When the road stop, you need to keep going
I sat down in a small shady area, looking around and thought to myself, “how do I always get myself into these situations”. The answer is a little bit of curiosity, hard headed, challenge and plain stupidness!
Crossing the Atacama Desert has always been a big dream of mine. I imagined the dry endless landscapes, sand dunes, massive bleak mountains and lots of empty spaces. Looking at photos of places you want to go, 90% of those photos is of some touristic destination in a large area. The same happened with the Atacama Desert. So, like always, I decided to go a different route and go see whats on the other side, where people don’t want to go… because they are smart!
The night before I crossed into the Atacama Region, I spend the night on a beach close to Puerto de Choros. Beautiful beaches that make me think back of the west coast in South Africa. Lots of sand dunes, few people driving around in their pickup trucks, amazing sunsets and the smell of the ocean. These moments are very special to me, as I love the ocean and sitting there for hours thinking about life.
It was a chilly morning as I picked up the bike and pushed on north. It wasn’t long before I cycled past the sign that said “Benviendos de Atacama”. It has officially started, my journey across the Atacama.
I was on a good maintained gravel road and the fatbike was it eating it up. Much better than being on the long beautiful paved roads. The area was very green because of all the rain that the area received during the winter season. This greenness made the scenery incredible. The lush green color against the hard contrast of the desert was amazing. Some of the beast and most beautiful places I’ve encountered in Chile.
There was a light breeze in the air and the occasional Guanaco looking at me as I slowly moved by. The best was that there was basically no cars. The further I pushed on, the one car an hour became one car every few hours. No fences around, so I don’t feel like I’m boxed into a area. My first night was spend right next to the road. Only one car passed me since I pitched the tent until the next morning I cycled off.
I was now about to turn on even a smaller road and this is where things got interesting. The fun was about to start.
It wasn’t long before the road turned really bad. It was still easy to cycle with the fatbike at this point I then reached some abandoned mines and this is where things turned sideways. The road completely disappeared. I was following my inReach and after an hour found some sort of something that looked like a road has been there 10 years ago. One place you don’t want to get lost is in the Atacama and well… I almost did.
Most of these gravel roads is almost gone, due to floods. For me it looked like there has been more than one flood over these roads. Before I knew it, I was 10 kilometers into this maze after four hours. I was trying to cycle, push, carry and lifting the fatbike over obstacles. Now I know I can pick up a fully loaded fatbike above my shoulders.
It was a hot desert day and my water was already running low. This was a massive problem, as there was nobody close and could not find any water. I have not seen anyone during this day. After another hour I luckily found a small water steams coming out of the sand, which disappeared again after about 50 meters. I sat behind a massive boulder, filtering water, hydrating and figuring out what to do.
Option 1 – Push on
Option 2 – Turn around and find a different route
Turn around, I hate to do. I get this feeling deep inside myself when I have to backtrack. I would rather suffer and push on. So this was the answer to my question (yet again). At-least I know where there is some water if I had to turn back. This water source can make me push on for another day and even if I had to turn back, make it back to get water, where I can then make it back to the bigger gravel road.
It was a screaming hot day. In the last two years I’ve spend most of my time in winter areas and cooler parts of Chile and Argentina, so I was not use to this heat. And this type of travel takes everything out of you. I fell five times when I tried to cycle. Each time was a sign that I should rather push or carry the bike.
I was slowly starting to get dehydrated and at some point saw a small shady area. I stopped, grabbed my water and laid down on the ground. At that point I thought to myself, “how do I always get myself into these situations”. But my twisted mind will always respond, “you know you like this”. Turning back was not an option anymore. I have to continue.
I found a nice rocky camping area at the end of a loooong day. It was a beautiful evening. After pitching my tent I sat down on a rock, drinking an energy drink and looking around. It was so fucking beautiful! Nothing than a few lizards running around… just me and nature.
The next morning things got so much better, really quick. I could stay on the bike and the miles ticked down faster. The road was still in bad shape, but not as bad as the previous day. I had two massive climbs, which was hard on these roads. I was now forced to stop at times, to look around and take in this incredible beauty that surrounded me.
As the road improved, so did the people. I would see one or two every few hours, working around their farm houses.
The gravel and sandy routes took me closer to Caldera. The desert was slowly starting to surface as the mile gone by. I could not stop looking around as my dream has become a reality… I’m busy crossing the Atacama Desert!