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

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.