Callum Smith’s first long-distance bike tour was a 4000km ride with his father from Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina. They traversed stunning, diverse landscapes and overcame tough physical challenges, all the while strengthening their father-son bond. In this photo essay, Callum shares special moments from their travels, tips for bike touring, and lessons leaned from his dad while on the road.
What was the motivation behind your bike trip through Patagonia?
My Dad had been on a riding journey for over a year. He always used to say: “There’s plenty of time to sit around and watch TV, so while I’m healthy I want to do the things that I love” and what he loved was being adventurous outdoors.
He started in International Falls, Minnesota, right on the Canadian-US border, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. His plan was to bike down the river and through the center of the United States; however, upon completion of that leg, he realized that he loved being on his bike and wanted to keep going.
Once my dad had a sense of how far he could actually ride, he called and asked if I wanted to meet him in Santiago, Chile and bike down to Ushuaia, Argentina. He said we’d ride through the wilderness and earth’s finest landscapes in order to reach the end of the road: the most southern point in the world. It seemed a clear, challenging but attainable goal. It was adventurous, which I loved – we’d have a map, but we’d hardly know what was around each corner – and it was an opportunity to join my father in his passion.The decision was an easy one: I bought a bike and booked a flight.
What did you do to prepare? What sorts of gear did you have to pack with you?
I was quite lucky when it came to preparing for the journey; my dad had already been riding for over a year and knew what kind of gear I needed to bring with me. We used a Hilleburg Tara tent, which was quite heavy but strong enough to withstand diverse weather conditions. Patagonia’s weather can change within seconds, so clothes had to breathe well when riding but also keep me warm. I had wool underpants, socks, t-shirts, jumpers. I used 3 different pairs of undies for 3 months; that was fun!
I purchased a bike in Australia: a Surly Long Haul Trucker. They’re known to be solid and reliable when bike touring. It came with racks and mudguards. Ortlieb panniers were hooked onto the bike and there was a nice rucksack for my tent. Schwalbe Mondail tires were my tire of choice. I did have spare parts for everything on my bike; my dad used to sail and always said: “When you’re out at sea, you need a spare part for everything.”
What stood out to you in Patagonia?
The Andes! The waterfalls; the lakes; the glaciers and the snow. The rivers, streams and fjords are so pristine and my dad and I did a lot of fishing for trout and salmon. It was fishing heaven! Patagonia is a gold mine for nature.
One of the most memorable days was our hardest day, riding rode out of El Chalten and into the Pampas of Argentina. The wind was fierce and provided a great physical challenge; but biking into it when it was averaging 40–70knots was even more draining mentally. One day, it took us 7 hours to ride 40kms. I was feeling angry and frustrated and threw my bike to the side. I’ll never forget what my dad said: “As long as that front wheel is moving forward, everything is okay.” It was true. I was getting anywhere just sitting on the side of the road moping about how hard everything was. I learned a lot from my dad on this trip.
Is there one moment that you’ll always remember from your trip?
Not one moment per se, but I will remember looking over my shoulder every day to see my dad riding with me. That was very special and something that I hope to do again. We definitely shared some challenging moments – sleeping next to each other every night for 3 months in a small tent will do that – but in the end it was well worth it.
How did you feel at the end of your journey?
I had mixed emotions. I was relieved to have made it to the end. I was excited and proud but overwhelmed thinking about what I had just accomplished. I was thrilled to have helped my dad achieve something that was so close to his heart. And I was sad knowing that the experience had come to an end.
Once we finished the bike trip, we took a bus back to Bariloche, Argentina. It had taken us 3 months to bike through Patagonia, but it only took 3 days to drive the length that we rode. I remember looking out the window and thinking to myself: ‘I just biked through all of this, and now I’m sitting here, looking out the window, seeing so many memories and moments – good and bad – flash by my eyes.” That was the strangest feeling.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to go on a long bike trip?
There are long distance cyclists who have ridden many more kilometers around the world; they are probably better suited to give advice. Based on my experience, though, I think you need to have a strong mind and an incredible will to do it. Bike touring is not a walk in the park. Some days are hard; others are amazing. You have to be ready to take the good with the bad. Riding with company definitely helps, though it needs to be good company: someone you love and trust; someone you’re really good friends with. Taking time for yourself after a long day of riding is also quite valuable.
Don’t hold back, even if you think you might not be capable of doing it. I never had bike toured before; I just had the sheer desire to do it, and a passion for adventure. Our world is beautiful. Get out there and get amongst it.
Where is your father now?
My dad is continuing his journey riding up through Uruguay to Venezuela. He is currently in Brazil on the Trans Amazon Highway. He is loving life and enjoying every single moment of his amazing adventure. You can follow along on my dad’s blog: www.browsinaboutonabike.com or on Instagram @browsinabout and @callumwsmith.