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Home Up Des Grandes Alpes

Updated 29 August 2015

 

The Route Des Grandes Alpes – from Geneva to Nice – Summer 2006 by Ross Fryer 11-09-06

 


In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster my eldest son Jonathan (Jay) along with two mates decided to raise some money for a worthy cause by way of a cycle ride - over the Andes!

By the way, all three are totally novice cyclists by our perception.

Brian Dacey

 
Subject: How to almost die on top of a mountain (parts 1 - 7)

5 June 2005

Dear All,

If I knew then what I know now there's no way on God's Earth that you would have got me out here on this preposterous escapade. It seems incredible to me now to think that we somehow managed to underestimate just how horrendous this journey would be. What is even more ridiculous that through a combination of inadequate research and informed foolhardiness we have attempted not only to cross the Andes by bike, but have also tried to do it by one of the hardest routes available... and the wrong way, i.e. into the famously (though not famously enough it would seem) fierce headwinds that whip across the entire range from West to East. And although we knew before we left that our route would be taking in Potosi, the highest city in the world, we failed to notice that this would be rapidly followed by the highest desert in the world. It was of great interest to note that it really is very difficult to cycle in sand. Even harder in fact than on cobbles or rutted dirt track.

We also wondered at how few people are stupid enough to live upon or for that matter even pass through such a horrendously inhospitable landscape. The odd thing about a high altitude desert is that the sun that is beating down directly onto you from the cloudless sky is searingly hot and feels like it's cooking you alive, but the wind that's battering you from every direction and the increasingly thin air that you're heaving down into your lungs is so icy cold as make you involuntarily stop breathing every now and then which is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.

We were however very pleased with ourselves for having worked out that this must account for the complete lack of habitation and/or shops and therefore food and water available. We have come dangerously close to having to lick the condensation from the inside of our tents on more than one occasion. This seems to have been narrowly avoided by the state of near cryogenic suspension that our bodies have been placed into every night by sleeping out at -10 degrees.

It is thus with a sense of some surprise that we find ourselves arrived in Uyuni having made it pretty much over the top of the Andes without recourse to bus nor truck nor donkey. We have pedalled every last kilometre and have the saddle sores to prove it. My fingernails may be bleeding but by God am I pleased with myself. If nothing else it just goes to prove that stubbornness and bloody-mindedness will outdo fitness and preparedness every time!

Having re-read this e-mail I have just been struck by how overwhelmingly negative it may sound to those that don't know what a jolly positive fellow I am. To be honest, I still don't think that I've really done justice to just how hellish the whole experience is proving to be, BUT... it would be remiss of me not to mention that it has been and continues to be probably the most incredible experience of my life. Some of the views that I've seen leave you completely gob smacked, made all the sweeter by the knowledge that you are the only 3 people for miles and miles and miles around. I've seen the Milky Way every night amongst the clearest skies I've ever seen, scattered with so many thousands of stars that it's almost dazzling. The weirdness of watching a sunset and then turning around to watch an almost equally bright moonrise 60 seconds later cannot be put into words.

The looks of utter bemusement and confusion on the face of every villager that we pass serve to give us the warm and reassuring (if slightly smug) sense that we are doing something that really not very many people have done before. And I know it's a cliché, but the people are so nice! Anyhooo... Having just crossed the highest desert in the world, tomorrow we are to set of across the largest and highest salt plain in the world (it's all superlatives out here...) 180kms of pure white, blinding salt. Deliciously, gloriously flat salt. Which is a very good job really as we are rather behind our ridiculously over-optimistic schedule, meaning that we now have to do the final 650kms in 8 days, with the Chilean Andes still to conquer. Still, should be all downhill on that side eh?

Many thanks to those of you that have already generously sponsored us through a donation to SOS Children. To those of you who either haven't got round to it yet or were scuppered by me giving you the wrong address, you can still do your bit by going to www.justgiving.com/overtheandes  . I should also point out that due to technical difficulties I can only send this e-mail to people that have e-mailed me recently so please feel free to forward it on to anyone that you think may be interested that's not on the list. Fingers crossed for the final push. I hope to see you all in the not too distant future, hopefully still with all my fingers and toes (although it was -18 degrees on the salt plain last night!)

Jay.

4 May 2005

Dear (hugely generous) Sponsor,

In 3 days’ time my two companions, Ben and Rufus, and I will be saddling up our bikes and setting out from the provincial town of Cochabamba in an effort to raise money for the children’s charity SOS Children’s Villages. Cochabamba is in Bolivia and to the east of the Andes. If all goes considerably better than expected we should end up 28 days later in the town of Iquique, on the Chilean Pacific coast and very much to the west of the Andes. As the quicker of those of you out there may have already realised, this means that our foolhardy buccaneers intend to try to cross the Andes by bike. In four weeks.

By our best estimate we think that this is going to involve cycling something in the region of 1500km. Which sounds like quite a long way now that I think about it. I had a look at the Andes in an Atlas a couple of days ago. They make the Pyrenees look like a speed bump. I'm also a little worried about the altitude. Up at 5,000m the air is starting to get decidedly thin. Nausea, headaches and general exhaustion are a given. And apparently only 3% of Bolivia’s roads are paved. The remaining 97% is largely made up of rough corrugated dirt tracks. Dirt tracks which are often found to be inhabited by thundering lorries which like nothing more than to hurtle along at dangerously high speeds leaving anyone foolhardy enough to be on a bike engulfed in a noxious cloud of suffocating dust.

But it’s not all going to be fun, fun, fun! After all, what feels better after a grueling day’s hard riding up the side of a mountain than to have to pitch your tent on some rocks and cook a delicious dinner of whatever tinned food may or may not have been available at the last tiny roadside shack before bedding down for the night against winds of -30°C?

Then there’s also the fact that it’s really rather difficult to know exactly where you are up there, let alone where you’re going. Road maps? Pah! Signs? What are they?! We are hoping that the inevitable extra mileage due to getting completely lost does not add more than 50% to the total distance that we need to cover in our paltry 4 weeks.

Life would no doubt be made considerably easier in this respect if one of us could speak Spanish. Life, however, as we all know, is not easy.

Still, it's all in the name of a good cause eh?! Established over 50 years ago to protect the rights and interests of children who have lost their parents due to war, natural catastrophe or disease, SOS Children’s Villages and youth facilities are now home to some 58,000 children and adolescents in 132 countries around the world. Their guiding principle is that children who cannot remain with their biological families nevertheless have a right to family care, safety and a fair chance in life and should be given love, protection and respect as well as access to education and medical care.

In countries where the available educational and vocational facilities are inadequate SOS often run their own kindergarten, primary and secondary schools and vocational training centres for the children and young people in their care and for children from the neighbouring communities.

On top of this SOS Medical Centres provide basic medical care for the local population through vaccination programmes, childbirth facilities, guidance on nutrition, mother-and-child clinics, hospitals and dental clinics.

You can find out more about the fantastic work that they do at http://www.soschildren.org/  

We are aiming to raise £5,000 through the kind and generous sponsorship of all those people that know us, and maybe even a few big-hearted folk that don’t.

Should you wish to contribute and thereby brighten the future of some of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged children (as well as offering us your morale-boosting psychological support) you can do so via our donations website:

http://www.justgiving.com/overtheandes 

The actual costs of the expedition are coming entirely out of our own pockets so every single penny that is given will go directly to SOS.

I'll try to keep you updated as to our progress with (ir)regular e-mails, although until we get up there it is impossible to know how regularly this can be done.

In summary, we are doing something very hard to raise money for kids that really need it so please give us some cash.

Thank you a million times in advance for your generous support.

Jay, Ben and Rufus.

 
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