Thursday, 20 December 2012

Day 103 - 107. It's done it's done it's done!

Day 103 Tierra del Fuego

91km with 735m of climbing.

This day was nicely broken up. We left our hostel in Punta Arenas and rode only 5km to the nearby port to catch a ferry to the island Tierra del Fuego. So for 2 hours there was a few of us playing cards sitting in the truck drinking coffee.

The rest of the ride was mostly on unpaved road. At first there was some fun roller coaster climbs and drops which flattened out and had a very nice tailwind resulting in a nice relaxed cruise to camp at 40km/h.

Day 104/105 San Sebastian/Rio Grande

158km with 511m of climbing.

It was decided to combine the 2 planned days into a single larger ride, then have a rest day in Rio Grande.

We rode the first 61km to San Sebastian in just over 2 hours on unpaved road, crossed the border from Chile back into Argentina, and then on paved roads for the rest of the way.

Richard playing funny buggers with a flag tree, showing what the Patagonian wind can do.
Photo courtesy of bike dreams

The weather was kind up until the last 20km or so where the cold wind picked up, and it hailed and then rained.

Rio Grande didn't impress, but having a rest was most welcome. Even the fast guys were appearing tired, and some of them even admitted it.

Day 106 Tolhuin

123km with 622m of climbing.

The ride itself didn't leave an impression except for the fact we stopped at a famous bakery 10km before camp. A place full of chocolate and cakes and all sorts of evils. Coffee however was from a nescafe machine. Hmm, interesting.

Camp was in a forest. The hills outside of Ushuaia with trees have started. The place was quite pretty and spacious. Our last camp, the next day being the final day. I reflected on the whole trip quite a bit that night, and took notice of each person's quirks and wondered which of them I may encounter again.

Final camp

Day 107 Ushuaia. It's done!

97km with 1060m of climbing.

The day's ride was quite unlike any other we'd experienced. The hilly winding roads were much like what we saw in Peru, complete with police escort. Many of us didn't expect to see proper mountains again, but they are there in the middle of Tierra del Fuego.

Malcolm had a tangle with the police, literally. There was a police quad bike that was escorting him and Tamsin, and for a reason I can't remember both Malcolm and the police had the same idea of going on to the side of the road. The quad bike collected Malcolm on the way through, but only minor injuries where his knee began to stiffen up.

We gathered at lunch, then rode the last 30km as a group into Ushuaia. It was very quiet on the way in, except for the hum of everyone's rough off-road tyres. Early in this ride, every time we had a stretch of paved road, skinny road tyres went on, then afterwards the off-road tyres went back on. For the last few days we've had a good portion of paved roads, but nobody bothered to change tyres.

There are signs on the way stating Ushuaia is the capital of the Malvinas (Falkland Islands), and the UK is illegally occupying it. There's stickers on so many cars saying the same in town.

The ride finished at the sign "Ushuaia. Fin del Mundo" Fin del mundo means end of the world, and the end of our trip. We celebrated with a podium for the fastest riders, champagne and snacks and a final very steep climb to our hotel. We had dinner together that night in a Argentinean buffet. They sure know how to grill.

We finish in a place where in summer the sky never gets truly dark, the sun rises before 5am, is setting after 10pm, but still the horizon is very light well after 11pm. The sun rises and sets in a points noticeably much closer to each other rather than coming up 1 side, going overhead, then setting on the other side of the sky.

So now we all disperse like drained and lightened autumn leaves into the Patagonian winds. 
I hope some of us gather again.

Additional notes

For the technical bike geeks.

- My bike was a Giant Reign X1 2012 model. It's a downhill bike, and not designed in any way for the pedals to be used as anything but something to stand on when going downhill. The seated position isn't good for efficient pedalling, as I sat too far back over the back wheel, but more importantly not over the crank. So I got some extra exercise. I simply hated the idea of buying another bike specifically for this trip and accepted the consequences (the penny pinching Scottish genes at work, most of the Dutch guys would understand).
- Rear derrailleur was SRAM X9. There seems to be a design flaw where it shreds gear cables where it enters the cable guide. I went through 3 cables.
- Most people had different varieties of Schwalbe Marathon tyres, and had a mostly puncture free ride compared to others
- My first road tyres were Maxxis Xenith slick tyres. Grippy, but totally not practical for the real world. I had up to 3 punctures per day due to small pieces of glass which got stuck in the rubber. When I saw a slice across it, I ended up borrowing some tyres until I could get more.
- My second set of tyres were Continental Touring Plus. Road oriented, so not much good in the loose gravel and sand, but rolled very well and they even had a branch of thorns stuck in it without a puncture
- We were recommended not to bring a dual suspension bike. I don't regret bringing one, I made a lot of people jealous on the rough roads and I was relatively faster. Go best of both worlds like Fred and Adrian (UK), have a lockout switch on the rear suspension.
- If you use a small bag under the saddle to carry a spare tube, wrap it tightly with an old tube, then tape it, or the new tube will wear through from all the bumps.

Words that were helpful. Not necessarily precise quotes, but the meaning is the same.

Anna at the beginning: There will be days that are very tough, and you'll wonder why you're doing this. When the day is finished, all is forgiven.
Ilkka: Don't stretch yourself to the limit every day, leave some in reserve or you won't enjoy the journey.
Jaap: Come on! F^&(%ers! (OK, not necessarily helpful, but the way he said it prompted a whole group of us to imitate him and so became an Andes Trail quote)
Kevin: Climbing or descending makes no difference. Find your pace, use the same effort and select the right gear.
A realisation by myself: Any misfortune becomes an adventure if it ends well.

Final thoughts

I finished writing this blog sitting in the same cafe in Santiago airport that I sat in on the way to Quito back in July. Although I wasn't able to add this to the blog until later, as the cafe's wifi router had the common Latin American feature installed and went on siesta.

The trip has been tough. Yet it was always rewarding, as there was some noticeable change and progress with every bit of effort towards a goal waiting at the end. That kept the mental endurance strong.

During the ride, the places we saw felt almost routine. Noticeably beautiful, but didn't have the feeling of being part of something truly epic. Yet even now looking at photos when the places are no longer within easy reach, I have the same feeling as I did when looked at the photos of the previous editions of the Andes Trail ride. The places are stunning and foreign to my eyes again. These photos are mine this time.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Day 97 - 102. Torres del Paine, just visit

Day 97 Tapi Aike. We're still the lucky weather edition of the Andes trail, mostly!

161km with 1393m of climbing. Well, it was shortened to roughly 130km to find a suitable camping spot.

We've been called the lucky weather edition of the Andes trail rides given that we've had so much fair weather. This day wasn't so lucky. In this area of Patagonia, the wind almost always comes from the west. Riding out of El Calafate to Tapi Aike, we were riding east, so should be tail wind. No. Head wind. Very rare easterly wind. Bugger.

We have a cold start with a temperature of 6C, which feels worse thanks to the wind. Leaving the Argentino Lake behind, back amongst the pampas. There was also a decent climb going up 600m in one hit, something we haven't seen for some time now.

The ride was exhausting and the required constant effort, so at lunch after 73km I declared my day's ride was done. Not only was I about to hit the wall, my back was tightening up.

The campsite was in a grassy valley. Quite unexpected as the surrounding area doesn't have the lush green grass that we had the luxury to put our tents on.

Day 98 Cerro Castillo. Any misfortune becomes an adventure if it ends well

92km with 349m of climbing.

Packing our tents up we were flicking the frost off, when we set off it was perhaps 4 degrees with a headwind again, so it felt much colder.

So once again it was slow going for myself pushing into the wind. Some people either chose not to start at all, or got into the truck after a few km due to the wind and cold.

I spent most of my ride between 8-13km/h. Painfully slow. Go any faster however and the wind pushes back harder, and my back tightens. So a long slow slog it is.

After 35km and just over 3 hours the our dirt road ended, and we joined onto paved road. I'd ridden just over 50km, when Didier drove back from lunch to see where I was given I was late compared to everyone else. He did a U turn and drove on the road's shoulder so he could speak with me. I agreed to ride in the truck to lunch, but when he tried to drive the truck forward to get to a more flat spot to load my bike, all the wheels just spun and dug themselves into the soft clay beneath the gravel. These trucks have 4WD with differential locks, so this sort of thing usually doesn't happen. Furthermore, the truck being on the side of the road that curves down to a drainage gulley, was now tipped on a dangerous angle. This was then the first time I've ever heard Didier swear. We set about trying to dig behind the wheels so that they could have a gentle gradient to climb back out of the holes they'd dug for themselves, until Didier also noticed the truck was sitting on its chassis and axles. Big problem. He tried jacking the truck up to put rocks under the wheels, but the jack sank into the clay as well. Thankfully another truck driver that was passing by noticed our predicament, hooked a chain between the 2 trucks and pulled Didier's truck out. That was a huge relief. Any misfortune becomes an adventure if it ends well.

Day 99 NP Torres del Paine. This place is one for your bucket list

83km with 839m of climbing.

My back despite the exercises I've been doing was giving me grief. So I was off the bike for the day. These are the times I wish I was doing a self supported ride. If that was the case, if I can't ride, I rest until I can and so don't miss pieces of the achievement that is riding the distance between the equator and Ushuaia. With a group, the progress continues regardless. On the other side of the coin however, we don't have to carry all our luggage or worry about the regular hunt for water that the self supported riders we encounter along the way have to do.

The ride itself looked like fun. It was unpaved, and once in the National Park, the road was like a roller coaster with short steep climbs and drops.

The scenery though. Wow. Stunning. I want to visit there again.

Thankfully we also had a rest day camping in the park....

So on the way in we stopped and admired

We hiked
That's the Torres del Paine in the background

We admired some more

We also relaxed. 
One of the best beers I've ever tasted. They put the local Calafate berry into this beer.

Seriously. Visit this place. The scenery was so stunning it felt ridiculous. Even the wildlife was out to play. We saw a cougar, many guanucos, a fox or 2 and some many cheeky varieties of birds. One that looks like a kiwi, to another type who use trees like a race track going round and round and somehow not smashing into something. There was a condor nest right near our campsite.

A side note about the wind going through the National Park. We received news that 4 days after we went through, that 2 buses were pushed over by what was estimated as a 200km/h gust of wind. There were some injuries, and 1 person had a foot amputated. Something to think about, as from our campsite within the park, we caught a minibus (smaller than the ones pushed over) to the beginning of the trail for our hike. When we were going through, the wind made even the smaller lakes have white capped waves that were curling over like proper surf, and mist being thrown off.

Day 100 Puerto Natales

99km with 1246m of climbing.

Another cold start, rain too, and the wind was still up from the previous afternoon during our rest day. Thankfully it was a tailwind. My jealousy of missing the ride into the National Park lessened a little, as I got to ride the park's roller coaster unpaved roads.

The ride wasn't only fun, but once again Patagonian Chile continues to impress even with the cold rainy weather. There was one part I so wish I could take a photo that showed what we could see. There was a large lake to the side of the road, surrounded by mountains and the clouds thinned the further away we looked. So the lake's water started as a dark grey and then continually became lighter until it was almost white on the horizon.

Despite having fun on the bike and feeling like I was a big kid, I still had to stop for the day at lunch due to the tightening in my back.

Tamsin and myself chilling out at the cave where Milodon remains were found

Day 101 Villa Tehuelches

148km with 1024m of climbing.

The wind was still going strong. So we'd barely left town and where I once saw 2 riders in front of me, a gust caused Tamsin to be blown off the road and flip her bike, and recently arrived Ben to practice his mountain bike skills bouncing over the rough ground on the way to a fence away from the road. Tamsin was a little shaken, but continued on for another 50km before her neck and knee started to stiffen up.

Once away from the turbulent wind caused by the surrounding hills, the wind cleaned up to being a tailwind almost all the way to lunch which was at 63km, so riding at 40km/h was very easy.

I had to once again rest the afternoon rather than ride. Turned out I was soon joined in the truck by quite a few people. After lunch the road turned, and so the once friendly tailwaind became a dangerous cross wind. So people were getting worried that they would be blown across the road into the path of a truck or car.

Day 102 Punta Arenas

102km and 588m of climbing.

I was unable to ride again, so for me the day was filled with seeing people on their bikes leaning their bikes a LONG way over to the side fighting the wind for the whole trip. Some people also chose to stop part way into the day due to it being dangerous.

The wind is a constant factor here, they have what is known as "flag trees" as they grow tipped over pointing to the east due to the strong westerly winds.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Day 88 - 96. Bike dreams should form a sub branch called hike dreams

Day 88 Puerto Ibanez

111km with 1201m of climbing is the plan.

Given my back was made a little worse during our rest day in Coyhaique when I had decided to ride into town from the campsite, I was still walking rather than riding.

I'd left straight after breakfast, and everyone on their bikes passed me after I'd done perhaps 4km. So I took some photos of them all as they went by, and I continued amongst some very beautiful landscape. I hated it, because when this trip is done, I won't be able to see it every day again.

Luckily Richard who was set to pick me up had warned me that they may take a couple of hours getting some of the shopping done before driving out of town. I'd walked without seeing anyone or any road signs for over 2 hours, and even with Richard's comment I had begun questioning if I'd missed a turn somewhere.

After lunch, the scenery was the best I'd seen up until then. Just stunning. The photos are good, but nowhere near as good as being there.

Day 89 Perito Moreno

111km with 1201m of climbing. Most of it unpaved. A standard issue day. We crossed back into Argentina from Chile. So there were comments about having the "dirty 2's" again, as Argentina uses paper notes, and the 2 peso notes are used very often. So they absorb all sorts of nastiness. Bit of a difference to Chile's plastic notes, where we were all carrying stacks of 10000 peso notes.

Given there was no real split in time between the 2 trucks due to the border crossing, I didn't walk on this day.

The ride for those who did ride was quite tough at the beginning, going steeply and constantly up and down.

The border crossings were uneventful, and then back in Argentina, we were back amongst the pampas. Boring, flat or low rolling hills, low shrubs and grass. Most of us aren't too keen on it.

Michelle, Tamsin, Gerdi (sorry Gerdi!), Richard, Adrian (UK) and Jaap
Sneaking up on the the wild people Didier, Jo and Arunas who roam the pampas setting up lunch spots. They're very shy.

Day 90 Bajo Caracoles

131km with 1310m of climbing on the bike. I walked 23km.

The day started with promise. When I woke, I found I was able to move without having to be extremely careful and slow when getting out of the tent. A good sign my back is on the mend. At this rate, I was hoping that I could be back on the bike within 3 or 4 days.

I fit in 16km of walking before I was picked up by Richard. The wind then started to really pickup. The forecast was for winds to reach up to 50km/h.

Very appropriate Patagonian wind sign!

The scenery wasn't worth mentioning, as we were among the pampas. Yawn.

After lunch, set off again and managed to score my first sighting of an armadillo  Shy little buggers. One sound and it ran away. Not that it mattered, I snuck in a few photos before it bolted.

5km into the walk after lunch, my left knee which started all the off bike grief came back to haunt me. Cheeky inconsiderate thing. I thought it was done complaining. I continued on for another 2km to see if it would get worse. It did, by which time Didier arrived from lunch and picked me up.

Day 91 Las Horquetas

109km with 551m of climbing, essentially flat.

With my knee still sore and my back still complaining, to try and prevent an ongoing cycle of injuries, I rested for the day. A pity, as the Patagonian winds were a tailwind. We meet people on motorbikes or self supported cyclists with panniers on their mountain bikes along the way. One of the motorcyclists with us from Australia mentioned that during the day he was travelling at 80km/h and all he could hear was the engine and tyres of his bike. No wind in his face. So best guess was the wind was doing that speed as well!

We setup camp beside a building that is slowly being built over many years as to what appears will eventually be a restaurant. Bonus was the toilets worked. A luxurious bushcamp. Just no showers.

The wind was very strong, so everyone setup their tents beside the building to get some protection. Having confidence in my tent, I decided to take advantage of all the spare space and went to the back corner of the field. I prefer to have my tent by itself, so during the night I don't get woken by people walking around, tripping over my guy ropes, and the sound of tent zips. Human nature is a funny thing. I'd barely finished setting my tent up, then someone decides it must be a good spot and tried to setup right beside me. I was waiting for them to finish then I was going to move, but they discovered it was too difficult to setup with the strong wind and retreated back to being near the bunch of tents beside the building. Excellent. That often happens, 1 tent goes up, and despite all the space available, the other tents are clustered together.

Day 92 Estancia La Angostura

83km with 100m climbing. Still in pain, still resting.

The day starts with a time trial. The tail wind was still strong in the morning, and so everyone did a very good pace. Everyone covered the 48km to lunch in approximately an hour. Some a little less, some a little more. An average of 50km/h on a MOUNTAIN bike is ridiculously quick. Shows how much difference something as insubstantial as air can make.

The riding for most was completed by around midday, and we were treated to something quite out of place.

The estancia/station/ranch was in a narrow long valley. Whereas the rest of the area was barren, this valley had grass, and some trees near the buildings. Horses and sheep wandering around. The sheep were very friendly, as the young ones were still bottle fed. Not to mention the dogs and cats. A sanctuary or oasis. A very beautiful place, which became even better at sunset.

Day 93 Estancia La Siberia

67km with 553m of climbing. Whereas I was feeling better, and went for a casual 31km stroll.

The scenery was pampas. Not worth mentioning.

Michelle and myself had this silly idea to walk the complete distance from lunch to the campsite. So that's what we did, for 6 hours.

The start of a casual stroll
Michelle, Yolande joined us for a little while, and myself in what has been named my hobo pants. They have good pockets! 
Photo courtesy of Jaap - Bike Dreams crew

It wasn't entirely unamusing. There were quite a number of locusts on the dirt road. Of course, some were being run over by traffic, and the surrounding locusts jump in for a chow down on their unfortunate friends. So then there's a group of diners, who in turn get squished at the same time and so the cycle continues. It was also good to be able to chat for a bit while on the move, which is not something I normally do.

Our efforts were mentioned at dinner that night, although it's not something I'd choose to do on a daily basis. Cycle pace is slow enough, at walking pace in scenery that doesn't change will eventually challenge any remaining sanity I think!

Day 94 Tres Lagos

93km with 550m of climbing. Almost entirely unpaved.

Feeling a little more confident in my condition that it's on the mend, I decided to get back on the bike. Perhaps not the best day, but not a bad idea given it started with a climb straight away, and there was a head wind.

The ride was manageable, but my back was tightening up, so I used some discretion and stopped at lunch.

On arrival at Tres Lagos, which is a very small town, Didier drove the truck to the petrol station. Only to find like previous years, there was no fuel. No petrol, no diesel. So apparently they're consistent performers. This was expected, so it didn't cause any inconvenience, the extra fuel would have just left more spare.

I think it's really starting to sink in to all of us that there's so very little of this trip left. Only 2 weeks. People are taking more photos of all the silly things other people get up to. I know myself even though I struggle sometimes being amongst large groups, I've come to enjoy the company of each one of them. I hope after this that we meet again sometime.

Day 95 Parador Luz Divina

68km with 270m of climbing.

This time I rode the full day. What a relief. So glad to be riding again. Not that it wasn't uncomfortable, but it was tolerable after stopping every few km to stop, get off the bike and stand straight for a moment.

Most of the day again had a head wind. It was relatively mild. At a guess going by the few times when the road turned and the wind was a tailwind and I sped up until the point where I just felt a puff of air against my face, the wind was moving at perhaps 40km/h.

The ride was broken up by visiting a hotel 10km before camp for coffee, free wifi (haven't seen any connectivity for a week), and a silly but fun game. The game is where a metal ring is hung from the ceiling, and there's a hook on the wall. The idea is to swing the ring so that it lands and stays on the hook. Not so easy. Didier puts up the challenge that nobody can leave the hotel until they've won the game. Some people took many, many, MANY attempts to finally get it. When it was my turn, I tried once, got my eye in, then on the 2nd attempt I landed it which brought a round of applause. Total fluke, but shh.

The campsite was talked up as having hot showers and toilets, and a small store selling drinks. In previous visits, Rob and Didier had mentioned that the place is still being added to and growing. When we arrived however, it was abandoned and partially stripped. A pity to see this happen.

Still, we could still wash. There was a river running alongside the property which is fed by glaciers. Quite invigorating. In other words bloody freezing, but still worked!

Day 96 El Calafate. A rest day at the end after 9 days straight.

96km with 816m of climbing.

Most of the climbing was done going over undulating terrain. All paved. There was only 1 "mountain" that gave us a small climb of over 100m.

There was a little wind. At the beginning as a tailwind, so coasting along at 35km/h was easy, then later a headwind, but could still push through at around 20km/h. The scenery was MORE pampas. Except for a little quirk we hadn't seen before... icebergs in the lake beside El Calafate.

On the following rest day, a good portion of us went and visited the nearby glaciers either by going on a hike, or visiting by boat, or a combination of both.

Multiple minor glaciers feeding into a major one

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Day 81 - 87. Patagonia continues to impress, and now on foot

Day 81 El Bolson

123km with 1289m of climbing.

Armed with some new earphones that I bought in Bariloche, we left town. Getting out of town however was surprisingly steep. At one point I saw it was a 15% incline. The steepest I've seen in an urban area during this trip.

We had MORE lakes and MORE snow capped mountains and MORE forests and MORE flowers. The drudgery! Not. I love this part of the world, it's really beautiful.

The day went well enough. Having music to listen to during the ride changes the experience quite a bit. Depending on the mood of the music, I found myself looking at the scenery in various ways that I normally wouldn't. Very enjoyable. I also was looking at my bike computer to check the progress a lot less, which is a good sign.

I was thankful that my knee and ankle felt much, much better. The top of my butt where it joins the hips had a bit of an ache, but nothing unusual since recently been using more strength during the day now that I actually have some to use. So a great ride.

After setting up my tent at the campsite and lay down inside it to relax, a cat passed by. I of course called out to it, gave it a pat and then drifted to sleep. I later woke for dinner, and found that the cat had made itself comfortable lying along my back. I found that rather amusing, and some silly jokes was of course made at dinner about waking up to finding a pussy cat on me. The wording wasn't quite exactly that, but close enough! Getting to dinner however in the first place was quite a challenge. That ache in my lower back had locked up into something quite painful, so I had shuffled from the tent to dinner bent over like an old man.

Day 82 National Park Los Alerces

106km with 1233m of climbing. All of which I missed.

I woke to find that any movement shot horrid pains across my back, around to the front of my hips and and flaring pains in my thighs. I haven't experienced this sort of thing in my back for many years. Back then, practicing Tai Chi over time had remedied it.

This meant I wasn't riding, but rather stuck in the truck. Bugger. Early on during this trip, chest infection, bronchitis, asthma and lack of fitness was causing me grief. Then late Peru, Bolivia and early Argentina all had been well. Now in Argentina just before entering Chile for the first time, biomechanicaly my body was beginning to complain from the day after day abuse. My theory is the pains are working their upwards, so within a week or so I'll just have a headache and with nowhere higher to go, they'll disappear!

So the day for me started trying to take the pain while the truck bounced along the unpaved road. It was difficult to take notice of the scenery when the pain kept demanding my attention. The scenery that I did notice however was very beautiful.

At the end of the day we were once again treated to camping lakeside.

Day 83 Futaleufu in Chile!

125km with 1171m of climbing.

A day for me in the truck once again unfortunately. Not that being in the truck is an overall bad experience, it's just not as good or rewarding as being on the bike.

The day was uneventful aside from the border crossing from Argentina into Chile. Chile is quite strict with regards to what can be carried into the country as far as organics are concerned. In general fresh foods cannot cross, anything else such as souvenirs made from timber, feathers and so forth aren't allowed either. Sadly, we lost a part of one of the trucks which had been a bit of fun. We had a cow's skull attached the front, and some wire that in a very artistic way spelt Peru. Attached to the skull was memorabilia we'd found along the way such as women's lingerie, a doll's head (which has a story not for public consumption). It was unceremonially dumped in the border bin.

The border crossing was unusual by the fact that there was nothing there besides the offices for immigration on each side of the border. No stalls, money exchange or anything.

We had a hotel on arriving in town, which in our schedule says for this day we're supposed to be having a bushcamp (just a place with no facilities). On arrival, I'll say that the hotel was very basic and rather run down. It had toilets and showers whereas bushcamps do not, so it was good. Except for the fact that the showers kept running cold, as the pilot lights on the gas heaters were constantly going out.

Given that we were in a hotel in town, this means we're supposed to find our own dinners. There was 1 ATM in town, it accepted Mastercard, but not Visa. Most of us had Visa. Predicament! Thankfully Didier found out that a telephone shop exchanged Argentinian Pesos or USA dollars for Chilean Pesos. A phone shop?! 1 Australian dollar was worth almost 500 Chilean Pesos. The prices are going to take some getting used to.

Day 84 Villa Vanguardia

107km with 1202m of climbing.

Still horrid pains trying to move. Especially after lying down or sitting then trying to stand. So still in the truck. At least we stop for coffee on the way to lunch which is good.

The day was uneventful. More great scenery, more unpaved road.

The camping site however was memorable. We had a bushcamp just outside of town. At the site with us were 2 hitchhikers, 2 playful dogs, a goat that refused to move, and a very cold river fed by glaciers.

The hitchhikers were great characters. 1 of them seemed to be more of a spriritual person, and he said to me that he could see that I lead myself with heart rather than just with my head, and it clearly radiated out, and I should teach those around me and people back home how to do this. An unusual and unique greeting! I was just expecting "hello" or "hola". He then proceeded to play his homemade woodwind thingiemajig, whatchamacallit, dooverlacker.

To complete the story. The dogs were fun, smelly, and had clearly some experience in begging for food.

The goat made some feeble bleating noises during the night, and was dead by the morning.

The river was too cold for me to consider going in. Some did, and all of them survived. I didn't check later to see if their extremities are still attached, so they may have turned black and fallen off by the time you read this.

I was then given some valium to go to sleep with to make the muscles relax and hopefully stop the muscle spasm in my lower back, as painkillers weren't doing the job. Wasn't a big dose, so I noticed my arms relax and I drifted off. 3 hours later when I'd tried to turn over, the pain woke me. Plan B?

Day 85 Glacier Collante

109km with 1244m of climbing. Special mention goes to Adrian (AUS) however. He zoned out and kept pedalling for 35km past our campsite turnoff, and climbed an additional 600m to the next day's lunch spot. Oops! So he had done an additional 70km and found that the next day's climb is quite steep.

More pain, more truck riding, more trees and mountains with snow. I may sound sick of the scenery, absolutely not, but you're probably sick of reading it I suspect! Great coffee on the way to the lunch spot at this beautiful hotel beside the petrol station.

At the lunch spot I decided to go for a walk. A very good thing to do. I slowly stood more upright the further I walked.

On arrival at our campsite, we could see a blue glacier being squeezed between 2 mountains with a drop to a lake. Lee and myself went first to the lake, then walked over a mountain for 3km to get to the proper viewing area of the glacier. The walking further proved it's a good thing for my back, even despite the climbing parts. The glacier was stunning. I want one in my backyard at my next home! There's waterfalls being spat out of the bottom of the ice, then some ice breaks off, falls, and then we could hear the boom as it crashed over rocks to the bottom where there was ice piling up that later melted to run down to the lake. Very addictive to watch.

Later back at camp, I was again lucky enough to have one of our fellow riders who is also a physiotherapist have a look at my back. She advised the muscle in my butt was very tight causing pressure on nerves, resulting in pain appearing in other places. She gave me some stretches which I could feel was very targeted. Hopefully this is what I need to prevent this problem again.

Day 86 Lago Las Torres

78km with 1350m of climbing was the plan.

For me, in the truck again mostly. The day before walking around had restored some confidence that with a little movement and stretches, I could loosen up enough to get on the bike.

I opted out of the morning's ride with the steep unpaved climb, and rode from lunch. So I started with a fun downhill, still on unpaved road, which is my personal favourite. All went well until I was back on undulating paved road. Each time the road began to climb, no matter how easy the gear on the bike I chose, my back tightened and I had pains flashing in my thighs. Soon after I thought riding was a bad idea as it was too soon, Richard turned up in the truck, and I jumped in.

The campsite was very basic. Still it had showers and toilets. The showers however only had cold water. If someone was REALLY keen on having a hot shower, for a measly 2500 pesos you could go to the owner's house for one. There's a business model! Charge for the camping, and then optional extras. 2500 Chilean pesos I should point out however is approximately $5 Australian. We camped beside the lake, again a beautiful place to be. Windy too.

The mountains when we arrived

Overnight the wind continued and it rained. The next morning, snow had fallen on the mountains surrounding the lake. If our campsite had been perhaps 200m higher, we would have had snow rather than rain. Snow would have been preferable so that our tents wouldn't have been packed still wet.

The campsite owner's house with mountain behind 

Was cold overnight, if only it had been that little colder...

Day 87 Coyhaique. Options.

The day's plan was 152km with 1380m of climbing.

My plan was a little different. As soon as breakfast was done, I left camp on foot. I was going to do the truck shuffle. We have 2 trucks. 1st truck to leave in the morning is Didier racing to the lunch spot for the day and setup lunch. The 2nd truck with Richard driving, follows later when the previous night's campsite is all packed away, and any shopping is done. So I kept walking until the 2nd truck caught up. I then got dropped off at lunch where Richard continues on to setup the next campsite. I started walking again until Didier has finished with lunch and catches up.

So I managed to fit in 15km of walking for the day, and my back felt a lot better for it. Temporarily at least until I sit for any length of time. The day was cold, wet and windy, which is what Patagonian Chile does, that's its job. I was fine as I could wear heavier clothing. So I loved being at walking pace, seeing more detail and listening to music. Meanwhile those who were riding and hadn't brought clothes suitable for cold wet weather had difficulty with hypothermia. Sometimes sleet fell, but snow would have been preferable, as it would have been dry.

I would have much preferred to be riding the bike, that's what I came on this trip to do. However, it looks like for a little while at least my cycling trip has become a walking trip, which is fine by me. I really enjoyed the day. The weather added character to the landscape that is Patagonia, and it feels right.

There's only 3 weeks left to go for this trip, and still so much to look forward to. Of all the places that we've seen so far, it is Patagonia that I would choose to visit again.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Day 75 - 80. Patagonia blows a welcome kiss, and are we in Northern Europe?

Day 75 Las Lajas. Patagonia shows what it's famous for by blowing a welcome kiss.

161km with 1265 of climbing. Just numbers.

The day started with being woken at perhaps 4:30am by the sound of the wind. Quite soothing to fall back to sleep with.

When we left camp, the first hint that this day was going to be different was when we were riding at 45km/h along the flat with very little effort at all. Thanks to a tailwind. At one point I found myself rolling along at 67km/h along a flat section without pedalling. Totally due to the wind. So at a guess, the wind may have been gusting anywhere between 80-90km/h.

There were 2 hills to climb, and during the climb, when the wind gusted, I found I accelerated up from 14km/h up to 24km/h. Doing this speed at the incline of 4% is very unusual for me, I normally wouldn't be able to sustain it for long at all.

Even when there was a tailwind, there was always an element of cross wind. This made the bike want to suddenly turn when the wind gusted, and had us all leaning at what appeared to be an unnatural angle into the wind, only to quickly straighten when the gust settled down.

After lunch, the road turned from south to west. Given the wind was coming from the north west, this meant a headwind and a cross wind. Very early after the turn, there was a bridge that had its railing resonating with the wind. So it was twisting and making this horrible sound, I wouldn't want to be nearby when that piece of metal finally lets go and flies horizontally across the road!

The final 25km/h was very difficult riding into the wind. It was lifting a lot of dirt and sometimes small rocks, so we rode through a dust storm. Those little rocks sting when they hit! I heard of 3 people who fell due to the cross wind. I found myself sometimes having to push hard to even go at 8km/h. The effort required to push through after battling to keep control of the bike all day meant I ran out of energy, and the final few km was very difficult and slow.

When arriving at the campsite, I was told that I should have a look in a mirror before having a shower. I was covered in dust, and had an excellent free dirt treatment on my face, except for where my sunglasses were.

I was very glad we were at a campsite. It was new, and the showers were excellent. In past years, the campsite didn't exist, so the groups made a bushcamp a little out of town. Showering using the usual single water bottle would have been difficult to get all the dirt off!

Day 76 Alumine. A welcome change.

131km with 1516m of climbing. Well, that was the plan. We went a little further to find a campsite that was still open, so it was really 138km.

A chilly start, and thankfully the wind was absent. In 2010, this stage was their windiest day to the point where they could no longer ride and had to hide and hold on to their bikes so that they didn't fly away. So we had packed our tents, had breakfast and left early, and was riding at 7am.

We started riding through the usual pampas, which is like a flat plain with patches of grass and low shrubs. To be honest I was getting far too used to it. We climbed for just over 50km to reach lunch. During the climb and as we entered the mountains, the scenery dramatically changed. We saw forests of unusual trees called Monkey-Puzzle tree that have a very distinctive shape.

Not only that, when we reached the lunch spot, the trees had these white lines on the same side of their trunks. Same with the road signs. The day before's wind had been very strong as well in this region, apparently resulting in the snow falling almost horizontally. The owner of the nearby restaurant said it would have been impossible to ride through the area the day before. Most of us were glad to see the restaurant beside the lunch spot, as we could get decent coffee before continuing on 300m higher to finish 1000m climb to the top. The top by the way had patchy snow. It made a nice change, and very beautiful.

Malcolm near the top of the climb amongst snow, SNOW!
Yes I'm Australian, snow has novelty factor

I had been so surprised that we could get coffee at lunch, I forgot to restock on energy bars. With 50km to go, I once again ran out of energy. I began to dream consistently of having a mars chocolate bar, maybe even 3. So it was a very tough and slow ride to the finish. To remedy this uncomfortable feeling, I found that our campsite was near the centre of town. In the town, there was very good coffee, ice cream and they even made milkshakes. So I had all 3. Life is very good.

A very beautiful day thanks to the forest of a different type of tree, snow, fascinating rock formations, a great view over a lake with snow capped mountains in the background.

Day 77 Junin de los Andes

110km, was supposed to be 120km, but we rode 10km extra the day before getting to an unscheduled campsite. 1144m of climbing.

The ride consisted of following a river downstream. So you would expect the road to go consistently downhill. Well, overall it did, but it snaked up and down a hillside and following the hillside terrain, so it was a lot of up and down. It was quite nice to be amongst the trees for so long.

At one stage I saw a deer on the side of the road just staring at me. Once I passed it, I found the deer happily trotting along behind me. This is when I got that stupid song from the movie "The sound of music" in my head that has the words "A doe, a deer, a female deer...". That song is so annoying, it sticks in the mind so well. It's stuck in your mind now isn't it? Go on, try and forget it. Not working is it? Some people later stopped and found the deer liked to be patted, clearly used to people.

The unpaved surface was good. Still, it almost caught me out on one corner where I went into a corner and my front tyre let go. I managed to straighten up and use a bit more of the road before I fell. Turned out 2 others had a similar situation and fell. Christine later found herself in hospital as a precaution to make sure she was ok. She had soft tissue damage to her shoulder, a common injury for us cyclists (or broken collarbones).

The day was going well until after lunch where I scored a puncture. I went to put the spare tube in, only to find a puncture in that one as well, this was from all the time it had spent rattling around in my saddle bag. Better still, the patches I'd bought back in Peru were low quality, so difficult and messy to apply. The dirt tyres I had on are very tight on the wheel. So after putting in a whole bunch of effort to change the tube twice, do some patching and pump the tyre a few times with a tiny little pump giving my chest and arms an Arnold Schwarzenegger grade workout, I'd lost an hour and a half. Normally a simple change of a tube takes 5 minutes.

Still, the time spent on the side of the road was a welcome relief, as left knee was still reminding me it wasn't happy. Furthermore, my left ankle was also shouting at me quite loudly as well. I must have been keeping my leg at a strange angle trying to nurse my knee, resulting in a strained ankle.

Day 78 Ruta de 7 lagos

I bowed out of riding this day due to my left leg didn't want to come out and play. I figured if I kept going, next to go would be my hip!

So I missed a short 90km day with 987m of climbing.

Still, an enjoyable day. The scenery is still showing trees and yellow flowers and snow capped mountains. The local architecture has become noticeably Northern European, the type with the steep roof and being made of timber. This is both for shops and houses. I would gladly live in the cabin style houses here.

Further along we saw the unspectacular yet somehow still  fascinating stream that splits. One side flows to the Atlantic Ocean, the other side flows to the Pacific Ocean.

On arrival to our campsite however...oh wow. Just stunning. We camped on the side of a lake. Of course surrounded by mountains. There the luxuries of a small shop, showers, toilets, fireplaces and even kayaks for those inclined to go for a paddle. A very beautiful place to stay. I found standing knee deep in the cold lake for a little while brought some relief to both my knee and ankle.

Later that night, I opened my tent and found a clear sky full of stars. Was quite nice to listen to music for a little while and drift back to sleep. It was cool enough in this place not to have mosquitoes at night this time of year.

Day 79 Villa la Angostura

Even though I wasn't limping around so much when walking, I had this day in the truck as well to allow some recovery.

The day starts with the usual pack tents, breakfast, load trucks then begin the ride. Except for those of us in Richard's truck. We started in a more civilised way, by going to the small shop lakeside and enjoying a coffee and a chat before heading off.

The day was short. 61km on unpaved road through forest. Nothing quite as stunning as the previous days, it felt like we could be almost anywhere in the world, but still nice.

On arrival at our campsite, most of us of course soon invaded the town to see what was there. Oh the shops that sell both chocolate and ice cream! I wasn't stuffing around, and got 1/2kg of ice cream, 4 flavours. 2 other guys bought 1/4kg, and talked of how back home a single ice cream cone was enough. Then only an hour later those same people got ANOTHER 1/4kg of ice cream. Nice try guys!

Day 80 San Carlos de Bariloche

Back on the bike for a 86km ride with 746m of climbing.

The first part of the day consisted of riding alongside lakes, protected from any wind by the trees. The 2 days off the bike had clearly been beneficial, and I felt very strong. Yolande commented on how much taller gears I now use with a lower cadence during the climbs. I was happily riding with some of the stronger riders, stop, take a photo, then catch up again. Keeping in mind however that on this day we didn't have timing, so everyone was taking a more relaxed pace.

Lunch was on the side of the lake, and looking across the lake we could see Bariloche. As soon as we left lunch and crested the next hill, there was a headwind. Not the same howling, throw you off the bike type of wind that we had 5 days before, but still enough to slow us down. The good thing was that we soon turned to follow the lake around, so the wind then became a tailwind. So the last 25km into Bariloche was easy and fast, where we could keep up with traffic.

As for Bariloche itself. It feels very Northern European. More timber buildings with a steep roof. There are huge shops entirely dedicated to chocolate. I'd hate to count how many calories are available here. It's a pretty place beside a lake. Here we have a rest day. Will I give in to temptation? Yes. Just a little.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Day 69 - 74. Volcanoes, but where's the earth shattering kaboom?

Day 69 San Carlos

140km with 999m of climbing.

Wilbert who has been leading the group since Quito is leaving us, and co-director Rob joins us after his scouting ride through North America. Wilbert parted with the comment "from here, leave your sunglasses in your blue tag bags (occasional luggage), and umbrellas in your white tag bags (camping gear bags)". Up until now we've had fine weather every day since day 1. The occasional cloud cover, a brief shower or 2, and high altitude chill is something we've had to deal with, but no real rainy days. As we head south, and especially when we hop over to the western side of the Andes in Chile, we should expect plenty of rain. Oh, and wind, lots and lots of wind. The sort where if it's behind you, you can happily cruise along the road at 50km/h without pedalling.

We leave with a cloudy morning, and scattered light spray of rain. A nice ride still through the many, many km of vineyards and orchards that surround Mendoza. Every day now the wind is making its presence known, and is a real factor with how the difficult the ride is. Not that we have the howling winds that in previous years have had people hiding behind boulders, and crawling along the road. We have those sort of winds to look forward to later. This day, the wind was gentle enough.

Looking at the map, we use the famous Ruta 40 for a little while, then ride a loop off to the side before rejoining the main road. It adds some distance and a climb, yet it also gets us on a quieter road for the majority of the day, and more scenery.

An enjoyable and otherwise uneventful day.

Day 70 Ruta 40 bushcamp

118km with 1177m of climbing, mostly on unpaved road with 18% of the road being paved.

The day consists of plenty of snow capped mountains and enjoyable scenery. It feels odd to still be so warm with days reaching 30 degrees Celsius or more, yet what seems only a few hundred metres higher, there's snow.

All was going well until my bike starting to make scraping sounds when pedalling after some especially bumpy parts of the road. At one stage it became difficult to pedal and had a notchy feel to it. I was thinking to myself the bottom bracket (the area where the crank goes through the frame) was history and imagined what was left of the bearing rattling around and fragments jamming everything up. This would have posed a problem, as it was a part I was expecting to last the duration of the trip, and so had no spares. I could carry spares for every possible part that could break or wear out, but that would amount to taking 2 bikes! I've found, most parts for my bike cannot be found in South America such as seals for the rear suspension. Oh the joy!

With the scraping sound making it sound like I was doing damage to the bike, I made it to lunch and ended my ride there. So I covered only 62km.

Later at camp, Richard had a look and found it was actually the screws that hold the guide plate and roller that keeps the chain from bouncing off the bike on the bumpy parts that had come loose. Tightened them up, all was well. Hmm...maybe not. He then had a look at the rest of the bike, and found that with me having to raise my downhill bike seat up to the height for cross country riding, there was so little seat post left in the frame that it was dangerous, and had the potential to snap the post, or crack the frame. This had already happened to Johnathan's bike where he'd cracked the frame. So the same solution was applied, a strap running from the seat post to the front of the frame to stop the bending force and stress on the frame where the seat post is.

Johnathan's and my bike with frame saving straps. My bike is the one at the front with the blue strap.
This photo was taken a day later in Malargüe.

A little about the camping spot. The name seems so bland. Ruta 40. Just a campsite beside a main road it seems. In reality it was one of the most beautiful places we've stayed at so far. A quiet dirt road, with our campsite up on a hill looking over the flat plains, snow capped mountains and volcanoes. After dinner at sunset, there was a thunderstorm in the distance that was great to watch before drifting off to sleep. A special place.

No photo can really do this place justice. To truly appreciate it, you'd need to see a huge photo with a panormamic angle of view. Better still, just visit.

Day 71 Malargüe

131km and oh so flat 494m of climbing. 84% paved.

After my initial slow start so not to provoke the usual choking with asthma, I found myself happily passing other riders until the paved section. I have an unfair advantage with the dual suspension. The bike soaks up the heaviest part of the bumps, so easier to pedal on the rough roads. I felt quite strong on this day as well.

Once on the paved road, with the tail wind I found even in the top gear I wasn't straining and needed more gears. So gradually other riders that I'd previously passed with taller gearing were passing me.

At the end of the day, I arrived within an hour of the leaders and ahead of the mid pack. This surprised a few people including myself. Malcolm suggested I had a rocket attached to my bike. He normally arrives before me. This comment about the rocket I found amusing the next day, because there was Malcolm contemplating changing the height of his seat. Coincidence after I'd been changing my seat height? Perhaps, but a less amusing way to think about it.

Day 72 Buta Billon

115km with 916m of climbing.

An enjoyable and unventful ride mostly. The day started with a climb that continued for just over 40km, and climbed over 600m. Back home in Australia, this would seem huge, but riding it here seemed like just another climb, and stretched out over a longer distance.

The day seemed ok enough, except after lunch where my left knee started to get pains as I pedalled. I was hoping that it was just one of those pains that develop over a day, and after a good sleep, the next day it will be fine.

Day 73 Barrancas

101km with 1208m of climbing. Well, that was the course.

My day was 13km and 500m of climbing.

That bothersome knee that was bothering me the day before, seemed ok enough in the morning. First we started with paved road, and most of rode together in a peloton at a reasonable pace. I was feeling quite strong, and moved to near the front of the group. On a couple of the short climbs I was quite happy to leave the bike in a taller gear, and use some strength to climb rather than dropping to an easier gear and pedalling faster. I have found that I keep up with the group much easier this way. It's a balance between pedalling too fast and running out of breath and feeling the heartrate go too high, or pedalling too hard with too high a gear causing the muscles to burn out.

Once the road became unpaved and bumpy, on the first climb I began to get sharp pains in my knee. Bugger. My ride was done so early in the day. Richard was yet to pass with his truck, so I went to the side of the road, put my bike upside down and sat so that some sun warmed rocks were pressing behind my knee which gave some comfort.

I didn't have to wait long and I was picked up. Kirsten commented it had been a long while since I'd been in the truck with them, enjoyed the day listening to music. It wasn't all bad, but still frustrating.

On this day we crossed over to the region of Patagonia. Famous for its strong, strong winds. Along with forests, glaciers and in some towns good chocolate. I think we'll get along fine, except for those days where there's a headwind, which I believe is most days! Hmm.

On arrival at our campsite, I was lucky to get an opinion on my knee as I'm riding with many professionals. A few of them happen to be physiotherapists, and one was kind and curious enough to find out what the problem was. The opinion was inflamed tendons, and tight hips and calves pulling my knee in an unbalanced way. I was shown some stretches, and my knee was taped up.

Day 74 Chos Malal. No earth shattering kaboom? No rumbles?

94km and 1424m of climbing and 8% paved. Although on this day there was an alternate route available which was longer and flatter, and known to be windier.

Not entirely confident in my knee, although feeling ok at first, I left early in the morning to get as much distance done to test how far I could go, and if all wasn't well, still have the option to be picked up before Didier passed in the lunch truck.

This was another day of climbing straight from the start. Once it became unpaved, in parts it became quite steep. I measured 11% incline at one stage, (further on someone briefly measured 15% which translates to bloody steep especially on dirt). My knee was being co-operative, although I was being kind by being slow in easier gears.

However by 13km I could see the truck approaching and I had to make a decision. My knee was giving some dull warning pains, so I decided on getting in the truck. If I'd continued and things had gotten worse, there would have been no way out besides riding or walking.

Still, the scenery was very enjoyable. Getting up close and personal beside a volcano (not active at this moment) along with a long cooled lava flow was a new experience. Again, the snow was not much higher above us.

After 6 days riding since Mendoza, we have a rest day waiting for us in Chos Malal. We only have single rest days from here onwards until the end of the ride in 6 weeks time.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Day 59 - 68. Beauty and the butt ugly beast

Day 59 Santa Maria

Still amongst the shorter, flatter "holiday" riding, we had 78km with only 486m of climbing.

At lunch, we stopped at the beginning the dirt road leading to the Quilmes ruins. Only a few of us opted to ride the climbing dirt road to visit. I wouldn't have forgiven myself for not satisfying my curiosity, as I still had plenty of daylight left to finish the day. The ruins themselves weren't all that spectacular. Aside from the fact they were a bit higher than the valley we'd ridden in from, so there was a nice view. The ruins were basically low walls made of stacked rocks like what we'd previously seen being used as paddock fences up until now. The stall selling cold drinks however was most welcome. 

If anything, I couldn't drop the feeling that the ruins have been restored a little to become a political tool. The information leaflets were all about the indigenous people of the region, and the treatment these people received during colonisation, and nothing about the ruins themselves, or the lifestyles of the people when the place was first built. I found even this fascinating, as it sounds much like a similar story to what is heard back in Australia.

Part of the riding was on very soft gravel which the tyres sink in, and can cause the bike to squirm and even throw you off if not careful. Hard work.

It has been said that in Argentina in the previous years of this trip, people begin to put back on some of the weight they've lost. I can see why. Even in the smaller town of Santa Maria, the ice cream shop was still open during siesta time, and the 1/2kg tub of ice cream was delicious.

Speaking of siesta. In Argentina, siesta is strongly followed. So the shops MIGHT open in the morning, no guarantees there. Then loosely around midday, siesta begins and the place becomes a ghost town. At around 6pm, the shops begin to open again. If you want to go out for dinner, good luck finding a place open before 8pm.

Day 60 Hualfin, the butt ugly side of cycling

122km with 680m of climbing. When this amount of climbing is spread over this distance, may as well call it flat. Long low rolling undulations, hardly enough to slow us down. Instead, it has another dreaded feature, the long straight road. Some of the riders find this difficult due to the lack of changing landscape, and do their best to ride together to at least chat while getting the distance done.

I made it to the lunch spot at 65km, and was suffering catastrophic butt failure. The day after day of sitting on a bike saddle for so many hours, it can go from being sore to quite painful. In my case it was getting so painful I was slowing down, and was no longer able to properly take in my environment, and the legs weren't too keen on moving. Not mistaking it with some other people have been experiencing, which is broken skin from the constant friction when pedalling.

We stayed at a spot which was a little out of the way, yet had hot springs. So our showers consisted of going into a concrete shed, and there was a pipe constantly streaming out nice big volumes of very warm water. Quite nice.

Day 61 San Blas de los Sauces

Still suffering catastrophic butt failure, I opted to recover sitting in the nice, wide, soft, padded seat in the truck. As a result, I missed a 160km flat day.

Day 62 Chilecito

119km with 842km of climbing. A howling beast of a day I won't forget in a hurry. Well, until I meet the famous Patagonian winds later I suspect.

Yes, the day was windy. All day, with headwinds except for a brief 30 second tailwind when meeting a junction between valleys. The day should have been easy given the lack of steep climbing. Instead it felt like we were climbing a moderately steep hill constantly all day. Oh, then add the occasional dust storm which masked the surrounding countryside. In this region, not seeing far wasn't much of a problem as it was more of long wide valleys, with mountains running either side. We'd been seeing this for days, so most of us had stopped taking pictures which is quite surprising, as some are stopping what seems every 100m to take a shot of something.

By the time I reached Chilecito and the beginning of a rest day, I was covered in dust except where my sunglasses had been.

In Chilecito, we were staying in apartments spread over a small property. Quite comfortable. I was sharing with the party animals. Later that night, I was woken by a soon to be squished mosquito. When I came out of my room for a moment, the party animals were still being animals having a party, and they misheard me when I said "There's mozzies in my room man!". They heard "there's an aussie in my room!", which got some chuckles, as the aussie was no longer in the room, and this has been brought up multiple times in the days since.

Day 63 Villa Union

119km and 1240m of climbing. Well, that's what the sheet for the day said. The route was changed however, and so rode the same distance, but climbed 1679m. Nope, not flat. 2 significant climbs rather than having the undulations spread out over the day. 

Look it up if you would like, but in the difficulty level used by rides such as Tour de France, my bike computer later calculated this day as difficulty level 1. Level 4 is the least difficult, through to level 1. There is 1 level above level 1 which is "HC" which apparently means "Hors Category", or in english means outside category, but I prefer to think it stands for Holy Crap.

Not that it wasn't enjoyable. The first climb was on dirt road, and in some parts very steep, which now I'm capable of getting through them, I'm finding I enjoy the achievement. Not only that, when at the start of the day we see on our sheets how much climbing we have to do, it's nice to get them done in big chunks rather than having the climbing drag throughout the day.

During the first climb I rode with Tamsin from the UK, but once descending the other side into a long valley. She's a good consistent climber, and more cautious when going downhill, especially when the road is not sealed. I waited for her to catch up once during the first descent, but after that I was enjoying the rough road continuously going downhill too much to hit the brakes.

Once starting the second climb, I encountered Christine and Yolande. There were some thorns on the road, and there I was coming round the corner when Yolande was holding the spare tube. So I pulled over to help out. Not that I minded, although unfortunately for me this also won me the llama mascot for the day.

Looking back down the valley during the 2nd climb of the day

A reminder about the llama. The llama is our little toy mascot that a rider keeps with them for the day, and is passed from rider to rider. Usually the person who gains the llama has done a "llama moment" that everyone remembers. The challenge then is to keep note of what everyone gets up to, so that there's a story to tell with it the next day about what happened. Whoever does the best llama moment, wins the llama. So we all enjoy some of the stories we hear, until that moment when we get it!

Camping beside a petrol station that night was quite good. It had wifi, and the shop attached was open, so there was coffee, drinks, ice cream and toilets. Luxurious.

Day 64 San Jose de Jachal

A 143km 886 day. Although for me it was shorter, I only got through 73km. I started having a lot of coughing fits after going through the dust on the way to Chilecito, and was getting worse so decided to back off. I certainly didn't want a repeat performance of what happened during the first month of this trip, which back then had landed me in a private hospital for treatment.

Day 65 Tocota

116km and 1806m of climbing. This climbing was constant, and done through the entire day.

Richard takes a photo of the lake and the visible again snow capped mountains

Compared to the other days, 116km doesn't seem so tough. However, at perhaps half way through, the road became unpaved. There were a few who suspected the last part of the day will take too long, and opted to go in the truck to get to camp. Not so silly in hindsight.

At first, quite a few of us were saying that the surface wasn't too bad, remembering how bad it can get after riding in Bolivia. Oops, instant jinx. After we'd taken the time to even dare thinking that the surface was ok, it wasn't ok anymore. It became the dreaded loose gravel and sand. The energy sapping, wheel sinking and spinning, bike kicking and squirming, tough to ride through stuff. But wait, there's more. Then the wind turned from being a cross wind, to headwind.

There were parts that couldn't be ridden it was so soft, there many trails of footprints beside tyre tracks.

With perhaps 20km to go, I hit the wall. No fuel left in the tank. What was I to do though? No phone reception, the trucks had already passed and gone to the campsite. So the afternoon became as much a mental challenge as it was a physical one. I finally reached the campsite just before 6:30. A long day on the bike, when we left the hotel that morning just after 8.

That night we celebrated Adrian's (UK) birthday. He does enjoy beer, so with a little inspiration, a fake cake was made where first there were some beer cans taped together, then coated in icing. When Adrian went to cut the cake...POP! Geyser of beer. Awesome. That can was quickly recovered and put to its intended use. Then the real cake came out.

The campsite was a surprise, as we camped beside a police station. The police station was in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the police at this spot are more concerned about making sure people don't damage or hurt the flora or fauna. So we had a cold shower, toilet and soft grass to put the tents on, and surrounded by paddocks with horses with the sound of the wind through the poplar trees to fall asleep to.

Day 66 Barreal

129km with 695m of climbing. I hadn't fully recovered from the previous day, so I made it to lunch after riding 86km, with the first part of it being on the dirt road from yesterday, but at least it was downhill and the surface seemed a little more solid.

Just before lunch however, we had secretly agreed to all meet together. Didier, the crew member who is the medic, truck driver, supplier of lunch and all round good guy didn't know we were about to celebrate his birthday. So when everyone had caught up, as a group we armed ourselves with silly party hats, horns, rattles and then rode around the corner making as much noise as we could to where Didier was wondering where everyone was. Complete with Richard in the 2nd truck with the fire engine siren and lights going. The 2 trucks are old fire engines, not sure if I'd mentioned that previously? Didier broke out with a big grin, so that worked.

Rock formations before reaching Barreal

Day 67 Uspallata. Should be prounced "oo-spa-yata", I prefer to say "you splat a"

112km and 808m of climbing.

This was just the day I needed both mentally and physically. We had far more paved road than was expected, the climb was barely noticeable with a single hump up, then downhill the rest of the day. The unpaved road was a much better surface than expected, with few soft spots.

During the climb before the unpaved part, I was able to ride with Malcolm and Tamsin side by side across the road as there was so little traffic. Quite good chatting away and eating up the distance so easily even though we were still climbing thanks to some help from a tailwind.

Once the top was reached, it wasn't long before the paved surface returned and a nice downhill started complete with a strong tailwind. Most of the time at this part I was happily moving along at 50km/h with no effort at all.

The town where we were camping was my kind of town. Not so big that everything becomes an inconvenience, but just big enough to have the essentials and still be pleasant. It was a Sunday, and beside our campsite there was a horse riding competition, and a road bicycle race going through town, so it had a festive atmosphere to the place. It also had a place to get coffee and ice cream. When riding back from the cafe to the campsite, one of the racers on a bike had gone in front of me, so the crowd on either side of the road first saw a racer go past, then another cyclist approach with a name plate on the front of the bike, but then became a little confused when they saw it was a mountain bike, and the rider was wearing casual t shirt and shorts (I'd already changed from the battle clothes and had a shower). A bit of fun.

Day 68 Mendoza. First impressions don't always last

111km and 1270m of climbing.

The first 30km was all up. Not too steep at between 3-6% incline (briefly I saw 12% just before the top), with the last 16km of climbing on unpaved surface. Thankfully, very few soft patches that cause the wheels to  sink and squirm to the side.

With the climb and lunch done however, there was the most beautiful downhill. A descent of 2000m. Starting at 3000m above sea level, there were over 300 curves on this unpaved road that was in good condition. All amongst proper rocky mountains, and the wind pushing clouds up the side. During the descent I saw a herd of Guanacos (type of llama) and a falcon who took off from a rock just above me as I passed. This is what I had in mind before coming here, of what it's like to ride amongst the mountains.

Let the fun begin!

Once the descent from the proper mountains was done, the downhill wasn't finished. The surface became paved and kept dropping to the plain where Mendoza is. Nice curved road that I happily carved up the corners on at over 50km/h.

The road eventually flattened out and for 30km perhaps, there was a headwind and even the look of rain. The air was misty below the clouds, but never felt a rain drop.

Once reaching the edge of town however, not so good. Didier meets Malcolm and myself with the news that 2 people riding a motorbike had pushed Ghilly over when she was riding, and tried to steal her bike, with 1 of them displaying what looked like a gun. I heard later that Ghilly was convinced the gun was fake, which goes along with what they did when she refused to let go of her bike. Rather than properly threatening to shoot, they were hitting her with it. Either way you look at it though, not good. She yelled out enough that the locals all came out, and the 2 idiots left empty handed. She had a scrape to the knee, but otherwise she later seemed ok and she had continued riding from the incident to the campsite.

Malcolm and I also saw a motorbike rider lying on the road after having an accident, with people around him. This was on the same road that Ghilly had her moment.

Welcome to Mendoza!

We later heard that the road we first used should be avoided. Experience prompts me to agree.

Our campsite was right out on the edge of the city. When visiting the city, it looks very western, with the typical Spanish touch of a plaza in the middle. The Plaza Independencia is quite large, with trees and fountains. As far as cities go, it's quite beautiful. The coffee I later found to be excellent.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Day 54 - 58. Holidays, coffee and vineyards

Day 54 Quebrada de Humahuaca

First, no photos in this post. The internet connection where I am is not much better than 2 cups connected by a piece of string. Let your imagination fill the gaps this time.

118km and 541m of climbing. In other words reasonably flat and uneventful day just eating up some distance.

For a good portion of the morning we experienced a headwind, which any cyclist will tell you makes things immensely more difficult. Mostly mentally, as the eyes tell you it's easy, yet there's this invisible hand pushing back.

It was enjoyable still, and this time I had Richard (one of the crew) riding beside me. He noticed with my downhill bike, my pedalling position wasn't as good as it could be. He asked me if my legs get sore, which my response was "always". This is a good thing, as it means something can be done to make me faster!

The end result was the seat was moved forward and up. The difference was significant. More power for the climbs!

Day 55 Yala. A day to make the eyes water

So we had a 151km day with 421m of climbing. Looking at the profile, it was almost entirely all downhill. It was dropping off the 3500m high altiplano down by more than 2000m. My kind of day!

The day starts with a VERY cold start at bushcamp. So we wake with one of the trucks having some upbeat music being played as we settled in for breakfast. Next thing I knew people were having a dance party as the sun rose. Some people may be overall grumpy and sluggish, but that morning was a rather enjoyable and amusing experience. As I was walking past the kitchen benches, Kirsten suggested I move (as in dance with the music), my answer was that of course I'm moving, I'm walking! Wilbert throws in "that's man talk". Hehe, too right. Dancing is a spectator sport.

The riding first thing in the morning was cold and fast. Most of the time moving along anywhere between 30-40km/h. By the time we'd reached the lunch spot, we'd descended enough for it to become warm enough to shed all the jackets, arm and leg warmers.

From lunch onwards, it should have been more of the same fast easy pace. It sure as hell wasn't. The wind howled through the valley. It would have been faster and easier to turn around and climb back up the road with the wind behind me. On the same sort of slopes where we were travelling at up to 40km/h downhill, we were pushing hard into the wind at between 10-15km/h. Good mental exercise in advance of reaching Patagonia.

The day ended upon reaching a rather nice campsite. Complete with cafe. So I sat with Paul, Babette and James drinking coffee and having ice cream while learning of their riding experiences in other places. Nice.

Day 56 Salta

122km with 1296m of climbing.

The ride to Salta shows a hint of the days to come. The crew and some other riders who have seen this area before describe these areas as beautiful and easy to ride. Very much a holiday. Ok, in a sense we are on holidays for the entire trip, but it's mostly hard work!

The ride was very enjoyable going through the Argentinian countryside. In many ways it felt like home with the sort of hills and trees. The rural areas were clearly far wealthier than the places we've seen in Peru and Bolivia.

After lunch we rode a side road which was like riding through a national park. Weaving road up and down hills. A great way to travel.

I was also really beginning to notice the huge increase in leg strength thanks to the improved riding position and the product of a lot of riding to get this far. I'm not having to spin my way up all the climbs, but rather leave the bike in a taller gear and muscle my way up which is much faster if the endurance lasts!

At Salta we had 2 rest days waiting for us at a campsite. Some opted to rest in hotels at their own cost. I chose to camp.

That night we celebrated reaching half way to Ushuaia with a barbeque. It was a looooong and great night. I finally stumbled to my tent at 4am.

Day 57 Quebrada del Conchas

96km and 519m of climbing. So in the grand scheme of things, pretty flat.

The day was easy with mostly a gentle downhill all day with the occasional hill. It felt so easy that I kept expecting something to happen like a huge headwind to even things out. Instead, we gained a tailwind.

We arrived at a private property, and the owner lets the group camp each year Bike Dreams comes through. A nice place with some open areas and huge cactus plants. Plenty of midges too. Scratch scratch scratch...

Day 58 Cafayate

94km with 940m of climbing. Essentially a gentle uphill all day, with the occasional bonus bump.

We spent most of the day riding through a canyon, full of cliffs baring their red and yellow bands of colour.

There were a couple of stops along the way, where there are natural amphitheatres in the cliffside. In the one at our lunch spot, Paul (Australia) played his harmonica to take advantage of the acoustics. It's a tourist attraction there, so there was already a guitarist busker who plays to the tourists. After Paul had played for a little while, the guitarist joined in for an impromptu jam session, followed by a song by Pink Floyd. A very enjoyable lunch!

Cafayate is an area known for their vineyards, and the place is beautiful. Better still, on arriving in town, there were multiple heladerias (ice cream shops). I had to sample from a couple of them!