12. Huaraz to Medellín Colombia, The End

According to this website, I have been stuck in Huaraz Peru for about 10 months now.

Although there have been moments when I wish I was – I actually ended up moving on from Huaraz and have since made my way into Ecuador, past the equator and into Columbia before taking my return flight back to New York and eventually making it to Norway in time to start school.

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to write about, I actually had a full post handwritten in my journal. It’s just that I couldn’t bring myself to finishing off the trip and the story. But now I am feeling like its been long enough.

As I look through that handwritten post, most of it makes me smile but more of it seems pretty irrelevant to put here at this point in time. So instead I am just going to go through some final stats of the 7 month trip:

Countries cycled – 6
Kilometers – 10,643 (around 6,600 miles)
Full sets of bike tools stolen in Bolivia – 1
Times stuck in the Atacama Desert: lost, out of water and severely dehydrated for two days (this is a separate story I never posted before for the sake of my mom’s stress levels) – 1
Roadside protests and blockades broken through – 3
Flat tires – 24
Broken Spokes – 9
Wore out Bottom Brackets – 1
Replacement Chains – 3
New Rear Derailleurs – 2
Replaced rack screws – 4
Amount of zip ties needed to keep that damn rack together – countless
New Tires – 3
Helmets– 2

About the helmets listed above, my original was donated to a Patagonian National Park roadside early on in the trip – you would have to talk to English Matt for the full story on that one.

A replacement was later kindly provided by Andy, who joined the trip for 2 weeks riding through the Chilean Los Lagos Region. When he gave his old helmet to me, he made me promise I would pass it on when I no longer needed it.

To fulfill my promise, below is a picture of a Columbian cycling father and son duo that I met on the road during my last cycling day of the trip. I hope they are getting their use out of it and will pass it on as well when done.

And now as a final closer of sorts, below is a picture of what my bike looked like a day before the trip started in the dead of a NY winter:

And below is what it looked like a day after my trip ended in the heart of a NY summer.

Imagine the fun I had, unshaven for a month, going through US Customs/Immigration in Miami after getting off a plane from Columbia with just a beat-up cardboard box and mysterious rice sac:

And with that, until next time.

(I know that closing was cheesy but it was either that or ‘Stay classy San Diego’ which would have made no sense at all unless you have watched Anchorman recently like I have)

oh yeah…….. and to Martin, Nedo, Matt, Ian, Steve, Andy and Torstien….. we still have our Himalaya bike trip coming in a few years – I am going to hold all of you to that one.

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11. Cusco to Huaraz

…posted about a week later than planned…

Riding out of Cusco, I was once again back with Nedo who I started this bike trip with. After cycling on my own for awhile, it was nice to have someone along side on bike.

and I swear we didn`t dress alike on purpose.

The route through the mountains to Huaraz was definitely challenging. On a flat map this section seemed a lot shorter, but due to the continuous switchback roads that had us either climbing and descending – the kms added up pretty quickly.

It was about 1,800 kilometers of high mountain passes, deep valley floors and some rough dirt roads. However this also provided, in my humble opinion, some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in quite awhile as well.

With mountain passes reaching 4,000 altitude meters and more, some days were dedicated solely to climbing one single pass.

By the end of the three weeks it took to get to Huaraz, we ended up climbing over 21,300 meters in elevation. To help keep my mind occupied and motivated on the hard days I started visualizing the altitude numbers in different ways:

21,300 meters of ascent is the equivalent of riding a bike from sea level to the top of Mount Everest about two and half times. Or to bring it closer to places I have called home in the past years-

* Boulder, Colorado: 21,300 meters is the equivalent of riding a bike from Boulder to the top of Loveland Pass about 11 times
* Pine Plains, New York: 21,300 meters is the equivalent of riding a bike from the base of Stissing Mountain to the fire tower about 67 times
* Amsterdam, the Netherlands: 21,300 meters is the equivalent of riding a bike from city center to highest point you can find in that flat country probably more than a million times

But enough of my indirect bragging about the distances we have climbed on our little bikes. The people we passed along the way was actually much better.

Speaking generally, I have found the people in mountain regions to be some of the kindest and most genuine people I have met on the trip.

These are people living in places where we are not only the only gringos, but the 1st they have seen in quite awhile.


There are no police or other authorities anywhere nearby and, if they wanted to, they could basically do what ever they wanted to us (rob, hurt, or whatever) and easily cleaning get away with it.

But contrary to feeling vulnerable, because these are great people with big hearts, I have felt quite really safe here (and really tall).

But despite these people being so kind natured, I am still a Gringo and they have no problem letting me know here. Gringo chants are common with the kids and the adults also use it like it`s going out of style.

Often times the word Gringo is followed by incessant laughter, like they just invented the word. Most of the time it`s just in good fun and if not, I just pretend they are saying ´Amigo´ anyway.

The only thing I might slight them for is their lack of creativity and originality. Would it hurt them to throw in the occasional ´Honky´, ´Cornbread´ or ´Cracker´ whiteboy slang into the mix? These people need to put some more effort into their taunting.

As for other roadside attractions, we also ran into another protest/road blockade we needed pass through.

This time, the local opinion was that there was no way we could get through on our bikes without rocks being thrown at our heads. Stories about flying stones and boulders at anyone who would come close were common.

At this point, Nedo and myself were quite flustered about what to do and our hearts were pounding a little when we finally gave passing through the blockade a try.

With not many other options, we devised a plan for a sunrise mission to get through the protest in hopes that we would catch them sleeping or at least too hungover to care.

The 6am start seemed to work out as we passed through unharmed while the protesters were still setting up for another day of fun.

But honestly, I`m not sure if the early start was actually necessary.

Despite what anyone might dream up, these aren’t international criminals set on causing anarchy and violence around the world. These are normal country folk trying to have their voices actually heard for once.

For this protest: these farmers, shopkeepers and kids were just trying to keep a local university open. Sounds like a decent cause to put non-violent energy into to me.

Not only were we untouched, we were even served food while some protesters explained their cause and reassured us that their efforts were not pointed towards violence or hurting tourism.

However, as we entered the outskirts of the next sizable town, some people and the riot police seemed like they missed that point.

With a brief detour on some train tracks to get around the mayhem, we moved on with no problems and finally closed in our destination.

After clearing the final and highest mountain pass of the ride at 4,820 meters (15,814 feet), we had the opportunity to ride downhill through the Peruvian National Park Huascaran and into the mountain climbing town of Huaraz.

Due to some unfortunate family issues back home in Switzerland, this section would be the last I will be riding with Nedo for now.

As he will be flying home for a week and I need to move on due to time, we won`t be leaving Huaraz together but it was great riding with him again and hope to have the opportunity again soon.

Saying goodbye in the only way my little mind knows how – a petty bet with consequences of embarrassment was used.

Luckily, I am happy to report that I was able to avoid being the cyclist wearing Superman underwear on our last day of riding into Huaraz!

Life is good.

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10. Sucre to Cusco

Never a boring moment in South America, that’s for sure.

Once I started to get my bike mechanical issues and even unmarked dirt road navigation under control – I was given a brand new set of elements to deal with.

I`m going to do be best to keep the incoherent rambling to a minimum and try to make some sense out of the past few weeks – but this one might be a bit lengthy and my patience for proofreading drops by the minute.

To start it off, about 12 hours before I was going to leave Sucre, I started to feel the effects of the worst food poisoning of my life.

Sparring everyone the details, for 5 days I was unable to eat or drink anything of substance without immediate drastic results.

I`m not exactly sure how much weight I lost from this episode – but I`m thinking at least 10 pounds easily. After 4 months of biking, these were 10 pounds I didn’t really need to lose.

Despite what most people might think – I didn’t acquire my sickness as a result of my fondness of South American street meet – but rather from losing a gamble with some leftover taco meet I cooked previously (boring I know).

With no energy resulting from the food poisoning, I was unable to move forward on my bike and I soon came to the conclusion that my target date to meet my friend Ian in Peru was now thoroughly destroyed.

My only option to meet Ian, who was flying in from NYC, was to take a bus 350kms to the city of Oruro to catch-up on some kilometers.

It was a really hard decision to take a bus for the 1st time in the trip – but it was the right thing to do and I consoled myself by realizing that I have taken enough wrong turns and scenic routes to cover the lost 350km twice over.

However, further proving that I belong on a bike and not on a bus – all my bike tools were stolen out of one of my panniers at some point during the journey. At this point of the trip, I had quite a collection of tools with some emotional attachment of course.

After gathering some replacement tools and gaining some energy from local Oruro cuisine, I finally biked forward through the city of La Paz and next to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. I was starting to feel that everything were starting to move smoothly again.

This feeling didn’t last long. Now it was time for was good old fashion civil unrest to slow me down. I love South America.

From the Bolivia-Peru Border to the Peruvian city of Puno (about 150km) there was protests and blockades in the streets.

Everyone you talk to down here gives a different story – but these protests generally revolve around mining activities granted by the Peruvian Government that will contaminate Lake Titicaca and the water ways in the area.

In Copacabana I was fortunate enough to meet up with a Dutch cyclist named Martin to help troubleshoot the situation. From the information we received, only the Peruvian side of the border was closed (allowing us to get through all the Bolivian formalities) and if we could get to Puno – we should be able to get the Peruvian immigration details sorted.

Also it seemed that other cyclists have been going through the road blocks with success – turns out that the world loves cyclists and while the protesters wouldn´t let a single car, truck or tour bus through – people on bikes could pass.

So with a decent amount of confidence, Martin and I road towards the border prepared to run the gauntlet.

At the border we quickly found out that the situation has changed overnight and now the Bolivian side of the border was now also shut with similar protests.

Thinking that leaving Bolivian illegally was a dumb idea, we waited at the border for 4 hours sitting back and watching the show – hoping it would clear up soon.

After talking to as many people as possible about when the border will open again. There was some optimism that the next morning will be better but all signs were pointing to the fact that we were wasting our time sitting at the border that day.

We were better off riding back to Titicaca having some beers in sun.

That day I rode a total of 18kms together with Martin, and it turns out that they will be the only kilometers we will ride together.

The next morning Martin started to come down with his own case of food poisoning. Knowing how long it takes to bounce back from something like that, I decided to return to the border without Martin and push on by myself.

Upon arriving for the second time at the border, I found it was still shut tight. This time I wasn’t getting any optimistic views about anything changing anytime soon so I started asking around for other options.

According to some of the people I was talking to, there was a chance that I could now get both my required stamps in Puno (the Bolivian stamp coming from the Bolivian Consulate in Puno).

It didn’t really sound too realistic and was much like the other Bolivian banter nonsense I have heard in the past month. But I guess it was the answer I wanted to hear.

So I made the decision to move through the closed border and ride into Peru (technically illegally) while trying my luck with both the protesting locals and the immigration authorities in Puno.

And yes, leaving Bolivian illegally was still a dumb idea but I was strangely ok with it.

The next 150kms of road was filled with rocks, broken glass, burnt tires and local people determined to make sure it stays that way.

At first it was a little tense with some locals very reluctant to let me pass, but I find its amazing what giving out a few Coca leaves and a smile can do for you in life.

I`m not sure if it was my confidence rising or the situation itself, but it seemed that the further I rode away from the border towns, although the protests and chaos stood, the mood towards me seem to change.

It was becoming clear that these people´s frustrations was not directed towards a dirtbag bike tourist. Some people would cheer me on as I rode by or at least gave a smile that had `you silly gringo` written all over it.

Other locals even decided to have some fun with the situation when a group of 15 wielding farm tools demanded a short dance performance before I could move past their blockade.

For those of you fortunate enough to have witnessed my dance skills in the past, you can believe that those country folks are still laughing and will be telling that story around the campfire for years.

Later that day, a very calm old man walked up to me while I was attending to my second flat tire of the day from all broken glass on the road.

After getting through my standard story and answering the usual questions about my bike, he asked where I was sleeping that night to get away from the protesters.

After seeing the hopeless look my face, he instantly offered me a bed for the night. I asked him if he ran a hostel but his only response was ´más o menos´ which translates into ´more or less´.

This ´más o menos hostal´ turned out to be run by the Lord himself. I was just invited to spend the night in a catholic monastery alongside Lake Titicaca.

Before we entered, he warned that all work and meals are conducted in silence. Dinner alongside two monks and three nuns with only the sound of clanking spoons was quite a turn of events from earlier in the day.

The silence was actually quite lovely after 8 hours of riding through chaotic protests and blockades. That night I did the only logical thing any person would do in that circumstance – I patched up my bike tubes, in silence.

When I arrived in Puno the next day, my fears turned out to be true. Turns out that Bolivian banter is still bullshit even if you really want it to be true.

Although I had no problems getting my Peruvian entrance stamp and was now in the country legally, the Bolivian Consulate was closed and there was no chance of getting my exit stamp in Puno. My only option was to backtrack all the way to La Paz to get this sorted out.

Among other reasons – I have a ideological stance against backtracking on my bike, so I decided to let this one ride and face the consequences later in life (most likely a huge fine if I want to go back to Bolivia). When am I ever going to return to Bolivia anyway?

So after dealing with food poisoning, buses mysteriously eating my bike tools, closed border crossings, literally dancing my way through some civil unrest and spending a night with silent monks (seriously, I´m not making all this crap up): I was ready to move on again.

The remainder of the ride to Cusco was actually surprising smooth and of course beautiful. I even had some nice wind at my back pushing my along for once – life is good.

I ended up arriving in town just in time to meet Ian in style (I refused to take a shower until he had a proper amount of time to witness the smell that is bike touring).

With Ian at my side, we spent the past two weeks exploring the finer establishments of Cusco and of course the beautiful surroundings of the Inca Sacred Valley.

This included a spectacular 4-day hike ending at Machu Picchu – which, not surprisingly, was not a disappointment.

The hike had us camping at 4,200 meters and after one of the day´s 8 hour hike, we had a high altitude football (soccer to be clear) marathon with some acclimatized local talent.

Although it was close, it might be too much of an exaggeration to say this was the most tired I have ever been in my life.

However it`s not too big of an exaggeration to say that this was by far the most beautiful setting for football match I have ever seen. This picture I snapped in-between dry heaves, doesn’t do it justice:

The Peruvian Andes are just nothing short of spectacular and have so far constantly exceeded my expectations with the mountains, valleys, history and culture.

Don´t get me wrong, I`m still in love with the Rockies and the Alps – but the scale of everything here is just on a different level. The mountains are grander, the valleys are deeper and everything just seems wild.

Cusco also seems to be a convergence city for cyclists. For a few nights in a row, we had quite the collection of bike shoes smelling up one particular pub (and one hell of an interesting 4am performance in the discoteca).

But with our time of making trouble together now over, Ian is now on his way to Easter Island and, after putting my feet up in Cusco for a few more days, its time to head north on my bike seat tomorrow. And for the first time in awhile, I won`t be alone (for at least more than 18kms).

One face in the crowd I found in Cusco was the long-lost Swiss maniac Nedo who I started this bike trip with 4 months ago. After a few beers we decided it is only nature to pick-up where we left off about 3 months ago.

I have a feeling that his next section of riding straight up the gut of the Peruvian Andes will be a true test. The distance doesn’t seem that bad but I heard the mountain passes and rough roads shouldn’t be taken lightly – but if its anything like the past few weeks, I´m sure it will be entertaining.

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Posted in Boliva, Peru | 4 Comments

Greetings from Cusco, Peru

Posted in Peru | 1 Comment

9. Antofagasta to Sucre

Moving away from both Antofagasta and the Pacific Ocean, I slowly traversed through the Atacama desert and into higher the elevations of the Bolivian Altiplano (high plains).

Although the days would stay sunny and warm, with the gradual elevation increase, the nights were rapidly getting colder.

Each night I needed to put on additional layers of clothes and I basically went from sleeping in my underwear to looking like the marshmellow man.

The layering technique worked pretty well until one particularly cold night where I had to camp, due to my own bad timing, practically at the base of a 6,000 meter volcano.

I don`t have a thermometer or an altimeter but I can guess that I was sleeping at around 4,250 meters (around 14,000 feet) and since my water bottles were frozen solid until 1pm the next day and the moisture from my breath froze on my sleeping bag – I can make a scientific guess that the temperature could be measured as `damn cold´.

After spending 2 1/2 months cycling basically the length of Chile, I can confirm that the map isn’t deceiving – Chile is in fact a long & skinny country. But it`s a nice country, and I`ll have to find an excuse to return one day.

Despite these fine sentiments regarding Chile, I was excited to move into a new country and within just week of leaving Antofagasta, I crossed into Bolivia towards the Salar de Unuyi which is the `Worlds Largest Salt Flat´.

When doing my research, riding across the Salar de Uyuni with its vast flat salt fields was definitely towards the top of my list.

Each new place seems to come brand new aspects or challenges to work with.

One of the first challenges I noticed in Bolivia was the lack of accurate maps and confusing network of small unmarked dirt roads. The quality of these roads can sometimes range from dirt washboard, to sand and rock minefields – but I guess this is just part of the deal.

Oftentimes there would be 3-way forks in the road, with absolutely no signage to give you an hint which road goes where. Most of these roads usually are deadend roads to access property or they are just old country roads rarely used anymore.

With that in mind, you would think that just picking the road that looks most traveled would be a solid strategy, however in Bolivia that road 95% of the time leads to an Industrial Mine and just another dead end.

I`m also finding that getting straight-forward directions from a Bolivian is as painful as getting wisdom teeth pulled.

This was the first time on the trip that I really relied on my compass daily and was really glad I didn’t forget it in New York.

The compass, combined with some filtering of local hear-say and an occasional coin toss, treated me pretty well with only one unplanned scenic detour through Boliva´s beautiful southwest.

After getting through some Bolivian navigation growing pains, I finally arrived at the Salar de Uyuni and I was really quite excited to ride across it as originally planned.

I woke up from this excitement with a quick slap in the face. But maybe a more accurate expression would be ´a bucket of water to the face´ because it was water covering the Salar, lots of it.

Although its now the dry season, this year`s wet season was so rough (due to the La Niña weather system I hear) that the Salar is taking a considerable longer time to dry off than normal.

Other years it would have been possible to ride at least a part of the Salar but the locals were telling me that it will be at least a month or more before it is ready to cycle across.

After initialing handling the news like a 10 year old spoiled boy, I slowly accepted that mother nature rules once again and this is yet another excuse to come back to South America.

This setback also provided the time to rest in the town of Uyuni and for the first time in more than in a month – run into other cyclists that have converged on the area. Its always nice to know that I`m not the only crazy gringo on a bike in the area.

Uyuni, besides being the main tourist jump-off point for jeep tours of the area, doesn’t really have too much going for it. The only exception being a restaurant called `Minuteman Pizza´. As the name implies, this place serves pizza and also a legendary all-you-can-eat-breakfast.

But after 4 cyclists closed out the breakfast for 3 days running , I have a feeling that the owner was rethinking his business plan. We eat a lot.

Cycling away from Uyuni, I did a stop over in the `Worlds Highest City` of Potosi.

After the `Worlds Largest Salt Flat´ and not to be confused with La Paz`s claim to be the `Worlds Highest Capital City´ you start to get the feeling that Bolivia and the Guinness Book of Records are good friends.

Alongside it`s elevation, Potosi has an interesting story dominated by the mining in the neighboring mountain Cerro Rico. As most visitors of Potosi do, I ended up taking a tour through an operational mine in Cerro Rice to meet the miners, see the work being done and learn about the history.

The miners who still cooperatively work in Cerro Rico have a ridiculously tough job with some amazing work ethic despite the low pay, terrible safety conditions and long-term effects to their health.

I haven’t seen it yet, but the highly recommended documentary ´The Devil`s Miner´ is supposed to show a accurate picture of these miners and their beliefs.

One such belief held by the miners is a daily ritual of paying their respects to the Devil by sharing their smokes, an intense 97% alcohol and coca leaves with him. This is done in the hope of keeping the Devil happy so in return the Devil would keep the miners physically safe and out of trouble. Reminds me a little bit of high school.

With some beautiful countryside that really shows some diversity of the country, I made it to my next stop of Sucre physically safe and out of trouble (maybe thanks to the devil). I used this opportunity to settle into city life for a change.

The small city seems to be a popular spot to study Spanish due to the clean accent of the people and Bolivia`s overall affordability. Joined by the other travelers I have met in town – I have spent the last week taking some classes and trying to figure out what I have been saying `Sí´and `No´ to for the past few months.

After being on a bike for weeks on desolate roads, it was nice to be social and enjoy a relaxed nightlife.

The other night at a bar we even had the opportunity to meet what we believed to be the Bolivian version of Hunter S Thompson. With a larger than life personality and stories of being a Bolivian Newspaper journalist abroad (at least that was his story), it was an entertaining time to say the least.

However in afterthought, Torstein (a Norwegian guy I met with a shared respect for the late Mr. Thompson) and I concluded the Bolivian writer is actually Dr. Gonzo with some obvious physical and personality similarities.

If you`re missing the references here, Torstein would suggest you skip the movie and go straight to reading the book `Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas`.

Although in some moments I thought I could spend months Sucre, now that I am comfortably out of shape from still eating 6 meals per day but without the cycling, it may now be time to move away from Sucre.

The next stop in a relatively short period of time will be La Paz followed by riding alongside Lake Titicaca and into Peru heading for Cuzco.

The plan in Cuzco will be to spend about two weeks hiking around the Sacred Valley of the Inca´s with Ian how is flying in from NYC. We`ll be doing our best to avoid the tourist hordes around Cuzco, but I hear that one is tough.

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8. Pichilemu to Antofagasta

The last few weeks I have moved relatively quickly up the coastline of Chile. The road has brought me both very close to the water´s edge and far enough inland to forget an ocean actually exists in this world.

There has been some long distances with no towns, services or houses at all – forcing 2 or 3 day stretches of having to be self sufficient with no additional food and water to be found.

This is an aspect I haven’t had since Tierra del Fuego and is actually a welcomed challenge as it brings a little more planning, thinking and consequence to the party.

The majority of this time I have been in the Atacama desert – which according to the local tourist commission, Wikipedia and a bunch of respectable sources is the driest desert in the world with certain weather stations never recording a drop of rain.

Driest desert in the world, now that´s a catchy tag line. Well, it at least made me want to bike it.

That was until I was forced to do 5 long days riding where I actually ran out of road and had to hike out – All due to a bad map with some even worse decision making. However this particular story I`m taking my time to write down and will have to re-visit some other day. Leaving anyone who cares in suspense. (It seems that I`m starting to build these side stories quickly.)

As you can imagine, the climate and geography has drastically changed in the past few weeks. Green trees, rain and muddy roads have been replaced with brown rocks, sun and dusty roads.

While transitioning to the new landscape, the reduction of rain was much appreciated. However there was still a trend of threatening clouds clouds in both the morning and afternoon producing some brilliant sunsets and rises – which also constantly made me wonder if I was about going to get wet or not.

Before I remembered the full rhyming aspect, I seriously spent hours on my bike having an internal debate whether a red sky at morning was good for a sailor. Drawing upon my pre-school knowledge of meteorology and the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west – I had quite a few scenarios to play around with.

Finally I remembered that the saying actually goes ´Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor´s delight´.

But this doesn’t seem to matter because Mother Nature, just like everyone else in South America, does whatever the hell it wants at any time of day.

As before, I ran into some mechanical challenges and battles with the wind. But truthfully I´m sick of writing about these things.

Also I haven’t figured out a way to auto-delete English Ed Gerrard’s comments – where he will undoubtedly, in his own special way, tell me to stop complaining and also doubt that I´m in South America but rather somewhere behind his home in upstate New York.

So instead I´m going to write about an element of this trip I haven’t covered much yet. This is a part that I really enjoy and without it, the trip wouldn’t be the same.

Especially in the past few weeks, I have been camping for free a vast majority of the nights. The type of camping I´m doing some Bike Tourers call ´Stealth Camping´. This is where you camp sneakily for the night, anywhere you can find a spot and concealed from view without being seen until you leave in the morning (hence the Stealth part).

Alongside other reasons, being hidden is for personal safety – keeping you tucked away from a random drunk or bored local who would like nothing more than to have some fun at your expense.

The phrase `Stealth Camping` itself sounds a little too James Bond for me, so I prefer to call it something closer to `Roadside Wild Camping Because I´m Cheap, Love Nature And Please Don´t Mess With Me´ or some other deviation of that.

But no matter what you call it, it has definitely become a defining factor of the trip.

This experience gives you the feeling of living for the moment in nature. You´re back to basics and as cheesy as it sounds: all that matters on most of these days are water, food and shelter.

It´s an interesting feeling when you wake up having no clue where you will sleep the next night. Everyday after your water and food supplies are squared away (which is a totally different rant all together), finding a place to sleep becomes a priority.

There always seems to be some hours late in the day where you go through all the emotions looking for a camping spot.

Intrigue on what you will find on the road ahead. Doubt you will find anything suitable. Frustration that the spot you rode past 10km ago might have been the best you´re going to get. And of course excitement when everything comes together.

It is actually a process, one that doesn’t get old and can be a little bit like Camping Russian Roulette as you need to take the bad spots with the good.

There have been times where I have been treated to a beautiful beach spot with the sound of waves crashing. People pay a lot for recordings of this sound that they play next to their bedside in order to sleep well.

On the other hand, some nights I had to sleep with the sound of over sized trucks going 3 meters above my head. This was because I´m was in some flat barren desert and slept under the road to avoid being some trucker´s 3am entertainment.

I´m pretty sure people don´t pay a lot of money for this sound.

During this whole process, nothing else matters.

You care about the moment only. When you set-up your tent in the dark without a headlamp so passing stranger can´t see you: you`re not exactly worrying about paying bills and some other concern.

This feeling is quite hard to explain but I guess it has the same roots in why people jump out of airplanes, play dangerous sports or just drive their car a little too fast.

All these things just remove the clutter of life and allows you to live in moment.

I guess that is all I´m really looking for on this trip – not the secret of life, to find myself or anything else deep like that – just live in the moment and have fun.

With that said, I`m starting to get the feeling that have been on a soapbox long enough now.

So I think its time to move northeast across Chile and into Boliva, or as I like to call Ed´s backyard. Where hopefully I can avoid thinking about paying bills just a little bit longer.

I hope all is well with everyone and Happy Easter! Take care.

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7. Puerto Montt to Pichilemu

After meeting up with my much anticipated visitors Andy and Stevie, the three gringos from old Colorado glory days were reunited.

With my bike now back in fully working condition, we said goodbye to Puerto Montt (not a second too soon) and pedaled into the Chilean Lake District.

It was great to be back with old friends, the opportunity to catch up and tell old stories is always priceless. In addition it seems that bike touring with them put our friendships into a new realm since it threw some new dynamics that normal everyday circumstances never provided before.

Instead of deciding where to ski or go out on a Friday night, we were faced with decisions of a more serious nature – a healthy challenge for a bunch of clowns.

In our first days of peddling we needed to quickly decide on our best route to take, how hard to physically push ourselves and the best way to handle the bad weather – all while we were in the middle of nowhere. All of these decisions needed to be made for the best of the group as a whole, not just for an individual.

Luckily for everyone´s health and safety, it didn’t take too long before we shifted into more responsible decision making versus the old circus-like atmosphere we loved of the past.

Without disappointment, everyone´s personalities added their own elements to the trip.

Andy with his outdoor guide experience drove sensible decisions and offered good advice. He also donated his helmet to me at the end of his trip, since mine was likewise donated to certain National Park of Chile roadside a few weeks before (one day I`ll say that Andy Burns saved my life or at least mental health I`m sure).

Saving my mental health in a different way, Stevie always laughed at my dumb jokes and along with his other worthy contributions provided me a 1st-hand taste on how annoying I can be with a camera (due to being a photo junkie just like me).

Adding to the complex logistics of bike-touring in a foreign country with a foreign language, my bike still needed to get through some recovery pains from the cracked wheel.

This time around there were some broken rack bolts, a worn back tire (that resulted in more flats that I care to mention right now) and a few broken spokes to balance out the mix. However it was a team effort, with all hands available helping out.

These mechanical issues didn’t really cause much stress and the bike knowledge of Andy and Stevie really helped the process. It´s also amazing what a lot of rubber cement and zip ties can do.

Although I do love zip ties, we figured I should eventually get some new rack bolts for a more permanent fix. But after a few days with no luck at every hardware store we passed, we realized that metric sizes do not exist in South America and this mission was becoming a lost cause.

That was until we met a man named Claus – happily driving around the world in his Land Cruiser. The very prepared German, as Germans tend to be, had a toolbox with just about every bolt size made in this world and was more than happy to donate to the cause.

Thanks for the bolts again Claus! I just need to stop being lazy and put them on now – but I`m saving that for a rainy day because I`m a bit emotionally attached to the zip ties…

With all these technicalities behind us, the gringo tour got into full swing and I can only hope Andy and Stevie enjoyed it as much as I did. Everyday had a different story and it was great to enjoy the Chilean Lake District with them.

Overall, we decided on a moderate pace with occasional short days to give us a real opportunity to enjoy the area (or to fix my bike).

The days provided a mix of mountain biking trails and smooth paved roads while the nights consistently provided great wild camping with dinners cooked for kings -which also resulted in my pot being stolen by wild pigs one night, but lets not complicate the story here.

Aside from the riding and camping, the thermal baths we stopped at were also a highlight to say the least. In addition to us being the only people there, the hot springs were some of the nicest I have been to with a huge waterfall alongside.

But eventually everything comes to an end and after a nice two weeks of gringo group touring, it was time for Andy & Stevie to head back to Colorado and for myself to continue riding north.

For the 1st time in more than six weeks, I was riding on my own. To be honest, it took a little while to get used to being solo again. However this did provide the chance to do some thinking and come to some conclusions about the trip. This was a nice opportunity because it seems that sometimes I can be a bit slow to realize things.

At this point, two full months into my trip, I think I just fully realized that I´m actually on a long-distance bike trip in South America that needs to be taken seriously. I´m just a little slow I know.

I`m just waking up to the fact that although there will be more fun and games ahead – maybe I need to be a bit smart and careful or else I might not make it on my bike.

The logical thing any mature person would do at this point would be to take their time, stay safe and cycle easily with the long term picture in mind.

I decided to do the exact opposite. I proceeded to head straight up the coastline with the rough plan to cycle as hard as possible until my legs self-destructed. Awesome.

Luckily on the 1st day of believing my name is Lance Armstrong, I came across an old horseshoe on a beautiful mountain dirt road overlooking the ocean. Instantly being secured to my front rack -where it will stay for as long as possible during this trip – I´m hoping the horseshoe will provide good luck against my own stupidity.

It looks like this horseshoe has seen its years in the weather and judging by the size, it wasn’t wore by a large racing stallion but rather a small work donkey (some people like to say ass). Fits me perfectly.

Even though I was now equipped with this new good luck, the clock would still tick down to my leg meltdown. Any metal trinket I could find wouldn`t stop this one.

So after six long days on the saddle, my legs declared bloody mutiny and demanded a serious break. I was averaging about 125km a day on some pretty tough roads, so I gave in fair enough.

But, perhaps due to the horseshoe, the timing of the meltdown was ideal. It left me in prime position to stop in the surfing town of Pichilemu for the needed rest.

In high summer season, being a well-known South American surf spot, I imagine this town could be called Crazyville. However being well into the Autumn season, to my eyes it looks like a sleepy town that the tourists forgot.

Staying at a great hostel with a handful of passionate surfers, I have had the opportunity to give surfing a try – balancing the rest of my time with a sampling of some glasses of Chilean red wine.

As you can imagine, since I´m crap at surfing, my physical health concerns have quickly turned from my tired legs to my Merlot-stained internal organs.

It would be nice to write more about my experience in town or the people I met at the surfers hostel, but the view of the Pacific from the front porch only encourages laziness- so that will need to wait until another time. But if you´re ever in the town, stop by the Casa Verde Surf Hostel – you will be glad you did.

After one more day of relaxation, I´ll be ready to get back on the saddle as I`m starting to get the itch to get back on it. My general plan is to head up the Pacific coastline, camping on the beach on the way. Maybe I´ll remember to pace myself too, who knows.

But before I go back to playing Beach Blanket Bingo, there is one more subject I need to address…..

I have received a lot of both positive and negative banter, per email and general comments, about my overgrown monster of a beard.

It seems that my beard has grown more popular than the bike trip itself. Originally I planned that I would not shave my face for the entire South American trip, however even my stubborn mind began to change in the past few weeks.

Perhaps due to jealously or due to the fact that I was getting more food in my mustache than my mouth – I finally pulled the trigger and trimmed my beard down a few days ago. With a pair of children´s pink school scissors and a stylish bright red comb, it stood no chance at all.

In order to immortalize the beard and give it one last day in the sun (at least until it grows back in a month or so) I`m going to leave you with the following short photographic tribute I put together to celebrate its short but colorful life:

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Posted in Chile | 6 Comments

6. Coyhaique to Puerto Montt (Carretera Austral Part 2)

It is said that an adventure only starts when everything goes wrong. I have heard that quote from so many sources in different variations that I almost feel bad using it here. Almost

With that definition in mind, at certain points in the past two weeks, I was starting to think that this trip was going to turn into a certified adventure. However as I´m learning quickly, everything does work out in the end.

Picking up from last time, Coyhaique was quite relaxing and was a well deserved break from the road. It was a better spot to stock up on food than usual with stores providing more than the one can of peas.

Coyhaique was also a good location to learn a little bit more about some of the current issues in Chilean Patagonia. One topic is Sin Represas, translated to ‘without dams’, which is a movement by the Patagonia locals to stop the building of hydro-electric dams in the region.

They protest that these dams will alter the rivers and destroy the local landscape, culture and livelihood. There are way too many points of view with pros and cons to start listing here, but it was very interesting to learn about and witness a protest considering what I plan to study in Norway when this trip is done.

Too much thinking about real issues often hurts my head. So shortly after the protest, English Matt and myself decided it was time for more mind-clearing pedaling. As with the southern portion of the Carretera Austral, the northern road was beautiful and diverse with too many highlights to list completely.

The weather also mixed it up a bit with some not-a-cloud-in-the-sky sunny days and also days of never ending rain downpours. Although the wet days did slow us down a little bit, forcing some nights in half constructed barns and roadside huts to dry off < odd places I have slept in numbers 9 and 10 >, we felt it was part of the territory we were going through and didn’t really get our spirits down.

But enough with the fluffy stuff, now on to the things that went a bit wrong…..

I should be old enough now to learn when to shut my mouth while things are going well and not to jinx myself. Should.

Up until two weeks ago, I have been glowing with pride about the limited mechanical problems I had encountered with my bike so far.

I wasn’t quite dumb enough to post anything on this journal but I did find the stupidity deep-down inside to write a well crafted email to some friends back home. This is where I proudly explained that I haven’t had a single flat with only minor mechanical fix-ups needed while other cyclists have had much worse.

I hope one day I´ll learn these important life lessons in humility. After that fateful email, like a deck of cards, my bike went from being in great shape to limping.

Oddly enough a mountain bike wheel doesn’t like it so much when a 195 pound guy on a 90 pound fully-loaded bike gets both tires 6 inches into the air at the same time.

Actually on second thought, just like myself, I´m sure the wheel loves being 6 inches in the air.

It´s just the rocky landing that follows the airtime, I think the wheel would prefer skip. It seems like in this situation, the wheel also has the tendency to fold and lose the characteristics that metal rims are best known for.

This situation would never be a happy dream anywhere, but being in the middle of nowhere with the closest bike shop containing replacement parts 250kms away puts the situation closer to the nightmare category.

Of course at this point I could have taken a bus for 250kms and skip the dirt road mountain passes, but where is the fun in that?

For the next 250km I proceeded to tighten, repair and replace spokes to keep my back wheel straight and true. However there is only so much you can do when your metal rim has the consistency of powdered donut – I guess a crack that goes around the entire rim will do that (my biker-dork friends were impressed by the damage I was able to pull off).

With the rim now having a mind of its own, performance of surrounding parts also suffered and eventual caused 4 flat tires and sucking my rear derailleur (the piece that shifts gears in the back for the non bike-dork) into my wheel requiring some major twisting and bending just use again. Lots of roadside fun and custom repairs.

With these mechanical issues, I was averaging about 20kms on the bike before I needed to put some emergency band-aids on the situation. At one point my spokes were so far off, I decided it would be easier to loosen them all and basically build the wheel from scratch.

It you look at some of the pictures in the photo gallery, you´ll notice a lot of them with my bike upside down. This isn´t because I´m experimenting with new photographic compositions, rather it is exactly what I have been looking at for the past two weeks.

I will be a dirt-road certified bike mechanic at the end of this trip. So if you need some bike work done in August, give me a call because I´ll need the money. It probably won`t be pretty, but I can get you to the next bike shop at very least.

As you can imagine, my progress north was slowed a bit. But considering I had a lot of extra time until I needed to meet my friends, I was still comfortable with the pace to Puerto Montt. Matt was quite relaxed during this time and was in no rush at all, which made the situation easier.

Positivity was still with us despite the setbacks and we even found a nice old airplane to camp next to – complimenting the old boat we slept in weeks ago quite nicely.

I can´t really claim this as one of the odd places I have slept in because I didn´t actually sleep inside. This wasn’t from a lack of trying, however the jagged steel with no flat areas eventually won. We had to settle for just cooking and eating inside instead. Honorable mention I suppose.

My timing was just fine, this was until I received my second lesson on water transportation in Patagonia.

With limited service, broken boats and some really bad weather patterns, the liberians are still debating whether the Ferry Schedules belong in the Fiction or Non-Fiction part of the local Biblioteca.

After being delayed for 50hrs trying to cross Lago O´Higgins earlier in the trip, I thought things would really need to go wrong to beat that. It seems that Old Lady Patagonia is very skilled in topping herself.

Because it was the end of the summer season by a whole 3 days, most of the ferries in the region either had limited service or the route was no longer running all together. So when we rolled into the town of Chaiten, we found ourselves in a dead-end on the road to Puerto Montt.

Alongside being in a region regarded as the rainiest in Chile, Chaiten is an interesting place in its own regard but not necessarily the most ideal location to be stranded in the rain. A few years ago, a local volcano erupted causing the whole town to be flooded with ash, silt and water.

It was once a touristy town with all the amenities, now its a town trying to get on its feet again. With a massively shrunken population, very limited electricity, no land-line telephones and most of the buildings abandoned – the new Lonely Planet travel guide should have an interesting write up on the history of this place. I actually heard from one local that the street lights were just hooked up again a week before we arrived.

Because there is no direct road north to Puerto Montt from Chaiten and with the remaining running ferry routes, the best option I had left was to wait 8 days for the next ferry that wasn´t sold-out.

This time schedule put me in Puerto Montt a day late, not counting the time needed to buy the new parts and fix my bike. I didn´t really have a happy camper feeling in my stomach when I realized this.

Another secondary option was to cycle 60kms to a near-by fishing village and beg for a ride on a fishing boat. Hopefully a fishing boat could drop me off at another village where there was a road north.

After much thought, I had to make the mature decision (surprised even myself on this one) and go the safer route in order to get Puerto Montt in time to meet my friends, get the parts I need and of course not risk a total failure to my bike.

English Matt, without such limitations, decided to push on and try his luck with the fisherman. I was incredibly jealous that he was going for it but I made my decision and had to live with it. This jealously didn´t last long.

Two days later, Matt was back at our campsite with stories of torrential rain, 2 meter tall white caps, and fisherman pissing themselves from laughter when he asked for a ride. After giving this option a noteworthy attempt, he ended up having to ride the 60km back to town.

As you can imagine, it was a good moment when I found out my decision was the right one and the talkative Brit up took a dose of humility as well.

A few more days later, perhaps due to the intense Americano taunting, Matt decided to backtrack farther south so he could do a new route into Argentina to skip the Puerto Montt all together. Once again, an option my timeline couldn´t afford so we said our goodbyes.

Now on my own, one option I could afford was show up for every sold-out ferry and beg the captain to let me on.

It turns out that camping in the rain makes you look pretty pathetic and after two attempts I had success in this approach. I was able to get on a ferry which put me in Puerto Montt just barely on time to meet my friends!

Although the time spent in Chaiten didn’t seem exactly ideal at the time, while looking back it was actually a good thing. I got to relax in one place for 6 days which was really nice for a change.

I met some interesting people including a street juggler from Santiago who taught me to juggle 4 objects at once. Juggling rocks has already provided hours of roadside enjoyment in front of passing buses or cars, so I can only imagine the new possibilities.

We also had quite a nice camping set-up right outside town. Our site contained a wooden structure to kept us dry with plenty of fresh water nearby. And although rain is the main weather noun in this area, don´t let me lie, the sun did make an appearance or two.

Sometimes it seems that the problem is actually a solution. These experiences turn out to be quite valuable and close to impossible to plan.

So after breaking my bike and being delayed in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, I finally sailed into Puerto Montt just in time two days ago.

As an added bonus, while waiting for my friend´s bus to arrive yesterday, I also got the special opportunity to spend some quality hours waiting at the bus station and setting a new personal record in coffee consumption. I think at any other time of my life I would felt out of place in a dirty bus station. However since I haven’t shaved my beard in about two months, I strangely fit-in just fine.

So now with my friends now in town and also my bike back on the up-and-up, it is time to move north with two old friends through the Chilean Lake District.

The three of us together are known for some fun nights and have the combined Spanish speaking skills of a 3 year old. What could possibly go wrong?

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Posted in Carretera Austral, Chile | 1 Comment

5. El Calafate to Coyhaique (Carretera Austral Part 1)

It turns out I lied. I´m now in the town of Coyhaique halfway through the Carretera Austral and decided it was a good time for a rest. Speaking in relative terms for the region, this is a full fledged city actually.

At first I was planning to hold out on posting anything until I finish the Carretera in two weeks. However so much has happened that I´m already going to have to shorten some things down from the hand-written journal that I keep.

It also seems that my already bad handwriting (which I blame on being left handed) gets unreadable even to myself after 6 hours of mountain biking – so I´ll need to rely on this online journal to recall this trip in the future……….

Leaving the town of El Calafate, it was a hard two day ride to El Chalten on windy pavement. But rolling up to this small hiking-oriented town at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy was well worth the swear words in the air. Spending 2 1/2 great sunny days in the area, I was able to get in my allotted share of hiking, biking and general fun.

During my time at the El Chalten campsite I was welcomed by two familiar Swiss faces, both Stefan and Nedo were there together and were also accompanied by an English cyclist named Matt. The four of us quickly made plans to start the Carretera Austral together.

In order to get to the southern starting point of the Carretera, we first needed cycle 35km in order to take a ferry across one lake then cross a mountain pass into Chile and finally take a second ferry across another lake into the town of Villa O´Higgins. Easier said than done.

But with one last clear night of camping in El Chalten, we went to bed with a sequential plan to get the job done.

Our plan was working out well until cultural differences got the best of us. The Swiss guys, with their typical precision, left the campsite at a sharp 12 noon. However ´Team Native-English-Speakers´ were feeling a bit lazy and had a few more stops to make around town. In result, we didn’t make it on the road until a timely 5:18pm. So at step 1, what started as a big group with bigger intentions was quickly cut down into smaller but nimble groups of two.

Our prompt 5:18pm start time put us in the position to conveniently miss the afternoon ferry after our 35km dirt road cycle and adapt the master plan just a tiny bit. Not being people to let set-backs get us down, Team Native-English-Speakers saw the bright side that they were now lined up for the morning ferry with no stress at all with conveniently located camping by the lake.

While settling into our tents and making food, we met some other travelers coming south off the Carretera who gave us tons of advice and recommendations about the road ahead. The next morning, we got an earlier start than 5:18pm this time and we were on the ferry as expected

For weeks in advance, we have been thoroughly warned about one hell of a climb/hike to get over the mountain pass and into Chile from Argentina. We needed to push/carry our bikes up hill on a wore-out horse trail with 2-foot wide ditches too narrow to fit the width a fully loaded bike. Most people we talked to have opted to take their panniers bags off the bikes and make two separate trips at the bad parts. Other people were renting horses to carry their bags through this section.

We considered the horse option for about 3 seconds, but it turns out English Matt is just as stubborn as I am and we decided to do it on our own. In the end, the trail wasn’t as bad as all the hear-say floating around and we had a great time going up with lots of laughter without even taking off our bags.

It was starting to become clear that we make a good team. Matt and myself have cycled together since then and although we have been running into Team Swiss frequently on the road, we haven’t cycled a single kilometer with them since.

Unfortunately the Swiss contingent didn’t have such a good day. About 2kms from the top of the pass we ran into a rather flustered looking Stefan. To make a very long confusing story short (but still possibly confusing), Team Swiss had a mix up about the correct trail and a Swiss team member with bad eyesight whose name I won´t disclose, but not named Stefan, got lost and separated from his teammate.

In all the confusion, Stefan put down his daypack containing his tent and searched in various directions to find his lost teammate. Upon returning, his pack had mysteriously disappeared from its location with only an Argentine horseback rider known to be passing through the area. I hesitate from saying stolen because I like the ´innocent before proven guilty theory´ but I think you can read between the lines.

Being the nice guys that Team Native-English-Speakers are, we tried to help track down the daypack but unfortunately came up empty. As a secondary helping gesture, we decided to keep a cold wet Stefan company on the top of the pass while Nedo took a last look back down at the dock from the 1st ferry to see if it was returned there.

Thinking back on it now, I´m not entirely sure if Stefan really enjoyed our company but Team Native-English-Speakers sure had a good time on the top of that muddy pass. Starting off by proving to EuroBoy that I can start a fire in the pouring rain, we next moved into an intense match of Deep-Jam-Jar-Scooping-without-Breaking-Fragile-Crackers. An olde time classic

It turns out that the British Red Coat has a little more experience with tea-time culinary delights than this Yankee, so we closed the World Series of Wasting Time tied at 1-1 for the time being.

Still without a daypack but plenty tired, Stefan and Nedo decided to camp at the top of the pass while we rode our bikes down the smoother Chilean side to wait at a lower elevation for the next ferry.

Upon arriving at the second ferry landing, it turned out that we had some time to spare with no true answer what day the next ferry will depart due to inclement weather and a broken boat. Awesome.

Along with the handful of other travelers in the area with only one small farm and a Chilean border patrol building around, we moved into a Gillian’s Island type scenario pretty quickly (pretty sure only the Americano Gringos will understand this one).

Luckily Team Native-English-Speakers are talented in wasting time and our own special World Series quickly moved into an uncountable tally with many participants involved. (Thumbs up to Andy and Helen, hope you made the wedding!)

After the first full day of torrential downpours, the clouds broke to sun for a brilliant second day including some cold swimming in a glacier melt lake. Considering that we took a bar of soap with us, this was our first shower-like experience in a few days.

Proving once again that patience and stupid games reign supreme, after waiting out our 50 hours like true champions, our ferry finally moved us forward across Lago O´Higgins.

Team Swiss decided to stay back and wait an extra day in hopes the daypack would magically reappear. Unfortunately for Stefan, the pack never did and he is now in the market for a new lightweight camping tent if anyone wants to sell one cheap. (I´m afraid that from my light-hearted nature, you might think I´m being a cold-hearted bastard here – but I´m really not in real life. This sucked for Stefan and I tried to help however we could in the following days.)

The ferry arrived on the other side of the lake at 10:45pm and although we were back on track, it was dark and pouring down rain with another 7km ride into town from the dock. Considering all these factors, we did the only reasonable thing two educated people from nice supporting families would do, look for the strangest place to sleep as possible.

This brings me to ´odd place I have slept in´ number 5, a small old land-locked boat we found 2km away from the dock. The passenger quarters were exactly what we needed to hibernate away from the rain until morning. Along with being an odd place to sleep on my list, this was by far the coolest with more dumb jokes that I thought was possible.

Well rested like proper Naval Officers, the next morning we rode into Villa O´Higgins for a much needed food re-supply and to finally start the Carretera Austral.

While doing my pre-trip research, I was most excited for this section of my South American trip. So far it hasn’t disappointed.

This section is also where my day-by-day and sequential account of the trip will break-down considerably. Everyday on the Carretera has been so different and notable that to do a daily account would require more words than War and Peace. I personally don´t want to write that much nor do I think anyone else wants to read it.

After all, I´m not exactly Jennifer Lopez so the idea that I´m that interesting to write an online personal bible blog is ridiculous. So I think the only way forward is to write about the main elements while trying to keep my incoherent rambling to a minimal and then cram as much pictures as I can in the photo gallery section to fill the cracks.

I may not be the most experienced traveler on the road, but its not my first rodeo either. What I have learned so far is that there are three crucial elements to a trip that can turn a good experience into once-in-a-lifetime experience. These elements are (confusingly listed reverse order of importance of course) weather, setting/landscape and people.

Don´t get me wrong, with only one of these elements you can still have a great time. However as the Comedian Chris Rock once loosely said ´I can drive a truck with my feet if I want to, but that doesn´t make it a good idea´.

As thoroughly covered already, I quickly found out that with bike touring, the weather heavily effects both your physical and mental stability. A nice sunny day can make you feel like superman while a strong head wind mixed with hail will have you thinking about the next flight back to New York.

In this arena, I would like to think I already paid my dues in Tierra del Fuego. Jorge the Wind Monster agrees and seems to be now taking a little siesta. Also the sun has consistently joined the tour putting the day-time temperatures around the 80´s (25-30 for you Celsius lovers out there). Overall the normally rainy Carretera Austral is treating us very well right now (knocking on wood as I type).

To compliment the nice weather, the scenery of the Carretera is constantly changing and is always amazing. From riding through a rainforest-like environment to climbing up steep mountain passes and through giant river basins carved by glaciers – the Carretera experience is unreal at times. Its extremely hard to capture in a picture the feeling of riding fast down a mountain pass with a raging river and steeps cliffs on a fully loaded mountain bike.

To do so, I would need some Disney World or Avatar-type 3D video solution complete with Dolby surround sound, a synced vibrating chair with a giant fan blowing fresh air in your face. But even if I had all the required fancy-pants gadgetry loaded on my bike, I wouldn’t wreck my own biking experience by getting off my bike to use them. Selfish I know, but I don´t remember any of you paying for my plane ticket.

Adding to the daytime experience, we have been finding some wild camping spots that have been incredible. Every night has been something totally new and never a let-down. The best campsite so far was alongside a river in a beautiful glacier-carved valley that I´m very struggling to find the right descriptive words for. To supplement my writing-block, I´ll let a picture do the talking for this one:

We were also lucky enough to find an old vacant gazebo/hut type structure built overlooking another valley surrounded by impressive mountains and glaciers. I´m not sure if this exactly fits, but I´m going to go ahead and call this number 6 in the ´odd places I have slept in´ list. (numbers 7 & 8 can also be found in the photo gallery section if you look closely – a Chilean government woodshed and a Gaucho river-side hut shared with some Israeli bikers).

To top everything off, the people I have meet along the way have always been interesting to say the least.

Whether is was children checking out our bikes and comparing them with their own (then dumping out my stove fuel for fun), the other travelers you meet along the way (bikers, hitch hikers or busers) or the locals who took us under their wing to teach us how to cook local specialties like Dulche de Leche and Empanadas – the people are happy campers here.

I need to write this very carefully to make sure you don´t think I have a man-crush on the Brit, but Matt has also been a great guy to ride with on a daily basis. Our shared style of giving each other space during the day when needed but also cooking, camping and sharing experiences together has been perfect. Once again, we´ll see where our paths go, but I´ll probably be riding with Matt for the next few kms down the road.

All in all, a great first half of the Carretera Austral with all the elements lined up. And now with only a little more than 24 hours off the bike – I´m ready to get back on for more. So until the Three Amigo´s meet in Puerto Montt for our south of the border reunion, Adios.

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Posted in Argentina, Carretera Austral, Chile | 3 Comments

4. From Porvenir to El Calafate (Back in Argentina)

With the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan, I am now officially off the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Despite what might first come to mind, Tierra del Fuego (translated to Land of Fire) does not get its name due to large amounts of volcanic or hot spring activity. The name actually derives from the fires made by the aboriginal natives that were seen by Magellan himself while sailing around the area. To ease any confusion on the subject I have been re-creating a more traditional ´Tierra del Fuego´ in my sleeping bag every morning to compensate for the lack of volcanic natural wonders. With my stomach slowly adjusting to various Argentine meats and campsite food, I´m not far from a geothermal plant at this point.

During the ferry ride I sat next to a rather interesting bunch of older South African guys who were just starting a 6 month trip from Argentina to Alaska on BMW offroad motorbikes. They seemed like a group with a great sense of humor and the desire to enjoy life after retirement. Meeting and chatting with them only backed up my saying ´I have never met a South African I didn´t like´.

However there are more South Africans to meet and at the end of the water crossing I quickly came to the realization that their bikes move about 10x faster as mine, so we were forced to say our goodbyes.

Another goodbye I had to say at that point was to my riding companion thus far, the infamous Swiss named Nedo. He had some mechanical problems on his bike that he needed to sort out in Punta Arenas and was also planning a fast smoothly-paved route into the Torres del Paine national park.

Still doing my best to hold onto my mountain biking roots, I desired the opposite route in a slower mountainous dirt approach with great views and was willing to sacrifice a few days of hiking in the park to do it. With all these facts combined, we decided it was best to split paths after about 400kms of cycling. There was no need to shed tears at that moment as the likelihood of running into him again in the future is pretty high.

Now on my own, I headed out on some obligatory pavement to the town of Puerto Natales to resupply food/water before heading onwards into the park.

I’m still having some epic wind battles, but have slowly learned to accept it. Basically I decided that while bitching and swearing is fun, the wind monster I have named Jorge doesn´t seem care. Besides, whenever I think Jorge has gone one step too far, I´m provided some spectacular scenery to ease my mind.

As expected, the lesser traveled dirt road was worth it and I eventually rode into the park with a huge smile knowing I made the right decision. Not only the landscapes but the wildlife and all the rural farms I passed by were amazing.

The Torres del Paine park itself is breath taking and a must see for any traveler in the area. It seems that the Chilean government has figured this out and has decided to charge Manhattan prices and would charge you for breathing the fresh air if they could only find a way to track consumption.

I spent the next 5 days hiking, biking, camping and enjoying the scenery of the park. I think you could spend 10-15 days in the area without taking the same path twice but, despite how many pictures I now have of them, there are only so many days I can spend looking at pointy rocks for top dollar and it was time to head north again.

Moving away from the park I was quick to meet up with another Swiss rider named Stefan with some similar destinations in his future. Although they do have their share, I don´t want you to get that impression that the Swiss are the only ones with two self-propelled wheels on the road – I have met and shared stories with bikers of many other nationalities to this point (Canadian, Colombian, Australian, New Zealanders, English, Scottish, French, German…) with more sure to come. However, to this point, it seems like the Swiss are at the right place, at the right time and moving in the right direction.

I´m starting to think that these Swiss guys might actually be my old Swiss Army Knifes I lost as a boy, reincarnated and now slowly finding their way back to me. This is fine with me because I find the general stereotypes of the Swiss to be accurate – smart, precise and safe.

These traits are more than welcome at my side as they act as a common medication for my recurring ´Lets do something dumb´ infection. ´Lets do something dumb´ has plagued me since childhood and has resulted in numerous broken bones, a bad shoulder and countless morning-time headaches. However to be fair, ‘Lets do something dumb’ has also added some very memorable nights to my life – so its not all bad.

Unfortunately this particular Swiss encounter was even shorter than the last. After a border crossing back to Argentina and 110kms of dirt road mixed with multiple rain & hail storms, Stefan´s gear system fell victim to the mud. Wet, cold and with only one gear this use, he decided to abort the remaining 120km to the next town and hitched a ride in a 4×4 pick-up truck. He passed by me with a can of Coca-Cola and a big smile. Add ‘soft’ the stereotype list (just kidding Stefan).

Once again proving the real Swiss stereotypes to be true, this turned out to be a smart move as the next 120km had some of the most impressive headwinds since I slept underneath the road. Coming to my rescue on the last and hardest 20km into town, helping out both my mental well-being and my tired legs, was an Australian cyclist named Bryan.

Bryan is actually heading South but we met when our two roads came together for a shared 20kms of westerly riding into the town of El Calafate. A jump off point to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier (turns out I can´t spell, thanks Guadalupe) inside the Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate also houses an extremely cheap hostel which cyclists seem to converge on from all directions. Drafting each other into town, sharing our time as a sacrificial wind block, we slowly rolled in and celebrated with a liter of heavy chocolate milk each.

Although El Calafate is a tourist town that is only one expensive restaurant away from being called Aspen, it does have all the amenities needed to unwind after more than 1,000kms of cycling. Even though Bryan has broken my streak of Swiss safety and precision, the opposite traits he possesses have settled into the mix quite nicely. We have spent the last 3 days in town being lazy and cramming in some ´Lets do something dumb´ to offset the past 2 weeks on a saddle.

The much deserved rest days have been packed with sleeping in, some relaxing beverages and an all-you-can-eat Argentine buffet performance that rivals the time we found that Prime Rib place on Breckenridge spring break. Oh yeah, I did find some time to see the glacier as well….. (OK, I know this is weak – maybe I´ll tell more about the huge Glacier another time)

Fun is fun, but you need to know when you out stayed your welcome. So with a short stop over in the town of El Chalten at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy, I´m on to cycle the famous Carretera Austral. The Carretera Austral is a Chilean mountainous dirt road constructed during the Pinochet era in an attempt to connect some very rural communities to their surrounding regions. Although this project has failed and re-started many times, it is now about 1,200kms long and considered one of top bicycle tours you can do in the world. This will take me about 3 or 4 weeks through dramatically changing landscapes, so I wouldn´t expect another update or a proper cleaning for a month or so.

After the Carretera, it will be time for an old-time Colorado reunion with Steve and Andy to tour the Chilean lake districts for a few weeks. This time period is guaranteed to lack Swiss precision.

To close this one off, I´ll leave you with ´odd places I have slept in´ numbers 3 and 4. #3 being a rather nice road-side shack I found at 10pm after a long day of riding and #4 a big highway garage that made a perfect wind block from the 70k per hour winds that night.

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3. Tierra del Fuego to Mainland SA

Just like any kind of homework, it seems like the hardest part was just getting started. Once I actually got on the road, all my nervousness and doubts went away pretty quick. That doesn’t mean that the trip has gone without a hitch and its share of frustrations, but I guess that’s part of the experience and fun.

The first day riding away from Ushuaia started as a comedy of errors. After the first 5kms, Nedo realized he left behind his bike lock and had to circle back. Laughing to myself because I had everything organized, I moved forward with the plans to wait for him at the top of the 1st mountain pass. Bonehead count for the trip = Nedo 1 – Justin 0.

However, it wasn’t even 2kms more down the road when I came across road construction and was diverted along with the cars on the same route. After riding the first hill of the detour, I quickly realized that this would probably add at least about 5 km of all steep hills to my trip. In a vain effort to take a shortcut, I rode through a small town where I was chased by 3 big dogs for blocks on end. They were persistent, I´ll give them that, but I´m from Pine Plains NY and eventually got away from the bloodthirsty bandits. While North American dogs seem to chase cars with bikes secondary when they get bored, it seems that South Amercian dogs go for the easy kill with their all energy pointed towards a heavily loaded bike – skipping the cars altogether.

Soon enough I was back on track and the crazy swiss guy caught up to me a lot quicker than I expected. It turns out that he barged straight through the roadblock and no one said anything since he was only on a bike. This saved himself the detour and of course the 101 Dalmatians. This was exactly what I should have done and was one of the first learning points for me on this trip. Bonehead count = Nedo 1 – Justin 1.

The rest of the day went as expected and we reached our destination with a good sampling of what lies ahead – mountain passes, rain and even a little bit of wind. We easily found a nice spot to camp not far from the road and, after a good night of sleep, we continued our trip further north.

Our travels so far has brought us to the end of pavement on to dirt roads and also across the border from Argentina into Chile. Due to geographical obstacles the route up Patagonia goes in and out of these two countries a few times, so my Argentinean pesos in my pocket aren´t useless yet.

To this point, I have been amazed by the warmth and the sharing nature of the local people. They all seem like happy camper amigos to me. Its very easy to start a conversation and they always want to take pictures with us and our bikes. Along with giving me a chance to practice my 5 year-old level Spanish, these people always demand that you eat whatever food they have with them (thoroughly refusing anything that is offered in return).

A lot of these people have very limited resources in life relative to the US and Western Europe, so its truly special that they are willing to share anything with total stranger gringos – there is a lot to learn from them.

An other amigo we have met during this trip is the infamous Patagonia wind from the north, who doesn’t seem so warm but always willing to share. While it always seems to be in my face, which makes riding 5x as hard both physically and mentally, the bigger gusts makes riding a fully loaded bike close to impossible. Not only is pedaling impossible but getting blown over is a serious risk.

We have come across massive headwinds at 60-70km an hour in the past few days. This has cut our day short twice so far, being forced to sleep where ever we could find shelter. To be honest, it can be quite frustrating at times and leads to an emotional rollercoaster. I am not sure if any pictures of bent over trees or blowing grass can properly describe the wind.

On the 4th day of riding, I met a geology professor from Buenos Aires doing field research in the area who gave me this advice:  ´There is no Patagonia without wind, you must learn patience or you won´t survive´. I can understand this completely, if you aren´t mentally prepared for the wind – convincing yourself to quit would be very easily. But as my friends will tell you, I´m a stubborn bastard and I´m not going to buy a car. However after riding days through this beast, I have come to the conclusion that I will either come out of this very mentally strong or a complete utter nutjob.

The first time we had to stop riding because of 70km winds, we were lucky enough to be in front of a massive sheep farm. The farm was quite amazing with over 65,000 sheep and 30 employed Gauchos staying in a fraternity house-like-building complete with a dedicated cook. The Gauchos were nice enough to invite us inside for a full warm dinner and traditional tea. They also let us camp outside in a corner blocking the wind, which was perfect for me as spooning with cowboys isn’t on my list of things to do in South America.

The second time we had to call off the day was in the middle of Nebraska-style flats that had nowhere to hide from the wind. With 70km headwinds and not even a rock to sit behind, our only option was to walk 5km until finding a rather nice storm drain under the road to shelter from the storm. This provided a decent wind-block and our best option to cook and sleep. I´m starting to think I need to keep track of all the odd places I sleep in during this trip.

Since the winds are the highest when its warm during the day and are relatively calm during the night, we decided that a 3:30am start with headlamps was the only way to move forward in this evil Nebraska.

As you can expect, riding that night/morning was extremely cold but riding under the stars in the middle of nowhere southern Chile was quite an experience (I hope you can imagine because my fingers were too frozen to take a picture).

Being rewarded when the sun finally came up, we were not only warm once again but we made it into a more mountainous area protected a little from the wind along the coastline of the Strait of Magellan. The views during the next 50km were amazing and once again I´m not sure if the pictures I post can properly describe it.

This brought us into the current location of Porvenir, Chile which is a small town on the east side of the water. Because of the thoroughly mentioned wind, we´re delayed about two days from what we originally thought. This is also complicated by the ´daily´ ferry not running yesterday or today (typical South America I hear), forcing a rest day which is probably a good idea to start out with. That´s ok, because I hate time lines. But tomorrow we´re ensured that we´ll be heading to mainland South America and will resume cycling into the proper Patagonia you know and love.

Until the next rest day when I have nothing else to do, adios!

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2. JFK to Ushuaia, el fin del mundo…

The trip has gotten off to a great start. After being helped out by a nice girl at JFK´s Delta desk who proceeded to give me better seats after telling her about my plans, I think she was worried about my upcoming sore butt on a bike seat, I was off to Atlanta followed by a 1-beer layover and a 9 1/2 hour flight to Buenos Aires.

Since I needed to change both airlines and airports in Buenos Aires for my final flight to Tierra del Fuego (Ushuaia) – I next had to pick up all my luggage, go through customs in Argentina and organize my own transport to a regional airport. Despite my nightmares on the plane, my luggage came quick enough and nothing was lost. However it looked like the airline baggage handlers used my cardboard bike box in a long-throw contest.

While reviewing the possible damage to my home for the next 7 months, I noticed a similar box across the hallway.  After a quick introduction from both sides, the owner of the other bike box (a Swiss guy named Nedo) turned out to have the same travel plans as me. Without any previous planning – we both had the same flight to Ushuaia, we were both booked at the same hostel and we both plan to cycle through Patagonia and beyond.

The only difference in our immediate future is that Nedo plans to spend a year or two on his bike with a destination of either Miami or Alaska…… to be determined I guess. Here is a picture from after we first met in Buenos Aires, please note the part in my hair was is not my new south american style, rather the grease from 14 hours of flying catching up to me. Refreshingly, Nedo´s hair took the Afro approach after flying 19 hours from Denmark.

Nedo and I after we met in the Buneos Aires Airport

We decided that meeting in Buenos Aires was a sign from the Bike Gods which could not be ignored, so we obviously had to start our trips together. Maybe our paths will split in the next 300kms or 3000kms, but we´ll see how it goes first. After only spending 2 days with Nedo – he seems like a great guy who is very knowledge in all things biking, mountaineering and climbing: a welcome addition for sure. Although he is Swiss, he will ride with a Danish flag proudly flying due to living there for the past few years (so does that mean I need to fly a Dutch flag???).

You can find his own site here -> www.findingnedo.dk.  The ´Finding Nedo´ title  being a play on words from the movie ´Finding Nemo´ inspired by the school kids he taught – he was a primary school teacher outside of Copenhagen before quiting and going on this trip.  As you can read for yourself on his site- Nedo likes to have fun,he already has one drunken post on the scoreboard for this trip,  however ironically he will still probably give a more factual trip summary than myself.

The past 2 days in Ushuaia has been spent preparing for the trip with grocery shopping, eating tons of carne, putting together our bikes and biking/hiking to a near-by glacier (below is a photo on the way down, not the glacier itself). Luckily nothing was broken on my bike and I was able to put everything together with only the expected minor frustrations – pretty good considering I had to dissemble practically everything (bars, wheels, racks, fenders, pedals..) to fit it in the box.

Ushuaia (the end of the world) is a beautiful town and is the jump-off point for most of the tours of Antarctica. Below is the view from my hostel window – seriously. I could spend weeks here I feel but its time to start the real trip. I´m ready to be on the bike full time.

So tomorrow, Nedo and I are going to start heading north on our bikes – with day one looking to be around 120kms (thats a lot in miles too). Our first milestone destination is Punta Arenas in Chile, this should take us about 4 days of cycling/camping ending with a 4 hour boat ride. However this timeline will only remain accurate if the border to Chile stays open.

It turns out the border was closed for a week, just opening yesterday, because of big demonstrations & road blockades from the locals due to a sudden rise of the gas prices in southern Chile. Apparently this can happen at any moment again in the future. Fun times.

I´m not sure the next time I´ll have Internet access but I´m sure the road will be fun and full of stories until that time.

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1. Pre-Trip

The hours and minutes until I board a plane for South America are draining quick. After two weeks of running around Upstate New York to gather all the last second items and organize everything – I’m basically set to go now. At this point, I’m starting to get excited enough to make sleeping at 3am not an option.

This excitement is also mixed with last second jitters and a little bit of stress. Its been awhile since I have felt this way before traveling, so I figure this is going to be quite an experience. The only thing I can think to do now is to sit here and listen to my dad’s old vinyls in a vain attempt to relax a little.

After all the hard work, I think my gear set-up came together quite nicely. It is a delicate balance between conserving weight/space so I can actually pedal while having everything I need to live off my bike for 6 or so months. Overall I took the ‘less is more’ approach in my decision making but of course I needed one or two elements that a Minimalist might not consider a necessity, but its my sanity on the line here.

Below is a picture of all of my gear I’m bringing and need to fit into the 5 little bags attached to my bike – you can also find a listing here: Gear List

When the bike is fully loaded with all gear, food and water- it weighs around 90 pounds (that’s 41 kilos for the Euros out there). Through the research I did when planning this trip, I have seen other bike set-ups that weight much more. So I figure I’m doing OK on this front  –  however tell that to my knees in the middle of the Andes.

Speaking of weight, I just weighed myself in at 185 pounds (84 kilos), it will be interesting to see where that number goes after cycling around 6 hours a day fueled by campfood for 6+ months. After proper send-offs in both Amsterdam and New York mixed with my favorite breakfast sandwiches at the neighborhood deli, you can say my ‘training’ for this trip has been a bit loose. However, I seem strangely fine with this situation.

I once read that the only way to train for a long-distance cycle tour is to actually complete a long distance cycle tour. This gives me comfort, however tell that to my knees in the middle of the Andes.

So tomorrow it’s three flights and then I land in Ushuaia, Argentina to begin traveling the slow way through Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. Depending on the internet cafes I find along the way, hopefully I’ll be checking in again soon. Until then, please tell my mom that that I’m not crazy and I’ll be just fine. Thanks

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