At the western edge of the Salar de Uyuni we luck out with Pocket Earth finding helping us find a way onto a road without having to push through a lot of sand. We ride up onto the pier just out from Tanil Vinto and ride into the small town and turn south to follow this rough road around the edge of the Salar and hopefully link up with the highway that leads to the Chilean border. The pier that locals use to access the salt flat is smooth and lovely, belying the road conditions ahead.
The road is covered from side to side with deep corrugations, which I not-so-lovingly refer to as “the moguls” from here on out, or mini moguls when they are less than 6 inches deep. Yes, that means in some places they were deeper. In fact I actually roll to a stop in some places with my front tire fitting into one deep washboard groove (yes, they were that wide too) and my rear fitting into another.
The corners of the roads have collected lots of the famous “dust” that locals refer to here, something I’ve heard other riders call bull dust. There are big rocks too and we rattle along hoping for some relief. Even deep sand sounds good compared to this, at least I think so until we get to the sand and then I know I was wrong.
Trying to avoid the most intense moguls we turn left toward what I think is some farmer’s field and onto a sand track.
The GPS wasn’t much help on the salt flats but it has some opinions on how we get to Chile from here and Brian chooses a lower grade of road (according to the GPS, it’s not on our maps) which turns out to be a nice road, probably because it’s less traveled which gives me renewed appreciation for the “road less traveled”.
We ride through a few small villages, most without signs. And since most of the roads we rode today weren’t on maps I don’t know the names of most. We did ride through Manica where we chose the less traveled road, and we aim for San Juan where we will cross over Highway 5.
I never stop to take photos in the bad sections…yeah, yeah, seriously though. It was worse than it looks in photos. A gorgeous day but a tiring one.
The day is a mixed bag of rough, wide, corrugated gravel roads, sand tracks, hard-pan salt flats and more…
Just after San Juan we turned off of Highway 5 and rode down a sand road, and then crossed a valley and hit a hard packed flat valley edged with lagunas (some with pink flamingoes) and volcanoes. It was incredibly beautiful.
We ride around 130 miles of dirt today, and ran into only a handful of trucks or cars in the 11 hours plus of riding. The views around each new turn are so beautiful.
Pocket Earth turns out to be a big help today, and we can piece together hints from it and maps and the GPS to keep informed as to where we are and which of the literally hundreds of turns to take today. We are aiming for a railroad track and after what seems like an eternity we intersect it, meaning we are on track (pun stumbled upon accidentally).
And on we go…
As we near the end of the long wide open valley that’s covered in dozens of tracks criss-crossing the ground, we ride up a hill and top it to get a glimpse of the next big valley. On the other side I can see the main highway from Uyuni to Alvaroa, the border town on the Bolivian side. Between us and where we join the highway lies a few miles of sand. Yummy.
That’s the second time Brian had to help me pick up my bike today, both in soft sand.
And finally we hit the main highway…we can speed up a lot but always shave to watch for giant dust pools in the road. I watch a semi truck up ahead and every now and then it looks like a baby powder factory has exploded, so I have an idea where they are. These soft spots in the road are hard to see but can be the entire width of the road and 10-15 across and filled with soft dust deep enough to sink my front tire halfway down into. I’m so happy to be near the border crossing it doesn’t even occur to me that we haven’t had internet for a couple of days. We have no idea what the time zones are doing and if the border will be open, no idea of exchange rates, no idea if there is fuel or a bank on either side….oh well, sometimes you just wing it.