A five-day bikepacking expedition across a stunningly diverse landscape in the north of Argentina.

Calchaquí Valleys, Salta, Argentina
Fall Season (April), 5-24°C, no rain
Total distance: 527 km
Total ascent: 6.350 m
Elevation: 1.150 – 3.350 m

Off to a great start

Just like any trip, it begins with planning; and if bikepacking is involved, there is plenty to do before getting on a plane with your bike. So when the five of us met at Buenos Aires Jorge Newbery Airport on a Friday afternoon we just wanted to put all the hard work and week behind to start off the adventure on the right foot: we landed in Salta’s international airport at night and went straight to tasting some local empanadas and wine.

The next day, after a morning preamble of setting up bikes and solving last-minute mechanic issues including a stop at the nearest bike shop, we traversed the small-city traffic chaos: bumpy streets filled with cracks and patches and ruled by an unyielding stream of cars and motorbikes. When we finally rode out of town, we could start enjoying the quiet of the road. We headed south, indulging our weighty bikes in the lively rhythm of rolling on a paved surface: a gentle warm-up for the rougher paths to come. We rode on a continuous false flat for 130 km before the spectacle began.

cyclists on tarmac with bikepacking bags
Crossing strikingly contrasted landscapes
Little we knew about the diversity of sceneries we were about to see pedaling heavy on paved and dirt roads. With every passing hour our bikes traversed a variety of biomes giving us sufficient time to look around and appreciate the changes: from scattered urban constructions to vast fertile grasslands, from plains and terraces to mountain ranges, from the dense forest to dry red sandstone rocks with cacti sticking out, from the immaculate asphalt route to the rough dirt road, from scattered mud-brick buildings erected in another time to the strangest wind-sculpted geoforms belonging to another era. It was an edge-of-your-seat and eye-catching film, including music to our ears: a live explanation about mountain formation was provided by the geologist in the group.
Our everyday rituals
Once you are off on vacation, you probably want to forget about daily habits, but it’s neverending when riding a bike: there is always a series of unavoidable multi-step routines to follow. Off the bike: charging your bike computer and devices the night before, getting up at 7.30 am, having a high-energy breakfast, filling up 3 water bottles, choosing your energy snacks, packing your belongings and strapping them back to the bike, layering appropriately for the day, checking tyre pressure and lubrication, and putting the heart-rate strap, helmet and sunglasses on.
five cyclist during a bike trip

Once on the bike, our everyday rituals went on:

  • Taking arm and leg warmers off after a 40 min ride, as mornings are cold but as soon as the sun is out, temperature rises.
  • Applying sunscreen as sun exposure increases with altitude.
  • Eating every 45 minutes to keep the legs strong.
  • Drinking enough water as hydration is critical at high altitude.
  • Stopping for a lunch bite and a cold soda.
In general we rode at a relaxed vacation-mode pace to enjoy the surroundings, shoot panoramic pictures, stop for food when needed, and take climbs and dirt roads easy. Nevertheless days were long, and we would arrive at destination at around 5 pm–tired, ready for a much-needed hot shower, dinner and some rest, and feeling fully satisfied for another conquest. We would stay in B&Bs, sometimes having previously booked the night and sometimes choosing the accommodation on the go.
Meeting the locals
There is nothing more pleasant about traveling than getting a genuine glimpse of the place visited. That is, being part of the daily life of local people. We had a full-on local food and shopping experience when visiting Salta City’s market as well as a few spontaneous opportunities to meet Salteños in their routines.
  • The young girls who rushed out of their isolated homes to wave hi to us, as soon as they heard our wheels rolling.
  • The immutable old man who was sleeping in a chair on the front porch of his mud-brick house, with the radio on.
  • The farmworker who was herding cattle in our direction, occupying the whole extent of the dirt road.
  • The family who served the most delicious homemade deep-fried empanadas in a remote town.
  • The teenager who asked us to vote on an IG and FB competition to help her class win a graduation trip.
Pulling out all the stops
Besides staring at the beauty sprawling along the road, each pedal strike propelled us into our own path of self-discovery. Each one of us was challenged in different ways and had to overcome whatever individual obstacle came in the way. There was no support vehicle to lift us if anything happened.
When there was a lower back pain, hand numbness, a runny nose, an uphill gradient of 13% or a wheel out of dish, we had to keep our mind strong to reach destination. Each one of us with our own separate battles. There was no giving up, we had to Keep Klimbing. This intense journey exposed us to a wide gamut of sensations, from pain to pleasure, and we definitely returned stronger.
bikepacking cyclist with landscape at the background

Photos by Iván Vañek (@ivandigital) and Sebastián Di Tomaso (@lavidadeseba).

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