Did you miss Part 1 of our story? Click HERE to read about our adventure that started on Baffin Island!
We literally had a day in Pangnirtung before grabbing our flights back to Ottawa to repack our gear and get ready for the second leg of our expedition. Next stage, we would attempt to retrace the 1,200km (800 miles) I previously ran across the Atacama Desert, from north to south, in Chilean summer of 2011. We would leave our fat bikes behind and trade them for Felt Decree full suspension enduro rigs…the perfect ride for a gnarly desert.
It was great to see our photographer Jon again and hear about how he and Billy had their own extreme adventure through the same storm we got caught in; they on their snowmobiles 50 miles away, us hauling our bikes deep in the Akshayuk Pass. This was my fifth crossing of Baffin, my second in winter, my first on a fatbike! We were lucky to have Jon meet us at the end and snap some amazing pictures, so we never forget how awesome it was!
We packed our gear (after it thawed) and headed to the airport in Pangnirtung. We were off to Ottawa!
We arrived home in Chelsea, Quebec and the turnaround would be just a few days. Between refueling and treating frostbite and unpacking and packing gear, the time went very fast.
It’s amazing on these expeditions what you find in your bags as you unpack. Sometimes its gear you didn’t realize you packed but needed out “there”, and you only find it after, when the deal is done. Other times its little things you kind of expect. For years, whether running across the Atacama or Gobi Deserts, heading to the South Pole unsupported, crossing the frozen waters of Lake Baikal in Siberia, or everywhere else for that matter, my eldest daughter Mia (and now her younger sister Anika) sneak a tiny stuffed monkey into my bags. Usually by the time I find Mr. Monkey, I am part way across wherever I am running, or unpacking gear at the expedition location. There’s always a note that accompanies him, and he has a clear job- keep daddy company!!! Over these past years, Mr. Monkey has become an ambassador to our expeditions, and photos of his journey engage younger aged classrooms to follow along on his own adventures!
We had Biknd cases repacked with our lighter bikes, and our Osprey Transporter duffles jammed with spare bike parts, a ton of tubes, Fruit Bars, CarboPro and a kitchen sink. At least it felt that way-we had so much stuff!
We arrived in Santiago and met with an old buddy of mine- an ultra-running guru from Chile who helped me with the logistics of not only my trans Atacama run in 2011, but also on two i2P Youth Expeditions that we did in South America. Cris was someone you could really count on. One of the great things about being on long expeditions is the lifelong friendships you forge. Bob Cox, the Executive Director of impossible2Possible and one of my best buddies in the world would volunteer his time and lead the ground crew for this desert leg of Arctic2Atacama. Our team was rounded out with another old Chilean friend and respected Chilean logistics expert Javier Aguilera. Javier has helped to coordinate multiple ultra-marathons in Chile, guided many visitors up the Andes Mountains, and has been involved in one aspect or another of every expedition I have done in South America. Most recently, when Stefano and I ran 1000km across the Patagonian Desert in 2015. He’s an interesting cat. People call him Krusty, as in Krusty the Clown. Nuff said. In the Arctic we were unsupported, but in the heat of the Atacama, we would utilize support much in the way I did when I ran across the desert in 2011. When I ran across, I would pretty much go cross country, navigating my way to meet my team every 20-30km to get more fluids and food. On this trip we would stick to that, and try to pull off 100km per day, as compared to the roughly 60km per day I ran. Temps could hit the mid 50’s Celsius (120+F), so staying hydrated was key. Our Osprey Viper 3 and Viper 9’s carried the fuel, the fluids, the spare parts and the tracking device that would enable schools to follow us as we pedaled.
We arrived in Arica, the furthest north in Chile we could fly to. Then we loaded our bikes, our gear and our team and headed to the Peruvian border where we would turn due south and start pedaling.
The first three days were about finding our groove, crossing three massive gorges, and getting completely off road…finally.
By the time we hit the dirt for a long crossing of open desert and mining operations, the heat was rising. It reached a peak of 47c, a little shy of the high of 55c I experienced when running, but it was still hot. Hot enough to scorch our legs and hot enough to remind us that we were literally at -60c just days before!!!
We got into a rhythm, each person working the lead and navigating the maze of old mining track, abandoned railway and open desert. Jen and I especially loved the long rocky descents, but none of us enjoyed the sometimes hub deep powdery sand that became more common the further south we went. As long as we aimed due South, we were pretty much heading in the right direction. We ascended and descended thousands of feet, of course going down was always more fun!
Wind has always been my expedition nemesis. When my buddies and I trekked to the South Pole unsupported for 33 days from Hercules Inlet, the wind was direct and in our faces the entire way. The same goes for the 7500km (4500miles) we ran across the Sahara in 2007. I bet the winds were in our faces 75 percent of the time there. Siberia, Arctic, Atacama, everywhere a headwind! As a matter of fact when I ran across the Gobi Desert in 2013, I sustained a back injury from the angle of the headwind, and had to walk the last 200km of that expedition!!!
But on a bike….it’s a whole new ball of gross. Every day the winds in the Atacama would pick up at about 3pm, and they would howl. Strong enough that anything not secured would blow away, gusts reaching over 100km per hour at times. The wind would kick up sand, salt and whatever else into our faces, and dry our skin to the point of cracking. Our bikes at times would be unrideable, and we would simply be forced quit for the day.
The toughest days were when we had the magical combo of deep sand, extreme heat and unrelenting headwinds. The mental downer of ‘dig deep’ days was always broken by something incredible we would see or experience. Whether it was seeing ancient pictographs or one of the dozens of dust devils….we would always get refocused.
The amazingness of the Atacama far outweighed any challenges we faced. Our photographer Jon Golden and our videographer Chris Tran spent hours everyday gathering content from this amazing place. Time lapses of the gorgeous night skies, desert vistas, and footage of the ride. Content was uploaded daily using our satellite system to a website we created so that schools could follow along, and film footage and photos are compiled into an archive that we make available for free to any school that requests it. We rode across plateaus at 7000 ft where the horizon never seem to end. We crossed the ‘driest place on Earth’ after a ridiculous descent into this giant bowl where we camped. And we camped every night under some of the most incredible skies on Earth.
Passing through very small mining towns and riding sections of an abandoned railway were like a repeating history lesson. Signs from the 1950’s were so well preserved in this environment that they looked almost new. Nothing- with the exception of some kind of bacteria- lives out here. Of all of the deserts I have visited, this is the most unique, but also one of the most harsh.
Our finish would be in the town of Copiapo, 1200km from when we started on the Peruvian border. It was strange, but by the time we reached our last day of the expedition, we no longer felt like three people, but like one. Every idea Jen would have, it was like I was reading her mind. Stefano wouldn’t even have to say he had to pee, we just all automatically stopped at the same time! From Arctic to the Atacama we had become a very tight team.
The last day of the expedition I think we literally pedaled for a mere 20km, and spent 70km coasting downhill!!! Talk about a sweet way to finish! We said that we paid our dues in the Arctic and that in the grand scheme of things, the Atacama leg ended up being much more enjoyable (insert- relatively!).
We celebrated with our support team on the outskirts of yet another mining operation in Copiapo (the town where the 33 miners got stuck a few years ago, remember?), then packed our gear up and headed to the nearest hotel for a much needed shower.
As much as we loved this experience Jen, Stefano and I all agreed, the next project would involve our feet connected to the ground! We walked the streets of Copiapo chatting with each other about what this last month of two completely different extremes meant to us. No doubt the Arctic threw some big surprises at us to deal with, and the overall physical effort of the expedition was huge. But truly, the friendship we cemented, the bond we created will be lifelong. I’ve been friends with Jen for years, and Stef and I have become close buddies over the projects we have dome together these past few years, but the Arctic2Atacama expedition tightened that up.
Also, we were so stoked to hear from schools that had followed along, and by virtue of following us, they for the first time discovered impossible2Possible – and the previous and upcoming youth expeditions which are all learning based. As I always say, if you thought this expedition was cool, just wait till you see what our i2P Youth Ambassadors do on their expeditions! Now that’s AMAZING!
Time to get ready for the next one!