Archive for January, 2010

Patagonia – El Chaltén to Villa O’Higgins

Today I plan to leave for the pass from El Chaltén in Argentina across the border to Villa O’Higgins and on to the Carreterra Austral in Chile. This is a little crossing with a short section of footpath where one has to push and even carry the bike, with ferry boat rides across lakes on both sides.

I am taking my time this morning in El Chaltén over breakfast at the local Panaderia with fresh bread and some coffee. I won’t have to leave until noon or so to catch the first boat leaving at 5:30pm. Then I’ll camp at the North end of Lago Del Desierto at the Argentinean border patrol station and set off early the next morning to cross the pass on foot.

Leaving El Chalten headed for Lago Del Desierto and the Chilean border

I cook some pasta at 11am taking advantage of the kitchen facilities of the hostel and then start riding around noon. The weather is a mix of cold wind and some rain showers with occasional sunshine – just like we have in the Alps in April. Right from the end of town the road is gravel along the river coming from the Lago Del Desierto.

The road from El Chalten to Lago Del Desierto

It’s not a great road, but I can manage with the recumbent. Slowly I ride back into the valley, mostly flat with a few steep up- & downhill sections and the occasional bridge over the river.

Crossing a bridge leading to Lago Del Desierto

There is also some forest here with tall trees, a wonderful sight to behold and shelter from the wind after the many days on the tree less tundra.

Riding into forest again is a welcome sight after a week on the Patagonia tundra

At a nice waterfall a few km before Lago Del Desierto

Since it has rained so much in the last weeks – apparently due to this year 2010 being an El Nińo year – the water level of the river is running very high. At one section it actually floods the entire road over several hundred meters, leaving me no choice but to wade through ankle deep water and getting the boot and socks all wet.

The massive rains sent the river over the road - no way to get through without wet boots

I reach the end of the Routa 23 at Lago Del Desierto around 4pm with plenty of time for the 5:30 boat. During this time I catch a brief glimpse of Mt. Fitz Roy with fresh snow, coming out of the clouds only for a short period of time. (Later I hear from other riders that one day earlier was an exceptionally clear day here with great views of both Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre…)

Mount Fitz Roy makes a rare appearance - fresh snow and clouds covering the top

The boat “Huemul??? (named after a local deer species) is surprisingly big for this relatively small and narrow lake.

The Huemul boat on the South end of Lago Del Desierto

I roll my bike and trailer on board and affix it on deck, as we must expect a windy ride. When the boat leaves there is actually sunshine with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. There are, however, extreme wind gusts on the lake which stir up waves and whip up water spray from the top of the waves – I’m glad I’m inside on this boat ride!

Stormy wind gusts whipping up water spray on Lago Del Desierto

About 45 min later we arrive at the North end of the lake where the Argentinean border patrol is located. I show them my passport and they stamp my passport. There are four other riders who came across the pass from the other side and waited for our boat to continue on to El Chaltén. Their bikes and panniers look pretty muddy and their reports confirm the bad state of the hiking trail.

Since I still have 2.5 hrs of daylight I decide to carry my panniers up the first steep section of the trail. This will allow me to see what kind of challenges lay ahead and also make it easier tomorrow to get up with the bike and trailer, without the added weight of the panniers. I walk up about 4 km through the forest and realize that this will be very hard work to get the bike through the next day. I also see two Swiss and one French rider coming down. On my way down I help the French rider carry his panniers, as he has too much weight and needs to double-carry everything.

Campsite near Argentinean border patrol on Norht end of Lago Del Desierto

Once back down I set up my tent on the edge of a clearing next to the Swiss couple’s tent. It’s a peaceful scene with horses gracing next to our tents. I crawl into the sleeping bag to light rain, somewhat apprehensive about the pass ahead.

Next morning I pack away my tent and start the trail early. Fairly quickly I need to take off my sweater under the GoreTex as it is very hard work pushing the bike and trailer up the steep and narrow path. Within the first 10 mins or so it becomes clear that this will be an extraordinarily difficult part of my journey. The trail is often quite narrow – even though luckily my trailer just fits through in most parts – it is muddy and steep, and with the recumbent bike I need to bend down to reach the handle bar and thus push sideways half bent over, which is very uncomfortable. The additional challenges are river crossings over partly submerged old tree logs and mud flats where the wheels sink in all the way down to the axle at times. Here is a series of photos showing the terrain.

Pushing my bike and trailer up steep sections of the hiking trail

Need to double-carry bike and trailer separately across this make-shift bridge

Who needs a bike stand anyway?

Very muddy section of the trail

The first 7 km to the border take me 3 hrs. It’s hard work, but I have the benefit of having carried the panniers most of the difficult section the day before and now I have plenty of time to reach the lake on the other side and catch the ferry. Once I reach the Chilean border it gets much better, with a 4-wheel drive road that’s still too rough to ride on but easy to push the bike along.

From the Chilean border onwards the trail becomes a real road and thus much easier

On the Chilean side the trail is maintained to some degree; for example there is a new bridge over a river, which according to previous reports hasn’t been there and required either a wet crossing or a detour to some pair of logs further upstream. There is also – strangely enough – an airstrip here seemingly in the middle of nowhere! This is also the first stretch I can ride again.

After the first 7 km of trail even a bad road is far better as you can ride again!

The valley opens up a bit and soon I can see the Lago O’Higgins down below. It’s a nice and steep descent, and the lake on the Chilean side is 200m lower than the one on the Argentinean side.

Gravel road descending to Lago O'Higgins

Near the bottom of the lake I reach the Chilean border patrol station. I get my passport stamps there and inquire about the boat. I am happy to be here several hours before the scheduled departure time, so I’m in good spirits. Then I learn the bad news: No boat today! And worse: No boat to Villa O’Higgins tomorrow, either! So much for regular weekly schedules (which had the boat go round-trip on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays). Apparently the weather on Monday was too bad for the boat to sail. So they went Tuesday (yesterday) instead and now decided not to go on two consecutive days – probably economic factors (like not enough paying tourists?) playing a role, too. And tomorrow (Thursday) the boat is coming down from Villa O’Higgins, but not returning there until the next day (Friday). So it looks like I’m going to be stuck here for two days.

View of Lago O'Higgins from Candelario Mancilla in cloudy weather

That said, the people here at Candelario Mancilla are very friendly; they maintain a little guest house and provide warm meals. They are also curious about my recumbent bike and help me clean it with a water hose. All things considered, I am happy about at least one rest day in this beautiful, if very rainy scenery with great views over the lake – and don’t worry too much about the extra lost day as there is nothing I can do or could have done differently to avoid this. Sometimes one just has to go with the flow of things…

2 comments January 30th, 2010

Patagonia – El Calafate to El Chaltén

Leaving El Calafate after the rest day

From El Calafate to El Chaltén the road leads around two large lakes: Lago Argentino in the South and Lage Viedma to the North. These lakes are fed from glacial waters off the Campo Hielo de Sur, one of the largest ice-fields outside the polar regions (similar to the Kluane Ice-fields). On the West end those lakes have many arms like fjords and there are trees and lush greens. On the East end it is very arid with only grass and some small bushes. Often it rains on the West end and the sun shines on the East.

Leaving El Calafate with nice tailwind and Lago Argentino in background

When I have breakfast in the morning at the campground there are extreme wind gusts which almost blow tents away and send garbage lids flying and dogs running for shelter. This doesn’t look like riding weather. So I take my time, buy groceries, do email etc. Eventually I pack my stuff and get ready to leave around noon. Upon leaving town you pass a police checkpoint; the police man makes a note of my passport and warns me about the wind, stating that there had been a car accident in the area with one fatality this morning due to the wind! My first leg though is 32 km to the East end of the lake, and that means downwind! I am flying at 40-50 km/h, on the slight downhill often exceeding 60 km/h. This way the wind is fun…

In less than an hour I reach the intersection where the fun ends and the hard work begins. The road turns to the NW and now the wind blows from the front-left. My speed goes down to 10-12 km/h, patience is the name of the game now. But it is warm and sunny, with excellent visibility. In fact, I can already discern the characteristic shapes of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, even though they are well over 100 km away from here.

Short stop at Rio Leona

I ride along the Rio Leona and enjoy the fact that this road has only been paved less than two months ago (no lines painted yet). I take a break and eat some fruit and drink – after that I always feel better in this dry environment. I have plenty of time and enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains in the West against the turquoise waters of the lake. I often find that my mood depends heavily on how much time I have. If I need to hurry for some reason, I am much less relaxed than if I know I can take a rest break if I need to and just enjoy the scenery.

View of Mountains behind Lago Argentino

The road at times turns to the NE, which gives me a slight tailwind component; that helps me work down the distance to my next goal on top of a 150m hill, a road construction depot of some sort. I stop primarily to ask for water; the people are quite friendly and also talk about the accident due to the enormous wind this morning. Now with fresh supply of water, a downhill ahead and even a slight tailwind my mood is soaring. On the long downhill I exceed the speed limit by nearly 350% – doing 68 km/h in a 20 km/h zone – and life on the bike is good again.

Cruising down a hill with tailwind at 68 km/h

Horses running beside the road - a very scenic moment

Rock walls along the Rio Leona

Some horses run next to me behind a fence for a little bit, a very scenic diversion. Some more undulating hills and a little rock canyon along the river are along the way in the late afternoon. My goal for the day is the Hotel La Leona, situated near the shores of Lake Viedma. Towards the end the wind turns into a headwind again which makes for slow progress, but then again, I am close enough for this not to bother me. Eventually I pull into the parking lot of the hotel, at 108 km exactly in the middle between El Calafate and El Chaltén.

Hotel La Leona between El Calafate and El Chalten

Many tour-buses stop here due to its great location and more than 100 years of history, as well as its fresh-baked pastries. This hotel also offers camping behind wind shelter fences and poplars. So for me it is an ideal supply point to stay for the night. To my surprise, they even offer WiFi Internet access, so I unexpectedly get to check email and Skype with my wife. Later I brush my teeth and then fall asleep to the sound of the wind swaying the poplar trees.

The next morning I take it easy as there is already lots of wind and no chance to use a few calm early morning hours. I have breakfast and send some more emails. Around 11am I am starting to ride. In a repeat of the previous day, the first hour or so is relatively easy due to a slight tailwind component. Once I get to the intersection Routa 23 turns to the left (NW) and leaves Routa 40. From here it’s 90 km to El Chaltén, all straight into the wind.

Intersection where Routa 23 leaves Routa 40 for El Chalten - 90 km headwind ahead!

It’s a bit past 12:00pm noon; I do the math: For 90 km of headwind at say 11 km/h average it will take a solid 8 hrs of ride time to get there in a day. Sunset is around 9pm with daylight fading by 9:30pm or so. So as long as I can ride at speeds around 12 km/h it would be possible. And today I’m really committed to reach El Chaltén under my own power and not accept another ride by truck or bus. My first stop is to chat with two riders (Lindsay and ?) from UK and Germany; they are in great spirits as they have left gravel and rain behind and are flying down a paved road in sunshine with great tailwind for 90 km! (You have to be a touring biker to understand what an exceptional combination that is…)

Two happy cyclists going the other way - 90 km tailwind!

After some 15 min of rest and chatting I need to continue, my clock is ticking. The scenery changes ever so slowly, with some great views of the lake after the first 20 km or so. I allow myself a short rest stop to eat some fruit and drink plenty of juice to stay well hydrated; I also re-apply sunscreen so as to not burn in the intense sun (which you don’t feel because of the cooling wind).

At one of only two rest stops on the long road into El Chalten - Lago Viedma in background

Approaching Estancia Santa Margarita at midpoint between intersection and El Chalten

The distance is naturally broken in two pieces of equal length due to the Estancia San Margarita in the middle after about 45 km. Up to there I had sunshine, behind there some dark rain clouds were waiting. So I stopped there both to get some water as well as change and put on my rain gear. One of the residents, Diego, kindly offers me not only water, but also some coffee and some fresh bread.

Diego at Estancia Santa Margarita gave me water and coffee and bread

It’s always hard to leave a warm, cozy place like this when it’s windy and rainy outside. But today I definitely don’t have a lot of time, so I’m quickly back out on the road braving the elements again. First I hope that the rain will calm the wind – as had been previously my experience in Patagonia – but no such luck today. Instead, the wind became more gusty, with ever stronger gusts between periods of relative calm conditions. Beautiful scenery unfolded around me, with mountains rising around me and exposing interesting rock band formations. Also the vegetation slowly changed, with more and more fresh green along the way due to the increasing precipitation near the mountains.

Rainbow over interesting rock band formations North of the Routa 23

I had covered about 70 of the 90 km by now and felt more and more confident about making it to El Chaltén by tonight. The mountain massif around Fitz Roy was rising ahead of me, but unfortunately remained shrouded in clouds. I felt good about having come this far and witness the change in scenery.

Fitz Roy massif in clouds

There was one more challenge, though, of some repeated uphill towards the village. With the wind now gusting extremely strong I could no longer ride uphill but had to push the bike. At times even pushing was too hard and I just hit the brakes and waited for the gusts to subside. My rearview mirror was now essentially useless as it kept folding back and vibrating so much that I couldn’t discern a clear image anyway. Once a strong gust from the front-right pushed me way over to the opposite lane, which really scared me! From that point on I just stopped every time I saw a vehicle approaching either way; the risk of being blown into passing truck or car was just too great. Another time a gust announced itself through a dust devil of flying dirt and branches. I just stopped, pulled on the brakes and still had trouble controlling my bike and trailer at a stand-still! These were the most frightening conditions I had experienced so far; but for being this close to my goal and this late in the day I would not have continued. It took me more than an hour to cover the last 10 km.

Reaching El Chalten after a very hard day at 9:15pm at dusk

By the time I saw the village and rolled down the last little hill to the river and into town it was 9:15pm and slowly getting dark. Still strong wind and rain showers made it very unpleasant to be outside. I looked around for a hostel and found some space at the second place I asked. I had not taken any breaks for the last 4 hrs since leaving the Estancia and was extremely exhausted. When I walked into the hostel I could barely stand straight and needed to sit down and drink something. But I had made it after 9 hrs of riding in a bit more than 10 hrs elapsed time – one of my hardest days ever on the bike. After some steak and potato omelet dinner and some hot shower I fell into a deep sleep in the warm dorm of the hostel…

Add comment January 29th, 2010

Patagonia – Rio Gallegos to El Calafate

Windy Road Ahead

From Wednesday, Jan-20 to Friday, Jan-22 I rode North-West from Rio Gallegos towards El Calafate. This stretch would definitely have been easier to ride the other way due to the prevailing Westerly winds. Most of the time I faced a headwind from the front-left. The winds here are usually kicking in around 9-10am and then intensifying during the day, calming only at night. This wind is so strong that it severely impacts the cyclist. At a minimum, you have to be prepared to ride long hours at frustratingly slow speed despite hard work. And unfortunately in the tree-less open tundra there is no shelter and no escaping the wind on the road.

Camping at Las Horquetas

Whenever there is a little stream – like the Rio Coyle – there are some poplar trees and an Estancia nearby. These green places offer some shelter from the wind and feel like an oasis in the desert. The hungry cyclist can also use them to get at a minimum water, often food and even a place to stay for the night. I used the Estancia and hotel / restaurant Las Horquetas at 85 km from Rio Gallegos as my goal for the first day.

Leaving Las Horquetas before sunrise

One approach is to get up very early, before sunrise, and take advantage of the relative calm in the early morning hours. I did that two nights in a row, adding to my sleep deficit. The above picture shows me leaving just before 6 am from Las Horquetas. The temperature was 4C and a slight wind was adding to the chill. However, there is little traffic and the rising sun makes for interesting photo opportunities.

First light from behind when riding West

There is also wildlife on the road, such as Guanacos, ostriches, sheep, rabbits, birds, foxes and skunks. Often a bunch of vultures indicate another road-kill ahead, usually a rabbit. Another interesting observation is that the ostriches and guanacos will usually run away from the cyclist. Due to the fences parallel to the road they often can’t escape right away. The grown-up Guanacos can easily jump the fences; only young animals have trouble and sometimes run like the ostriches until they find a break in the fence.

Straight Road Ahead

The days on these wide open plains are fairly monotonous. Often the road just leads straight to the horizon and one is alone with the wind and one’s thoughts. On Day 2 my first leg was to reach La Esperanza at 62 km, a supply point with gas station, convenience store and restaurant. To my surprise the wind didn’t kick in that particular day in the morning, so I reached it a bit ahead of schedule and took a long break. It also warmed up nicely and I need to apply sunscreen generously and repeatedly due to the intense radiation of the sun.
I continue in shorts and good spirits as it is now a lovely summer day with hardly any wind! I make good progress, riding at normal speeds, easily twice as fast as with headwind. I plan to take a break at 100 km about halfway between La Esperanza and El Cerrito. I ride along until 99 km and then something interesting happens: From one moment to the next the wind kicks in with force, literally as if someone flipped a switch. All of a sudden the last km is hard work and I stop at a little side road and seek shelter from the wind in the ditch beside the road. Now I can recuperate some of the lost sleep in the morning…
After two hours I try riding again; the first section is uphill and I need to push the bike. Even that is hard work and at times I struggle to hold the bike steady and upright. All of a sudden it seems that the remaining 35 km might be too far for the day in these conditions! In my struggle I notice an Estancia with several buildings at the bottom of a little hill. I decide to leave my bike behind a fence and check out the Estancia.

In the courtyard of the Estancia Hibrun

The Lenzner family with German roots welcomes me to their shady courtyard and we sit down and chat for a while. The lady even offers me coffee and some cake – how sweet! It’s true that the people out in the country are most often very helpful and hospitable. They are interested in my journey, of course, and so I get to practice my Spanish while getting a reprieve from riding. A lovely place, one does not want to leave here in this wind… I check twice during the afternoon, but the wind does not relent and so I decide to stay here for the night. I witness some local campesinos slaughtering and cleaning a cow – quite a visceral experience to see again which process leads to your steak or ribs getting on the dinner plate! I am invited to share dinner with the campesinos, a communal event of sorts. I also can sleep in the shack where they have their bunk-beds; I prefer my sleeping bag on the ground, though…

Riding again before sunrise

I get up again at 5:30 and start riding before sunrise. To my chagrin the NW wind is already blowing quite a bit, so I am not nearly making as much progress as I’d like. It takes me 3 hrs of hard work to cover the 35 km to El Cerrito. I can see the building from 15 km away in the clear morning air, but it takes me more than an hour to finally reach it. And what a disappointment: Nobody there, just an empty set of buildings around a large garage for road building equipment. At least I can find shelter from the wind in a half-open and sun-lit garage. I cook up some pasta and am joined by some stray cats that seem to be even hungrier than I am. So I share my Wieners with them and finish my pasta.

While the wind is intensifying I’m considering my options: How can I reach El Calafate some 100 km away in this wind? If not, where can I stay for the night without shelter? (The next buildings and water source are about 65 km out at a little river…) So I get out in the wind again and start riding. It’s crazy to work so hard and still only advance at speeds below 10 km/h. At a slight uphill I need to get off and push the bike. Again, even that has become very hard work, and riding on the flat legs becomes downright dangerous. I am blown off the road several times into the gravel. At one point a pickup driver stops and asks me whether I’m alright; he also offers a ride to El Calafate – an offer which in my current state of exhaustion I can’t refuse.

Loading up my bike and trailer on the pickup truck - the wind hat beat me!

This is the first time I accept a ride with the bike to get to my daily destination! I feel like I’m cheating, but then again I had reached my limits. The last 200 km into this wind have taken a lot out of me. I was low on food and hadn’t had a shower in 3 days with everything dusty and sweaty. After 9 days of riding I just needed a rest-day. And getting to El Calafate early would allow me to take care of logistics, do laundry, get cash, do email etc. So I quickly accepted the situation and really enjoyed setting up my tent at the campground El Ovejero in the center of El Calafate.

Setting up camp in El Calafate

I had a nice place sheltered from the wind and sunny, perfect to dry out my cloths and rest. Luckily my tent neighbors, a family from Argentina on vacation, invited me for steaks and bread as they had cooked up a huge lunch meal for their entire family with plenty of left-over meat. Then I just lay down to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon. I realized how tired and hungry I had become. The rest of the day was spent leisurely walking through town, getting some cash from the ATM, and doing email. I also met Dirk and Payam, two German cyclists, who had come down the Carreterra Austral and could give me some useful information about the route ahead. We went for dinner (pizza and steak) and enjoyed a leisurely evening.

Dinner with German cyclists Dirk and Payam in El Calafate

The next day I used the opportunity to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier (Link to Wikipedia). This glacier comes down all the way to the Lago Argentino and periodically cuts off a branch of it, the Braza Azul(?). This is one of the main tourist attractions in Patagonia and consequently there are large crowds, dozens of tour buses, hundreds of vehicles, thousands of tourists. But I was happy to join the tour-bus crowd for a (rest-)day! It felt good to get to see the scenery without having to ride hard into the wind…

Perito Moreno Glacier

There is an excellent system of walkways in the area which protect the tundra and control the crowds. A large visitor center also provides food and facilities – nothing fancy or cozy, just built to handle the masses (like at a large ski resort). One can walk for several km on these walk-ways and see the 75m tall face of ice from balconies at several levels. The ice groans and cracks, at times emitting loud thunder as if from a lightning bolt. Occasionally a chunk of ice falls off and splashes into the water. I even get to take a short video-clip of one of those ice chunks (the size of a truck) collapsing and falling down.

Perito Moreno Glacier

I spend the day with Ian from Scotland who I met on the bus. We have a nice conversation about tourism, my journey, his journeys (including a recent spontaneous trip from Ushuaia to the Antarctic), life, politics and philosophy. We even extend our conversation over a nice pasta dinner back in El Calafate. Then I retreat to the campground for a conversation with my wife in Florida (via Skype). It was good to have this rest day. By the time I get on the bike again the next day I spent almost 48 hours without riding, good time to rest and recharge…

3 comments January 29th, 2010

Patagonia – Bike Challenges for Challenge Bikes

Along the shores of Lago Fagnano in Tierra Del Fuego, Tolhuin, Argentina

Patagonia has many challenges for the bicycle and the touring cyclist: Wind, Rain, Cold, Gravel roads, to name just a few.

When I left Ushuaia on Jan-14 I knew there would be some challenges ahead. My Challengebikes (manufacturer) Seiran (model) recumbent bike has of course already seen all of them, both because it has already done the Panamerican Highway once two years ago (www.panamerica.ch) and because it has now seen more than 14,000 km in North- and Central-America. For the bike, gravel is tough on the tires and the frame, as well as the trailer axle. So far I had 120 km of gravel North from San Sebastian through the Chilean part of Tierra Del Fuego. Almost at the end of that stretch my front wheel got caught in a spot of soft sand and I couldn’t prevent the bike from tipping to the side – a disadvantage of the recumbent design (that you can’t quickly put your foot down to avoid a fall). My panniers and my handle bars don’t like that kind of abuse…

Bike fallen down in soft sand on gravel road near Cerro Sombrero, Chile

For the biker, the wind is by far the toughest challenge. If you have ever crawled into a relentless headwind, possibly on a sheer endless straight road, then you know what I’m talking about: The hours go by without you making nearly as much progress as you had hoped, you expend twice the energy and for only one third of the progress you’d otherwise get. This is where mental strength is as important as physical endurance… I had one day on the gravel road where my average speed started around 13 km/h, but then steadily dropped down to 11 km/h and even lower. I had worked 5 hrs and only got to 55 km when I finally gave up for that day. I got up the next day at 5am to ride the few calmer hours in the morning… There comes a point where it’s just no longer efficient or even viable to go into the wind. Above some windspeed it becomes also dangerous, especially with side-wind, as the gusts can easily lead you off the pavement into the dirt – or into the traffic lane.

But I also had a good sampling of cold and rain already; throughout North- and South-America I remember only one day in Oregon where I pretty much rode all day with the GoreTex jacket. Here there are several days where I wear the GoreTex jacket all day… On the day from Rio Grande to San Sebastian it rained for 3 hrs straight with temps around 50F (10C), not exactly my idea of fun. However, with the rain the wind stopped, which actually saved me at least 1 hr of riding that day. Some cyclist told me that in Patagonia you either have sunny and windy or rainy and calm – pick your poison!

A 3 hr ride in the cold rain between Rio Grande and San Sebastian, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Sometimes when you are challenged this way you ask yourself: Why am I doing this? But for all the hardship and frustrating episodes, there are also those priceless moments when the sun comes out, the road turns such that you have a tailwind, you can see endless horizons and life is good:

Yes, riding in Patagonia is hard work. Yes, it is often uncomfortably cold or wet or strenuous, or all of the above. But if you come prepared to accept these challenges – physically as well as mentally – and with the right gear (bike and clothing), you will find ample rewards along the road. The journey is the destination…

Endless roads across and limitless sky above Patagonia

2 comments January 20th, 2010

Tierra Del Fuego

Eastern Shore of Lago Fagano near Tolhuin village

Today was my first full day of riding in Tierra Del Fuego, the Southern-most island of Patagonia. The landscape down here is just spectacular: Mountains, Ocean, lakes, forest, rivers, valleys … The weather during the day was a bit of a rollercoaster, starting rather unfriendly with rain and cold, but with a brilliant ending!

Looking back at Ushuaia after starting the long ride North

First I was doing some email and Blogging in the morning; since I had only 106 km planned and there are 17+ hrs of daylight I figured I wasn’t in a hurry. It was noon when I left Ushuaia with just a small snack and some fruit juice and water for along the way.

Looking at rainy mountains the start seemed ominous and gloomy

Right after Ushuaia the road turns inland and starts climbing up into a side valley. It started to rain and was rather chilly. While going uphill I stayed warm enough for my short-sleeved shirt and I didn’t bother with the rain gear yet. Here I was getting more and more wet and cold after just 10 km and briefly thought about the 10.000 km ahead of me in South America. But nothing is as constant as change, and that’s especially true for the weather in Patagonia. When I reached the Valle Hermosa after the first 300m hills a few patches of blue sky became visible.

Riding into the Valle Hermosa just North of Ushuaia

Then I had another period of rain and the climb up to the 400m high Paso Garibaldi; this was hard work again. That said, I was happy to ride uphill due to the generated body heat and also because I knew that beyond the pass it would get easier and probably even more scenic.

View North frmo Paso Garibaldi down to Lago Fagano in the distance

At the pass I met French rider Isabelle – she had come all the way down from Ecuador and was on her last day to Ushuaia! We exchanged high fives and took pictures, but it was too cold with the wind to linger. On the way down I put on my new GoreTex wind jacket which saved me from hypothermia. I had this weird fantasy of coffee and cake, but suppressed these thoughts quickly as I deemed it impossible to get such luxuries here in the middle of the wilderness. But sure enough, to my pleasant surprise, I came upon a new restaurant which was open and served delicious cakes with coffee!

Coffee break at restaurant Villa Macina

In addition, they had a wood-fired stove going which was very comfortable to sit next to (and helped me dry up my bike jersey in the process). So much for a lucky break!

And it was getting better: Now the wind was blowing nicely from the back and the sun was coming out. Going from rainy uphill to sunny downhill with tailwind – you have to experience this to understand how happy this makes the touring biker…

Another mountain range in Tierra Del Fuego

The scenery became more and more stunning now with the sun painting beautiful colors. And then I reached the Lago Fagano. The road follows its shores for about 35 km all the way to the Eastern end in Tolhuin (my goal for the day). I needed to stop a few times to take in the scenery and take pictures. What a great outcome of a day that started with rain!

Lago Fagano near Tolhuin in late afternoon sunlight

Add comment January 14th, 2010

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