Bike and desert mountains

Paposo to Antofagasta

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April 26

I am starting the day by returning to Paposo to get water for two days. Then I need to decide on the road. I have two options. The first one is paved Ruta 1 which climbs to 2000 meters and then continues through the desert. Option two is going along the coast and later climb to 1300 meters (or so I thought. Later I discevered it is 1700).

My choice of the route is obvious -- the coastal one. There are several reasons for this. First of all, I expect at least morning clouds around the coast. And maybe some cool wind. Another but that more important reason is that I should be able to get water in one village about two days into the ride. On the desert route there is nothing and I would need to beg the passing drivers for the water.

The road is very quiet, only a few vehicles pass by. My expectations about the climate are right -- due to the wind it is even a bit colder than what I would say is a nice temperature. Although this changes after the lunch when the Sun finally clears up the clouds.

Lonely cactus
Today I am passing lots of small fishing/seaweed collecting settlements

The views are constant but constantly changing. On the left I have a rugged coastline while the right is decorated by high and steep mountains. The road also passes by a surprising amount of human settlements. Or, to make it more clear, shacks. I presume these belong to gauchos and fishermen/people collecting seaweed. To my surprise, I am coming across two cyclists. Or to be more precise, two parked touring bicycles. I have no idea where the owners are because I can't spot them in any direction.

I wanted to make friends but I can't find the owners
Hmm, maybe they turned into birds?
The road undulates around the coast

As the end of the day slowly comes, my biking end of the day precedes it by about an half an hour. This has to do with the fact that I am getting a second flat on my Maxxis rear tyre. Oh well, it's time for fixing again. Until I figure out that this is another tube failure. By now I am suspecting that the plastic band which covers nipple holes is responsible for these failures -- it isn't exactly covering them anymore and there might be some rough edges that pierced the tyre on the inner side.

In any case, while I was fixing the flat, the two cyclists came by. Unfortunately, they weren't really talkative. They just said "hola" without even slowing down for a chat.

April 27

The morning is full of surprises. First, there is a cyclist coming by. But unlike yesterday, this isn't any bike-touring setup. It seems that he is some kind of a local guy. Second, my luck with good roads runs off. Although the map still shows a decent road surface, the truth is that the road turns into a tough sandy ride. It is bikeable but I guess it wouldn't be on much narrower tyres.

A reminder that I should be careful on the road
Rocky beaches and big waves. This reminds me of California
The road turns quite sandy

As the road undulates up and down, it becomes increasingly apparent that today is going to be a real hard day. Fortunately, I am coming across Caleta El Blanco -- a small village where I am getting lots of water. And surprisingly also some Internet as there is a mobile signal here.

Caleta El Blanco -- a little shack village with its own BTS station!
Next time I will be riding sand, I should get one of these tyres!

From Caleta El Blanco my map shows a decent road directly up the mountains. This turns out to be a red herring. Sure, the road is there but it basically ends about a meter above the turnoff. Judging by this fact that the road probably isn't used in a long time and has unknown surface properties (but known steep climb), I am opting for a longer variant.

So I am heading towards El Cobre, which is apparently an abandoned mining complex and a nearby village (which is downhill on the coast so I decide to skip it as I still have lots of water). In any case, here is where a nice surprise in terms of a pavement starts and also a place where I decide to roll over for a camping spot.

April 28

The plans for today are quite big. I need to climb 1700 meters to get to the main road (originally I thought this is 1300, not sure why). I still have enough water for a full day so it should be enough (note: this was based on the 1300m estimate).

There is no point in lingering around so I set off to do the climb. I am also looking back for the last sights of the ocean. From now on the views are going to be pretty bleak arid desert.

Climb from El Cobre
Last views of the ocean behind
And I am going into a mining country

As I am struggling with the climb, I am meeting Miguel, a cyclist coming in the opposite direction. With his girlfriend they planned to visit Uyuni but it turned out to be too high (and thus too hard) for them to cross to Bolivia. So they decided on an alternative where his girlfriend took a shortcut with a bus and Miguel is doing the real job. He also recommends me Mano del Desierto -- an interesting sculpture built in the desert. Unfortunately, I don't think I will visit it -- it is about 20 kilometers off my route on Ruta 5 which doesn't really convince me.

Lunch break
The views are slowly getting better
But gradient isn't getting any less steep

The day is much harder than I anticipated. As a result, I am nearing the pass only in the late evening. Just when I am deciding whether how much time I should devote on descent to campsite finding a perfect spot appears just a bit before the pass. It is a tourist viewpoint place all set with desks and benches. Who would say no to this luxury? I am instantly setting up the tent.

Touristic viewpoint with benches and tables right when I want to camp? Count me in!

When it comes to my water inventure, the things look more bleak. The whole day was sunny and without much wind. Together with the constant climb, I sewated a lot and consequently, consumed about 0.5-1 liters of water more than I normally drink. For the dinner, breakfast and tomorrow's first half of the day I have only 2.5 liters. Not much but survivable. So when I hear a slow truck coming up the pass, I made my mind. I just grab an empty bottle and run for the road bend. It turns out I am in luck and the driver refills my bottle after he parks the car out of the way.

As the Sun descents towards the horizon it becomes clear that this place is really a good mirador. I am looking at the Sun setting over the ocean which is covered in low clouds. And as a bonus, there is a small slice of Moon. There is only one thing bothering me. In the morning I packed my clothes for the evening into a small backpack which I carried on my back the whole day. Of course, this was a big mistake as now are all of the quite wet from the sweat. But then, it is warm enough in my sleeping bag that they get quickly dry and I can fully enjoy the sleep. Or so I thought -- during the night the wind quite picks up and is now noisilly flapping all the sides of my tent.

Sunset

April 29

Huuray, today is all downhill! But then, it is a long way to go -- I still have about 80 kilometers to Antofagasta. And somehow the wind knows this and tries to get in my way. As I am zooming down from the pass, the views aren't exactly exciting. Single-colored hills, a bit of rocks, basically a Martian country.

A long descent starts
Martian country
I am rejoining Ruta 1

I quickly join Ruta 1, and after another while Ruta 5. Here the descent flattens and the wind just turns up the volume. It is quite cold wind. In fact, so cold that I need to get on my windbreak to stay warm.

The road passes around mining complex La Negra. Here I am stopping on a gas station to get some fuel into my stomach. There isn't too much interesting selection though so I just get a quick snack and continue further.

Unfortunately there isn't much exciting to see around Ruta 5 to La Negra

From La Negra another steeper descent starts. And this time I am finally arriving to Antofagasta. Which is a really big city and it takes me some while to get more or less into the centre where I try to use Internet to find some decently cheap hostel -- as it turns out, Antofagasta is quite an expensive city when it comes to hostels.

First signs of Antofagasta

Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 222 3.0 64
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
April 26, 2017 55.7 0.59 19.8
April 27, 2017 46.9 0.56 22.3
April 28, 2017 28.7 1.73 27.6
April 29, 2017 91.1 0.08 23.5

Elevation data

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(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 62.1
< 4 11.9 35.0
< 6 7.7 11.1
< 8 10.6 6.0
< 10 3.9 0.9
≥ 10 2.7 1.1

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