Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)
Stage 93 was an easy one so 7am breakfast seemed strange, but it was the standard and good. The best part was walking outside and feeling and hearing NO WIND!
After the last few days we were thinking it’s always really windy here, but no, it was calm. We packed up and took off at 8:30 and while the forecast tailwind did not appear, we didn’t complain. We had calm to about 5 or 10 kph headwind for the first 48km to lunch. Quickly I was in front with Greg, Twan, Cees and Jan. Greg was so excited he pushed our paceline to nearly 40kph but died quickly. So the other four of us took turns of about 1km or a bit more, cranking at 31-35, and it was great. At least it was great 75% of the time!
When you finish your pull, you fall back to the end and casually ride. You can take photos, drink, have a snack and look at the scenery. In front you just crank hard.
Lunch was special since it was from the camp truck – the lunch truck had taken a longer route to go shopping for the next three days. So we had Wijnand serving lunch for the first time since before Salta. He had the music going, tables and benches out, and special treats like tuna.
We sat out for a long time by the river, in the exact middle of nowhere, eating lots.
Finally it was time to go so we set off on the gravel road to Estancia La Angostura, about 34km away. My Garmin said we had climbed 6m in that first 48km section and we headed down the gentle gravel road with a nice tailwind. What could be easier? I went with Twan and next thing you know were were cruising at 33kph through the rough gravel. The bike felt so great and responsive – like it could do no wrong. We blew by a few riders who had started earlier and it was great. We caught Miranda and rode with her the rest of the way. At one point I said, “Look left” and a gorgeous wild horse was running alongside us, going slightly faster than our 30. It crossed the road looking regal.
Before we knew it we were at the turn off. It was marked by an old cart and of course we had to take the obvious photo:
Then 4km down a side road to the Estancia. It’s a gorgeous place, quiet and peaceful. We set up tents – our area was singles only, no couples as they talk too much in the tent. Then excellent hot showers, delicious soup and snacks and it was still only 2pm! I guess that’s why we had breakfast early.
The afternoon felt like a rest day, so relaxing. It was surprising to have internet that worked too. We lazed around and it was great. Dinner was at 7, with a special dessert of cake with limoncello on it. I relaxed my “no dinner dessert” rule yet again, for another good reason. After dinner we went for a walk, saw flamingos and horses and enjoyed the day.
We’re now at 48°38’S, equivalent to near the US/Canada border in Washington. We have four more days of riding to El Calafate, our next rest.
Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)
Before starting our longest block of nine riding days we had a rest day in Coyhaique. Staying in a nice modern AirBnB house gave us a great base and the day was perfect although everyone agreed afterward that we could’ve used another. My legs still felt tired and used the next day. We had breakfast in a nice cafe downtown, lunch likewise, did shopping, and ate dinner at “home”. It was strange to see so many signs of political unrest, even tear gas right by the cerveceria we went to our first night.
Banks were boarded up, some windows were broken, there was a fire in the central square – people just looking for an excuse to cause a little mayhem I guess. Supposedly it’s like this now all over Chile.
We packed up and left at 7:45 and got a ride to the campground, no thanks to the two taxis I ordered which didn’t arrive. After breakfast with everyone, we took off at 9:10 and rode back up the hill to town, then south. It was easy riding and I was out in front.
Others caught up at a road construction site with another long traffic light. Lunch was supposed to be at a lake around 62km so I waited with Cees just before for the lunch truck. When the other truck came, Anneke explained the bad news: Wytze had crashed and was being taken to the hospital. She gave us a sandwich each and we headed up to the lake and ate with a bunch of riders. Riding down to Puerto Ibañez was easy and very scenic. We took lots of photos and really enjoyed it.
We found the campground but no one knew yet how bad Wytze’s injuries were. We set up, ate, then rode downtown (tiny town) to find some internet. It wasn’t really successful, so we headed back after a look at the pier. We could see the Chilean border crossing from downtown. Back at camp, it was shower time, then dinner. The lunch truck with Wytze arrived after I went to bed.
In the morning we got the story from Wytze: a momentary glance down at his Garmin, a deep pothole, crash and a couple of broken ribs, scrapes on his face and hand. No more riding for a while, if any, on the tour. That was really sad but the show moves on and we took off together for the border at 9:20. Getting out of Chile wasn’t too bad – you had to have kept the form received at entry and then your passport gets stamped. Unlike most border crossings though, we then rode into a 20km long no-man’s land! It had a Chilean-style highway sign, but was a dirt road with the hills (and it was at least half hills) paved with paving stones. Sometimes in our lowest gears, we headed up, with an amazing view of the giant two-named lake: Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina name) / Lago General Carrera (Chilean name).
After a rough, steep descent, we arrived at the Argentine frontier at 11am. The first truck was cleared, then we ran into trouble. Unlike at the other crossing, they were enforcing the “no fruits/veggies/cheese, etc” rule. We had some sacrificial fruits set out in the fridge which they of course found, but then got suspicious and checked more carefully, finding lots more. We had to throw all this food in the trash which was such a waste. Rob came up with a new plan though: lunch time. So the food came out of the trash and we ate it, then got ourselves cleared. I was one of the first few riders to make it through so started the last 86km of dirt road at 12:20. There was more steep climbing, now into the wind, but after a short time, a sharp “good” turn, meaning into the tailwind. The road was rough but it had almost no climbing and the tailwind stayed true and friendly.
I rode and rode and rode, had a little hailstorm, some rain, got passed by Remco who was on fire, then made it to the town of Perito Moreno at about 5pm. The campground was quite nice so I set up, had a shower, food and then a nap after a long day. Dinner was nice indoors and I slept hard and long.
Looking at the wind forecast in the morning was pretty scary. Constant winds of 40-50 with gusts to 79kph! It was also a long stage at almost 130km, so many people were in the van from the campground. Lunch was at 65km, and it turned out most of the first 50km was really easy with tailwind. Then 15km with modest headwind to lunch. I rode with Greg and it was fun to this point. After lunch, he wanted to slow down, so I headed up the hill into the wind at the amazing speed of 12 kph. A hailstorm started and I made a huge error: I stopped to put on my jacket without looking. As soon as I had one sleeve on, a pack of four led by Bastiaan on fire blasted by. I had no chance to catch them and was then doomed to ride alone for the rest of the way. But I figured it was a good challenge so just tried to keep spinning and keep a good attitude. By now the wind was pretty much howling and I was down to 11 kph on the flat. On one up hill, when one of those 79 kph gusts hit, I saw the speed go as low as 7.4 kph. With 40km to go that is brutal. I had to stop a few times – peeing was really hard, standing up was not on. I saw on the map that the last 18km or so would be in a better direction so just focused on getting that far. The constant roar in my ears was really annoying. At some angles it sounded like a truck coming from behind, echoing in my head. I couldn’t take a hand off the handbar so snot was blowing from my nose, sometimes up onto my glasses. I had never ridden in conditions like this. As it got stronger I started to worry that it would blow me off the bike or into traffic. And it would’ve if it was a little stronger but I just kept going and finally came to a big round left turn. After this turn I was going 65 kph on a slight downhill, feeling no wind on any part of my face or head. Amazing. At 55 kph, a cloud’s shadow passed me going quite fast. A few parts were even a little scary as the wind gusts and is not constant, but it was fine really. The lunch truck passed me on the last hill, then I rolled into “town” (really just a hostal and a couple of houses). It was a little grim, with no camping sites visible and the wind howling. Andrew and some others had set up tents in an abandoned house far away. I looked around and found a sheltered spot and set up there, kind of a garbagy place, but my tent was on smooth grass and behind some trees. There were showers in the hostal, internet and food as well. After a nap, dinner was on, in doors, then I crashed hard in my tent. Riding all that way solo was silly I guess – it takes too much power. The wind howled all night and was still strong at 1am.
I woke up at 6:15 and the wind had dropped but it was still there and the temperature was …cold. I packed up, breakfast indoors at 7am, checked the wind forecast to find winds only in the 30s and gusts only in the 50s. Much better. We left at 8:25 and no way was I going alone. Twan was back in action after taking most of the previous day off. He took the hit for me and Cees all the way to lunch! Amazing effort, especially at the beginning, climbing straight into a 30 kph wind.
We saw lots of Guanacos and even a rhea. It was startled by us and ran along side the road in our direction – looked like it couldn’t jump the fence. We had a tailwind at the time and were going 35 and it kept pace perfectly. We came to lunch at 55km and sitting behind the truck actually did work. We had a nice lunch with a new ingredient: pesto!
Then back at it. The second half had a much worse angle, no more side-tail wind. Mostly side-front wind with a healthy portion of just headwind. But Jan joined us so we each only had to lead 1/4 of the time. When it was your turn it was not a happy time, but still we generally kept 15-18kph, since the wind was never as strong as the day before. At just over 100km we made a left turn and then did the last few km at over 40, very very nice. The place we stayed is just a hostal in the middle of nowhere but quite nice. I immediately upgraded to a room (1500 pesos per person, about $25) since I was very tired of being outside in strong wind. After soup, shower, nap, and watching Netflix we had a great dinner, then relaxed in the evening.
That’s four of the nine days to El Calafate done. Just five more… and only 17 more stages to Ushuaia! We’re now at 48.15°, equivalent to midway between Seattle and Vancouver in North America.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the afternoon, we did some bike love down in the basement, then I headed out with Greg, Ypa and Miranda for beer and lunch. The rain had stopped and the forecast was for no rain but strong winds the next day. We went to a German beer place and their Single Hop IPA was the best beer in South America yet! Great food too. I took a nap in the afternoon then dinner was at a decent Argentine place with fancy ice cream for dessert at an heladeria. Bariloche seems like a great town, especially for eating and drinking.
The promised winds did come in the morning. I looked out the window to see white-caps on the lake, a bad sign at 7am. After breakfast and packing up, we took off in a group and rode through town, with some winds, then up and down a long way with the wind generally pushing forward more than back. We followed Ruta 40, passing km 2000, a long way from km 4300 that we saw a few weeks ago. Eventually we came to the town of El Bolsón where we camped in the Municipal Campground. It was quite nice, spacious and green with working showers, but last time, two bikes were stolen here so we locked the bikes up carefully.
After the usual breakfast we started out and rode through great scenery. The wind was actually fine for the first 50km, mostly tail and side winds although there were some strong gusts. Then the last 15km to lunch was a bit trying. We ate right at the Butch Cassidy House – where he supposedly spent a couple of years. There wasn’t much inside, just four empty rooms and two barns. You had to climb in through a window.
From lunch we were on unpaved roads with drizzle starting. It turned into light rain and the view ahead was dark and grim looking. We fought headwinds for a few km, with a few steep climbs, all on gravel.
But somehow when things look bad, they can change fast – soon the sun was coming out, my shoes were drying, and it was warmer. We hugged the edge of the valley which reduced the winds too. I even took off my jacket for the last 20km.
It wasn’t long and we arrived at camp, in a new campground with fancy bathrooms and wood fired hot showers that worked great. We were in Parque Nacional Los Alerces. We set up tents to dry in the sun, ate soup and then I had a nap in the tent while others hung out in the nice cafe. We seemed to be the only ones staying there as it is definitely off season. Dinner was at 7, then it got cold and a little windy/rainy, so I went to bed before dark.
Stage 84 started with drizzle before breakfast, but it mostly stopped before we left camp at 9:15. We continued the unpaved road for 25km or so, with great views of the lakes, rainbows and snow covered mountains. Bright yellow broom and some pretty lupines were everywhere.
Then we had pavement to lunch in Trevelin at 65km with occasional rain. I’ve been noticing lots of Malvinas/Falklands signs.
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.
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.
We left on Nov 9 for a long stage, 157km, all paved, on Rita 40.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 20km of that we had lunch, then powered to town in a paceline with Andrew and Twan leading.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Some parts were rough and some were deep sand but everything was rideable and I managed it without coming off.
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.
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.
After a long, wide-open section, we had a dirt section of 50km, with lunch in the middle.
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.
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.
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.
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.