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:
- Salsa Cutthroat with 29″ tires and one-by gearing, 34 oval chain ring and 10×42.
- Tubeless tires, for this tour 42c Specialized Sawtooth tires – awesome
- No camelbak – keep the weigh off your body – Ortlieb handlebar bag for the win
- Garmin Edge 530 with Open Street Maps and tracks from Bike Dreams. Backup device: OSMAnd app on my phone with maps and tracks loaded.
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.
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.
- 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?