A Flatlander’s trip to the Andes mountains of Chile & Argentina
In early March 2023, I (Dub) headed out to South America seeking inspiration for my riding, soul and just plain old snapping out of the usual day to day life.
A Flatlander’s trip to the Andes mountains of Chile & Argentina
In early March 2023, I (Dub) headed out to South America seeking inspiration for my riding, soul and just plain old snapping out of the usual day to day life.
As for every winter in Canada, the idea of spending it riding Flatland cooped up is a dreadful thought and as uninspiring as it comes. It calls for a winter break to a warmer place to seep in the Vitamin D, explore the mind for new tricks and see a bit of the World at the same time. I’m blessed to have been able to find a way to juggle so many things and yet find time to free myself and mind off to a new adventure.
Time and time again, I have felt the call for the blue skies and infinite days of the Chilean summer during our rough northern winters, though this time, I was also intending to pass the border to Argentina by bus, experience the beautiful 8 hour bus trip from Santiago to Mendoza and go experience the riding and riding spot of nicknamed flatland PRO “El Mago” / “The Magician” commonly known as Owen Bohn, who rides Plaza Independencia.
Through all of these competition trips and stressful events I take part in every year, I chose to do a trip for my soul and go ahead with this simple idea in mind and maybe if possible, make an edit out of it and if I’m lucky go on a hike or two and take in some of the vistas the Andes mountains have to offer.
When hiking the high mountains , there is an overwhelming sense of serenity and a silence that envelops you in its tentacles of nothingness, leaving space for your mind to wander the depths of your consciousness , a night sky that breaks your mind and carries you away from the regular hustle & bustle, a clearing of the old thought patterns that keeps one wrapped in the business of the everyday 3D vibe. Seeking out a beautiful high mountain hike is to me, the total opposite of practicing Flatland and brings balance and meaning to my life.
If you’ve been following me these past ten years or so, then you know that I’m down for adventure and this was the beginning of a new one.
So here I go and head out to Chile with my bike bag and hiking boots in search of the sun once more. Some just as many flight hours as going to China later… Ben picks me up at the Chilean airport and after 8 years since the beginning of our bandwagon trip through South America, ( https://vimeo.com/149712684 ) I finally get to see this country that I love so much once again.
Since I was last there, they built this huge new top of the line international terminal, but the moment you step out of it you still get them South American vibes and feel the crisp early AM desert climate cold sting as it was morning when I stepped foot outside.
Santiago in the summer can reach 40C mid day and dip down to 15C at night. You can’t really ride before 3 or 4pm, at least I didn’t back then, 10 years ago, when I would visit the Reyes family. I used to stay for peak Canadian winter months for 2 months at a time, living in a house with 14 people, yet they could still spare a tiny room for me to inhabit for the peak summer months. ( https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/59166172 )
As you ride the late afternoon into the night and the sun sets around 1030pm, you get a gradual cool down super imposed by a perfect blue to pink gradient sky as there rarely are any clouds in this arid climate controlled by the Cordilliera. At least summer is as crisp as they come. Similar to the climate found in California, but further down and with more danger from over exposure to the suns rays… Picture perfect though…see the pic.
When building my bike in Ben’s backyard, I realised that I forgot my seatpost & seat and had to beg my way around the scene to find one with Leo Saladaño coming to the rescue with an old Khe Watanabe seat and rail post.
Flatland parts in the Southern Hemisphere are quite hard to come around, so I was blessed to get something close to what I use.
As we arrived in the city, tired as ever , with swollen ankles and feet from the redeye flight, we headed to Las Torres for a session, which for me was way too slippery , even though we applied the crushed violin rosen, I just couldn’t get a good carve at that spot. I don’t know, maybe I’m too picky… I recycled myself with filming 2 combos from Ben and had way too much coffee to keep me going, though it got me started on the idea for the Los Andinos edit.
I decided I would film Ben at his spot and Owen at his and try to make a palatable video to watch for the flatland scene. 2 riders who seldomly post quality videos and with intriguing yet profound flatland riding styles for everyone to enjoy.
At this point, social media has really catered to most flatland rider’s, especially the younger generation’s, impulses to show off their latest tricks the moment they land them, with a few exceptions. This habit creates a huge gap in the amount of relevant and interesting edits to watch and a lack of real tangible video material to back up our culture. It seems to have lost its meaning to send instagram links to people from a sea of random, algorythm boosted viral clips, when trying to expose flatland, and ever worse , retracing lost clips on the feed to identify where the tricks come from. Who knows maybe soon enough we will be landing tricks live online without ever giving time for ideas to grow, as the competitivity for being the first one to land something becomes fiercer as countless new waves of young Japanese riders keep on overpowering the creative process of what was once a thriving sport that neared its end and is now being reborn by their prowesses.
You also got to give credit and love to everyone that kept the sport going worldwide while their was little opportunity out there for the riders. Cheers to them, you know who you are!
I veered off course here, but my point is, I love to make edits and cover riders in their environments as I get to witness their cultures.
I spent 3 days in Chile before heading out to Argentina with Ben. He worked half days as I sipped coffee and worked my way through the mornings and waited on him to return from the lab to go ride.
As we head out through the international bus terminal downtown Santiago early AM, he warns me to keep a good eye on my stuff, because the area can be a little rough.
Canadians and their unlocked doors year round beware .
The road to Mendoza is magical, it crosses the only mountain pass navigable by car in 300 hundred kilometers to the north or south. You get to see old abandoned railways that were never dismantled, next to what looks like could be the first electric lines or telegraph poles that run the entire distance of the mountain pass, fleeting by ancient looking stone houses in ruins that must be at least a hundred years old overlooked by massive mountains that only the Himalayas may rival in height and might. I’ve crossed here back in 2014 when headed to Uruguay. It is just as beautiful now as it was then. The clear and cloudless mountain air is such a treat coming from a humid place like Montreal in the winter where its grey 8 days out of 10.
As you arrive towards the other side of the Andes, you slowly feel the heat and humidity build up and the climate going from mediterranean to arid over on the Argentinian side.
Mendoza actually has a bigger scene than I had imagined, but the spots are hard to come accross, though plaza independencia is the crown jewel of the flatland experience in that city.
I mean that sort of jokingly, because it looks amazing in pictures and video and even walking up to it, but I really couldn’t find control on that surface. Either I’m getting old and can’t adapt to anything beyond a certain quality of floor or my mind was playing tricks on me. Either way, I quickly realized this trip would go from wanting to train and progress to just going with the flow and accepting the situation, though I did ride there alone at least one or two sessions and it was tragically impossible for me to get a hang of it.
My mission was becoming clearer, film Owen and Ben for Los Andinos and get Kevin Soruco to bring me on a hike. Kevin is also a flatland rider and you can also find him at the spot once in a while, but most probably doing some technical climbing somwhere in the Andes!
Owen is there relIGIously almost every night though, and I quickly understood why he went at night, because day-time is just full of people crossing your path and kids coming off school, or whatnot. Anything to distract you from your goal to improve a skill, but then Owen doesn’t recommend I go there a night to ride solo. He said that this gringo (me, or how they refer to north americans ) might get himself into trouble, and knowingly that I can have a short fuse with people sending bad vibes so its better I focused on other things than try to make of this place what it is not for me. I felt like I was sort of back at Chinatown, minus the hobos and the grippy floor…
Watching Owen ride the spot, you start to understand why his style developed the way it has. He rides light footed and doesn’t push hard on the floor since it is very slippery, but he got used to it and just kind of glides over and around the obstacles. Actually its quite mind boggling! I barely landed a decent combo there in my ten days in Mendoza. How he pivots through back to back variations on either the front or backwheel is impressive to say the least. Since my trip there he has even went on to Europe and won a big international contest called “Urban Rural Ride” organized by IGI team member Joris Bretagnolles.
So we settled in to our airbnb for the night, the next day we filmed a bit of a mixed part / session of Ben and Owen, Ben adapts a lot more smoothly to most and any surface, yet still struggled with this floor compared to how Owen holds control and knows every angle, crease and approach for each and every single one of his combos.
2 days and some 2 sessions later we headed over on a hike, Ben, Kevin, Antonio and I. Thanks to Antonio that drove us to Vallecitos in his car.
We headed up to one of the lowest peaks of the Vallecitos mountain range some 2 hours away by car from Mendoza and another 2-3 hours uphill. Ouuuuh how pretty it was as we reached an altitude of 3650m (double check). We witnessed some alpacas, foxes and even condors that were flying sky high and cruising the warm air currents in the region, from Lomas Blancos, we could see so far into the horizon, including the dam and reservoir that supply fresh water to Mendoza and the city as well out in the distance. Behind us was the higher peaks peering down on us and an eerie vibe of stormy dark clouds looming further above the mountains in the distance. Ben and Antonio got tired and headed back towards the car as Kevin and I treaded on even higher up. Though as we went up and took a random trail we escalated quickly and maybe from the lower oxygen level I didn’t pay attention to the sharp rocks and sliced my finger on one of them. Ouuuh how quickly accidents can happen in the mountain. The mountain calls for respect, every footstep counts and staying calm is of the utmost importance to keep on having a good experience.
I sucked on my finger until it stopped bleeding as we headed back down towards the car, the storm came towering above us and it started hailing, like nickel sized hail like I’ve never seen before. Kevin took off running on the wet path, because he wanted to make sure we get back to Antonio’s car and leave before any damage to it happened, I tried running but everything was wet and it was hailing pretty hard, I was seeking refuge , but kept getting hammered by huge Ice pellets wizzing by my ears and landing on my beanie with a blunt sound, as I went down the slope carefully, not wanting to get hurt any more. It was scary, because if that hail amplified in size it could have caused some real damage to any human being standing outside underneath it. Luckily, the storm cleared as I hurredly headed towards the road, we reached the car and off we went, pretty thrilled and energised from this whole experience.
Antonio came ready and had covered the car with carpets, as people do in that area that is reputable for hail, they said they’ve seen crazy baseball sized hail before and it destroyed so many cars. Happy this one wasn’t of that amplitude or I might not be here telling you this story… We headed back to the city and slept like babies that night. There’s nothing like physical exhaustion for better sleep…
Life is unfair and my trip to Argentina is a dire reminder to how bad inflation can hit and affect your life in every possible way.
The currency in Argentina has devalued so much in the last decade, inflation is calculated at 211.4 percent for 2023 !! Bonkers! Owen had warned me that the best way to use your money out there is to bring in USD cash and exchange it on the streets. If you change one USD at the bank there you get something like 200 or 250 pesos Argentinian (at that time) and if you change it on the streets you can get up to 400 pesos for it. (It might have changed since)
Every morning I would go for breakfast at what Owen would call a fancy place and get a hefty meal and a couple coffees for about 4 or 5 USD, if I had changed my money at the bank it would’ve been double that price, still affordable in my standards, but compared to 4 or 5 bucks for a full meal you start to get a feel of the inequality they have to live through compared to the rest of the world. I would imagine inflation in a place like Venezuela must be ten fold worse. Money makes no sense when it is so volatile that from one day to the next you don’t know if it will keep its value and what you will be able to purchase with your dollar or pesos… it was the same for lunch and dinner, Ben and I could afford some really nice meals that in a day would cost less than one meal at a basic restaurant back in Canada. It makes the trip pleasurable to have purchase power, but it also rings a bell for what could also happen elsewhere in the world if lets say the dollar crashes or what not. I’m no expert, but experiencing it really wakes you up to the severity of what could take place.
Ben headed home after 5 days in Mendoza and i stayed for another 5 days to ride, film, and enjoy purchase power. The prices here are at a point where you don’t ever see any fancy cars or barely even any recent ones. It’s another world out there once you cross the border to Argentina. You see loads of Americans and Europeans that are there to enjoy the economical advantages. It’s an odd form of tourism, yet I feel it will be one that will become more common around the World as inequalities keep on growing.
Onto the filming session with Owen.
Who knew someone could have learned this many tricks in such little time. Their are benefits to living a simple life. The time we spend chasing money and success is somewhat wasted to that task while the real journey is the learning process…The more shit we accumulate, the more time we spend managing it and the less time we spend enjoying it. So you might as well own as little as possible, but enjoy it to the fullest! At least in theory this sounds utopic.
Filming Owen was a treat, the guy just doesn’t even get mad when the tricks don’t come, he just keeps trying. We headed to the Plaza around 3pm and were there til sundown, and within this span of 3-4 hours he landed a panoply of remarkably different concepts. I’ve pushed so hard in certain directions that I forgot to appreciate the easy tricks that sometimes, I may forget how useful they can become in impossible situations.
I will let the riding speak for itself in the edit, but gawd damn that was fun to witness and film! I hope you guys enjoy it! The session was followed by a feast at Owen’s favorite local restaurant near his home ”El Larry” BEST EMPANADAS EVER! 🙂
Though honestly I did picture myself riding hardcore on Owen’s spot, my heart was eager to climb a big ol’ mountain. The first hike was a warm up compared to this next one. As I kept ”pressuring” Kevin on whatsapp to figure out where we would go next, he suggested climbing Penitentes.
This peak is situated at 4350m altitude with the most magnificient view on the Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas but also outside the Himalayas. That really makes it a very tourist prone mountain, but the one we climbed was adjacent to it and way calmer, tourism wise, and the views I repeat myself, but they were out of this fucking world! For the view you must suffer, yet suffering I’m used to, yet without the vistas…spinning circles on my bike for the last 22 years. So once again, we head out on a mission, as early as possible on March 11th, by bus, we had a 4 hour ride, basically backtracking on the way to the Chilean border. The Aconcagua’s summit sits just 13 km away from the Chilean border as the crow flies, that situates Penitentes at about the same distance give or take 1km. This bus ride takes you all the way up to the starting point for the hike, passed Puente del Inca at 2645m alt. That leaves us with about 8 hours of hike which we split in two days, 1705m to climb and about 20 km to travel. Man its hard to translate the feeling I get from being up there, after all of these years roaming the flatest of floors, its like a new world opening up to my soul, have I not been so captured in the flatland all these years, I would have at this point most certainly have at least reached the 7000m cap. The death zone is situated at 8000m and up, of which there are only 14 mountains in this world beyond that threshhold, many attempt to climb to that altitude, but not everyone comes back down. I hope to reach 7000m one day! At this point, I’ve only reached 4650 meters in China, but hey, one step at a time 🙂
We hiked for 3 hours with our heavy packs on the first day all the way to Quebrada de Vargas ( basecamp ), where we set up camp for the night. An expedition seemed to be on the way with a couple tents setup around the main camp, so we went back down a bit to have our own space. I then, even attempted to climb the ridge next to camp just before sunset. Oh man, mountains can be tricky sometimes as they look so close and their peaks in reach while as you start trekking towards them, they just seem to get further and further as if mountains piling on top of mountains. That evening I went a bit beyond my pay grade and reached a point close to the top of that ridge, or at least I thought, when Kevin went back down for safety and I was stuck there in total fear, scared shitless, not able to make one more step up nor down. It took me a good while to calm down and get on my four limbs to crawl myself down from the sketchy point that I had reached. There seemed to be no safe zone and I felt totally exposed at that moment. Kevin had warned me it was getting late and I was being hardheaded thinking I knew best, he knew better. He set on the way back down to camp as I tried to figure out a way down. Good thing we had brought our headlamps because it was gettting darker by the minute, and another 30 to 45 minutes went by before we got back to camp. Ouff…what a day! In that moment I learned a lesson…Never underestimate the power of the mountain!
That night we were treated to the most beautiful night sky that I’d seen in ages, sitting there, litterally at the center of the Andes in what felt like the belly of the World, with nothing but my legs and lungs as my engines to carry me away in the event of of a catastrophe. It is very freeing to have nothing but what you can carry as a safe zone. In fact, the beauty of it all lies in the calculated scarcity of the rationing of your appetite, energy expenditure and ressources, therefore the need for experience as you level up. I am not a mule, for I must carry only what I shall need and no more. I have so much to learn if I want to go up higher and not lose control of my nerves. Physical and mental preparation, I now know, are a must when headed above 6000m. Even 5000m.
So we spend the night sort of acclimatizing to the altitude, meal of the night, lentils and white rice from Kevin and I had brought some stuff to make sandwiches. We headed off to rest in his small tent. It was a little tight, yet I passed out so quickly and didn’t budge until the alarm rang at 4AM and we had a little breakfast and headed off into the night a half hour later.
We reached the top of Penitentes around 9am, the view was no surprise as we had it decorating our climb all the way up, but the feeling of winning over your every instinct telling you to take it easy, rest and go back down is the true glory…overcoming your weakness and thriving when reaching the end of the roll.
Even more importantly, making it safely to the top, enjoying a snack with a friend and feeling whole as you watch these endless rocky mountain blades stick out to the sky resting still in time, locked in position for the past million years of their silent existence. The Aconcagua seemed to be calling us on to climb it. One day, we plan to make it there and stand on its glorious peak.
Our little break at the top was interrupted by the urge to head back and catch the next bus which we had about just enough time to catch if we started off right away and didn’t stop. We actually hiked the trail back so fast in an attempt to catch it, but just as I reached the last hilltop and as the highway finally unraveled itself behind it, there it was, the bus driving off into the distance…we had to spend the rest of the afternoon waiting on another bus and check if they would let us in with our old ticket. This 5 hour period of waiting in the sun and wind was probably the worse part of the trip. We just couldn’t find a place to rest that wasn’t under the blazing sun ( note the hole in the ozone at that latitude + our altitude) or this ceaseless blowing wind by the road and river that just etched at our remaining energy. We settle to crash next to this big rock and opted for the wind instead of the sun. This awful end to the most amazing hike was laughable, yet we were a little worried that the next bus wouldn’t come or that the driver wouldn’t let us on. Though they did end up taking us, we had to pay another ticket and we then slept all the way back to Mendoza, burnt by the hike, sun and wind, but energised by our successful ascent and the beauty of it all .
The next day was my departure day back to Chile, and with 3 days left to film Ben’s part, we sort of had to step on it! Tired from working 6AM to 12PM , he wasn’t always entirely satisfied with the combos he was able to pull for the edit, but I think its pretty dope. His style stands out a lot from Owen’s. Its a very frontwheel flowy type of riding and he makes it a religious thing not to touch the seat. Like blasphemy, it makes me laugh. Like its some kind of old school thing. If you’ve seen his riding when he used to touch the seat ( https://vimeo.com/135591027 ) its just as fun to watch :)) .
When looking back on this whole trip and edit idea, I can’t stop but to think that these two dudes, Ben and Owen, share a special bond through this Andean flatland spirit. Linking their flatland passions for bikes and the flattest of floors accross the most mountainous of lands and crossing by the pass of ”The Paso Internacional Los Libertadores” keeping eachother motivated to thrive and progress somewhat together in lands such as Chile and Argentina, so far away from the nearest international contests, jams, brands and flatland shops. Yet unconditionally advancing and innovating without the need for praise and so freaking good at it, that it boggles the mind. I left the continent feeling blessed for the experience was a mind opening one, absorbed in thought and in the realizations that my take on flatland might need a refresher soon, as in order to stay up you must come down and absolve from your previous iterations of self to rise again with the youngest of them once again finding your path in and out of love with and for the world of Flatland.