I’ve done this trip many times, during the day and at night, though during the day when the highway is not closed, it’s quite different, as you have to call SOS to take you through the tunnels, which cuts a tiny bit of pedal time, and adds a lot of standing around. Ideally, you can go in a group of people where some are much faster than you (easy for me!), and they can call SOS while you’re still pedaling up there. But sometimes you have to wait all the same.
Having done this trip many times, you’d think I’d have a system, a plan, a working knowlege of what to eat/drink/wear etc. Every year I learn more, and after not bringing enough food last year (based on a previous year where I pedalled in record time, and therefore needed less food on the road), I have proven to myself that every year brings its challenges. Here I’m writing this all down so I can remember, and in case you’re thinking of riding Lo Vasquez next year, maybe this can help you to figure out your gear.
This year’s challenges were: not realizing I’d grabbed a pair of bike tights without a chamois inside (owie), wearing a backpack with my camera in it (which made me sweat and froze me, and also killed my back), and thicky, soupy fog for many km.
What I wore:
-aforementioned capri-length biketights. They used to have a chamois in them and it ripped, so I did surgery on them. They’re fine for spinning, not so great for 125 km.
-clipless bike shoes
-long wool socks, pulled up or down as the weather dictated
-shoe covers (windproof, waterproof covers you pull over your shoes. They may also protect you from peeing on your shoes themselves in an ill-pointed squat. Just saying.)
-shimmel, long-sportsbra to the waist. This may also have contributed to the sweating
-breathable sporty shirt (purple) from the year of the flood
-arm warmers, like legwarmers but for your arms, pukey green
– an REI-brand jacket that I should have bought ten of, it’s for x-country skiing, is windproof and has pull-outable sleevelets to use as gloves. It’s beat up, but I will keep it.
– a fleece vest
– a crappy acrylic Bolivian poncho I bought for three dollars in La Paz.
– a pair of wind-proof gloves
I also wore a skirt, which was a whimsical addition (also purple), and made it clear to everyone from a distance (as though there were any question) that I am female. Also, my buddy Sonia was wearing a purple sweatshirt, so we were quite the purple pair. The poncho was a last minute throw-in, as I had lots of room in my panniers, and it weighs nothing. I imagined I could also use it to lie down on if I had to, though it’s quite small.
What I ate/drank:
I have two secret weapons for falling-apartedness on the road. Hypersweetened cold tea and gummi something. I dislike both sweet tea and gummi anything, but when you just need a little extra kick, both seem to do the job. The gummis especially seem to release slow enough to get you farther than just another 500 meters. I had Haribo something sour and many of them were grapefruit flavored, which was quite horrible, but they did the trick. In the past, I’ve had gummi bears, and those work well, too.
-sweetened iced tea (homemade)
-water, I ended up drinking about 40 or so oz, which is not much, but it was pretty cold, and I also drank the iced tea and the coffee below
-thermos of black coffee
– three small sandwiches, two of cream cheese and tomato, one of cream cheese and blackberry stuff (similar to quince paste, but made of blackberry)
Stuff I brought but didn’t need:
-one pair extra socks for either changing in Valpo if it was too hot or extra bundling if it was too cold on the road. Didn’t need them.
-chocolate. Everyone (amateur cyclists) says to bring chocolate, and I know I eat cream cheese which seems like it would be a bad idea because it’s fatty, but I could not stomach the chocolate at all on the road. In all fairness, I don’t love chocolate to begin with, and adding a sleepless night didn’t make it more appealing.
Normally the weather holds until you reach the first tunnel (Lo Prado), and everyone comes out, suits up and holds on for dear, freezing life on a very fast downhill over the valley, and where the geniuses who put together the ride put a flood light on the right side as you’re coming down, so you are blinded by it and cannot see once you get past it. This year it was strangely warmer when we got to the end of the first tunnel. I just put on the windproof fleeceish things, gloves and shoecovers.
We later found out why it was so warm, as the humidity levels had risen, and there was a very dense fog from after the second tunnel to quite a big past Casablanca, and again at Lo Vasquez itself. If it had continued much longer I might have gotten wet through the fleecey thing. Mist collected on our sleeves like a dusting of snow. This is the first year I’ve gone without a windbreaker. I might go back to that next year, or at least have one on hand.
When we got to Valparaíso, we headed straight to the bus station, each bought a small can of potato chips (craving salt) and some water, were horribly mistreated by a malas pulgas (evil-mooded, easily upset) busdriver who was flying without his assistant that day, and fell asleep on the bus for the long ride home. Since the highway is closed, the bus takes another route back and it’s long enough for a decent nap (usually 1.5 hours, with this route more like 3)
So lessons learned:
No chamois-less bike tights
Think about bringing a windbreaker
Preheat thermos before pouring in coffee
oh, and the best one: do some training before you go. Seriously, I’m not getting any younger here!
Stuff I wish everyone had:
-Lights, for the love of God, I cannot see you if you are not illuminated. I don’t know how many pedestrians were almost hit on this journey. Cyclists also need to have lights. or a glow stick. Glowy bracelets are less than a quarter en route (100 pesos)
-the sense not to wear jeans. This doesn’t impact my comfort, but it definitley impacts yours. Use some sense!
Stuff I wish no one had:
-Audible music, or at least ugly audible music. Though these people tend not to pedal very fast, so you can get past them easily.
Oh, and if you’re late to the party, this is what I’m talking about.
I've never done the bike trip, but I always ended up busing it to Valpo on that day randomly and watching as the bikers, and sometimes walkers, moved faster than my bus.