Posted by Andrew Godlewski ● Mar 16, 2019 10:34:56 AM
Route Recap: Cycling from Lujan de Cuyo to Uspallata to Mendoza [Week 5]
Overall, I would highly recommend this route to anyone traveling near Mendoza or Lujan de Cuyo. Even if you are not a cycle tourist, you should make the time to travel up above Mendoza in the Callingasta valley. It’s truly breathtaking, particularly the lake near Potrerillos. I would go so far as to call this a “must see” in the region.
That said, this leg of the journey destroyed us. I wrote more about this here, but for this post we want to focus on the route into the mountains and all the beauty that surrounded us there. It was, another very short week in terms of riding distance. We started a bit sluggish after a “too much fun(?)” weekend with TJ, Sandi, and our new friend Mike, and finished early knowing we would need to take a bus to actually reach our goal at Iguazu Falls.
The Nitty Gritty
Distance: 175.59 miles
Elevation Gain: 12,200 ft
Max Elevation: 7,648 ft
While I alluded to this above, we had a phenomenal weekend with our family and new friend Mike in Lujan de Cuyo. TJ and Sandi flew all the way out here to see us, and we had a blast barbecuing, walking around town, and visiting vineyards.
The good news is that 4-days of a wine and bread-based diet are proven to make any cyclist 125% more efficient than they previously were. Something about booze in the bloodstream helps your hemoglobin obtain 55% more oxygen and 30% more nitrogen than a non-booze-based diet. We also learned that, adhering to Argentinean custom, staying up until 4AM each night leads to a refreshing start to the day and a sense of "hyper-awareness" of your surroundings for days to come.
Needless to say, I failed my MCAT and felt like an old bag of sand for the next two days of this section of the ride.
At Mike's advice, we left Lujan by avoiding the busy Route 7 towards Cacheuta in the foothills of the Andes. This section did not disappoint at all: the road steadily climbs up along the Mendoza River past awe inspiring views of canyons and mountains. It was fine (notice how I didn't say "good") to be back on the road and cycle touring again.
After grabbing lunch in Cacheuta, we started the real climb of the day up 5 switchbacks and into a tunnel at the top. This is not the hardest climb in the world, but as we hadn't been on the bike for a few days, we struggled to get up and over.
Exiting the tunnel was the most beautiful sight we have yet seen on our trip. Like it was from a movie, we squinted at the setting sun through the last few meters of darkness and were instantly greeted by the sight of Aconcagua and the largest section of the Andes in the distance. Below this was the deepest turquoise lake that stretched around the foothills and dominated the landscape.
It's hard to truly put into words this scene (which is why we added pictures below). Harder still is pondering back on my feelings at the time. Up to that point in the day, I was feeling very down on our time in Argentina (save the weekend in Lujan) and the prospect of what was to come. The road conditions, dangerous drivers, selection of food, weather, vibe, pretty much everything, was taking a toll on my view of the trip. I was down in the dumps and am not ashamed to admit it. While it did not fully cure this, the scene above the lake (Embalse Potreillos) reinvigorated my spirit and helped me to remember what we were doing all of this for.
We casually rolled along the lake to our campsite, constantly reminding each other to stop and take in the view. It was the perfect end to a difficult day.
The next day, we continued to climb up the road and back into the Andes. We knew it was inevitable to rejoin the busy Route 7, but luckily traffic was not too bad for most of the day. As with our ride up Paso Pehuenche, we were blessed by sweeping views of the Andes mountains the entire way up. While I have yet to visit the Southwest of the US, the views here seem very similar to what we'll be cycling past in a few months.
For this section of the road, we cut into 7 short tunnels as we made our way up alongside the river and into the town of Uspallata. The tailwind whipping behind us for the last 20km definitely helped to keep our spirits high and make the pedaling a bit easier.
The following day, we decided to push up into the Callingasta Valley and keep pressing on towards Salta. If you'd like to read the full rundown on this section, you can read the post I published here. Long story short, the road was uphill, gorgeous, and very worthwhile if you are ever in the area. However, 30Ks into the ride we lost pavement and were forced to turn back due to the condition of the infamous rippio.
That afternoon, we fell back into Uspallata along the same road we had climbed up in the morning. It was freezing cold, cloudy, and we had a headwind on the way down. This was the most frigid riding I have done in a long time. By the time we reached down, our hands were blue and we were shivering so hard that we decided to forfeit our normal camping routine and warm up in a hotel with heat and a hot shower. Something we learned while on the road, when you need a warm bed... take it. There will always be hardcore camping to do when your spirits are higher.
To revise the trip plan, we spent an extra day off in town and figured out what the best next step would be.
For our final day of riding this week, we followed our tracks back down the climb, past the epic lake-view, down the switchbacks, into Lujan, and pedaled ahead into Mendoza. You can basically read this post in reverse to find out what the ride was like :)
One thing we were pleasantly surprised with was that there was a bike lane that took us from (basically) Lujan and all 25 Ks into Mendoza! This was awesome considering I was a bit worried about traffic on the roads into the metropolis.
That concluded week 5 for us. From here, we plan to figure out buses to get us closer to Iguazu Falls and avoid biking along the highways through the Pampas. Check out our main South America page or subscribe to updates to see what we are up to next :)