Andes Trail 2019 Summary

It’s been a few days and it sure feels strange living a non-biking life. I’m still in Ushuaia, now with Grace, and my bike is stored in a box at the hotel until we come back from Antarctica and fly home in early January. We’ve heard the official news that Bike Dreams will likely run the Andes Trail one more time, in 2022. So if you enjoyed reading about it here, you have about two years before you need to sign up. If you want to go, sign up early and commit yourself.

It’s amazing to look back on the whole trip. I scroll through my photos, I re-read my blog posts in random order, I look at the rides on Strava, everything brings back intense and detailed memories. Before the trip, it was hard to know what to expect although for the riding at least, I knew in advance how far, how much climbing etc. But the numbers don’t tell it all, don’t tell about wind and rain and heat and cold and dog attacks and dust and flying stones and crazy traffic and high altitude and sore butts and long border crossings. So the riding ended up being a bit harder than I expected. The scenery and travel was pretty much an unknown for me and, as expected, I loved the great parts and didn’t love the boring, long, flat parts. The thing I really couldn’t anticipate was how the group would work together.We had a core of 21 riders and 6 staff who were planning to go the whole way. In the end only 16 riders actually completed the tour, and of those, only three rode the whole way, EFI, every full inch. We also had 29 other riders who did sections, from just two weeks to half or so of the tour. Some of those were replacing riders who had to go home due to injury or other reason. Some staff rode some or all of the time too. So the group was always changing which was both great and sad when you lose friends along the way. For those of us who did the full tour, the feeling of comradery was amazing. It’s like I’ve gained a bunch of new family. We camp together, ride together, eat together, talk together, laugh together, cry together, for such a long long time. It’s hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

I feel so lucky to have been able to go on this trip at all. And to have had no bike problems, not a single flat tire, was a super treat. At one point after a particularly crazy, rocky, fast descent I got off and literally kissed my bike. By the end, it completely felt like a part of me, like I never stopped biking for those 20 years where I only unicycled. I REALLY recommend a bike like mine:

Besides cleaning, lubing the chain and occasionally pumping up or strategically letting out air from the tires, here is the list of bike adjustments and replacements I did:

  • Stage 4 adjusted derailleur cable slightly
  • Stage 38 new chain #1
  • Stage 53 tightened headset slightly
  • Stage 69 new front brake pads
  • Stage 75 new chain #2

I couldn’t believe that my rear tire actually ran for 10,500 km including 2,000 km of dirt and still was ok. The front tire looked like it had thousands of km left in it. In stage 53, I donated my spare tube to another rider. This tube was brand new but had been in my seat bag for 53 stages. When he tried pumping it up, it was a joke – several large holes had been worn into it by the vibration. Lesson learned, protect it better and carry two! People asked for stats such as our total number of flats etc, and I can’t answer. Some people had lots of flats, multiple in a day sometimes. I know I was not the only one with zero flats; there were at least a couple of others. But probably none except me had lightweight gravel-specific tubeless tires, only 615g each.

Front on L, rear on R, Specialized Sawtooth tires after 10,548 km including lots of rough dirt

I think the most important thing about your bike is that you love it and are comfortable and familiar with it. You know how it feels when the brake pads need changing. It feels like part of you. You can easily fix a flat and you know the rim/tire combination you’ve chosen is perfect and you don’t need a pressure gauge to pump up your tires. No stress about the bike.

Some numbers about the riders

  • 21 full tour riders registered, 7 women and 14 men
  • 50 total riders, 16 women and 34 men
  • Riders ages ranged from 23 to 69. Just a few under 45, many 60 and over.
  • We’re quite an international group:
    • Riders: Holland 21, Australia 8, USA 5, England 3, Switzerland 3, Belgium 2, New Zealand 2, Austria 1, Canada 1, Denmark 1, France 1, Germany 1, Poland 1
    • Staff: Holland 5, USA 3, Colombia 1, Peru 1
  • 5 riders went home early due to injury or other medical issue
  • 5 riders were injured on the trip, missed more than a few stages, then continued
  • 3 riders, 1 woman & 2 men, plus Rob (guide), biked every inch of the tour
  • 1 rider passed away due to a heart attack in his sleep. RIP Jan.

Some numbers about my rides – follow me on Strava or Relive:

  • Of the 109 stages, 2.5 were cancelled and I missed 3.5 due to sickness, so I rode 103
  • I rode 10,403 km and climbed 103,906 meters in 470 hours 32 minutes (19.6 days)
  • I rode 1,991 km on dirt, 19% of the total
  • I rode every inch in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, missed 282 km in Peru
  • Longest ride: Stage 40, 161.6 km, 100.4 miles (see lowlights below)
  • Biggest climb: Stage 25, 2,452m, my hardest day, 103.2 km with 42 km dirt
  • Most dirt: Stage 106, 96 km out of 138 km
  • Longest time spent riding: Stage 66, 7:20 for 132.7 km, 2,001m climb
  • Shortest time spent riding: Stage 105, 0:42 for 12.3 km, 58m climb
  • Average time spent riding: 4:19
  • Highest elevation ridden: Stage 22 to 4,883m / 16,020′
  • Highest hotel: Stage 25 at 4,355m
  • Highest camp: Stage 21 at 4,163m
  • Average sleep elevation: 1,734m
  • Average daily high point: 2,196m
  • Number of nights sleeping over 4,000m: 3
  • Number of stages riding over 4,000m: 12.

So what were the highlights and the lowlights? I’m sure everyone has different answers, but here are a few of my highlights in no particular order:

  • Riding 100km across the salt at the Salar de Uyuni, stage 50
  • Riding over a 4,883m pass in Peru, stage 22
  • The whole San Martín de los Andes region in Argentina, especially our camp in Villa Traful, stage 80. Can you say awesome?!
  • The gorgeous ride to Salta, stage 57
  • My “doctor” on stage 24 – see also below in lowlights
  • So many wonderful rest day dinners, like Cuenca, Mendoza, Bariloche, El Calafate
  • The campground in Mendoza, also others in Argentina like San Carlos
  • An all around incredible ride, stage 34, so scenic and fun
  • Staying two nights in the hotel in Huancayo, Peru after stage 28
  • Rest days in general, maybe except Salta.
  • The beginning of stage 1 in downtown Quito – what a great day
  • Making so many friends who helped me so much – especially Miranda!

Lowlights – well there were quite a few, but I especially remember:

  • Riding in the worst rain and wind of my life on stage 40, dying to keep up with Wytze
  • The sandfly camp at Mayocc on stage 30. A absolute dump and I got really sick.
  • The feeling I had trying to climb the stairs to get to the soup at the end of stage 25, after climbing 2,500m to 4,355m. So hammered!
  • Climbing to Tocota with Twan on stage 66 – I drank 7 bottles of water that day
  • Standing around at the Peruvian border for hours waiting for everyone to get into the country on stage 12, then having to ride 125km starting close to 1pm.
  • Also on stage 12, staying in my least favorite town in Peru, our first night in Peru: Chulucanas. Never go there.
  • Riding through Juliaca, Peru on stage 41. Hell on Earth. Really don’t go there.
  • Trying to sleep in Macará and the next nights after a million sandflies bit my legs. Stages 11 and beyond in Ecuador.
  • Crashing on stage 24, the fateful day when many of us went down and poor Karin injured her shoulder so badly. A 2,100m descent through 60km of dirt construction zone, terrible traffic jams, bad afternoon.
  • Seeing my friends in so much pain after crashes. Karin and Big Chris especially.
  • The ultimate bad day, waking up after stage 98 to learn Jan had passed away in the night.

During the trip I tried to take a photo of every rider. I didn’t quite succeed but they’re in a Google photo gallery, with each riders name, where they are from and which part of the tour they did. Check it out.

I had never used a Garmin bike computer for navigation before and in the extra week I had in Quito before the tour started, I did some rides by myself and learned about the software and some tricks for dealing with maps and tracks. I summarized it all in a Google doc you can read if you want. It covers Garmin, OpenStreetMaps, Strava and Relive.

I’ll post again when we get back from Antarctica. Maybe I’ll have some more insights. What did I really learn by taking this trip? Sure it was amazing but am I a better person and why?

At the Equator near Quito on August 2, 2019

Andes Trail Stages 108-109 Dec 16-Dec 17, 2019

Stages 108-109 of 109, days 140-141 of 142 – the ride is over!

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,6932,000107,523
Andes Trail10,3921,991103,782 X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,72499540,795
    Chile1,03322910,574

Missed distance: 3.5 stages sick in Peru (19-20 and 31-32) – 282k and 3 stages cancelled/shortened in Chile (100-102) – 120km.

What an exciting time – it seemed we’d be riding this epic tour forever but the end finally had to come. There’s some sadness but with all the things we’ve been through, mental and physical, it feels like a good time to be ending.

It looked funny when I fired up my Garmin for stage 108 with only two choices for courses to ride.

Our second to last stage started at 9am, leaving the hotel in Rio Grande into a pretty stiff headwind. I stuck with the A-team the whole day which may have been a mistake. Pushing so hard just to go a few kph faster sometimes doesn’t seem worth it. I know I felt spent at the end of the day. Say it all together now: soft cock! We rode out to Ruta 3, then followed it all day to Tolhuin. The wind was mostly from the front and side, not as strong as our previous day’s tail wind, but enough to cause us to work hard. The road also has a lot of fast traffic so slanting pace lines aren’t safe but we did it anyway.

After rotating out of the hot seat, you get to rest in this position

Lunch was “about halfway” as Rob always says, then we continued on again. We rode through Tolhuin to the Panadería La Unión, supposedly the most famous bakery in all of Argentina. I don’t know about that, but all seven of us loved sitting down, out of the wind, and eating pastries in the crowded, fun place. A couple of churros and some other pastry set me back 75 pesos, just over $1.

From there, we had an easy dirt ride down the hill to our campground on the shore of a large lake, Lago Fagnano. Camping Hain is a crazy place with the owner cruising around greeting everyone multiple times on his fat bike, and “interesting” artwork all over.

We put our tents up inside teepees or other shelters although there weren’t enough for everyone. Twan and I fit both tents in one shelter. There was a warm kitchen hut where we had delicious soup and snacks, then it had warmed up and I had a snooze in my tent. The hut was FULL of signs made over the years by many travelers.

Last post ride soup

Our last camping dinner was fun, squeezed inside the hut. After eating, Anneke was Santa Claus and gave out presents Dutch-style. Each person got a personalized present, or in my case, many. I received a box full of many yellow items: peanut M&Ms, a yellow streamer, a yellow drink, a yellow dish sponge, a yellow bag of potato chips, and several more items. It was really fun although dinner was quite late and I was so hammered I went to sleep right after and slept like a stone.

Anneke is Santa

In the morning, it was raining, even a little inside our shelter. It was better than sleeping out though. I unzipped my tent and a friendly dog was curled up right at the door looking like he wanted to come in. We packed up in the rain, ate breakfast and got ready to ride. By the time we actually started, the rain had almost stopped. We had a few km of dirt back to Ruta 3, then headed along the lake.

I could still feel my legs from yesterday so rode easy the whole day, chatting with Miranda and Cees. The kilometers passed so easily and quickly it was amazing.

We stopped for coffee/hot chocolate after 40km, then did a 400m climb up into the fog. All this time the scenery was getting more interesting, higher mountains, more beautiful, although we didn’t even stop at the summit mirador as it was fully fogged in.

We came down the other side toward Ushuaia and wow, it was gorgeous. Soon we even saw some blue sky ahead.

Lunch was at 75km, not really halfway, but who’s counting? We regrouped there, sitting in the sun, enjoying our last Bike Dreams lunch.

Sonja arrived (and someone of course said “let’s go” as she pulled up) and after a reasonable time, Rob said, “Let’s go” for real and we all followed him in a group. The plan was to arrive all together which was great. The scenery got better and better.

The pace was slow but before long we were stopped at a set of giant Ushuaia signs – the final regrouping point.

After many photos and hugs, we continued together the last few km into town. I recognized it from nine years ago but there are many new buildings and it looks much more prosperous now.

Arriving in Ushuaia

I was expecting the Finish Ceremony to be at the classic “Fin del Monde” sign downtown but that area is more built up now and the trucks can’t get there. Instead we stopped at a giant new Ushuaia sign at the waterfront. The was a giant finish arch, music playing, champagne and many many snacks. The champagne was served by Kees who had left us in Cusco but came back with his wife for a trip to Antarctica. He looked great and I really wish he had been able to ride the whole way with us. There were so many congratulations and hugs etc, it was awesome.

We did a group photo on the Ushuaia sign, shot by Rob standing atop one of the Bike Dreams trucks.

Then we rode to the famous “Fin del Mundo” sign.

The last ride was a couple of km up to the Hotel Ushuaia above town. I got a nice double for the last time with Andrew. There was some screw up with dinner plans so we ended up all staying in the hotel until 9:15pm but that gave us time to get bike boxes and start packing and drink a number of beers. We walked downtown in the rain and I recognized several stores and bars I had been to before. We ate at a Chinese buffet place, not the greatest but it was improvised at the last minute. Everyone ate their fill and Rob gave a bit of a speech, kind of summarizing the whole trip.

Andrew got up and thanked Rob for the trip and for his sense of adventure. Wytze and Miranda presented the last quiz of the trip: a couple of words to describe each staff member, then we had to guess who it was. We walked back and it was midnight and I was so tired I couldn’t even have one more beer or Pisco Sour. What a day. What a trip! In a day or two I’ll try and write up some impressions of the whole trip but my brain is pretty full right now.

Andes Trail 2019 finished in Ushuaia!

Andes Trail Stages 105-107 Dec 13-Dec 15, 2019

Stages 105-107 of 109, days 137-139 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,4741,995105,553
Andes Trail10,1751,986101,812X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,50598838,945
    Chile1,03322910,574

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

We had a rest day in Punta Arenas and I think most would agree it was really needed. I was sore and hammered by the previous days. Mostly I think it was racing so fast on stage 103, but also the stress of the last week caught up with me, and others. I carefully made no plans at all for the rest day. Quite a few people were more ambitious and took a boat to visit the penguin colony on a nearby island. I just went out to breakfast, lunch and dinner and otherwise hung out in our nice little cabana.

Breakfast at the Wake Up Cafe
Punta Arenas waterfront

We left Punta Arenas on Friday the 13th quite early due to the ferry schedule. It had started raining in the night and it was coming down as we headed out at 7:30am. Best line: “Don’t even think about laughing” – Wytze wearing his rain pants up to his chest. It was 5km down the coast to the ferry terminal and there was a sheltered place there to wait until boarding.

Crossing the Strait of Magellan

We walked on with our bikes then headed upstairs and sat in the warm cabin. We crossed the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego from 9 to 11:30. During the ride, Anneke told us that we would be staying in a hotel in Porvenir, the port town, rather than riding 85km to a bushcamp. The rain stopped and we rode into town, had lunch by the shore, then rode around looking for a coffee shop, eventually finding the Bike Dreams truck and Anneke, at a pair of hotels, with rooms for all of us. It was a little strange ending with a total of 12km for the day, but we had a relaxing afternoon, then went out to dinner at a nice restaurant.

Rainbow in Porvenir

In the morning, it was gray, cloudy and windy, but the wind was blowing in the right direction. We left at 9 on a dirt road. We had to do nearly two stages today, a total of 138km, but Rob had heard that instead of being unpaved the whole way, the last 40km was now paved. The dirt road went up and down, sometimes steeply, with a good surface, and the tailwind was awesome.

With Twan on the 96km of dirt

The downhills were fine at over 50kph and we typically went 30-35. But you know that neither good things nor bad things last. Sure enough, it started raining, the wind shifted to the side and the surface got quite muddy. We slowed down drastically.

It rained for the next 50km to lunch which was at the “14 Trees” campsite. This area really is barren, just some grass and a few bushes, as far as you can see. But there is one place with 14 trees and a new little 2-person refuge hut which we sat in to eat our lunch. I think everyone was glad to not camp there.

The wind was from the left so everyone was muddy on the right side
Power lunch with Bastiaan and Twan
Rob plus our ace lunch team at “14 Trees”: James and Ype

After lunch, the rain died off and we cranked out the last 22km of dirt to an intersection where we could take a 15km detour to a King Penguin colony, or just head the last 40km to our campsite at the border.

The view back of our dirt road, the last serious dirt of the tour
Some bike love needed

I opted for the direct route since the wind was strong and tailwind that direction, although I would’ve loved to see the King Penguins. I rode with Cees and we had a great time, although by the end we were both ready to be done. The place where Anneke and crew were cooking was sort of an abandoned set of buildings with graffiti from many cyclists. It was really dingy and we heard the crew did a huge amount of clean up before we saw it. The ground was really wet, puddles everywhere, so I upgraded to a room, a small triple in the hotel across the street with Winnie and Cees. There were only a couple available so many people set up their tents in the small yard. Not our finest campsite for sure. We had soup and snacks, then dinner later, a special dinner since it was both a weekend and James’s birthday – he’s 69 years young – he’s the guy who won the whole Andes Trail in 2014 back when it was a race. He’s now our lunch truck driver. In his honor, we all had Pisco with rhubarb cordial cocktails with dinner, very strong and nice.

James’s birthday dinner
Typical graffiti
Poster at the hotel bar

After dinner several of us drank many beers over at the hotel – I had already used my last Chilean pesos but many others threw it all down so there was plenty of beer. Around midnight I staggered in to bed, climbed to the top bunk, and fell asleep in one second.

In the morning the sun was partially out and it was quite windy. The wind direction looked great and I was thinking I might finally get what I had been wishing for: a full day of strong tailwind. Breakfast was at 8, a special one with champagne and other treats, shocking the three Swiss cyclists who were staying with us.

Now that’s breakfast!

We left at 9:20 and riding the 600m to the border took just a couple of pedal strokes to get going. The wind was blasting! We got out of Chile pretty quickly but had to wait for the trucks to get cleared.

Waiting for the all clear signal

After that, Twan and I headed out at 40-45 on the beautiful paved road into no-man’s land. That ended after 3km and we were on hard-packed dirt, 10 more km to the Argentine border. Entering this time was easier and they didn’t look in the trucks. It’s so unpredictable. Soon we were blasting along at 45, pretty effortless. The sound the tires make at high speed when you’re going just the speed of the wind is so great.

Getting so close we can smell it…

Then a funny thing happened that hadn’t happened since stage 88. Wytze came cruising by at warp speed. His bike makes a great sounding hum and he looked happy to be back at full speed. Everyone wondered if he had authorization from his wife, and of course he didn’t. He just couldn’t resist. Lunch was at 48km, and most everyone was together again for the second day in a row, very unusual. The shelter of the truck was imperfect and at least one lunch took a face down tumble into the dirt. After that, we had another 44km to Rio Grande, where Rob said we’d be at a hotel rather than camping. There were a couple of sections of side/head wind, but mostly it was quite fast. The total for the 93km day was 2:39 for me and only 2:26 for Wytze. I rode the last 10km with one of the Swiss guys. They’re out for a month and a half with SO little baggage, it’s amazing. They go the same distances we do and are fast and strong.

Fully loaded touring – with tents, sleeping bags, stove and pots etc!
Taken at over 50kph, the Atlantic Ocean visible
Wytze at the hotel showing how he goes so damn fast

Sure enough we were at a hotel, a really nice one. I got a double with Andrew, and after hot showers, we had snacks downstairs. Jan had spent all his Chilean pesos on beer in the morning which he stashed in the truck, so we had cold beer, then naps, then Wytze bought an impressive amount of beer and snacks that needed quick drinking. By the time we finished most of that, it was dinner time. 10 of us walked to a pizzeria and had massive pizzas, I skipped beer in favor of strawberry juice. Ice cream for dessert finished it off.

Dinner, biking style
Good marketing for cigarettes

Now there are only two more stages to go! We’re so close. We’re sad and happy at the same time I would say. Everyone is so comfortable with the life and each other, it’s magical. But we all know that life has been going on in the real world without us and our life can’t go on much longer. We plan to get as much as possible out of the last two days.

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

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

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America10,2301,889103,756
Andes Trail9,9311,880100,035X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,41397838,529
    Chile8811339,213

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

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

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

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

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

Lake where we started hiking

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

Many condors nesting here

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

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

Calafate Sour with dried grapefruit
Nice dining room!

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

Have a little ice cream for dessert

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

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

Pace line action at high speed

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

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

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

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

Our little water proof house for tents

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

Downtown Punta Arenas with Andrew

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

Living the life

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

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

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

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America9,9831,886102,163
Andes Trail9,6851,87798,442X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina4,41397838,529
    Chile6351327,620

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

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

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

Punishing wind on the last part of stage 98

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

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

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

Clouds in Cerro Castillo at 9:15pm

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

Camp in Cerro Castillo, getting ready to ride

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

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

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

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

Another fantastic dinner

Andes Trail Stages 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 a 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 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 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 and 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.