DAY THIRTY SIX
Itahue to Mostazal
Distance: 100 miles
Average speed: 15.2mph
Moving time: 6h33
Door to door: 14h23
The next few days of our week long challenge had a lot in common, so much so that it would be rather boring to document each individual day on here.
First there were punctures, and a lot of them. Whilst it was of course such a good feeling to be riding on smooth tarmac again we soon realised the hard shoulder was even more hazardous than the ripio of the Carretera Austral, as punctures attempted to knock our spirits on every single day. We would be lying if we said we didn’t let them get to us, but as an unspoken rule we never complained and just got on with it.
Two of the worst punctures of the week our worth noting due to the circumstances in which they occurred. The first, on the 6th day of our challenge happened just before a petrol station which we had been aiming to get to before 6 o’clock and which would have taken us to 96 miles, giving us time to fuel up before setting up camp. As we turned the corner of the road and saw the huge shell sign, like an oasis in the desert on a motorway, Jim’s front tyre thwarted our celebratory arrival at the watering hole. After a whole day of looking forward to something it really was horrible when instead of enjoying a cold sprite and a hot dog we would be fixing Jim’s tyre which had a huge nail sticking into it! To make matters worse our pump then gave up on us, meaning as the sun was setting we were no closer to fixing it.
Somehow we managed to find a pump and by 10 pm were back on the road, extremely relieved we would be able to hit the 100 mile mark before it got too late. But then...Jim’s tyre punctured again. Our situation was bleak, on a hard shoulder, far from anywhere in the dark with 6 miles still to do. We think at this point people would have understood if we had given up, both extremely exhausted and a good nights sleep cruelly snatched away from us. However we blowed on, walking the bikes up the road until we found a shop still open, and a nice man next door with a bike pump! We finally made it to bed at 1230 having been on the road for 14 exhausting hours, but both happy that neither of us had complained once!
Whilst punctures threatened to crush our spirits, the lorries that constantly trawled the Ruta 5 and whooshed past us all day and night threatened to actually drive us crazy. If anyone has ever broken down on the side of a busy road I’m sure they are familiar with the droning noise and whoosh of air that lorries bring, with that being the only sound we heard for a whole week. The odd horn from a supportive truck driver did raise our spirits but it was a real joy to finally have left the main road once we began the border crossing to Argentina towards the end of the 7th day
Angostura to Rio Colorado just north of Los Chacayes
Distance: 101 miles
Av speed: 12.8
Riding time: 7 hours 32
Door to door: 13 hours 15
After Jims two punctures from the day before we woke up happy with the knowledge that it was the last day of our 100 mile challenge. After today no more lorries, hopefully no more punctures and no more 100 mile days!
Until...Jim’s tyre was somehow flat AGAIN! In a real pickle as middle of nowhere and no bike pump.
We tried to keep our spirits high and much like our other problems on the trip we somehow got lucky and the first man we saw had a bike pump and was very happy to help us. We then found the nail that had caused so much misery and were finally back on the road, with 35 miles to go until Santiago.
Ride into Santiago was awesome as we said goodbye to Ruta 5 and cycled though leafy suburbs with colourful houses. Although it was a Sunday managed to buy a new bike pump. We then stopped off for an ice cream in the main square and did what all hungry cyclists do and went to the nearest McDonald’s!
We both regret this decision a lot, as the next 30 miles were agony and our bikes felt so much heavier. We made it to Los Andes as it was getting dark, accepting that we would have to cycle 20 miles from sea level to 1000 metres in the dark, and after cycling 680 miles in 7 days!
Horrible thought but we bought two beers to celebrate when we made it, the thought of which definitely kept us going.
At 1130pm we finally made it! Our week of agony was over and we could celebrate - beer has never tasted so good!
Although there had been some serious low points during the week, we were so happy to have got central chile out of the way in such a short space of time, meaning we can take it a bit easier in the mountains and do more dirt roads in Bolivia and Peru!
We are also both extremely proud of our achievement, especially all that we had been through to finally finish the week. It wasn’t just a case of cycling 100 miles a day but battling constant problems and setbacks, as well as how boring the Ruta 5 was! Here we need to say a huge thank you to JK Rowling and Stephen Fry for allowing us to switch off for hours at a time and also to Chile’s amazing petrol stations that were some of the finest we’ve ever visited.
A successful week over and now for our next challenge and the Cristo Redentor pass into Argentina.
Rio Colorado to Lago Del Inca
Distance: 24 miles
Av speed: 6.7 mph
Moving time: 3 hours 30
Door to door:6 hours
Woke up with huge huge smiles on our faces knowing that finally we didn’t have to cycle 100 miles today! Both relieved and proud of ourselves for getting through the past seven days, putting up the tent well after 11pm on 5/7 nights!
Nice to have a lazy morning, swimming in the river and sipping on Yerba Mate.
For our extremely tired legs things were not so good, as they were now tasked with taking us a further 50 km uphill - really not the the perfect rest day we had envisaged!
What awaited us a long way up the road was the Cristo Redentor Pass that would take us back into Argentina, the summit being a crazy 3,840m high and named by Redbull as one of the 6th hardest cycling roads in the world.
After steady climbing up the mountain valley we were soon confronted by a series of 29 switchbacks - a hugely impressive and surreal sight.
Conquering them took a huge huge amount of energy out of us as we climbed 800 metres in around 3 hours up seriously steep gradients.
With help from Chillean truck drivers and the incredible scenery we eventually made it to our planned stop for the night at the Lago del Inca - which is actually a ski resort in the winter. At 2800 we already felt pretty high, and went to bed early knowing that tomorrow was another relentless day of climbing.
Lago del Inca to Uspallata
Distance: 67.3 miles
Av speed: 12.5 mph
Moving time: 5 hours 17
Trip time: 9 hours 15
As you will see from the photo the most incredible place to wake up to. Completely breathtaking and so we took our time taking it all in as well as fiddling with the self-timer on our camera!
Eventually began our second stage of brutal climbing, saying goodbye at Chilean immigration and making the last 10 kms of the paved climb.
At 3,100 metres all traffic then turned into the Paso Los Libertadores tunnel, whilst we took the more scenic route onto the dirt road that would take us to the summit. After a few kilometres of climbing and endless switchbacks the noisy road had vanished and it was just us in the mountains, seeing only one car and two motorbikes for the next 3 hours of climbing. The views from up here were like nothing we had ever seen before, making the steep gradients and awful road condition slightly more bearable, whilst a violent wind made life extremely hard or easy depending on which way the switchback was taking us.
Eventually we made it, greeted by a huge bronze statue of Jesus and the Argentinian and Chilean flags, plus a sweet tasting chocolate caliente. The feeling was immense, both extremely proud of what we had just achieved as well as the knowledge that we now had 50 kms of downhill.
The descent was equally as stunning, as the greyish mountains of Chile gave way to endless valleys of red and yellow mountains of Argentina. On top of this we had TAILWINDS meaning for much of it we didn’t have to move a pedal.The last 20kms turned out to be uphill however, meaning we didn’t arrive in Uspallata until 10 o’clock - extremely exhausted and craving some much needed steak.
The famous Argentinian steak that we had been talking about for days never came however, and rather altitude sickness did. So instead of Malbec and a big slab of meat we checked into the nearest hotel, with Jim very nearly throwing up in the staircase to our room. Despite this downer to our day it had been the most incredible 24 hours and our favourite of the trip so far. A huge welcome from the Andes and next time hopefully we will remember to take our altitude sickness pills!
Both feeling awful, meaning we checked into a different hotel and had a whole day of rest.
After cycling 800 miles in 9 days this wasn’t really a surprise, and so we enjoyed sleeping all day and getting some much needed R&R.
Shocked to find out that we were still at 2000m despite all the descending we had done the day before - showing just how high our legs had taken us!
DAY FORTY ONE
Uspallata to El Leoncito camping
Average speed: 13mph
Moving time: 4h55
Door to door: 5h38
We spent the day cycling through El Leoncito national park, simply beautiful. Endless space with one very flat road running through the middle and luckily for us not a car on it. With snow capped mountains to our left and dusty red mountains to our right it was pretty awesome. Throughout the whole day we could see Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America.
We decided to go a little off our route as we heard about a free campsite with showers and fire pits. It was awesome and even though we were warned about the pumas we unfortunately didn’t see any.
El Leoncito to abandoned building
Average speed: 13.4mph
Moving time: 4h30
Door to door: 8h15
Where has the sun gone? After yesterday’s heat we assumed we would be struggling in 35 degrees yet again, but no, grey clouds and headwinds! We had almost forgotten what it is like to have strong headwinds and must admit we haven’t missed them much. Despite the wind and the clouds the views were still breathtaking and more than enough to spur us on.
As the day progressed so too did the wind, making cycling nearly impossible and pretty miserable. Luckily we stumbled across an abandoned brick factory which provided us with the perfect shelter.
Both still not feeling 100% after the altitude sickness we decided a fruit cake, loads of water and a early night would work it’s magic. Asleep by 9, perfect.