Stages 64-69 of 109, days 88-93 of 142
Photos and routes on Strava
- Stage 64 to Villa Unión 119.5km, 1766m climb, 5:31, 13k dirt
- Stage 65 to near San José de Jachál, 124.4km, 717m climb, 4:24
- Stage 66 to Tocota 132.7km, 2001m climb, 7:20, 35k dirt, very tough
- Stage 67 to Barreal 128.3km, 751m climb, 4:57, 46k dirt
- Stage 68 to Uspallata 112km, 799m climb, 4:35, 37k dirt
- Stage 69 to Mendoza 106.7km, 1337m climb, 5:21, 45km dirt, wild day
|Description||Distance in km||Dirt km||Climb in m||EFI|
Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)
Before the block of six riding days to Mendoza, we had a rest day in Chilecito. We rode a couple of km to downtown for breakfast, then did some shopping, looked in the bike store, sat in a cafe on the square, then bought food for our big barbecue at the supermarket. I bought the smallest package of frozen merluza fish they had, double what I could eat. We took a taxi back then relaxed in the afternoon in the nice garden. The barbecue was self-organized and everyone brought what they wanted. Jan and Dick sponsored all the drinks as their 64th birthdays were that day (Jan) and the next (Dick). Everyone had a great time and some leftovers were donated to Bike Dreams for lunch the next day.
Stage 64 started off a little after 9. We had a choice: the standard (Rob special) route included an extra 600m climb, with a 13km dirt descent, both of which could be avoided by taking the main road (Ruta 40), also saving 10km. About half of us cranked up the 600m climb, quite hot and windless. It was our first extended steep climb in quite a while and felt good. The dirt descent was nice, not too rough. Then back onto Ruta 40 for a 1000m climb! The lunch truck was part way up this climb and they had a shady spot, super great in the heat.
From the summit we had a more than 60km descent to Villa Union where we camped at a campground right near the center, with hot showers and I scored a shaded spot for my tent. After dinner, we walked downtown and found a great gelateria, but it was still hot at night. I unpacked my sleeping bag around 1am and put it partially over me.
In the morning, we got up an hour earlier, just at first light, to leave around 8am, although it was already hot. We had a lot of straight flat cranking in pace lines and I led a line for 20km into the wind. We finally pulled into lunch in the middle of nowhere at 65km, then had to do it again. 5km after lunch, Twan broke a pedal and he and Wytze rode back to fix it. Andrew, Bastiaan and I continued and after a long time, found that the “obvious GPS error” in our track (a short but very steep peak) wasn’t an error.
It was really hot by now, around 40C, but somehow my California experience pulled me though and I cranked up the steep hill and a few more km to camp, arriving first. The place was shady but still hot. After some more arrived, including a very red and sweaty Wytze, we walked over to the owner’s place and he showed us around a little. I asked if he had cold beer and we were in luck! Quilmes came in 970ml bottles and I got us started with two. Soon more people showed up and each person took pleasure in seeing how low the price could go. Mine were 120 each but he took 100. Later ones were 80, 70, 60, and Jan got one for 50, under $1. Soon there were a dozen bottles lined up and we were so hot. So we ran down to the river and played around in it for a while, cleaning our riding clothes as a bonus.
Back to the beers. More fun ensued and then there were 18 lined up. We were dry and hot again so went in the river again. Then a bit more beer, but the owner took off soon and the supply dried up. In the end there were 21 bottles, nearly 21L, lined up and a bunch of happy riders.
Maybe it wasn’t so smart in retrospect as the hardest day of the segment by far was next, but I was fine. Showers and laundry done, we had dinner, then settled in for sleep in our tents.
It was up early again and since we were deep in a canyon, no sunlight hit while eating breakfast or loading up. We took off at 8am for stage 66, which included a 35km dirt section rumored to be partially unrideable. Before that, we had a nice climb up to a lake, then cruising to lunch.
The last 10km of this was up a hill with a blasting headwind which was tough and made some people really late to lunch. From there it was easier to a little village at 100km where we turned off the paved road and had all dirt to camp at 135km. It climbed the whole way, almost 700m on top of the 1300m we had already done. The steepest section was at the end of course! I rode with Twan and our plan was to catch a ride with the truck if it got ridiculous. It was quite hot, with a strong sidewind that blew rocks into our legs actually hurting. Dust storms came from time to time too.
I was on water bottle #6 and we were going slow when Miranda and Ton pulled up in a local’s 4×4. They gave us their spare water (about 45C but way better than nothing) and we continued.
With 10km to go we could see the trees at Tocota but they didn’t get closer very fast at all. We were stopping every 2km to rest, bent over the handlebars, but now with so much invested we had to make it. And we did! We pulled in to camp and Guillermo greeted me with both hands behind his back. “Pick a hand”. “Left”, I said. Voila, his left hand had a 710ml can of cold beer! Wow, what a welcome. I wasn’t quite as destroyed as the Cerro de Pasco day (Stage 25 in Peru), but close.
Unfortunately I was on kitchen duty that night and it was already 5pm – we had spent 9 hours (7:20 riding time). So I quickly set up my tent but then dinner was delayed until 7 so I could rest a few minutes. In the end, Ton was so impressed with us riding that he volunteered to do my and Wytze’s kitchen duty – what a score for us!
We ate in doors, then hung out by the fire for a few minutes, then sleep. I woke up at 1am for an earthquake that most people also felt, but slept like I was dead pretty much. The earthquake was a 5.1, centered below the town we passed in the morning.
Stage 67 started at 8:15 with a 46km dirt descent.
Some parts were rough and some were deep sand but everything was rideable and I managed it without coming off.
It took just over two hours to get to the paved road, then Bastiaan and I hooked up with Jan and cranked the next 40km to lunch, going nearly 80 on a couple of downhills. Quite a bit of it had tailwinds and/or downhill so it was quick and easy. After lunch we had a bit over 40km of gentle up to Barreal, another town with a campsite. On the way we visited a tourist attraction, riding up a little side canyon to see Cerro El Alcazar, an area like the badlands in Death Valley.
From there we headed straight to camp. Dinner was had, showers (nice after just a warm water bottle spray in Tocota), then sleep.
Stage 68 took us to the town of Upsallata, just one day from Mendoza.
After a long, wide-open section, we had a dirt section of 50km, with lunch in the middle.
There was a strong tail wind which was nice but the road was rough. There were some sections of head and side wind, but all in all, for a 112km stage with so much dirt it wasn’t too bad and we arrived early at 2pm. We relaxed with soup, then cold showers, then walked into town, had ice cream and found a place with many types of Patagonia artisanal beer! We sampled four types in 750ml bottles, then arrived back in camp in time for dinner. After dinner, Ton hosted a little wine party in his cabana (he doesn’t like to camp so upgrades whenever possible). Just five of us, very pleasant. Unfortunately I didn’t sleep well but that’s life.
Oct 30: finally it was time to ride to Mendoza. Breakfast was excellent with pancakes and pastries. I didn’t pay attention to the briefing but I knew it was a >1000m climb in the first 30km followed by 70+km of descent to Mendoza. Turns out most of the climb was on dirt and it got colder and colder. I stupidly didn’t pack any warm clothes other than my jacket which I had to put on while climbing, a bad sign. Sure enough, 10km from the top, my fingers started to freeze and it was rule 5 time again. Soon I was up in a cloud and as I approached the summit at 3000m, it was REALLY cold.
The wind was strong and a pure headwind, just punishing. One rider was so disgusted he actually turned around 800m from the top to go back. Luckily he was intercepted and did get to the top eventually. When I got there, the lunch truck was parked 100m to the left, but invisible in the clouds. One chair was the clue, and I followed it to another and then could see the truck. I went straight into the cab to warm up with Andrew and Bastiaan. Andrew was loving it, cracking funny jokes I wish I could remember (I do remember he called us soft cocks), but Bastiaan was way worse off than me. He was so frozen. We sat under thick blankets and finally my hands were back to normal. Leaving Bastiaan, I slammed a quick sandwich then begged for more clothes. Jan gave me his killer warm wool mitten/gloves and Ype gave me a second jacket. Armed with these I headed down with Twan and Andrew, into the mist.
It was seriously cold and the road was rough and slow. It took a long long time to go down 10km and we had 60km more. Finally after maybe 15km we started to be able to see, and it warmed up a little. We could see the super steep switchbacks below us. This road is actually pretty famous and is called “El Camino de las 365 Curvas” which needs no translation.
Once we could see, we started going pretty fast, especially Twan. We regrouped a few times and FINALLY hit the pavement. It was paved all the way to Mendoza and we rode it in a group, stopping once to fix a flat on Twan’s bike. We bypassed the main part of Mendoza (population 1m in the metro area, latitude 32.88 S) and headed for our campsite. Only a few people were there, like frozen Wytze who had missed the lunch truck, but as everyone arrived we were all psyched to have done such a wild ride. And also to have two rest days ahead, for the last time on the trip. The campground is far from the center but has wifi, shade and hot showers so what more do you want? Actually it was peaceful too as many people had booked hotels to take a break from camping. Bike Dreams put on dinner for us which was fantastic, with delicious dessert pasties Rob bought. We had a couple of pre-dinner bottles of wine, which was very nice too. All in all, just another amazing Andes Trail day. We have exactly 40 more of these riding days to go. We’ve completed the first six of the nine sections of the tour and have 4141 km still to ride.