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Caveman
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Discussion Starter #1
Here are some ramblings I've been working on about my recent trip in south america.

So here is part one I suppose:

In short, I rode into Bolivia from Peru and had my sights set on the remote high altitude deserts of the southwest portion of the country. After spending a week around La Paz doing other fun rides it was time to get down to the business. I bussed 12 hrs overnight south to the town of Uyuni where I was hoping to meet up with a pair of Aussie Cyclists that I had met over the new Year in a remote valley in Peru. Turns out their plans had changed and I was on my own.

With a certain nervousness I walked around the bleak dusty town trying to get information about water availavility, track conditions and distances from 4x4 tour agencies (there are lots) Then after filling up 15 liters of water I headed out onto the Salar de Uyuni - the biggest salt flat in the world. The salar was a place I had dreamed of biking across for years and I was super excited at funally getting out there on my own. I first entered the salar at a spot recommended by a truck driver, turns out to be totally bad info, the salty mud quickly reminded me of the winter biking currently going on in alaska as I pushed for a few miles into a flat mirage of endless glaring white...

My foray on the Salar was cut short however after an overnight camp on the salt, and hearing reports from 4x4 drivers that the western portions were covered in "mucho agua!" The though of being out there alone walking my bike through 80 miles of salt water quickly made me retrace my route back to Uyuni. Little did I know that I would be back in a few weeks to cross the salar in its entirety from the opposite side...

I headed southeast through desert country, eventually really heading into no-man's land near a little village of Alota. The Ayrama indians that live out in these parts of the Altiplano are some of the toughest people I can think of. They live in adobe huts and heard llamas and sheep which provide much of what they have. Quinoa - a hearty high protien grain- is grown where there is enough moisture. Even looking for simple things like onions are non-existent.

Continuing on, 200 miles out from Uyuni, brought me in to real volcano country, were I climbed up to 13,000' and didn’t drop back down for the next 8 days. The track (not road) conditions varied from horrible to unridable, the volcanic sand at times too soft, or so deeply washboarded that it was less abusive to walk. A full day's effort netted me about 30 miles, 40 miles and I was destroyed. At one point I passed a small spring, realizing that water is gold in these parts I filled up 17 liters, it the last source of water for 2 days and 2 nights. Amazingly enough the lakes in these areas are so full of minerals that they are not-potable, however they take on wild red-white colors which provide the feeding grounds for 4 different species of Flamengos. Seeing the bueatiful birds on brackish lakes at 15,000' in the middle of the desert is something to be experienced!

After an all day climb of the Ramada Pampa I entered a bit of a canyon as black thunderclouds brewed above. I stopped to consider my options, ate some peanuts and put on warmer clothes, waiting sounded like a cold idea and turning around was out of the question. I continued on hoping that the cloud I was seeing was just an isolated event. Wrong – As soon as I crested back on to the flat expanse I was surrounded by nasty black thunderclouds. Nothing scares me now more than lightning! There was absolutely no shelter anywhere to be found. Surged by adrenaline, pushing the middle ring at 15,500’ with a loaded bike on a horrible track I found strength in myself that I had not known. Watching a mini tornado among the lightning strikes over my left shoulder I made my way into a broad drainage of sorts and down into safer ground pushing my bike most of the time through the loose gravel. Adrenaline back to a more reasonable level I suddenly had a very sharp pain in my left knee, couldn’t even turn the pedal over without doubling over in pain! Mother****ingShit! Now what have I done! Guessed I pushed a bit too hard dodging lighting. Feeling beaten I popped 4 iduprophrin, hoped I just inflamed something and continued to hobble down the sandy swale. Anything to get further away from the black clouds of death .

Reaching what is known as the Stoli desert, I began to test out my injured limb. To my surprise and joy I could actually bend it and complete a pedal rotation. Gradually as I reached ridable track did I put a bit more pressure into strokes. As an hour ticked by I was able to stop thinking about walking and just ride the vast rolling terrain ahead of me. The storm that scared the crap out of me was still brewing off to my left and I kept yelling “you cant get me Ha Ha!!” while flipping it the bird. It felt good..

The following day I pulled out of camp at 15,200’, frost was everywhere and it took my toes about 2 hours or riding to thaw out, I was heading to Laguna Colorado this day, where there is a park ranger station, and water source to fill up my bags. Reaching Laguna Colorado was a tough and rocky 18 miles in 4 hours. Upon sighting the enormous red lake in the distance, the winds began to blast, simply blast. It was the strongest headwind I’d ever had, by this point I was really learning that nothing out here comes easy and I was being tested daily it seemed, to see if my skin was thick enough.

Pulling out of Laguna Colorado the winds continued as I walked my bike along an unridable section. Then the thunderstorm game began again… did I have enough energy to ride fast across the next pampa to outrace some brewing clouds? After wavering a bit I decided to go for it, fueled by adrenaline again I starting cruising (9mph that is) across the next vast expanse of volcanic pumice in front of me. Just when I was starting to relax a flash blasted over my right shoulder and I immediately spun around for a hasty retreat. I still had a few more hours of daylight but there was no way in hell I was going to put myself in the same situation two days in a row. Made camp in a marginal depression and listened to the booming around me.

This trip was my third big international mountain bike touring trip, Indian Himalayas in 2000, Patagonia in 2001 and now northern South America. If I was asked to sum up the one thing that I enjoy most about these trips it would be the feeling of waking up in the morning and saying “Lets see what happens today!”. The unpredictability of days or weeks on the road or trail make up for months or years when the outcome of each day is already known.
 

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The Weatherman
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304 Posts
Awesome passion hit!

Your trip is the sort that takes the term "epic" to a whole new level.

The thing that is amazing to me is that you just went out there and did it, all alone. And I assume that should something have went wrong, you were pretty much left to your own devices. That's some crazy stuff. But way cool.

Looking forward to Part 2 as well!
 

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You are one cool nomad. I am intrigued by your adventure. It reminds me of a story I once read in Dirt Rag #98 abot the Iditarod MTB race.
 

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yeah, uh............bikes
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2,712 Posts
Incredible.

That second to last picture is amazing................it's nice to be reminded that places like that still exist on this planet.
 

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Caveman
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1,003 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Part 2

It was a beautiful morning leaving Laguna Colorado, I was determined to not get caught again by afternoon electrical storms and was riding by 7:00am. The blaring morning sun quickly thawed me out and layer after layer of clothing stripped away as cool shadows were cast across the pampa. Finally I reached an intersection where the riding surface improved. I was now on a road which served to connect a geothermal energy project and sulfer mine with the rest of the country. The next few hours I steadily climbed on a graded surface which felt heavenly after the endless washboards I had been enduring. I was having ongoing problems with my other knee however and walked quite a bit of the climb just to stretch out and keep a smile on my face. Occasionally huge trucks would pass and I’d get big waves from the drivers before getting completely dusted. The road continued to climb up to 16,000’ and I had to turn off to the east leaving the good road behind and the walking continued to the Sol de Manana Geyser field. I spent a while in the thin air watching the bubbling water and shoots of water from a distance. From Sol de Manana a nice long downhill dropped 3000’ to the Salar de Challviri and Laguna Salada. Here I once again filled up water at a spring and took a nice long break after the long morning.

Carrying 12 days of camping and biking food can be a challenge in 3rd world countries. In India we would ask women at truck stops to make us a batch of 20 Chipatti’s for the road. In Chile I ate mostly white bread rolls covered in honey. On this trip however I didn’t wait to get screwed into eating the same pasta with margarine and pepper for a week straight, I stocked up in La Paz beforehand and was able to treat myself with extravagant western food like peanut butter and tortillias, I even found dried bananas. However once on the road I quickly needed to replenish protein sources with the homemade cakes of goat milk cheese that is defiantly an acquired taste!

Leaving Laguna Salada with a full load of water, I was faced with a strong afternoon headwind. I was tempted to just pull off and camp early but my go-go-go face was on. Wrong decision again. I started across another vast pampa heading to a group of rocks that looked as abstract as a Salvador Dali painting from a distance. “I’ll go camp in those I thought” and pulled off the main track onto seldom used paths in the sand. Mistake #2. I was quickly reduced to walking in the soft tracks and the wind was a constant, drying out every bit of moisture in my lips and nose. So after half an hour of marching I threw in the towel, only problem was by then I was so far away from the main track that I double screwed myself. Thus began the bike push from hell, I can only relate it to snowbiking, on wet deep snow with a 80 lb bike. You get the picture. At last I made it to the main track, cursing myself for wasting so much energy and a few hours for no reason. It was now 45 min till sunset and I was only 1/3 of the way across a long windy stretch of nothing. The only thing to do was put the head down and grind away into the sunset so to speak. Upon reaching the otherside there was not so much to get excited about, I was hoping to find a big rock, or a canyon of sorts to hide out of the wind. But the best I could do was the side of a large sloping hill. Work is never done even off the bike, I spent another hour or so digging out a flat tent spot and building stone walls for a wind break. Sleep came easy…

The following morning I was taking it easy, moving slow, making 2 cups of instant coffee, writing in the journal, studying my outdated maps. My body didn’t feel like doing much and I had planned on a not-so-hardcore-day. I headed down to the road and started the day with a nice 1,000’ climb/walk over a pass to get the blood moving. From there I got my first glimpse of Volcan Llicanbur, a 19,500’ volcano above Laguna Verde on the Chile border that I had intentions of trying to climb. Soon thereafter I ran into a 4x4 tour group with some hilarious brits that gave me the beta on a large thermal pool. Hot springs! I needed it, I stunk. So I rode down to near Laguna verde and found the springs, they had an adobe changing room and windbreak wall to boot! Kicking it in the springs all by my lonesome 3 more land cruisers pulled up fresh with tourists from San pedro de Atacamama in Chile. They were making a 4 hr jump from 6,000’ to above 12,000 and some of them didn’t fare so well. They typically just fell over upon exiting their vehicles. Needless to say I was still the only one in the pool, I was just getting blank stares from people all bundled up in hats and parkas..

My other passion next to biking is climbing and mountaineering, I like to combine the two whenever I can by biking to peaks that I want to climb outside of anchorage. It seemed to be the ultimate in this by biking 10 days to a high remote peak in another country and climbing it solo. With a few lumps of doubt in my throat I pedaled around Laguna Verde and pushed my bike up to a campsite at the base of the peak. Spent the rest of the day thinking things through and watching the weather… Awake at 3:00am – Time to Go! Started out hiking by headlamp and moonlight up through scree and talus. My feet were having a hard time staying warm in the cold I’m guessing it was in the teens somewhere and my well ventilated trail runners were a bit brisk. Improvising a pair of vapor barrier socks I threw on two zip-lock bags over my socks. It did the trick. Moving up the boulderfield I kept watching my altimeter, and trying to route find in the dark was a challenge. My worst fear was getting crushed by a shifting boulder, no one would find me for a month if that… 6:00am crack of sunlight shinning through 17,000’ still a ways to go. Had to negotiate two sets of rock bands that took a few moves, then before I knew it I was on the backside of the mountain on hard snow, almost there, glad I didn’t need an ice axe. Saddle, final snowfield, sucking wind, altitude is humbling, last little bit over a crest Shazm! I can see the crater, a minute later I’m on the summit! Yeahhhhh! F-in amazing

I was pretty blown away that I had pulled it off, wearing trail runners no less. On one side I could see the route I had biked the past 2 days, and on the other it dropped 12,000’ down into the Atacama Desert. I could even see the road I would be taking to cross into Chile. Didn’t look that bad I thought to myself, maybe this afternoon..? Lots of photos, time to descend. The way down taxed me more than I thought it would, endless talus and loose boulders… Stumbled back into my tent a bit past noon and fell asleep for 2 hours. Hummm Chile I thought to myself as I pieced together some cookies and salami. There is fresh fruit and veggies in Chile… That was motivation enough! Despite my thrashed legs, I was out of there, it should just be around the corner then a 7,000’ downhill? Why not? Wrong… Heading up to the border was a continuous grade and of-course had a nice 30 mph headwind trying to make me stay in Bolivia. It was the most exhausted and depleted I had been the entire trip. My legs were so deadened from the climb that they simply had nothing left, I was walking all the hills after a point. Until something beautiful appeared – a paved road, I was in Chile! The road started dropping like no-ones business. The descent was epic, fast and screaming into the Atacama Desert as the sun was setting.. Until I hit the flats before San Pedro, depleted, dark, no-lights, what have I done… into the Oasis town… then all of a sudden there were white buildings and tourists everywhere. I didn’t know what to make of it, just that I was there and didn’t like it. The mountains were better…didnt know how to act around people.

Photos:
Walking bike near Sol de Manana at 16,100'
Hot Springs at Laguna Verde
Bike and Volcan Llicanbur
Campsite and Laguna Verde
my right root on summit, looking into chile
 

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Wow, I'm exhausted just reading about your trip.

Thanks for the great write-up and pix. When does the movie come out?
 

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Demon Cleaner
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Inspiring

Great big respect for what you've done. Great big thanks for sharing it.
 

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Gone riding
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Fantastic, what an amazing trip! Those photos are spectacular, please post more! :thumbsup:

Thanks so much for sharing it with us Bearbait! :D

Cheers, Dave.
 

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pepito
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i've been eagerly awaiting this ride report for months. it's better than i expected. fantastic photos, great write up, amazing adventure. can't wait to read the rest of it.

the_dude
 

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Everyone's Dream

You are living a lot of people's dream that reside on this site. Keep posting as this may be the closest any one of us ever get to realizing it.

Go Man.
 

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Bearbait, that is outstanding! Your pics are simply amazing too. What an experience that must have been.

This just seems to illustrate the idea that through great risks, come great rewards.

Bravo! :band:
 

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ICORR - FORC
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269 Posts
Stunning.... I am so blown away, this is the kinda stuff you read about in books.

Up until now I considered myself a rider with a sense of adventure. pffft, I am not worthy...

Stunning....
 
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