Experiencing the beauty of the whirring spokes.

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of the country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. But you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
Ernest Hemingway

11 October 2014 117 kilometer 450 meter climb

The exact opposite of yesterday. Awoke at 5:30 thought I would attempt internet and got on right away but could not post anything. Did get a text out to Jeanne but early yet. Did find a response a bit later wishing me a good ride today. She had not heard about yesterday except to see the email about the visa. Amazing how words can affect one even when they are not meant to. My spirits were already good but the message reiterated my good day.

Breakfast was so so. Again we overwhelmed the hotel. Had delayed breakfast till 8 am and still slow. Muesli cereal and coffee.

The off we went and it was wondrous. Perhaps one of the better days of cycling I have had. Out into a wide valley generally flat but climbed about 200 meters over 80 kilometers. Group of about 20 fell into a pelaton for nearly 25 kilometer then a few broke off racing ahead and a few fell back. Left at 9 and arrived at the lunch truck beside the road 56 kilometers into ride at 11:15. And I felt great just being able to keep up even working forward until last 5 k actually was in lead with Hardy. I felt pushed along by the group behind. An amazing feeling. Must have been quite a sight this group of Lycra clad bicyclists moving down the road.

Traffic was light mostly trucks and buses but almost everyone polite. If they could not pass they waited patiently behind the pelaton until safe to pass often cheering us on then.

After lunch took off at noon and found myself in another pelaton but this time I found myself leading Joost and Rien, probably what I consider the best cyclist in the group. I thought this is crazy I can never keep this up and dropped back to join Jorg, Mario, and Michelle and we just cruised the afternoon.

I believe many would find the ride boring as basically flat and straight. I found it exciting to view the horizon and see it coming up, eventually we reached it as the climb began. But not bad 200 meters over 20 kilometers. A delightful ride stopping at the top for a banana.

Once the pass was reached we entered a geologic playground. Down through this valley with amazing formations along the way. Reminded me of Bryce Canyon, but very different.

Then this amazing camp in a small canyon beside the road. There is a house with a family here including goats, sheep and chickens but lots of room. After arrival hiked down the small embankment and took a warm bath in the creek. Now just a relaxing afternoon.
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12 October
. Well yesterday was amazing and so was today. But in entirely different ways. One never knows how things will turn out. The profile said 155 kilometers with only a few hundred meters ascent but ending up nearly 2000 meters lower. We left the altoplano and altitude which everyone has been looking forward to. Now down low about 1600 meters. Springtime leaves are out, some green grass, horses (apparently horses do not do altitude, whereas donkeys do).

The as noted the elevation profile for the day was down down down. Only problem is at 40 k the headwinds picked up. 40-50 kilometer an hour. One unmentioned person arrived at lunch truck and just broke down crying, they were so tired. Ok they took the truck to camp another 90 kilometers, reassured by all we all felt that way at times. I certainly have felt that way.

But we got into a pelaton group of 8 people and rode side by side 4 people in length for the rest of day. We would alternate lead about every kilometer in a big circle, left front would rotate to front right then when tired fall back one space with second left moving up front to face the wind. When you got 2nd 3rd or at the back it was a bit restful until you began to work your way forward on the left. This went on kilometer after kilometer. For the most part traffic was good, as yesterday often waiting behind until safe to pass. An occasional driver was a bit angry, but we had no choice. Like everywhere some people are in a hurry to get to the end of the day.

The problem with all this is I am used to cycling alone and was a bit nerve wracking for me trying to stay inches from the person in front and to the side. Pedal, brake pedal, brake. Do not touch them.

Did stop at a village for a mid afternoon snack. I am very tired of soda and cookies, but that is what is available. Need the quick calories for a boost. Mind you I am tough, but sodas are above what I can do. Leaves a bad taste, but like I said it is energy. And today a hill came up shortly after when I wish I had more energy. I am not a hill climber. Part way up I had fallen back about a hundred meters. Jon Willan fell back and said just stay on his wheel which I did and he pulled me to the top breaking the wind for me. Then a 30 kilometer descent without wind winding down the switchbacks at about 55 kph. Sweet. Then a good ride to camp.

And camp is not a bush camp defined as no amenities. This one not only has bathrooms, but showers and a swimming pool. And the have office has good wifi thus was able to post the blog about politics from several days ago. I have heard campgrounds are expected to have wifi now but never experienced it.

And as Rob, one of directors of bike dreams, said tonight we will eat as usual at 6 although the Argentinians eat at 11. It is Sunday and as usual it is a day off, hence families and friends come here and barbecue, play futball, swim and enjoy themselves. The disco next to campground played until about midnight.

Interesting as there are some trees here with incredible red flowers and some with some yellow ones. Final kilometers heard flocks of birds in trees. Someone said they were parakeets and I believe it, although have not seen any.

And noted Argentina is different than Bolivia. Thus far in small ways. No garbage along the roads. Remember Bolivia is a very poor country. Wifi tonight was best I have experienced in South America. Cars are a little nicer and architecture changing subtlety. Not quite as much adobe but one or two days does not say anything. And am looking forward to a real Argentinian steak, after all this place is noted for its meat. And the wine has been good but the Bolivian wine was also excellent.

Crossed the Tropic of Capricorn so officially have left the tropics I guess.

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Politics

Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.
Paulo Coelho
Kept the bathroom door closed and room door open as our bathroom smelled of poo in the hotel in Tupiza . They had come by to clean it several times but the odor returned within a few hours.

But slept good and up for breakfast at 7, but all seats and more important coffee cups taken so a while for breakfast to get going. I ended up with just 1/2 cup cold coffee, a roll and jam, and of course banana. But morning briefing covered apparently there was a change in the reciprocity for for Argentina. Bike dreams in original information said no visa was required but a reciprocity fee was charged on arrival at airports, but not if one arrived by land. Apparently this had recently changed and the paper had to be obtained prior to crossing border. Only applied to U.S., Canadian, and Australian citizens. Most already had as paper good for ten years and they had previously been in Argentina. Or like Buck they checked elsewhere for Info.

So I immediately went to hotel computer as wifi was incredibly slow. Thus on a Spanish computer with pictures of the continents instead of letters on the keyboard I applied for the paper. Took a bit but after $160 plus a $40 service fee they emailed the reciprocity fee paper in PDF format. Just print it. Yeah, right. First the computer I was on could not connect to printer, so hotel called in someone who could use hotel printer. Tried emailing the PDF to his computer from my phone, but wifi too slow. Could not get my mail on his computer. Finally put PDF in iBook format and plugged phone into his computer which printed the one page.

Meanwhile I keep calling it a visa and Max is insistent it is not a visa but a reciprocity fee. Finally when printed it said visa fee paid, and I was able to gloat. I was in no mood for semantics. I was stewing about this and realized politics is the art of getting someone else to pay for others not being able to get along.

Meanwhile everyone was ready to go. My bike was two blocks away yet and went to recover it. Michelle had gone and was bringing it to me knowing my frustration. Unfortunately the odometer was missing. A very nice thing to have as use for following the written directions. Go to roundabout at 63.6 kilometers and turn left, go .7 kilometer and turn right and so on. I still have GPS with route but always nice to have a backup system.

Pumped up the tires as on pavement today, get Walter to get water out as he had already put it away, throw what I had into pack realizing rain coat was in day bag packed away so hope for no rain.

Off everyone went and once on the bike it was pleasant. Road a delightful canyon going along a river gradually descending to 2700 meters above sea level, having to stop once in a while for pictures.

Then the climb back to 3400 meters and back on the altoplano. The climb was not too bad but it was hot, too hot for me. Everyone excited about getting to the heat but the mid 20’s are great for me. Does not get hotter than that in Anchorage and then too hot. Most on this trip believe the 30’s and into 40’s are great. As noted most have been on the tour of Africa where temperatures in the low 50’s were common. I had finished my 3 liters of water half way up hill, but survived to lunch truck at top of hill.

And a real pick me up when Hannie came up and said her bike was working perfectly for the first time in a month. The front derailleur had refused to get in the small chain ring. Lucho our mechanic had looked at it several times replacing cables and adjusting this and that. Yesterday I had offered to just take a look. Apparently I had fixed it, and it made my day. Something was going right. I felt like I could do something right.

Then a fairly pleasant 50 kilometer ride to the border. I was thinking that by the end of the day I am exhausted and wondering what the heck I am doing here. These folks are way above my league, as I ride along in near last place alone. Today only Dave from England is behind me. Then I remember this happens every afternoon, but when I awake in the morning I am excited to go.

Made the border town in Bolivia and had been told to change money before crossing. Apparently two systems of money exchange in Argentina. The official rate is 8.5 pesos the U.S. Dollar, but there is a “green” market which is 12-14pesos to the dollar. It is not a black market as somewhat sanctioned. I got 13.2 pesos to the dollar. Of course the U.S. Dollars must be fresh and crisp. One $50 bill I had was refused because of a 1/8″ tear. At home would not even think of it.

Border crossing relatively easy stand in this queue to check Bolivian papers, then stand in Argentina queue for checking the reciprocity paper and check passport and stamp it. Then back to bike and cross with a picture of Ushuia 5210 kilometers sign. We are not going direct there, but that is final destination two months from now. Turned around and took picture of border, but guard yelled at me saying no photos.

On to the hotel and the usual question of what will this one be like. So far ok water almost hot and a bidet. But then the question of where to eat. Had not seen any likely places coming in. Hotel restaurant looked ok but did not open until 8 pm, normally in bed by then. Told Buck my concerns about feeling end of day. He called me on it and informed me I was fully capable. Sometimes I wonder.

Hannie and Marias and I went out to search for a restaurant about 6 but only found 2, neither looked promising, but our only choices. Worked out ok. I ordered something I had no idea what, but did include beef. Turned out a thin piece of beef covering plate covered with melted cheese, which was covered with a piece of ham with a fried egg on top. This was not Bolivia which was either pasta or a pizza. And of course the usual side of French fried potatoes. Also nice to be with Europeans who eat their fries with mayonnaise. Somehow I picked up that habit when an exchange to Germany in 1967.

But came out of restaurant about 8:30 and the activity level had definitely picked up. Argentina operates late. Buck arrived in truck about 2 and went to barber but closed until 6pm. The barber was a busy place a 9 pm. There were over a dozen restaurants to choose from. Whereas all had been closed in the afternoon and shut down, at 9 pm the streets were hopping with activity.

And this is last hotel for 2 weeks. Bush camps and camping. The difference is bush camps have no facilities

Two days to remember

My best vacation is your worst nightmare.

Bumper sticker seen in Moab, Utah

Left Uyani at 8 am with everyone cycling, all happy, but within 2 kilometer the washboard started. Soon everyone was attempting to find a smooth route somewhat resembling our direction. A trail developed to the left of road which cars had been driving on and appeared smoother. Somehow I ended up near the front, then a brilliant idea for a picture looking back at the line of riders emanating from the town against the flatness of the horizon. There were a few hills but mostly the flatness of the salar. I stopped but there was no one behind me, but 1/2 a k back I could see a crowd gathered. That did not look good. Alas nothing I could do so continued to bounce along trying to find a smooth line for a few meters at a time.

Brigit caught up with me shortly later with the news. Buck had gone over his handlebars crossing the tiny berm to the side trail. She said he had probably broken his shoulder and was in extreme pain. That put a damper on my mood. For the next 50 kilometer I thought his ride was probably over and may even have to return to LaPaz and home. I would not even see him.

Lunch was supposed to be at a tiny village at 56 kilometer but the camp truck passed saying all they knew was Buck had gone to hospital with Annalot, our doctor. There probably would be no lunch truck today and gave us some rolls, and filled our water as it was going to be a long hard day. Everyone including the truck was trying to find a way through the washboard, even going out into the desert and trying to find hard ground to ride.

We finally came to the village and a shop was open where we were able to purchase bananas, apples, an orange soda, water, and jello. Barry and Terry caught up saying Buck was in bad condition from the pain and even if he got better there was no way he could drive on this road. Alas the mood dipped.

I rode on soon taking my usual place still riding last or near last. At 75 kilometer the lunch truck passed and Buck was in the back smiling. Yahoo. I thought about hopping aboard but thought only 35 k to go. As soon as they left I thought “did I just make a big mistake?” Once the trucks pass one is on their own. I knew I was getting very tired. Caught up with Terry, Berry, and team Norway (Hilde, and Knut who informed me Buck had just dislocated shoulder and it was back in place.

Rode on slowly gaining altitude and the washboard continued with occasional soft sand which required walking. Glad I had switched tires yesterday to wider despite little tread. Feeling pretty miserable and wondering what the hell was I doing. Washboard, soft sand, uphill when at 83.73 kilometer a thought suddenly hit me that I was on my bicycle and despite being exhausted was having fun. Climbed the hill and descended but a new fear arose. The descent was fast going about 45 kph, over heavy washboard. I was afraid the bike was going to disintegrate with the rattling. It was crashing and banging hard. But the Ibis Tranny was doing great, although my behind was not so lucky and regretted changing saddles to the fizik gobe. Alas it was a trial.

Caught up with Jorg whose gut was acting up and we rode the up and down hills till time to turn off road and onto the river bed which supposedly avoided the hills of the road if the river bed cooperated and was hard enough to ride. It was, and we had a delightful ride somewhat coasting down occasionally pedaling having to ride across the small bit of flowing water. Beautiful little canyon, and the side country was developing into southern Utah like country. After 7 kilometer arrived at the town of Atoche, a mining town where Rob was waiting for us checking off people to see who came the road or river. Hardy 2 was the only unaccounted for person. Jorg and I rode on for the final 7 k of difficult uphill out of the canyon. Rob waited for Hardy. It was a very steep climb and I ended up walking a portion. I was just exhausted. Finally topped out and the country side was incredible with towers and spires and colors and changing scenery. But I was definitely again questioning myself.

Finally arrived camp about 5:30 after a very long day. It was a beautiful site although not much protection beside the road. But all cheered and congratulated me saying it had been a very hard day on all. Everyone had had a hard time.. So where I had questioned my abilities and was thinking of going in the truck tomorrow, I felt rejuvenated and would try again tomorrow. But as Rob said tomorrow was harder. The day would climb back to 4300 meters from our current 3700 then descend to our lowest point in Bolivia about 3200 meters. Still higher than anything in the lower 48 U.S., except a few peaks in Colorado and California.

And a full moon and a lightening show to the south where we head tomorrow.

8 October 2014 bush camp. 7 kilometer south of Atocha, Bolivia

It is always nice for me to awake in the desert. Open your eyes just as it is getting light and see the last of the fading stars and the glow in the eastern horizon. Those moments to oneself when one feels oneself coming alive again.

Had been a problem the day before with Walters lunch truck. The spare tire had bounced out of the carrier beneath. Rob (one of directors of bike dreams) and Walter had gone back last evening to try and find and they were not back this morning. So it was asked that those that could ride do so as little room. Buck was only one to go in truck as injured.

So we prepared only to have Walter and Rob arrive just as ready to depart. 4-5 got in as they do not like the washboard.

The day was a day of changing scenery climbing, and descending.started at about 3700 meters eventually the high point was 4251 meters. Then descended ending up here at Tupiza at 3100 meter. But not quite that simple. There was a lot of up and down. Up a hundred down 75 up a hundred. The day ended with 1500 meters of ascent.

The final big descent was long and the wrists were very sore. Hardy and I exclaimed when we reached the bottom “wow, there are trees, and they are green”. We have not seen trees I quite a while due to the altitude, and greening up is just starting up high. Wondrous.

Hardy and I rode the last 20 k together stopping often for pictures saying better to be slow than not remember what this was as probably never be here again. And the scenery was now much like southern Utah. Cliffs canyons, rock formations. No wonder Butch Cassidy and the sun dance kid lived here. They met their demise in this area although it was not the Hollywood version of the movie. Arrived at hotel about 5:30 after a long hard ride.

Another rest day, wash clothes, sleep, spending the day mostly deciding best option for activity. Something about line dried clothes. I love em. Maybe it is the stiffness or the sterile feeling from the baking in the sun, whatever they just seem nicer to me. Up on the patio a cool breeze blowing keeping the sweat to a minimum. And drinking a beer and eating an apple. Life is good.

Ciudad de Uyuni rest day

If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand. Buddha

Awoke after a great nights sleep on the salt bed. Per usual had about 4 heavy blankets to keep warm. Fortunately I like heavy blankets. But problem-bike dreams and hotel had no coffee, just tea. Arghhh. I require coffee, and luckily know this so, so I had stowed away several Starbucks via instant coffees. Well all the coffee here is instant, but Starbucks vias are good coffee. I have gotten used to the Nescafé, but still an emergency ration was necessary. I became a hero.

Then bicycling and it was time trial day. Remember this is a race although only one (James) is really racing. But what the heck I entered with about 20 others. The rest just took off and headed to the finish and on to the town of Uyuni. At the finish everyone was coughing and hacking from jumping on the bike and roaring full tilt boogie for 7 kilometers at 3625 meters. I knew within a hundred meters I had made a mistake, but only 6900 meters to go. Finished in my usual last place finish.

After a pleasant ride into town of another 27 kilometer arriving about 11 am. Nice hotel, again Buck and I are on third floor, and surprise hot water. And no surprise internet, but as soon as 40 people get on, it became incredibly slow, and intermittent. One must be careful

The town itself has a population of about 6000 and is purely a tourist town as a step off onto the salt flats. Arriving on Sunday things were very quiet. But a rest day for catching up, so gather the weeks dirty clothes and take to the Lavanderia for washing. 2 1/2 kilos cost 37.5 bolivianos (about $5.00). The question is will I get any of it back. Supposed to be ready at 6 pm Monday.

Today is now Monday although definitely had to look that up. Cleaned the bike, greased the bottom bracket, changed the chain, changed tires to wider ones in hopes of a softer ride next days off road riding. Interesting changing tubeless tires which normally requires a compressor for inflation. Here only a floor pump and exertion. It worked.

Checked out the bike by riding out to the train cemetery where dozens of steam engines and carriages have been parked. Interesting to see them sitting in the dirt. Walter one of our drivers (from Vienna, Austria) had been out mountain bike riding as he did not have to drive today. We looked and tried to figure out what was what and just enjoyed the afternoon.

Back to town and attempted to connect via computer without wifi in attempt to download pictures from camera to iCloud, but a no go. So back to trying with wifi. Have now taken about 2000 pictures and takes way to long to back up onto iPad. Then try and determine which ones go to show although editing is minimal due to difficulty loading editing etc.

And tomorrow back to riding. 2 days off road 103 and 130 kilometers with 900 and 1500 meter climbs. Interesting. Another rest day then a couple days to Salta, Argentina with a descent to lower altitudes.

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Update got the laundry but had to pick off line myself. Ok also be careful of steps not always the same height.

Salar de Uyani

“I have seen some memorable things in my life, and today’s ride ranks up there!”
Terry Wall from Australia

Well we did it, and Terry summed it up best. Absolutely amazing. We left camp and rode a hundred meters down a ramp onto the salt, two flamingoes feeding beside the road. The salt is that,salt, and flat polygons just as seen in the arctic, only about a meter across almost all five sided, with the ridge between polygons a centimeter or two high. You can ride anywhere or direction, but there is a road leading to the island where we were headed.

After 40 kilometer we reached the lunch truck and drank and ate a bit. For 10-15 bolivianos you could walk about the saguaro covered island. I opted to lookand not walk.

After lunch we changed direction from south to east for 62 kilometers. It was like sailing on the ocean, the horizon went on and on, just an occasional snow covered peak at the edges. The salt flats is 25 times the size of Bonneville salt flats in Utah.

And I may change my perception that south is downhill. Easy to prove, put a marble on a globe and it will go south. When headed due south we were cruising at 22 kph and when going due east we were cruising at 28. Maybe east is downhill. Perhaps I did not account for rotation of the earth. Or another theory might be there were several tour buses going to the island and the “road” was more hard packed, or maybe the tailwind. Whatever we just cruised everyone stopping to take pictures frequently.

With about 10-15 k to go Terry and Elizabeth caught up with me and we finished the final bit at 30 kph. 103 kilometer day in 6 hours including lunch and photo stops. 4 hr 20 of riding. And very glad I had completely covered myself head to toe with clothing. The sun was intense on that white surface. Like being on a glacier.

Finally a building of sorts appeared on horizon and our accomadations for the night. The hotel is basic roof (fiberglass or thatch), walls (entirely of blocks of salt), door of wood, and a salt floor.. In Bucks and my room the floor is salt bricks outside it is more like beach sand. And that is our motel, there is a flourescent light but it does not work ( may require a generator), and no water (bike dreams truck has a 750 gallon tank but we are on fourth day). And no bathroom, well I have been told there is one but best to avoid if possible. Hence I a in a quandary whether to put on the SPOT locator for Jeanne a motel or camp. If one does not like it land is 7 kilometer away.

A delightful evening dinner with Marias, Hanne, Joost, Buck, and Michelle, and myself. Lots of time for discussion as were told dinner would be at 7. Finally finished about 9:15. Bolivian time. But turning in to a wine drinker and enjoyed that last eve. Chilean wine for 100BOB ( about $15) . We discussed our favorite food or meal (waiting for dinner) (generally included good cheeses, and Alaska salmon) and favorite movies (Enemy at the Gates, Cold Mountain, Out of Africa, Amalie, and Soldier of Orange). And Marias and Hanne knew the three French people cycling from Anchorage to Ushuaia. They had cycled with them for a few days two years ago when Marias and Hanne were cycling Anchorage to San Francisco. Then off to our dark room and to face the bathroom. As to motel or camp. Definitely a motel as camp is way more comfortable although this salt block bed is not bad.

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And posting this rapidly as had written a long blog covering past week instead of hitting publish I hit discard. Now trying to recover.

Altoplano

Stage 47 122 kilometers 1 October
Departed Oruro and headed south off the main road. Within a couple of kilometers a lake was at our side with hundreds of flamingos feeding. Many more than are in our yard at home, and these were moving about, not standing still as in our yard. I realized I had made a bad decision to not carry the big camera today. I thought we would just be riding along the flat plains. It proved every changing scenery, especially as the clouds created different lighting.

About 10 kilometer down the straight road a fellow walking a bicycle with a branch for a broom was sweeping the side of the road of loose rocks. The scenery was ever changing. Lunch was to be at about 60 k but no truck due to construction. At 70 k there was a village beside the road, which had been very rough with construction for the past 15 kilometer. Wilbert and Rob purchased several cases of soda and some cookies which was about all the town had to offer. Finally the trucks made it and Ellen prepared some sandwiches for desert and we refilled water bottles. Back on to pavement and a delightful trip for the next 52 kilometer. Generally following the 3800 meter contour line on the map. Directions had been a 111 kilometer day but no truck again. Finally over a rise and a town with the bike dreams flag out was seen. They had set up in the apparent meeting hall for cooking and such. We set our tent in amongst the nearby walls, and I went for soup. Delicious! As folks set up their tents there were three ladies watching people set up our tents laughing and having a gay old time watching these gringos.

Shortly after soup it began to rain and I rushed back to the tent as I had left the flap open. Dived in just as it started in earnest. Spent the next couple of hours just futzing about the tent. Finally worked up the energy to emerge after it seemed the rain, lightening, and thunder were finished. I discovered a saguaro like cactus 50 meters just above us, but as I was going to explore, the dinner siren went off. Priorities!

Another delightful dinner under the dim light of the 3 remaining light bulbs. After dinner we discovered we were a big deal in town and had been invited to some shenanigans in the square at 8 pm. It was only 6:30 and normally all, of us would be in bed by 7:30. It was going to be a late night. To keep awake I walked the 3 blocks into the town square finding it quite deserted and the town quiet except for a few kids wandering. I returned to find I had skipped my first duty night of helping in kitchen. I thought I was on last night, and had volunteered Monday instead as hotel last night. Alas!

The shenanigans were a visit to the local church. Sorry but it strikes me as funny that this poor town has a large church with the usual catholic gaudiness. Seems 1/2 the money in town is wrapped up in the church. Well that is their belief and not for me to judge. It was rather impressive as many catholic churches are. And on our arrival into town the locals had been having a blessing in front of the church for a successful crop which will be planted shortly. Quinoa and potatoes. The quinoa requires close attention until it is about 20 centimeters tall.

Tomorrow promises interesting. Minimal pavement following primarily a dirt track along some electrical lines. Have been warned the gps track may be a little off and paper instructions probably better. Sandy and several folks changed to wider tires. We shall see. Excited to get off road.

Stage 48. 110 kilometer off road 80
Whew made it to the meteor crater which I never realized was a meteor crater. I had gone out to relieve myself at dinner and there it was. A very large hole in the ground, probably a kilometer or more across. But getting here was exhausting and the day is not over. Exhausted, it is 7:30 I am in a damp tent, wind has calmed to about 15-20 from maybe 60-70 and I am chilled. So back to the chronology. I only mention that in case the writing gets weirder than usual.

Up at 5:30 hoping to get a few early pictures of the cactus. Found others up making their nightsoil. Trying not to disturb them. I had already done my bodily requirements and proceeded with my pictures of sunrise and cactus.

Off we left for a nice 10 k ride then we split up. Options today were for pavement and some pavement under construction supposedly 100 k. Other option was through the country off-road, but with past rains unsure of ability to cross the desert like country. Trucks would not go off road, as sand and potential mud to get stuck in. This option also was 100k and truck would provide lunch at 60 k where there was a junction.

One thing about this trip, it is done every 2 years starting in 2008, thus this is fourth time. It is always a challenge as roads change, dirt roads (our preference) get paved. Wilbert and Rob try to keep up but this was one of those days as a work in progress. They warned us either route was probably not described well on paper directions handed out in evening briefing or the GPX files for GPS were probably flawed too.

The time for the choice arrived and I chose off road. We were immediately in sand and I let air out of tires. But 100 meters later a sort of road was found and I had to pump a bit back in. Then a wondrous ride winding through the sand dunes. Llamas appeared everywhere, then 2 groups of about 20 Vicunas, which are the wild version of Llamas. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated and herded. We came to a river and numerous Llamas were in the water, and there were new babies. Wilbert described it as riding through national geographic.

About noon came to a village and we were mobbed by about 100 kids aged about 7-9 years old. I am not sure they had ever seen gringos, especially ones on bikes. We stayed about 30-45 minutes, bought out the only store of all the coca cola and candy cakes they had which was all they had.. That was our lunch. Let one kid ride my bike and he thoroughly enjoyed it going back and forth and back and forth the entire time. Alfred did the same and we were afraid we would never get to leave. Other kids just stared, others looked. Quite an experience. Some elders came out and dozens more pictures were taken.

Finally left with 60-70 k left to go. The road was sort of a farm road lots of washboard, an occasional sand trap. And acres of plowed fields apparently getting ready for quinoa planting.

At kilometer 85 met up with the paved road and those riders who had chosen that way happened by minutes later. They were at 125 kilometers for them. We had 25 left to go. I lost my oomph after 85 of off road, but chugged along. Our off-road group had traveled as a group in the desolation of the off road, but on the pavement it was ok to separate and I dropped back exhausted.

Made the 25 kilometer stopping about 5 k before the theoretical end as looked nasty ahead with lightening and rain ahead. I did not want to get chilled on arrival so out on rain coat and warmers. Arrived at camp just as the storm started to hit. Immediately grabbed the tent and found a place next to rock wall. No time to stand around or rest after the ride as the wind was blowing about 60 now. And threatening hard rain immanently. Managed to get the tent up without too much rain inside. Went back to trucks which group had found a building available for cooking and eating inside. Waited as I was not ready to carry my duffle to tent yet. Buck came in soaked.. His tent near collapse as he had set up before the wind and now it was crossways and flattened. We went to get it straightened but ended up completely moving it down near mine. With great difficulty managed the tent pegs and his set up, again making a run for the cook shelter. Now exhausted breathing hard and getting chilled, both of us were still in bike gear. Had hot soup which helped and finally took my duffle throwing it in tent which is already small. This was a rather serious situation. Managed to change out of bike clothes and went to dinner. A nice dinner of goulash with pudding desert.

Now in sleeping bag, trying to get warm. Weather had somewhat improved but I hear the rain. Discussion about the weather. Past years Bolivia had about a total of 5 minutes of rain on bike dreams traveling through. This time nearly every day. Someone mentioned maybe the wet season is starting early. Apparently one local said this year it is about 5 weeks early, as in now. Others said it is a El Niño year and we know how that changes things. Whatever it is, it is weird.

But tomorrow we top a rise and see the salar de Uyani. Exciting. But 76 kilometer to go and if raining will be really miserable. Tomorrow is a different day.

3 October 2014 meteor crator to Tahua at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. Stage 49. 73 kilometer

Rained most of night and of course wet when getting up, but right after breakfast began to clear a bit. Still tent and stuff packed away wet. Good day of biking all off pavement. As Barry said it was hard as you worked for every meter, even the downhill. Heavy washboard, then rocky, much like the rougher sections of white rim trail in Utah. F in a car could do without a 4 wheel drive but certainly would help although in the end only 500 meters of climbing ending up at 3625 meters right on the edge of salt flats.

And climbing the last hill it certainly was a spectacular sight to look out on the salt flats. Goes way over the horizon with a few islands in it, white and flat. It is 25 times the size of the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. The level is within one meter overall, and apparently is used but for the space shuttle or space station to calibrate radar elevations. Apparently just a meter below the surface is 50-70% of the worlds lithium. The developed world would love to get at it, but Bolivia is trying to develop in a way the locals get some compensation, and not destroy the lucrative tourist industry which comes to see the salt flats. Tomorrow we ride 102 kilometers across the flats, to the tourist area. Where we are now is definitely not tourist. About as far as you can get from tourist.

Today I was incredibly slow which was fine. Taking pictures and plodding along alone. Very glad I had GPS with track on it as numerous turns going to various small villages (usually populations of less than 100). This area the past 2-3 days is the quinoa capital of the world. As I look out at the plowed fields am totally amazing anything will grow. Dirt and rock. Apparently this is where it thrives and quinoa only grows at high altitude. Again the farmers are getting little of the benefit.

Finally pulled into the town square where everyone was gathered from bike dreams. The usual place they camp was now a field prepped for planting, so Wilbert and Rob were finding a new place. As noted prior this is not a tourist area and they have no infrastructure to support tourists. I think we bought out the store of supplies. And that is only for our extra use. Bike dreams gets its water and food supplies back in the cities. But they found a very nice camp, right on the edge of salt flats, green grass sort of although very short. The usual llamas feeding nearby. And I am exhausted, got tent up and drying and have been in it all afternoon. Have been cycling for two weeks now and tired.

I remember on the great divide it was day 21 Joe and I began to question our motivation, ability and desire to finish. It became one day at a time and a good lesson learned. Today I was thinking how when you get on the bicycle you are alone and you must ride the bike. No one else can do it for you. As Joe advised me before the start of this trip “ride your own ride”. And that is all you can do, if you try to do more you will burn out, do less and you won’t accomplish what you want or can do.

Oh good, apparently I slept through dinner. Michelle noted I was not there, as they had set up in a building in town. Now I do not have to get out of this tent as it is cold outside. She brought me an apple and I had the snacks I had purchased a few days ago, so no problem. 4 hour nap and now 12 hours of sleep. Life is good.

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