Rolling solo out of Mendoza and like a kid at Christmas, I was up at 3am to get some decent kms under the tyres. After 120km, Garmin took me onto a new, unopened motorway. The clue should have been in the "Road under Construction" signs, but who was I to say no, when the tarmac is perfect, clear and a 30kmh tailwind behind me. No brainer - onwards at full gas, and boy was it good.
After 78km of open road nirvana, all of a sudden I ran out of road. No on/off ramps - nothing but dirt track ahead. The prospect of retracing the route north into a solid headwind didn’t appeal and hey, how far ahead could another road really be?
The answer, it seems, was far. A deep, sandy ravine and a river crossing (shoes off, carry bike) kept me busy for another 39 km, before I came across an unsuspecting road crew laying the road in from the south. After laughing at this eccentric on a loaded 28mm tyre road-bike, I was told that the nearest tarmac was a good 65km further south, with food and water another 20km beyond that. There seemed nothing for it but to hitch a lift…
Yes, that's a dumper truck, and the snow-capped Andes beyond.
Even riding solo, I never found myself far from company. One morning at 6:30am, I’d barrelled past another cyclist wearing full overalls and hi-vis, waving as I passed. A few kilometres later, I suddenly realised he’d sucked a tow on my wheel, keeping a steady pace and grinning cheekily at keeping up.
From infinity gravel and tarmac roads to the joy of the bends around the southern lakes towards Bariloche, I rolled past picturesque ski towns and pretty white sandy lake beaches. Part of the packing conundrum was carrying full down winter gear (padded jacket and trousers) for the Andes crossings. In reality I lugged this gear for 5 weeks, to only use it twice but every extra gram was worth it. The weather closed right in on the crossings into and out of Chile, and I'm not quite sure what I would have done without it.
With numb hands and face from a solid climb, driving rain and snow over the top, I headed into a strange, desolate 30 km of no-man’s land that lies before the Chilean border.
Reaching passport control and cruising straight past a snaking line of cars and trucks waiting impatiently for the border to open at 8am, I was waved through first with a knowing grin, and into the Andes to finish my second leg.
The ‘Water Angels’. We were offered water out of the windows of cars a number of times in the early, dry sections of the trip where it was common to have 100km plus with no water or shelter stops. Human generosity and hospitality at its best.
With Uruguay, Brazil, tree tunnels and brooding skies on the horizon, next up - the final leg of my South American adventure.
Words by @pedalpilotsMore stories