When I was growing up I was told “Go west, young man” and that ended up shaping my life, so far. It still holds true here in Argentina and Chile; a week of going south in Argentina is enough of dusty desert riding and so the bike gets pointed west back towards Chile. There’s a thin road on the maps leading up into the Andes, promising another low traffic dirt pass: Paso Pichachen.
First say goodbye to Lee, traditional cyclist farewell involves two rounds of bakery-bought cake, dulce de leche permeated sweetness. Lee continues south, bound to a tighter deadline for wrapping up his tour. The end of my trip is coming, but there’s still a bit of time left.
Set off solo again, probably for the last time on this journey. A meet-up with Paul is scheduled when he finishes riding in northern Chile and Argentina. But for now it’s just Ace and me on the road, a return to mental contemplation accompanied by legs pumping up and down, over and over. It’s far enough south that the sun comes up early and sets late, and these are the best days to let thoughts swirl however they may.
Lee Vilinsky, fueling up on a combination of a mil hojas and alfajor that’s been covered in peanuts. True cyclist food.
The Andes keep Chile and Argentina separated all down the length of the countries, and the mountains maintain distinct ecosystems on each side. Chile’s land squeezes itself in between the Pacific and the mountains and stays much greener than the corresponding land in Argentina. In Argentina, for once the earth becomes greener and takes on more color as it rises up into the mountains, but away from the mountains the land just stretches out eastward into an expansive desert.
To reach the pass just as the sun sets. Following standard Chilean sensibility, the Chilean immigration station lies 30km away from the actual pass, as far away as they could sensibly build the station. A quiet night camping in No Man’s Land with only some cows grazing nearby for company ensues.
Commemorative plaques and Chilean flags adorn the road throughout the park, remembrances of a tragic military training mission. In 2005 474 soldiers were sent into the region on a mountain training exercise. An unexpected blizzard fell upon them, and lacking adequate cold-weather gear they were forced to shelter as best they could. Rescue teams managed to evacuate 429 soldiers, but 45 died due from hypothermia. A somber note to a beautiful place.