Andes Trail Stages 85-88, Nov 19-22, 2019

Stages 85-88 of 109, days 113-116 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America8,8171,55291,516
Andes Trail8,5231,54387,795X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina3,45765430,700
    Chile4291224,802

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

After we entered Chile, the climate seemed to change dramatically: cooler and much rainier. Rob said, “Now the problem becomes rain, not so much wind.” We prepared to leave the border town of Futaleufú in the morning on Nov 19, initially encouraged since it wasn’t raining. But as we hung around the trucks waiting for Rob to call “Ok let’s go”, of course it started raining. The road south was paved for a little way at first then gravel. We climbed and descended with the rain mostly just drizzling.

After 48km of this we stopped at a little cafe to delay our arrival at lunch until it was ready. The guys had set up at a bus stop so we could sit out of the rain and eat.

We had lots more gravel after lunch and near the end of it the light rained turned heavy. Then we hit the Carretera Austral, Ruta 7, which was paved here. It was really wet but by then it didn’t really matter. It was interesting feeling the migration of water through my fancy new shoe covers into my socks and down to the tips of my toes. Eventually all soaked. We had about 30km of this with the rain ranging from solid to heavy, then turned off into the tiny town of Villa Vanguardia which has maybe 12 houses. Bike Dreams was set up in the first one, in a large room with tables out, soup on, fire on, wet gear everywhere. As I stripped down I was shocked that my jersey that felt dry actually was. That Showers Pass jacket I got for the trip worked so well in pounding rain for hours. I’ve never had as good a jacket. After a massive amount of food Wytze managed to rent a small house with four bedrooms for 30,000 (under $5 per person with eight of us).

Most of the town of Villa Vanguardia with our rented house at left, the next morning

We moved in and fired up the wood kitchen stove to dry clothes and the shower. It was so great to not be camping in this dismal weather!

At 7 we went over to the main house for dinner and most people had found some place to not camp in. Dinner consisted of four items: 60kg of mussels, a ton of french fries, salad and the standard two bottles of wine per table.

We did have a special dessert of cakes celebrating Wytze’s birthday. Back in our little house, Miranda and I slept well in our tiny upstairs bedroom that shook whenever someone moved anywhere else in the house.

Unfortunately the next day we had a 7am breakfast which meant dragging ourselves out of sleep and packing everything early. We squeezed in for breakfast, then took off before 8:30. The road has been improving and no one knew how much was still unpaved.

It was rainy but not pouring, on and off all day, but we ended up stopping short at only 100km because the trucks were no longer allowed in to the old campground at Glaciar Collante. The replacement campground seemed ok at first – since we arrived early the staff told us the few rooms available were reserved for later riders which sounded reasonable. They showed us where we could camp under some shelters so if it poured at least we would be semi-dry. Twan and I scored the best one and set up our tents – they touched under the small roof. But soon after we were all set up a giant bus towing a mobile hotel pulled in. It was from Rotel Tours and they needed our spot so we had to go camp in the rain. But at least our later friends got a nice cabin and we dried clothes there and took showers and drank wine before dinner. We were at sea level here, for the first time in months, at the shore of a fjord.

View from camp

They say it rained hard in the night but I didn’t hear anything. In the morning the ground was just as soaked as the day before. But my tent had passed its first rain test. Thanks again Martin for this wonderful tent.

Packing a wet tent is never fun but we did it and took off at 8:30. Since it was raining and gloomy, almost everyone skipped the side trip up the road where we were planning to camp to see the hanging glacier. Our road went up a valley, then at 25km, a quite steep and rocky climb started that required my lowest gear.

When I got to the top, 8km and 600m up, Twan was waiting for me so we did the fast rough descent together.

View from the summit, a tiny moment of sun

Then the gravel ended and we had nice pavement for the rest of the day. We stopped to pound some energy bars, then continued to lunch at 65km. Up to this point the scenery had been nice, what was possible to see, but the rain was making it hard to enjoy. It started up again while we were eating and it looked like a grim job for James and Ype, setting out food in the rain and waiting there for hours for the slower riders. Twan walked over to join Andrew and Wytze in a cafe and warm up, but I started out as soon as I finished, wanting to get it over. There was another steep climb right after lunch and as I got to the top, the rain stopped. I talked to a Ecuadorian woman motorcyclist and an Italian man bicyclist along the way which was fun.

One of our faster friends of the road
Look, blue sky!

Soon, an amazing thing happened: the pavement dried out! The sun even came out. I took off shoe covers to let my shoes start drying. It was actually warm and pleasant for the first time in days. Around 100km, who should ride up but Wytze and Andrew! They had started from lunch, late, with a mission: catch me. We had a tailwind at this point so I tried out riding at their pace and it was fine. We ended up doing the whole 30km to camp together, ending with a long section at 42-43 kph. It’s so fun but it is hard work.

We arrived in camp with all our clothes dried by the sun and wind. Our campground was in a little town called Villa Mañihuales and was pretty basic. We had a smallish field in the back to set up all our tents and the cooking and eating area. It was luxury though, to be able to set out tents and damp clothes in the sun to dry. We quickly checked out the facilities, just two showers and three toilets, in the same room, for everyone to share. We took showers first as it looked like it would be a logjam later on [it was]. The camp had WiFi and an indoors lounge too. We ate soup and snacks while the crew prepared the lamb they had bought for roasting on the fire. Andrew had a spare 1L of beer stashed which was yummy.

I was on dinner duty with Miranda and Sonja – we set the tables then served each course and washed up after. I kept up my skipping dessert plan; Twan was happy.

I slept ok but the roosters and other birds went off quite early in the morning. That was no problem though – as soon as I got out of the tent and looked around it was great – cloudless sky! The sun came up early there and tents started drying out while we had breakfast at 7:30. Then we each had a choice to make as there were two GPS tracks for the day. The Rob route was 72km long with quite a bit of gravel and 1400m of climbing. The paved option was 84km long with 1000m climbing and the lunch truck. I chose paved so I could ride with Twan whose butt was still hurting – paved doesn’t hurt him as much. To avoid getting to lunch at halfway before the truck, the two of us sat in a coffee shop in the warm sun before setting out. Then we rode along the gorgeous highway in the sun, dressed lightly. As Rob had promised there were fresh, beautiful lupines all along the road, almost an unbroken line of them about 1-2m wide on either side of the road.

There were waterfalls everywhere, everything was green, we rode past lakes and farms and it was amazing. We passed the unpaved turn-off and it looked great but we continued to 46km where we had lunch on the side of the road. The two of us had caught all but a couple of the riders and ended up starting the second half first. It was more of the same, rolling hills with non-stop gorgeous scenery. We passed our Italian cyclist friend then started up a 400m climb that included a tunnel. The traffic was ok although there were trucks and buses and some came awfully close to us. The climb was steep and hot in the sun. Twan was dying again so went ahead as fast as his 23 year old legs could take him (fast). Up on top there was a construction zone with a temporary red light where we met back up. Jan and Rien were there, the front riders from the unpaved group. They had tales of crashes and woe – scary difficult riding on cambered large round rocks – for a long long way. Jan crashed twice. We made the right choice to skip that. Finally the light turned green and we blasted down to the town of Coyhaique. We found the campground just before town and were soon eating snacks with our tents drying in the warm warm sun. What a day – I think they are really rare here. The crew had never seen anything like it on previous trips. The campground was similar to the previous day’s but without WiFi and our phones barely worked with 1 bar of occasional HSPA. Wytze arrived with a big gash in his leg from a crash and soon we took off on bikes to go downtown and use the internet to find somewhere better to stay for two nights. We sat in a cafe, I had a draft artisanal beer, pie was eaten and the bytes flowed. I looked on AirBnB and quickly found us a three bedroom house. It was only a couple of blocks away so I booked it and we rode over to take a look. It took maybe 20 minutes to find as the street numbering system is so bad that even the locals can’t figure it out. All the houses on the street looked pretty basic but ours was nice and modern. It was a pair of houses – the owner lived in front and we had the back. It looked great so we cycled back to the campground knowing we were set. I cleaned up my bike and watched Dr. Bill fix up Wytze’s leg until early dinner at 5pm.

Medical superglue to the rescue – much better than stitches

Miranda and I volunteered for dinner duty and it was Cees’s 65th birthday so we had three cakes to celebrate. Then the campground host called us a couple of taxis and we headed to our house in town with our bags. We ended up with five people, Cees taking the couch downstairs. I had a single room, Miranda another, and Wytze and Bart shared the double room. It was so nice staying in a very clean and modern place after the previous week! After showers we dropped off our clothes at a lavenderia a block away then headed a few blocks to the main square (actually a pentagon in this town). We found a cerveceria where Winnie and Jan seemed to be having a huge amount of fun – they forgot to go back to the campsite for dinner, opting to just drink instead. We sat outside and had a couple of rounds of drinks and snacks.

Nathan, Miranda, Twan, Cees, Bart, Wytze

Ype and the staff came in on bikes and he joined us for a round. After a great time, we walked back home and relaxed. That feeling when you have a rest day the next day is certainly great.

So now we have 21 more stages left to ride. We start out with a massive block of nine consecutive riding days, mostly back in Argentina, to El Calafate. Then a final section of 12 riding days with a couple of rest days to cover the final 1,134km to Ushuaia. We’re at over 45.5° S, equivalent in North America to Portland, Oregon.

3 thoughts on “Andes Trail Stages 85-88, Nov 19-22, 2019

  1. Man. You seem to make some good choices when picking a tow. Stay alert, every second of the ride. It’s not over till you roll down the hill into Ushuaia. Stay on top my friend. I am so proud of you too so this. Good and strong. Stefan

    Liked by 1 person

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