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. Iced 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 guanancos, 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.

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.

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.

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.