Over the almost 5 years I have been biking I have used different ways to keep my electronics going while Bicycle Touring, Bikepacking, Hiking or Packrafting. Here is little overview of the three ways from my experience and what situations I think each is best for.
POWER BANKS the cheapest and easiest and most reliable of all chargers. Even with a dynamo or solar, you will still be using a powerbank to store charge. A powerbank is normally up to 26000mAh (which is actually the limit for taking one on the plane) and that is a lot of power. Depending on your power usage and in my opinion for 90% of travelers this is the best option. I rode through North America and most of South America using powerbanks only. During the Canol Trail (18 days w/o electricity) two 20000mAh powerbanks kept my cameras charged, the tablet (GPS when needed and writing journal/movies).
recharging on the go: you can recharge fully when staying overnight at campground/hostel/hotel/etc. More importantly when you stop for lunch, or if you buy food and eat infront of a store, you can always plug in for a short time. Always prioritize charging your cameras/phone directly in such cases as charging powerbank > phone always has some energy loss.
Powerbank brands: Anker - I used these for about 4 years. Great performance and excellent warranty should something go wrong. XTpower - after switching to Solar I wanted a powerbank that can both be charged faster and be able to charge my drone batteries. So far it is working great and has meters for input/output charge and %capacity, allowing me to find various problems with cables or even my solar.
my story with a Supernova hub. After 8 months of riding it went into storage for 6months. When I returned to the bike hub was siezed. Warranty required $50 shipping on my side to china and could not “guarantee” repair. With the hassle of rebuilding a wheel and waiting a month… I just swapped to a regular hub and never looked at Dynamos again
DYNAMO I want to say that dynamos are the most reliable method but it isn’t. I ran a dynamo for about 8 months during that time I constantly had issues with breaking the little cable at the connection (near the hub) which is easy to forget about when removing wheels, pushing through overgrown trails and so on. Power generation is constant but it would not be good enough for a drone or a small notebook (don’t quote me on this but a friend was getting about 5000mAh per ~8hour day). If you are doing a lot of hike-a-bike you simply won’t get any charge. My friend Sylvain had to borrow some charge from me since we had multiple days of either slow, difficult riding or walking our bikes. To top it off, you are building a wheel around the hub, so if you are just building your bike it’s ok but to get it on an existing wheel it will cost even more $ and time.
With that being said, what is Dynamo good for? It’s certainly a great way to generate power if you are riding on Paved or unpaved roads (keyword being riding!) and not doing too many trails or many off-the bike activities. It will work in the rain and cloudy days. Dynamo would be good for a light as well but you can also get very powerful rechargeable lights with enough lumens to be illegal in the united states.
Dynamo brands: Supernova - see image to the right. customer service told me “they didnt consider the infinity 8 their hub” and offered to repair it. I dont know what the deal was but when it comes to vital bike components, that is not good enough. I would avoid Supernova SON - never used it myself, but have heard good things about it. The bearings are serviceable just like a normal hub.
another weak point is the charging output. My friend broke two of these cables during our 15 day ride.
a friend’s great solution to making sure the cable doesnt spin and break on its own. You can see the thick tape around the cable which also helps from it being broken. He also had to open it and clean the connections after all the river crossings to get the hub working again.
SOLAR Solar has become more and more accessible with many brands popping up and competition means good prices and more features. You can choose different sizes for different power, a 10-15W panel is more packable and will keep most users well charged. A 20W would recharge a 20000mAh powerbank 2-3 times per sunny day. stopped vs moving: clearly it is best for the panel to be stationary and to aim it perfectly during riding is simply not worth the hassle. I have it either on the back of the bike (top of my backpack) or on the front (if i am riding toward the sun). During breaks, I would take it off and put it on the ground facing the sun. The best part is that it provides power when not moving as opposed to the dynamo. durability: In about a month and a half, my Goal Zero Nomad 20 had it’s 3rd panel connection break and in the next month my output (should be 14W with 2 panels) was barely reaching 9W. I think I am a little tougher on gear than the average cyclist though… power output: this is where solar shines. I was able to have more than enough battery to fly my drone, keep cameras charged and often had to pack up the panel during the day since everything was full. rain/clouds: I had about a month in the rain season in Bolivia and the panel was used as a $100 mudguard and a glorified wind screen for cooking. From my personal experience, although solar manufacturers say you can get power during cloudy weather, it is really insignificant and not worth keeping your battery out when cloudy/raining.
brands: Goal Zero - as mentioned earlier, after two months connection between panels broke, by the 3rd efficiency was way down and borderline not worth carrying. Customer service was great though and replacement is on the way (assuming it can pass chilean customs). The one thing that is keeping me with Goal Zero is that I can get a 20V output to charge my powerbank much faster as opposed to other brands with USB outputs ONLY. (usb cables are delicate and not good to have on a bike while riding bumpy roads) Anker - this would be my second choice if it’s ok to recharge via USB. I never used them but I expect them to be as good as their powerbanks.
MY SETUP (Solar +1 power bank): since I love to keep my cameras running and flying a drone, I have been using solar since October 2018 and will continue to do so. With more remote routes such as southwest Bolivia and the Six Thousanders (Los Seis Miles Norte and Sur) where power outlets are few and far inbetween, the extra weight of solar is worth over carrying two powerbanks. It could be tough if its cloudy for several days in a row, but a 20W panel means that even if you get an hour or two of sun, you can get a good amount of charge. I carry a 20000mAh powerbank (XTpower) with %screen and input/output meter. if I didn’t have a drone - I would just use powerbanks. One 20000mAh will keep you charged for a week if conservative and there is no need to carry more. Charging during lunch or breaks when available is very efficient and there is little need for solar or dynamo unless you go somewhere very remote.
the solar panel also works as a great rain cover!!!
did I miss something? add it in the comments! this article is my opinion from traveling what I think is best!
One can never get quite used to the Argentinian way of life. Nothing in terms of restaurant or bakeries was open in this little tourist town (El Manzano) at noon. So I spent my last pesos on some extra food and that brings the total to a little bit more than I’d like to carry.
Its actually good to see much less garbage on the roads as opposed to the rest of latin america. But just as many loose animals as in latin america!
As I rolled into the cloudy valley the morning clouds began to burn away in the hot sun and more of the rocks came out. It was really amazing and i kept stopping looking up and around. It’s a really cool place! Some proper mountains and not the sandy and not-steep mountains of the Puna.
then enter one of the raddest border crossings I have ever encountered. Argentinians just love building customs and stationing people in the randomest, coolest places ever!
and by default, their border guards are cool too! compare that to rehersing answers to some common questions and borrowing money from friends so that you can print a bank account statement with good amount of money, return flights, etc. for USA. They both rode my bike but the second officer fell over, and yeah i got it on video!!!
oh and the day just gets better and better!
I arrived at a refugio, clean enough to set up camp and it offered great protection from the beasts that roam nearby
They destroyed an entire box of cardboard and garbage…
I shared the refugio with two girls who had come up to do a hike around the area from way down south.
they told me there was a bus like the one from “into the wild” further up!
“kind of…”! Imagine just casually driving up the road and the bus catches on fire???
I rode up past few more weekend warriors, its really nice to see how friendly people are here. To be honest I am still recovering from the not-so-great vibes in Peru and more-so in Bolivia.
Moving up, I couldnt figure out exactly what I was seeing, so I busted out the zoom on the camera and it was a horde of horses coming down from the pass
I got to about 4100m and it was about 1pm but after few days of afternoon siestas in Mendoza I kind of wanted to go for a nap, so I set up my tent and went for a siesta. Woke up around 4pm to another horde of horses walking by and all the mules (and arieros) looking at me funny.
Then I figured since its too late to continue, i might as well camp here. A group of hikers came down, singing. Pretty happy people but there was a bit of an awkward silence after they asked me how I am going to cross the river. Really nice group of people to be the last people to see for the day.
Too used to the dry and clear weather of the Puna, I couldnt believe it wasnt clear in the morning. As the rain continuned well past 8am, I decided that I should pack up and go anyway. It was not strong rain but foggy, humid and windy, very cold!
Nearing the top the road finally ended and I was on the horse horde highway, steep and slippery. All the while getting blasted by the wind and soaking wet. feet were wet but ok. hands were freezing cold and I would stop every few minutes and stick my hands near my tighs (under my pants and rainpants) to warm them up, trading precious core body temperature for just warming up my hands so that I can feel them. cresting the pass, oh boy - all my time in the closer to the equator mountains in Peru and Bolivia have made me forget how cold and serious things can get here. This was only 4500m but not quite easy.
I left the bike and paced back and forth around the pass, it was all quite windy. One little spot offered a little protection so I sat down on the wet snow and made a coffee and some bread with meat and cheese. Munched on some cookies during a second coffee but it was clear that I can’t wait for better weather here. I was shaking and not getting warmer, while the snow and wind continued.
I packed up, put on my backpack, its time for some downhill…
It was really a mix of barely being able to walk my bike down, taking safety into concern and really regretting ditching my helmet at a pass in the paramo in colombia, this would be a good place to have a helmet. It was also truly amazing the stuff you can just roll over with a fatbike if you can keep your balance and have a downhill grade. The camera did not come out at..
15 days and we have made it. Following an unknown route through the Argentinian high desert until there were car tracks. Earlier we pooled our last remaining food to make a big breakfast (Soup with instant mash potatoes) and we are en route to Rodeo.
To top it off, there is a big 2000+m descent coming soon
we roll like we never have before. It is so extremely rare that you can pedal and cruise downhill. Our last 3 days were in a mostly hike-a-bike valley and before that two down a roadless valley. We are pulled over by the rangers at a station, it turns out that we had just ridden through the San Guillermo reserve (which is next to the national park - which we avoided since several cyclists have not been able to enter it north to south). They tell us that it is an infraction to be here without a permit but there is no further action required. Next time, we should go to San Juan to get a permission. I think for a second. I dont think there would be next time.
They tell us its 4 hours by car to Rodeo, which I dont think is correct. The road is in perfect condition. Maybe 4 hours in a toyota corolla?
The hot lowlands stretch down into the haze
we go down a wash-road, quite bumpy and I am still so glad to have a fatbike. So bumpy infact that I dont bother to take out the camera, it gets hotter and hotter as we go down.
I keep an eye on my tire. The dry climate and the necessary low pressures have created deep marks on the sidewalls, where the thread is showing and I wonder - how much longer can they last.
we enter town, grab some snacks and sit in some shade outside of the school which has wifi. It’s been a while!
we grab some amazing ice creams, i take a photo and save the wrapper, gotta find them again
on the tarmac we get horrendous headwind but it is rideable. We take turns leading and for little sections around the curves we get the wind as tailwind, woah!
Sylvain falls due to a gust while we are stopped at an intersection and he is looking at the map, to the surprise of the people nearby. Yeah there are people here!!! we try to follow his map, looking for a place to stay and the prices are mostly quite high, about $80 to $100 for a bungalow (cabin). We keep alternating between “too expensive” and “full” as we zig zag to the town center. At the end I just tell sylvain that I will just go camping since it’s 9pm anyway but we stumble on a $40 for two place very close to the center (restaurant, ice cream shop and stores!). Eventually we get around to ordering food!
we take two days off, most of which I spent struggling to make a video, eventhough I promised I would never do that again on the small tablet. The screen is in such bad condition that it often requires opening and closing to get it working. Tapping it, squeezing, turning on and off. I think I should just trow it away. This is the only photo i have of our two days off - the shy street dog that came by to say hi
we continue on tarmac at low altitude, I struggle to keep up to Sylvain - riding 4.8” tires on 100mm rims on pavement is no joke!
Chicken and coca cola. Somehow in the heat we down 2L for lunch.
We ride onto the dirt, a well maintained but not necessarily good road.
We stop at some refugio in the shade. We would be parting ways in few days anyway and to be honest for me, about two weeks is about the limit for group riding. I really miss the freedom of deciding to stop or go and to be frank with my current plan, I will need to go a little slower than Sylvain - he has to be in Santiago by the end of January, while I have an extra week to get there.
Sylvain rides off in the evening and I set up happily at altitude of 2000m, finally catching some sleep as that hot weather in town was just too hot…
I have a nice and cool climb in the morning and then a downhill through the hottest time of the day. The scenery is really nothing special but nice to be moving at a reasonable pace and covering the distance.
I go for a light dinner and $3 camping at the municipal campground.
I set off while its still cool in the morning and admire the texture of the mountains and how you can really see how big they are when you are at a different altitude
a bunch of road cyclists pass me like a road sign
I keep looking at the topographic map, i think this mountain might be Aconcagua, the tallest in south america.
I ride into the cool evening and a crazy headwind, wondering if I should start walking. There doesnt appear to be any cover nearby, i study the topo map and its not looking good.
Both me and Sylvain were about 6 days out when we met. Me pushing my bike against a wall (wind!) and him having leisurly 2-3 hour days with the wind holding at his back (he was coming from Chile) and getting well fed by the tourists while he waited for me.
For me, the night at the dusty refugio was terrible, running nose and even worse cough and my eyes felt like they would explode. I spent most of the day squinting behind my sunglasses to avoid them tearing up too much.
I rode with Sylvain while in Peru last year and it was really great catching up, while yelling at eachother through the wind. He was also quite interested in my plan to try and traverse a roadless valley (80km?) and connect to a possible road from what I could see on a half loaded screen while struggling with the internet at the last town. I also remembered how he would stop for a break and that I never do but I really should because it does make a difference! Just face our backs to the wind and yell at eachother!
I led the way, I am a strong pusher and the flat parts I can sometimes ride. Despite his 1 day of rest Sylvain could not keep up to me.
Due to the remote nature of this trip and the fairly unknown remaining distance we pool food sources together. It wasn’t something we discussed but it was really obvious that we’d need to anyway. Sylvain had some amazing collection of dehydrated meals from Canada, some extra bread from the tourists and I was lugging these onions and tomatoes still….
We split off from the Six Miles South route, even the route that Skyler and his friends took through the San Guillermo national park seems insufficient for me. If I will put myself through more wind, sand and rocks - I better go to somewhere no cyclist has ever been. We aim west to the continental divide and border of Chile. Zooming through my camera lenses looking for wind cover and knowing that this wind will NOT stop I tell Sylvain that we should set up camp now - barely 3pm and leave earlier tomorrow.
He is hesitant but he agrees. We split and follow the way each of us think is easier to a set of rocks.
We set up camp, Sylvain’s tent goes for a fly but mine doesnt. Good to take these shoes off and after my big push to meet him (eventhough a day late!)! I am glad to get some rest. We join efforts for making dinner and Sylvain blows my mind on how to cut onions!!!
We rest in the shade and windcover while the west wind tears the rest of this place apart. Venturing out of the safety of our rocks means getting blasted by the gale and although I know I can return anytime it just brings back memories and its very unsettling.
we set off early only to find that the wind never really stopped but we mange to ride out the rest of the flat section before the wind picks up again. No windcover nearby and I am glad that we stopped early for the day yesterday.
We find another refugio and I wonder for a moment if we could have made it here yesterday. It would have certainly be possible but a tough walk.
Then we meet the river. The route - a red dotted line on open street maps seems to cut at few places which was of concern. Sylvain tells me this is his first real river crossing and I somewhat admire his more confident crossing skills. I feel the fat tires definitely make river walks more difficult since there is less weight and much more pull down with the current.
Nothing too hard but not a walk in the park. The water is extremely cold. The sight of this hill was a relief, we are done, at least for few hours.
We take a lunch break at the ruins of another refugio. Really odd how all of these are all over the place! Then continue on SOUTH-ish. Meaning that the wind finally becomes sidewind and at times at our backs. We proceed to ride our bikes.
We push on, at times testing the river water if its still drinkable. I had some issues with that in the past and if we are to make this work we need water. Perhaps in retrospect we both ended up carrying more than we needed at times but better safe than sorry.
We find a semi-sheltered spot and for the first time in a very long time camp on grass and by a creek. Great views to the north.
We enjoy some calm and even tailwind morning and creep south along the big valley.
then we turn west and all our hopes and plans for the day dissappear into the wall of wind
At only 2pm we reach a refugio, having walked and granny-gear ridden our bikes on the nearly flat up-valley road (in great condition btw!).
I tell Sylvain we should stop for the day but at first he is a little hesitant. The whatever I managed to load of the topographic maps does not look great and we may end up without decent wind cover for the rest of the day and if its quiet in the morning… that means that we can do in two hours what we will now do in 6. he caves in and we set up for the day.
We go over food supplies. I give an estimate of 6 to 8 days and we seem like we might just make it. Fuel is low though so we will need to cook with fire at some point.
I gather bravery to venture out into the wind and snap some photos of flamingoes and the shelter. Tonight is movie night! we watched First Man
Over the two days I spent here, I managed to accumulate quite the food collection during various visits to the small stores. Instant noodles were nowhere to be found but for my first easy days and even beyond I can have good pastas with tomatoes and onion. The tuna was a bit odd, the orange cans were $6(CAD) a pop!!! Argentina may be in a bit of a crisis with their money but the tuna business is blooming. Nontheless, I used my advantage of still not being too familiar with the currency conversion to stock up well and with literally nowhere to spend money during the last 22 days and the next 15days, it would all buff out.
Marilie and Rafael were planing on climbing one of the big mountains around here and managed to find us a ride. It would have been nice to ride some easy pavement but being dropped at 3200ish meters (save about 2000 climb!) sounded better. Right back into the cooler weather which would be a big bonus for the food and with an extra day I can maybe climb a mountain myself - as I will surely reach Laguna Brava, where I am meeting my canadian friend.
interestingly there was some human life here, before the endless winds above 4000m. A fluffy cow and a pitbull that came out to sniff me and play.
A condor flew overhead and a second round to have a better look. There were some weird vicunas with black heads and I think a little bigger, they seem to make weird sounds - perhaps more like horses and not the high pitch rubber duckie sound their little brothers make. That must be a GUANACO!
Coming over the pass I hit the wall of wind. I pedaled my way downhill until I saw a refugio and decided this would be a good place to stop.
The wind blew full force but I knew that an early start will save me hours of walking my bike in the afternoon. However… it just didn’t stop. 6am, wind, snooze alarm until 6:30, still wind, set alarm for 7. 7am, wind, snooze again. Set alarm for 8am. by 8:30 I was out and pedaling downhill, fists inside my gloves and trying to keep my fingers warm.
The flat section on the bottom was just ridiculous. No riding this, just walking. Animals seemed to have gotten the hang of this, just chill in their holes until weather gets better.
By 2pm, I had made a shameful distance of about 11 kilometers in a straight line while gaining about 200m vertical on an otherwise perfectly rideable road.
I saw a big box and I thought this may need to be it for the day. Maybe the wind will be down tomorrow?
The box rocked all night, it was like sleeping on a ship. The force of that wind is just disturbing and unsettling.
I set 8am for a start time, even with the wind. The first few hours would be cold but starting earlier than that without pogies or something warm over your hands is not a good idea.
the highlight of the day was a downhill section where I only had crosswind, with few switchbacks where I actually was going with the wind
Have I not had a plan to meet a friend, I could have seriously re-considered the direction I was going.
entering a large valley turned out to be even worse. I had the wind coming from different directions in the open but in the valley it was always funneled against me. Interesting day, mostly walking and my down jacket never came off as it was always so cold.
I set up around the corner of a little stream, some ok wind protection. 8am again. Wind is at it - full blast. Motivation level is quite low. 4th day of this wind and its truly bad. Riding - just barely possible on flat ground is not good because you are fighting too much to keep your balance on the gusts, walking 3-4km/h is quite slow. I put some music and press my headphones under my headband and just turn off for the rest of the day. camp at 4pm, completely exhausted
8am start. By 1pm and at 5000m I finish the last bit of my west-ward progress. From here I only go south for a bit, hence the winds would be at worst sidewinds. This valley provides decent cover. I am supposed to meet Sylvain today - some 120km south in a straight line and a 5600m pass in the way but no roads for a while. I crack open one of these $6 cans of tuna, with onion and tomato for a salad and coffee. Superb water from snow melt streams and no funny taste.
The funny part is that going up this valley was a significant improvement both easier and really felt that i was finally making progress. Or maybe it was the coffee/sugar rush
Without getting your face blown in by the wind (is that an expression?) I could even sit down and feel warm
I even got tailwind and was able to ride some parts.
It started howling again at some point but only from the side. I looked up and around at camping options, i was at 5300m and still 15km from the 5600m pass. Temperatures plummet really quickly here and it was already 5pm. I’d be crossing over right where that sharper little hump is in the middle of the photo.
But I might just be able to squeeze into the corner of this penitente field, it offered superb wind protection
while the last few days have been quite traumatic with the wind and evenings were not for exploration or walking around, today was different. I can see the colors change from my tent and go out in bursts of looking around, “wow”-ing and taking photos. It’s really cold here.
I thought I was seeing things but I knew there was a mountain behind that mountain!
I left my two new friends behind at the mining ghost town of Casualidad and went on south.
It was a nice and easy morning ride without wind but somehow a bit too warm at 3400m. I stopped early at one of the few campspots that featured a fresh water stream nearby and good wind cover and shade.
The Vicunas were always surprised to see me, many setting off on a frenzied run from far away and going as far as climbing ridges to get away. Their trails, althought easier to ride than nothing were a maze of confusion.
I split off from the main route, following a section that the guys who wrote “life on mars” on bikepacking.com did. Just vaguely seeing what is left of their tire tracks after a year of winds.
The road alternated between a rocky mess and a sandy mess. Barely climbing but consistently moving to the lowpoint between two peaks. Aside from a jeep trail, there were other signs of the people and animals who traversed these dry places before.
The road turned to one of the bumpiest I ever had, where keeping your balance was a priority and somehow with the fat tires it was just barely rideable. Amidst some rocks I spotted a good camping spot, that will have to do and it was infact one of the best sheltered spots so far.
“oh, that looks cool” - is not the thought you should be having when you reach the place to get water. But that was it. It tasted kind of funny, ok for cooking but not the best. My plan was to load up on water here and try a more remote route to the west but I did not want to drink funny water for 2-3 more days so I guess I can take the main route.
The wind shelter was amazing and brought back the excitement of watching the sky and mountains change colors and these weird clouds of the puna come out as the sun set. This is also the last pasta and onion day and actually december 25! Christmas day!
it really felt like it was raining sand over there and not rain. Nothing can convince me now that it can rain here!
The odd flamingo friends down in the lake kept making funny sounds all night, interesting and yet soothing and so natural.
A lone Vicuna led the way onto the next pass, probably wondering what is this weird predator creature and why is it moving so slowly…
I could clearly see the un-fun tracks of my predecesors here. Thin tires, dug into the sand and footprints, deeper than normal probably meaning that it wasnt an easy climb. Me? I just rode that part, it was almost easier to ride than walk
The next valley over had a noted spring but after some scouting there was nothing to be found. Just a trickle of water and enough engine oil to discourage me from trying that water. Going to drink some more funny water and push onto the next valley where there is another water source.
At the pass the wind was howling and I looked at the route, pointing down while the map showed a track going up. It didnt look like there was anything so I just decided to aim down the valley, riding along the ridge as far as I can to preserve that hard earned elevation.
the main route would involve either more climbing + down + some up again
I followed a vicuna trail along the valley wall which went up and down a bit but it felt like a good option as opposed to descending to the potentially sandy valley floor. Eventually I found non-funny tasting water and cruised down the creek valley looking for a place to camp
but while I was looking for a place to camp, something else was looking at me!
DONKEYS! Lots of them! Their did their battle cries and some crossed my path. One almost charged me. They may be funny animals but if it comes to it, I am sure one of them could easily kick my ass.
Then I thought I saw a dog and its puppy looking at me
But it wasnt a dog, it was a fox or a coyote or something.
and it was quite comfortable with me, which i did not see as a good thing. I found the perfect campsite here with the..
After few days in San Pedro de Atacama (and some in Calama), I had what I thought would last a good 25+ days and was ready to head over to the Argentinian Puna. 19L water capacity when needed but the whole bike felt like a tank. For the first several days I’d need to ride with a backpack as well.
at a lowly altitude of 2300m, the road went up along the mountains and it was very hot. Water was too warm to drink and I settled for an earlier camp and hoped for a cool evening. The backpack and the brooks saddle were a bad mix. I will need to find a way to put everything on the bike tomorrow while the roads are still good.
Another hot day until I gain some elevation, the wind was so strong at the evening that my camp near a roaring pumpstation was a rather quiet escape from the gusts.
in the morning I catch up with the guys at the construction camp, it seems that some large aqueduct project is underway with multiple wells and water going down (i think?). They are all a friendly bunch and ask me to stay for lunch but after that strong cup of coffee I dont think i can stay in one place. They load me up with cookies and fruits and apparently they must have let the word out on the radio that there is a hungry cyclist on the road because there were cars coming down with windows open and fruits or cookies hanging out. Another pickup reversed to hand me a full bottle of diet coke.
The heat was more manageable as I reached 3000m and the railtrack detour was at 3400ish. I heard a train passes every now and then and well, that is why this border crossing is manned but it didnt seem to have any fresh signs of a train. The narrow cutouts along the tracks and blind corners were making me very nervous… but I had high hopes that a train, if going here would blow its whistle.
at 4, I was a little bit too enchanted by a small train station and an empty - reasonably wind sheltered cart to keep going. I set up camp for the night with a view of Volcan Socompa across. I dont mind throwing out organic garbage but in such dry place it is perhaps best to make sure it is buried as decomposing might take a bit longer. These tangerine shells were rock solid!
I slept in late wondering why on earth did I think riding with such a heavy backpack would be okay. Having ridden the Canol Trail before mostly with a backpack I thought it would be fine but somehow the discomfort was easily forgotten. I decided to take another short day for acclimatization and to eat more of my food, there was a great water spring at the next station and I left some water bottles in the sun for a bit for a warm shower!
Still no trains so I took more of the rail track to the pass, about the only moving thing there was me and some Vicunas that looked at me with more of a surprise than fear and sometimes communicated between eachother with that high pitch rubber duckie sound.
At the border the policeman looks at me weird and tells me I need to get my stamp in San Pedro de Atacama. Maybe he was the new guy because somebody else comes out and says its okay and they just need to call immigration to confirm. Getting immigration on the phone, is another story so I just hang out with the 4 border dogs for few hours The guys periodically come out to check on me and hand me cookies, yoghurt and REAL chocolate! At 6 they finally get through and stamp me out, the guy asks if i want cookies, I nod and he comes back with 4 packs of lemon cookies. Label puts them at over 800calories per pack. This will be good
I spend some time wondering where the Argentinian border posts is amongst the ruins of the train station. I hear somebody singing while walking around and look through a window, ha! a person! The Argentinians dont have a 70 inch TV like the chileans but they have wifi and offer me a room for the night
I opt for more train tracks in the morning, the wait on the Chilean side threw my planing off for one of the waterless stretches so I am thinking of a shorter day. The Argentina tracks are much smoother and not nearly as narrow, if a train is to come I can see it from far away
Around a corner, bam - another train station. Its truly odd to think of the old days when these were thriving, lively places. People, trains and Puna. With a spring nearby and wind cover it is hard to say no to this.
After a nice stop at the Train Graveyard I went onto the road for 4km or so. I couldnt help but think that the road is a little crooked and all these people must spend hours tilted 5-10 degrees to the side? My initial plan to ride the train tracks west was changed by the howling wind, if I turn more south, i will get one hell of a tailwind and so I did. I pre-loaded a lot of maps while browsing in town so I had some different options. It’s a miracle I made it out today after I took long to pack, eat, visit immigration (to check visa duration) and all….
As a bonus, I will reach some more varied parts and hills and all that, a bit of climbing but more to see and more wind cover
really makes you wonder what all these animals eat, there really doesnt seem to be much but thorns and sharp, dry grass out here
I found reasonably sheltered spot for the night among some odd rock formations, so glad to be out of the salt and the sand, even if for a night
In the morning it was a nice ride to a little town where I found water and also a very good lunch and fruit. Prices, for where it was were very good and I took the chance to load up again on extra food I may need over the next week or so to Chile
When I talked to the store owner who had a car he looked at my route and suggested something else, it’s only sand he said. I said good, thats what i want.
it wasnt exactly easy going and quite a bit of walking at times but what worried me was a giant dune I could see from far away. Which in turn turned to be somewhat hardened sand and more rideable than the road itself
then I found a salty riverbed which I rode uphill until it joined with another road
there was an excellent cover from the wind and a luxurious dinner with potatoes and tomatoes and onion! I even had a can of condensed milk for coffee in the morning.
In the morning I inspected the lights I saw at night and it must be a mine
then it was my turn to be inspected by the wild burros
The rocks got more odd-looking and there were even condors in the air. Not all of them had the white collar but they were still just as big
for some odd reason there were plenty of donkeys out here…
and the Vicunas would just see me and run up a ridge (like 3-400m vertical) just for the fun of it… me, i’m huffing and puffing to barely keep up walking pace on a road…
The road got quite bad that I followed few moto tracks onto the riverbed, it was a bit of a shortcut and in general I think better riding surface than the road
I already set my goal for today and it was to stay near this nice pointy mountain
This is one of the three moving vehicles I saw during this entire post, all the way to Chile.
The road had very nicely designed signs which made me worry a little, from what I heard for the last section of Bolivia there is a hefty 150BOB ($30CAD) to pass by. After the feeding frenzy in Uyuni, I had 30BOB to my name which was just enough to cover the 1 day visa fine, if for some reason I get delayed.
Riding out of La Paz I was a little better prepared, a full load of different food I didn’t expect to find on the way and a plan to reach Chile in about 8 to 10 days. The only one hiccup was that I decided I can get onions at one of the “bigger towns” on the way (that did not work out!). The first 50k or so before my turnoff were very odd and somewhat unsettling, maybe it was the direction the wind blew and every truck or bus passing me felt like a major disturbance in the serenity that riding your bike normally is. I rode a couple of kilometers with two Swedes, they did not seem as bothered by the traffic as me, maybe they have big trucks in Sweden too.
I set up at a fancy hotel right before my turnoff and had one of the best hot showers in South America, perhaps amplified by the rainy season in Cordillera Real but no, the shower was very good. I had steamed up the shower room quite well and I seriously though that if staff walked by they would have charged me more. Then as is always the case I slept under a whole bunch of heavy covers but warm!
Well, there were 4 dogs outside and I had 4 pieces of bread, looks like the perfect match and a good way to start my day
I could see the quiet road in the distance, i watched that lady and her dog walk to the middle of the road, pick up something and go back. It also seemed that it wasnt her dog and she trew rocks at it but he kept following. Thats right, you don’t go to adopt a dog, dogs go to adopt a human here!
It was a dog world out there and in few places I got surrounded, these dogs have probably never seen a cyclist. Normally when you bend over and pick up a rock (or pretend to) most would run away, if not always take a big rock and trow it near them (somewhere where it can hit another rock so they can hear it) and if that doesnt scare them away, at least they wont be near you (in biting distance) and then you can pretend that they are just cheering for you to go up the hill, like tour du france. Imagine if tour du france was held in Bolivia?
Rain was always in the air and I couldnt wait to go somewhere drier!
The one odd thing was that people here stopped to say hi to me, ask me where am I going and surprisingly, why! Even people walking stopped to say hi, instead of walking around me or away when I passed by like in the mountains.
The roads were interesting and somehow had that “Utah” feel, big and odd rock formations and rope cattle gates that you can normally just swing over your head
I also had that new 2 person tent with me, its a bit heavier but it was good, since I wont be carrying the bike up and down trails some extra space wouldnt hurt, especially if it rains (which it hasnt and it wont for the next few months) but also for the wind, there is a bit more free space and when its windy the tent isnt bending down on you.
in the fading light I decided it would be a good time to install the Mules, Joe from BarYak sent me these mounts for bottle cages that can go on a carbon fork and I will need to carry a lot more water soon. Since I still have the new fork back in canada, this would be a good time to see what this one can handle. I see few cracks/splinters in the fiber glass suspension planks but i have been assured that they may get soft but they wont break.
the route seemed to work out great, near every big crossing I was near a highway so I can take advantage of the bridge and at least for now, there were 1-2 towns (or villages) every day or so. Mind you, nothing that may have a store which may possibly carry a vegetable or two…
But I still couldnt get over how friendly people were here. For a good chunk of Peru, the shepherds were mostly shy and so were the mountain people of Bolivia. A south african cyclist I met told me that this was one of his favorite country but he toured the lowlands. But once away from the big tourist guided treks and perhaps mining exploration people were nicer.
The scenery too was different and although I couldn’t help but look for water in the dry riverbeds, just in case… There didn’t seem to be as many roads as in the mountains and for the most part, the vegetation and hillsides were quite unfriendly, should the need arise to “walk” to the top of the hill.
A dog showed up, oddly I could tell from his behavior that he was looking for a human. Overly friendly and submissive. I let him follow me for a while but yelled at him to go home. I wonder if anybody saw me, quite the story to tell, huh? “Hey there was a gringo on a bike today in our land and he was yelling at our dog”.
after a nice food break in La Paz and a rather crappy $40 bottom bracket job from Gravity Bolivia (but more on that in the next few posts) I was back in Achacachi. I put the bike together and Milton who has the pool/hostel/casa de ciclistas wanted to join me up to the pass. I told him that I’d really like to leave today so we agreed on camping somewhere on the way up.
Milton had quite the machine and by any means he was way lighter than me. I had about 10-12 days worth of food on me
we barely squeezed between that giant storm and the sunshine but remained unwet for the remainder of the day.
amidst concerns and possible “tolls” I am entering the Cordillera Real traverse from here, doing only a little part of the more popular Illampu circuit. A group I spoke to via instagram had been attacked with llama whips when refusing to pay a fee to somebody on the trail.
the sun down the altiplano was amazing but there wont be too many sunsets in the rainy season further into the mountains
when we started setting up, a guy on a moto coming down pulled over and chatted to us. He didn’t seem that interested but he hung around, watching me and Milton set up the tents. A god 30-40minutes and then left, Milton told him he paid him $3 for both of us because apparently we were on his land.
we spotted this magnificent creature in the morning
and milton was all ready for more climbing
after lunch he headed back to one of the few real hot showers in the altiplano and I headed up toward the pass and to more showers but likely cold… although today was surprisingly good weather
I kept looking to the right and back. it did not seem like a trail at all. I will somehow have to go up that, according to a dotted red line on open street maps. Eventually a bridge took me across the now bigger stream. Few kids ran from one of the houses and hid behind a rock, watching me push my bike up. Ha, what were they thinking? who is that crazy gringo with a motorcycle pushing it up the hill???
the other inhabitants of this valley were equally curious to see me.
a man walking down from the pastures did a big half circle around me to avoid me, odd but probably better. It’s a little sad that people here are not as friendly - compare that to any Colombian trail where you are waved over and not asked but given a plate of food and sometimes asked to stay the night. The trail was there and well defined but not of the bring your bike kind of trail. I almost set up camp few times but decided to push as far as I can in order to have less of this for tomorrow.
eventually setting up behind a big rock, a shelter of some sorts, tired and wondering if I can even making across that pass?
little did i know of the beasts lurking the high mountains at night, these two were maybe upset that i took their spot and tried biting my tent and bike
the trail got steeper, rockier and narrower but oddly passable and there was an interesting calm to moving this slow, taking breaks every few steps and holding the brakes so the bike does not slide back down
you could notice the little things going slowly like this, like the plants and rocks and the small splinters on your fiberglass planks on your suspension
and of course, the not so little things too…
trail got much better, it was still walking but just not lifting your bike over rocks every step of the way. The distant pass marker grew closer and it seemed that I can actually make it over.
across the pass, it seemed that the llamas were expecting me and they all gathered as if they wanted something, was i supposed to guide them to a better valley?