Argentina – Km 168,730
More than two years have passed since I completed a cycling trip around the world. After that, I did not cycle again. That is, until this summer, when I began organizing cycling tours through * the Patagonian region of Argentina. I was both anxious and excited to once again relive that wonderful experience that “traveling by bike” creates.
More than two years have passed since I completed my round-the-world cycling trip. After that, I did not cycle again. That is, until this summer, when eager and feeling desperate, I decided to get on the road once again. It was great, because I enjoyed it 100%.
It goes without saying that after a 16-year-trip around the world you feel like hanging up your cycling saddlebags and tent and locking yourself away to clear your head and write, to take a look at all the material you´ve collected so far, to reminisce on old stories and reflect upon everything you have brought with you.
After the trip I became involved with the management of my sister´s flat for some months to get the better of the mafia that ran the building. I also took charge of refurbishing my grandmother´s house. I did all this as I was the only family member left in the city. I also studied some philosophy, theology and economics and I tried to mantain a long distance relationship. After such a long time travelling, it is only natural that when you return home you want to do everything that you couldn´t do whilst you were away. Human beings are strange. We don´t always do all the things we want.
After gaining almost 8 kg and spending months on the computer, I was delighted to travel to the Argentinian Patagonia to get back on my bike. It was then that I developed a cycling programme and posted it on my social media. It had more than one million views, thousands of comments and over one thousand private messages. I was surprised by just how many people dream of partaking in a cycling trip. However, so few actually took the plunge into such an adventure.
The first brave participant was Hernán, a 34-year-old guy, who completed the entire 500 km trip from San Martín de los Andes to Esquel, as I had originally proposed. It took us 8 days including a day´s rest in El Bolsón. Hernán prepared well for the trip – he got cycling saddlebags, bought bike racks , a tent and a camping stove. He serviced his bike himself before departure, wrapped it and sent it to
Patagonia. Then he travelled from Aldea Brasilera, Entre Rios Province to our meeting point by bus and plane.
It was a perfect cycling trip because Hernán had been training for weeks so he was fit and strong. He was so trained that I struggled to keep up with him. While I was cycling behind him I questioned myself bout the weight I had put on in Buenos Aires. From this experience I can testify that a bike with size 29 tyres travels much faster than a bike with size 26 tyres. So it is not a question of strength only. Hernán fell in love with his first cycling trip experience, not only because of all of the beautiful places and campsites that we visited, but also ecause of the simple feeling of pleasure that cycling creates – a feeling that I had almost forgotten!
My second cycling trip was with a 44 year-old Brazilian man called Joao. Joao, who was from Sao Paulo, had some previous experience with cycling trips. However, he was not fit enough, and so, he decided that he would prefer to begin the trip in Bariloche, reducing the total number of daily kilometres from 75 km to 50 km. This trip also lasted 8 days, including an unexpected stopover in El Bolsón after all the
pastries and fried pasties he had eaten on the road. Poor guy!
Cycling such a long distance uphill with saddlebags weighing you down really pushes you to the max. For this reason, I seriously questioned the suitability of certain people who had written to me willing to participate in the programme. Of course, a good level of physical fitness and a substantial amount of training is vital when undertaking such a trip . But even more importantly, you have to believe in yourself.
Joao´s trip was more difficult and challenging than Hernán´s because of the weather conditions: we got cold and rainy days . This was not helped by the fact that Joao had brought a bad quality sleeping bag. The temperature in Patagonia can drop to as low as just 3 or 4 degrees at night, so it’s very important to have good camping equipment and suitable clothing.
The most wonderful thing about travelling with saddlebags is that you can take them on and off as often as you please. You can stop and camp in the most stunning places or simply look for a sheltered place to spend the night, which is what Joao and I did. My Brazilian companion was truly amazed by the trip, not only by the cycling experience, but also by the breathtaking landscapes along the legendary Route 40 and its national parks, both so different from the land where he comes from.
A Monumental Trip
Three people took part in the final trip, which was also planned to take place between Bariloche to Esquel. It was a monumental trip. The participants included Claudia from Germany, who had rented a bike and all the necessary equipment upon arrival in Argentina. Claudia joined Tito and Martín, a father and son duo, who were making their first ever cycling trip.
Although she was not an experienced cyclist, Claudia, who was 55, had an admirable attitude towards this new challenge. I remember on our second last day, as we were cycling on a gravel road, Claudia broke down in tears. She was completely overcome by the fact that she had made it. Earlier that same day, she had struggled to push her way up a steep ascent and she fell. Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt – just a few scratches. But the fall scared her!
There are two vital things you need when undertaking a cycling trip. Firstly, you need a good mirror and secondly, you need to be able to control your speed. Going downhill at a fast speed can seem exciting, but it doesn’t achieve anything. And if you happen to fall, you could become seriously injured. Remember: always avoid high speed!
Martín and Tito turned out to be epic cyclists. They cycled the entire way to Reconquista, Santa Fé, with enough luggage to cycle across the whole world! What’s more, they had almost no previous training. Martín’s bike only had a small gear rack, but we managed to strengthen it with some wood before departure. To make things worse, as soon as we set off, the front derailleur on Martín’s bike started to fail and we couldn’t fix it. Because of this, Martín had to dismount and walk with his bike up many of the ascents between Bariloche and El Bolsón. His father, Tito, a 62 year-old man weighing around 120kg, walked even more than Martín did. His bike’s transition system had only two plates which made it unsuitable for mountain cycling. However, Tito didn’t care much about this. He was self-confident and looked upon the experience as a way to relive some of the best days of his youth, when he could cycle up to 240 km in a single day.
But Tito had no experience with mountain cycling and so, he chose to walk up all of ascents between Bariloche and El Bolsón. Yes, you read correctly, every single ascent along the 150km we cycled. Unbelieveable!
Because there was no recovery truck for that particular stretch, I asked Tito many times if he wanted to stop a vehicle on the road to take him back. But he didn’t want to. It was admirable to witness how his conviction and patience outdid his fatigue and the difficult physical conditions. He didn’t really care if he lagged behind or if it took him longer to complete the journey. He was just extremely happy to be there with his son, experiencing his first cycling trip with saddlebags, surrounded by stunning landscapes and in direct contact with nature.
When we arrived in El Bolsón, we contacted a good mechanic who repaired Martín’s bike and replaced the transmission system on Tito’s bike. Then, together with Claudia, we continued with our journey. However, Tito still continued to walk and drag his bike uphill most of the time. My brother’s kind offer to drive alongside us in his recovery truck was completely pointless because Tito refused again and again to accept assistance. Tito’s strength and determination was admirable – a wonderful example of perseverance and will to engage in cycling tourism.
I would like to thank each and every one of my new friends for enabling me to relive the pleasures of travelling by bike. I just hope that next year, there are more brave people who dare to live the dream: making a cycling trip