Join Nick on the second leg of his journey across The Andes mountain range in South America in his latest blog.
He has been running the new TKC 70, the TKC 80 and even a combination of the two to take on the rough and ready terrain of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia:
“Today I planned to cross the Andes. It would be the last time for a while. Over 4500 miles in length I intended to ride them at night – again reluctant to stay in big city, preferring to sleep rough – so set off west. I’d camped a lot on this small trip, 70% of the time editing the film blogs from my Hilleberg tent from some windy plateau or dry river bed.
The next morning I set off, riding along a few kilometres of piste in the lower valley when suddenly a tarred road started from a random junction. Now I could follow yet another trans-Andean railway with ease. Today’s plan included a gentle ride over the mountains, descend down to San Pedro for a cappuccino with only the Atacama Desert to complete, but how wrong could I be?
Sunny and warm, there was no longer any chill in the air and little traffic. It was Easter Sunday and I was half a world away from home. There were other families celebrating on the mountainside, at El Arfacito a young priest was breaking bread. A group of villagers formed a small congregation and the sound of singing echoed around the valley.
Everyone has their own personal Andes and here, at 8000ft the villagers would have to prepare for everything. Brief summers interact with vicious winters and long periods of ice and snow. When the tourists no longer visit and it becomes impossible for bikers to cross the pass, they sit in their small houses, some in crofts, feeding their fires until the spring. The true lord of the Andes is the wind and during the three months of the year when the road is safely passable, the wind never ceases to blow, shifting you and the bike, physically across the road whenever the peaks drop down to a plateau.
The road itself was in excellent condition until 28 kms before San Antonio de las Cobres, after which an evenly graded piste replaced the asphalt. The tree line had long since passed and the landscape took on the look of a mountain looted of everything except dwarf scrub and scree. Only mud houses existed now, isolated and always appearing in a state of lock down. Indians constantly chew a “ball of cocoa leaves,” living in their adobe houses with rush roofs. I read about how they cling to their traditions like the chacho, a spirit that lives in stone ruins and is small and black with a face like an old potato. Yet, surrounding their small courtyards, an impenetrable and neat pile of scrub with thin branches had been made ready for whenever the wind would turn and the weather would change. From where they live, the Andean people who lined my route would hear me pass then nothing except the puna grass, the “whistling ichu grass,” once again the wind defining their hard lives.
Life up here all looks painful. I hardly saw anyone so imagined a community sleeping rough and accepting their mud house prison-like conditions as if still suffering quietly the Inca rejection of comfort.
The settlement of San Antonio had minimal levels of comfort and was bigger than I thought it would be, enlarged by an expanse of new low cost housing. The Argentines are expert at resettling people along disputed border regions making it almost impossible to resettle large populations should there be a claim. There is a hotel in town, a couple of basic hospedajes and two small restaurants. I eat in one called El Porter d’Andina and the llama stew and salad was filling and washed down with a soft drink.
The route over the Paso de Sico started off well with decent piste until turning once again into rough track before San Antonio but with the addition of corrugated sections called “rippio.” The road surface folds and furrows across the road and is caused by heavy transport pulling their loads slowly. In wet weather the slipped traction of heavy wheels kicks up deep grooves that harden in the hot sun. To traverse such an unpredictable surface slowly risks having to suffer every single contour so it’s advisable to cross it quickly. The bike’s suspension was positioned at the most comfortable setting, “soft +3,” and I don’t know why I’m surprised but it worked. To use a nautical term, the bike “sailed” over the ruts until reaching the customs post. Chile Route 23 reaches an altitude of 4,580 metres or 15,030 ft 24 kms west of the border. Happily, the Chileans had finally laid down a black top to take me down to San Pedro.
After a four hour descent under the light of a full moon, once again I couldn’t face finding accommodation in town after such a tiring day. Searching out a secluded spot behind a bush I laid out my sleeping bag in the desert and slept fitfully until dawn.”
More updates from Nick coming soon!