Biking from the Top to the Bottom of Chile
I decided to bike the length of Chile for two reasons. One was that I am in the process of getting residency in Chile to make running my guiding operations, Ski Arpa, easier. That means I have to spend six months in the country which left me a lot of time to kill. And the second reason, bike touring has always interested me. I love traveling and always thought that traveling on a bike would be the best way to fully experience a place. I thought this was a great opportunity to give it a go.
The planning took a while, mainly because I had to learn so much. I had never done even an overnight bike trip, so planning a two and a half month trip was tough. First, I had to figure out my rig, what racks to use, what panniers were best, and what kind of bike I wanted—than there was the route. This was somewhat easier due to the fact that Chile is so narrow. In many cases there is only one road going north to south. I learned a lot on the fly, like how far I could go a day, how much food and water I needed. I'm still learning, but here’s a few things I picked up along the way.
10 Things I've Learned on Chilean Roads
1. Traveling by bike is the best way to travel. On a bike you’re forced to interact with the people. You see everything at a much slower pace, yet you’re able to still cover a good amount of ground. You’re also very approachable as a traveler on a bike. People are always interested in where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
2. The Atacama is painfully dry. Even if I filled my bags with nothing but water I would still feel like I would run out. The combination of the sun, wind and heat make it so your sweat evaporates instantly, and forces you to sweat more. Dehydration is basically a constant.
3. The Atacama is beautiful. It's a desolate beauty. There are no plants or any living thing, just sand and rock. It really seems as though there is no time there. Nothing has changed or been disturbed since the beginning of time.
4. Headwinds are brutal. I would take anything but a headwind.
5. Tailwinds are the greatest. Makes it almost as easy as driving a car.
6. It's not easy to find a campsite. Camping too close to the road is miserable due to the noise, but trudging through sand or bushes and trees to get away is sometimes not worth it. The best sites I have found are off of side roads where there are no towns nearby. Towns sketch me out. I'm sure my bike is a pretty good haul for an opportunistic thief.
7. Chile has everything as far as climate and terrain. From the driest place in the world, to Patagonia where it rains all the time. A huge amount of coast line and some of the highest peaks in the Americas. I certainly have not gotten bored of the landscape.
8. You don't need as much gear as I started with. I've already made two cuts of unneeded gear. It makes a huge difference.
9. Traveling solo is great at times, and very difficult at others. I always have partners on my trips. In the backcountry and on mountaineering trips it is necessary. It was tough to be completely self sufficient. I feel like learned so much because of that. Having someone to talk to while riding would’ve be nice sometimes, though.
10. You can do anything you can dream up. My first day out from Arica was my first day ever bike touring. It certainly wasn't been easy, but I learned something new about myself, this sport, and this country everyday. I didn't know how any of this would go, and that was the best part. Trying to figure it out. The satisfaction of accomplishment when the outcome is very uncertain is incredible.
Anton Sponar is a mountain guide from Aspen, Colorado who has set up shop and currently living the dream in the mountains of Chile. You can find more of his adventures on his website: asponar.wordpress.com