Our Ruta 40 experience

Once in Coyhaique and after having done a part of the Carretera Austral, we had a difficult choice deciding what to do next. Our options were the following:

  1. Continue the Carretera Austral south to a place called Villa O´Higgins where basically the road stops. From there, our only option is to take a boat to the other side of a lake, where we can rent a horse to carry our stuff for a day, while we carry our bikes over an almost undoable path to enter Argentina. Sounds nice hu? Well, there is also option 2.
  2. Enter Argentina and follow the famous Ruta 40 south, known for heavy side- and headwinds and the absence of water over distances of as much as 120 km. Doesn’t sound appealing neither right?

Finally, after doubting a lot and tossing several coins (never decide anything important by tossing only one coin!), talking to other travellers and reading about other cyclists’ experiences, we decided to take option number 2, thinking that it would be a nice change to cycle in the wind instead of the rain.

So after a few days cycling and travelling by boat between Coyhaique and Perito Moreno in Argentina, we took the famous Ruta 40 having our bags full of food to survive for at least 10 days and enough water to last 2 days.

And the first part, we really wondered what everybody who had done the Ruta 40 by bicycle had been complaining about: the Ruta 40 was asphalted, there were small streams everywhere (so no need to carry a lot of water), mostly rolling terrain and foremost, we had the wind in our back! Just to give you a small idea of what that means concretely: sometimes we didn’t have to pedal uphill, as the wind would literally push us uphill, thereby even increasing our speed! So the first 50 km were done in no time, easier as ever! The Ruta 40 rocks! :-)

Then, for some reason we didn’t quite found out yet, things changed: we don’t know if the road turned, the wind turned or some kind of evil god decided to turn his back on us, but the wind got so strong and from the side and against us, that it was sometimes impossible to stay on the bike! We would just be blown off the road (and the bike for that reason…)! Water got scarce (where did all those streams go??!!), so we were rationed while fighting against the wind on a very bad road (where did the asphalted road go??!!). After a night in which we almost didn’t sleep, due to the tent that blew around our ears and was on the constant verge of flying away (probably with us in it) we continued our quest pedalling for 6 hours over 25 km… Exhausted…

And then there was a point where we asked ourselves “Do we really enjoy this?”. And as the answer was a full positive “NO” we decided to go back. To go back to Chile, with its everlasting rain, (but hey, at least you only have to open your mouth, look up at the sky and drink, no need to carry a lot of water ;-) ) freezing cold, but with a normal amount of wind.

And what about Villa O’Higgins, and the impassable path and the horse and stuff? We don’t know and we don’t want to know for now. We’ll see that when we’ll get there. Time for other adventures later! :-)

Vera & Jean-Christophe


  1. Posted October 30, 2008 at 17:29 | Permalink

    It’s called Villa O’Higgins, not “Via”. I lost about 30 seconds looking for the “Via” before Google told me that I should search for “Villa”. :)

    I am guessing that going back, all that nice “wind on your backs” will turn into “wind against you”… At least the photos look really nice!! Thanks for having so much fun to shoot them.


  2. Posted October 31, 2008 at 2:42 | Permalink

    @Joao: Thanks for the remark, I corrected the mistake. And it’s always nice to see that somebody is actually following into detail what we are doing. :-) Just yesterday we were talking about you, Xana and the kids and how nice it was seeing you guys in Madrid last summer! :-) Que emoción Pocoyo! ;-)

  3. Posted October 31, 2008 at 2:50 | Permalink

    Oh and we are leaving tomorrow towards Villa O’Higgins. :-) We have plenty of time ahead, calculated that we probably have to stand some thunderstorms, typhoons and blizzards… ;-)

  4. yvonne
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 19:49 | Permalink

    Hallo Vera en JC,

    wel uit het oog maar niet uit het hart…half uur zitten genieten van jullie, wederom, schitterende foto’s en stralende gezichten en uiteraard van jullie verhalen…wind blijft altijd onaangenaam voor een fietser, dichtbij huis of ver weg, maakt dus niks uit!

    Groet en tot de volgende keer,

  5. Mélanie et Alban
    Posted November 7, 2008 at 15:49 | Permalink

    Hola !
    On est ravi to read noticias de vous… El principio of your articulo about ruta 40 was to nice to be true… Alban pense que vous avez tort d ‘abandonner la ruta 40 but nosotros no lo hicimos by bike !!! Vous pouvez en faire un bout en stop s’il le faut mais il faut absolument que vous courriez derriere un tatou! En tous cas Vera, il faut que tu vois Jean Christophe le faire. Ou en êtes vous maintenant ? SUERTE !
    Un besito . Mélanie et Alban

  6. Posted November 7, 2008 at 21:33 | Permalink

    @Yvonne: Blij iets van je te horen en blij dat je de fotos mooi vindt! Nu hebben we niet alleen wind, maar ook regen-sneeuw. Echt leuk, Patagonie! ;-)

    @Alban & Melanie: Oh, vous n’avez pas fait la Ruta 40 en bicicleta vosotros!! Es una locura! Et puis on pense voir mas de tatous more south! Donc oui, je vais m’assurer de hacer courir JC derriere un tatou very soon! Nosotros estamos a Villa O’Higgins ahoy! Mañana partamos par l’Argentina en embarcación, enfin s’il stops de pleuvoir/neiger…;-)


  7. Posted November 8, 2008 at 13:11 | Permalink

    As João said, the way back must have been a nightmare.

    Sounds like this is a place where the nature is really nice and gentle but in reality it’s bringing you somewhere you can hardly come back from (like a funnel).

    I’ve also seen on your ‘quick facts’ that you are quite lucky so far with less punctures than one would expect! That’s cool.

  8. Posted November 8, 2008 at 13:37 | Permalink

    Je viens de tomber sur un autre site intitulé: “Pushing to Villa O’Higgins, Chile” ;-)

    Je crois que vous avez pris la bonne décision en faisant demi-tour.

    Petit extrait:
    “We eagerly listen to their story and hear how they managed to cross the border by a combination of ferry navigation over a large lake, bike pushing through the forests, and a lot of carrying over a small path along a second lake.”
    “It is impossible to cycle even a meter over this path along the lake. This trail is full of steep climbs and is very small because it runs straight through the bushes. In the beginning we are so naive that we try to push our bikes through the forest with all the gear still on it, but soon we realize that this is an impossible strategy. […] We continue with Tore pushing and carrying an empty bike and leaving the rest of our luggage and the other bike behind. After some time we drop our stuff, walk back and carry the second load. This method makes the trip three times as long, but it really is the fastest way for us.”

    source: http://www.irisentoreopreis.nl/ohiggins.shtml

  9. ivanaa
    Posted November 9, 2008 at 21:14 | Permalink

    Merci Daniel de dire qu’ils ont eu raison de faire demi-tour, mais ils vont QUAND MEME à Ushuaia, ces crasy boy and girl !Comment ? Que la route soit à droite ou à gauche de la ligne frontière Chili/Argentine, le Pôle sud reste le Pôle sud !
    Vivement le 15 décembre !!!!!! ;-)
    PS : énorme bisou à mes gauchos préférés

  10. Posted November 13, 2008 at 23:18 | Permalink

    @Joao and Daniel:
    We hitch hiked our way back to Los Antiguos. It was pretty easy, most people have pick-up cars so we could put behind the bicycle. We cycle from Los Antiguos back to Chile Chico with the wind against us, but early morning, the winds are not as strong. Also, the worst winds you can have is not the one directly in front but sideways (with a little front tendance) because you go slow and you can sometimes not ride your bike!

  11. Posted November 13, 2008 at 23:32 | Permalink

    @Daniel: About punctures, we had really little because we have those “unplattbar” (unpuncture-able) tires from Schwalbe, the Marathon XR. Actually we had one puncture from the inside! It seems that the broken spoke somehow pierced the inner tube, and when the bicycle shop repaired the spoke and the hole, the patch did not hold long, so we had a leak, thus the second puncture. However, we got a second broken spoke :-( (that’s worse than 100 punctures)

  12. Posted November 13, 2008 at 23:54 | Permalink

    @Daniel and Ivana: C’était une bonne décision finalement, mais elle n’était pas facile car le passage de Villa O’Higgins à El Chalten n’en est pas un facile. Mais on a trouvé que les descriptions sur internet était peut-être un peu exagérées. Quoique avec la fonte des neiges (printemps oblige) et la pluie des temps de l’arche de Noé qui nous est tombée dessus, la route était détrempées et les ruisseaux et torrents débordaient. Ce qui nous a vallut quelques acrobaties pour les traverser (les ponts étant submergés). On est tout de même content d’avoir ça derrière nous. Un VTT aurait été bien plus adapté au type de chemin et condition que nos vélos.
    Pour revenir à notre décision, pour nous, cette route était faisable alors que la route 40 de Perito Moreno à El Chalten nous semblait infaisable. On a appris par ailleurs que le printemps est aussi la saison des vents dans cette région. Les vents sont plus calme en septembre et en été (décembre-janvier).

  13. yvonne, ben en eef
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 15:31 | Permalink

    Hoi Vera,

    Van harte gefeliciteerd met je 30e verjaardag!! Van uit een wit Sittard, hier sneeuwt het namelijk…;). Groetjes aan JC.

    Xx Yvonne, Ben en Eef