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Come view our adventure

April 30, 2011

After a mere two years, we are finally ready to present a photo journey of our trip!  We actually already presented it two weeks ago in Carbondale to a packed house, so we are having another showing Wednesday May 11, 7:30 pm at The Blend Coffee Company, 1150 Hwy 133, Carbondale.  Donations will be accepted for World Bike Relief.  We’d love for you to come along for the ride!!!!

Long Live Long Rides, Pat and Ralph

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VISIT RALPH AND PAT’S NEW WEBSITE !

January 11, 2010

We received a beautiful gift this Christmas from our lovely daughter, Crystal.  She is studying Graphic Arts and created  a website for us!

You can view it complete with mini slide shows of each country we visited by clicking on this link  http://epicbicycleadventures.com

Also, please click  the links on the right hand side on the new site for any adventures you may be interested in.

Mucho Gracias, Crystal!

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Final Blog – After the Trip!

July 28, 2009

As we promised, here is our final blog!

Pat - see, it's only this far!

 

 

 

 

 

 

(PLEASE VIEW OUR TOP 2 PICTURES FROM EACH COUNTRY AT THE END OF THIS BLOG.   ONE PICTURE THAT IS NATURAL BEAUTY AND ONE THAT HAS SOMETHING MADE-MADE IN IT!!! WOW, IT WAS HARD TO CHOOSE!!!)

Sorry our blog is a bit late.  Our lives have been rather hectic, to say the least, since the end of our adventure.  It is amazing how much time and effort goes into jump starting your life after abandoning it for 20 months!

We spent a week in Ushuaia, Argentina after completing our 18,000 mile trip (Wow! We actually did it!  It still hasn’t sunk in!)  celebrating with other biker friends, cleaning bikes and gear and cramming everything into 2 cardboard bike boxes for the flight home!  We flew out of Ushuaia with a stunning backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of Tierra Del Fuego.

Upon landing in the Dallas airport, we were surrounded by a level of cleanliness and efficiency we hadn’t seen in a very long time.  There was even a sign directing you to the bathroom!  And the bathroom was clean – I mean squeaky clean – and the toilets had seats and toilet paper!  Soap in the dispenser! – Cold and hot water in a fully functioning sink!  – paper towels! – and a hand dryer that blew hot air!  Wow!!!!  And – AND – The next bathroom was just as clean and well equipped!  AMAZING!

Another amazing thing about the airport – we could ask a worker for information or directions and they knew the answer!  And – the directions were RIGHT! We could actually get to where we wanted to by following the directions of only ONE person!  Truly amazing!

After landing in Denver we spent several days in Boulder with our daughter Crystal .  We were totally amazed at the hotel where we stayed.  The room was 3 times larger than what we were used to, had a fridge, microwave, large TV, coffee maker, blow dryer, iron – even a table and comfortable chairs, and once again – an amazing bathroom with all fixtures fully functioning, complete with toilet paper, kleenex, soap, shampoo, cream rinse, four bath towels, four hand towels, four wash cloths – and yes, a toilet with a seat!  No begging the hotel receptionist for a roll of TP and yes, please may we have more than one towel!  Most homes in Latin America weren’t this well equipped, let alone a hotel.  Also included in the stay was a full breakfast buffet – and get this – it started at 6AM!!!  It all came at a price though – the room was twice as expensive as in Ushuaia and four to eight times more expensive than South America in general.  But you know what?  We were ok with it – more than OK.  It was fabulous!

Dining out was a pleasant adventure too.  Restaurant employees were courteous, we had an incredible array of tasty dishes to choose from, service was lightning fast, we got served along with all the locals not the last ones in the joint to eat!  No chicken feet in the soup and, to our amazement – all the bathrooms had toilet paper!!!

But what blew our minds the most was when we entered a supermarket.  Before us was isle upon isle filled to the brim with all types of foods.  Not just 1 type of cheese, but 40.  Not 2 brands of energy drinks, but 20!  And a produce counter the length of a city block full of all sorts of fruit and vegetables with not 1 of them moldy or rotting!

Target and REI were equally mind altering, with a vast array of gadgets and not 1 gadget, but 20 different versions of 1 gadget.  Pat was totally overwhelmed with the task of deciding which gadget was best to buy.  Ralph was very happy to have a chance to pick the gadget that best worked for him out of the array of 20 spread out in front of him.

It was great to spend time with Crystal whom we hadn’t seen in 8 long months.  We had lots of catching up to do and it was so much fun wandering around Boulder with her and choosing from the many great restaurants there!  We headed home to the Roaring Fork Valley and Carbondale.  My, how Carbondale has changed.  A bunch of nice new buildings have appeared – and lots more folks commuting around town on bikes – a very pleasant sight.  It was great to also see our other daughter, Alicia and her husband Beck and meet the 2 new additions to the family, Deitz and Micky!  It is a pleasure to be able to be able to pick up the phone whenever we feel like it and call either of our girls for as long as we want.

For the first week we were back in the U.S. it was like the first day of first grade – lots of new things to learn (what’s a touch phone!?! Who put all the stop signs up on Main Street?) But we gradually got moved into what seemed like a beautiful gargantuan house, surrounded by all our “stuff”.  We got rid of a huge amount of household items having decided to simplify and reduce consumption.  After all, we spent 20 months with our entire wardrobes taking up less space than most people’s underwear drawer, so we can certainly do with less stuff than before the trip!

We also have been spending time with our friends, telling them about the trip.  Every time we answer questions about the trip, images flash back into our minds and all of a sudden we are back on our bikes on the trip again.   We are often asked “What was the best part of the trip – the most memorable, if you had to pick one place?  From the stark barren tundra north of the Arctic Circle bathed in perpetual sunlight, to the glacier-capped peaks of southern Alaska and British Columbia full of animals that actually eat you (grizzles – and – don’t forget – mosquitoes!), to the broad mountain valleys and welcoming people of Montana, to spectacular Yellowstone and Teton National Parks of Wyoming, to the majestic peaks of Colorado (and snowstorms), to the summer-like temperatures and friendly town of New Mexico, its hard to pick one spot.

We will never forget the tasty food and beautiful colonial cities of Mexico – nor their narrow, shoulder-less roads crammed with big pickups and crazy drivers.  The colorful chicken buses and colorfully dressed friendly people of Guatemala, the hugely rolling mountain roads of Honduras and the banana-stuffed ferry we took across Lake Nicaragua will always be remembered.

The beautiful contrasts of Costa Rica – from lush, green cloud forests full of colorful Tucans, howler monkeys, exotic hot springs and a spewing volcano to sandy, palm tree-lined beaches on the Pacific coast boasting flocks of huge scarlet mackaws were fantastic to experience.

Riding thru a real live tropical downpour, an interesting and scary wreck for Pat, and a crammed sailboat ride through the San Blas Islands and across the Carribean Sea made Panama very interesting.

Columbia will always stick in our minds as lush, green and full of the friendliest people on the trip – a pleasant surprise for us after all the negative media hype it receives.

The red and black volcanic peaks of Ecuador majestically jutted up a full l mile above the already high 13,000 foot surrounding pampa, their images forever tattooed on our brains.

And of course there’s Peru, whose populous can be best described as the obnoxious, bratty neighbor kid down the block  – always jeering at you, never friendly perpetually immature and obnoxious, filthy, and always an inch from being decked by Ralph with his 4 foot stick he carried throughout the country.  We must admit though – Peru also had some spectacular scenery.  It was there that we rode our bikes to a dizzying altitude a full 2000 feet higher than those Colorado 14ers everyone scramble up (remember – with a 100 lb bike – Ralph won’t forget!)  The Cordierra Blanca and Macchupichu were mind blowing.

From the high alti-plano ( the lowest elevation we biked to in Bolivia was the elevation of Vail pass!), to the sparsely-inhabited-by poverty–stricken-farmers in tiny-dusty-brown-adobe villages, landscapes to the unworldly salt flats and spectacular colored lakes, Bolivia was very unique.

Northern Argentina was toxically hot and extremely boring, but we probably won’t be able to pry it from our memory.  It started to really get pretty in the lake district.  We’ll never forget the fine wine, food, and hospitality in all of Argentina.

Southern Chile was fantastic, from the deserted and naturally gorgeous Carratera Austral full of lava lamp turquoise colored rivers and lakes, to the unbelievably spectacular peaks of the Torres del Paine.

Southern Argentina boasted the extremely jagged Fitz Roy range along with the fast moving, brilliantly white and blue Moreno Glacier.

We will never forget all the interesting people we met and friends we made throughout our epic journey.  They made it that much more exciting, rewarding and unforgettable.

So to answer the question – The whole thing – the entire trip was amazing.  And sometimes it’s hard to believe we actually did it.  We sometimes stare at the globe and say,“Damn!   We    did    it  !!!

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Puerto Natales, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina (2-05-09 to 2-11-09)

February 19, 2009

WE’VE DONE IT!!!!!!!!!!!! WE MADE IT – to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the WORLD!!! And Pat held true to her promise made way back in Creel, Mexico – she truly did follow Ralph to the “end of the earth”!!!

Jamie(Ausie), Matt(Nebraska),us and David(S. Africa) Fin del Mundo!!!!

Jamie(Ausie), Matt(Nebraska),us and David(S. Africa) Fin del Mundo!!!!

 

And now for “The rest of the story”!

We left Puerto Natales after 2 days of rest and socializing with the many other bikers riding this part of our trip. We have met so many bikers in the last month of this trip and have yet another “small world” biking story for you. While biking from El Chalten to El Calfate (last blog – sorry, forgot to tell this one then), we met a Swiss lady biking north. She asked us where we had started our trip. When we told her “Alaska”, she said, “My boyfriend also started in Alaska and I am biking to Bolivia to met him“. Turns out it is our friend Damian who we met in Canada the first time and have run into 2 other times on this trip! (Crazy all the connections with other bikers in a distance of ONLY 18,000 miles, across 2 continents and half way around the world!)

T h i s   o n e s   f o r   Crystal ! ! !

T h i s o n e s f o r Crystal ! ! !

 

From Puerto Natales it is was a paved road going east across the pampa, the dry, barren, boring grasslands of Argentina. We were fully expecting to be blown to our next destination by the Patagonian wind we had heard so much about from bikers who had traveled this section already. Well, the wind decided to take a day off, in fact, several days off, while we pedaled toward Punta Arenas. The locals all said it was very unusual to have a day without wind in Patagonia which is known for being one of the windiest areas in the world! So we used our own power and pedaled on! We rode one side road to get off the boring pampa and went along the Skyring and Otway Sounds. It was great to hear and smell the sea again! On this section we were joined by a very strong Brazilian rider, Andre. He was interesting to talk with and he was amazed we were as old as his Mom and had biked so far! Just before reaching Punta Arenas, we camped along the rocky beach of the Straight of Magellan. It was amazing to think, we were camped on the waterway that nearly 500 years ago was the route Magellan took to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific on his voyage around the world. We remembered way back to 5th grade history class, how back then when we imaged what the area must look like, and now – Here We Are!

searching for Magallen

searching for Magallen

 

Once in Punta Arenas, we took a combi and visited a penguin colony at Seco Otway, where we got to observe over 1000 penguins waddle around on the rocky beach and the adjacent pampa. It was surprising to learn that they dig burrows in the ground beneath the low bushes to get shelter and raise their young, then by the end of March they swim all the way along the southern part of the continent to Brazil for the winter months and in the spring arrive back to the same spot they were born to start the cycle all over again by hatching their own eggs and start a family. We also found out there are many, many species of penguins and some are small, some tall and some in-between! This colony was some of the small ones known as the Humbolt penguin.

Penguins

Penguins

 

penquins

penquins

 

and more penguins!

and more penguins!

The next morning we caught the ferry across the Straight of Magellan and landed near Porvenier on that little “whoop-de-doo” at the southern tip of Argentina you see on maps of South America. We had finally made it to the last land mass on our trip – the island of “Tierra del Fuego”! Suddenly it seemed we knew everyone on the boat, we were joined by bikers we had been with off and on for the last couple of weeks – Carlos (from Spain), Emily (from France), Rike & Malte (from Germany) and Andre (from Brazil), and all with Ushuaia as our final destination! We all stocked up on supplies for the 3 day desolate ride across the windy pampa of Argentina and once again had hardly any tailwind to help us along. By the end of the day the wind did pick up and we had to ride until we finally found a small gully to camp in, down out of the wind, complete with green grass and a puddle of water. Shelter from the wind is a precious commodity, so we considered ourselves lucky to find this spot. Water is also scarce, evident by the fact that we actually used the murky water in the puddle (which we filtered first and then boiled and used only for cooking and coffee). Carlos did mention, after taste-testing his meal as it was cooking, that he was having “mud chicken”.

Tierra del Fuego - less than 300 miles to go!

Tierra del Fuego - less than 300 miles to go!

 

The next morning, shortly after we had woken, Emily and Bernard (from Germany), came blowing by (they had camped 20 km back). Surf was up!!! We finally have the great Patagonia tailwind!!! Yahoo! After a quick breakfast of oatmeal (yes, again!), we nearly effortlessly pedaled east to the border and entered Argentina at San Sabastian. To give you an idea of how strong the wind was blowing, Ralph decided not to pedal starting from a standstill and got blown 3 miles over gently rolling terrain without a single pedal stroke!

We followed the Atlantic coastline down to Rio Grande and the next day on to Toluain. We stopped there for some empanadas, and of course some great sweets too, at the famous “La Union” bakery. At this point it was beginning to get dark and 5 of us bikers had to find a place to camp. We ended up having to bike out of town about 3 miles, but found a “Wizard of Oz “ type meadow of 1′ to 2′ tall flowers with trees all around to protect us from the wind! Emily pitched her tent in the “hobbit-type” forest, Rike, Malte and us chose the flower meadow. It made for a soft bed!

Which way does the wind blow?

Which way does the wind blow?

 

 

 

almost there!

almost there!

getting closer! - getting COLDER!

getting closer! - getting COLDER!

Paso Geribaldi - almost 4,000 feet - now back down to sea level!

Paso Geribaldi - almost 4,000 feet - now back down to sea level!

We started out our final day of riding (can you believe it?  The FINAL DAY of riding!!!) pedaling along the beautiful and long Lago Fagnano with absolutely no wind – a blessing, since we were headed straight west, the direction the wind usually blows from. This day found us biking in forested country and surrounded by low mountains – beautiful! As the day progressed so did the clouds and the rain. Biking up Paso Gribaldi we were greeted by the rain and chilly wind, had a bone-chilling very long descent down the other side and rolled into Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world, fittingly cold, wet and tired! Fortunately, Ralph had the luck of finding a tiny bottle of Champagne (the size of a beer bottle) at a store several days ago. At the welcome sign we popped the cork and toasted to the end of the longest ride of our lives! It was a great mooment – we had finally made it to the destination we had been focusing on for over 1 ½ years. It actually didn’t seem real – didn’t seem possible! We were finally here!!!!!

Here we are 18,000 miles later!

Here we are 18,000 miles later!

Once in Ushuaia, we met up with 3 other biker friends we had met along the way that actually did the whole trip from Alaska too and 2 of them, Matt and Jamie finished the morning of the same day as us! David finished the second part of his trip on his BMW motorcycle and had started the trip with Matt and Jamie in June 2007. Along with a few other biker and backpacker friends we celebrated our accomplishment into the wee hours of the morning!

 

We are spending this week here in Ushuaia, cleaning and packing gear, resting, eating good food, but mainly decompressing from the trip and getting prepared for the shock of the real world again! We chose to put the bikes in a box, instead of ride them back, and fly into a world that we have not been in for 1 2/3 years. We are very excited to see our children, sleep in the same place for more than 3 nights, do our laundry in a machine, not have to dry our laundry on our bikes, throw our dishes in a machine, buy more than 1 roll of toilet paper at a time, have a wardrobe bigger than 1 pair of pants, 2 shirts, 1 pair of socks and 2 sets of biking clothes, have something other than oatmeal for breakfast, be able to park our butts on something other than a bike seat – preferably much more comfortable (a chairlift bench will do just fine for Ralph and a sofa for Pat), do something other than go south every morning, toss our bikes in the garage, take time to read our journals about the trip, look at more than 6000 photos of this awesome journey, reflect on the sheer magnitude of what we have done, and maybe, just maybe, start writing a book about our Epic Ride!!!

 

Here are some statistics from our trip:

It took us 20 months and 4 days (613 days) to ride 17,794 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina! How much vertical? LOTS! We had 35 flats – that’s 1 flat/1000 miles/rider. (Not Bad!) We got about 5,000 miles out of each tire and drive-train. Our gear, especially our bikes, held up wonderfully. Moots, DT Swiss, Mavic, Patagonia, Northface, Stevenson Warmlite, Schwalbe, Granite Gear, Trico, Thermorest, OR, MSR, Pearl Izumi, Zoic, Hind, Sock Guy and Shimano make wonderfully durable gear – without them it would have been a much more difficult trip.

 We will most likely do an after-trip follow-up blog after the dust settles, for we are sure to have some reflections on the trip as a whole which we would like to share with you. Thanks for being part of our journey, your interest and input made it all that much more exciting!

Bikin’ On (not in the near future tho!)

Ralph & Pat

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Villa O´Higgins to Puerto Natales, Chile (1-20-09 to 2-4-09)

February 8, 2009

waiting for the ferry

waiting for the ferry

After a relaxing and social rest at Hostal Mosco in Villa O”Higgins with lots of other bikers, we hopped the ferry with 8 other bikers and loads of tourists across Lago Villa O”Higgins, a 30 mile long spectacularly turquoise lake. From it’s south shore we tossed our gear on a horse and rode, waded and swam (at least Ralph and the camera got to swim while crossing a creek) our way crossing back into Argentina at the crest of a shallow pass, catching some sweet single track on our empty bikes – haven’t done that in too, too long! We took another ferry across Laguna Desierto and camped in the trees next to a neon turquoise river (reminiscent of lava lamp turquoise). After a rain-soaked night, we pedaled to El Chalten, catching some incredible shots of Mt. Fitz Roy as the clouds lifted. We were also able to test our submersible riding skills because large sections of the road were flooded.

Mt. Fitz Roy

Mt. Fitz Roy

In windy, touristy El Chalten (hoards of backpackers come to trek around Fitz Roy) we camped at a campground among more tents than we have ever seen in one place, all hunkered down behind fences, hedges and trees to hide from the strong Patagonia wind. Mind you, we grew up in North Dakota, so we are used to wind. But Patagonian wind – now that’s wind! It is not uncommon to get steady 60 mile/hour winds! Trees and bushes all grow with a permanent tilt to the east.

The next morning we left town heading toward El Calafate on the Argentinian pampa. We once again had wonderful views of the Fitz Roy range. We’ve seen a mountain or two on this trip, but Fitz Roy is the most spectacular peak so far. The whole range looks like the readout of a seismometer during a major earthquake. The pinnacles are light gray granite with 3000′ – 4000′ sheer vertical cliff faces – unbelievable! They are surrounded by one of the largest ice fields in the world, the Campo Heilo Sur. Back out on the pampa we saw loads of hawks, a few eagles, a fox, some wild llamas and Patagonian emus. The emu is of the ostrich family, is gray and stands 2′ to 4′ tall at the back (toss in a couple more feet for the neck), and can rocket across the pampa 3 times faster than we can bike.

At the municipal campground in El Calafate we ran into Matt and Jamie, two bikers that started in Prudhoe Bay several weeks after us, and that we first met in Peru three months ago. It’s surprisingly a small world in the biking community. We had several days of R&R, and also viewed the Moreno Glacier nearby. The Moreno Glacier is one of the most active glaciers in the world, advancing an average of 6½’ per day! It has moved across a large lake, dividing it in two. Since it is so active we could hear it crack and pop frequently and saw several large chunks calve off into the turquoise water below. The glacier face is at least 50′ tall, is comprised of a multitude of 10′ -20′ tall pinnacles of white ice/snow above a light turquoise/white ice base. Add in the towering snow-capped peaks surrounding it and you have a spectacular photo!

Moreno glacier

Moreno glacier

morning sunlight on Moreno glacier

morning sunlight on Moreno glacier


From El Calafate we traveled across the open pampa with another biker, Carlos. Carlos has been at it for 4 years, biking across Europe and Asia before his current north-to-south trip through South America. Our next spectacular destination was Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean border. Here, millions of years ago a huge light tan granitic intrusion pushed up the surrounding black country rock, then has subsequently eroded into massive tan towers (torres), some of which have caps of black rock. Many of the surrounding peaks have small blue/white glaciers hanging off them and the large Gray Glacier oozes down a large valley at the range’s southern flank. This entire massif abruptly interrupts the otherwise low, rolling pampa of southern Chile. Once again, this is one of the most awesome set of peaks we have seen on our trip.

HOLA!

HOLA!

just another great day for a bike ride -in front of Torres del Paines

just another great day for a bike ride -in front of Torres del Paines

and another !

and another !

The Torres is a mecca for trekking. The campgrounds at it’s base are full of backpackers getting ready to depart or returning from 1-2 week treks around the park. Also a number of bikers park their rigs, put on hiking boots and hit the trails. We have found that while biking toward and around the mountains on our journey we are more than content admiring them from camp. We never get the same awe inspiring views hiking as we do approaching on our bikes. At the Torres campground we re-met Matt and Jamie and two new German friends. The six of us biked around the eastern side of the park. We were fortunate to have clear blue skies – something that doesn’t happen very often in the park – to view the incredibly beautiful peaks as we rode. We camped at the Pehoe campground with a stunning view of the peaks before leaving the park, taking a rolling dirt road to Puerto Natales, a small, friendly fishing port.

 ¨The Crew¨ in front of Torres del Paines

¨The Crew¨ in front of Torres del Paines

Jamie and Malta

Jamie and Malta

W O W !!

W O W !!

At Puerto Natales we took a couple days off and actually slept in a bed for a change. Our friends opted for the campground which became a hopping place as more and more bikers rolled in to camp. We had a barbecue one night with 12 other bikers doing anything from 2 week to 2 year trips. We even met a couple from Missoula that are planning to climb Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak (23,000’+). He is an Adventure Cycling employee. Coincidentally, the founders of Adventure Cycling did the Alaska-Ushuaia trip in the 1970s (an amazing feat since mountain bikes were really not even invented yet, so they made their own!), and were the inspiration for Ralph to do this trip. Back in the early 1980 s´, while students at MSU in Bozeman, we went to a slide show presentation of their adventure, and from that day Ralph knew he HAD to do this trip! It only took him 25 years to raise two children, raise enough money, and most importantly, talk Pat into joining him. Pretty fast wouldn’t you agree? Once again we were blown away by the coincidence of all the chance meetings of people we have connected with in the distant and recent past on this trip.

From here we will travel across the windy pampa for the last 500 miles of our trip toward Ushuaia, the finish line! Stay tuned!

Bikin’ on. Ralph and Ralph

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Bariloche, Argentina to Villa O´Higgins, Chile (12-26-08 to 1-20-09)

January 27, 2009

 The 26th of December we enjoyed left- over Christmas dinner of chicken and stuffing and apple pie (a very nice break from the usual oatmeal we have while camping!) for breakfast and gave good-bye hugs to our Christmas family, David and Mo (traveling by motorcycles), and headed onward on the final leg of our journey. 

hanging glacier Colgante

hanging glacier Colgante

 Again, we traveled through more beautiful forest and past large, long, clearer-than-you-can-imagine lakes.  We left the pavement after 1 ½ days near Epuyen and headed toward Los Alercas National Park.  We hit a horrible headwind along with a gravel road under construction, which slowed our pace to 30 miles in 6 hours!  Let us tell you about South American road construction.  The continent has many narrow dirt and gravel roads that are in dire need of improvement.  Paving one of these roads is done in an amazingly illogical manner.  Instead of working on a 10 mile stretch for several months from start to completion, they usually tackle a 20, 50 or even 100 mile section and seemingly work on it for years.  Layer upon layer of road base ranging in size from sand to 10” boulders is laid down (dredged from the river!) and haphazardly compacted, then left for an eternity before final re-grading and paving. We think this is to allow plenty of time for settling as thousands of trucks, buses and cars shake, rattle and roll over it for several years doing the compaction for free.  Where does that leave the lowly biker?  We are left bouncing, spinning, cussing and of course, sucking up tons of pulverized South American real estate that billows up as the endless vehicles pass. 

 

Back to our story – we got to the park, got a beach-front campsite with stunning views of snow-capped peaks across the super-clear blue water.  The next day we rode past 2 more large lakes, each of them crystal clear and surrounded by fantastic peaks.  After a day off in the small town of Trevelin we crossed the border into our 14th country on this epic trip – Chile.  We spent New Year’s Eve in the border town of Futaleufu (no, we did not make that name up!)  with 5 bikers from New Zealand.  While we were having lunch that afternoon, Pat told the group that she thinks we will be able to be entered into the “Guinness book of World Records” for being the oldest couple to have ridden bikes together from Alaska to the tip of South America – and still stayed married!  No sooner than the words tumbled past her lips did a British couple come strolling up to our table and say, “great to see more bikers!”  As it turns out, they are on a 3 month trip now, but had done the Alaska – South America trip 7 years ago – at age 57!!!  Poor Pat was shattered!  We had a great time sharing biking stories and rang in the New Year toasting cocktails on the plaza under the Christmas lights. 

 New Years Day found us biking a little later than usual along the River Fu, famous world over for kayaking and rafting.  Now at 48 degrees south of the equator, we have daylight until 10 PM again, so long days are not a problem!  We could see the volcano Chaiten puffing out a couple small plumes of smoke from its earlier eruption near the end of last year !                                                                                                           We camped on the beach of Lago Yeicho at the end of the day.  The water is so clean in this part of Chile that you can drink it right from the lake.  We still filter it, but we do drink straight out of the small creeks coming off the mountainsides. (We guess that Montezuma never made it this far south!) 

Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo

 Part way through the second day of the new year (WOW – it is hard to believe – we have gone through 2 calendars on this trip and are into the 3rd!) we hit the famous Carratera Austral, the narrow road built in the 1980’s to boost tourism and commerce into remote, wild and spectacularly pristine southern Chile.  It runs south to Villa O’Higgins and slices through some of the most spectacular country on the planet.  We spent the next few days pedaling south through thick forests, valleys of remote cattle ranches and small villages, next to more crystal clear streams and lakes and the occasional towering peak. 

 All along the Austral so far, we have been able to find some great (and some not so great wild campsites and established campgrounds.  Two of the campgrounds had wood-fired water heaters for hot showers – now that’s stylin’!  One day we camped near a hanging glacier with a monstrous waterfall gushing out of it’s base and thundering into the valley below.  While Ralph was viewing the glacier from a lookout, a huge chunk calved off of the glacier, shattered on a ledge below, and flowed over a lip as a powder slide and poured like water into the valley floor 300 feet below.  What an amazing sight to see!!

Pat taking a little break!

Pat taking a little break!

Near Coihaique, the only city in this region, we climbed up onto higher ground (1500′ – we had been near sea level since joining the Carratera) and out of the thick trees.  We had ridge-lines towering on either side of us with coniferous trees on their flanks and big broad rolling grasslands in front of us to bike through.  It reminded us of the area around Fremont Pass near Leadville, Colorado.  To us, this country was even more impressive than the Lake district of Argentina and the previous Austral section.  We dropped to the shores of huge Lago General Carrera and camped on the shore near Puerto Tranquilo.  We spent an extra day here because it truly was tranquilo and the water the bluest teal-blue color you can ever imagine.    

Lago General Carrera

Lago General Carrera

caves formed from the water at Lago General Carrera

caves formed from the water at Lago General Carrera

Since we entered the lake district of Argentina, and now all along the Carratera, we have met loads of bikers touring.  We usually meet 2,4,6,8 bikers per day.  They are from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Philippines, the USA, but mostly from Europe.  In fact, we have joked that we doubt there is anyone left in Holland and Germany, they are all in South America biking!  What is even more interesting is staying at a hostel where we all share the same kitchen and try to communicate in 4 or 5 different languages and come up with something to eat!  But we exchange much information about the road ahead and behind and share our adventures with each other, which is great because in the past we would not see another biker sometimes for weeks. 

 One whole day was unpleasantly spent pedaling through a steady rain, ending in a bone chilling descent into a river canyon.  At the bottom, we ducked under a bridge to get out of the rain, change into warm clothes and make hot drinks.  We spent the evening there and set up camp nearby.   The next morning we woke up to fresh snow on the spectacular rugged mountains!  Burr!!!!  We took a 12 mile detour off the main road and visited the unique village of Tortel – unique because all the buildings are elevated, built on pilings, there are no streets, no cars and the only way to get around town is by foot up and down endless steps all along boardwalks!  The only road into the remote village was completed only 4 years ago.  Up until then, the only access was by airplane or boat. 

boardwalk town of Tortel

boardwalk town of Tortel

We traveled the last 100 miles of this chunk of our adventure through a very remote section.  Up till 10 years ago, there was no road in this area of the world and you could only access it by plane or boat.  It was one of the most remote and magnificent of our entire trip.  Big long climbs were rewarded by views of huge valley, braided rivers flowing ½ and ½ with mocha-coffee color on one side and teal blue from the glacial flower on the other side, volcanoes spitting plumes of smoke, hanging glaciers, multitudes of waterfalls and of course – screaming, hair-raising descents on a loose gravel road.  We feel very fortunate to have gotten to visit this part of our planet and advise you to see it now because, sadly enough there are plans to build 5 big hydroelectric dams in this region, which will definitely destroy this remote, pristine beauty with paved roads, powers lines, etc… (You can picture it!).

 

We are now in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins, on the very narrow part of the South American continent and can almost see both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.  From here we have many more rivers to cross, ferryboats to take, bikes to push up steep hills and then on through the strong winds of Patagonia to our final destination of Ushuaia!  We are now praying for strong tailwinds (wind in Patagonia can get up to 150 miles per hour, so we may make the last 800 miles very quickly!) to blow us the rest of the way south and onward to see the penguins.

 

Bikin’ On,

Ralph & Pat

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Mendoza, Argentina to Bariloche (12-5-08 thru 12-25-08)

December 30, 2008

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16,074 total miles on trip to date – 1678 miles in Argentina

´60s vintage Ford Falcon - there are bizillions of these in Argentina

´60s vintage Ford Falcon - there are bizillions of these in Argentina

From Mendoza we biked south for 60 miles through something different– TREES! Tons of tall poplars planted along the roadside in front of fields of garlic. We were passed by truck after truck heaped with harvested garlic. Then it was back to more of what we’d reluctantly grown accustomed to in Argentina– DESERT!   (We thought biking in the desert would be sooo easy after dropping in altitude from Peru and Bolivia 10,000 feet, and it was easy,  except for the sweltering heat, tarantula’s, scorpians under the tent, lighting and hailstorms to outrun, no shelter, strong headwinds, not much water and marginal food and supplies.)

Now that´s a lotta garlic!

Now that´s a lotta garlic!

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One of our curious readers asked if Ralph could do his trick on his left foot – so here it is – TADAA!!!  And Pat, always the competitive one, will now try it with no feet!!!

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At Aguas del Toro, a pretty reservoir behind a hydroelectric dam ,we were invited by a very hospitable Ricardo, his family and friends to stay for the night in a cabin and join them all for a delicious barbecue of steak, homemade sausage, homemade brats, etc.

The next day after more miles of desert,we came face-to-face with a thunderhead that rapidly grew as we tried to out-bike it. We were caught on the very edge of it, but still got pelted with stinging pea-sized hail accompanied by buckets of rain. In the Argentina desert of course, it doesn’t rain very often. But when it does, it really downpours, causing the ditches to run full like rivers of chocolate milk and flows of mud and debris across the highway.

YIKES!!!   here comes the storm!

YIKES!!! here comes the storm!

Note the kilometer post shows only 3022 K to Ushuaia!

creepy crawlers of the desert!

creepy crawlers of the desert!

The next few days we rolled through more scrub desert – yes it is no more exciting than it sounds – camping most every night. One night we even found a spot with a small stream with a patch of grass to camp at. We haven’t had green grass to camp on since north of Salta. It was a great treat to be able to walk barefoot around camp. Most nights though, we would camp near or under bridges at river crossings. They are nicer than they sound. It is usually cooler by the river, the breezes follow the river valley, the bridge offers shade from the sun, and we can usually be out of sight of passing traffic. One afternoon we had a herd of curious goats watch our every move from a safe 25 yards away. We should mention, besides miles and miles of sand and scrub brush, the desert is home to many herds of domestic goats (and occasional sheep), that graze free-range style. Occasionally we would see gouchos herding them, but usually they would be wandering unattended. Another animal we have seen frequently since the mountains of northern Peru is the parrot. You may think like us, that parrots live in the jungle, but we have seen big flocks of parrots (up to 100 in a flock) all throughout the mountains of Peru, the river valleys of southern Bolivia,and now throughout the desert of Argentina. Parrots in Peru were the typical bright green and of typical size, while the parrots of Argentina are up to 18 “ long and are colored dark green/gray with lighter color accents on their heads and tail tips. All of them are extremely noisy with an unnerving screech. Creepy crawly little things also make the desert home – scorpions and 4” hairy tarantulas – making walking to the john behind a bush an exciting adventure.

parrots on a wire watching and screaching at us!

parrots on a wire watching and screaching at us!

Just past Las Lajas we started to climb, and by the end of the day we were in the high country heading toward the ridge of the Andes near the Chilean border. The creeks and rivers turned crystal clear, the air turned cooler and Pat began to smile again! The first night in the mountains we camped in a grove of huge “monkey-puzzle” trees – trees we saw throughout this mountainous area. They have branches that are covered with green needles that look like leaves from an artichoke. Each branch is up to 4 feet long, brilliant green, and swoops downward, then curls up toward the tip looking like a monkey tail hanging from the tree. Many of them only have branches near the top of a very tall trunk making them look like a giant sprung umbrella.

monkey-puzzle trees

monkey-puzzle trees

A roadside shrine provided us with warm bottles of water and we took another shrine bottle shower (Randy needs to sign them up for “Warmshowers”)! Throughout Argentina, people leave bottles of water at makeshift shrines along the road. This was started as a memorial to a lady supposedly sought her soldier husband, and while traveling through the desert died of thirst. Her body was found 3 days later in the desert with her baby still alive and nursing. So now people have created thousands of these shrines alongside the roads throughout Argentina and you will sometimes see up to one hundred or more bottles of water laying in and around the shrine. We’ve heard some truck drivers never miss a trip without stopping to leave a bottle of water! In a pinch we use this water for showers and for drinking (after filtering it). We feel since it was left symbolically to save a life, it is okay to save ours with it.

We continued south, following the Andean ridgeline that separates Argentina from Chile, through mountain valleys that are strikingly similar to the Colorado Rockies. Many of the flowers are the same as we see at home. We followed several river valleys and eventually got to San Martin de Los Andes, a quaint town with Swiss chalet-style buildings. We spent Ralph’s 52nd birthday at beautiful cozy cabana near a large lake at the edge of town.

beautiful flowers of Argentina

beautiful flowers of Argentina

After that nice, relaxing break we headed south on the beautifully forested Seven Lakes Road past crystal clear blue fjord-type lakes and equally clear creeks. We got caught in a rainstorm but found shelter in a picnic pavilion at a campground on the shore of a large lake. The rain continued to pour hard into the night, so we and 6 other folks spent the night sleeping around a toasty warm pot belly stove. We woke to an amazing thing we hadn’t seen for almost a year now, SNOW – all the way down to our little shelter. (We were praying for a white Christmas – but it was only December 20th, so a little earlier than we expected!) It was absolutely gorgeous, but made for some brisk riding.

From there we wound through the woods and along more lakes, spending a night at the wonderful Italian Hostel in Villa La Angostura, and eventually got to Bariloche. There we met our friend David from South Africa and his friend Mo, both touring on motorcycles. We also met our friends Randy and Nancy who are biking the same route we are, and 2 Swiss biking couples. One Swiss couple has done the same route we have, but had a baby along the way (they took 3 years off in Vancouver), and their son is now 5 and rides in a cart behind his dad’s bike or rides his bike that is attached behind his mom’s bike! Needless to say both Mom and Dad are in great shape. We had a fantastic International Christmas dinner with everyone.   (Actually it was a BBQ in the backyard on the green grass with roses blooming on the bushes! )  It was wonderful to be surrounded by great friends on Christmas when we were far away from family.

Yeah - lakes and mountains again!

Yeah - lakes and mountains again!

From here we only have about 1600 miles left on this incredible journey. We will head south through a bit more of Argentina, then probably spend New Years biking on the Camino Austral in Chile (a road that meanders along the Pacific ocean side of the Andes).

Ho – Ho – Ho – pe you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!!!

Bikin’ On, Pat & Ralph