Andes Trail Stages 76-81, Nov 9-14, 2019

Stages 76-81 of 109, days 103-108 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America8,0351,31882,663
Andes Trail7,7491,30979,053X

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

Before starting the next block of six riding days to Bariloche, we had a relaxing rest day in Chos Malal. There isn’t that much to do in town which was fine with me. On bikes, we did laundry, went to a coffee shop and stimulated the local economy at the bike store – the owner was great and super happy to have so many customers. I had a simple dinner with Miranda and Twan at a pizza place, then retired pretty early.

Rest day dinner in Chos Malal

We left on Nov 9 for a long stage, 157km, all paved, on Ruta 40.

We’ve been on Ruta 40 on and off since around km 4300

This was another of those days that could kill you if the wind was bad but our luck held and we had only small headwinds part of the way. There were three modest climbs along the way and as you would expect with a long stage like this, well over 1000m of climbing. We ended up in a great campground in Las Lojas where the locals were having a big fair/party and applauded each rider loudly as we arrived. They sold us ice cold beer, their homebrew and other treats. We celebrated Marc’s birthday in style with three different cakes.

At about bed time (9pm), the locals left, music stopped and all we heard all night was the river, plus maybe a couple of dogs and birds.

The next day was also kind of long at 130km, but the scenery changed dramatically and we had a fantastic time. We headed up into the mountains, with snow all around – it was obvious in many places we rode by that it had just recently melted. It’s spring here and there is lots of green but still snow on the peaks.

Just before lunch, we started seeing Arucaria (aka Monkey Puzzle) trees which are native to this area.

After lunch, we had a 60km dirt section over a hill. There was construction on part of it and some people didn’t like the road surface, but we had a great group of five dirt lovers and an excellent time. Riding by the river was beautiful. We camped at a campground 10km short of Aluminé which had few facilities and was only open for our group – like bushcamping but with a toilet. We did our laundry and washed by swimming in the river wearing bike clothes. The Rio Aluminé we had ridden by was wide, full and fast here and COLD! My tent was about 2m from the river and there were no dogs or any other noisy things at night. Just great.

In the morning on Nov 11, we started off together for 120km of fun, riding to Junin de los Andes. 70km was unpaved, again, not bad if you like that sort of thing, and I’m sorry for those that don’t – then again, why would you come if you don’t? We passed the Argentine Army moving huge herds of mules along the road twice, but generally there wasn’t much traffic. We also passed fields of California Poppies which I never expected to see here but of course we have a lot of at home. Kirsten told me they grow wild in her garden in Hobart, Tasmania.

After a stop for ice cream, beer and pomelo soda, the campground in Junin was very nice, on a little island in the river, with WiFi and quiet, grassy and shaded tent sites. After yet another excellent huge dinner, I slept really well.

We don’t often arrange the tables end to end

From Junin, we had a surprisingly fantastic stage I called “the average stage”. It was 101km. The actual average of our 109 stages is 100.4km, and the climbing was 1097m, close to the actual average of 1018m. But it was anything but average. We had lunch early at 40km in the amazing tourist and ski resort town of San Martin de los Andes. As we rode in, the Europeans thought it looked like a town in the Alps in France/Austria/wherever. And I thought it looked like a mountain resort town in California, maybe around Lake Tahoe. There were a ton of pickup trucks to support the US over Europe. The air was so clean and crisp and it looked so prosperous. We are about a million miles from Peru/Bolivia now. It really drove in how big and varied Argentina is. We’ve ridden over 3000km in the country now and are seeing something unlike anywhere else on the tour. We arrived before the lunch truck so had time to drink coffee or just check out the view and town.

We ate by the shore of Lago Lacar then got to ride along it for a while before heading up and over a climb and back down to more lakes. Along the way we passed a spot that may be unique: Arroyo Partido. From the bridge where we crossed a stream, we could see it split, literally under our feet, into two streams. One flows into the Pacific and the other into the Atlantic! Amazing place.

Left stream Atlantic, right Pacific!

The super scenery continued all afternoon. We rode a 2km dirt side road to a campground that had just opened for the season, perfectly situated on a gorgeous lake, with snow-capped mountains right above.

They had hot showers, toilets and cold beer – they nailed the essentials for us! Some swam in the lake; I just relaxed, then was on dinner duty at 7. Dinner was indoors, a big variety of tapas made by our crew. The numbers may have been pretty average but the day sure wasn’t.

One piece of info on this board is a joke

Nov 13 was Grace and my 424th wedding anniversary and it was a great day for me – although of course I wish we were celebrating the day together in person rather than by text! I had basically a half day of riding, only 52km, super scenic and fun the whole time. After 6km, we tried a 1 hour side trail to a waterfall. The sign said no bikes so of course we rode down the single track but were stopped after 500m by a river crossing that was too deep to ride and very deep and fast for wading. Rob waded it later and said it was the highlight of the day. Back on the road we continued a bit then turned off on a dirt road for Villa Trafal, a nice town back on the same lake we had camped on the previous night, Lago Trafal.

The dirt road was really fun with some blazing descents – I followed Twan and he has no fear, just skill; it was truly awesome. There were a couple of steep short climbs too which we haven’t had lately. We stopped at a coffee shop for some local smoked fish sandwiches and I had a locally made all natural dark beer.

We cruised the last few km to camp, just out of town and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was all grassy with almost no one else there, right above the lake – it could’ve been Switzerland or Norway.

Miranda found the absolutely perfect spot for our tents

After soup and snacks I was planning on riding back to town to find WiFi or cell service to wish Grace Happy Anniversary but miraculously, right at our tents (which even had a picnic table and sometimes working power), SMS started working so I could stay and be lazy all day.

It is a very rough life in camp – after a bottle of wine and some cakes – photo by Andrew

After dinner, we had a campfire and got to watch Dr. Bill patch up Wijnand’s leg, who he had taken hiking through the thorn bushes and falling rocks trying to get to the top of a cool looking ridge.

It’s getting dark so late now, it’s just so different from our time in Peru and Bolivia. It it now light until way after 9, and of course soon it will be 10 and later.

4:18am the lake by full moon while peeing

We left the amazing site at Villa Trafal under cloudy skies with cooler temps – first time in a while. We had a 30km dirt section first, with more steep climbs and fast descents. Then we came out on the paved road to Bariloche.

Lunch truck catches up just as the unpaved road ends

After 20km of that we had lunch, then powered to town in a paceline with Andrew and Twan leading.

Bariloche from 20km away

It was cool and a little windy, and seemed like it might rain but we arrived dry at the Hotel Islas Malvinas at 1:30. The first person I met on arrival was Greg from Poland who had ridden with us from Cusco to La Paz and now was back to ride to El Calafate. He gave me a big hug and was clearly very happy to be back. In the bike garage was a twin of Wytze’s bike, no he didn’t buy a new one, it’s his wife’s. She’ll be joining us for the last section. We are getting eight more people here so from now on, the trip will feel different, five tables at dinner instead of four, harder to pack all the bags each day, etc. Anneke had a huge amount of pastries and snacks for us, and there was a beer store right next door, so we had a great time, relaxing in the warm indoors.

The A Team I rode with to Bariloche – Andrew, Jan and my new son Twan

I’m sharing a room with Winnie and the showers were hot and great. It’s so nice to be back where tap water is drinkable again. I spent time in the afternoon writing and dropping off my laundry across the street. Then, a bunch of us hung out downstairs for wine and met several new Dutch riders. Wytze had made a reservation for 8pm at a highly rated restaurant called Alto el Fuego. The place was packed but we squeezed nine of us in and man was it a great dinner! They specialized in meats but luckily had a trucha (trout) option for me. Starters of grilled veggies, cheese and other stuff like bone marrow and sausages. The wines were special. Luckily for us, one of our new riders, Bart, is a wine expert and he picked two whites and two reds that were just great. Desserts were wonderful and at the end, I used my credit card to pay the entire 12,700 bill netting me enough pesos to live large for a long time in Argentina. What a night!

We’ve now finished seven of the nine sections of the trip. We’re about as far south as Mount Shasta is north in California, a bit over 41°. The final two sections will total about 2800 km in 28 riding stages plus four rest days. We’ll cross into Chile in a few days for a week, then back into Argentina, then Chile for 10 days, then a final run of three days riding in Argentina to Ushuaia. The life continues!

2 thoughts on “Andes Trail Stages 76-81, Nov 9-14, 2019

  1. Sun setting just before five in Ruby Valley. Enjoyed the California poppies and Argentina scenes. Congratulations on your 424th. We just had our 31st ( different base evidently ) with a fine dinner in Wells. All set on firewood for the Winter thanks to the eight miles of road bulldozed by Kelly during the last couple of years. Love from C & me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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