November 3, 2007
Mary and I made it down to Chile and as soon as we got off our red eye flight, jumped in our tiny box van and headed west out of the sign-less maze of Santiago. We felt justified for all the energy and effort we put into setting up this trip. There are a lot of places we could be at this time of year and several places we wanted to be. To make things more confusing we had been struggling a bit in deciding weather or not we were going to spend our fall racing cyclo-cross, mountain bikes or perhaps taking a seasonal break. Once we stopped over-analyzing things and decided to follow our instincts and passion to just simply (or not so simply) continue on as traveling mountain bike racers, everything just seemed to fall into place.
Something about Chile struck a sweet chord with us and this long skinny country was still on our minds from our initial visit earlier this year. The fact that there was the potential for bettering the the USA's national ranking by competing in Chile's late season UCI races and effectively increasing the number of Olympic spots for cross country mountain biking from two to three on the men's side definitely played a role in our decision to return. On one hand our trip could keep the door open for a personal dream to become a reality, but I think that it was equally just the excuse that we needed to book the tickets for another epic journey.
Planning a six week trip anywhere takes some serious effort. In this case a six week trip that includes three mountain bike races and a whole lot of training rides takes a lot of foresight, logistical planning and careful equipment selection. It was helpful that the race bags were still half-packed from our last trip to World Championships and World Cup finals, but I knew that it was going to be critical to bring absolutely all the necessities and lots of back up gear since Chile does not have the type of equipment stocked at (most of) its bike shops in order to help us to keep our race bikes in top form. In the type of town we prefer to travel through in Chile, you are likely to come across a killer empanada, beautiful handmade pottery, top notch pisco sour and quite possibly a decent surfboard, though a spare carbon riser bar and fresh race rubber is something better brought from home.
Mary and I have been getting some long looks as we rip around the dusty back roads searching out training rides through the less traveled sleepy towns in central Chile. For the most part people seem very interested and on occasion seem a bit shocked at the look of the helmet clad gringos in matching spandex kits but most seem to harbor little if any animosity as we pass on by. At first Mary was a bit uneasy about the constant whistles of the men, old and young, since she has not spent a lot of time around construction work sites in the US, but really it seems to be harmless and is certainly a compliment. We have come to feel as safe here as you can feel when riding your bike on the side of the road anywhere.
Central Chile is a beautiful and exciting place to ride, from the dry coastal mountains to the eternally snow capped Andes there are miles and miles of uncrowded winding steep and narrow back roads! We really don't feel that out of place since bikes are everywhere, In many towns they are the chief form of transportation and are commonly utilized for everything from vending to construction. Most towns big enough to have a gas pump have a solid bike shop, always busy and in great demand. We have made the point to visit several and there is no doubt that there are some skilled bike mechanics though their specialties weigh in more on the side of welding cracked frames than servicing suspension forks. I have managed to learn a few things with regards to getting by with what you've got . I'm sure everyone can appreciate the convenience and light environmental impact of utilizing olive oil for chain lube, not to mention its effectiveness!
Mary's Spanish skills have been more than getting us by, the holes in her vocabulary easily being filled with a determination and willingness to hang in there use some hand signs and laugh until the point has gotten across. And this is lucky since I am just getting to the point where I can utter "hola" without thinking about it first.
We are planning on competing in three races in our six weeks here and we are looking forward to taking our time in between to see, ride, surf and experience all we can. The first race is this weekend and im sure it will be an interesting one since it is being held (as we understand from translation) within Chile's second largest city, Conception. Two weeks later we will compete again outside of Vina del Mar, and for the final race of the season we will drive south to beautiful Pucon. This schedule will allow us the opportunity to travel through and stay at some of the the sweetest gems that Chile has to offer up for people like us. Our focus will be on the coastal towns that have shown to serve up an endless supply of training options on quiet dirt roads and on the surfing side some macking cold water left hand point breaks.
We are currently staying in the village of Pichilemu, known world wide in the surfing community for its for its epic big left point break, Punta Lobos. As far as the surfing we we have not been disappointed and we have been equally happy with the quality of training rides available in the surrounding hills that remind us so much of the coastal range near Mary's home in northern california. Not much singletrack (yet) but lots of potential and in the mean time plenty of dusty Chilean back roads seemingly meant for training on the mountain bike.
Mary and I lucked into meeting a local gringo surf shop owner Matt Ammerman who with his Chilean wife and family has made Pichilemu home for the past 10 years. Matt manages some of the most incredible bungalows in town, within spitting distance of two premier point breaks. (for info, email him at: punaniinternational at hotmail.com). He has turned out to be an incredible host sharing his boards by day and local culinary delights by night. This connection has put us on the right track for how to enjoy this beautiful place and has deepened our love for this area ensuring that we will be returning for more than just to pick up our bike bags pack up and go.
Que te vaya bien!
Mike and Mary
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug / Team Kenda/Seven)
- Delicate sea life on the coast of Chile.
- Happy to be off the plane!
- Mike loads up t he vehicle with all the gear.
- A local bike shop owner
- A local cyclist typifies a more practical approach to riding.
- Mary enjoys an ocean view from an overlook.
- Mike gets his sea legs.
- Mike and Mary's Chilean wheels will help them carry all that gear.
- Plenty of small, quiet dirt roads to train on
- A view of the Andes flying into Santiago, Chile.
- Mary takes a stab at some of the many logistics to be coordinated on a six week trip.
- Mike enjoys another good day.
- The scene at the local bike shop.
- Blooming cacti were everywhere.
- Colchagua Valley vineyards