Across the barren lifeless martian landscape the tyres rolled. Our elevation profile showed some nice climbs for the following 8 days, a mixed bag of rideable and pushable surfaces. Our first morning, we found ourselves face to face with The Dune of Doom. A 200m sandy haul that’d take the best part of 45 minutes to cover about 700m. Somehow an ATV had driven up here a few years back judging by the old tyre tracks. I was puzzled as to how They did not roll down the dune to their death. Rodent holes threatened to roll our ankles, I couldn’t think of a worse place in the world to have an injury.
Beyond the dark side of the dune was a beautiful vega, water still mostly frozen from the night before. Some vicunas skirted the peripheries chewing grass and lapping up the agua dulce, whilst Toby and I cowered from the wind beside a dilapidated old refugio.
Lunch time, like all times, were times to be cherished. I had cooked lunch most days since departing Punta Arenas with Clayton 7 months ago. Toby had now adopted the ritual too, I think the time to stop, observe, and did wonderful things to our morale.
It seems out here in the Puna that most of the time, you can’t maintain a speed over 8km/hr. The downhills pass at +30km/hr and are over before you know it, then its straight into a sandy hike a bike or another extended soft climb. As a result, climbing entails 90% of rideable time.
After 8 days I discovered a new world of possibilities. Tyre PSI of around 6. Magically, life became infinitely easier, somehow the ratio of effort to gearing found some sort of balance making my wheels turn with enough momentum to actually get somewhere. I passed Toby pushing his bike for the first time in 9 days and suggested he follow suit. Sure enough, two minutes later he passed me with a smile on his face. “Why had we not done this 5 days ago” we lamented.
Mount Antofagasta soon came into view as we neared the top of our pass. To the north a salty lake filled with flamingos, to the south, our fading tyre tracks and a sandy discolouration extending to the dune of doom. Our downhill was a letdown, unrideable, soft and sandy. But such was the allure to this area. Silence (s)and solitude. As the wind picked up, the wisdom keepers of the Andes, whispered their apologies.
The setting sun cast the mountain shadow, the chill of night soon to follow. Cowering behind the few rocks in the area we cooked up the last of our vegetables without saying too much. Exhausted, ready for the comforts of a warm sleeping bag where I could escape reality into book world.
Our connection with the wisdom keepers, especially Mt Antofagasta only got stronger over the day as we made our way up its 4900m pass. A climb that extended forever, due only to the soft sand. Mostly rideable up until 4600m, before the gradient aggressively rose, and our cardio couldn’t keep up with the oxygen demands.
We rode down the pass in the late afternoon, sand still arduously soft we decided to detour on an old dried out riverbed, despite the extra mileage, the sounds of the cracking barreal were a nice change from the howling wind.
We bunkered down in a luxurious rock refugio that came with a complimentary visitor. A very photogenic fox who hung around for most of the afternoon, inspecting our movements.
Thankful for the escape from the wind Toby and sat down with a cup of tea. I gave out an uncontrollable laugh and smile, and Toby followed. A mutual laugh that reaffirmed the ridiculousness of current existence. Although our daily mileage was crippled by soft sand and brutal winds, our morale seemed to soar higher, only growing with the daily challenges, overdosing in ecstasy of the high mountains.
We had heard rumours from Casper that there was a German couple walking it with carts coming from the north. Apparently, the couple had only met a few months before, got carts built up in Bolivia, and fuelled by the love that comes with new relationships, had decided to walk the entirety of the Seis Miles Norte Route. A perfect compatibility test. They had capacity for 30l of water, and provisions for close to 30 days food. Following the same road, you’d think that paths would align, but as we headed off into the early morning, we noticed the first signs 2 sets of thin tyre tracks extending off to the south. Ships in the night, we’d missed them. In total awe, I took a shortcut following their tracks to the edge of a 200m sand dune. I looked down the 30degree sandy mess at their heroic efforts that must have taken the best part of 3 hours.
*I haven’t been in contact with them , so if anyone has any leads please get us in touch!
The days slowly ticked away and our bikes became infinitely easier to power, but so it goes, hours on the bike felt infinitely longer. In an Abandoned church of Mina La Casualidad, we watched the full moon rise over the remnants over human failure, whilst two starving dogs cowered at the door pleading for food. The irony of us following exploratory mining roads finding unfathomable beauty, was a stark contrast to their true intended use.
Route Credit: This route was created by Taneli at gonebikefishing.com