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Vagabonding around South America & Canada
By Houston Marsh - (contact)

January 21, 2010 - Near the summit to the Chilean Aduana: Paso Agua Negra

Thursday January 21, 2010, 31 km (19 miles) - Total so far: 3,369 km (2,093 miles)

Cycle touring is so bizarre at times. Some days you'll face less than favorable conditions. Strong headwinds, bad ripio, big distances, etc. At the time you'll question your motives for subjecting yourself to such elements. But as soon as the ripio ends or the day is done you very quickly forget the bad and instead can't believe how fortunate you are. This was the case yesterday. Despite having no symptoms of altitude sickness I was very easily winded. Just walking 50m to the stream at camp had me stopping to catch my breath. I didn't even want to think how I'd get me, my bike, and loads of gear up this pass! Soon after setting up camp, however, my focus changed to today. Just a few difficult hours and I'd have conquered this pass. How awesome is that!?! And then that night I go outside to check the night life and am treated to the most amazing stars ever. The Milky Way was a well defined belt directly overhead. The stars were so dense and bright constellations could not be defined. I am so lucky to be here.

So 500m over 15km. How hard could that be? Just two days ago I did that and more in under an hour and kept on going for hours and hours more. The difference? Starting at 1500m vs 4200m. I'd like to say those 15km were physically and mentally harder than my first marathon but won't because maybe it's not true and it certainly is not as glamorous. Nevertheless, ouch.

The first 5km went fairly quickly to the beginning of the switchbacks (also the last chance to camp unless you're comfortable sleeping directly in the middle of a road wide enough for only one car at a time). After that point I pushed far more than I peddled. I needed frequent breaks but this time I didn't even have the balls to call it a photo break. I was too tired. After 1.5 hours traffic started coming and I wanted nothing more than a ride. The only thing holding me back? Pictures of the spiky snow, pictures of the summit, and the disappointment I'd experience at the end of the day. So I pushed and stopped and pushed and stopped. After battling for hours the spiky snow was in view and shortly after the summit sign. I was in Chile. There I sat for almost an hour watching cars pull up to take pictures before moving on. And just like that I was revitalized.

The descent was nearly as glamorous as the ascent. Almost immediately you come to an intersection. Constructions workers at the side of the road encouraged me to take the shortcut. -1 for construction workers. It was steep. Really really rims of fire steep. On smooth pavement it would be too steep let alone on washboard ripio. After several more km I rejoined the actual road and enjoyed the more gradual descent on rough ripio. By this point I'm feeling good and powering up the small hills.

One tidbit I left out. This morning when I checked the bike over the back wheel was flat which it was not last night. So I take the wheel off but decide it's not really flat. It's a slow leak so I pump it up and ride. It wasn't a problem until the washboard ripio in Chile. At this point in the early afternoon there were virtually no cars. But as chance would have it when I was blowing the tire up a truck came from behind and asked if I wanted a ride to Vicuña. I declined but instead asked to be dropped off at the Chilean customs. And what a bumpy ride it was. The Chilean side appeared to have far more camping and clean water opportunities than the Argentine side. About 60km later we're at the customs. When the customs officer asked where I'd be sleeping I said I'd camp nearby. Instead he showed me to the back of the large complex to my bed! A queen sized mattress, kitchen and washroom. I'm so lucky.

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The motivation to keep moving. Doesn´t look like it but that spiky snow (penitentes) is still several km away.

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I expected to see a few cyclists on this route but Sam was the only one. He´s made it from Colombia and so far on his way to Ushuaia I´m only the third cyclist he´s met. Crazy!

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See that little blip of black in the bottom left hand corner? See the pixel of black near that? Neither can I but in the northner hemisphere summer when I upload the full resolution of these pictures you´ll be able too see my camp and Sam cycling by it.

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Those were some HARD kilometers.

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In case I fainted from exhaustion I needed to get one picture of the spiky snow from a little closer up.

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Bike next to spiky snow. Check.

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The top is only like 500m away.

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Yeah, I was too lazy to move my bike to the other more impressive sign that said 4780m.

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But I wasn´t too lazy to move myself over to the sign!

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This crazy guy on a bike made it to the summit too!

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The steep descent into Chile.

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East to west

Zoom in to enjoy the switchbacks.


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"Vagabonding around South America & Canada" Copyright © 2009-2014 By Houston Marsh - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on January 22, 2010 12:47 PDT, last updated on December 6, 2012 08:10 PDT
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