Pedal(s) to the metal

That Lance Armstrong is a naughty chap aye? I wonder what Lord Lance could do on a weighty touring bike… for that matter I wonder what any of the peloton riders could do to Mike Halls around the world record or Scott Napiers 125 day Deadhorse to Ushuaia record. Mark Beaumont is nothing compared to those athletes, they’re the real deal, not just TV personalities. Although what could Beaumont do if he was EPOed up to his eyeballs? Maybe he was, maybe his camera crew were giving him blood transfusions… everyone in TV is on something.. right??? 

When I’m not excited and totally engaged with my riding my mind often decides to go on its own journey. Leaving Santiago I continued my great southerly surge, cycling robotically and branching out on wild mental tangents in the process. Trying my darndest to avoid the Pan American highway, which down here is busy and really ugly, whilst aiming for nothing other than distance towards my next object of exploration, the Chilean Lake District, I sped away from Santiago. Hot blue sky summer days punctuated by overpriced nights in irrelevant towns and the push to progress accompanied by the sting of lactic acid. Riding hard and fast I knocked off some distance and didn’t have a half bad time doing it.

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There were undoubtedly some tedious times on this leg but they became more and more worth it the further south I rode

Life can’t be a continuous string of prestige routes, sometimes those bricks need some mortar pasting between them. The bulk of this latest stretch of riding from Santiago to Ralco was just that, mortar; grey, dull, hardly noticed but vital to the bigger picture. Although not strictly my cup to tea, riding like this can still be a lot of fun. I love to ride my bike, wherever or however. Sometimes I lose this passion to attitude but I always know it is good to be made to appreciate what we have rather than obsess over what we may want. As I made my way down the Chilean map the ride evolved towards what I usually crave; pavement gave way to ripio, dense woodland sprung up around me and snow-capped volcanoes appeared on the horizon. It is to experience this evolution that I insist on riding the more mundane stretches… how many times do I hear myself proclaim ‘context is king’?

Santiago to Ralco Route elevation profile

Neither particularly memorable nor dramatic, this 725 km ride south from Santiago down to Ralco was still intensely valuable. Leaving the bustling wealth of Santiago I witnessed Chile evolve into an increasingly verdant and forested land. Here is that story…

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Leaving Santiago on a Sunday is no accident, discovering large parts of my exit route closed off to motorised traffic is a very fortunate coincidence.

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Opting to take the smaller local roads away from Santiago I’m rewarded with some fun winds and climbs…

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… as I leave the Chilean desert regions behind

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My first day back on the road takes me via a network of rural roads down to the sizable town of Rancagua

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Despite not being the only idiot on the highway early experiments with Ruta 5 quickly convince me it is not where I want to be…

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… so I set about seeking out smaller local roads whenever possible. Many of these have cycle lanes which are sometimes helpful but often times in such bad condition it’s safer to ride on the road

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It’s not all plain sailing… a local road I’m on peters out leaving no option but to ride the busy Pan American highway on the wrong side of the road…

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… a somewhat traumatic experience that I survive. My determination to find sedate rural PanAm alternatives strengthened…

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… south of Curico I head out into the country…

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… where crops remind me of home…

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… and woodlands remind me of the romance of the North American wilderness

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Bicycles + car = death. I see a few of these ghost bikes along the way, a phenomena that I dislike. I understand the sentiment but reject the glorification of cycling in death. There is an assumption with these shrines that the cyclist is the good guy, this isn’t always the case. It is incredible the number of people who don’t know how to safely ride a bicycle. People die… it sucks… you and everyone you love will die… get over it and start enjoying the moments before that happens

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Central Chile is its agricultural belt, chances are you’ve eaten something from here. The huge scale of agriculture…

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… is evident…

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… just about everywhere

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For me paved riding is largely a lesson in glass and tire wire avoidance. My wait for a puncture finally comes to an end just before Chillan. I like this bus shelter so much I decide to get involved with some other bike maintenance duties too

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Fast and long days leave me with a build up of lactic acid in my legs so I decide to take a recovery day in Chillan. A happy byproduct of this is that I’m able to use the phrase ‘Chill’in in Chillan’. Along with its plethora of street art, the fact that you can chill in Chillan is possibly its most redeeming feature

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Leaving Chillan means leaving Ruta 5 well behind and starting a new phase of the route. Before long snow-capped volcanoes are beckoning enticingly

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Main roads mean too many hotels. It comes as a great relief to finally be back living in the tent

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The further I get from the Pan American highway the more forested the world becomes and the broader my smile. The flatter parts are reminiscent of beautiful Michigan…

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… while the introduction of undulations take me back to British Colombia

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It’s Sunday and I spend time in the central plaza of Quilleco watching people pour into the village church before embracing my religion and heading out onto the ripio

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Within no time the paved slog through the heartland of large-scale agriculture feels a distant memory. Shaded from the baking summer sun…

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… and refreshed by the sights and sounds of fresh flowing rivers…

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… I revel in my return to rougher roads…

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… and a more vibrant ecosystem

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But this woodland wander is just a taster of what’s to come and I’m sooner descending out of the forest down to Santa Barbara and a return to black-top

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The amount of traffic on the road to Ralco comes as a bit of a shock… as does the huge dam…

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… behind which the Rio Bio Bio swells creating beaches and attracting tourists

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About 15 km short of Ralco I find a friendly restaurant owner who lets me camp behind her house, feeds me and talks about the other touring cyclist she had come through… an English guy on a bike like mine who stopped the year before.

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Once I’ve negotiated the traffic…

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… the next morning is just a sprint to Ralco. Along the way I enjoy fantastic views of the Rio Bio Bio…

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… and surrounding volcanoes. Hints of what lie ahead in the coming weeks as I explore the Lake District and become acquainted with Patagonia

Route Tips

7 days, 725 km (450 miles), 3,045 m (9,990 ft.) of climbing

There really aren’t too many options for a direct route south from Santiago. With a local road option often bordering the Pan American highway it’s seldom that you’re forced onto the dreaded Ruta 5 itself. This is a darn good thing as it is a much busier and more threatening road than the one I encountered north of Santiago. If you want to stay in the fruit-growing Colchagua and Maule valley areas and not deviate down to the coast then route finding can be a frustrating task. There are usually a plethora of smaller roads each side of Ruta 5 but they seldom link up in a way that works. If you really want to avoid the pavement then you probably can in many instances but I don’t honestly believe there is any value in prolonging the tedium of riding through what is essentially a flat and featureless land.

I have a few recommendations of ways to make this ride more appealing:

  1. Fill your mp3 player with lots of podcasts
  2. Leave Santiago on a Sunday, avoid the highway and take the nice local road through Alto Jahuel and Codegua
  3. Take the local route south of San Fernando through Chimbarongo
  4. From Curico there is an enjoyable scenic route that follows the railway to Molina before looping around through Bajo Lircay and San Clemente to Talca. It is not worth trying to cross the river without returning to the highway south of Talca
  5. There are good non-highway options from San Javier to Linares but no way of crossing the river south of Linares without returning to Ruta 5
  6. Riding days naturally fall between larger towns before Chillan so I found myself staying in hotels. After Chillan there is plenty of forest and great wild camping opportunities all over the place
  7. It goes without saying that with so many towns and villages around there is no need to carry food
  8. Buy a cold Coke at every opportunity… there has to be some upsides to civilization!
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3 responses to “Pedal(s) to the metal

    • Hey big man, you’re still alive after that cactus punishment thing you did! The south is incredible and getting better all the time, life is good in my world for sure. It’s hot here too but I know it’ll start getting wet soon so I’m embracing it. Always a different heat in the city though. Hope everything is going well with your hostel empire, I’m grateful you have it, I loved my time in Santiago… the ultimate relaxation. Take care and give those dogs some loving from me

  1. Pingback: Dust Guzzlin’, Monkey Puzzlin’ Perfection | Velo Freedom - Cycling South·

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