Andes Trail Stages 103-104 Dec 10-Dec 11, 2019

Stages 103-104 of 109, days 134-135 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,2301,889103,756
Andes Trail9,9311,880100,035X

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

We had a couple of unplanned rest days in Puerto Natales after our tragedy on stage 98. Ten of us rented a mini-van and headed up into the famous Torres del Paine National Park. The weather wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good – not raining and the wind was reasonable. We ended up doing a large tour all through the park, driving about 300km, doing a few short hikes and having lunch at the fancy restaurant in the park. Here are some photos:

The towers, our first view
At Lago Azul
Strong wind!

After we returned, we ordered take-out pizza and bought beer and wine to eat at one of the hostals.

The second rest day we had planned to drive back and do a long hike but no one really wanted to spend four or more hours in the van again. Instead we drove a bit out of Puerto Natales and found a trail we saw online. It started at a ranch by a lake and headed up a small mountain.

Lake where we started hiking

It was a little disconcerting when it turned out the owner charged quite a bit (total was about USD 125 for eight people) but luckily the man who could actually collect the money was out so we just started the hike anyway. It went up a nice hill, very scenic, then up more passing a condor nesting cliff, then a long way up to the top of a small mountain.

Many condors nesting here

We stopped for lunch maybe half way and then decided it was a rest day after all, so we should take it easy. After a really relaxed time watching the condors, we hiked down and six of us hiked out to the main road on a little used “trail” and Cees and Miranda went back for the van (being careful to avoid paying when passing the ranch house).

It all worked out great and we were back in town before 3pm. Since we had avoided paying 96,000 pesos, we decided to check out the Hotel Singular, a luxury hotel at the edge of town. It turned out to be really fun, an amazing place built in an old Cold Storage warehouse with a museum, a little 50m long funicular to go from reception to the bar, and a fantastic dining room/bar where we had fancy cocktails and snacks.

Calafate Sour with dried grapefruit
Nice dining room!

Back in town we relaxed for a while, then went out for yet another extravagant dinner, this time at a seafood restaurant called Santolla. We had king crab and lots of wine and were living large as usual in these situations. Dessert was lots of ice cream then it was time for sleep.

Have a little ice cream for dessert

In the morning, December 10, we had breakfast over at the main hostal at 7:30 then took off for Villa Tehuelches, a ride of 146km. We left in a big group but soon it was down to seven fast riders, then down to four. We powered to lunch and averaged 31kph which was nice – the wind was from the side and back which helped. That was over 62km with 500m climbing. After lunch, the road turned so it was really a pure tailwind for nearly 40km. We cranked that out in an hour so ended up at the 100km mark before three hours.

The promised coffee shop didn’t exist so we just cranked out the remaining 46km to camp. This part of Chile is not as beautiful as most of the other places we had cycled and almost looks like they should’ve let Argentina have it.

Pace line action at high speed

We were camping in the Rodeo Grounds in the very small town of Villa Tehuelches. After soup and lots of snacks, we set up tents – I put mine inside a little shed with a waterproof-looking roof. It didn’t look like rain but why not? Then Andrew and I rode downtown and found a cafe. They didn’t have beer but the owner let us buy it next door and bring it in. I bought 1L bottles for Andrew, Rien and me, and soon we were joined by a few more riders.

We met a couple from California who had taken 18 months to ride here from home. They were going slow, trying to stretch out the remaining trip to Ushuaia to 10 days. After we had our recovery drinks, I had a nap back in my tent and failed to wake for my 6pm dinner duty – Miranda covered for me. We had a memorial ceremony for Jan Thole who had passed away 5 days earlier. It was organized by Cees and was in a nice little church right near camp. Jan’s bike was in the center and the pews were moved to surround the center.

Jan’s bike which he had custom painted for the trip

Anneke gave a very nice description of the few days she spent with Jan’s wife Lia and described how Lia had just made it home to Holland, Jan’s body to follow. We all were in the same boat as no one knew Jan before the trip so there were no really close friends among us. But many people stood up and told simple stories of how Jan had touched them. Andrew resisted telling the towel story which was probably good. After that, we had dinner, then I went to bed pretty quickly after dish washing. It was COLD outside but nice in my tent.

Our little water proof house for tents

Around 3:30am, I heard rain on the roof. It ended up raining for about 4 hours, dropping off just as we were eating breakfast under a nice big roof. Standing around and loading the trucks made me really cold so by the time we started riding at 8:30, I had to wear a 4th layer – I had never had to do that on the whole trip. The dampness made the cold stronger it seemed. We headed out in a group but I just went a little faster to try and generate heat. I was also wearing my thick wool gloves and even shoe-covers. After a few km, there was a choice, the “Rob Route” this time was an extra 18km and was nearly 70km of dirt. That didn’t appeal so I continued straight on Ruta 9 which ends in Punta Arenas where we were heading. I was sort of waiting for people to catch me so we could ride together but arrived at lunch ahead of everyone. As I ate they arrived in small groups. I ended up staying a long time as the sun came out and we just sat there in our black clothes, absorbing nice heat. Finally I took off with Twan and after a while had passed everyone and caught Cees. The three of us continued the whole way to the hostal in Punta Arenas arriving around 2pm. The wind was sometimes a headwind and sometimes a side wind, very unusual for here – this should’ve been an easy tailwind day. Just our luck. We arrived tired and maybe a little sore from pushing the speed the day before. Soup and snacks were great but then we found that the 8 or 9 of us who didn’t fit in the hostal didn’t really have a place to stay. An alternative hostal was quickly found but we went to see and it was actually still under construction – no one had ever stayed there and nice as it will be someday soon, it wasn’t ready. I waited but the Bike Dreams staff seemed flummoxed so Bart, Andrew and I looked online and in 5 minutes found a nice place nearby and checked it out. We rented a little house with a bedroom for two of us and a kitchen/living room with a couch and another bed for Andrew (who sometimes makes quite a racket at night so it’s best if he’s off by himself). It was under $20/person per night. Feeling proud of ourselves, we got our bags, had piping hot showers, then went out to a coffee shop to meet Wytze and others. After pastries and drinks it was decided we needed alcohol quickly so Andrew, Miranda and I walked downtown to scope out the bars.

Downtown Punta Arenas with Andrew

We found a block with many quite nice looking restaurant/bars. We picked one at random, texted everyone else and settled in to enjoy drinks – Ruibarbo Sours and beers etc. Eventually about 10 people showed up and we had a great dinner. Besides a great Calafate Sour, I had pasta with lots of smoked salmon and capers. And hand made rhubarb ice cream for dessert. I will miss this part of the life a LOT when it ends in a week in Ushuaia.

Living the life

We have only five more riding days, just 470km to go. We’re already over 53°S, closing in on Ushuaia fast.

RIP Jan, Andes Trail Stages 98,99,102 Dec 4-Dec 7, 2019

Stages 98, 99 and 102 of 109, days 128-131 of 142 (stages 100 and 101 skipped)

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,9831,886102,163
Andes Trail9,6851,87798,442X

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

I don’t really know how to write about this terrible block of days. We had a catastrophe after our first day of riding from El Calafate to a bushcamp in the middle of nowhere. Dutch Jan, who started with us in Bariloche, did the ride, had dinner, went to sleep and then had a heart attack and died in his sleep. There’s no way to make it not sound terrible because it was. His wife was traumatized of course and the whole group was shattered when we found out in the morning. Plans for riding that day were cancelled and dealing with the police etc took most of the day. We were 30km of rough dirt road from a gas station with phone reception / internet access so first Guillermo had to drive there and contact the police. Officers came from a couple of locations, and an ambulance, and eventually Jan’s body was taken away. There has been some confusion since we had two Jans. Belgian Jan, who started with us in Quito, is ok.

Jan’s wife went after and started a terrible process of paperwork etc that will be ongoing. Our cook, Anneke, who is also Dutch, went along to support her and will be with her until she gets on a plane for Holland. The rest of us stayed in camp and talked and cried and just hunkered down in the wind. The staff was hit hard of course, as nothing like this has happened on all their previous trips.

Punishing wind on the last part of stage 98

It turned out that the day we stayed in camp was very very windy, although sunny, and riding the planned 90km into the wind would’ve been very tough, maybe not possible. The next morning, Dec 6, we did exactly that, with the wind a little reduced, under cloudy, cold skies. It was still really tough just to get to the gas station at the end of the dirt road. It took me 2:32 to go that 31km and it felt like forever. We drafted as much as possible but the road was very rough making drafting dicey.

With a funny kind of scarecrow at a cattle guard
Dressed for wind
Don’t ride this road if you want to enjoy life

We had lunch in a shed, used the gas station wifi, then started on the way to the Chile border, along a paved road, into the wind. We had a pair of rotating 4-man pacelines, and boy did you suffer when you were in the hot seat. It was incredible how hard you needed to press on the pedals to maintain a decent speed (typically 11-16 kph). Finally after much riding, we reached the Argentine frontier and got our exit stamps and ate all our food. It was about 8 more km to the Chilean frontier, over a small pass, of course into the wind. Getting into Chile took longer but eventually we were through and camped in the border town of Cerro Castillo. I thought I was slow riding nearly 6 hours in about 7.5 hours, but others took 10 hours and many (I think most) did not complete the ride. The campground was very basic, at someone’s house, just one toilet/shower to share between 40 people, nice grass for tents, and very windy. Charlotte and Bill kicked ass and made a great dinner for us and after, some of us walked “downtown” to find a cafe and ended up in a hotel bar.

Clouds in Cerro Castillo at 9:15pm

I didn’t get to sleep until midnight but then slept solidly until nearly 7am. Rob had decided to shorten the tour route a bit to try and get everyone back together and give people time to absorb what had happened. So we skipped riding to Torres del Paine and rode straight to Puerto Natales, about 60km away. This eliminated two riding stages, 100 and 101, and shortened 102.

Camp in Cerro Castillo, getting ready to ride

After breakfast we started off into the head/side wind but strangely, after about 10km, it shifted and became more of a tail wind. I was riding with Twan, Cees and Belgian Jan and we suddenly found ourselves cruising at 40-45 for long periods. The ride was very scenic and nice, reminding us how lush and green Chile is compared to Argentina.

We arrived in town at the hostal in 2:14 before noon. Since we had arrived two days early, they had rooms for only some of us. I was on the list to stay at an alternate place nearby, not as nice. We had triple rooms but Andrew in my room and Bart in the other opted to find another place to stay so our tiny rooms weren’t so cramped. It took a while to have lunch, soup and get the baggage over to the other hostal. At least it has a hot shower and working internet. Wytze rented us a 10 person mini van so we can drive to Torres del Paine over the next two days. In the afternoon we did a little wine tasting then went out to dinner. I had a King Crab meal that was great, and we shared more bottles of wine. Pretty excellent.

We’re now at 51°43’S, equivalent to north of Calgary in Canada, a long way from the equator. After we leave Puerto Natales in a couple of days it’s just seven more riding days plus a rest day in Punta Arenas to get to Ushuaia.

Here are a few photos from our rest day in El Calafate, December 3. We visited the Perito Moreno Glacier and had some great food too.

Another fantastic dinner

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 guanancos, 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.

Andes Trail Stage 93, Nov 28, 2019

Stage 93 of 109, day 122 of 142

Photos and route on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,3661,68197,201
Andes Trail9,0681,67293,480X
    Argentina3,866773 34,043

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

Stage 93 was an easy one so 7am breakfast seemed strange, but it was the standard and good. The best part was walking outside and feeling and hearing NO WIND!

Las Horquetas

After the last few days we were thinking it’s always really windy here, but no, it was calm. We packed up and took off at 8:30 and while the forecast tailwind did not appear, we didn’t complain. We had calm to about 5 or 10 kph headwind for the first 48km to lunch. Quickly I was in front with Greg, Twan, Cees and Jan. Greg was so excited he pushed our paceline to nearly 40kph but died quickly. So the other four of us took turns of about 1km or a bit more, cranking at 31-35, and it was great. At least it was great 75% of the time!

Relaxing after my pull

When you finish your pull, you fall back to the end and casually ride. You can take photos, drink, have a snack and look at the scenery. In front you just crank hard.

Lunch was special since it was from the camp truck – the lunch truck had taken a longer route to go shopping for the next three days. So we had Wijnand serving lunch for the first time since before Salta. He had the music going, tables and benches out, and special treats like tuna.

We sat out for a long time by the river, in the exact middle of nowhere, eating lots.

Finally it was time to go so we set off on the gravel road to Estancia La Angostura, about 34km away. My Garmin said we had climbed 6m in that first 48km section and we headed down the gentle gravel road with a nice tailwind. What could be easier? I went with Twan and next thing you know were were cruising at 33kph through the rough gravel. The bike felt so great and responsive – like it could do no wrong. We blew by a few riders who had started earlier and it was great. We caught Miranda and rode with her the rest of the way. At one point I said, “Look left” and a gorgeous wild horse was running alongside us, going slightly faster than our 30. It crossed the road looking regal.

We stopped for photos and to let the truck pass.

Before we knew it we were at the turn off. It was marked by an old cart and of course we had to take the obvious photo:

Then 4km down a side road to the Estancia. It’s a gorgeous place, quiet and peaceful. We set up tents – our area was singles only, no couples as they talk too much in the tent. Then excellent hot showers, delicious soup and snacks and it was still only 2pm! I guess that’s why we had breakfast early.

The afternoon felt like a rest day, so relaxing. It was surprising to have internet that worked too. We lazed around and it was great. Dinner was at 7, with a special dessert of cake with limoncello on it. I relaxed my “no dinner dessert” rule yet again, for another good reason. After dinner we went for a walk, saw flamingos and horses and enjoyed the day.

We’re now at 48°38’S, equivalent to near the US/Canada border in Washington. We have four more days of riding to El Calafate, our next rest.

Andes Trail Stages 89-92, Nov 24-27, 2019

Stages 89-92 of 109, days 118-121 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,2841,64797,144
Andes Trail8,9861,63893,423X

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

Before starting our longest block of nine riding days we had a rest day in Coyhaique. Staying in a nice modern AirBnB house gave us a great base and the day was perfect although everyone agreed afterward that we could’ve used another. My legs still felt tired and used the next day. We had breakfast in a nice cafe downtown, lunch likewise, did shopping, and ate dinner at “home”. It was strange to see so many signs of political unrest, even tear gas right by the cerveceria we went to our first night.

Tear gas right here right after we left, how crazy

Banks were boarded up, some windows were broken, there was a fire in the central square – people just looking for an excuse to cause a little mayhem I guess. Supposedly it’s like this now all over Chile.

We packed up and left at 7:45 and got a ride to the campground, no thanks to the two taxis I ordered which didn’t arrive. After breakfast with everyone, we took off at 9:10 and rode back up the hill to town, then south. It was easy riding and I was out in front.

Others caught up at a road construction site with another long traffic light. Lunch was supposed to be at a lake around 62km so I waited with Cees just before for the lunch truck. When the other truck came, Anneke explained the bad news: Wytze had crashed and was being taken to the hospital. She gave us a sandwich each and we headed up to the lake and ate with a bunch of riders. Riding down to Puerto Ibañez was easy and very scenic. We took lots of photos and really enjoyed it.

We found the campground but no one knew yet how bad Wytze’s injuries were. We set up, ate, then rode downtown (tiny town) to find some internet. It wasn’t really successful, so we headed back after a look at the pier. We could see the Chilean border crossing from downtown. Back at camp, it was shower time, then dinner. The lunch truck with Wytze arrived after I went to bed.

In the morning we got the story from Wytze: a momentary glance down at his Garmin, a deep pothole, crash and a couple of broken ribs, scrapes on his face and hand. No more riding for a while, if any, on the tour. That was really sad but the show moves on and we took off together for the border at 9:20. Getting out of Chile wasn’t too bad – you had to have kept the form received at entry and then your passport gets stamped. Unlike most border crossings though, we then rode into a 20km long no-man’s land! It had a Chilean-style highway sign, but was a dirt road with the hills (and it was at least half hills) paved with paving stones. Sometimes in our lowest gears, we headed up, with an amazing view of the giant two-named lake: Lago Buenas Aires (Argentina name) / Lago General Carrera (Chilean name).

After a rough, steep descent, we arrived at the Argentine frontier at 11am. The first truck was cleared, then we ran into trouble. Unlike at the other crossing, they were enforcing the “no fruits/veggies/cheese, etc” rule. We had some sacrificial fruits set out in the fridge which they of course found, but then got suspicious and checked more carefully, finding lots more. We had to throw all this food in the trash which was such a waste. Rob came up with a new plan though: lunch time. So the food came out of the trash and we ate it, then got ourselves cleared. I was one of the first few riders to make it through so started the last 86km of dirt road at 12:20. There was more steep climbing, now into the wind, but after a short time, a sharp “good” turn, meaning into the tailwind. The road was rough but it had almost no climbing and the tailwind stayed true and friendly.

I rode and rode and rode, had a little hailstorm, some rain, got passed by Remco who was on fire, then made it to the town of Perito Moreno at about 5pm. The campground was quite nice so I set up, had a shower, food and then a nap after a long day. Dinner was nice indoors and I slept hard and long.

Looking at the wind forecast in the morning was pretty scary. Constant winds of 40-50 with gusts to 79kph! It was also a long stage at almost 130km, so many people were in the van from the campground. Lunch was at 65km, and it turned out most of the first 50km was really easy with tailwind. Then 15km with modest headwind to lunch. I rode with Greg and it was fun to this point. After lunch, he wanted to slow down, so I headed up the hill into the wind at the amazing speed of 12 kph. A hailstorm started and I made a huge error: I stopped to put on my jacket without looking. As soon as I had one sleeve on, a pack of four led by Bastiaan on fire blasted by. I had no chance to catch them and was then doomed to ride alone for the rest of the way. But I figured it was a good challenge so just tried to keep spinning and keep a good attitude. By now the wind was pretty much howling and I was down to 11 kph on the flat. On one up hill, when one of those 79 kph gusts hit, I saw the speed go as low as 7.4 kph. With 40km to go that is brutal. I had to stop a few times – peeing was really hard, standing up was not on. I saw on the map that the last 18km or so would be in a better direction so just focused on getting that far. The constant roar in my ears was really annoying. At some angles it sounded like a truck coming from behind, echoing in my head. I couldn’t take a hand off the handbar so snot was blowing from my nose, sometimes up onto my glasses. I had never ridden in conditions like this. As it got stronger I started to worry that it would blow me off the bike or into traffic. And it would’ve if it was a little stronger but I just kept going and finally came to a big round left turn. After this turn I was going 65 kph on a slight downhill, feeling no wind on any part of my face or head. Amazing. At 55 kph, a cloud’s shadow passed me going quite fast. A few parts were even a little scary as the wind gusts and is not constant, but it was fine really. The lunch truck passed me on the last hill, then I rolled into “town” (really just a hostal and a couple of houses). It was a little grim, with no camping sites visible and the wind howling. Andrew and some others had set up tents in an abandoned house far away. I looked around and found a sheltered spot and set up there, kind of a garbagy place, but my tent was on smooth grass and behind some trees. There were showers in the hostal, internet and food as well. After a nap, dinner was on, in doors, then I crashed hard in my tent. Riding all that way solo was silly I guess – it takes too much power. The wind howled all night and was still strong at 1am.

I woke up at 6:15 and the wind had dropped but it was still there and the temperature was …cold. I packed up, breakfast indoors at 7am, checked the wind forecast to find winds only in the 30s and gusts only in the 50s. Much better. We left at 8:25 and no way was I going alone. Twan was back in action after taking most of the previous day off. He took the hit for me and Cees all the way to lunch! Amazing effort, especially at the beginning, climbing straight into a 30 kph wind.

We saw lots of Guanacos and even a rhea. It was startled by us and ran along side the road in our direction – looked like it couldn’t jump the fence. We had a tailwind at the time and were going 35 and it kept pace perfectly. We came to lunch at 55km and sitting behind the truck actually did work. We had a nice lunch with a new ingredient: pesto!

Then back at it. The second half had a much worse angle, no more side-tail wind. Mostly side-front wind with a healthy portion of just headwind. But Jan joined us so we each only had to lead 1/4 of the time. When it was your turn it was not a happy time, but still we generally kept 15-18kph, since the wind was never as strong as the day before. At just over 100km we made a left turn and then did the last few km at over 40, very very nice. The place we stayed is just a hostal in the middle of nowhere but quite nice. I immediately upgraded to a room (1500 pesos per person, about $25) since I was very tired of being outside in strong wind. After soup, shower, nap, and watching Netflix we had a great dinner, then relaxed in the evening.

That’s four of the nine days to El Calafate done. Just five more… and only 17 more stages to Ushuaia! We’re now at 48.15°, equivalent to midway between Seattle and Vancouver in North America.

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

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.

Andes Trail Stages 82-84, Nov 16-18, 2019

Stages 82-84 of 109, days 110-112 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America8,3901,43086,673
Andes Trail8,1041,42183,063X
    Chile 10070

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

We had a sort of strange rest day in Bariloche before kicking off our next segment going into Chile. We woke up to a windy rainy day and were very very happy Bike Dreams had decided to upgrade us from a campground to a decent hotel! My only item on the agenda for the morning was to put on my waterproof jacket to walk across the street to retrieve my laundry.

View of the lake from our window in Bariloche

In the afternoon, we did some bike love down in the basement, then I headed out with Greg, Ypa and Miranda for beer and lunch. The rain had stopped and the forecast was for no rain but strong winds the next day. We went to a German beer place and their Single Hop IPA was the best beer in South America yet! Great food too. I took a nap in the afternoon then dinner was at a decent Argentine place with fancy ice cream for dessert at an heladeria. Bariloche seems like a great town, especially for eating and drinking.

The promised winds did come in the morning. I looked out the window to see white-caps on the lake, a bad sign at 7am. After breakfast and packing up, we took off in a group and rode through town, with some winds, then up and down a long way with the wind generally pushing forward more than back. We followed Ruta 40, passing km 2000, a long way from km 4300 that we saw a few weeks ago. Eventually we came to the town of El Bolsón where we camped in the Municipal Campground. It was quite nice, spacious and green with working showers, but last time, two bikes were stolen here so we locked the bikes up carefully.

After the usual breakfast we started out and rode through great scenery. The wind was actually fine for the first 50km, mostly tail and side winds although there were some strong gusts. Then the last 15km to lunch was a bit trying. We ate right at the Butch Cassidy House – where he supposedly spent a couple of years. There wasn’t much inside, just four empty rooms and two barns. You had to climb in through a window.

From lunch we were on unpaved roads with drizzle starting. It turned into light rain and the view ahead was dark and grim looking. We fought headwinds for a few km, with a few steep climbs, all on gravel.

But somehow when things look bad, they can change fast – soon the sun was coming out, my shoes were drying, and it was warmer. We hugged the edge of the valley which reduced the winds too. I even took off my jacket for the last 20km.

It wasn’t long and we arrived at camp, in a new campground with fancy bathrooms and wood fired hot showers that worked great. We were in Parque Nacional Los Alerces. We set up tents to dry in the sun, ate soup and then I had a nap in the tent while others hung out in the nice cafe. We seemed to be the only ones staying there as it is definitely off season. Dinner was at 7, then it got cold and a little windy/rainy, so I went to bed before dark.

Stage 84 started with drizzle before breakfast, but it mostly stopped before we left camp at 9:15. We continued the unpaved road for 25km or so, with great views of the lakes, rainbows and snow covered mountains. Bright yellow broom and some pretty lupines were everywhere.

Then we had pavement to lunch in Trevelin at 65km with occasional rain. I’ve been noticing lots of Malvinas/Falklands signs.

Big sign in Trevelin

We ate in the central square then headed out toward the Chile border. For the first couple of km, Twan and I were joking how we could crank out the 40km to the border in an hour at this rate. It was a fast, smooth road with a very strong tailwind. Right after we laughed about that, we turned 90 degrees and the road turned to rough gravel and the downhill turned to uphill and the tailwind turned to headwind. I guess we laughed too hard. It stayed that way to the border. Twan was dying of butt pain and with 10km to go, took off as fast as he could, to try and reduce the pain – unsuccessfully. I continued on, passed a few riders, then arrived at the Argentine frontier. The wait was maybe 10 minutes and getting the exit stamp was simple. I continued on the unpaved road through 500m of no-man’s land, then arrived at the paved road and the Chilean frontier. Inside there was quite a line of people, ours and others. We had to go to three different windows, fill out a form, etc. Maybe it took 30 minutes total. Then I was in!

No one else got out with me so I rode the last 10km solo, mostly up it seemed, into a pretty stiff headwind. Finally I came into town and stopped at the hostal with our trucks in front. I had a nice double with Andrew, took a hot shower, then had soup and snacks – I was famished. Bike love in the afternoon after that, then we went out to get money from the ATM and scope out a dinner place. We sat at a cafe, had coffee and juice. At 7pm, nine of us went out to an Italian Restaurant and all had homemade pasta of various types with various sauces. We were celebrating Wytze’s birthday which was fun. He had done a very uncharacteristic thing today: ridden slow with his friend Bart instead of leading the fast group. He seemed to enjoy it a lot. We bought all the tiramisu (the only dessert they had) at the restaurant and marveled at the bill, well over 200,000 Pesos (worth only about 1/800th of a USD each though). We have four more consecutive riding days in Chile until a rest day in Coyhaique. They look tough by the numbers, but we’ll see. Tomorrow is forecast to be rainy too. We didn’t come here for an easy ride though – we were promised the opposite.