45,500 km of cycle tourism from the Arctic to Argentina

Adventurer Mark Watson discovered the satisfaction of self-propelled long-distance travel and is keen to complete unfinished business in South America. He’s talking to Marjorie Cook.

The exploration of personal boundaries and paradigms and other countries and cultures is something that is deeply held by Mark Watson.

Next month he will share some of his thoughts with audiences at the New Zealand Mountain Film and Book Festival in Wanaka and Queenstown.

Watson, a photographer and writer from Lyttelton, intends to talk about a 45,500 km off-road bike adventure from Alaska to Argentina that he and his partner, Hana Black, embarked on in 2016. -20.

Black, a garment technician for the Kathmandu outdoor equipment company, will also present a bicycle packing workshop for those interested in light bicycle trips.

Devastatingly for Watson and Black, the Covid-19 pandemic has stopped them just two months from their destination in Ushuaia, in the far south of Argentina.

The couple had to pack their bags and return from Chile to New Zealand, arriving just 36 hours before the country was locked down in March 2020.

“After four years in the Americas we were there again and again on the road and this is something we would like to start doing again … In the next two years we want to go back,” Watson told Otago Daily Times this week.

Watson is no stranger to the great outdoors of Otago and Southland, but this is the first time he’s been invited to speak at the festival, founded by Mark and Jo Sedon in Wanaka in 2002.

He has a passion for the Darran Mountains in Fiordland, which draw him south each year to climb and explore.

He has also climbed Mount Aspiring several times, enjoyed several tramps and bike rides through Otago, and is considering his first ascent on Mount Earnslaw.

The Dunstan Road, Rough Ridge and Onslow Lake areas also provided the adventurous couple with good reasons to run their tires in the backcountry.

Last summer, they made their first attempt at the grueling multi-day Te Waipounamu top-to-bottom South Island bike race, which they completed in nine days. Black was the fourth woman. Watson was at the bottom of the men’s pack.

Cycle tourists had to be prepared for the unexpected, such as pushing bikes uphill for four days in the pouring rain in the Andes, he said.

“People ask, why are you doing this? But when you start doing it, you realize it’s not that bad. You have to come to a place of acceptance. If you can’t reach that level of acceptance, it becomes much more difficult, ”he says.

Watson has published three adventure books on New Zealand topics since 2015 and it should only be a matter of time before an adventure book on the Americas emerges.

“Not yet but it’s a goal. The trip was cut short and we got back from Chile prematurely … It was gutted but it was one of those things. [There were] too many questions and unknowns there so we decided to go home. “

“It was an incredible trip, up and down. We started in the Arctic and ended almost in the subantarctic, traveled through just about every climatic zone on Earth, and spent a tremendous amount of time in the tropics. From the Arctic to the Amazon and everything in between, following the paths of humanity as did the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, immigrating to the south, creating cultures as we go. and to measure.

“We were also following the American Cordillera, the contiguous mountain range of the Continental Divide … For us, it was about finding the most remote areas possible. We have often had people thanking us for coming to their villages, telling us that we were the first gringos they had met. “

Watson and Black’s first cycling tour was a nine-month expedition from China to Sumatra in 2011.

The couple returned home when their finances were exhausted and spent the next four years working and saving to pursue their dream of the Americas.

When they were ready to leave, they sold their house, put away all their belongings, and hit the road, eager to explore.

The only thing Watson came to dread was the morning routine. “It always took a little longer than I would like but in the scheme of things it was better than going to work.”

After crossing dozens of 4,000m alpine passes, they took their first serious break when they reached Arequipa, Peru, and stayed there for two months over Christmas and New Years 2018-19.

In Peru, they traded in their trusty Surly Ogre bikes for new big carbon fiber Otso Voytek bikes with rigid front forks, 27.5-inch wheels, and 3-inch tires.

This configuration proved to be suitable for the very sandy and rocky terrain they encountered.

Besides their bikes, the most essential equipment was a reliable tent and good sleeping bags, plus “a saddle that fits your butt and really easy gears for loaded climbing at high altitudes.”

This summer, the couple hope to repeat the Te Waipounamu Race and do other big bike racing events, before focusing on South America.

Watson and Black have shared their passion for the outdoors for about 30 years now and have yet to have a serious argument, he said.

“We have very, very few arguments on the road. We see ourselves as a team and we bring different skills and strengths to the table. We share this sense of curiosity and adventure, trying to understand the world around us as well as what makes us. It’s about expanding our borders, ”he said.

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About Jeffrey Wurtsbach

Jeffrey Wurtsbach

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