Step 1: Register for Race Across America, the World’s Toughest Bicycle Race
Step 2: Train for Race Across America, the World’s Toughest Bicycle Race
Train? Oh yeah…well…can we at least make it an adventure?
Let’s go bike tour around South America…who’s in?
Oh, and can we have sweet mustaches?!?
Ryan Jean and I landed in Santiago, Chile with a single plan, a return flight to the United States two months later from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and that’s only because Customs required us to prove we’d eventually leave South America. We napped, assembled bikes, shaved mustaches, and rode downtown to get our bearings.
Within the first mile, er, kilometer, I realized that I should’ve tested my shoes. I could barely clip in, let alone clip out. I also noticed a slight (huge) wobble in the front wheel. After a night of taste-testing the local Chilean beers we found a bicycle street (all the bike shops in Santiago seemed to be on one block) and tracked down a mechanic who could understand my mix of Spanglish and Sign Language to fix the front wheel. Let’s roll!
We pedaled south, leaving the metropolis and our hangovers in favor of vineyards and rolling hills. Riding through the city was death defying and thrilling. We escaped with only one minor incident, I side swiped a taxi with my saddle bag, oops! Ryan, an accomplished trans-con bicycle tourist had no problem getting into gear. The next day Ryan was showing me how to do tricks on my touring bike by jumping it off curbs. I followed his lead, hit the ground, and heard a crash and watched my saddle bag (with my laptop) go rolling across the highway into the opposing lane. That was about the extent of my bike tricks!
We planned to “stealth camp” for free and the first night sprawled out in a flat spot beside the highway. That night a couple of Gouchos trained their horses in the clearing next to us and I woke up in the middle of the night to a stray dog sniffing through the mesh of my tent. Oh well, it can only get better, right?
Wrong. The second night we worked harder to find a quite place and trekked up some discrete trails above the highway. In the middle of the night we woke to two lamps heading our way. We called out as two Chilean teens approached and tried to make Spanglish conversations with them. The language barrier proved to be too strong for conversation, but once I noticed their shotgun, shit got real… Actually, it didn’t. They said “Ciao” and walked away, leaving us alone and shaken, but they never returned to steal our gear and decapitate us, and we lightly slept through the rest of the night.
Luckily, camping got a lot easier after that! We cruised past rolling vineyards in Central Chile for several days, but after sweating through the heat we decided we needed the ocean breeze. So, after consulting the gas station map, we turned west and a few days later reached the cool crisp Pacific air.
Unfortunately, as soon as we reached the beach I had my first bout of stomach issues. That’s putting it light…in reality, I spent a night crawling out of my tent on the beach and dispelling everything from my body every 20 minutes. I actually thought Ryan needed to call an ambulance, but the sun rose and the next day we rented a Cabaña so I could rest before pressing on. (Author’s Note: I still can’t eat empanadas without feeling nauseous…)
As we moved further south along the coastline it reminded us of Oregon with logging operations, rolling hills, and rugged ocean cliffs. It was absolutely gorgeous country. We were also off the main ‘gringo trail’ and only met one other bicycle tourist. Many times we stopped in small towns for meals and the restaurant owners invited us in like family, watching over our bikes and gear while we devoured whatever was on their daily menu. For the first two weeks of the trip the only natural English we spoke was to each other, the rest was just us making fools of ourselves, working hard to relearn Spanish!
After 2 weeks of biking, stealth camping, box wine drinking, and getting lost more times than we could count (if you don’t have a detestation, are you ever really lost?), we found ourselves in Concepción, Chile. With only 2 months in South America we tracked down an overnight bus from Central Chile to Puerto Montt, the gateway to Patagonia, loaded the bikes, and settled into the reclined bus seats for the next leg of our adventure…Patagonia.