for tents

Around 3:30am, I heard rain on the roof. It ended up raining for about 4 hours, dropping off just as we were eating breakfast under a nice big roof. Standing around and loading the trucks made me really cold so by the time we started riding at 8:30, I had to wear a 4th layer – I had never had to do that on the whole trip. The dampness made the cold stronger it seemed. We headed out in a group but I just went a little faster to try and generate heat. I was also wearing my thick wool gloves and even shoe-covers. After a few km, there was a choice, the “Rob Route” this time was an extra 18km and was nearly 70km of dirt. That didn’t appeal so I continued straight on Ruta 9 which ends in Punta Arenas where we were heading. I was sort of waiting for people to catch me so we could ride together but arrived at lunch ahead of everyone. As I ate they arrived in small groups. I ended up staying a long time as the sun came out and we just sat there in our black clothes, absorbing nice heat. Finally I took off with Twan and after a while had passed everyone and caught Cees. The three of us continued the whole way to the hostal in Punta Arenas arriving around 2pm. The wind was sometimes a headwind and sometimes a side wind, very unusual for here – this should’ve been an easy tailwind day. Just our luck. We arrived tired and maybe a little sore from pushing the speed the day before. Soup and snacks were great but then we found that the 8 or 9 of us who didn’t fit in the hostal didn’t really have a place to stay. An alternative hostal was quickly found but we went to see and it was actually still under construction – no one had ever stayed there and nice as it will be someday soon, it wasn’t ready. I waited but the Bike Dreams staff seemed flummoxed so Bart, Andrew and I looked online and in 5 minutes found a nice place nearby and checked it out. We rented a little house with a bedroom for two of us and a kitchen/living room with a couch and another bed for Andrew (who sometimes makes quite a racket at night so it’s best if he’s off by himself). It was under $20/person per night. Feeling proud of ourselves, we got our bags, had piping hot showers, then went out to a coffee shop to meet Wytze and others. After pastries and drinks it was decided we needed alcohol quickly so Andrew, Miranda and I walked downtown to scope out the bars.

Downtown Punta Arenas with Andrew

We found a block with many quite nice looking restaurant/bars. We picked one at random, texted everyone else and settled in to enjoy drinks – Ruibarbo Sours and beers etc. Eventually about 10 people showed up and we had a great dinner. Besides a great Calafate Sour, I had pasta with lots of smoked salmon and capers. And hand made rhubarb ice cream for dessert. I will miss this part of the life a LOT when it ends in a week in Ushuaia.

Living the life

We have only five more riding days, just 470km to go. We’re already over 53°S, closing in on Ushuaia fast.

RIP Jan, Andes Trail Stages 98,99,102 Dec 4-Dec 7, 2019

Stages 98, 99 and 102 of 109, days 128-131 of 142 (stages 100 and 101 skipped)

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,9831,886102,163
Andes Trail9,6851,87798,442X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,41397838,529
    Chile6351327,620

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

I don’t really know how to write about this terrible block of days. We had a catastrophe after our first day of riding from El Calafate to a bushcamp in the middle of nowhere. Dutch Jan, who started with us in Bariloche, did the ride, had dinner, went to sleep and then had a heart attack and died in his sleep. There’s no way to make it not sound terrible because it was. His wife was traumatized of course and the whole group was shattered when we found out in the morning. Plans for riding that day were cancelled and dealing with the police etc took most of the day. We were 30km of rough dirt road from a gas station with phone reception / internet access so first Guillermo had to drive there and contact the police. Officers came from a couple of locations, and an ambulance, and eventually Jan’s body was taken away. There has been some confusion since we had two Jans. Belgian Jan, who started with us in Quito, is ok.

Jan’s wife went after and started a terrible process of paperwork etc that will be ongoing. Our cook, Anneke, who is also Dutch, went along to support her and will be with her until she gets on a plane for Holland. The rest of us stayed in camp and talked and cried and just hunkered down in the wind. The staff was hit hard of course, as nothing like this has happened on all their previous trips.

Punishing wind on the last part of stage 98

It turned out that the day we stayed in camp was very very windy, although sunny, and riding the planned 90km into the wind would’ve been very tough, maybe not possible. The next morning, Dec 6, we did exactly that, with the wind a little reduced, under cloudy, cold skies. It was still really tough just to get to the gas station at the end of the dirt road. It took me 2:32 to go that 31km and it felt like forever. We drafted as much as possible but the road was very rough making drafting dicey.

With a funny kind of scarecrow at a cattle guard
Dressed for wind
Don’t ride this road if you want to enjoy life

We had lunch in a shed, used the gas station wifi, then started on the way to the Chile border, along a paved road, into the wind. We had a pair of rotating 4-man pacelines, and boy did you suffer when you were in the hot seat. It was incredible how hard you needed to press on the pedals to maintain a decent speed (typically 11-16 kph). Finally after much riding, we reached the Argentine frontier and got our exit stamps and ate all our food. It was about 8 more km to the Chilean frontier, over a small pass, of course into the wind. Getting into Chile took longer but eventually we were through and camped in the border town of Cerro Castillo. I thought I was slow riding nearly 6 hours in about 7.5 hours, but others took 10 hours and many (I think most) did not complete the ride. The campground was very basic, at someone’s house, just one toilet/shower to share between 40 people, nice grass for tents, and very windy. Charlotte and Bill kicked ass and made a great dinner for us and after, some of us walked “downtown” to find a cafe and ended up in a hotel bar.

Clouds in Cerro Castillo at 9:15pm

I didn’t get to sleep until midnight but then slept solidly until nearly 7am. Rob had decided to shorten the tour route a bit to try and get everyone back together and give people time to absorb what had happened. So we skipped riding to Torres del Paine and rode straight to Puerto Natales, about 60km away. This eliminated two riding stages, 100 and 101, and shortened 102.

Camp in Cerro Castillo, getting ready to ride

After breakfast we started off into the head/side wind but strangely, after about 10km, it shifted and became more of a tail wind. I was riding with Twan, Cees and Belgian Jan and we suddenly found ourselves cruising at 40-45 for long periods. The ride was very scenic and nice, reminding us how lush and green Chile is compared to Argentina.

We arrived in town at the hostal in 2:14 before noon. Since we had arrived two days early, they had rooms for only some of us. I was on the list to stay at an alternate place nearby, not as nice. We had triple rooms but Andrew in my room and Bart in the other opted to find another place to stay so our tiny rooms weren’t so cramped. It took a while to have lunch, soup and get the baggage over to the other hostal. At least it has a hot shower and working internet. Wytze rented us a 10 person mini van so we can drive to Torres del Paine over the next two days. In the afternoon we did a little wine tasting then went out to dinner. I had a King Crab meal that was great, and we shared more bottles of wine. Pretty excellent.

We’re now at 51°43’S, equivalent to north of Calgary in Canada, a long way from the equator. After we leave Puerto Natales in a couple of days it’s just seven more riding days plus a rest day in Punta Arenas to get to Ushuaia.

Here are a few photos from our rest day in El Calafate, December 3. We visited the Perito Moreno Glacier and had some great food too.

Another fantastic dinner

Andes Trail Stages 94-97, Nov 29-Dec 2, 2019

Stages 94-97 of 109, days 123-126 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,7091,81999,682
Andes Trail9,4111,8105,961X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,20991136,524
    Chile5651327,144

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

It really feels good to have completed the longest block on the trip, nine consecutive riding days. We have a rest day in El Calafate, then will start on the final section of the tour, 12 riding days with two rest days, to Ushuaia, the End of the World. We have just 1,134 km left to ride on the whole tour. I am feeling that it will be ok to end, although the thought of saying good-bye to my new family is pretty tough. Supposedly the final party on this tour gets pretty emotional.

Previously I wrote about the first five days in this block. The 6th day was Nov 29 and was supposed to be really easy, a half day. We woke up to sunny skies and it was relatively warm. By the time breakfast was over though, it was overcast, cold and windy. I started riding at 9:40 with shorts for the first time in days. But it didn’t last long. The wind was really strong, my speed was low, the dirt was rough and it started raining. Once I was back to wearing all my clothes, I had to crank hard to get to lunch. I was riding with Jan, passing lots of guanacos, but the scenery otherwise was boring. It took forever (a bit over three hours) to cover the 42km.

For the second time on the tour we ate lunch in the cab of the truck as it was so cold and miserable outside. My plan was to have a banana only but I ended up having a full lunch and staying 20 minutes. I continued up the road, into the wind, now getting muddy and really crappy with the rain. But just a few km up, the rain stopped and because the wind was so strong (I was going at the amazing speed of 10-11kph), it quickly dried out the mud. I could see Andrew’s track slithering through the mud – he was only a little ahead but had it much worse. I climbed over a little pass, then down to Lago Cardiel, where our camp was located.

Looking down to Lago Cardiel

The normal Bike Dreams camp, Estancia de Siberia, was closed so the alternate was called Galpon de Pescatores (Fisherman’s shed) and that’s what it was. I had to walk a bit through the sand but made it there. It was a metal shed, full of bullet holes, but inside Anneke and crew was setup cooking soup. It was SO nice to be done.

Such a simple day on paper, just 53km but it took me 3:42 of tough riding and others much longer. After soup and food, we set up tents and took some photos but there wasn’t anything else to do, no showers, electricity, cell coverage, etc. So I took a nap in my tent, then dinner was at 6pm. It was Greg’s birthday and he got a special present: a cake made entirely of beer! The staff are pretty creative!

In the morning thankfully it was much better weather.

We started out and the first 11km back to yesterday’s lunch was great. After a 20 minute climb it was all fast tailwind action to the junction.

I was kind of hoping the road would be paved from there but no. Andrew and crew caught up at the junction and we all made the sharp turn into the wind and drafted down the rough dirt highway together. After about 30km, Jan and I drifted back to go at our own pace. We had just passed our intended camping spot and still had 97km to go.

The wind was pretty constant but not as strong as the day before. It took forever to get to lunch (actually 4:13, I think a record) – that was for only 65km. The crew had a nice sheltered spot and we ate tons.

We started back up into the wind and I have to say it wasn’t fun. We did see some great guanacos:

Finally, a good surprise: 6km earlier than expected, the paved road started. We still had 40km or so to camp but it was much easier on smooth, new pavement.

We finally pulled into the campground in the small town of Tres Lagos at 4pm, pretty hammered. Set up tents, showered in luke-cold water in the women’s shower, then beer, soup, food, sleep, dinner and dinner duty, wash dishes, sleep.

We started December with a nice easy day. Rob had just told us the previous day “There are no easy days in the Andes” but stage 96 proved him wrong. After breakfast we got going before 8:30. In a big paceline we enjoyed a tailwind! It was great. After a while I dropped back to ride with Twan whose Achilles was hurting. After a while, we came around a corner and I saw very recognizable mountain: Mount Fitzroy! It was sticking up so high and looking great even though we were 50km away.

Our first view of Mount Fitzroy

After that we came across the lunch truck, setup up in an amazing view spot. The crew said it is typically impossible to stop there due to the wind, but we had a light breeze only.

After lunch we had only 13 easy km to La Leona where we camped by the hotel. We arrived a couple minutes past 11am which was really a treat.

Is 11am too early for beer? No!!

A few people decided to “Fast Forward” or “Double Stage” from here. By doing this you could have two full rest days in El Calafate. Since the wind was so nice and low, Cees opted to ride and I was tempted to go with him, just another 105km. He ended up cranking that out solo in 4 hours. Miranda, Kirsten and Gareth took taxis, but in the end I liked the campsite and the cafe so stayed. The afternoon was great, napping, more beer in the cafe with lots of people, then a great dinner courtesy of Anneke and crew. Something like eight or ten of our people were now in El Calafate for various reasons so dinner was smaller than usual.

In the morning, I was so happy to see bright blue sky and, more importantly, zero wind! Conditions were still good after breakfast and we started riding, with lots of hope for another easy day. I went with the fast guys, in a group of six, and Twan managed to catch us after 25km.

We had a scare around 35km when we had a climb and a headwind came out of nowhere but we turned again and it dropped. After two hours we had done the 56km to lunch and it was a repeat of the previous day: Ype and James were set up at a gorgeous spot, overlooking a lake (this time Lago Argentino with El Calafate on the other side), and there were gorgeous snow covered mountains in the distance. Again, all the chairs were set up pointing away from the truck, and were not blowing over because there was basically no wind – unheard of!

After lunch our paceline continued and it was fast and easy until 70km. Then we turned sharply toward El Calafate and it was pretty much a pure headwind the rest of the way. We had Andrew, Twan and Bastiaan rotating in front of the line, and the soft cocks, me, Rien and Jan, wheel-sucking the whole way behind. We ended up getting to camp downtown in El Calafate in 3:51, not bad for 106km. As it wasn’t even 1pm yet, it was another half rest day! We had the best showers in days, actually hot. Soup, more food, internet right in camp, and if you wanted, rooms were cheap and nice. I had a nice spot for my tent, then did a session of Bike Love, again marvelling at my tires which have now done over 9400km and still have tread. I am going to leave them on and see if they can both make it to Ushuaia. We went over to a cafe for some more snacks and drinks, then headed downtown to a bar for some beer around 5. It’s a big treat to be in a modern touristy town for us. There are so many choices for food and drink. I had an American IPA which was great – best beer in a long time. I walked around town to check it out and kill time until our 7pm dinner reservation. Ten of us ate at a wonderful place called Restaurante Buenos Cruces just down the street. The waitress was the best ever, taking time to learn everyone’s name and remembered Bart from his visit with Wytze four days before. Bart picked our wines (Torrontes and Pinot Noir) and then the food came. Wow, so good.

Stuffed calamari
Good sized ice cream

Our camp meals Anneke makes are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but fine dining is so amazing. Massive ice creams at a local place later, then back to camp. I wrote then finally settled down for sleep and could barely remember that we rode over 100km this day – it felt like just a rest day.

Andes Trail Stage 93, Nov 28, 2019

Stage 93 of 109, day 122 of 142

Photos and route on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,3661,68197,201
Andes Trail9,0681,67293,480X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina3,866773 34,043
    Chile5651327,144

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

Stage 93 was an easy one so 7am breakfast seemed strange, but it was the standard and good. The best part was walking outside and feeling and hearing NO WIND!

Las Horquetas

After the last few days we were thinking it’s always really windy here, but no, it was calm. We packed up and took off at 8:30 and while the forecast tailwind did not appear, we didn’t complain. We had calm to about 5 or 10 kph headwind for the first 48km to lunch. Quickly I was in front with Greg, Twan, Cees and Jan. Greg was so excited he pushed our paceline to nearly 40kph but died quickly. So the other four of us took turns of about 1km or a bit more, cranking at 31-35, and it was great. At least it was great 75% of the time!

Relaxing after my pull

When you finish your pull, you fall back to the end and casually ride. You can take photos, drink, have a snack and look at the scenery. In front you just crank hard.

Lunch was special since it was from the camp truck – the lunch truck had taken a longer route to go shopping for the next three days. So we had Wijnand serving lunch for the first time since before Salta. He had the music going, tables and benches out, and special treats like tuna.

We sat out for a long time by the river, in the exact middle of nowhere, eating lots.

Lunch by the river at our tables

Finally it was time to go so we set off on the gravel road to Estancia La Angostura, about 34km away. My Garmin said we had climbed 6m in that first 48km section and we headed down the gentle gravel road with a nice tailwind. What could be easier? I went with Twan and next thing you know were were cruising at 33kph through the rough gravel. The bike felt so great and responsive – like it could do no wrong. We blew by a few riders who had started earlier and it was great. We caught Miranda and rode with her the rest of the way. At one point I said, “Look left” and a gorgeous wild horse was running alongside us, going slightly faster than our 30. It crossed the road looking regal.

We stopped for photos and to let the truck pass.

Before we knew it we were at the turn off. It was marked by an old cart and of course we had to take the obvious photo:

Then 4km down a side road to the Estancia. It’s a gorgeous place, quiet and peaceful. We set up tents – our area was singles only, no couples as they talk too much in the tent. Then excellent hot showers, delicious soup and snacks and it was still only 2pm! I guess that’s why we had breakfast early.

Estancia La Angostura
“Singles” camping area

The afternoon felt like a rest day, so relaxing. It was surprising to have internet that worked too. We lazed around and it was great. Dinner was at 7, with a special dessert of cake with limoncello on it. I relaxed my “no dinner dessert” rule yet again, for another good reason. After dinner we went for a walk, saw flamingos and horses and enjoyed the day.

Sturdy horses

We’re now at 48°38’S, equivalent to near the US/Canada border in Washington. We have four more days of riding to El Calafate, our next rest.


Andes Trail Stages 89-92, Nov 24-27, 2019

Stages 89-92 of 109, days 118-121 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,2841,64797,144
Andes Trail8,9861,63893,423X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina3,78473933,986
    Chile5651327,144

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

Before starting our longest block of nine riding days we had a rest day in Coyhaique. Staying in a nice modern AirBnB house gave us a great base and the day was perfect although everyone agreed afterward that we could’ve used another. My legs still felt tired and used the next day. We had breakfast in a nice cafe downtown, lunch likewise, did shopping, and ate dinner at “home”. It was strange to see so many signs of political unrest, even tear gas right by the cerveceria we went to our first night.

Tear gas right here right after we left, how crazy

Banks were boarded up, some windows were broken, there was a fire in the central square – people just looking for an excuse to cause a little mayhem I guess. Supposedly it’s like this now all over Chile.

We packed up and left at 7:45 and got a ride to the campground, no thanks to the two taxis I ordered which didn’t arrive. After breakfast with everyone, we took off at 9:10 and rode back up the hill to town, then south. It was easy riding and I was out in front.

Others caught up at a road construction site with another long traffic light. Lunch was supposed to be at a lake around 62km so I waited with Cees just before for the lunch truck. When the other truck came, Anneke explained the bad news: Wytze had crashed and was being taken to the hospital. She gave us a sandwich each and we headed up to the lake and ate with a bunch of riders. Riding down to Puerto Ibañez was easy and very scenic. We took lots of photos and really enjoyed it.

We found the campground but no one knew yet how bad Wytze’s injuries were. We set up, ate, then rode downtown (tiny town) to find some internet. It wasn’t really successful, so we headed back after a look at the pier. We could see the Chilean border crossing from downtown. Back at camp, it was shower time, then dinner. The lunch truck with Wytze arrived after I went to bed.

In the morning we got the story from Wytze: a momentary glance down at his Garmin, a deep pothole, crash and a couple of broken ribs, scrapes on his face and hand. No more riding for a while, if any, on the tour. That was really sad but the show moves on and we took off together for the border at 9:20. Getting out of Chile wasn’t too bad – you had to have kept the form received at entry and then your passport gets stamped. Unlike most border crossings though, we then rode into a 20km long no-man’s land! It had a Chilean-style highway sign, but was a dirt road with the hills (and it was at least half hills) paved with paving stones. Sometimes in our lowest gears, we headed up, with an amazing view of the giant two-named lake: Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina name) / Lago General Carrera (Chilean name).

After a rough, steep descent, we arrived at the Argentine frontier at 11am. The first truck was cleared, then we ran into trouble. Unlike at the other crossing, they were enforcing the “no fruits/veggies/cheese, etc” rule. We had some sacrificial fruits set out in the fridge which they of course found, but then got suspicious and checked more carefully, finding lots more. We had to throw all this food in the trash which was such a waste. Rob came up with a new plan though: lunch time. So the food came out of the trash and we ate it, then got ourselves cleared. I was one of the first few riders to make it through so started the last 86km of dirt road at 12:20. There was more steep climbing, now into the wind, but after a short time, a sharp “good” turn, meaning into the tailwind. The road was rough but it had almost no climbing and the tailwind stayed true and friendly.

I rode and rode and rode, had a little hailstorm, some rain, got passed by Remco who was on fire, then made it to the town of Perito Moreno at about 5pm. The campground was quite nice so I set up, had a shower, food and then a nap after a long day. Dinner was nice indoors and I slept hard and long.

Looking at the wind forecast in the morning was pretty scary. Constant winds of 40-50 with gusts to 79kph! It was also a long stage at almost 130km, so many people were in the van from the campground. Lunch was at 65km, and it turned out most of the first 50km was really easy with tailwind. Then 15km with modest headwind to lunch. I rode with Greg and it was fun to this point. After lunch, he wanted to slow down, so I headed up the hill into the wind at the amazing speed of 12 kph. A hailstorm started and I made a huge error: I stopped to put on my jacket without looking. As soon as I had one sleeve on, a pack of four led by Bastiaan on fire blasted by. I had no chance to catch them and was then doomed to ride alone for the rest of the way. But I figured it was a good challenge so just tried to keep spinning and keep a good attitude. By now the wind was pretty much howling and I was down to 11 kph on the flat. On one up hill, when one of those 79 kph gusts hit, I saw the speed go as low as 7.4 kph. With 40km to go that is brutal. I had to stop a few times – peeing was really hard, standing up was not on. I saw on the map that the last 18km or so would be in a better direction so just focused on getting that far. The constant roar in my ears was really annoying. At some angles it sounded like a truck coming from behind, echoing in my head. I couldn’t take a hand off the handbar so snot was blowing from my nose, sometimes up onto my glasses. I had never ridden in conditions like this. As it got stronger I started to worry that it would blow me off the bike or into traffic. And it would’ve if it was a little stronger but I just kept going and finally came to a big round left turn. After this turn I was going 65 kph on a slight downhill, feeling no wind on any part of my face or head. Amazing. At 55 kph, a cloud’s shadow passed me going quite fast. A few parts were even a little scary as the wind gusts and is not constant, but it was fine really. The lunch truck passed me on the last hill, then I rolled into “town” (really just a hostal and a couple of houses). It was a little grim, with no camping sites visible and the wind howling. Andrew and some others had set up tents in an abandoned house far away. I looked around and found a sheltered spot and set up there, kind of a garbagy place, but my tent was on smooth grass and behind some trees. There were showers in the hostal, internet and food as well. After a nap, dinner was on, in doors, then I crashed hard in my tent. Riding all that way solo was silly I guess – it takes too much power. The wind howled all night and was still strong at 1am.

I woke up at 6:15 and the wind had dropped but it was still there and the temperature was …cold. I packed up, breakfast indoors at 7am, checked the wind forecast to find winds only in the 30s and gusts only in the 50s. Much better. We left at 8:25 and no way was I going alone. Twan was back in action after taking most of the previous day off. He took the hit for me and Cees all the way to lunch! Amazing effort, especially at the beginning, climbing straight into a 30 kph wind.

We saw lots of Guanacos and even a rhea. It was startled by us and ran along side the road in our direction – looked like it couldn’t jump the fence. We had a tailwind at the time and were going 35 and it kept pace perfectly. We came to lunch at 55km and sitting behind the truck actually did work. We had a nice lunch with a new ingredient: pesto!

Then back at it. The second half had a much worse angle, no more side-tail wind. Mostly side-front wind with a healthy portion of just headwind. But Jan joined us so we each only had to lead 1/4 of the time. When it was your turn it was not a happy time, but still we generally kept 15-18kph, since the wind was never as strong as the day before. At just over 100km we made a left turn and then did the last few km at over 40, very very nice. The place we stayed is just a hostal in the middle of nowhere but quite nice. I immediately upgraded to a room (1500 pesos per person, about $25) since I was very tired of being outside in strong wind. After soup, shower, nap, and watching Netflix we had a great dinner, then relaxed in the evening.

That’s four of the nine days to El Calafate done. Just five more… and only 17 more stages to Ushuaia! We’re now at 48.15°, equivalent to midway between Seattle and Vancouver in North America.