Bill Weidenfeller

Home: Naples, FL

Hobbies: Biking, Tennis




Rails to Trails Conservancy

America by Bike

Bicycling Across the High Andes

03-01-2009 - 04-07-2009
read interview
Welcome to the most exciting bicycling expedition in the world! This trip is everything you've
ever wanted in an adventure bike tour: exhilarating climbs and descents; spectacular colors and mountain/volcano scenery; welcoming people and towns; biking at 4600 meters (15,091 feet) above sea level; paved roads; crossing the High Andes plateau; a side trip for 2 nights into Bolivia to visit colorful geysers, lagoons and get deeper into the famous Andean Plateau; long mileage through the Pampas at the end of the tour. ExperiencePlus! has been planning this trip for more than a year and we have found the perfect route to pedal the High Andes.
Scenery on this tour will vary from desert and rock formations to sepctacular mountains to great salt flats to colorful canyons to cactus-covered hills and pre-Colombian ruins to the great Pampas expanses. Sights will include Chilean mines, colorful Andean villages, Bolivian geysers and volcanoes, Incan ruins, Jesuit estancias, famous colonial cities, Uruguayan beaches and everything in between. We'll travel through three countries--Chile, Argentina and Uruguay--before finishing in one of the most famous cities of the world, Buenos Aires. Join us on this first-of-its-kind expedition across one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world!

Interview with Bill Weidenfeller

        The following interview appeared in the "ExpeditionPLUS" newsletter.

Name:  Bill Weidenfeller

Age:  64...and holding!

Bill, when and more importantly, how did this madness for crossing continents begin?  Early in 2004, I made a decision that changed my life.  As an inexperienced cyclist I committed to a bicycle ride across America. My wife, Betty, had recently died after a long battle with cancer, and I was searching for a way in which to memorialize her life, find inner peace, and to help others in some way.  I was off!

I cycled from California to Maine, 3796 miles in 52 days, and raised approximately $50,000 for the American Cancer Society.  I found a way to "start over, but cherish the past", and had experienced the challenge and adventure of a lifetime. I became an impassioned cyclist.  I then rode the length of the Mississippi River the next year, and in 2006 completed the second ride across America.  The 2007 the ExpeditionPlus! continental ride from St. Petersburg to Istanbul was magnificent in every respect.  I was hooked on the joys of long distance cycling!

Do friends, family join you for these rides or do you travel alone?   I went by myself on the first ride, but I never felt alone. I had such overwhelming support from family and friends, and made such lasting friendships along the way that I always felt a part of a team. On every bicycle trip since, I have joined with friends, met mainly on previous rides, or family. 

You have ridden across the US twice; did you use the same route.   No, the Cross Country Challenge in 2004 was across the center of the country, over the Sierras, the Rockies and through the "heartland" of America.  The Across America-North ride in 2006 began on the Oregon coast, rolled through the Cascades, the northern plains states, the upper Midwest and onto the New Hampshire coast. Both routes were challenging, eventful, and brought a lifetime of wonderful memories.

You also maintain a blog of your rides,  What inspires you to blog at the end of a long ride?   I began blogging to keep family, friends and supporters to my ACS fund raising ride apprized of my progress. (Believe it or not, I had some "doubters" of my ability to finish!).  I have continued to post my daily website journal entries and photos on every ride since.  I enjoy the "responsibility to report", and I am continually thankful that I have a "record" of the journey that I  am able to  relive at leisure.  Some days it IS a challenge to take the time to publish, but I view it as a responsibility I took on.  "Just do it" becomes my mantra.

In your application you said, "you must do it" (the High Andes Expedition) is it possible to explain why?   Easy!  This is a cross Continent journey!  This is BIG!   Sometimes I can become a bit “single focused” when there is something I want to do. This is one of those things—I MUST DO.  Imagine crossing the ANDES on a bike, experiencing the cities, countryside and cultures of Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Argentina (and dancing the tango in Buenos Aires!)  Can’t wait!

There seems to be a gap between cyclists who consider themselves cycle tourists and those who race—how do you categorize yourself?    It is clear, I am a touring cyclist.  I began too late to consider racing.  However, I do feel competitive juices when I bike.  I want to do “personal bests” in terms of distance and times.  I want to climb higher, go faster, maintain speeds longer etc.  But nothing beats the joy of just riding a bike with friends through new and interesting landscapes.  I am a proud and happy touring cyclist!

How do you train for these long rides?  There is no substitute for long hours on the bike—day after day.  I also think a cross-training sport such as tennis is helpful in keeping fit and active—and it’s fun!  In the gym, I take spin classes and some weight training, which I’m sure pay dividends on the road.

Magical things seem to happen to cyclists on the road—can you share a couple of stories with us?   I have seen a lot of things happen on the road.  I have heard many stories.  Some are amazing, some amusing, and all too personal or long to tell here.  Many are heart- warming and inspirational…and private.  Long distance cyclists are "themselves" on the road. You get to know them—you are with them for long hours and sometimes days and weeks on end.  The comeraderie is strong and lasting.  Any stories I could tell would be of outstanding people doing incredible things with their lives.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t riding your bike?   I am an avid, competitive tennis player. I love to read, am a serious French student, and continue to work on behalf of the American Cancer Society.  I particularly enjoy and receive great satisfaction in my volunteer work with Special Olympics, coaching "my special athletes" in tennis and cycling.

What questions do you wish we would have asked, and how would you have answered?     
What has cycling meant to me?

Recently, on a rest day during a group ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had time to reflect on the many ways CYCLING has made a positive impact on my life. I wrote on my website that day the following:
• Having biked in 36 states and 14 countries, cycling is responsible for my visiting and experiencing incredible sights, places and cultures, otherwise unknown to me.
• It has allowed me to have close friendships with interesting, active and wonderful people.
• Cycling has made me healthier and fit, more conscious of how I treat my body to promote good health.
• It has provided challenge after challenge—on and off the bike.
• By dedicating certain long distance rides in support of a charity or cause, such as the American Cancer Society and Rails- to- Trails Conservancy, I feel I have benefited others in a meaningful way.

I have enjoyed life immensely through these cycling adventures, and plan to continue on this path for as long as I am able.


  • Posted: Fri, 27 March 2009






                                                 CERVEZA  “FRITZ”



       We biked out of the nice, quiet town of Alto Gracia (meaning “High Grace”, and named for the Jesuit estancia formerly located here) on a clear, cool morning.  It remained sunny all day on our long, but beautiful 82 mile ride to Rio Tercero.  There are 5 rivers flowing east out of the Sierras de Cordoba.  They have acquired interesting, yet appropriate names.  They are actually called Rivers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.  We are cycling to the town named for the 3rd river that flows by our destination town of Rio Tercero.



       Did I ever mention that Argentina roads have NO SHOULDER?  Today, there were many times that I wished they did!  It can get a little tight in traffic.



       We began climbing from the get-go.  “Rollers” they were called by Michele in his pre-ride talk.  We experienced these HILLS for most of the day.  A photo-op was taken at the “10 percent grade” sign.  By the end of the day these” rollers” amounted to 4516 feet of climbing over 132 km!



       We passed several camp sites and signs for “adventure camping” opportunities in this resort, or “get-away’ region near the big city of Cordoba.  We didn’t stop to check them out—we were having too much fun on our own adventure!



       There was nothing there to make me think I was home, but I was surprised to see the sign for the town of Ville Ciudad de AMERICA.




       I love Argentine dogs!(so does Mary)  They are not the best looking dogs, in fact most are kind of ratty looking mixed breeds.  BUT…they do not CHASE us (too often)!  They just meekly watch us race by.  Maybe I’ll bring one home!



       At the 33 km mark we saw the first of many lakes—actually reservoirs with a dam holding back the run-off water from the Andes and the Sierras. They are beautiful lakes that obviously attract tourists and provide hydro power.



       We have been looking forward to seeing the town of Villa General Belgrano, a now quite famous storybook German town in the middle of Argentina.  It is the town where German sailors arrived after their ship the Graf Spee was sunk in the Rio de la Plata in WWII by the British Navy.  The shipwreck sailors were accepted by Peron and settled in Belgrano.  It has developed into a replica of a German village as many more Germans came here to settle.



       The architecture is right out of Munich.  The stores, restaurants, and hotels all reflect the image of a “little Germany”….even down to the cuckoo clocks. When Dan and I were riding through the streets of Belgrano, we were spotted by Bob, Walter and Fritz having coffee at a café.  We joined them and discovered that Walter had found a local beer named “Cerveza Fritz”.  Fritz rode out of town with a bottle (full) in his backpack!



        At the 92 km mark near the Valle del Dique (dam) we stopped at the dam holding back a big beautiful lake.  The van pulled up immediately with cold Gatorade.  It was a pleasant stop…and another great day on the bike!


  • Posted: Thu, 26 March 2009


                                            MANZANA   JESUITICA

    Our shuttle bus departed Alta Gracia this morning for a visit to Argentina's second most important city, Cordoba. It is also one of its oldest.  Fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture can be found in the city center. We found it to be a beautiful, interesting and busy city.

       Cordoba was one of the most important Jesuit centers in Latin America.  The need to train priests  led to the foundation of a Jesuit college in the city, which in 1621 became the University of San Carlos.  The Jesuits also maintained farms and  grand estancias to earn money from the produce sold.  This was then given to the University and used to promote the education of the citizens.

       Here are some post cards from Cordoba:
      The Manzana Jesuitica--"Jesuit Block".

    We stopped for a cappuccino in a coffee shop.

      We walked through an open air museum dedicated to the "disappeared" people removed under the anti leftest military dictatorship of the 1970's and 1980's. Portraits of those "missing"  were identified and hung on a line for viewing.  A day of Remembrance for those never found was observed nationally on March 24.

    The cycling group enjoyed the day in historic Cordoba.



  • Posted: Wed, 25 March 2009







                                     THE  LAST  BLOODY  SIERRA!



       Today’s ride was accurately promoted as a “climb day”.  It was all of that!  In our path to the east, and to the pampas of Argentina was the last range of mountains we would have to cross.  Oh yes, we will do some climbing in Uruguay, but the Sierras de Cordoba  mountains represent the final range to be crossed.



       We would actually have 2 major ascents on today’s ride; the first was the Sierra Grande.  It was a demanding 55 km slow “march” over the course of 3.5 hours.  But the scenery was post card perfect National Geographic quality.



       We climbed 4400 feet to an altitude of 7300 feet above sea level.  WOW!  We stopped for photos and 2 flat tires, but mainly pedaled in a comfortable spinning mode.  It was not an excessively steep  grade of ascent, but we surely burned some calories in the effort.



       The road was bordered in part by high pampas grass with its tall plumes.  We would look down into the green valleys and rocky gorges below as we climbed.  It is always fun to look back down the mountain at the progress you have made on the winding road you have climbed.



       These mountains are truly amazing!  The rock formations, the vistas below, cycling in new territory, all remind me of what a great adventure is this Andes Expedition.



       We were greeted at the top (or what we thought was the summit at 45 km) by a large statue of Padre Jose Gabriel Brochero on a donkey.  It turned out, however, we had another 10 km to go to the peak.



       The descent was 40 km of downhill racing controlled by the occasional  leveling out of the road.



       We turned off highway 34 at the 90 km mark onto a quiet country road toward Alto Gracia. After a few initial rollers we again began a climb.  This was the Sierra Chica—“the last bloody Sierra” of our trek across South America.  It was extremely steep, but, thankfully, only over a distance of 10 km.  The descent into town was sweet!  We covered a distance of 125 km today with 5729 feet of climbing.  A good day’s work!



       It is a thrill to be able to look back proudly over the past 25 days and recall all the high peaks we have climbed together as a group, and know that they are behind us.  They will remain always on the list of the “accomplished”.




  • Posted: Tue, 24 March 2009


                                                     ROLLING  UPHILL



       Today’s ride had enough variety to please any cyclist!  We have gratefully left ruta 38 for the quiet country roads of Cordoba Province.  We biked 116 km (72 miles) to the small mining town of Mina Clavero (pop 5000) on enjoyable rolling hills, through small towns, and surrounded by interesting scenery.  We also climbed over 2800 feet today on these hills.  Dan’s quote was “We were rolling uphill”.



       The weather was fine all day; sunny, clear, comfortably in the 70’s, and complete with a “pushing” tailwind on the final leg.





       The “rollers” kept coming at us for at least the first 30 km.  It was a pleasant change from the “flatlands” of the past few days.  The number and size of some of the communal parrot nests lodged on the electrical poles were surprising.  Often they fly out of the nests squawking loudly as we approach.  The small, sometimes isolated, houses we see run a wide range of style, size, and quality.  Although, we have seen a substantial upgrade in the apparent well being of the people here since entering Cordoba Province.



       Heading directly south, through the town of La Higuera, we could not help but notice the focal point of the town; a PINK church dominating the landscape.



       In this area of past volcanic activity were several cone shaped volcanoes in the Sierra de Cordoba range.  We had them in sight for much of the ride.



       We rode through the interesting towns of San Carlos Minas at the 40 km mark, and Salsacate at 60km.  I love to cruise through towns such as these and just observe the human activity.  I think, however, our small pack of “gringos in spandex” offer more of an unusual sight to the towns people than the reverse.



       Poor Fritz!  He is having such a bad time with “saddle sores’ that he even reversed the bike seat to provide different pressure points when he sat down. (Carefully check the photo) That is what I call West Point ingenuity!



       I was very happy to see a few “real” gauchos riding their horses, wearing the traditional “bombachos” (baggy trousers) and red neckerchief.  Beef cattle grazing in the pampas grass was also a sight I had looked forward to experiencing and photographing.






       On a hilltop above our destination town of Mina Clavero, Dan and I stopped for a photo of the Translasierra Valley and the last ridge of mountains we will cross on this expedition: the Sierra de Cordoba. That challenge comes tomorrow!



       After a great descent into town we came upon a beautiful gorge and river.



       Cycling in a foreign country….you never know what lies around the next corner!












  • Posted: Mon, 23 March 2009


                                                        SOCCER  FANS



       A major storm blew through Chamical and this region of Argentina last night.  I had just “hit the sheets” of my tiny, low single bed when I heard the violent rattling of the tin roof of our hotel.  A heavy thunderstorm with high winds bent the trees and dropped 20 cm of hail on the nearby city of Cordoba.  These quick, violent storms I welcome during the NIGHT—not during our cycling day!



       I felt a bit out of place yesterday afternoon at the Esso gas station coffee shop in Chamical. I was there with my computer working on my website, as it is the only place in town with wi-fi internet.  There were probably 25 other men of all ages crowded into the coffee shop as well. Several TV sets hung from the walls….all tuned to the big soccer game involving “BOCA JUNIOR”, (the BEST soccer team in the world, according to Javier), the professional team from Buenos Aires.  As they cheered every good play, I typed…..25 soccer fans and 1 “nerd” in the corner. 



       Today’s 90 mile ride East to the town of Villa de Soto was a fun day on the bike!  With Bob in the lead, we cycled in a group of 6 to 8 for the first 100 km of the ride.  Last night’s goat dinner may have energized us all, as we were off to a quick start on a long distance day.






       I rode with Mary and with Walter for part of the ride.  They are usually “up ahead”, so it was fun to ride with almost everyone today. 



       The landscape was grassy flat plains initially, and then a more arid vegetation mix of cactus and scrub thorn forest with a predominance of the Algarrobo tree.  This area forms the biggest eco-region of Argentina with its semi-arid vegetation.  We could see ahead the last mountain range we will cross—the Sierra de Cordoba—which awaits us in a few days.



       I took Bob’s picture at the “entering Cordoba Province” sign at the 78 km mark. It is Argentina’s second largest province in terms of size and population.



       In the “one horse town” of Sarrezeula, we stopped and ate our pre-packed lunch in the shade of an olive tree.



       At the completion of the ride, after a hot shower, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a late “protein booster” lunch.  A 1928 Model A Ford provided a good photo-op.



       Tonight’s dinner was capped off with a local musician playing guitar for us on the patio of our hotel.





  • Posted: Sun, 22 March 2009


                                                     RED  EARTH  PLAINS




       The bell tower at the Cathedral in Rioja signaled 7:30 am as we passed by on our bikes on our way to Chamical, Argentina.  We had a 142 km (88 mile) ride ahead of us through the desert-like red earth plains, as we prepare to leave Northwest Argentina for the pampas.



       A steady and pesky wind from the southeast bothered us most of the day.  We were again on the now familiar “ruta” 38.  Fritz, Dan, Javier and I pace-lined steadily in the wind.



       The ride could be described as “no climbs, no curves, no shade, and no scenery”…a flat 88 mile route in the sun for 7 hours.  The distance and conditions made it a challenging ride; the main reason we all came here to bike.




       The landscape did change to a very arid one.  The river beds were as dry as a bone.  The desert produced low, sparse vegetation, red dusty soil, and heat that cranked up a bit.



       At the 90 km mark I had my 3rd flat tire of the trip, and changed it in the desert heat.



       The Gran Hotel Victoria in Chamical has a name more impressive than the hotel itself, but it is comfortable, and welcoming.  Our group has a goat dinner planned tonight at the hotel.



       Culture Comment:  Javier explained the background of the new type of roadside shrine we are seeing.  The “Difunta Correa”, a woman who died in the desert, but whose child survived and was found feeding at her breast, is venerated locally for being able to perform miracles.  Passers-by leave water bottles at these shrines and ask for her powers to answer their prayers.




  • Posted: Sat, 21 March 2009


                                 POST CARDS from RIOJA

       On our rest day in Rioja, one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in 1570,  we relaxed and visited some of the sights in town.  Join me, and have a look at this Argentine city. 


       On a morning walk I visited the Convent of Santo Domingo, one of the country's oldest places of worship.  The original church was built in 1623.  It has been rebuilt after an earthquake, but the original wooden door remains.  It
    is home to The Virgin of Rosario, a much venerated figure locally, and paintings in the traditional "cuzco" style.


       I was interested in the local police, some of whom travel the city on a bicycle.

       A rest day is always a day for doing your laundry and visiting a bike shop.  That is what Mary, Walter, Fritz, Dan and I did in the afternoon, but first Polo and I made a call on a couple of artisan craft stores.

       I saw a gaucho riding his horse down the street in Rioja.

       In the evening Fritz and I went to mass at the convent of San Francisco.  The people of La Rioja have a great devotion to the image of Nino Alcalde, which is located in the church.

      San Martin, the independence fighter known as the George Washington of South America, stands proudly in the park in the main square of Rioja.

    We will be back on the bikes headed for the plains of Argentina in the morning. 


  • Posted: Fri, 20 March 2009


                                             ARGENTINE  AUTOBAHN



       The only variation in today’s long, hot, tiring ride was cycling in city traffic.  We departed Catamarca at morning rush hour and entered La Rioja during afternoon “siesta”.  Otherwise, we were cycling the straight, flat, LONG  “ruta 38” for 98 miles.



       The GOOD NEWS is; we are enjoying some exciting cycling in Argentina!  We are picking up a little of the language and customs.  We have seen some breathtaking scenery, and are making good progress in our trek across South America.  Buenos Aires here we come!



       The scenery today was similar most of the way—low trees, some cactus, and scrub bush on both sides of the road.  It is a dry region-almost desert-called “monte”.  However, early in the ride we passed large commercial orchards of olive trees.  This section of northeast Argentina is the heart of the country’s olive oil industry. 



       Our views to the west were of 2 ridges of mountains.  The furthest was a much higher range.  They are the Sierra de Ambasto mountains, but we did not have to deal with them.  Our challenge today was endurance—98 miles in heat and an annoying headwind.  It was a day to put your head down and pedal!



       We took plenty of water and the van stopped 3 times to give us Gatorade, water, ice and snacks. They are on the ball!



       This was the view Dan had for half the ride.  I was directly behind him the other half…a 2 man pace line to diminish the effects of the wind.



       Goats, horses, cattle, and sheep again grazed at roadside.  There was very little traffic, but it was like a raceway, as cars flew by,  but gave us plenty of room on the right side of the road.  I called it “Argentina’s Autobahn”, as there appeared to be no limit to the speed of cars and trucks.



       Rioja seemed to never arrive, only markers showing the distance in kilometers remaining to the city—the Capital of Rioja Province.  At 3:00 pm, 7 hours into the ride, we entered Rioja at a gateway to the city. 



       After 7 consecutive days of long rides we have earned a rest day in Rioja.  Yahoo!




  • Posted: Thu, 19 March 2009





       The legend of “Gauchito” lives in this part of Argentina. We continue to see many roadside monuments dedicated to this “unofficial” Patron Saint of Argentina.  The shrines are all different, but all are meant to pay respect to the “good works” of this “Little Cowboy” of long ago.  The story states that Gauchito performed a miracle by granting a wish in return for a promise. 



       Those who believe in his powers still ask for his help (curing a sick family member, for example),m but must promise to make a positive change in their life.  When the wish is granted, a monument is constructed for all to see and pay their respects.



       Another symbol we see often flying outside of shops, in buildings etc., is the flag of the Native people of Argentina.  It is a colorful and proud symbol of the heritage of a large block of Argentines.



       Today was booked as “the longest ride of our Expedition”, 177 km (110 miles) of mainly flat riding to the city of San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca.  It turned out to be a bit shorter, closer to 100 miles, and not all that flat.



       We enjoyed the good road conditions the entire distance.  We were headed due south on National highway 38 from Concepcion.  Bob was in the lead pulling Fritz, Dan, and me for the first 70 km.  We were in agricultural lands growing soybeans, sugar cane, and tobacco.  The highway had a wide lane for bikes and scooters separating us from the fast paced traffic.


       As we entered Catamarca Province we began to climb.  Bob moved ahead, leaving the 3 of us to finish the second half of the ride.  The climb was more significant than we expected.  We climbed for 17 km to an elevation of 3600 feet at the top, an elevation gain of 2500 feet!  We were in the clouds.  A moist fog covered the road. Our visibility was diminished.  A flagman in the fog slowed the occasional car or truck.



       We descended from the clouds on a great run down the mountain.  A short stop at a gas station/convenience store for lunch at the 100 km mark left us with another 60km to Catamarca. 



       It turned out to be a much better and quicker final leg than we expected.  The sun was out and the afternoon winds picked up.  A strong tailwind pushed us to speeds of 50 km/hr for long stretches.



       We entered the Provincial Capital city of Catamarca.  With today’s ride we have passed the halfway point in terms of mileage and days.








  • Posted: Wed, 18 March 2009


                                                      EL  INFIERNILLO



        El Infiernillo” means “Little Hell” in Spanish.  It is also the name of the pass over the pre-Andes range that we must cross today.  We are told that it is the same pass used by the Spanish conquistadores to enter Argentina as they traveled east from Peru.  It is well named!



        We began the 3500 feet climb immediately upon leaving the hotel.  We climbed from 6500 feet elevation to over 10,000 feet.  It was a 3 hour slow, steady uphill effort, under heavy gray clouds, at 10-11 km/hr.  One major problem for us on bicycles was the HORRIBLE condition of the road. It was chopped up, rough, potholed and bumpy the whole way.  



       We passed groups of children waiting for their school bus.  During the day we would encounter cows, horses, burros, pigs, sheep, and hawks on the roadway. As we climbed and bounced along trying to avoid the worst potholes, Fritz said “Adventure cycling; It is good for the soul…but I’m not sure it’s good for the body”.  Amen.



       The vegetation at lower elevation today was desert-like with sparse trees and hills covered with cactus. This would change dramatically later in the day at higher elevation.



       Riding with Fritz and Dan, we looked forward to the long descent after reaching the summit.  In the thinner air at the top a llama awaited us (and all travelers) at an artisan shop. I got up close and personal.





       We were at about cloud level at the summit and enjoyed the view.



       The descent down the mountain was disappointing for one reason—the poor condition of the road.  It was unpaved for a long stretch.   It was a jarring ride down into the resort town of Tafi del Valle.



       After a quick lunch in a  bus stop structure outside Tafi, we began another descent of 50 km (we dropped over 8,000 feet in total today).  At one point we were in the clouds—it was like a wet, heavy fog passed over us.  We descended through the cloud forest heavy with green vegetation, tall trees, gorges…. and bad road.  There were numerous switchbacks, hairpin turns, and tight curves for miles and miles.



       We hammered at a good clip the last segment of the ride into the town of Concepcion after a long and tiring 145 km ride (92 miles).



       For me at least, it could have been a GREAT ride.  It had all the elements—a big climb, a challenging distance, long descents, and great views in a changing environment.  BUT, it fell short—the road conditions for too much of the ride were too poor!



       We will be out on the road again tomorrow!