Fun (read: Humiliating) experiences in Patagonian gales

I’ve been travelling through the southern most part of Patagonia now for a little over two weeks. I touched briefly before about the state and strength of the wind down here, and I thought I’d put together a list of some of the more dire thoughts and experiences I’ve had while riding.

Patagonia is known for a large prevailing westerly, owing largely (I’ve learnt a lot recently) to the fact that it spans a latitude from somewhere around 37° to 55° S. Keen geography nuts amongst you will know then that this puts it not only in the Roaring Forties, but also touching into the Furious Fifties. Basically what I’m sitting amongst is a region where there’s a collision of warm and cold air between the equator and Antarctica, and results in a serious Westerly breeze.

Owing to the fact that the only real hindrance to wind speed in the pampas here is the Andes, it means that the wind through summer is more or less relentless and reaching 100km/h in some places. It’s got a reputation for knocking hikers off their feet, and I can now attest to what it does to the ability for anyone to cycle.

For anyone doubting the ferocity of the Patagonian wind

I started riding at around 55° S, and I’m now writing from Puerto Natales which is just north of 52° S. It’s going to be a bit of a slog for the next little while I expect, I expect to be brimming with character by the end of it.

The Carabineros (Chilean national police) offered me this barn to sleep out of the wind

The Carabineros (Chilean national police) offered me this barn to sleep out of the wind

My top observations and experiences to date:

  1. There’s little reward for big ascents. At the peak you receive the full force of the gale and then have to work like crazy to pedal down the other side.
  2. Under cross wind you need to compensate and bank all your mass in one direction, this makes you completely susceptible to wind breaks on the road. Eg, a truck overtaking and breaking the gale will force you to scramble not to topple over. Because they drive on the right and the prevailing wind is Westerly, this is high risk as it can send you into traffic.
  3. Because of point 2 above, the shoulder of the road is often more sensible. It’s gravel and slow moving, making the experience even more tiresome.
  4. Lowest speed on a shoulder to date has been around 5km/h. A component of this is sideways, refer point 2 again.
  5. Because it’s the pampas that are a root cause of this, so far there’s been little visual stimulation to distract from the experience (this will change later in the week as I enter Torres del Paine and the Andes shortly after). Podcast’s have become my best mate.
  6. Every day is legs day.
  7. The reality is that you can sustain walking the bike for longer than riding it in some of the stronger breezes. Truly devastating.
  8. The locals feel your pain. They stop to offer lifts, fruit, chocolate, water, high fives, whatever else they have. For me it’s a new experience, for them it’s their life.
  9. There can’t be enough chapstick. I’ve just been informed by a spritely chap (who has invited me to dine in his restaurant in El Calafate!) that they don’t sell Carmex here – gutted.
Laying bed in an abandoned house, another great sleep without a gale

Laying bed in an abandoned house, another great sleep without a gale

Butterfly catching area

Butterfly catching area

6 comments

    • Ha! Had this thought already, I thought it might be nice to send it to the chap who’s invited me to dine in his restaurant. Said he hadn’t seen it since his childhood so it’d be nice to leave it with him. Am about 400km from El Calafate so I’ll figure out an address shortly.

  1. Hey 🙂
    Interesting posts !
    Would you suggest that it is far better to go North -> South (Southern America) than South-> NOrth ?

    I am planning to go there in December/January.. cycling for few months.

    Cheers.

    • I think most cyclists that are on long hauls through the americas seem to prefer to head north to south – I’m not convinced there’s actually a better direction though. To my memory it was more often a cross wind which won’t prefer heading north or south. The hardest day I had was the stretch heading west to el chalten to meet the southern end of the carratera austral. it was a miserable 100km or so into a ccrazy headwind and it was snowing. If you came off the carratera austral heading south and crossed to el chalten you can reliably expect the mother of all tailwinds if you’re southbound!

Leave a Reply