Category: Tour planning

Villa O’Higgins to Chalten

Villa O’Higgins, a proudly end of the road town, angled cooked dirt streets desert thorny plants growing along paths linking the tiendas, the horsetack shop, a panaderia, a smart looking new community activity center. Curious, on surface empty but folks hiding from heat or the appearance of bustle, the border beyond and across no mans lakes and glaciated cragtops witness to the imaginary boundary between Chile and Argentina. I book passage on the two ferries for the next day, return to the hostal with cyclistas and mountaineers loitering against the boat schedule, each eyeing the other friendly cautiously suspiciously across the sport divide, climbers not nearly as cool as they hope and cyclists far dorkier than they realize. Swiss friends roll up in the afternoon, we drink tea and beer alternately, talk about nexts or who we are returning to and when.

Around La Paz Exploring

The Salar hogs the glamour, but the area nearer La Paz would immensely reward spirited exploration. With a clever itinerary, one could travel in a truly fast and light backpacking style on a dual suspension rig. On an imaginary future trip I imagine riding down Yunga Cruz to the jungle and then up The Death Road.

Or bring an unstoppable Fat Bike for a more deliberate, deep backcountry effort.

Here are some maps for riding and walking in the Yungas and mountains north and northeast of La Paz, including the Death Road. All of them are available in La Paz; I post them here for pre-trip planning.

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Cycling to Machu Picchu

In a splendid fiction one could easily pedal to the edge of the ruins at Machu Picchu and circle and photograph its majesty by bike, just as one might at Angkor Wat or Palmyra. In reality the tourist town that supports MP — Aguas Calientes — is so remote and small, and the concentration of visitors to it is so great that access is highly controlled. Indeed, there are no roads to AC. Many cycletourists simply ride to Cusco and leave their bicycles there, getting to MP the usual way by bus then train. I did not want to go to Cusco and backtrack, nor did I find the usual way aesthetically appealing at all. I contemplated skipping it altogether.

But there is an alternative that includes high mountain pass bikepacking, weather, minor drama, and a bit of cycletouring nostalgic history in that a fair bit of it is on train tracks. Thus, it echoes in a tiny way the style that the likes of Sachtleben & Allen or Frank Lenz traveled in when a railway link was the only path between cities.

The plan assumes travel from the west, i.e., headed south through South America. It is possible to do what is described here backwards, but it appears to me that starting from Cusco likely offers different options. The route is substantially based on a trek that has been adapted into a multisport multimodal trip involving hiking, biking, luxury eco lodges, donkey porters, vans and trains. Obviously, Pfft! on all that. This is how to do it all by big pedaling. A very capable off-road bike and minimal weight are essential.

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Touring on a Surly Pugsley (Progress Report)

(A Tom Walwyn photo, above)

When I got home last year from touring on the Pugsley in Alaska I ventured some thoughts, all enthusiastic, about the bike choice. After all, it’s a bike, it goes when you pedal it, in fact it goes just about anywhere a bike can go, and if you’re not racing or trying to keep pace on asphalt with your skinny tire friends, what’s not to like? And in AK, why are you not riding a fat bike? Still, I envisioned myself going back to the Long Haul Trucker with 26″ x 2.0’s for overseas rough stuff touring, the ‘cross bike for smooth roads, and a two nine — the folding Rob English with an IGH, one of the best bikes I’ve had the pleasure of riding — for domestic expedition use.

Then my imagination was hijacked by all those days, not necessarily winter days, hooting and having a ball on the Fat Bike, pointing it into the woods and going, just going. Sure, the tires, rims and bottom bracket on the thing are a decent argument against taking it too far for too long away from North America. If those go FUBAR one would have to get creative. It’s a pig, an automatic minimum 10 lbs. penalty over your next heaviest bike. But I’ve spent most of my time over the last eight or nine years on a rigid singlespeed, so I’m no stranger to poor judgment in bicycle selection.

Here’s what I think after two months riding the Pugsley in South America.

Pugsley for South America Tour

Surly Pugsley with Old Man Mountain Cold Springs front and rear racks. Larry tires. Lone Peak Mount Rainier and Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers, Revelate frame bag + Gas Tank. Fuel bottle in Bikebuddy cage secured to seatpost with Minoura bottle cage attachment.

After summertime touring in Alaska last year on the Pugsley, I reported having had an excellent time and that I was very satisfied with the choice of bicycle. I also said that I didn’t imagine myself touring on it again much in the future, unless there was some special reason to be on a fat bike. Evidently I asserted something about preferring fast-and-light. Equally evidently — though I waxed on about how the big tires inspired complete strangers to outlandish declarations of bike lust — I didn’t anticipate just how much the fat tire format would capture my imagination. So, going round and round in that this is really important but it couldn’t possibly matter much sort of way, I’ve tested my packing and gear with an eye toward five months on the trail in South America. MC spoke with the convictional voice of reason: “There’s no issue, the bouncy bike is completely out. Ride the bike that makes the most sense for covering distance, take the Long Haul Trucker.” To a normal person she would have been completely persuasive. By way of antidote and encouragement, AE said, “…besides the fact that everything will be rideable, you’re going to make more friends. If we were into not being miserable then we’d go to the beach and have umbrella drinks.” This sort of quip ought to have set off all kinds of alarm bells. Here’s the deal: The Pugs is about 10 pounds heavier than my Trucker, and about 14 pounds heavier than the English Folding 2-9. I shudder at those differences, though, really, the English is out since the wheel format can create headaches if something goes wrong. (True, the Pugsley wheels are also not standard, but there’s a reasonably straightforward plan against catastrophe in that case.) For the broken road jungle walk dirt track mountain trekking path trip that I envision, the bikes are probably nearly a wash. Each is superior to the other at the extremes of a spectrum from asphalt to singletrack. I would hope that the Pugsley can make short work of Bolivian sandy roads, but that’s only a small fraction of the journey. In all, the Trucker ought to be the default, easier to repair, ridable anywhere. But I’m just so damned stupidly enamored of the Pugs. Here’s the thought that makes the fat bike so blindingly seductive: For any terrain ahead of you, if a bike can go there at all, a fat bike can go there. I’m sure I’ll be angrily repeating that to myself like a mantra as I beg for help hoisting the thing on to a bus roof. The total base weight — bike, bags, all gear except minimal clothing worn, but no food or water — is 72 lbs. (~32 kg’s). Not overly heavy by the standards of some cyclotourists, but unusual for me.