On Christmas Day, I decided to cycle to Farellones, a ski resort outside Santiago. The road climbs slowly from around 600m above sea level in Santiago to 1350m above sea level at Corral Quemado, and then things get serious – 40 hairpins in 10 miles to go from 1350m to 2400m up.
My idea was to leave at 6am. El Niño had given us a way worse summer than usual and there had been lots of cool cloudy days where there is normally unbroken sunshine for months. But it was a proper summer day today, and if I left too late it would be much too hot for a serious uphill cycle. But… I got up at 6am, and thought I would sleep for just a few more minutes, and woke up at 9am. Then I needed to make some adjustments to the bike, and prepare some food and drink, and I didn’t manage to leave until 11am.
It was warm already. The streets were deserted, which made the ride out to the start of the road to Farellones pretty relaxing, but early on in the ride I knew I’d made a mistake by leaving so late. Even by the time I got to Mallsport, 7 miles from my house and about 200m up, I was feeling pretty thirsty and pretty tired.
The start of the road to Farellones is pretty easy, gently rising for a few miles. The first real test was just after Puente Ñilhue, where I’d set out to climb Provincia in July 2014 and October 2016. Here, the road climbed steeply for a few hundred metres, and I had to drop down quite a few gears. Generally the gradients were not savage but I just didn’t feel that great. After about an hour and three quarters, I stopped for a break and to check how far it was to the start of the hairpins. I found that I was only a mile away, and psyched myself up for the real work.
I reached the hairpins. By now it was really hot but at first I felt great. The hairpins were easy – just a short sharp climb, then an easy flat bit until the next one. I powered through 8 of them with no problem. But after that it got tougher, with a long slow steep climb until curve 9. By now, all my water was disgustingly warm and I didn’t have much left. I began to doubt I’d make it.
I kept on pushing. By curve 14 I was suffering, and beginning to cramp a bit. I knew there was water at curve 15, but there’s a huge gap between curves 14 and 15, where the road just climbs relentlessly, at a gradient of about 7.5 per cent. About half way along it, I decided I was going to have to call it a day. I was getting too dehydrated to carry on, and I really didn’t want to get crippled by cramp out here. So I reluctantly turned around and headed home.
The petrol station at the start of the Farellones road was pretty much the only thing open in Santiago. I was incredibly glad it was because I had long since run out of water by the time I got there, and the last bits in my bottle had actually been hot. I bought a lot of liquid, and the last half hour back home was a lot more fun than the descent up until that point.
It was a shame not to have got further but I knew I’d left too late to make it. 41.1 miles and 2000m of climbing was still an OK effort, I thought.