Jun 162015


To paraphrase Dr Seuss; don’t be sad that it is over, be happy that it happened.

I’ve deliberated substituted cry for sad and smile for happy.  It’s not the physical action, it’s the emotion that I cling to.

The photo above has me looking like a dishevelled Fonz, I’m only missing the double thumbs up.  As the main character in Happy Days, it really couldn’t me more apt.

It was taken on what was probably the physically hardest day of the entire trip.  Not quite, but virtually, at the top of a six hour climb; Piedra del Molino.  Whilst I take a large dose of satisfaction that I managed to get to the top, the knowledge I had the gumption to think I could do it, to try, is the pure essence of what this whole trip was about.

I rolled the furry dice and took a chance.

My time left in Argentina now counted in days rather than weeks is all too apparent to me.  I feel I’m slipping, slipping down the slope, like a climber falling down the snowy side of a mountain desperately trying to arrest his fall with an ice axe.

I’m not slipping to my death, I’m merely returning to the land of my birth.  Returning to my friends and family.  I’m not swinging an axe to arrest my fall, I’m recalling memories.

A few weeks ago, I took my mind back to Ushuaia and started recounting the trip in my head.  Apart from when I travelled with Jan, my Norwegian friend, I could remember every single place I camped, a mental picture of the area, the road, the trees, where the tent was.

Every single one.

The fact I could recall that level of detail over such a long period really made me think.  Maybe it shows the intensity I felt during those periods alone.  It definitely must show that I considered where I was going to camp, weighing up if it was a good idea or not.

Sometimes I wish I was that free spirit, the relaxed individual who doesn’t think so much, who truly doesn’t care.  Inside me though is a fire that wants to do ‘things’ well, to find a way to make things better, to improve and pass that on.

Give me something mechanical and I’ll take it apart to find out how it works, I want to know so I can try and fix it if it breaks.

Before this trip I did the same thing with my body to find a way to allow it to cycle vast distances.  Although I didn’t take it apart….I read and read and read to educate myself and find a way to fix my specific problems.  It worked, the dodgy knees didn’t fail me, they might have reminded me at times they weren’t happy but I knew what to do.

The mental side is much harder, I’m not even sure it is possible to self diagnose what is causing you issues and find a way to fix it.  You need a second brain.  It’s easier to have another person.

You’ll find a wealth of information on the internet about bikes, equipment, routes, training but never anything about coping strategies for mental struggles.

If you dare to talk about it, often the advice is ‘Man up’, HTFU, ‘grit your teeth’, ‘get on with it’.   Put what you are feeling in a box and shut the lid.


I’d rather try and work out why it’s happening so I can try to prevent it happening again.  But that’s just me.  I’m trying to improve myself as an individual, to grow, to evolve, to be more than I believe I can be.

I’m trying to live rather than exist.  To enjoy my life and spread as much love and happiness around as I can.

Am I sad it is over?

How can I be?

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May 302015

Upon leaving Chilecito I followed ruta 40 north through more inhospitable land, passing Londres (yes London) amongst other places.  The Argentine version is somewhat smaller than the English one.

One particular desolate valley showed up on my map as being part of the 2014 Dakar rally.  Thankfully I had a gorgeous tailwind so was soon across it.  Not a place you would want to get stuck in.

Upon reaching the next valley and the towns of Santa Maria and Cafayate the scenery changed once more, back to rolling vineyards similar to the area around Mendoza.  This is the other wine growing region in Argentina.

Taking ruta 68 out of Cafayate, I crossed east once more into another valley where the weather became cold and damp.  Then through the capital of the north, Salta, passed Jujuy and started climbing the Humahuaca valley.

The altitude steadily increased from around 1,200m topping out at 3,780m.  The night time/morning temperature dropping the higher I went.  Well below freezing up high, a novel camping experience.

The Argentine road finishes at La Quiaca, cross the bridge and you are in Bolivia and Villazon.

This was the furthest north I went, apart from spending around an hour and a half in Bolivia procuring cash (a much more favourable exchange rate) and renewing my Argentine visa by re-entering the country.

It wasn’t the end of the cycling as after a rest I turned round, pointed my wheels at the roads less travelled and went south.  More photos to come.

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May 182015


The five year old boy who rode out of Watford ten months ago didn’t have a clue about what was in front of him.  He knew he just had to pedal, enjoy the glint of an English summer, drying his tears as he went.  The built up emotion of packing his life away into a few bags and his bicycle finally broaching his dam.

The tears wouldn’t last, he had worries though.  He was inside the body of a 38 year old man with a history of knee problems and a dubious left shoulder.  Would the big adventure end before it had even had a chance to begin?

He dearly hoped not.

On through a European summer he pedaled.  Across the blissful cycle paths of the Netherlands, through the wet German forests.  Down to Switzerland for a photograph, replicating one taken 22 years before at the meeting of the three countries.


France was next, oh la belle France, camembert and baguettes, such a wonderful place to cycle.  The hills getting steeper as he neared the Pyrenees, the worry of his knees playing on his mind.  They were stronger now and they got him up and over the Pyrenees into Spain.

Up and down he rode, heading for the most westerly point  The north of Spain is anything but flat.  The rain came.

It was October and Spain was wet near the coast.  Turning a corner he was confronted by the Atlantic Ocean, no further west to ride.


Camped on a spit of land sticking out into the Ocean, a gale came.  The tent held, the morning came, the glow of crossing Europe and not having been blown into the sea plastered all across his face.

I had made it, little old me with my dodgy knees.

That was my warm up.  A test ride, to see if mind and body could tolerate this life.  My confidence grew, no longer projecting myself in the third person.

It wasn’t a five year old boy who flew to South America to chase a dream, it was a nervous, apprehensive man.

I had a vague idea this was going to be somewhat more difficult than cycling around Europe.  The weather of southern Patagonia scared me long before I arrived.

I went anyway.  I had to try.

To the very south of the inhabited world.  To Ushuaia, Argentina in the Land of Fire, 54 degrees south.  The very bottom of South America.

Sailors say that below 40 degrees south, there is no law, below 50 degrees south, there is no God.

I cycled out of Ushuaia on a beautiful day.  Was this a carefully laid trap by the elements, to get me moving, away from civilisation and into the wild before it hit me with it’s full force?


It waited a few days, allowing me to get comfortable with riding once more before the intensity was turned up.  I camped one day at 11am, demoralised.  Unable to find the energy to continue battling against the wind.

What had I done? It was a dream to cycle here?


The night I rode out of Argentina towards Chile into a blowing gale as the sun set etched into my memory.

Riding through the darkness, into the teeth of the wind, managing no quicker than walking pace for five hours.

Dawn came and illuminated a small hut by the side of the road.  Sleeping the day before cycling through the following night, trying to find a gap in the wind.

A mostly futile endeavour.


A calm day allowing me to pass and leave the Isla de Terra del Fuego, hopes high that the worst of the weather was behind me.  This to be cruelly dashed further down the line.

Across the wide valleys of southern Chile, past the windiest point, they had marked it with a monument.

Always against the wind, on and on I went.  A couple of fellow cyclists heading the same way, making a three man peloton.  Taking it in turns to break the wind for the others, friendship born in an instant.


After a month, the crushing headwinds were behind me and the Carretera Austral stretched in front for a thousand kilometres.

A road winding through the low mountains, a mixture of gravel and tarmac connecting isolated villages.  Scores of cyclists past, heading south, enjoying a few weeks holiday riding this glorious piece of road.


A diversion to the Isla de Chiloe proving not to be the smartest move, brutally steep hills and little opportunity to wild camp.  Onwards out of Chile, into Argentina’s Lake District.

Tourists flock here in their droves, the money the locals have being obvious.  People cycling and jogging for fun.

It wasn’t long before I left the crowds of tourists behind and became the lonely foreigner struggling with his basic Spanish.  The beautiful riding and ease of obtaining water petered out.


Across desert land, the huge wide open valleys with vegetation no higher than my knee allowing the wind to attack with the ferocity of a Patagonian gale.

Only here it was hot, wiping the sweat straight off my brow before I had time to notice it.  Dehydration was the battle, there is no torture better than an unquenchable thirst.  I drank over 9 litres of water one day.

The only clouds I saw in weeks were the dark clouds of loneliness.  I was a mere speck in an intimating environment punctuated by short intervals of broken Spanish with locals, usually to just obtain food, water or accommodation.


The riding, although hard, is beautiful in it’s simplicity.  Turning the pedals becomes the same as walking.  Listening to my body and taking days off when needed.  I could do that for the next year, or more.  It’s just a routine, cycle, eat, drink, sleep, rest and repeat.  Altering the quantities of each as needed.

This was a dream.  Dreams are figments of your imagination, aspirations filled with enjoyment.  Romance covering the cracks.

To carry on ‘living a dream’ when it is blatantly apparent to myself that the enjoyment has evaporated would be stupid.  To carry on because I said I was going to, would be stupid.

To stop now before I sully all the memories with internal angst and self pity is the choice I am making.

Life is too short to blindly carry on doing something that your heart isn’t in anymore.  I’ve made the decision over many weeks of soul searching, to be sure this is what I want.

The top of Argentina, the border town of La Quiaca is the furthest north I am going.  I’m spending the next few weeks cycling in northern Argentina before returning to the UK.


Regret has the potential to eat you up from inside.  I don’t regret a thing.  What a wonderful, life affirming trip I’ve had for the last ten months.

I’ve taken my comfort zone and beaten the living daylights out of it.  I’ve raised my ceiling and I hope that those looking on from afar can see that they too are capable of much more.  You just have to try.

You take what you want from this life, you have a choice.

I could choose to be sad that I only made it a quarter of the way from Argentina to Alaska or I could choose to be happy that I made it a quarter of the way from Argentina to Alaska……

I only need to measure it against what that earlier version of me thought he was capable of.

He would say, “Denners, you smashed it out of the park!”.

I know him and trust him, so I’m happy to take his word for it.  After all he is the only one who will ever know everything I have experienced on this journey.

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Apr 272015

I left Mendoza by the back door.  I did something I have a phobia against, I went back the way I came.  Mainly to avoid a climb up to 3,000m.

Heading south out of Mendoza, I picked up Ruta 7 which climbs to Uspallata via Potrerillos.  At Uspallata you can go west across to Chile.  It is the main link between Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina.

I went north following the Uspallata valley with a little detour to Leoncito National Park before continuing through Barreal to Calingasta.  I then headed east back to Ruta 40 at Talacasto (not a town….) before once more heading north to San Jose de Jachal.

Passing over into the adjacent valley I went through Guandacol and Villa Union before a more serious climb up to the Cuesta de Miranda.  The road here was closed due to it having fallen down the mountainside but with the help of the construction workers I got my bike through and headed down to Chilecito.

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Apr 222015


I haven’t written for a while.  The reason is I’ve wanted to give up.  I’ve felt like it’s too much.  It’s no fun, I am not enjoying it.

I had written several posts back in March about how hard I was finding it, how the elements were grinding me down.  I realised then why so many books about long distance cycle tours are boring at best.  Because all you get is a repetitive stream of the author saying how hard everything is and how tired they are, mentally and physically……

It was boring me.  In a desire to describe the reality of the situation you suck the life out of the adventure.  Yeah we get it Iain, it’s not easy.  In truth, perspective dictates how hard a person finds it.  Sure the hills don’t change from one person to another unlike the weather but how an individual approaches it makes all the difference.

Unfortunately for me, my personality leaves me open to feeling the set backs more than some.  I take it badly when things don’t go as I planned.  This often happens, being at the mercy of the climate on a bicycle.
I so want to be that carefree, free spirit who doesn’t get ruffled.  I can play that individual when circumstances are going as I foresaw.

The true measure (am I being measured?) of an individual is how they react in adversity.  I am falling down at that hurdle.

My default reaction is to get myself out of the situation one way or another and to set about avoiding a reoccurrence.

When that adversity is wind, rain, sun or lack of drinking water you can’t avoid it.  My mind then turns to thoughts of giving this up and returning home.

Sucked in to the tornado of all the good things I envisage being able to do, eat or see upon getting back to England.  Even the thought of the flight and sitting watching new movies drinking free wine livened my spirits at one point.  That’s how far off the radar I had fallen.

I carried on because I couldn’t leave anything unfinished here.  This trip isn’t something I would anticipate repeating, upon failing the first time.  It is all or nothing.  If part of me still craves the open road and all that goes with it I have to go on.

To return home, enjoy the trappings and luxury of life in the UK (compared to South America) within a week or two, then to feel even an ounce of regret, would eat me up.

I put my feelings of trepidation to one side and went again.  It wasn’t great, out in the big wide open valleys with just knee high bushes for company, no clouds in the sky.

There is nowhere to hide.  The dark clouds of loneliness follow me, just a speck in a vast landscape, occasionally punctuated by a fast moving vehicle heading down the straight roads jolting me out of whatever thoughts I’ve sunk into.

I go on because, out there, there is no choice.  Coming across a tree or a derelict building is a highlight, an opportunity to get out of the sun or the wind; on a bad day, both.

It’s a lonely business cycling in this environment where shade is a long lost friend.  The magic powers of even just ten minutes in it’s company rejuvenate me, allowing me to continue with a little less despair and trepidation.

Is this the way I want to live my life?  Is this actually what is happening? or is it just the way I construe events in my own mind and describe it to match my mood?

I still get between the places of safety, of food, of water, sometimes it takes longer than anticipated but I get there.  The whole sinking into despair is just a construct of my mind, a choice I make.

Riding a bicycle long distances is just one big mind game.  The physical side of it, is generally whatever you make it.  In my entire life, I’ve never been fitter than I am now.  I wasn’t four and a half months ago when I began.  It comes with the territory.

I’ve recently alluded to suffering with the whole trip and have been overwhelmed once more with the messages of support and encouragement.

“You can do it”.  “Keep going”.  “I’m Inspired by you”.

The ups and downs I go through are no different from anyone’s life, maybe mine are just magnified and obvious.  You can choose how to react to situations, it’s not easy, there are constant battles.  It is different for everyone.  It depends on your perspective on how you perceive situations.

You carry on regardless, repeating the same mistakes until something knocks you out of it, or you don’t….

You live your life and when your time is up you wish you hadn’t spent so much time doing something you didn’t enjoy.  You wish you had tried that ‘thing’, whatever it was that you loved but you didn’t think you could.

I’m just riding a bicycle but it causes an outpouring of support and encouragement from all sorts of people.

People I admire, people I love, people I look up to, people I think are better than me, people I don’t even know.

Think about that.  How simple is this.  I ride a bike, something I love doing. But I do it in such a way that others think it is amazing, that they can’t do.  They use words like respect, epic, amazing, unbelievable, inspiring, to describe me?


That isn’t me.  I’m just Iain Denley from Watford.

But it is.

All these people are just people, they are just like me, they are scared, they are held back by their insecurities, their fears, worries of what the future might hold, they wish they had the guts to do what other people do.

So everyone of you that sits and reads these words and thinks I am amazing, you are too.  You do have it in you.

Go follow your dreams, go chase that ‘thing’ that you would love to do in life.  Choose carefully, choose wisely and choose your mind-set.

You do have a choice.  If you are worried what others may think if you fail then I am going to break a habit here and use someone else’s words.

The Man in the Arena – Theodore Roosevelt, 23rd April 1910

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

After a period of rest and reflection I shall roll out on to the road once more.  To continue the debate with my insecurities, my worries and fears.

I have to.  I must try.

They are just a construct of my own mind, designed to keep me safe.  I must thank them, listen to them, whilst telling them to be quiet, it’ll be ok.

It always is.

And do me one favour, go do your ‘thing’, just try, because if Iain Denley from Watford is amazing, then so are you.

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Apr 052015

I left Loncopué and headed out on the ripio to El Hueco and El Cholar before taking a break in Chos Malal.  I then took the road less travelled via Laguna Trumen and down to Barancas.

From there I went via Bardas Blancas on to Malargue.  Passing through El Sosneado I took what is sign posted as ruta 101 (some maps call it ruta 40) via the hydroelectric dam at Rio Diamente and some lonely bad ripio on to Pareditas.

After Pareditas it was a tarmac run through into Mendoza on ruta 40.

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Mar 292015


The time since the last post, El Agua es Vida, has been yet another tale of woe.  I’m not going to regale it at length once more.  It’s too much for me and more than likely, for you.

In Summary; Items to fail over a 3 day period:-

Tyre – One with sidewall ripped, patched at roadside.  Second is damaged but serviceable.

Cooking stove – unable to fix whilst camping on sand.  Subsequently repaired.

Cycle computer – fixed at roadside after some fiddling

The weather – It rained a lot, the wind came back and it was freezing cold at times.

My head – Twice, on consecutive days.  Repair is an ongoing process.

The Picture Story

It started well, the weather fine and stunning views.

It started well, the weather fine and stunning views.

The road climbing higher and higher, the altitude starting to affect me.

The road climbing higher and higher, the altitude starting to affect me.

A long, long, slow descent on a bad road interrupted by gauchos herding their cows in the morning.

A long, long, slow descent on a bad road interrupted by gauchos herding their cows in the morning.

The beautiful cloud formations grasping my attention, blissfully unaware of the damage being done to my tyres.

The beautiful cloud formations grasping my attention, blissfully unaware of the damage being done to my tyres.

Camp spot at end of day 3.  A sandy lava field, the stove fails.  Then it starts to rain.

Camp spot at end of day 3. A sandy lava field, the stove fails. Then it starts to rain.

Morning of day 4, it's raining and utterly miserable.

Morning of day 4, it’s raining and utterly miserable.

At lunchtime, someone kindly lets me rest in their garage.  The rain doesn't let up.

At lunchtime, someone kindly lets me rest in their garage. The rain doesn’t let up.

It rained all day, evening and night, everything was wet.  Then on the morning of day 4 it was still raining.

It rained all day, evening and night, everything was wet. Then on the morning of day 4 it was still raining.

Reaching the tarmac section, I pumped up my tyres, only to notice the inner tube bulging through the sidewall of the tyre.  I had a tyre patch as a temporary repair, also swapping the damaged tyre to the front wheel.

Reaching the tarmac section, I pumped up my tyres, only to notice the inner tube bulging through the sidewall of the tyre. I had a tyre patch as a temporary repair, also swapping the damaged tyre to the front wheel.

The lowest point of the entire trip.  I broke down at this point, the cracks in my mind opening fully, a torrent of emotion poured uncontrollably out of me.  Not able to see more than 50m in front, I had no idea I was at the top of the pass.  A motorist stopped to check I was alright.  He gave me a half drunk bottle of coke and a full one of sprite, everything he had.  Told me I was at the top and it was downhill from here.  I could see the fatherly concern in his eyes but he didn't know what to say.

The lowest point of the entire trip. I broke down at this point, the cracks in my mind opening fully, a torrent of emotion poured uncontrollably out of me. Not able to see more than 50m in front, I had no idea I was at the top of the pass. A motorist stopped to check I was alright. He gave me a half drunk bottle of coke and a full one of sprite, everything he had. He told me I was at the top and it was downhill from here. I could see the fatherly concern in his eyes but he didn’t know what to say.

I arrived into Malargue later that evening exhausted physically and mentally.  It had been the second longest day of the entire trip.  The thought of getting somewhere dry and warm over riding all other considerations.

Am I pushing my limits?

Undoubtedly.  This isn’t a cake walk.  I never thought it would be but I had no idea how hard I would find it.  The limits are currently mental not physical.  My brain can’t keep up with what my body can now do.

How do I keep going?

Just spin the pedals and one day I will arrive at my destination of choice.  So very true and the maxim I use on a daily basis.  Everything else is just noise, a distraction from the simplicity of this endeavour.  So simple to write, so very difficult to put into practice.

Do I continue to step over my line, to break my ceiling and rebuild the pieces each time? 

So far the answer is yes, although it’s not a nice place to live in, the benefits too far in the future to appreciate in the now.

Why continue?

Common wisdom would say ‘If you have to ask then you wouldn’t understand the answer’.  There is, I feel some truth to that.

I thought I would enjoy this trip, parts of it I certainly have.  However I guess I was naïve to think that cycling the length of the Americas would, overall, be a fun thing to do.  Cycling across Europe in the summer was for the most part, fun.  That was a (very nice) holiday compared to this.

This is a challenge, a very big one.  One I set for myself without understanding what I was letting myself in for.  I did it partly for that reason.  I choose this path so I need to be happy with overcoming the challenges in my way and take satisfaction from that.  The fun days may come, but I can’t just give it all up when stuff gets really hard but I overcome it.

I said I cracked at the top of the pass (in the last photo), well I did but I still got myself to my destination as planned, with a temporary patch on the front tyre and a heavy heart.

I guess to give up today and come home is self pity I’m feeling, not defeat.  When I need to get rescued and hitch a lift to the next place of safety because I’ve misjudged something or damaged something critical then I need to reassess.

But I’m not there yet.

Tomorrow I go again.  A new (crap) tyre on the bike, stove functioning again, head improved (partly thanks to a haircut), clean clothes and a clean, rested body.

How many more times can I reset and go again?  I don’t have an answer.

My choices, not fate, will decide that.

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Mar 262015


After a couple of days rest in the town of Loncopué I left on a Monday morning.  As I pedaled up the hill out of town there was no power in my legs.

Sometimes after a rest it’s hard to get going again, I’m not sure if it is partly mental, but your body has shut down for a few days and needs a reminder what it’s supposed to do.  So I ignored it.

The wind was blowing in my face a bit so it wasn’t overly surprisingly, I thought.

I was heading out in to a wide valley, the next town some 60 or 70km to the north.  I constantly have this issue.  Road signs contradict each other on distances, I end up hedging my bets most times.  That 10km could be significant.

I knew there wasn’t much water, I could see a couple of rivers on my map but a fair distance between them, so not wanting to get caught out, I was going to fill up given the opportunity.  Fill up in this case was my three bottles which equates to 3 litres.

After an hour I started thinking something was wrong with me.

Was I ill?

I felt really bad.

It wasn’t food poisoning, I’d have been sick after about 12 hours and I was past that window, maybe I just ate something that didn’t agree with me.  I didn’t think so.

It wasn’t water poisoning either as I would have thrown that back up within a short time of drinking it.

What was wrong?  Had I caught a bug, a virus.

I hadn’t felt that good the day before but put it down to the wine and beer from the night before.  At the time the way I felt hadn’t correlated to what I had drunk though.  I should know, it wasn’t the first time.

I even debated with myself on turning around but the thought didn’t last long.  I can’t think of anything much more dispiriting than to retrace my tracks.

So I carried on, slowly, making progress.  Nicolas the Frenchman told me, on my day 5 out of Ushuaia, in the face of a horrendous headwind, “as long as you are moving, you will get there”.  It still sticks with me, I use that phrase on myself frequently.

On I trudged, thankful for the first small river and then subsequent ‘streams’ crossing the road.  I realised with hindsight, these weren’t streams, the beautiful clear water belying the fact they were most likely irrigation channels and therefore not fresh water.

My befuddled mind not focusing on if the water was good or not, just that it was water and it ‘looked’ good.  It wasn’t cold was the obvious thing, but again that only registered some way down the road.  If it’s cold, it’s got to be fresh water, no one is refrigerating the water out here.  If it’s not it’s likely coming from stagnant water somewhere and therefore not good to drink.

The wind had got up, further slowing me.  I found some shade, a rarity in these parts, just a few trees but at the right angle that i could sit out of the sun.  I felt better out of the sun, getting some food into me, still not right.

Reassessing where I would get to that night, I wasn’t going to make the town but I needed to make a water source, the river the next town sat on followed the road some way south.  I didn’t have much option but to get there.

Later that afternoon, flagging badly, I approached a farm, I could see a man on horseback, a gaucho.  I sat there on the road looking at the gate to the farm debating whether to go ask for water or just carry on to where I thought the river was.

Sometimes I have to kick myself to do the sensible thing and ask for help.  I don’t whether it is an innate shyness or an innate stubbornness that I don’t need help.

Go and bloody well ask for water I said to myself, probably out loud.

Leaving the bike at the gate I made my way around the buildings to where I had seen the man. At that point a young lad, probably early teens rode out of a building on his horse.  He looked so proud and small on the big horse, he smiled.

At the same time, two men came into view and beckoned me around the building.  I tried to speak and realised my voice had gone.

I’d noticed my throat was dry almost as soon as I’d had a drink all day but now I could hardly speak.  I was also exhausted, that was abundantly clear.

After having just had two and a bit days off and not a long day today, something was most definitely wrong.

I asked for water and he said “quince pesos!”, luckily I hadn’t lost my sense of humour and managed a smile in response, which he reciprocated and then burst out laughing.

Pulling the running hose out of a trough of water he filled my water bottles and then told me that the river was 200 metres down the road, ‘agua mineral!”, he exclaimed.

My eyes lit up at this news, not 2 kilometres, 200 metres he was saying, I double checked.  Then thinking to ask, can I camp there for the night?  “Si! Si!, no problemo!”

He was a jovial, shouty, confident man, in his element.

Sure enough, just a few hundred meters down the road was the river, parking the bike on the barrier, I looked around.  Fences everywhere, hmmm not good.  No trees but some large bushes and what was definitely lovely water in the river.

He did say I could camp here so surely he knows I’m going to have to jump the fence.

I had spent a good ten minutes scouting around and found the best compromise, I realised as I walked back to the road there was a gate in to this field that wasn’t locked.  As I got towards it, the gaucho and the young lad arrived on horseback with their dogs.  Checking once more, now it was obvious where I wanted to camp that it was ok.  It was.

Getting the bike to the camp spot, instead of unpacking, I just got out my water bag and filled it in the river so I didn’t have to go back.

Laying in the shade supping water until I needed a wee.

Then it dawned on me.

The most obvious thing.

I had missed it completely.

I realised I hadn’t had a wee all day, how on earth had I not realised this?  My urine was yellow, I was badly dehydrated.  I must have been when I left that morning, riding in the heat all day, compounding it, hand over fist.

It was so not like me.  I always drink a lot of water.  I don’t drink fizzy drinks or soft drinks, I just drink water all day.  Looking back over the weekend, for whatever reason, I must have not drunk a lot.  It would explain why I felt worse than I should have done after the booze.

The solution was obvious, drink loads of water and stay out of the sun, thankfully I could do both now.  I had trouble eating that evening, really not wanting to have my unappetizing concoction but knowing i needed the calories, I slowly made my way through it.

Putting this down to the heat and my bodies preoccupation with cooling itself rather than digesting food.
I had successfully drank plenty of water, needing the toilet three times that night told me so.

Wanting an easy ride the next day, I knew I wasn’t going to get it.

The ride to the next town of El Hueco wasn’t too bad, I made sure I drank plenty and stopped at the first house I saw, to refill my bottles.

In response to my request for water, I got “zinco pesos!”, at least the price was coming down!  My smile once more was reciprocated and my bottles filled from a running hose.  The sight of all that lovely water just running away into the soil for nothing making me slightly sad.

The town was bigger than I thought, I scouted around for some vegetables and came away with a chocolate bar.  I knew when I left town I was straight into a 400m climb and the thought of some chocolate later would help act like a carrot on a stick.

Watching the road grader trundle away up the hill I was about to embark on, improved my outlook.  At least the surface will be better than it was a half hour ago.  Seeing it coming back towards me after about ten minutes making me laugh.  Well at least a short section might not be too bad.


I was looking forward to the summit so I could have lunch.  As per every day for sometime, there were no clouds in the sky, the sun unrelenting, no where to rest in the shade in the barren landscape.

As I got to the top I looked around, nothing.  I just need something bigger than me that I can sit behind out of the sun.  It was well past my lunchtime and obvious I needed to eat so I wasn’t going to be picky.

Spotting a large rock, I say, large, it was bigger than any others.  I could see a reasonable shadow.  Staring at it from the side of the road I decided it would have to do.

Crouching down in as much of the shadow as I could, realising most of me was in it, apart from my head.

Not good.  That’s the bit that needs to be in the shade.

Leaning over, like I was resting my head on someone’s shoulder whilst sitting with my knees up around my chin then i was just out of the sun.  Chuckling at the ridiculousness of this I munched through cheese sandwiches and a very, very ripe pear.

The contorted position distracting me from how I was really feeling.  However I was now at the top, the next guaranteed water stop was the town of El Cholar, some 20km distant.  Yet again I thought I had enough water and set off on the downhill.

I got to the bottom much sooner than I hoped.  It meant I had further to cycle on the relatively flat part which meant it would take longer.

Passing dried up stream or river bed after another, not a drop to be found.

That morning before I left I was hoping to get past El Cholar today, to shorten the day after.  I knew by this point there was no way, I needed to get to a guaranteed water source and recuperate, once more.

Finally seeing the town, the metal roofs glinting in the sun,  I rolled to a stop at the first buildings.

Looking to my left there was a tourist information office, in this small town where there are no tourists?!

What is it doing there, it was situated up a hill, not 50m away, I sat there panting, like an overheating dog.

I could hear my brain chirping away, why did they put it up the sodding hill? What a stupid place to put it.

I could see a man by the office looking back at me, like he was willing me to come to him but saying nothing, just staring.  He probably thought that of me.

Becoming aware of a man in the front yard of a house talking at me, I turned towards him.  He beckoned me over.  I grabbed a water bottle and walked to him, he was jabbering away in Spanish.

Realising how whacked I was and that I wasn’t controlling my breathing very well, I stammered out ‘tienes agua por favor’.  Still talking at me, I couldn’t understand a word, he was talking so fast and my brain was on shut down mode.  There were two young lads there, one could understand my Spanish so he translated my Spanish to the older man.

Shown to a seat in the shade I thanked them profusely.  I really hadn’t realised how hard I must have been working over the last hour, I just sat there and tried to answer their questions as the world slowly came back into full focus.  It was only when the man returned with the water I realised he was drunk, his eyes bloodshot, slightly unsteady on his feet.  No wonder I couldn’t understand his Spanish.  He was a harmless, caring drunk though.  The best kind.

Clearly I wasn’t going any further that day and one of the young lads cycled with me to the municipal camping site, adjacent to the town’s football pitch.  I would be laughing in the morning as they used a road grading machine to level off the dirt pitch.

One more day and then a rest, I promised myself.  Rehydrated once more, carrying nearly 7 litres of water I set off for Chos Malal, nearly 50% further than the day before’s cycle.

This might seem foolhardy but the options were limited and I would end up 300 metres lower in altitude by the end of the day, hence more as to be down than up.  I hadn’t however appreciated how much up and down it would be.

I left at 9am, determined to get some riding done in the cool of the morning, before it was even 10am I was dripping sweat.  The first section out of the town was just up.  Motivating myself by saying at least I was doing it in the coolest part of the day.

The scenery became stunning, the road followed a canyon but a long way up from the river, clinging to the side of the steep walls.  I was pretty alone out there, a couple of cars passing an hour maybe.  At times stopping for a rest, I could hear the sound of silence.

No wind, hot sun, not a good combination.

The road was literally like a rollercoaster, never pausing on the flat, heading up or down, weaving back on itself, corkscrewing around the canyon walls.


A mixture of sand in places, rocks and always corrugations.  It was like sitting on a washing machine that had a missing foot.  Being bounced all around, the uphills which were sandy and corrugated were just tortuous. So draining to cycle on.

Eventually the road dropped down into a wide valley, time for lunch.  This occasion using some tall thin trees to get some shade. It hardly working, as the sun moved the small patches of shade moved with them.  The ground was full of sharp little twigs waiting to spike me.

There was however a tiny little stream of mostly stagnant water, no good for drinking but plenty good to dunk my shirt and cap in, soaking them, before putting them back on again.  The chill from the shirt as it went on feeling so good, it was heavy with water.  Knowing it wouldn’t last but it would provide some temporary respite I carried on.

It didn’t take long, maybe 5 or 6kms before the shirt was dry and I was feeling decidedly bad.  I felt nauseous, from the incessant bumps, my lunch and the heat.  The combination not proving a good mix.

It was hot, much more so than the previous two days.  I’m fair skinned, I go bronze, not brown in the sun, my genes are not optimised for these conditions.  Even so it was oppressively hot.

I was drinking water every few hundred metres, thinking I can’t go on.  I had found a line and gone over it, this was too much, my body was crying out that it couldn’t do this.

My options weren’t good, however there were a few cars passing, it was possible I could get a lift out of here.

Something inside me won’t allow that, even when things feel desperate, there must be a better option than giving up.  That’s how I see getting a lift; giving up.  Whether it is healthy or not to think that way, it’s how I feel.  I so badly don’t want to give up.

Coming to another dried up river bed that passed under the road I stopped, I had to get out of this sun.  There was enough room under the road to sit up in the shade.  Taking my shirt off I sat there, firstly getting my breathing back under control and my heart rate down.  Then starting to think through options whilst supping extremely warm water.  Everything seemed much better sitting in the shade, it wasn’t cool but it was so much better than in the sun.

Then a wind blew through the tunnel, cooling me directly, like someone was watching over me and was rewarding me for taking a break.

I don’t know how long I sat there but it was long enough for the wind to become a regular feature.  I felt refreshed, knowing I had at most 45 minutes to go to get back to the tarmac and Ruta 40 which would take me into the town of Chos Malal.

I hadn’t known it at the time as it was hidden behind a short rise, the majority of the remaining gravel road was downhill to the highway.  Rolling onto the tarmac, I was passed by two petrol tankers within a minute, reminding me the reason I went the ‘back’ way here.

The remaining kilometres on the tarmac into town felt so easy, I chuckled at the speed I was doing, even with a headwind, it seemed wrong somehow.

After finding somewhere to lie down in the dark and drink water for a day or so I looked at the current weather report on my phone.  At 5pm it was 33 degrees and more importantly the humidity was 5%.

Five per cent?

I’ve never seen that before.  No wonder I was suffering, presumably my sweat immediately evaporated and was why in the afternoon no matter how hard I was working I was dry as a bone.

My body was overheating, the intake of water keeping me hydrated enough but it couldn’t help me cool down.

Another lesson learned, they just keep coming, a never ending steeplechase.

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Mar 202015


I had got in to a bit of a funk back in San Martin de los Andes.  I didn’t quite limp into the town but arrived deflated, devoid of enthusiasm and energy with a unusual soreness on my right knee.

Before arriving I had decided to have at least a day off.  This despite only having riden two days since my last day off.  There was something peculair about the soreness in my knee and with a history of problems with that part of my body I was taking no chances.

When it comes to niggles, my rule of thumb is that I want one clear day when I don’t notice the niggle anymore before I continue.  This is my self preservation check, designed to prevent myself from over doing it.  Non-negotiable, it’s Standard Operating Procedure.

I stayed four nights.  I was well rested when I left and my knee felt normal again.

Having had plenty of time to consider my route forward I went for the back roads, seeking less traffic, less people and in my book, more fun.

This was why I had crossed back into Argentina; to avoid the busy highway north in Chile.  Seeking out the quiet roads in Argentina was therefore a no-brainer.

Turning off Ruta 40 at Junin de los Andes I immediately noticed the traffic die away.  There was a clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight, hot but not excessively so, a little breeze providing some comfort.

That day I was aiming to reach the River Malleo.  I reckoned on being able to camp at the junction that night, bridges over rivers are always a good possible location.  Nearly always you can get down to the river, the fences don’t run all the way to the bridge.  Water being the other major factor, this location was a good distance from any towns so I gambled on being able to drink the river water.


Normally I would only take water from streams that feed rivers, water coming down off the hills and mountains that I know is fresh as it is cold.  Realising my options were more limited I decided to try the river water.   Only drinking small amounts at first to see if my body reacted to it.  I needn’t have worried.

The road I followed had a gentle incline for 150km following the River Alumine all the way up to it’s source in the mountains.

I often remark on the condition of the road, to myself, on this website and to people I speak to.  I shout, I swear, I curse it sometimes.

Around the Lago Alumine, I laughed at it, mocked it, for being the worst piece of ‘road’ I had ridden on yet.  It was basically a beach, with corrugations.


It was so bad it was fun.

Trying to cycle a loaded bicycle along deep sand that is corrugated is a challenge and a half.  Speed is the answer, until it goes wrong….actually it’s not speed, it’s momentum I think.

If you can keep moving, you have a chance, stop and you are stuck.  The main problem is you can’t really steer, not in the convential way.

You have to drift the bike, allowing the front wheel to slide, not panicing and trying to fight it, but using your weight to get the back to slide to counter the front.  The result is a snake like movement forward, judging by the trail behind me, anyway.

The road was steep from that point.  After about 5km, the road branched, I took the road less travelled as it headed north as opposed to east.  My direction of choice.

The little traffic thinned out more.

Passed by the odd motorcyclist giving me the double thumbs up.  I don’t mean with both hands off the handlebars, but a thumbs up, hand removed, then thumbs up reinstated.  This has happened before, it always makes me smile.  I take the gesture as ‘this road is going to get hard, fair play to you.’

The road was closely following the river, surrounded by monkey puzzle trees, giving me hope of a good camp tonight.

Cresting a rise, I was confronted with a wide open valley, the contrast made the valley look stunning, the camping options not so good.


The wind was blowing down that valley, thankfully in the direction I was travelling.

My speed that day had averaged down in single figures, a very slow day.  I wasn’t concerned, I thought this section might be slow and I knew the following day wouldn’t be.

Getting to the other end of the wide valley, just after passing someone’s house masquarading as a ‘shop’ (I use that term in it’s losest sense), I saw what looked like a good camp spot and called it a day.

Now the nights are drawing in and sundown is around 8pm I thought it about time I try some star gazing.

Normally I’m asleep by the time it’s dark enough or in a town where the light ruins the show.  That evening I was at around 1600m with no light sources for kilometres.

Before it got dark I cleared an area of grass of sheep and cow dung so I had somewhere to lay down and look at the stars.  A beautiful clear night, as ever, gave me what I was after, I even saw something cut across the sky, burning up in the atmosphere, before disappearing.


Shortly after setting off in the morning, I was bizarrely passed by a minibus towing a trailer full of lightweight racing bicycles.  We were a long way from tarmac and I had no idea what he was doing out here, the passenger gave what I think was a triple thumbs up!

I crawled the final 10km up to the summit, somewhere around 1800m.  Taking around an hour and a half.

What followed was the longest downhill of my life.  The first 10km were on the bumpy gravel road and took half an hour.  I then reached the tarmac, stretching out before me was 40km of downhill.

Time to pump the tyres up hard, eat, drink and check everything was securely fastened down.

Turning on to the tarmac, the grin spread across my face as the whirring from the hubs increased in pitch and volume, before I had even turned the pedals.

There were two slight hills I hadn’t bargained for but that aside it was downhill all the way.  The 40km including the two small climbs took just over an hour.  The tailwind had helped push me along even the remotely flat parts at speeds that my bike was undergeared for.

At the bottom, well overdue a lunch stop and a decision to make I reached a junction.

Straight on was Las Lajas, just 10km away and with this tailwind, I would be there in no time at all.

Left would take me towards Loncopué, what I thought was 50km away.

The factor that was preventing a decision was Las Lajas was just a rest stop to me, it was the wrong direction.  After a day or two resting, I would be coming back this way.  I was struggling to get past the thought that the 20km round trip was a waste of time/energy.

I couldn’t make a decision like this on an empty stomach, but the sun was beating down and I could see no where for some shade.

Stuck in two minds, I gambled and went left towards Loncopué, desperately seeking some shelter so I could eat.  Luckily there were the remains of a building, mostly demolished, but providing a big enough slither of shade for me to rest and eat.


I wouldn’t make Loncopue that night, it was too far cumulatively on top of today’s distance I had already done, despite the 50km downhill.

However I had enough food to rustle up something for dinner and I could make Loncopue for lunch the next day.

What about water?

I had two litres left.  My map showed the road joined the river some distance ahead, with promises of two tributaries coming in to it.  They seemed further than I thought.

Something was wrong with my distances.

I was around 10km out, it must be 60km or more to Loncopué.

Tired, confused, I wasn’t completely sure anymore.

I was also slightly worried about the wind, it was blowing fast and hard, taking me back to the bad old days on Tierra del Fuego.  In fact the scenery was in someway similar, only now I had the sun beating down and no clouds in the sky.

I was going to have to cycle into the wind for a few kilometres but then, if it didn’t change direction, would be a sidewind at worse….oh how I can convince myself of things to give me the answer I want.

The road would also enter the protection of a wide canyon after some 20km more, surely offering some shelter from that wind.  Another wild supposition stated as fact, in my argument, to myself.

Decision made, I would try and manage another 30km, find water, camp, complete the remaining distance in the morning.

It wasn’t long before my first litre had gone and I was down to my last bottle.


Concerned, but not overly worried as there were plenty of vehicles on this road should I need help.  Reasonably confident in my shoddy earlier reasoning.

Upon reaching the entry to the canyon I wasn’t so confident.

The wind certainly hadn’t died down, it was now in my face and I was quickly getting through that last litre.

Spotting a plastic water bottle by the side of the road, containing liquid, I stopped.

Strapping it to the front pannier before getting going again.  I quickly thought, ‘why not see if it is actually water first, then just put it in one of your empty bottles instead of carrying it?’.

Taking a quick sip, it was very warm but it was definitely water, thankfully…there was only about a quarter of a litre but it was something.

Half an hour later I was approaching a pick up truck driving slowly towards me on the gravel shoulder.  Eager not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I stopped them and asked if they had water.

They didn’t.


But they knew where I could get some!


Conversing in Spanglish, myself and the passenger translated each other’s mime into their own language.

He was telling me there was a small river a few kilometres in the direction i was going in.


It didn’t have any water in it though.


But there was a pipe with a ‘tap’ that was fresh water from the mountain.


After double checking the directions he was giving me, the driver, his father I guess, said we will show you where it is.  Muchos gracias senors!

I carried on, they went the other way, before passing me five minutes later, waving but driving slowly.  I was hoping they weren’t expecting me to keep up.

As I rounded a bend I could see they had stopped next to the road in the distance.  I pulled up next to them, alongside the dry stream bed, looking at the big black snake of a pipe that wound under the road.

Grabbing all my bottles and water bag, as I wanted enough to camp that night and get going in the morning, I got down under the road.  The son then promptly removed a cap, rather than turn a tap and water freely gushed out this pipe disappearing into the earth.

Oh! I quickly filled my bottles and water bag so he could put the cap back on before anymore than necessary was wasted.

I would never have thought, or dared, to have taken that cap off myself.  Very glad they had crossed my path and I had asked for help.

Confirming it was about 30km further to Loncopué, it was time to find somewhere to camp and drink my abundance of water.

In hindsight, this was the first shot across my bows to think carefully about how much water I have and how much I am drinking.

The environmental conditions had changed and I hadn’t picked up on it.  The sudden change in conditions is something I’ve not been keeping up with.  I’m entering environments I’ve not been in before, let alone exercised all day in.

A reminder to keep on top of my health and to monitor it because there isn’t anyone else to do that.  The days ahead would demonstrate that to me loud and clear.

 Posted by at
Mar 162015

Leaving San Martin de los Andes, I continued on Ruta 40 until Junin de los Andes.  Then heading directly north towards Alumine.  Following the Rio Alumine all the way up to the Lago of the same name.

At the Lago I headed for Pino Hachado right by the border with Chile before descending back to the dry Pampa and Loncopue.

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