Breaking Chains and Not Burning Rubber

BREAKING CHAINS - Freedom: Cycle touring is the greatest way I have found to experience freedom. Whilst I celebrate mine I hope to help others gain and realise theirs, and protect ours, by fundraising for Amnesty International

NOT BURNING RUBBER - Environmental Awareness: Cycling is one of the most efficient and sustainable modes of transport. It's slow speed allows you to become more aware and connected with our surroundings, and therefore the pressures that they may be under. I intent to have a minimal negative impact on the environment whilst I travel, and will share my observations and experiences about my journey, environmental issues, and sustainable living here:

Friday, 30 September 2011

Riding the Atacama

From Copiapo I rode for two days to Chanarel, the second day of which was along beautiful rocky coastline with amazing camping spots along the way.
I then had the luxury of a bed and a shower in a guest house run by a quirky old fella for a couple of nights and stuffed myself with great, but expensive, fish and chips.
Everything is about mining in northern Chile and it becomes more and more prominent the further north I get. The majority of cars on the road are utes connected somehow to getting the goods out of the ground, and there are scares all over the barren landscape.
Leaving the town with a 400km ride through the Atacama desert ahead of me it was quite simbolic to see a load of vulchers perched at the side of the road.
The last Posada (cafe) and water stop for over 100kms;
The ride through the desert was awesome. The first night I rode until it was dark and slept under the stars without my tent.
I tried to get most of the distance done in the morning and late afternoon, but there was no escapingthe tremendous dry heat of the desert as there is no shade bar the odd parked up truck or tiny patch under a road sign - which I did take advantage of.
The second day I road again until it was dark and was up at 5 the next morning hopeing to get to the next water stop before lunch (70km from camp). Cycling through the desert under the stars and slowly watching the landscape light up through many shades of colour was the highlight of my ride so far.
As it turns out the ride was downhill all the way to the Posasda. No wonder the last two days had been hard riding, I had been riding gradually uphill - to 2000m it turns out! It is hard to tell if you are going slightly uphill in the open landscapes and usually put the lack of speed down to tired legs.
I was going to reach Antofagasta (the coast) a day early!
But shortly after taking a quick snap of the desert hand, the Atacama showed me just how hard it can be at times, ahead of me was what looked like a nice bit of valley cloud... it turned out to be a dust and sand cloud blown up the valley by the strong afternoon westerly winds!
I struggled on for the last 50km, bearly moving at times, but managed to get to the next waterstop and onto the city before five. 165km, another personal best!

The Atacama desert - the driest place on earth. I'm proud to have made it across it, but have to admit without the steady flow of trucks and mining utes going past with the security of help if needed, it would have been far harder mentally and probably past my ability.

Not a plant in sight for 300km - strange place for a budding horticulturist to visit don't you think......?!

A couple of nights in the city then the climb east up the Andes awaits!

There is a short video clip of me in the desert on youtube:

Friday, 23 September 2011

Flower power

After leaving La Serena I crossed the 4th river with any flow, more like a stream in my book, and then headed along a beautiful coastline - rocky cliffs, blue water, pefect paragliding ridges (would have had me jumping 5 years ago), and no fences!! What few houses or shacks there were had wind and/sloar power. Sounds like paradise eh...? Only problem is there is bugger all water and the for sale signs are well up, but if you can get your hands on a regular water tanker and are quick it could work. Managed 75k after a lunchtime start so all good.

The next morning I got going early but for some reason my legs just were not having it, stopped for a stretch, still no go, what I struggled to see as much of a up hill seemed like a decent up. Was it me, the bike, was it really a hill..... No after slowly pedalling on for about 20k at no more than 10kph I decided it was the lack of fuel in my tank. My eating habit over the few days before was shockingly bad plus yesterday was a decent run. So I tuck my bodies hint and stuffed a packet of crap biscuits down and followed it up with meat and potato stew and goat (not a kid) and rice. Managed to speed up and clock up 75ks, god knows how! Oh I bumped into my first cycle tourist too, Pier from Holland on his way south to Santiago from Arica in north Chile.
Thursday all was well in the legs and I stomped on to Vallaner which is another oasis of a valley, with another stream of a river. Here unfortunately the ruta 5 turned back into a brand new motorway, not even opened yet, just putting the signs up infact, the problem was the barbed wire fence that accompanied it. It prevented me (and anyone else) from stopping and wandering off into the part flower covered desert when ever I felt like it, plus it seemed to be joined by a sudden lack of truck stop cafes, both of which gave me cause for concern with my water supply been used up fast (I had just upped my capacity from 3.5 to 5litres the day before thankfully) and when looking for a camping spot away from the road. I will go into more detail about my views on motorways in a later post (bet you can´t wait for that one...:) ).
The flower bloom is a natural phenomenon which only happens every 5 years or so and actually increasing with the change in climate (a positive at last!!). When the desert finally gets a few spots of rain the masses of waiting seeds burst into life and cover the otherwise barren landscape with a floral carpet.
Well I had stayed on the motorway to see it instead of taking an unsealed coast road and was just fretting about the lack of flowers, water, and fences, when my nose got the effect of walking into a florists, amazing!! A total carpet of white, and then purples. And it continued on today, for me it was like nature showing its beauty against the ugly new man-made tar-seal cutting through it.
Thursday was a big day at 110k and todays 90k had me reaching Copiapo, a large town in another oasis valley (this time no water in the river). I´m in a guest house tonight, the shower was cold but felt great.

I have decided to carry on north and try and cross the Andes inland from San Pedro. The true Atacama desert awaits! (Note; I will be upping my water capacity to 8litres over the next few days)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I want to ride my bicycle

It is an overcast day here in La Serena, perfect for me to carry on riding north.
I have had an interesting week or so in the Elqui Valley area - sampled the famous pisco (superb name for an alcoholic drink!), viewed the contrasting barren mountains and irrigated valley floors (must be a battle ahead for water), got filmed and continualy stared at at the messy but very interesting Pampilia (national holiday party), and got utterly amazed by the beauty of the universe whilst visiting an observatory.
Unfortunately Dani´s knee is no better so she will head off to Argentina to learn Spanish with the hope of getting on her bike in the not to distant future.
Anyway I think Freddie sumed my thoughts up, a song for the month ahead;
Queen - Bicycle Race

Friday, 16 September 2011

Passing by

Having spent the last few days eating, drinking, and exploring the La Serena and Elqui valley area my feet are starting to itch, I am "chewing at the bit" to get pedalling again!
But my route is going to be changed a wee bit;

My plan was to cross at the Paso de Agra Negra which is inland from the Elqui valley, directly east of La Serena. At a height of 4780m crossing the Andes was (and still is!) one of the big challenges of my ride and I have been looking forward to spectacular views and isolation.
But since my farm contacts have not "fruited" and my pace along the first stage was a lot quicker than expected I have got months before the Pass is due to open. Also my funds would be better kept for a cheaper country (Chile is suprisingly expensive, some costs been similar to UK or NZ).

SO I have been looking at options....

1. Head north to the Paso San Francisco, similar height (4750m), passes by the highest active volcano in the world - Ojos del Salado 6864-6893m (true height undetermined..!), and would mean I still arrive into Argentina at a decent latitude to explore the North-west.
It is currently open but they will not allow solo cyclists through, possibility in 2-3 weeks!

2. Head further north. There are 3 passes near Sand Pedro de Atacama. All between 3800 and 4300m. All should be open. But that means cycling through the Atacama desert (the driest place in the world, not a challange I was looking for before climbing to such altitudes). Plus it means I enter Argentina at its northern tip and would be tempted to cross straight into Boliva which can also be entered at the same area.

3. Head South to the main crossing point near Santiago, 3800m, open all year, busy with trucks and buses, tunnels, and although very challenging I had hoped for an alternative. Plus means riding south again (see below).

4. Head further south. Many lower passes around the 1800 - 2000m mark near Chilean and the Lake District. Not the challenge I was looking for, but means I get to see the more (horticultural and agricultural wise) interesting part of the country, means riding south through Santiago area, expensive option due to increased time in Chile and Argentina, heading in the wrong direction (see below).

I decided pretty early on that to keep my moral and motivation up, it is best for me to be heading in th right direction for my journey. (Am I exploring South America or on a journey between my two homes....? A journey I think). I have a massive distance ahead of me and fascinating areas to explore without adding to it by going south t then have to ride further north. Therefore I should keep on a roughly northerly route and not, (as my good friend Kai puts it),"tit about" to much.

Combined with this I have been warned against Summer in Burenos Aires and the Uraguay coast, hot and crowded, which had been my intented schedule. So I am thinking the best option would be to cut the route and stick to the West side of the continent. But before you worry to much this is NOT a long winded cop out. In some ways the opposite. As many people know I am hoping to continue on north through Central and North America. So the kms will be covered!

Looking at my options and the information currently available to me option 1 is the one I would like to go for, so with 2-3 weeks before I am expected to beable to get through the border I will take my time travelling from here (La Serena) to Copiapo.

Lucky for me it is the National Festival for the next 4-5 days so will try and cure my itchy feet with a bit of dancing instead ;)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Breaking records and looking good in lycra

After spending a noisey night camping to close to the motorway I was up and away before sunrise. The K´s racked up along the hilly highway, going from 5km/h to 50 the whole day. I did stop to taste the local papaya juice (superb!) in an oasis of a town that had the only flowing river I had crossed since leaving Santiago (interesting to note that this is not the dry region and is the end of winter!!). I belted along with views over scrub land and amazing coast line continuing.
With all the downhill setions I started to take an interest in my top speed and was amazed that I had managed 58km/h before, so with that the head was down and managed to hurtle down another section at a personal record breaking 70.6km/h (it is the first time I have a had a speedo!), which with about 40kgs of luggage on an old quill stem bike my arse was clenched!
So the day turned into on of watching the clock, listening to my learn spanish mp3s, and clocking up k´s. I was amazed to make it to the thermal spring town, Socos, just before dark. But unfortunately the thermals were closed, so I made do with a cold shower and a great nights sleep. After another record smashing 140km ride I was knackered :)

After getting medical attention in La Serena Dani is out of the ride, so I decided to keep heading north to meet her, and got stuck into another day on the highway. This time I exposed myself for the first time to the world in lycra shorts (ok carmdown there are no photos... ;) ). A big step for any cyclist and man I think!
The road was a bit kinder today with some good flat sections. The flowers at the side of the road had been changing over the last few days with the common orange been replaced with blues and then whites (sorry no names). I stopped for another papaya juice and got given a strange looking fruit, which i must find out the name of...tasted great. Otherwise I passed goat cheese and meat sellers and fine views of the Andes.
About 20ks south of La Serena the developments started. As I entered Coquimbo (La Serena´s ugly port city sister) I was amazed to see a Union Jack on the cities coat of armes...??? I read the city got ransacked by an English pirate (Sharpe) back in the 16th century, but how the flag got there I will have to find out.
I arrived at the German run hostel in La Serena after another 100k + day ready for plenty of food and beer.
347kms in 3 days and 7 days ride from Santiago with one days rest, the first section of the first leg was completed :)

God the lycra feels good!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Solo on the highway

After saying goodbye to the amazing bay we camped in for the last two nights, we rode 15km in land to the Route 5 motorway (The Pan American Highway - longest road in the world I read somewhere). There unfortunately Dani s knee was to bad to ride on. So we made the decision for her to jump on a bus (of which there are loads, must be at least 6 an hour heading north) to La Serena (329km North). She will rest up there and then, hopefully, meet me for a ride to a national park just south of La Serena in 3 days time.
It is a shame, and she is gutted. It s not that she is unfit or hasn t trained, she had just completed a 24hour hike in the Swiss Alps just over a week ago. We could have waited longer but with the national holiday festival near La Serena next week we didn t want to hang around to long.
So solo I am.
Just hammered 70km on the motorway to Los Vilos. Motorway riding is actually a lot safer and more pleasant than it sounds - plenty of room at the the side and most of the trucks move over and and give a wave.
The route follows the coast so amazing views, and have been joined by a few birds of prey flying above me (checking me out) for a few Ks, a great experience.
Right a quick empanada and back on the road, hopefully crack a 100km today!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

On the coast

We set off from Santiago on Sunday, riding through a few poor areas of the city before coming to the airport area which we cycled around to head to the mountains North West of the city. The road side was full of rubbish mostly plastic, the odd street dog was rumaging through it.
After the city outskirts the area was dominated by orchards mostly olives and some almond groves. We camped at the start of the pass at the side of the road on a great spot. 72kms.
Woke to ice on the tent then headed up the pass, another great day weather wise. Views to the coast to the west and the mighty andes to the east, with a peak at 6110m it is the highest I have ever seen!

Down into a lovely valley of small farms, and amazingly no rubbish! What a difference a mountain range makes. The crops turned to avocados and citrus. We stopped briefly at a National park, but cracked onto the coast. Ended up on the motorway for a short stint after a wrong turn. The area was now covered in industrial scale mono-crop orchards.
Arrived at the coast for a beers and empanadas at sunset. Awesome! Ended up camping just around the corner from the posh Radisson hotel (nipped in for a beer and to use their facilities!).
Got woken at 2am by the Police, but they left wishing me luck and said to call them if we need to!! There was 5 of them!

Headed north along the coast past loads of developments. Ended up at an amazing beach and stopped at lunchtime as Dani´s knee had started to play up. Got a great beach front cottage for bugger all, owner ran the shiop next door so happy days! 40kms.

Was ment to be a big day but as the coast road climbed and dropped Dani had to stop, so as we swung around into a very plush European riviera like resrot, Papudo, we stopped again. managed to link up with a helpful local who put us onto an amazing bay just north of the town and all its new develpoments. Beauty, camping for free, our own well, and couiple of kelp gatherers / fishermen for neighbours (they use donkeys to carry there harvest). He spent some time showing me the local flora, some edible plants and a bit of history, great!
Awesome sunset. 30kms.

No Tags but awesome Street Art

Here are some photos of some of the awesome street art I have seen and some messages that people have expressed. Great to something other than pathetic "tags" marking boys "territory". Should people be free to do this, is it criminal damage or free-speech...?
Don´t think they need transalating.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Get going

After a couple of weeks and 380kms of biking around Santiago, it is time to finally get on the road and head north. Dani arrived yesterday and her bike is all fixed together and looking good.
Here are a few pics from my riding around Santiago.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Weight watchers diet

I have been going through my kit desperatly trying to shave off a few kilo and with going out in the city coming to a close (BA been the next night spot) I have dropped a few luxuries;

Thick jacket
Wool hat
Elec shaver
Note book
Reading book
ankle clips
toe pedal clips
2 x socks
Front light
Camera (old)

Hopefully I don´t regret sending my thick Cactus jacket home (sent a few other bits with it). I have also managed to loose my bike mirror (now replaced) and my waterproof leggings, an essential item I have so far not managed to replace. I am also on the hunt for a tarpoline to use as a ground sheet protector.

With all the weight I will be pedalling up the many hills I had hoped to pile on a few pounds from endulging in the fine food and drink of Santiago. Unfortunately I have managed to loose over a kg (
down from 74 to 72.6kgs!) due to a few to many forced visits to the water closet (WC, bog, toilet, restroom. I refuse to call it a bathroom as there is, normally, no bath, sorry yankies ;) ), pedalling around the city, and a bit of a cold (man-flu) which knocked me back last week.
Keeping the weight on me and out of the panniers is going to be a constant battle I feel, a great excuse for stuffing my face though....:)

All the gear, and hopefully some idea....

Here is a list of all the gear I have, I will try and add some more detail to the techy bits later;

Diamond back toganda frame, forks, and seat post (Early 90s MTB, cost 85 kiwi)
Tubus rear and front rack, with additional rack mod to front
Riser handlebars
Ergon grips with bar ends
3 x waterbottle holders (two on frame and one on handle bar, which needs an adaptor clamp)
Speedo / odometer
8 speed derailleur, Shimano Deore
Front derailleur, Shimano (came with frame)
KMC chain
Sun Rhyno Lite rims (36h, 19")
DT Spokes
Hubs, Shimano Deore (36h, no disc)
Sram 8 speed cassette
Chain rings, Shiamno Tiagra
Pedals, Shimano (came with frame)
Tyres, Schwalbe marathon plus
Brakes, V brakes, Shimano deore XT
Brake leaver / Gear shifters, Shimano Tiagra
Mudguards, front and rear
Mirror (lost one, replaced)

Pair of Ortlieb back roller classics rear panniers
Pair of Ortlieb back roller classics front panniers
Top rack bag, Ortlieb rack pack 31 litre
Handlebar bag, Philips waterproof

Beanie / hat
Tube / neck warmer sunprotector / Buff
Clear eye protection
Cycling gloves
Skiing gloves
Allround shoes
Sandles / thongs
Thermal tops x 2
Jumper / Jersey
Windstopper Jacket
Fleece / L2 jacket
Waterproof Jacket
Waterproof leggings (lost)
Thermal leggings x 2
Cycling trousers
Hiking trousers
Thin trousers
Cycle shorts x 2
Pants x 4
Socks x 4
3 x t shirts
Casual top

Hi Viz
Head torch
Rear light
Pair of backup button lights
Wind up torch
neck purse / money holder
MP3 player
Camera (new)
Spare SD card (for camera)
Spare AA and AAA batteries
Mobile phone
Phone charger
USB cables x 2
Memory stick
Maps, varies
Stove, MSR
Fuel bottle, MSR
Water purifier, Katadyn
Stove field repair kit,
Swiss Army knife,
Cutlery, Bamboo
Guide book, Footprint
Bible (not due to religous purposes, it is the most popular book in the world so thought I should read it at some point!)
Note book
Back up spark fire lighter
Travel towel x 2, small
J cloth
Toilet roll
Ukulale, with tunner and songs
Condoms (never know your luck ;) )
Suncreen x 2, one 50 strength
Lip balm
Soap, liquid
Nail clippers (missing)
Tooth brush
Tooth paste
First Aid kit: Eye drops, bandage, Plasters, Tape, emergency blanket
Medical kit: diarrhoea pills, pain killer / anti inflammortory pills, malaria pills, hydration sachets, anti acid tabs, elbos oil, ginger tabs, vaccination record
Insect repellant, both balm and highDET spray
Copy of passports
Bank cards, Driving licence etc
Spare wallet with cancelled cards
Tent, Terra Nova Duolite, 2 man
Roll mat
Sleeping bag
Plastic bag, v.large
Lucky charms x 2

Spares and Tools
Multi Tool
4 and 5mm Allen Keys
Cone Spanners x 3
Spare Pump
Adjustable spanner, small
10mm Spanner
Chain braker
Cassette whip
Cassette adaptor / removal tool
Wire cutters
Plier multi tool
Half a hacksaw blade
Spoke key
Tyre levers
Puncture repair kit
Straps and bungie cords
Tie wraps, various
Elec insulation tape x 2
Gatha tape
Piece of compressed foam
Chain link
Chain, KMC
Brake blocks (complete) x 4
Brake replacement (rubber only) x 4
Brake Cable
Gear cable
Gear cable outer
Axles x 2
Spindle x 2
Spokes x 8, various
Inner tubes x 2
Tyre, folded, off road tred
Quill Stem bolt
Nuts and bolts
Ring clamps x 2
Wire, small piece
Chain lube

I get by with a little help from my friends

Great lyrics by the beatles. I have always believed it, but whilst travelling and lately it has become especially true.
I had loads of help from friends before I left, and since been in Santiago (for two weeks) I have had the pleasure of meeting up with a couple of friends of friends, been given many contacts from others, and only had to find digs (accomodation) for three nights accomodation, two on trips out of the city. It s like a snowball.
Cheers Caroline, Pato, and Yann!
The internet with its social network sites is an amazing tool for making and staying in touch with friends.
Two really useful sites for finding hosts / new friends are; massive with millions of hosts all other the world. I have hosted and stayed with friends off here. Great way to travel and hook up with locals and expats. purely for cycle tourists, a great way to get tips and advice on local routes etc, and of course a warm shower after been on the road. I m currently staying with a really helpful guy from this site.
Both are going to be mega useful on my trek.