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.
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’?
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…
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:
- Fill your mp3 player with lots of podcasts
- Leave Santiago on a Sunday, avoid the highway and take the nice local road through Alto Jahuel and Codegua
- Take the local route south of San Fernando through Chimbarongo
- 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
- 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
- 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
- It goes without saying that with so many towns and villages around there is no need to carry food
- Buy a cold Coke at every opportunity… there has to be some upsides to civilization!