Section, Part 2: Cycling the Salt Flats

Day 73: Uyuni to Atocha, 92K

I managed to catch a stomach bug that has been going around the group on our rest day, so I rode the bus this day.

The ride was down a highway the is being constructed, so detours off the road were inevitable. Once out of Uyuni the road was tarmac and flat. The landscape was vast desert with mountains on the horizon, much like we have been riding the last few days. I saw ample llamas, alpacas, and vicunas grazing on desert grass.

The detours were just paths made in the sand a few meters from the highway and one way. Usually made of deep sand. Sometimes if was only for a few hundred meters, others it was 10k.

As the road continued, the mountains made their way to the side of the new highway and towered over with varying shapes and features.

The last 15k of the ride was on dirt in a dry river bed towards our destination town. I fell asleep on the bus, but apparently it was good gravel and fun to ride.

Our camp was at a school. We could not set up tents until 1pm when the children left. Somehow several children escaped class early and were extremely excited for the gringos setting up dinner. One little girl became my buddy, she was adorable and precocious. She asked many questions and giggled a lot. When I went back on the bus to nap, she kept coming in to check on me and ask me questions. The staff kept shooing her away, and so she would shoo away other kids. My little protector. There were so many other kids gathered around the bus. It had to have been the highlight of their week!

We set up tents under a covered basketball court. Once everyone had their tents set up, a massive wind stormed through. It was the strongest winds we have experienced. Since we were on concrete there was no way to secure the tent guidelines into the ground. I was trying to rest and the sides kept collapsing in on me. Fearing that the poles would snap, I would brace sides with my hands. Even with the fly on top I still managed to get sand and grit in my eyes and all over the tent.

Day 74: Atocha to Silva, 75k

I felt 100% better this morning so I rode the bus to lunch to make sure I had enough energy. The morning ride was difficult with lots of steep climbing that reminded everyone of the Columbian rollers. The road out of town was through a river bed and the small streams of water were frozen over which made yet another obstacle for the day. The views were beautiful with more sculpted mountains with varying degrees of stone colors of grays, browns, reds, purples. The highway was still being constructed and many areas were once again diverted to dirt paths away from the main road. The tour staff managed to get permission for the riders to ride on the main road, regaurdless of level of completion. Bruce was having a great morning and bombed up and down the hills.

After lunch, around 55k, the road turned to very rough terrain with deep sand, scree, numerous dump trucks and other machinery. I was regretting starting the ride for lunch, not being warmed up physically or mentally for the ride. Luckily that mess only lasted a few kilometers then we approached smooth dirt road and a steep, switch backing climb that went up about 200 meters over 5k. IMG_3031 The views were stunning though, I stopped a few times for pics.

At the top of the climb we got to enjoy 5k of paved downhill. It was exhilarating! The views were amazing and you can’t beat fresh tarmac on a descent. There were still sections of construction with gravel, but overall a very fun downhill section.

At the bottom of the valley was a tiny town where our camp was set up. We camped in a soccer field behind a row of houses. Several of the guys missed the turn and continued on for a few kilometers. Bruce managed to be one. IMG_3038I tried to yell after him and wave my arms but it did not get his attention. I noticed that the road was still going downhill and did not want to climb back up in a headwind, so good luck buddy! He did manage to come back after realizing I was no longer behind him.



Day 75: Silva to La Quiaca, 122k

Friday the 13th, of course it would be a challenging day! The morning was significantly warmer than we have had over the last month.IMG_3044 Everyone was able to enjoy breakfast in shorts and a light jacket. Our ride began with riding through a river bed to avoid construction. The valley was stunning! Red rock mountains with intricate formations and bright green weeping willow trees lined the river bed and made for a perfect start to the day.  Great weather, beautiful scenery, dirt, and light traffic was the recipe for maybe one of my favorite mornings. After 23k we left the river bed and rode up a dirt path lined by willow trees, it was gorgeous, although it was only for a kilometer. We continued through desert highway construction  before hitting tarmac in a budding town. It wasn’t too busy, but everyone was making their way to work or school. The valley continued with the same beautiful red rocks and vast views. The road was a gentle downhill so Bruce and I were able to go a decent pace.

At 39k we approached a tunnel. In the direction meeting the night before we were instructed to go to the right of the tunnel since it was long and dark. When we got there there was flagging tape directing toward the tunnel, which we were supposed to follow, BUT the little tunnel to the right looked like an adventure so we went right. It was more light, but very deep rocks then towards the end it was blocked off and a deep ditch was at the bottom. We hoisted our bikes on our shoulders and walked to the left of the ditch to get though. Another rider was in the ditch with his very heavy bike, a local who was stopped ahead on the road, went down to help him with his bike to the road.

As we were getting ready to take off again, Bruce saw two riders in the dark tunnel and realized they were going slow. One of the riders had wrecked badly in the tunnel and was walking out slowly with a fellow rider. We tried to move him to a safe space and contact the tour staff. While assessing the injuries and truck stopped and a man jumped out saying he was a medic. The man and his wife were amazing and really helped with the situation. Right time right place! After an hour of assisting with the medics and translating, the tour truck was on the way. Bruce and I decided to continue on, knowing we still had 80k to ride and it was already 10am. I kind of hammered the next 20k hoping to make up time, but that only hurt me in the long run.

We had a long climb depicted on the elevation profile for the day, the tour staff said it shouldn’t be that bad. Its amazing how weather conditions can make a climb harder. After some rollers the climb started around 60k, we were to gain 600m over 15k. Not too difficult, but it ended up having so rollers which means steeper climbing. It was already mid day, the sun was hot, temps were over 30 degrees, which we are not used to at all. Also we climbed from 2800m to 3400m. My heart rate would not go down and I took many breaks with mental melt downs on the climb. It shouldn’t be that hard!!! At 69k the tour leader drove by too check on me and the few people behind me. I was happy to get a lift to lunch at the top of the climb since it was past 1pm.

After lunch we still had 40k to go of rollers at 3400m elevation and a border crossing! We had a delightful tailwind and downhill for the first 20k the the road turned and it was crosswind sometimes headwind for the remainder. Bruce and I were both fading fast. The sun and the heat were taking a toll on our energy levels, despite being on the road for almost 8 hours already.

We finally made it to the border town and luckily the border crossing was not difficult. However, the passport clerk locked herself out of the building, which was a outside walk up window for pedestrians. And that took 20 minutes or so to figure out, until they found a small border staffer to shove through the window to open the door from the inside.

We only had 2 kilometers to go after the border. Our camp was at a hotel for the night since we are in a busy border town. The hotel is very nice cozy. A treat for our exhausted bodies.

Day 76: La Quiaca to Humahuaca, 158k

Our longest distance day for the trip! The route was not difficult, but the headwind was horrible!! The tour leader said the wind prediction was a tailwind, so to our dismay the winds changed and it made for a challenging day. After leaving La Quiaca, we had a gradual uphill for about 20k. The road was a 2 lane highway without a shoulder, traffic was light but drivers did not give much room to pass cyclists.

After 20k we rode on a flat stretch for about 80k. The landscape was the Andean desert prairies, I noticed lots of llamas  grazing along the road. The flat stretch was grueling because the scenery was not exciting and it was headwind. We passed through a few small towns, but it seems like Argentinian towns are mostly away from the main road, this will become an inconvenience for Coke stops.

IMG_3061Lunch was around 75k, and everyone commiserated about the wind and long day ahead. Bruce arrived after me, and was not feeling well, he later got ride to camp.

Around 80k we began a 20k gradual climb, with some rollers. After finally reaching the summit close to 3800m, the landscape opened up into a canyon area with jagged rock mountains with varying colors surrounding the area. There was still headwind, but at least I was going downhill and the views were interesting. It s mind trick to be in a vastly open area and still not know which direction the road is going, because of the twists and turns. fullsizeoutput_792The lower the elevation the more vegetation started to pop up, trees near riverbeds, bushes with flowers, and cactus. Im excited to see something other than alpine desert grass again. I hammered away through the day, for once I was riding strong! On a long day like this I was able to keep my breathing under control and my mind positive. I packed bananas and energy gels, so I guess I need to eat more during the day to stay strong.

About 10k from camp the wind picked up even more and was infuriating to go forward, the headwind would almost push you backwards if you stopped.

The town we camped in was busy with tourists and had a plethora of hostels. We camped in a campground surrounded by trees and green grass, which is a significant difference from other camps lately.  I know everyone will sleep well tonight!

Day 77: Humahuaca to Yala, 113k

Downhill day!! On paper it was an easy day, but again with the horrific headwind and reckless traffic. Our beginning elevation was 2990m we dropped into the valley to 1490m at the end of the ride. IMG_3060The morning started out much cooler than anticipated. We retuned to the highway and stayed there for the reminder of the day. I spent the first 30 minutes trying to warm up, my hands were so cold they hurt. The valley continued to deliver beautiful mountains of varied colors and shapes. I spent a lot of time enjoying the scenery. Traffic was light in the early hours, but it picked up as the day progressed and I was driven off the road several times throughout the day. Later in there day I scored Argentina in my head for not paving the shoulder of the road, but then realized the U.S. is just as bad.

After lunch the headwind picked up really hard, and there was more climbing than I had realized. I was already frustrated with the wind and traffic, then add a 100m climb just for fun!

After 90k we started to descend significantly. The highway switchbacked for several kilometers, but it took more energy to duty up right in the wind that to enjoy the curvy descent. The lower we rode the more vegetation sprouted up, more trees, flowers, bushes. The mountains started to be covered in trees, something we haven’t seen since Ecuador. My favorite thing about Argentina so far is the smell of grilled meats! I passed several hostels and homes along the way and they all had smoke and the heavy scent of charred carne. After 112k, we finally turned off the highway onto a residential street. The street was lined with trees and beautiful big houses. We have not stayed in a residential neighborhood like this, especially one this similar to North America.

Our camp was at one of the houses that is used as an event space with several rooms. There was a party going on, so of course loud music. But everyone was laid back and, of course, grilled massive amounts of meat. It feels nice having the afternoon in an area that is like home.

Day 78: Yala to Salta, 113k

An absolute beautiful day!!! The birds were singing the sun was shining, a good day to ride a bike! We started back on the highway, but this time there was a wide shoulder to ride on and it was only for 12k. We turned off the highway onto a small suburban street that continued into a swanky neighborhood in the hills. Beautiful mountains on the right side and massive houses on the left. The road was quiet from traffic, which was a welcome change. IMG_3065We turned onto another road that went past a dam, it was nice to see water again. There were several different herds of cattle and horses grazing along the waters edge. The road continued along through a state park, which was even less traffic, specifically no semi trucks or tour busses. IMG_3067The road curvy narrowed and became tree lined, it was a lot of fun to ride. There was one long climb of about 10k gaining 300m of elevation, even being a 7% grade at times, I did not feel like I was working hard because of the scenery. It was almost like riding in a dream. IMG_3068After lunch we summited and exited a high plain of prairie lands with more views of the Andes. We descended into small towns and farmlands. The weather was crisp and comfortable, even though the sun was hot. We stopped at a campground for an ice cream, we first noticed the snack stand then realized it was a huge park with a lake in the middle for kayaking. For the first time riding into a rest day, I did not want the ride to end. IMG_3070We continued on the same road, I could not believe the beautiful old houses that had huge front porches inviting you to have a seat in the shade. We passed through a few suburbs of Salta, all having streets lined with shops and restaurants. As we entered Salta, the architecture was a mix of old and new. The streets were tree lined and colonial homes that have store fronts. Each major intersection had a cafe on each corner with patio seating. I am excited to see what the town has to offer; steak, empanadas and wine! This might have been one of my favorite riding days. I really hope the next riding section continues to be the same.


One response to “Section, Part 2: Cycling the Salt Flats”

  1. What an adventure! These are precious memories and so cool you are sending them out over the internet.

    Thanks for sharing.


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