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.

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
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina3,45765430,700
    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, Ype 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.

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
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina3,11254226,760

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 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!

Andes Trail Stages 70-75, Nov 2-7, 2019

Stages 70-75 of 109, days 96-101 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America7,3791,12775,939
Andes Trail7,0931,11872,329X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina2,45635120,036

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

Before this block of six riding days we had a couple of wonderful rest days in Mendoza. Our guide Rob described Mendoza as “the most developed city on the tour” and I think he’s right. It’s a wonderful place and our campsite was our best yet even though it was 8km from the center. It was quiet, shaded, had a pool with water, covered roofs with power for each tent, and decent wifi throughout – perfect. Four of us made a champagne breakfast for the staff on the first rest day, a big surprise for them.

After bike maintenance, we taxied into town and had a great time eating, drinking, scoring Pesos from the semi-shady money guys who always hang out near the official money changing places. ATMs in Argentina charge ridiculous fees, at least 15% and up to 45%, so we avoid them on principle. After some nice beer tasting, we had dinner at a fabulous restaurant that would be super popular if it were at home, just an amazing place. Restaurants don’t get going until 8pm and we were there until after midnight, highly unusual for us. Then a 1am skinny dip, what a perfect rest day!

For the last time on the trip we had a second rest day. After a very relaxing morning, we taxied into town for a late lunch/early dinner, at our same favorite restaurant, Josefina Resto. We arrived before the afternoon closing, so it was perfect, sitting outside, sipping fine wine and eating like kings.

Back at camp, more swimming, hanging out; it was the best rest day ever to use a phrase that’s constantly overused on this trip.

For stage 70, our first in November, we had a couple of new riders and it was longer than usual at 143km. We were under orders not to arrive early at lunch due to a long detour the lunch truck had to take, so we took it easy in the morning. Lunch was at 69km, at a beautiful spot, then we had a fast non-stop ride to San Carlos, ending at a very nice grassy campground. Their bar was great, many drinks were had, then a long athletic ball game in the pool. After dinner we walked to the square and found a clothing store that also sold ice-cream so the day was complete.

The only bummer was the massive loud party that went on until 5am next door, but I still manged some sleep. Stage 71 took us down Ruta 40 some more, but since previous versions of the tour, the road had been remade and we got to stay on pavement and skip a long dirt detour. We had some wind but the new route was great, ending at a funny bushcamp under a big bridge.

When the truck arrived a couple of other cars of locals were there, but by late afternoon, it was crowded with families barbecuing and hanging out. We set up our tents on the barren dirt and sought out the shade under the bridge. But soon, the wind switched direction 180° and increased massively sending all the locals away and filling many of our tents with sand. Dinner was in the shelter of the trucks, but windy. It finally died down at night, but sand was everywhere.

We continued south in the morning and at first it seemed like a great day. But after 15km, it was like someone turned on a valve somewhere – very strong wind, mostly from the side. I was riding with a slower group and led the whole way, but Twan behind me was doing just as much work. We cranked it out for 55km, until we turned onto the old road. The next 11km to lunch was really tough, straight into the wind. After lunch, we did have a section with a tailwind, coasting effortlessly at 45, but mostly it was super hard cranking, sometimes through terrible dust. Finally in Malargüe there were enough trees so the wind the last km or two was ok. The campground was pretty nice, with soft grass and hot showers. Here we had to say a temporary good-bye to Wytze, going home to Holland for his mother-in-law’s funeral. A few of us walked him to the bus station and had a little good-bye party in a bar. We’ll miss riding with him but he’ll return soon in Bariloche. Dinner was a yummy barbecue.

Stage 73 took us to another bushcamp, this time in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like an easy day at first, cruising Ruta 40 but at lunch we were talking about how you never know.

And sure enough, it turned out that after the previous Andes Trail tour in 2016, they decided to repave the road from here. So they removed all the pavement and now we were left with 25km of the crappiest of gravel roads. The kind where you sink in so it feels like your tires are flat, and it’s very inefficient and squirrely. But we finally made it (some not until after 5) and set up camp at a funny ranch where a family lived – I don’t know what they do there. I was on kitchen duty after volunteering the previous night and it was pizza night. There was an outdoor pizza oven and we had a long and involved dinner ending way after dark near 10pm. Some riders didn’t appreciate this and had to sleep early but I stuck it out until the end, washing dishes until late and getting a second dessert as a reward.

We had a late start the next morning (which some riders hate) with breakfast at 8. Due to the now unpaved road, the trucks were full of riders who didn’t think they could make it so loading and starting took until nearly 9:45. Then we had 60km of dirt, with some climbing through a beautiful area, but with killer headwinds at the end to lunch. Luckily the gravel was mostly not as soft as the day before. Still it took a long time to do that 60km to lunch. After, we were on pavement all the way to Barancas, with the big excitement being crossing the Rio Barancas which is regarded as the northern border of Patagonia. Sure enough there was a sign.

Then we had our “Welcome to Patagonia” moment. From the bridge it is something like 4km to town which sounds dead easy even though it’s steeply uphill. But that wind! It was a gigantic, full-on headwind. 4km took a long time. And on arrival, it was siesta time with everything closed. Things were looking grim as our hearts were set on ice-cream and beer, but luckily the campground at least had cold beer. We set up, used their wifi (no one’s phone worked in this town), and I even had a nice call home with Grace. Kirsten and Gareth kindly let me shower in their room, as the camp shower (singular) was cold. It was Guillermo’s birthday so we had several special cakes for dessert which was fun. I slept like a rock until 3am, then went to pee and couldn’t sleep more due to the loud party going on next door. These people really like to stay up late and love their music loud. They called it quits at 5am which is right when the dogs and roosters started going off.

Our first day of Patagonian riding had a choice: you could take the Rob route, 94km with 80km dirt, climbing 1500m, or stay on paved Ruta 40 for 122km. He could only say that the wind would determine everything and that the paved road usually had vicious headwinds for the last 40km. The lunch truck took the dirt way, and it looked more scenic on the map so I took that route with nearly everyone. The lack of support on the paved route scared some and only four riders ended up going that way. We left town together but split off right away and started climbing on pretty smooth, nice dirt. It continued that way and the winds were light so we were encouraged. As we got higher, the road became more like just two tire tracks and there were some very steep parts, some with rocks that required concentration. But soon (over 3 hours) we were up at the pass at 2300m for lunch. There was almost no wind and Rob and the crew were amazed. The last two times they were here it was hard to stand and everyone ate lunch in the truck. This time we sat out for an hour, enjoying the warm sun and the “10” views as well as a fantastic lunch.

Then we started a 40km dirt descent that turned out to be the most fun biking in quite a while. We passed a lake full of hundreds of flamingos, amazing lava floes, and even got to see an armadillo up close.

Did you know armadillos can run fast? They look like little tanks with cute armored tails.

Then the descent started for real and it was full speed downhill off-road awesomeness. Twan, Miranda, Winnie, Jan and I just blasted it. It was steep, rough and rocky so 35 kph felt really fast and 40 was crazy. We went up to 45 at one point, flying over rocks, I don’t really understand how the bikes can take this again and again with no problems at all. Well, we could hear all our chains at the end, begging for lube, but other than that, and Winnie losing his water bottles again, the bikes were perfect. I kissed mine at the pavement. We cruised down to Chos Malal, racing to see who could hold the best tuck, and made it to the hotel. It was really nice to get upgraded from a questionable campground to a hotel, especially when we have a rest day here. In the courtyard in the back, Anneke and the crew had out done themselves on snacks. Besides soup there were many types of appetizers, so yummy.

Beers were bought, other riders came in, and then we had showers. Our triple room was pretty small so Miranda graciously upgraded herself to a single room leaving Twan and me with an ok double. In the late afternoon we walked 1.6km over to the laundry place to find it closed. But we bought wine and snacks on the way back as a consolation. After that, it was 8pm and restaurants were open so the three of us ate at a super friendly family-run place nearby. After a big day and a great dinner it was time for sleep!

Andes Trail Stages 64-69, Oct 25-30, 2019

Stages 64-69 of 109, days 88-93 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America6,70596269,409
Andes Trail6,41995365,799X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina1,78218613,506

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

Before the block of six riding days to Mendoza, we had a rest day in Chilecito. We rode a couple of km to downtown for breakfast, then did some shopping, looked in the bike store, sat in a cafe on the square, then bought food for our big barbecue at the supermarket. I bought the smallest package of frozen merluza fish they had, double what I could eat. We took a taxi back then relaxed in the afternoon in the nice garden. The barbecue was self-organized and everyone brought what they wanted. Jan and Dick sponsored all the drinks as their 64th birthdays were that day (Jan) and the next (Dick). Everyone had a great time and some leftovers were donated to Bike Dreams for lunch the next day.

Stage 64 started off a little after 9. We had a choice: the standard (Rob special) route included an extra 600m climb, with a 13km dirt descent, both of which could be avoided by taking the main road (Ruta 40), also saving 10km. About half of us cranked up the 600m climb, quite hot and windless. It was our first extended steep climb in quite a while and felt good. The dirt descent was nice, not too rough. Then back onto Ruta 40 for a 1000m climb! The lunch truck was part way up this climb and they had a shady spot, super great in the heat.

Second summit of the day

From the summit we had a more than 60km descent to Villa Union where we camped at a campground right near the center, with hot showers and I scored a shaded spot for my tent. After dinner, we walked downtown and found a great gelateria, but it was still hot at night. I unpacked my sleeping bag around 1am and put it partially over me.

In the morning, we got up an hour earlier, just at first light, to leave around 8am, although it was already hot. We had a lot of straight flat cranking in pace lines and I led a line for 20km into the wind. We finally pulled into lunch in the middle of nowhere at 65km, then had to do it again. 5km after lunch, Twan broke a pedal and he and Wytze rode back to fix it. Andrew, Bastiaan and I continued and after a long time, found that the “obvious GPS error” in our track (a short but very steep peak) wasn’t an error.

View while climbing the GPS error

It was really hot by now, around 40C, but somehow my California experience pulled me though and I cranked up the steep hill and a few more km to camp, arriving first. The place was shady but still hot. After some more arrived, including a very red and sweaty Wytze, we walked over to the owner’s place and he showed us around a little. I asked if he had cold beer and we were in luck! Quilmes came in 970ml bottles and I got us started with two. Soon more people showed up and each person took pleasure in seeing how low the price could go. Mine were 120 each but he took 100. Later ones were 80, 70, 60, and Jan got one for 50, under $1. Soon there were a dozen bottles lined up and we were so hot. So we ran down to the river and played around in it for a while, cleaning our riding clothes as a bonus.

Enough water to get cool and clean

Back to the beers. More fun ensued and then there were 18 lined up. We were dry and hot again so went in the river again. Then a bit more beer, but the owner took off soon and the supply dried up. In the end there were 21 bottles, nearly 21L, lined up and a bunch of happy riders.

21 liters of Quilmes

Maybe it wasn’t so smart in retrospect as the hardest day of the segment by far was next, but I was fine. Showers and laundry done, we had dinner, then settled in for sleep in our tents.

It was up early again and since we were deep in a canyon, no sunlight hit while eating breakfast or loading up. We took off at 8am for stage 66, which included a 35km dirt section rumored to be partially unrideable. Before that, we had a nice climb up to a lake, then cruising to lunch.

The last 10km of this was up a hill with a blasting headwind which was tough and made some people really late to lunch. From there it was easier to a little village at 100km where we turned off the paved road and had all dirt to camp at 135km. It climbed the whole way, almost 700m on top of the 1300m we had already done. The steepest section was at the end of course! I rode with Twan and our plan was to catch a ride with the truck if it got ridiculous. It was quite hot, with a strong sidewind that blew rocks into our legs actually hurting. Dust storms came from time to time too.

Looking back down, another dust storm

I was on water bottle #6 and we were going slow when Miranda and Ton pulled up in a local’s 4×4. They gave us their spare water (about 45C but way better than nothing) and we continued.

At least the climb had some scenery

With 10km to go we could see the trees at Tocota but they didn’t get closer very fast at all. We were stopping every 2km to rest, bent over the handlebars, but now with so much invested we had to make it. And we did! We pulled in to camp and Guillermo greeted me with both hands behind his back. “Pick a hand”. “Left”, I said. Voila, his left hand had a 710ml can of cold beer! Wow, what a welcome. I wasn’t quite as destroyed as the Cerro de Pasco day (Stage 25 in Peru), but close.

Twan and Nathan with our prize beers

Unfortunately I was on kitchen duty that night and it was already 5pm – we had spent 9 hours (7:20 riding time). So I quickly set up my tent but then dinner was delayed until 7 so I could rest a few minutes. In the end, Ton was so impressed with us riding that he volunteered to do my and Wytze’s kitchen duty – what a score for us!

Dishes ready to be served

We ate in doors, then hung out by the fire for a few minutes, then sleep. I woke up at 1am for an earthquake that most people also felt, but slept like I was dead pretty much. The earthquake was a 5.1, centered below the town we passed in the morning.

Stage 67 started at 8:15 with a 46km dirt descent.

Packing up camp at sunrise in Tocota

Some parts were rough and some were deep sand but everything was rideable and I managed it without coming off.

View down the dirt road

It took just over two hours to get to the paved road, then Bastiaan and I hooked up with Jan and cranked the next 40km to lunch, going nearly 80 on a couple of downhills. Quite a bit of it had tailwinds and/or downhill so it was quick and easy. After lunch we had a bit over 40km of gentle up to Barreal, another town with a campsite. On the way we visited a tourist attraction, riding up a little side canyon to see Cerro El Alcazar, an area like the badlands in Death Valley.

Cerro Alcazar

From there we headed straight to camp. Dinner was had, showers (nice after just a warm water bottle spray in Tocota), then sleep.

Stage 68 took us to the town of Upsallata, just one day from Mendoza.

Power Breakfast

After a long, wide-open section, we had a dirt section of 50km, with lunch in the middle.

Argentina is huge
Starting 50km of dirt

There was a strong tail wind which was nice but the road was rough. There were some sections of head and side wind, but all in all, for a 112km stage with so much dirt it wasn’t too bad and we arrived early at 2pm. We relaxed with soup, then cold showers, then walked into town, had ice-cream and found a place with many types of Patagonia artesenal beer! We sampled four types in 750ml bottles, then arrived back in camp in time for dinner. After dinner, Ton hosted a little wine party in his cabana (he doesn’t like to camp so upgrades whenever possible). Just five of us, very pleasant. Unfortunately I didn’t sleep well but that’s life.

Oct 30: finally it was time to ride to Mendoza. Breakfast was excellent with pancakes and pastries. I didn’t pay attention to the briefing but I knew it was a >1000m climb in the first 30km followed by 70+km of descent to Mendoza. Turns out most of the climb was on dirt and it got colder and colder. I stupidly didn’t pack any warm clothes other than my jacket which I had to put on while climbing, a bad sign. Sure enough, 10km from the top, my fingers started to freeze and it was rule 5 time again. Soon I was up in a cloud and as I approached the summit at 3000m, it was REALLY cold.

Ccccccold

The wind was strong and a pure headwind, just punishing. One rider was so disgusted he actually turned around 800m from the top to go back. Luckily he was intercepted and did get to the top eventually. When I got there, the lunch truck was parked 100m to the left, but invisible in the clouds. One chair was the clue, and I followed it to another and then could see the truck. I went straight into the cab to warm up with Andrew and Bastiaan. Andrew was loving it, cracking funny jokes I wish I could remember (I do remember he called us soft cocks), but Bastiaan was way worse off than me. He was so frozen. We sat under thick blankets and finally my hands were back to normal. Leaving Bastiaan, I slammed a quick sandwich then begged for more clothes. Jan gave me his killer warm wool mitten/gloves and Ype gave me a second jacket. Armed with these I headed down with Twan and Andrew, into the mist.

Twan, Andrew, Nathan

It was seriously cold and the road was rough and slow. It took a long long time to go down 10km and we had 60km more. Finally after maybe 15km we started to be able to see, and it warmed up a little. We could see the super steep switchbacks below us. This road is actually pretty famous and is called “El Camino de las 365 Curvas” which needs no translation.

I did not count the curves

Once we could see, we started going pretty fast, especially Twan. We regrouped a few times and FINALLY hit the pavement. It was paved all the way to Mendoza and we rode it in a group, stopping once to fix a flat on Twan’s bike. We bypassed the main part of Mendoza (population 1m in the metro area, latitude 32.88 S) and headed for our campsite. Only a few people were there, like frozen Wytze who had missed the lunch truck, but as everyone arrived we were all psyched to have done such a wild ride. And also to have two rest days ahead, for the last time on the trip. The campground is far from the center but has wifi, shade and hot showers so what more do you want? Actually it was peaceful too as many people had booked hotels to take a break from camping. Bike Dreams put on dinner for us which was fantastic, with delicious dessert pasties Rob bought. We had a couple of pre-dinner bottles of wine, which was very nice too. All in all, just another amazing Andes Trail day. We have exactly 40 more of these riding days to go. We’ve completed the first six of the nine sections of the tour and have 4141 km still to ride.

Andes Trail Stages 61-63, Oct 21-23, 2019

Stages 61-63 of 109, days 84-86 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America5,97878662,038
Andes Trail5,69677758,428X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina1,059106,135

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

We had three more days of cycling to finish out the block of six, from Salta to our next rest day in Chilecito. The first one started with a really nice breakfast at 8am. We had fresh blueberries and pastries along with the usual. Nice upgrade!

We headed out from Santa Maria at 9:15 and cruised south on Ruta 40. For the first 40km we were in a large group with Wytze leading one line and me the other. More and more people dropped off as he kept ramping the pace. Finally I had had enough and had my own little group of five or six, with me and Twan pulling the whole way. We received profuse thanks at 65km when we got to lunch. It was out in the middle of nowhere, no shade but luckily not too hot. The winds were not bad either. After lunch it did get a little worse and Twan and I just carried on the two of us, stopping for photos and enjoying the ride. Ruta 40 is the classic road through most of the length of Argentina and we know this part pretty well.

4215km doesn’t even get you to Ushuaia!

It was gently downhill with some small climbs, so a relatively easy day even though it was 120km.

At 116km, we turned off on a dirt road and wound up a valley, across a river, and finally up into some rocks to a fantastic campsite with thermal pools!

We went directly into the pools – there were two, each holding 3 people. The sign said 36C but it may have been cooler. Anyway, it was awesome, soaking happily there. We ate soup and snacks, set up our tents, and after a while had a great dinner, outdoors and warm! It was such a contrast from camping in Peru and Bolivia. We hung out drinking wine after – so civilized and fun.

The next day we had 160km or 175km (exact destination was unknown) so we had breakfast at 7. The sunrise was great instantly illuminating the vertical cliffs right above camp.

We packed up and took off just after 8am. We elected not to go with the A team and instead cruised to lunch at 75km in the town of Londres in a group of six. Andrew led a lot of the way and the riding was interesting through canyons, mostly down down down with a little up. We lost 1350m during the long ride and only climbed 550. Lunch at the town square was nice except for a super loud speaker extolling the virtues of a great future in Londres etc. But it was great to get off the bike and refuel. After lunch I wasn’t sure but decided to go with Wytze and crew. He said it would be nice but by now I know what really happens. It was ok for 30-40km then he was up to 38 kph into the wind and I faded. But it’s hard to escape. He noticed and forced us to regroup. I followed his wheel for the rest of the way to San Blas and had to refer to rule 5 in order to make it, many times. Wytze said, “You can’t escape.”

As we were getting near the first possible camp, we pulled off to get a cold drink. Only a gas station was actually open so we bought 3L of ice cold coke there and I don’t like the stuff but it was super delicious. We sat in the shade, filling our water bottles with coke, and swilling. Excellent on a hot day.

We rode down to the end of the track but no one was there. Wijnand had posted the location on WhatsApp so we could see we had just passed it. Sure enough, back 1km into the wind, the Finish flag was down on the ground – we had missed it. We propped it back up and cruised down a little dirt road to a beautiful campsite. The owner had built it all, little ponds and water ways, with ducks, catfish, turkeys, donkeys etc. It was only 2pm and Wytze showed his mastery of English: “I feel so sorry for the people still out riding….NOT!” We sat swilling many 1L ice cold beers (very cheap at 125 pesos each) and eating Anneke’s excellent tomato/pasta soup. And of course all the snacks like chips, gumdrops, cookies, everything we needed after a long ride. Our diet is so excellent: just eat all the time. Martin told us from home that he had lost 12kg riding from Quito to Salta on this diet.

The showers were hot (although not for later riders) and I found a shaded spot on the grass for my tent. I took a short nap, listened to music for a while then eventually it was dinner time. Everyone had made it, some surprising themselves at cranking out the 100 mile ride with head and side winds. Dinner was just great with giant multi-layer cakes for dessert. I stayed up a little after, but actually needed sleep.

I slept almost non-stop from 8:30 to 6, then got up at 6:30 for breakfast at 7. It’s not really the distance that is tough, the difficulty is the wind. It’s been calm (so far) in the mornings but not in the afternoons.

Getting ready to leave camp

We headed out in a big group, which was down to 12 by about 20km. Wytze was leading at a very sane pace but then we had a hill and were down to 8.

Rob turned off at a town, then Yvonne dropped, then Lambert and we were down to five. We continued this way but then the pace increased too much on the last uphill to lunch so I dropped off. It was only one more km to lunch but fighting that wind was tough. Lunch was at a little shade structure with nothing else around in any direction.

We tried to leave a bit after Wytze but he tricked Twan and me by waiting at the road for us. So it was back to wheel sucking with the pace slightly too high. Finally I had had enough after 30 more km of that and stopped “for a photo”. Luckily Twan was dead bored and wanted anything new. He was entertained for a few minutes while I found an ant infestation in my top-tube bag and had to take it off the bike and get a million big ugly ants out. A total mystery where they came from. Then we soldiered on, up into the wind for a long way.

Eventually there was a nice downhill but you had to pedal to go even a halfway decent speed (35). Andrew later told me Wytze dropped him here because he was holding 49-50 which is faster than Andrew can even pedal. We had a 3.5km climb up to town, then rode through a bunch of red lights making sure Rob couldn’t see, and finally made it to the end at 120km. I was more tired than the previous day which was 40km longer. We have apartments with a double room and a triple room each. Kirsten and Gareth are the parents and Andrew, Winnie and I are the kids in ours. The wifi doesn’t work but the showers do so life is ok. We even could drop off large bags of laundry, a big plus. We’re here for two nights and no one has figured out what to do on the rest day tomorrow, but sitting out in the nice garden is not bad. It started with just Andrew and me, but over the next hour a ton of people came and miraculously, food and wine appeared.

Wytze, Miranda and I had gone in together on six bottles of excellent Malbec, and we donated four of them to the party. Miranda talked the crew out of a huge number of olives, and then more and more food was found.

We are living the life!

We snacked until 7:30 then walked into town which took until 8, when restaurants open. We headed to one that was recommended and ended up with a dozen people. I had a 1L beer and a giant pizza and it was great. Ice-cream for those that left space after, then shopping at a mini-mart for breakfast. We took a taxi back, arriving before 10. Then a nice call with Grace and our old friends Andy and Irene at home, and time for bed!

Andes Trail Stage 58-60, Oct 18-20, 2019

Stages 58-60 of 109, days 81-83 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America5,57777859,958
Andes Trail5,29576956,348X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina65824,055

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

We had a couple of rest days in Salta, our first rest days camping. Unfortunately the campground wasn’t all that great, and the weather was quite cold so many people bailed to hotels. Some of us stuck it out, taking many taxi trips to town for meals and shopping. The first day we did have a fantastic dinner for 17 in a fancy restaurant – everyone marveling at the great food, giant servings and plentiful wine and champagne.

We felt like high-rollers all throwing piles of money at the 13,000 peso bill at the end.

The second day wasn’t so bad as it warmed up a little. After a nice brunch downtown, we took the cable car up the hill and could see the whole area around Salta. Then another trip to a beautiful wine bar we found followed by another amazing and huge dinner.

The really sad thing in Salta was saying good-bye to so many riders: Simon and Karin from Switzerland, Michael from the USA, Rai and Bianca from Holland, my riding buddy Jens from Denmark, and of course Tom and the unforgettable Martin. We also said good-bye to Mechanic Lucho and driver Henk who had been with us since Quito. We have a few new faces but the group is smaller and feels somehow incomplete.

We left Salta on another cloudy morning, in a big group, starting out on big roads with lots of traffic. Pretty soon I was in the standard group with Wytze, Andrew and Twan, cranking along pretty fast. In a town, a dog suddenly veered after us but didn’t attack. Instead he ran with us at 35+ for about 4km. Two other later groups had him run with them too.

We got to about half way in 1:40 and hadn’t seen either truck so sat at what looked like a little shack but was actually a nice place serving drinks and food. After a while the trucks passed, then various riders, while we relaxed. It turned out lunch wasn’t until quite a bit further, but the road was gentle and easy. After lunch, we had just 30km to go, but we now had Bastiaan and he and Wytze together equals a big pain. They just spur each other on so soon we were going over 40. First Twan fell off, then me, and 3km from camp, even Andrew was dropped. Those guys are just amazing. Camp was at a rustic place where they’ve camped since 2010. The owner now has a nice building we used for cooking and eating, and nice bathrooms, and even a (cold) shower I didn’t try. I set up my tent (Martin’s tent) and had a little rest but noticed my thermarest was leaking. Looking on the tent floor I found I giant 2″ thorn sticking through. So I spent some time patching but wasn’t successful. I eventually grabbed a spare one and slept on two deflated mats which was ok. At dinner, Rob gave a long speech about being careful riding, especially about not riding through red lights. Guilty as charged. Then he asked me to present the llama I had been carrying for three stages. I talked about how the llama liked riders who dug deep and how that’s what Bike Dreams seems to be all about. I had all the remaining EFI riders stand up: Joan, Bastiaan, Wytze and Andrew. Then I presented Andrew with the llama for his “EFI test” 2 days before Salta. Changing his second flat at 140km, in the pouring rain. The EFI test was when the truck pulled up and offered a ride. He passed by asking for the pump instead. Everyone liked that story. Then I said that the llama also had a delivery: a package for Miranda. She stood up and I gave her the “Diario Secreto” that Martin had prepared. It had a very touching “We promise to take care of Miranda” page signed by Jan and Winnie. Under threat that Martin would return to cut their balls off if they failed. Everyone loved that too.

In the morning, we had a normal breakfast then took off on another sub-100km day. Wytze declared it a “Holiday” so we got to ride a little slower. It was a slow gentle climb the whole time, going up a gentle river valley. Pretty soon the scenery got better and better, more mountainous. It was really nice riding. Lunch was at “La Garganta del diablo”, the Devil’s Throat, at 40km. We hiked up to it, a scenic and impressive rock formation that we climbed into.

1km down the road was another big tourist attraction, a natural amphitheater. We rode our bikes into that one, then continued, stopping at many more places for photos.

We finally rode into the town of Cafayate in the afternoon and stopped at the Heladeria Miranda, where they created the idea of wine flavored ice-cream. We were passing lots of wineries and the whole area now looked much more upscale. We had a long moment of comedy when Jan tried to order ice-cream. He didn’t get the sign with the flavors and sizes and the woman was just priceless, speaking in glacially slow Spanish which he didn’t understand at all. She threatened to call her son who speaks English. I was dying. Finally we all had ice-cream and sat outside eating.

Our campsite was just down the road, and soon my tent was set up and I started working on patching my thermarest again. This time I was successful and it ended up holding strong the whole night. Dinner was a barbecue, quite fun. I passed on going back to town for more wine and crashed early. I slept really well from 9pm to 5am even with the loud music going on down the road – it finally stopped at 5:30 and then many people arrived back at the camp.

We were up as usual for an 8am breakfast and took off around 9. The ride was even shorter today so four of us (the usual suspects) turned the wrong way, went back to town and sat in a coffee shop for 45 minutes. It was Sunday and Mother’s Day so everyone was out buying pastries etc. We started off and Wytze and Bastiaan again pushed it to 38+, so I dropped myself. But Wytze noticed and wasn’t having that. He came back and got me and said, “No, I want to see you suffer”. So we cruised to lunch at more like 30-33. We ate under a tree at the turnoff to some ruins Rob recommended. Some went to check them out but I felt tired and finished the last 30km with Winnie and Dick, riding more relaxed. In Santa Maria we stopped for ice-cream, then at the main square where we saw a bar that was actually open. The town seemed very locked up and quiet on a Sunday afternoon. We had beer and other drinks, and Winnie had a whole meal. Then just one km to camp. It turned out the whole town (it seemed) was at the camp. Music blasting from all corners, people everywhere, quite the scene. We pitched our tents, then looked for a shower. Finally found the place for a hot shower and it was great. Then hung out and got ready for another barbecue dinner. This time I was on dinner duty so helped set things up. We had a few salads, roasted corn and eggplant, and lots of wine. It was Carol’s birthday so the crew had bought two cakes plus a giant cheesecake. It didn’t fare well in the truck but was still delicious.

They also stashed a ton of ice-cream in the camp’s freezer so we had a grand dessert. We sang Happy Birthday but had to do it twice since Rob said we weren’t good enough the first time. Rob gave a briefing so excellent it generated applause. “It’s a little further tomorrow, 120km. Lunch is about halfway. Follow the GPS track to the end”. Something like that. Luckily the campground quieted down and I got ready for another nice long sleep in my new tent. Thanks again Martin!

Andes Trail Stage 54-57, Oct 12-15, 2019

Stages 54-57 of 109, days 75-78 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America5,30977858,035
Andes Trail5,02776954,425X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina39022,132

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

Our last full day in Bolivia was a rest day in Tupiza. I didn’t feel like doing any touristic things so just did some shopping, bike cleaning and adjusting (tightened headset), and relaxing. In the evening 8 of us went out to a fun restaurant right near the hotel – a very simple and nice rest day.

In the morning, we had to walk over to the other hotel to fetch our bikes, then left at 8:30. We rode fast in a group down the canyon, with nice views of the sometimes vertical walls.

After 30km, Andrew and I let Wytze and Jens drift ahead and continued up the hill to lunch at our own pace. Our awesome lunch truck driver, Wijnand, had found a killer spot, with shade under the trees, next to a stream. We had climbed 600m to over 3400m but it was pretty warm. After lunch we had 45km of mostly flat cranking.

Jens had a couple of flats then suddenly we were in the border town of Villazón. We found some money changing places right by the border and converted all our bolivianos into pesos for Argentina. Exiting Bolivia was weird: just pass on through – they didn’t even look at our passports. On the Argentine side, there were a few windows with a few people waiting. It took maybe 10 minutes, visa no longer required for US citizens.

From the border we had 1km to our hotel in the border town of La Quiaca. The hotel seemed pretty nice although the wifi overloaded and died as we all arrived and connected. I shared a “suite” (a normal hotel room) with Michael and it had nice shower. Dinner in Argentina doesn’t start until 8pm, so I went out and checked out the town – most everything closed and dark. But the supermarket was open so I bought food and beer for a snack.

A little after 7, we went out to look for a restaurant and found one nearby that looked great. Somehow someone let us in and things were looking up: they had eight artisanal beer taps!

The kitchen didn’t open until 8 but we had a great time drinking IPA and eating snacks we brought until then. Dinner was great too although it’s hard when you get up early, ride hard and then don’t finish dinner until 9:30. We had lost an hour as Argentina is 4 hours off California time so it wasn’t so bad.

Our first full riding day in Argentina started out with a normal breakfast, maybe a little better than in Bolivia. We left the hotel at 9:15 and rode out of town on a straight, flat road.

I forged ahead at first, then was caught by a big, fast pack. We cruised on an on, trading the lead, then lunch came early at about 55km. It was great though, as Wijnand had found a great covered area for shade.

Then we had another 65km to go to camp. We had the most disciplined pace line ever: 6 riders each taking 2km pulls. That lasted until about 90km when the hill started and simultaneously the headwinds hit. Wow was it suddenly hard! It was sometime side wind which is sort of worse in a pace line. We applied rule 5 until we got to the top around 100km, then had 20km more of pedaling downhill into the wind. Camp was along the road, with plenty of flat space. Here we were still over 3500m and it was quite windy while setting up and eating dinner. We had the usual Llama ceremony and Jan gave a nice speech then presented me with the Llama.

I now get to carry her for some days until the next ceremony, then I get to present her to someone – for doing something amazing or stupid or painful or whatever I like. We had a campfire after dinner too.

It rained a couple of times in the night so I left my tent up for the sun to dry during breakfast. We left after 9, with 150km to go and the headwind already blowing up the valley. The headwind continued the whole day but our saving grace was that we had over 2000m of descent and only one small climb. We dropped from over 3500m to under 1500m. I rode in a group as it was crazy to tackle this on your own.

Lunch was nice around 75km, then back at it. Somewhere around 90km all the traffic was backed up – in both directions. We rode down the middle, on the dirt on the right and left – there was no good solution. It got crazier as we passed cars and buses and trucks by the hundreds. I have never seen such a mess.

It went on for several km, then we got to the cause of the problem: a section that was super muddy. It was like there was a 10-20cm thick layer of liquid mud flowing across the highway. We had to ride the middle here, threading very unsafely between giant buses and trucks and cars. The mud was spraying everywhere. I looked down after we got though to see my shoes were completely covered in red mud.

But we were free and riding along. At about 125km, we had our hill for the day, pretty small, but it started raining on top. The next 20km to camp was pretty crazy too: coasting about 45 kph in rain, barely able to see, on a major highway with drivers pissed off from the multi-hour delay due to the mudslide. Somehow we made it down the 600m descent and turned into the campground, still in rain. Soup was ready but I was frozen and had to have a shower first. The facilities were basic but the water was hot. Then food, then I found some of the smartest (and fastest) people had upgraded to cabins. Only about four were available. Michael and Jens were looking for a roommate who doesn’t snore so I volunteered. For about 2000 pesos total ($33) we had a nice two room suite with a good bathroom. Jens took the money I gave him and bought a dozen beers for 540 pesos – that’s $9 for about 6L of cold beer. We sat on the veranda sipping, reliving the day. Dinner was great fun, indoors, with the rest of our beers and the Bike Dreams red wine. We stayed up afterwards since it was somewhat warm.

I slept really well and didn’t wake up until 7:15. Just had time to pack before 7:30 breakfast, then we took off just before 9. It was cloudy and cool but luckily no longer raining. We continued down the highway, going fast with Rob and Wytze setting the pace. The road got more and more freeway-like, then we passed a no bikes sign. We took the next exit then the fun began. Rob had a back way into Salta that was excellent! First uphill a bit, into the fog. Actually it was a lot of fog and we hadn’t really ridden like that before. It was super thick but luckily there was very little traffic in either direction. It collected in my beard and eye lashes. Eventually we started a long descent, and at the bottom, around 45km, the fog lifted. The next road was a toy road – so narrow it was comical. A sign said it was 4m wide! It looked so crazy with a center line painted and signs just like a real road, but 2m per lane! It curved around, up and down, through a gorgeous forest.

Somehow Wijnand had taken the truck on this road (and had a stern talking-to from the local police) so when we got to about 60km, there was lunch, all set up. It was a special day since from now to Ushuaia, he will be driving the other truck and our new driver will be doing lunch. So he served us some special cookies and cakes along with the normal awesome food and great music. The new guy has some mighty big shoes to fill!

It was still cool and damp when we got back on and then cranked to Salta. It was 60km, and Wytze declared that it was “Jens Day” so we would go at whatever speed Jens wanted.

It was a fantastic ride, one of the nicest yet, curving along, little traffic, always pretty, never boring. After 100km I found myself wishing it would last longer. But soon we entered Salta and cruised a bit off route to stay on the autopiste (freeway) as it was faster. Downtown, we decided there was no reason to get to camp early since we would just have to help with the party preparations. So we found a great coffee shop and stayed an hour and a half, amazed at the choices on the menu – like more than 10 types of hot chocolate. And churros! It really felt European, I guess like Spain since everyone spoke Spanish. But it could’ve been Italy or wherever. Just so nice!

We cruised the last 4km to the campsite and set up tents. At 6pm, the grocery store opened so we bought several liters of beer with snacks, pre-party provisions. At some point we walked over to the party and Rob was cooking up a storm. They had so many kinds of salads and meats and even fish on the barbecue. Along with beer and wine, it was really a celebration. We are losing 10 people here in Salta, including two staff, Lucho the mechanic and Henk the non-lunch truck driver. We gain about 7 although only a few were already present at the party. Rob and Anneke gave little llamas to each departing rider and introduced Marc from Belgium and our new Dutch mechanic, Ype. It was very unseasonably cold unfortunately. Just a couple of days ago it was 37C. But at the party I was wearing both jackets and people we huddled around the barbecue pits for warmth. Marc told me the same party in 2016 was very very different – he rode from Quito to Salta then, and is completing the ride to Ushuaia this year. Dessert was had, much talk, but I was really tired and only lasted until 11:30. It was loud and there was lots of light shining on my tent but that didn’t stop me from instantly falling asleep. We have a couple of rest days in Salta now, then we continue south.

Andes Trail Stages 52-53, Oct 9-10, 2019

Stages 52-53 of 109, days 72-73 of 142

Photos on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America4,82877654,808
Andes Trail4,54676751,198X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,0022226,231

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

We had a relaxing rest day in Uyuni after 7 consecutive riding days. This day was special as it was day 71, or exactly the mid point of the trip in time. In a few days we’ll have the middle riding stage, and sometime after that we’ll be halfway in distance. A bunch of us walked a couple of km from town to the Train Graveyard, which was interesting but the walk was depressing due to the amount of garbage and general condition of everything.

We had a surprisingly nice lunch in town, relaxed, then a simple dinner at the hotel. Many of us were on AFD (alcohol free day) due to massive overindulgence the night we arrived. You should’ve seen Jens and Bastiaan at breakfast on the rest day.

In the morning, it was beautiful and warmed up quickly. By the time we left about 9:30, it was perfect. We headed out in a big group and quickly got to the paved road to Tupiza. This stage, and the next, had been quite difficult in the past, due to being all dirt, with constant washboard and deep sand in places. In contrast, for nearly the whole of stage 52, we were on pristine pavement, much better than the typical California road.

We were in Butch Cassidy territory, quite close to San Vicente, where he was supposedly buried in 1908. The first part of the ride was pretty much flat and straight cranking. We rode in pacelines, pretty fast, and made it to lunch at 65km quickly. After lunch it was more interesting, winding up and down through mountains and valleys. We stopped in Atocha for icecream and coffee. Camp was by the side of the road, just at 100km, in a gorgeous setting. The wind picked up after we arrived and you had to be careful eating the soup as it blew off the spoon. I took a nap in the afternoon, then by 6, it was much nicer outside.

We had a great dinner, then, for the first time in a long long time, could sit around and chat as the wind had dropped away. It was getting close to full moon and the whole landscape was lit up beautifully. I went to bed after 8 and slept super well. I took some night shots at midnight when I woke up to pee.

12:14am

In the morning, we had a luxurious 8am breakfast. It was so nice and warm in the sun, with no stress, and most everyone seemed to be happy. Breakfast was the usual, then we took off at 9. This stage had been very difficult in previous years but we just continued up the excellent new road. There was a lot more climbing, especially in the beginning. It was a series of climbs with small descents, and then we were up over 4200m again – nearly 14,000′. I think it’s the last time on the whole tour.

The air felt great and then we pulled over after 43km for lunch. There was still more climbing after lunch – and we found that the paving wasn’t really finished. There were a number of 1-5km unpaved sections, but not bad really. On one downhill I went nearly 50kph on the dirt. I hit 80 on a paved descent and I think the record for our riders was 87 – I take it easy these days as crashing is not an option. After lunch I passed a few riders but just went at my own pace which was nice.

On one of the yet to be completed sections

We had a little snow at the top – I think later riders had more, I just had a few big flakes which felt nice and cool. Then a quick 700m descent and we were down in the land of warm. There were big tall super green willow and cottonwood trees. We hadn’t seen something like that for weeks. We were still at 3200m, but it seemed so low and warm. The last part of the ride had lots of road construction, unpaved sections, and a diversion into the river for a while. Then I arrived in Tupiza. About 1.5km from the hotel, I ran into the fast group, working on another flat on Wytze’s bike. They were out of tubes so I donated mine that had sat in my seat bag since Quito. It didn’t inflate – same as the one Andrew donated. Finally we got him going so we could cruise to the hotel, arriving at 2:10. We had to follow a hotel guy’s car for 1km to the bike parking at another hotel. Then he gave us a ride back. Baggage wasn’t there yet but we had delicious soup and other snacks. Then we unloaded the truck, had nice hot showers, and a chance to relax.

In the evening 8 of us went out to a restaurant for dinner – pretty nice although slow. Tupiza doesn’t seem like it should be popular with tourists but I saw a number of obvious non-locals. We’re going to bed early without drinking much even though tomorrow is a rest day. Maybe we’re getting soft? Or smart?

Andes Trail Stages 47-51, Oct 3-7, 2019

Stages 47-51 of 109, days 66-70 of 142

Photos on Strava:

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America4,63276252,797
Andes Trail4,35075349,187X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia8062084,220

It’s been an exciting, sad, excellent and frustrating set of five days riding, but these days are likely to end up being the most incredible experiences of the whole crazy 142 day tour. We had 3 bushcamps and a very basic hostal, and one of the highlights of the tour, crossing the immense Salar de Uyuni.

Stage 47 was relatively straight-forward, leaving Oruro in a big group and riding about 70km to lunch. Kirsten and I ended up riding together across the altiplano and loved seeing so many wild llamas. After lunch, I thought it might be a mistake but I went with Jens and Andrew, both riding fast and strong – me not so much. But I hung in there by referring to rule 5. It got worse after about 100km when Chris and Wytze caught up. The pace increased and rule 5 came in to play a lot. At the end of the track, there was no camp, so we loaded tomorrow’s course and followed it as Rob warned we might have to, “not far”. Finally we found the “Finish” flag and rode up to a nice flat, scenic spot in the middle of nowhere. We were early so had a long time to eat, set up tents and I hiked up a little hill to get cell coverage to upload Strava etc.

I think a nap came into play later, then the wind picked up around dinner time and it was kind of cold (everyone wearing all their clothes and freezing) while eating. A hasty retreat to the tent right after was in order, then a long sleep.

Stage 48 was one of those interesting ones with a choice: the “Rob” route was 90km with about 72km dirt. No support. In 2016, the riders had to push though deep sand for 5km. Rob said “for very strong cyclists”. The alternative was 150km of pavement with the lunch truck. It was pretty clear to me: 150km did not sound like a plan. We split off after less than 10km onto Rob’s dirt road. After about 35km we stopped at a bridge with wild llamas all around, so picturesque. The dirt was fine so far, smooth and pretty fast.

A few more km down the road we entered a village and it was weird: the road in the village had lots of deep sand. In fact I barely managed to ride it without dismounts. Kind of a dismal place really. Then there was 200m of super soft sand to get back on the road and I somehow made that ok (Michael called me a bad word when he saw me make it successfully). The road then continued, and was rideable initially. But the sections of sand got worse and more frequent. Soon we were dismounting routinely and pushing 50-100m or more at a time. Up and down, for a long long time.

At a couple of points the road was completely washed away and the detours were pretty funny.

Finally at the top of a hill we could see the next village and knew there had to be a 2wd and motorcycle-accessible road from there. So we had lunch, then continued pushing.

Lunch time

The two villages are 8km apart and maybe 3km was rideable although some of that is sitting back a bit to float the front wheel and turning a low gear hard with the bike sliding along randomly going left or right – takes quite a bit of energy. Luckily we are acclimated to the 3800m altitude and have strong legs. For a normal person from sea level it would not be fun. Finally we could ride and did a couple of steep climbs into Aromas. We passed a covered soccer field, then at the bottom of a hill, saw Wytze and Jens sitting next to Chris, down and not moving.

At the bottom of the hill there was a sand pit and Chris was distracted by some kids playing when he hit it. He went over the handlebars causing a broken hip although we didn’t know it at the time. He was in lots of pain and we couldn’t reach anyone by phone. Most of us had no reception. Finally we decided Jan, Andrew and I would continue to camp and get a rescue going. A local told us there were no taxis and getting a car there would take two hours. So we took off, following Rob’s GPS track. Initially it wasn’t too bad but the “road” got worse and worse. Sometimes it was just a faint pair of tire tracks, like someone had driven a truck there a couple of years ago. At one point, we were climbing and there really was no track at all, just the purple line on our Garmins.

Yeah right, that’s a road!

I checked and we were 8.76 km from the Chris marker and 4.00 km from the paved road. So we kept going, amazed that our bikes and especially our tires were working so well. There were a bunch of cactus plants, close to the ground, with deadly spikes. Also a weird spikey plant that looked like it should be in Africa not Bolivia. We had to dodge these all the time to avoid flats. Finally we got to the paved road – it is just amazing where we went and that Rob thinks this is a reasonable route. We had been stopping at each hilltop to see if we had coverage to get a message to camp, but no.

We got onto the pavement and had about 10km into the wind to camp which was right next to a giant metor crater. Luckily Henk was aware of the accident and Wijnand was already headed there in the other truck to get Chris. Guillermo had done some magic and landed us a little building to cook inside – we had delicious soup and snacks, took crater photos, sent up tents, and greeted more riders as they came in. Four of us walked down to a little shop for beer and paying was pretty funny as the shopkeeper was a very tiny blind woman who wasn’t very clear about prices and couldn’t tell how much we paid her. Finally it worked out that 4 large beers would cost 60 Bob ($8.70) but then she said “I’m not selling the bottles you know.” So we took the hint and sat at her little table in the shop and had a very nice time drinking Huari beer. Back up at camp the second truck with Chris aboard arrived and he was really in pain. An ambulance later came and took him to a hospital for x-rays.

Guillermo and Dr. Bill went along to help. Then it was dinner time and all seemed well except David and Yvonne were nowhere to be seen. They were on the 150km route which had only one turn, so something must’ve happened. We all squeezed into the little building and ate a great dinner, and about at the end of that, they arrived via taxi having somehow gone the wrong way. I don’t know how far they rode but the taxi ride was 60km.

Stage 49 was much easier, 36km along the paved road to a town called Salinas de Garci Mendoza. Andrew and I started out at the back and cranked until we caught Jens. We rode together and somehow managed to catch Wytze, all alone, missing Chris, out in front. We rode with him a while then he took off, too fast. It was uphill into the wind, with continually changing views of Cerro Tunupa, 5400m. Lunch was at the main square in town, very relaxing in the sun. As we arrived first, we got to relax a long time, then ate, then relaxed more. Finally it was time to go and we headed off on the dirt road. It was a little sandy so the many riders on mountain bikes had an advantage. We rode in a pretty big group, relaxed, stopping for photos – and for Rob to fix a flat on his bike. It was sandy but all rideable even with my relatively skinny tires. There were three climbs up to a pass where we could FINALLY see the amazing salt plain called Salar de Uyuni. It was immense – we could only see a fraction of its nearly 11,000 sq km expanse.

Our first view of Salar de Uyuni

Lots of photos were taken, then we blazed down the rocky road to Tahua where we bought beer for camp. Camp was just by the edge of the salar, on beautiful smooth grass, with many llamas grazing. It was the most amazing camp site yet I think.

Camp by the salar

After delicious soup and snacks and beer, we set up tents, then I screwed up and fell asleep, forgetting that I was on dinner duty that night. Luckily it was too windy to really do the normal weekend thing with table cloths etc. Each person came up and got their own food, both courses. First, homemade tuna patties with tasty spicy sauce. Then potatoes and onions and eggs, with sausages for everyone except me. Rob then announced that due to the cold, we would be washing dishes the next morning – very unusual but I was off the hook for that too! I hightailed it to my tent and watched a TV show, then slept long and hard. At night all the water outside froze as it was -5℃ (23℉). Luckily inside my tent it was warmer and my water stayed liquid.

In the morning it got warmer fast, probably because breakfast was at 8 instead of 7. I washed a lot of dishes, then we had breakfast and I washed those dishes for good measure too. Finally around 9:15 we got to start riding. From camp, there was a sort of ramp out onto the salt, maybe 500m long. We had seen vehicles going both ways and now we took it. As soon as we hit the salt I knew it was going to be a great day.

You don’t sink in and it is not slippery in the least. Many people who are used to riding on snow were amazed at how un-snowlike it was. But it looks just like it! We rode a little, then stopped with both trucks for a million photos. This felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was so great. We had 40km of this to an island, not visible from our camp, for lunch. We cruised along in a big group, starting at 20kph, and gradually ramping to 30 since Wytze can’t help himself. It was so fun – after we stopped and I reduced tire pressure. Just a few psi was all it took to change a bumpy kind of crappy ride into a nice one.

The island first looked like a mirage, then a real island, then it got bigger and finally we could see large cacti on it and cars driving around. We veered left off track when we saw our two trucks. But as we arrived, all was not well. Both trucks looked tilted strangely. It turned out that one had got stuck and the other did too trying to rescue! Boy were they stuck. Rob rode up and just said “Shit”. There followed unloading of one to reduce weight and a bunch of unsuccessful tries to get it backward or forward. The salt is just too thin and there’s too much soupy mud near the edge. While Rob tried for a solution, we had lunch, looked around the island a little, but decided against the 30 bob fee for climbing the trail to the summit. Soon there was a plan and it was time to go. We would continue as planned to the hostal on the salt, 60km away. Our bags would be brought on a bus, with the non-riding staff (2 drivers, cook and assistant). The trucks would be dealt with tomorrow or the next day.

So we took off and I kind of expected everyone to ride together since we had 60km to go to an invisible target, no support and no Rob. But everyone went off on different vectors. Wytze, Jan, Tom and I took the direct route and could see Bastiaan way off to the left and Jens and Andrew way off to the right, just a few pixels each. We rode and rode, sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth, always super cool. It was just so amazing. Salt was being thrown up though and our bikes, clothes and everything got caked pretty well. The hostal started out as a little white pixel, so far away, after riding maybe 40km. As we got closer it resolved to a building with some flags but it took a longer time that I would’ve thought.

We arrived and took photos then explored this amazing hostal. Almost no one stays here since it has no water and very limited electricity. Food for our group had to be brought in from Uyuni since the trucks were stuck with our dinner on board. The inside has white sand on the floors and the walls are made of large salt bricks. The bedrooms are very basic, three beds per. Andrew and I shared with Wytze. We found that big beers were 20 Bob ($2.90) each, and soon everyone was taking turns buying pairs; we called it the rule of two. The afternoon passed very pleasantly this way. No showers, nothing really to do except hang out and chat about the amazing day we’d just had. We had a few snacks but not the usual soup. It got dark and cold outside but stayed ok indoors. Eventually around 7:30 we saw headlights outside, then pots of food were brought in. We had chicken (three weird veggie slabs for me) and rice and veggies and lots of beer. Then it was time for sleep and I was mighty tired. I got up in the middle of the night and walked outside in my underwear – the Milky Way was incredible. Orion was up in full detail, so many many more stars than you usually see.

In the morning, we had the luxury of an 8 o’clock breakfast. It was the normal Bike Dreams muesli with yogurt and bread with jam, pb, etc. We had to wait for a truck to come and pick up our baggage so we headed outside and took a bunch of funny perspecive shots out on the salt.

Finally it was time to leave and we cranked about 10km across the salt to the “shore”, then turned right toward Uyuni. The ride totalled 35km and took 1:16. The town is medium sized (pop 30,000) and we quickly found the Hotel El Tonito. I rode the paved part with Wytze, Jens and Lucho, at about 32 kph into the wind. Wytze just pulled the whole way! We unloaded the truck, then some others started to arrive and we checked out our rooms for the next two nights. Minus the climb to the 3rd floor, the room is great, and its best feature is the shower. I had to wash my hair about three times, then use conditioner then it felt like I hadn’t felt in a long time. It is so nice to be clean. We had sandwiches and drinks downstairs, then I settled in to repair my phone. I had been kind of horrified to see that it would no longer charge starting the night before. Remembering my son Beau’s advice when he faced the same earlier this year, I looked for a toothpick in the kitchen. Finding none, I harvested a spine from a cactus in the garden, then lay on my back with my headlamp on full double beams, staring into the charge port. I couldn’t really see anything but rooting around with the spine, white crap started to fall out! That looked like a good sign so I continued for maybe 10 minutes until I thought I had it all out. Sure enough, I plugged it in and it worked! And both wifi from the hotel and mobile data from some Bolivian network work too, so I was doubly on line, for the first time since stage 47 on the hill above camp. I wrote a while while the others went out for coffee and cakes, then a bunch of us rode over to an Auto Lavado shop and for 10 Bob each, the guy pressure washed all the caked salt off our bikes. Then he covered them all in soap and rinsed that off.

Back at the hotel we had a chain etc cleaning and lubing session. We’ll see tomorrow if that is enough and we are good to go. Around 5, Martin ordered us a pizza for a dinner appetizer and we had it with a round of pints of IPA. Wow, it was so fun and tasty. We ended up staying in the hotel dining room until after 11, eating a pile of pizzas and drinking at least 5 pints each. We did take a little break and walk a few blocks in search of icecream. We found nice chocolate cones, then back for more beers. When you buy beers for many people, it turns out that many people buy beers for you. Our cup was running over and it was truly great. We took a quick break when Rob, Henk and Wijnand came in with the trucks and unloaded more baggage, then back to drinking and eating. What a fantastic night. Everyone was just loving our life together. Some continued later but I know better!

First truck pulled out of the muck
Trucks successfully make it to Uyuni