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Patagonia Cycle Expedition 2008

 
 

Last update - 2010 02 07 (Added a rough link to a few infrared pictures)
This is under construction. So please temporarily forgive poor format / bad links. It'll be ok in the end though :-)

 

Links

Diary

Infra Red Pictures

GPS tracks

Alaska 2 Ushuia

Introduction

I chose to cycle, solo, from Punta Arenas up to Puerto Montt, in Chile and Argentinas Patagonia. Preparation involved significant planning, for equipment, maps and bicycle setup. From Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt I had just over four weeks, but poor weather, over estimates and a few hickups meant I had to shorten the route a bit. Nevertheless the significant part of the journey was retained. I cycled through spectacular scenary and met some interesting people. If you’re thinking of something similar, or just wish to see what happened, please readon.


It was late 2007 when I had the misfortune to cut off some fingers, leaving me with four shortened digits. Oh & yes it did hurt, it hurt lots & lots, but this story isn’t about that event. However it was this misfortune that left me with some carried over holiday that I needed to use up. I needed, or rather wanted to do something different. Sure, I could have taken the time off and decorated more of the house, & boy does it need it. No, I needed something for me. I had considered walking the Camino de Santiago, a route from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella, but that involved a walk for pilgrims & I’m no pilgrim, even though the route would be quite nice. It had been a while since I visited Santiago, my wife was going there for Christmas so I thought of cycling across the Andes from either Mendoza or Buenas Aires. The hilly bit would be interesting but for the long, dry, rolling planes across Argentina, it would be a bit borring, not least to say the trip would be over in a couple of weeks at the most. I then hit upon the idea of cycling north from Punta Arenas to Santiago. A quick check on the map showed that this was in the order of 4,000 km. A bit far but was it possible?


Planning Overview

So buoyed by the idea of visiting Patagonia I had to start planning if I was going to carry this off. First off I had to sort out a route but immediately hit problems. Unlike the United Kingdom, there aren’t easily available maps. There’s Google Earth, but not so easy to take the web connection on my tour, but perhaps useful to plan an overview. I knew of a map specialists in London, Stanfords, so I decided to make a visit the next time I was there. I had a brief look at the internet and not sure which came first; I found a blog by Dany Grab who had cycled from Alaskas’ northern tip down to Ushuia, who had a blog; I also found some high level maps off a Chilean website. Firstly Dany’s blog was great, he had lists of stuff he took, brief descriptions of each day, and even had a fault analysis saying how many punctures he’d had, how many broken spokes etc. All invaluable material that would assist my planning. Secondly the maps were just not detailed enough. It was worse than the type of maps you get in a pocket diary with UK on a single page. This wouldn’t do & I really needed to get better maps, especially to determine road gradients as the Andes are quite hilly.


Mapping

So I started by exploring Google Earth <link here>. It wasn’t long before I realised their imagery, certainly around mid 2008, was not very good for these way out places. For the good imaged sections I could see lines down the centre of some roads, so I knew these were paved. I then found openstreetmaps <link here> which was useful in two ways. Firstly where Google maps was a let down on imagery, openstreetmaps was pulling in different imagery, maybe MS, and often better when Google was a let down. This applied vica versa also. Secondly openstreetmaps had routes overlayed with tracks from people’s GPS receivers. So now I could confirm existance of some roads, when I was trying to infer them from satellite images. I didn’t want to cycle hundreds of kms up a deadend! One particular area was very suspect, with bad resolution imagery on both and no tracks. However there were geo-tagged photos from panorama, but again I couldn’t trust these as people often slap images on willy-nilly often many miles out.

Eventually I made the trip to London and visited Stanfords’ Maps <link here>. I had a look through all the maps in stock and found that quite a few maps were worse than the free ones of the internet. For the particularly troublesome section, above, I found that three maps all gave different indications for the road, some with no road, others with a road in the wrong place. I could see the road from the sky [well in some areas I could]. In the end I bought a map <picture in here>

What I now did was to plan a route northwards, splitting the route into manageable sections, e.g. a 3 day set, a 2 day set. I charted these out using <link in here> recording / exporting all the latitude and longitudes. These I fed into excel which I then used to agregate distance, height climbed etc. After a week or so I’d made up all the routes <link in here>. It all started to look relatively impressive with a real shift from a topical discussion one would have over a beer or three, to going live.

I was given an agenda by Susy to capture my travels. I decided the best approach here was to copy across significant way points from the routes into the agenda. At least I’d know that roughly 60 to 65km in I would meet a junction where I needed to stay left. I was going to need some other items to make route finding a real possibility. I noted that Dany had used a <watch make here> to total distances and altitude climbed. The watch would meet my needs so a quick check on ebay & I found one for around £75.


GPS and the like

After seeing openmap and doing a bit of investigation I learnt that you could buy real small, matchbox size, GPS loggers. I purchased a few to compare capability and settled on a set of two BT747s and two <insert name> <insert link>. I later realised two BT747s would do the trick. What I wanted to log was position every five seconds. Speed and bearing could be inferred from the log. Date and time also reqd. The nice thing about these loggers were that they used a nokia mobile battery, which was also cheap & easy to pickup off ebay.

Ok so with the geologgers I could tag my photos and also look at the data when I got home. How far did I ride, how fast did I really travel? Where did I really go? I could also upload the routes back onto openstreetmaps.

For backup purposes I also got a couple of Holux M-241s. These could do a few things the BT 747s couldn’t. Firstly its powered by a AA battery, with one decent 2200mAh NiMH lasting around 12+ hours. Secondly & perhaps more importantly they have a tiny LCD screen that can display lat & long. With the right settings it can also display speed, bearing, and distance travelled. In practice I found work was a lot closer & by the time I got home I had travelled only a few metres. I realised I had the great circle, as a crow flies, distance from start & not agregated distance. That was soon fixed. They could also log similar values as the BT 747s. Two would cover me incase one broke.

With two Holux-M241s, two eBonTEKs and BT 747s I was fully covered. Each TBD/BT747 would last over 10 days a log and the Holux would last a month at 15second intervals. I later discovered that the BT 747s must have had more memory than the eBonTEKs. I’d run them until the flashing light indicated 90% full, then I’d do one final day and swap over to another one.


Photography

Ok so now I knew where I’d be cycling. The terrain looked great from G’Earth and some of the panorama photos indicated I would get to seem some beautiful vistas. Now for those who know me well enough, or have scoured my website will know I like photography. Susy suggested I took my full up SLR, but with two lenses, a sufficiently wide angle for capturing panoramas and one for long shots I’d be lugging a lot of Kgs around. From experience I wrecked a Nikon lens whilst only travelling only 20kms by skiddoo. As this was going to be far further, a more expensive camera setup I decided I just couldn’t justify the weight, nor the risk. So I had to pare down any expectations from my other half that I’d come back with photos good enough to win wildlife photographer of the year award.

So I was going to carry the Sony W35, a fairly light-weight point and press. However I also wanted to take another camera, a Canon G1. Not just any old camera, but modified such that I could take IR photos without a tripod. Basically digital cameras can take photographs like the black and white infra red films would. Whilst the G1 can do this without modification, a Hoya R72 IR filter would mean a sunny scene needed F4 at 1/10th of a second. With the internal IR filter removed (all digital cameras have an in built filter so they can get the colours correct) and a new piece of glass in, to keep the optics correct you’re back to normal speeds, like 200th second, F5.6 ISO100.

So I dutifully added the modified Canon G1, G1 lens adapter and two filters Hoya-R72 and B+W. Sets of batteries, as I know the G1 gobbles them. And I also needed a suite of memory cards, 1GB CF seeming to be the biggest the G1 would handle and 4GB for the sony.

I misplaced my lightweight & small but very versatile tripod in the remaining weeks leading up to leaving so I was going to be stuck with this G1. I later partially wished I’d not modified the camera, as the false colour work I normally do only seems to work best on the G1 if it’s not modified. Another slight drawback of going for IR is the ability to properly expose. I’ve assumed from what I’ve read elsewhere that the exposure algorithm is based on the various colour channels. With the G1 that’s CYMG. With IR filters, especially the Hoya-R72, it still lets a strong red component through. As a consequence some of the channels can get saturated and effectively clip. So you’re then left with having to purposely under-expose by anywhere from a half to a full stop. This can sometimes leave dissapointng pictures, so you’re then left with having to bracket a third of a stop either side. In the end, and after having a little bit of experience of, I decided to bracket a whole stop and then use HDR techniques to combine the images.

The issue I have now is that I can’t use any simple tools to re-combine the bracketed pictures into an HDR image, which I then stitch together with, say another tool, to create an IR panorama. If I choose to do false colouring, then that’s another very complicated stage again. So this is one reason why the images haven’t made into publication yet, but here’s a taster of what I got <insert image here>


Chargers & solar panels

Right, now if you’re still with me at this point, you may have started to gather that I was going to need a means of re-charging things. I had GPS loggers, Camera batteries. I wasn’t going to leave my mp3 at home, with Michelle Thomas’ Spanish on it, mixed in with some other nice tracks. I was therfore left with the need to take chargers. Four of. Two for the two cameras. Two for AAs, one to charge and one to deliver USB +5v for USB charging. Then I had a couple of mains USB chargers. As I was going to be out of contact for some time, I ended up with about 40+AAs. Still not quite satisfied, who wants to be in the middle of nowhere with a lot of camera bits n pieces, with flat batteries. I therefore opted to take a Solar Charger < insert image>.

The solar charger I opted for has inbuilt Li Ion cells which I would stick this on the back of the bike and charge up off the sun. In fact in practise it worked really well, fully charging up within a day and more than capable of charging three cycles on my GPS loggers. However after six days it died. I put it down to the punishing terrain but on inspection when I got home, I’m putting it down to something either wrong with the design or a manufacturing fault. I found it in good condition inside despite a month of serious pounding. I screwed it back together & it worked. I left it in the garage for a week or so to find it had stopped working again. Either way I’d recommend one, assuming this is a lemon (cheap from China). Great for MP3, phone, GPS logger. If your camera charges off USB also fantastic.


Camping

From reading Dany’s blog my simple assumption of travelling from hospedaje to hospedaje wasn’t going to work. I really was going to be in the middle of no where. What I really needed was a simple, small, lightweight tent. In the end I got a cheap one man tent <insert picture>. However it was really too small, but probably the right size for keeping the warmest. I’d get a slightly bigger tent, especially one that could permit cooking in the porch area, especially if it’s raining. I didn’t suffer with this problem. You also need to store your belongings inside and a bit of wiggle room is advisable.

I was also going to need a means of cooking: This would require not just a stove, but pans, eating machinary and fuel. It quickly became apparent that a couple of panniers wouldn’t suffice, see bike gear. So I invested in a whisper lite petrol stove, copy from China. It arrived and was just the thing. I could run off meths, petrol or diesel in fact anything flammable. It’s possible it would also run off llama dung but I didn’t try this. I got out my aluminium pans I’d owned since walking up from Elgol to the cullins on the isle of sky.

I decided to also take some emergency bits n pieces. First aid would be needed. I also wanted twine, knife (for killing things) and other bits n pieces. I had a small reel of Marlow twine and ended up using this to repair a splitting pole on the tent. I was not going to be eaten alive by creatures neither so I also packed the deet, jungle formula 100 (95%), just don’t put it near any plastics, unless you want to melt them.

An important item which I hadn’t thought of taking but was on Dany’s list was a water filter. There are quite a few types, and as I did find I needed to drink water from some unlikely sources it is a life saver.

I also opted to go light on sleeping gear. I chose to go for a layered approach as well, mainly as I already had the kit. I had a two season mountain equipment synthetic bag, cotton liner and a gortex bivvy bag outer. At least I could was the cotton liner, and to be honest is a lot more comfortable against the sking than the synthetic bag. The Goretex bivvy bag would also enable me to sleep outdoors in the rain should I have some catestrophic failure of the tent.

Make sure you have a good knife and try not to go through customs / security checks like I did. I lost my nice Ibberson stainless sailing knife, it would hold a very sharp edge despite being stainless. Also make sure you have a tin opener and more importantly a bottle opener. Although I always seemed to buy Clos, Gato Negro or similar wine brands in cardboard boxes.

Bike gear

I had wanted to get a new bike, especially one which I could use for going to work on, and get a tax incentivisement (discounted cost). Sadly work hadn’t a scheme coming up. I was also spending too much money on all the bits n pieces so I decided my trusty stead would have to do. It wasn’t a bad decision either as Dany had indicated you should take a steel-CrMo frame, not just because they’re light (ish) and strong, but they can be welded if they break(!!) Hell’, this trip’s getting complicated. So I had a 1998 Diamond Back 22” CrMo frame. I’d already changed the pegs. I fitted a new set of front rings that I got off ebay for a fiver. Long travel deraillieur. I also needed a new sprocket for the rear wheel, especially one which had a small cog of 11 teeth so I could zoom along in top gear. I ended up getting, quite by accident, a super-range 34 to 11 tooth by 7 shimano sprocket. I had some good quality wheels, deep rim Wienmann rims. I also needed a mirror, but for left hand drive. I had to make do with a round one, as it was all I could get for the left hand side.

The bike was nearly ready, all I needed was some pannier racks and some bags. I got the front racks cheapest on ebay, rear rack from Halfords and again a set of cheap pannier bags off ebay. I was also going to need a bike suitcase to get the thing on & off the plane. I had just bought one but later, after deciding to go on a one way, open jaw, route I need either something I could dispose of or something I could carry. It turned out I could get unpadded cycle bags. I bought two; One for the bike and one for the trailer. Yep I was going to need a trailer.

I’d done the Gold Duke of Edinburgh by bike and knew from experience that the pannier bags would be stretching it. This was doubly true going solo. So after reading Dany’s blog about trailers I opted for a Bob Trailer. I went for the Bob Ibex. I’d do the same again (!). It was cheaper to buy one of these from the ‘States, ship it over and pay import duty than it was to buy in the UK. So a week or so later Mr DHL arrived with the trailer. It was a bit fiddly to set up, but to be honest that really was me. You’ve got a few nuts n bolts to undo / do up. The trailer will totally dismantle for shipping / airfreight so the suspension swing arm & bike attachement arms come off, suspension detaches, wheel quick release and it all folds up in to the footprint of the cargo holding bit. It’s also CrMo. In fact I’d read up about all the different trailer types and the single wheel, tilting trailer seemed best. With suspension on you literrly don’t know it’s behind you. That is except when you want to accelerate but you’ve got 30Kg behind you and another good 15Kg on the bike, but that’s nothing to do with the trailer. Also when you brake, especially into a corner, the momentum pushes you forwards, a touch understeering and you don’t feel safe. However that’s all momentum / weight of the cargo not the trailer and you soon get accustomed to the push & pull of the weight. Another advantage is the low slung weight, great stability. Suspension was going to be a real bonus. If you’re not on tarmac the whole way & can accommodate another Kg of weight for suspension then GET IT!

Before I finish this section I just wanted to make a note on tyre choice. I opted for a pair of Kevlar tyres and semi slicks. The kevlar tyres were some cheap ones from Asda at £10 each. They were also quite heavy, but had good tread and suitable for paved road and for off road. I also had a set of semi-slicks, which I was going to use on paved sections. In the end I left the kevlar tyres on, which ran fine on the paved sections of road I was on. With hindsight any advantage of semi-slicks on rolling resistance would be quite negligible given the extreme winds I had to deal with. Forget semi-slicks, or even super knobbly tyres. Part knobbly tyres may be ok for some of the roads, but the rolling resistance on many of the roads, given load weights will be quite high.

<note on locks>


Bike Spares

According to Dany’s failure analysis I was going to need spares to fix things. Spare tyre, spare tube, spare spokes. Lots of tools to do everything, sprocket spanners etc. I would also need some spare nuts n bolts, zip ties (come in handy) puncture kit, spare brake cables / gear cables. Some grease / oil. I have the full list here. It all comes in pretty heavy but when you’re miles, quite literally miles from anywhere with perhaps just a few cars / small vans passing by you need to be able to fix the damn thing, even if they drop you off in the nearest village, which itself could be 50km+ away, in some cases 100s kms away.


Kit storage

From the previous notes you’ll no doubt gather I’ve amassed a huge amount of clatch as an old friend of mine would say. I needed to make sure this would all be stowed securely and whatever the weather. So the bob trailer has a pretty good bag, but I wouldn’t risk it in keeping the cameras and electronicsy stuff dry. Besides you need to selectively access some bits but not others. I found these containers <image> excellent. They snap together so no lids popping off. They’re water proof. I could even use some to put food in if I needed. Being oblong they closely stack together also, without their contents getting crushed. They were on half price at Morrisons, so I got a few.

 

 

 
     
     
 

Last update - 2010 02 07 (Added a rough link to a few infrared pictures)
2010 02 01 06:58 (links to danygrab)
2010 01 31 15:16 (gps tracks added also with google earth plugin)
2010 01 31 08:29 (some gps tracks added also with google earth plugin)
2010 01 31 07:26 (diary and gps tracks added)
2010 01 30 11:18 (added more detail on into and planning)

 

 

My notes area - still to do:-)

 

Cycling from Punta Arenas up to Puerto Montt, Chile and Agrentina in about 4 weeks. Solo bike ride, starting in Punta Arenas, Chile, I travelled north towards Puerto Montt, having around 4 weeks. I had an old, but trustworthy Diamond Back (1998) mountain bike, a Bob trailer, some paniers and a dodgy map. The route took me through some beautiful locations with exquisite scenary. After four punishing weeks I arrived safely in Puerto Montt, finally taking the bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, for Christmas and the 2009 New Year.


Links

Tour Diary

Memories

Just Photos

Route and GPS data

Lessons Learned

Early planning

Items to take

Other links / resources



Tour Diary

Combined notes from diary and blog. Additional information for anyone considering the route

Embedded photos from each day, with links to originals.

Links to my original blog.


Memories

Iberia being an ass

First day & punishing wind

Cycling in to Puerto Natales.



Just Photos

A more complete set of photos, similar to those uploaded to facebook

Further work – infrared HDR false colour images

Link to software for doing the geolocation tagging


Route, GPS data and other technical goodies

Original route plan – How I made it from Google maps, openstreetmap & the other program (shareware)

Note that one tool had accurate altitude, but photography was bad. Note altitude climbed, as this give indication of effort.

Revised route plan – Just a list of dates & location names, + lat longs with road numbers

GPS loggers used

GPS logs, raw unedited.

Further work

Technical stuff like photos software, infrared camera mods, HDR photography, solar charger, batteries, mp3, bike computer and Holux-M241

Infrared pictures.

Scanned copies of the maps, with links to map shop in London

openstreetmap


Lessons Learned

Weight is critical, perhaps single camera, less batteries

Lighter lock

Tyre choice – cheap kevlar very good, no punctures. Didn’t need semi-slicks. Didn’t need offroad nobbly tyres, would have just slowed me down.

Tent, not big enough really, but manageable

Need sleeping mat, possibly buy in country due to bulk, or use one which self-inflates.

Lack of meat an issue, just tinned fishy stuff.

Don’t eat rice

Wine container leaked

Powdered soup good to add to pasta

Suggary Zumo drinks, add one to water bottle. Problem – consume around 8+ a day on hard days. However limits the sugar crashes on hard sections unless you have good packed lunches.

Use of snap lock containers.

Excellent glasses

Suncream & burnt head / hair.

Definitely take deet, jungle formula.

Good planning, as in here, is not just essential to ensure things run smooth, but also means

Skype phone call, international setup so you can ring home for price of just a national call.

Not to have a big bag of change, stacks of cash & ccard.

Language.

Take a bus if the route is mental!

CrMo frame, easy to repair. Notes on suspension bikes, disk rotors and getting things repaired.


Items to take

Bike paraphanalia

Camping paraphinalia

Clothing

Gadgets

Luxuries


Equipment Failures

Pole on tent split, but had equipment to repair.

Rear wheel slipping in frame – fixed with spot weld, but possibly not an issue on new bikes

Problem with rear gears coming loose, but had tool to fix.

Later - Discovered Rear wheel had totally threaded fixing between hub & shimano freewheel. Only repairable with new hub / complete wheel.

Later - Spoke failure. Spare spokes weren’t correct size & had to be jiggled. This required heating to cherry red, which could have been done with stove, but far better to have fixed these at home.

Before I went – lots

Over tightening of rear bearings.

Seat post corroded into frame.



Other links / Resources

Shelden bike link

Links of alaska to Ushuia blog.