Days before starting South American Crossing
Its been a bumpy and crazy few days before the start of South America. Long flights from way up north in Fairbanks, Alaska to all the way down south to Punta Arenas, Chile. Popping tubes, broken axles, not finding spares and deflating tires in Punta Arenas.
Karen and I arrived in Punta Arenas on the 13th of December, after five flights and 30 hours on planes. These flights felt like some of the longest I’ve taken. I did not get much sleep before we finally arrived in Punta Arenas, so finally was time to catch up on some of those lost hours in the air.
The first plan was to start South America on the 15th, but because of the lost sleep, it was nearly impossible to get out of bed before 2pm on the 14th. It felt like there was hanging 20kg weights on both of my eyelids. We slept most of that day and then the fun started with the bike…
Only a month since I postponed The Coldest Triangle. In this month I had to plan and organize everything for South America. One month is not a lot of time for the South American crossing planning, especially when the plans completely changed than what I did crossing the first four continents. I had this idea in my head to cycle, paddle and trek, so was putting things together as fast as I could, but very soon it was the final day! We were not only packing for the adventure, but also packing up most of the content in the house.
Gear Decision for South America
In the end I made a decision to take the fatbike, packraft and backpack. Combining these three will make the adventure even more exciting. But with only one month to plan, some decisions had to be made quick. My planning of any leg of the adventure includes going over my plans until I feel comfortable with all my decisions. My experience of crossing the first four continents definitely helped and I felt one month was more that enough to plan South America. I only forgot that we still needed to pack up the house.
With “Fatty” (my fatbike) – I decided to go tubeless. It sounded like a good plan after watching a few Youtube videos on how to go tubeless. With tons of confidence I went out and got “everything” I needed for the conversion. This happened 15 hours before the flight down south. I was so confident that I only packed one extra inner tube, just for in case something happens that can’t be fixed on the road.
Sometimes I can get very frustrated with myself… when I think I know better. The first mistake I made was getting Duck Tape instead of Gorilla Tape. In all the Youtube videos they used Gorilla Tape, but I thought Duck Tape will do the trick. It probably will work if you have done tubeless conversions a few times and know what you are doing. The second BIG mistake was only taking the one extra tube. I did not think about the whole conversion process and that things can actually go wrong before I even jump on the bike.
People think I’m an expert when it comes to bikes, but that is far from the truth. Yea, I know, it does not make any sense. Or lets say this: I know more now and much much…. much more than when this whole adventure started. When something something went wrong with my bicycle back home, I would drop it off at the bike shop. I even struggled with adjusting the gears :).
This adventure has taught me a lot about bicycles. I’m on my third bike and is still learning every time something new breaks. But now, in Punta Arenas, I was quickly learning how to make tires tubeless, or what should be done, to do it correctly.
Making the tubeless conversion in Punta Arenas
I was really amped to do this and even gave myself a few extra hours in my planning to make Fatty tubeless!
The first problem came when I had the wrong valve adapter to inflate my tubes tires at a gas station. I got the valve adapters back in Fairbanks and the side where the gas stations pump needed to fit, was too big. So, no air was going into the tires.
So the next day I was off in the search for a bicycle shop. I found a good one where they inflated the tires and I brought new valve adapters that I can use at gas stations down south. Pumping up the tires is the first step in the tubeless conversion, where the bead needs to set into the rim.
I missed a crucial step by not using a tube to do this step. The tube helps getting the tire nicely onto the rim before you remove it again only one side. This is done that one side is secured and you don’t need to worry to struggle to get both in place when you try to pump it up. The bicycle shop did not get the bead onto the rim correctly and the tire was completely deflated when I got back to the hostel.
Luckily I bought two new valve adapter at the bike shop in Punta Arenas and was able to inflate the tires at the gas station. This time I used the inner tube to help the process to set the bead in place. I started with the back wheel, which already had the correct tubeless tape inside the rim. The whole process went smooth and the tire was soon standing in the corner ready to go! The sealant was in and could not see or hear any leaks.
The problems started with the front wheel. For some reason, I always struggle more to get the tires onto the front rim. And it was the case again. After the tire was on the rim, the bead did not want to pop into place. As I was trying to get it in place, I heard a loud pop. This is a sound which you don’t want to hear when you only have one inner tube. The only only inner tube I had popped!
At this moment I knew things were about to get interesting…
In search for foreign parts in foreign cities
The bicycle shops in Punta Arenas had no fatbike inner tubes, which was probably expected. I was a little mad at myself by not thinking about what could happen before I even hit the road. Bringing another inner tube would not have taken up much extra space and weight, especially how important this part can be. When I struggled to remove the tire, the duck tape got damaged in the process!
This meant I was soon looking for two things not one. I was now in search for gorilla tape, which you get in the States and the inner tube.
So, after Karen and I walked over nine miles looking for tubes and tape, we were out of luck. I even asked for tape at ALE (The Antarctic Logistics & Expedition Company), without luck.
Not having a extra tube made the tubeless conversion much harder and the tape that I had was not perfect for the tubeless conversion. But perfect was not an option at this point and had no choice to push on and make it work with what I had.
It was a frustrating process. I removed the old tape and replaced it with new duck tape. It was awesome having Karen there with me, helping me every step of the way… without any complaints.
Attempt No. 3
In the next step we put the tire back on the rim and tried to get some air into the tire. This step took some time and lot of patience. After about 20 minutes the tire finally started to inflate. Remember, there is no tube in the tire, so the air basically pours out on all edges. So getting it go pop in place is what took some time.
I injected the white tubeless liquid and inflated the tire once again. At first sight it looked good, but as soon as we got back to the hostel, the air was starting to escape from all sides. It slowly deflated again! I kept using my hand pump to keep the tire inflated, while rotating the wheel that the sealant will hopefully start to do what it was made for. Not being an expert, I was sitting there staring at the tire, not knowing what could be wrong. I assumed is was the duck tape, because the bead of the tire was perfectly in place.
After another day the tire finally started to deflate slower. It was still deflating, but I thought I would be able to get onto road, inflating the tire as I go. At-least I will get onto the road and start making progress.
Last glitch before setting off
O yea, in between all the tires crap, I had another part that failed on me. As I was putting the tires back on the bike, the back axle quick release broke! This is not something you want to happen when its tightly secured on the bike. Luckily after many failed attempts and tools, I managed to get it out without damaging the bike. But up until now, I’m not sure why and for what reason… I decided to pack a extra back axle!!
An extra axle but not an extra tube???
After a four days of struggling, frustration and lots of patience, I managed to hit the road on the 17th of December. Karen jumped onto a bus to Puerto Natales, where I will meet her again in a few days to walk Torres del Paine over Christmas and New Years!
Hello South America!