Hitting The Big Time

Captin Jack Sparrow

Having finally outrun the snow and rain in my race north through Patagonia I could again enjoy the simplicity of cycling and camping. I reached a trio of significant milestones: 20,000 miles cycled, £30,000 raised for the amazing charity War Child and two years on the road. Naturally this got me thinking about my journey.

Two week rest in Mendoza and Santiago revitalised my body and mind. It also gave me a chance to address some persistent problems. For six months the spokes on my back wheel had been breaking with frightening regularity. Out of spares and unable to buy the correct size in South America I spent a week in Santiago having my back wheel rebuilt. However, within four days of setting off three spokes had already broken.

One afternoon a couple of days out of Mendoza I was at the side of the road cursing another broken spoke when a car pulled over. Out jumped three friendly Argentines offering a lift a few miles to the next town. After a bit of persuasion I agreed to join Emanuel, Cristian and Pocho. We chatted in Spanish as they passed round beers and soon I was invited to a ‘disfrases’ party. Unsure what disfrases meant and due to the beer only slightly nervous about where I was being taken, I readily agreed. Emanuel invited me to stay with him for the weekend and join him at a traditional Argentine asado (BBQ) the following day. I soon forgot about the broken spoke.

It transpired that disfrases means fancy dress. I politely declined the initial offer of a lycra Robin outfit in favour of a more befitting & manly Captain Jack Sparrow pirate costume. So this was how I came to be drinking Fernet and dancing to cumbia at 6am in a hall in central Argentina with superman, a smurf, a Viking et.al.

Feeling a little hazy on Sunday, Emanuel and I went to the birthday asado where fifty locals had gathered for the most popular of Argentine pass times – meat eating. Watching the men (it took six) working on the BBQ was fascinating. There was an intricate system to burn the wood to make charcoal. There were then two further stages before it was used to cook the meat. As I was marvelling at this process two men wandered in with guitars and began singing traditional folk music. Later, chatting to the locals and gorging myself on the feast, I felt extremely privileged to be there. It’s moments like these that make all the difficulties and hardships of travelling by bicycle worth it. A real insight, albeit brief, into the lives of the people whose countries I cycle through is priceless.

Red Mountains

As I traveled north through Argentina I began to notice the world around me change. The people, landscapes, climate, language and even the food were slightly different. The changes were only subtle but as I moved slowly north, Argentina began to more closely resemble what I had expected South America to look and feel like. I saw giant cacti and brilliant red mountains with growing regularity. I found myself in endless expanses of sandy deserts struggling with the heat. Cycling through Talampaya National Park I had my first 35°C day for almost a year and was reminded how it feels to have both sweat and sun cream pour into my eyes. Amazingly the temperature could still dip as low as -10°C overnight, cold enough to freeze my water bottles.

Celebrations for my 2 year anniversary were low key. My diary notes:  ”Oh yea, nearly forgot, two years on the road”. Though hitting this milestone did get me thinking about my ride and if I might be suffering from the law of diminishing returns. To a certain degree this is probably natural after such a long time. However cycling alone is a different experience “an addictive mix of dormant fear and potent independence” (Rich Conyngham). Also I am on a continent that I have never explored before. Though I am glad to have cycled solo for a long stretch I do prefer company. Someone to share the highs and the lows of life on the road as well as a few laughs; I sorely miss family and friends. This journey is undoubtedly the greatest experience of my life. I have learnt much about myself and the world as I cycle slowly around it and I would not swap these years or this experience for anything. It has given me a slightly different outlook and made abundantly clear what is important to me in life.

Hitting £30,000 in donations for War Child was an amazing feeling. Each and every donation is always a boost but this is a huge milestone. Andy and I are very proud to have raised so much money for War Child but in truth the thanks must go to you. It is only through the generosity of others that this has been achieved. It has significantly helped War Child to keep doing their incredible and essential work helping children living in conflict zones. Click here and here for more info on the wonderful work War Child do and to make a donation please click here – every pound makes a difference!

After a poor nights sleep, kept awake by a pack of wild dogs chasing flea bitten donkeys around outside my tent, I decided to take a couple of days rest in Cafayate. It’s an idyllic town, the kind you find on picturesque postcards. Encircled by vineyards and bodegas, tourists flow through the town in search of a good drop. Whilst there I even managed to find some malbec ice cream – a local speciality.

The road to Cachi

Heading north I decided not to take the direct, paved road downhill into Salta. Instead I opted for a beautiful but challenging path. Over two days I rode 100 miles out of my way to Cahci, a pretty little town in the Quebrada de las Conchas. There was no road so I had to climb 1,000 meters on a predominantly sand track. My wheels often sank into the soft surface and I was left pushing the bike for long stretches whilst the wind tickled my face. The route was beautiful and passed some unique rock formations which glowed orange at sunset. Progress was so difficult however, I found it hard to really enjoy my surroundings.

In Cachi I sampled more homemade ice cream before getting a good night’s sleep. I had to climb another 1,000 meters, though thankfully this was on a paved road. I left early to make this climb but it took many hours. Late in the afternoon I reached the pass at 3,500 meters and was rewarded with a sumptuous view. The road down the other side of the mountain reminded me of a section of the Tour de France; there were more switchbacks than I could count. The road looked as disorganised as a plate of spaghetti, a mess of wild twists and turns. As I dropped 2,000 meters in just 30 miles of road on the Cuesta de Obispo I could not wipe the grin off my face.

Cuesta del Obispo

The following day I reached Salta and enjoyed a few days rest with a local cyclist. My plan after Salta had been to cross the Andes over to Chile and from there take an extremely remote border crossing into South West Bolivia to see the lakes, volcanoes and flamingos of that region. However a friend was flying out to see me in Bolivia and I did not have enough time to take this stunning but slow route. So instead I had to settle for the road leading from Argentina into Bolivia with the seven coloured rock.

2 Responses to “Hitting The Big Time”

  1. Rob says:

    The scenery looks fantastic!

    Really like how you summed up what your epic journey is about, raising money for charity, but also those amazing moments when you unexpectedly are welcomed by strangers.

    Great read :-)

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