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: Tue, 17 March 2009


                                                    RUINS  OF  QUILMES



       We enjoyed our brief time in Cafayate; an orderly town square with sidewalk cafes, a good restaurant meal, a great little hotel….and it’s the WINE CAPITAL of Argentina!




       It was a short ride day, only 68 km south to Amaicha del Valle, Argentina.  Initially we cycled past the vineyards and botegas of Argentina’s finest wine producers.



       Mary( FL), Dan, Fritz and I rode through the town of Tolombon with its yellow adobe church.  Flocks of screeching parrots flew overhead from time to time.  At the 26 km mark we left the crumbling road surface of Salta Province and entered the Province of Tucuman where the road changed (briefly) to smooth asphalt.  We crossed several dips in the road where creeks flowed over it.  Some were deep enough to soak our shoes.



       How many cyclists does it take to change a flat tire?  Count them! (We like to help!)


       The primary type of vegetation along the route was the Algarrobo tree, the national tree of Argentina.  It leaves are like the needles of a cedar tree.  It does provide some shade along the roadside when we take a break.



       At the 50km mark we approached the most famous ruins in Argentina—the Ruins at Quilmes.  Here the indigenous population held off the Incas for 100 years and then the Spaniards for another 100 years until 1667 when they finally were conquered.  The Spaniards forced the population to march to Buenos Aires , a march in which they all died.  Quilmes fell to ruins.  The name “Quilmes” is now known as a popular brand of beer (particularly by this group!)  It is the Budweiser of Argentina.



       Outside Amaicha del Valle we stopped briefly at the Pacha Mama Museo (Mother Earth museum) filled with anthropological and geological artifacts and some interesting sculpture. 



        We finished the day at 6500 feet of elevation, at a quiet hotel in the countryside with great views of the mountain we will climb tomorrow.





  • Posted: Mon, 16 March 2009


                                     THE  QUEBRADA  de las  CONCHAS



       A geological wonderland awaited us today on our ride to Cafayate, a neat colonial town famous for its wine and as a base for adventure travel.  One can only marvel at what Mother Earth (the “Pacha Mama”) had in store for our cycling expedition over 129 km (80 miles) of stunning and colorful rock formations in the famous Quebrada de las Conchas—The Valley of the Seashells.  This region was formed when the Andes violently rose from the Pacific Ocean millions of years ago.  



       We departed the town of Coronel de Moldes at 3600 feet elevation and climbed to 5000 feet by the 100 km mark. It was comfortable breathing in this altitude range. The clear sunny weather turned HOT for our afternoon riding.  We carried 3 water bottles and refilled from the van when available.  The van left a big jug of water in the shade of a roadside tree at the 80 km point, and marked the road with chalk to alert the cyclists.



       Early, at the 40 km mark “the 5 guys” (Bob, Walter, Fritz, Dan and I) stopped for coffee at the popular roadside panador, “Posta de las Cabres”.  We were not in a hurry because wanted to see the Quebrada at its best; that is, in the afternoon sun when the rock canyons show their colorful best.



       Incredible rock formations were formed by water and wind at various points in the canyons.  We stopped at the “Devil’s Throat”, and the “Amphitheater”.  We climbed into these wonders of nature only to be amazed at the magnitude of natural geological formations.  I have never seen anything like what we saw today!



       Cycling the quiet roads of the Quebrada was like a trip through the Grand Canyon or a ride through Sonoma. Just stunning views!  We really enjoyed ourselves today.



       The sigh says it all!  I couldn’t resist a stop.



                Drinking a glass of wine in Cafayate,



  • Posted: Sun, 15 March 2009


                                                              THE  FINCA



       Today was a short ride day, only 62 km to the South, from “Salta La Linda” (called that because it is such a beautiful city) to the small town of Coronel de Moldes.  Salta was alive with “late nighters” on a Saturday evening; dining, walking, shopping, and drinking  until all hours. 



      We biked out of the city in Sunday morning traffic.  It was a good 10 km before we were in the countryside.  Polo, Fritz, Dan and I (a reunion of cyclists from the Eastern European expedition) stayed together for 30 km.   Walter and Javier later joined us for the final leg.  We passed through Cerrillos and several small towns enroute. There were many passing cars and trucks for a Sunday, but it was a good country road---not too scenic, only an abundance of farmland growing mainly soybeans and tobacco.  We could see a high range of the “pre-Andes” ahead of us, tipped by the clouds.



       We crossed a bridge over the Rio Rosario at 33km.  At this time of year all the wide and rocky river bottoms are mainly dry.  We have noticed many soccer fields all over Chile and Argentina .  I took a photo of this one in a small village thinking of the movie, “Field of Dreams”…..”Build it and they will come!”



       There were no major climbs on this ride, just some “bumps” as Michele calls them in his route description talks preparing us for each day’s ride.  There have been some pretty steep “bumps”!



       On the outskirts of the small town of Coronel de Moldes we saw an appealing “galleria” restaurant, Los Molles, one that has outside seating on a patio that wraps around the building.  We stopped for a good lunch of empanadas, and fish.



       The town is named for the military hero, Colonel Moldes, who fought many battles against Spain in 1815-1820 in the Argentines war for independence.



       The evening activities were the most interesting for us.  We walked a mile on a dirt road from our hotel to the “Finca Santa Maria”.  A finca  is a large Argentine farm, usually passed on from generation to generation. Santa Maria has been in one family for 200 years.



       It is mainly a tobacco farm growing special tobacco for Phillip Morris and British American tobacco .With our host, Carlos the owner, we toured the tobacco museum, which displayed old equipment for drying and pressing the tobacco. It was housed in an old clay adobe brick building that was as interesting to me as the displays.



       The finca also raises goats for cheese production and has some of the Puruvian horses famous for their prancing style.  Carlos also operates some tourist guest quarters on the property.



       A big time barbeque feast of Argentine beef with all the trimmings, including local wine, was prepared for us.  A good time was had by all!





     A photo of me was taken today while preparing my blog in my TRUE COLORS:  “the U”…the University of Miami.  The U of Florida biking jersey recently seen on the website was just that, a biking jersey with NO ALLEGIANCE attached.


       Go ‘Canes,


  • Posted: Sat, 14 March 2009


                                                                    AH,  GREEN!



       The route today was 157 km (97 miles) heading directly south.  We left the little town of Purmamarca (pop 200), and headed for the big city of Salta, Argentina (pop 800,000). But, that was only one major change.  A greater change was the contrast from the brown and barren desert of 2 days ago to the green landscape of today.  It was dramatic, and a welcome change of scenery. 



       We are told that the normal weather patterns bring moisture from the East- the Atlantic Ocean.  When they meet the “pre-Andes”, the smaller ranges of mountains preceding the Andes, they drop moisture there- creating a green and moist environment- while causing the dry desert region further to the West. 



       Riding with Bob, Fritz, and Dan, we moved quickly for the first 25 km.  The “boys” were flying today after a good day’s rest in Purmamarca.  We stopped in the town of Volcan to briefly visit (as recommended) an artisan market selling rugs and sweaters in an old and former railroad station. When we continued Walter (WA) had joined us, but soon he and Bob pulled away.  They are both younger and stronger cyclists…and good friends.



       Giant eucalyptus trees bordered the road.  The hillsides and grasslands were a brilliant green.  We were losing elevation fast—almost 3000 feet in the first 65 km to an elevation of 4500 feet above sea level. It was a pleasure to breath normally again.



       Outside Jujuy (pronounced  “who-WHO-EE”….  We have a good time with that name!), a major city, the traffic increased on this Saturday morning.  Argentine roads have no bike lane or shoulder, so we ride inside the white line marking the right edge of the road.  This is generally not a problem – until we hit heavy traffic- as we did in Jujuy.  However, we did travel on some perimeter roads to avoid some of the city traffic.  The locals were driving mainly scooters and motorcycles and old Japanese cars and trucks.



       We stopped to help an Argentine motorcyclist fix his flat tire with our small hand pumps.  It worked!



       The biggest climb of the day began at the 100 km mark and continued for about 20 km.  We were in the country; cattle appeared in the road, men on horseback riding 3 abreast closed ranks as we approached.  We were on a narrow road with many sharp curves, careful to stay safely to the right. The scenery was green and refreshing as we looked down in the valley below.



       Often we were shaded on this hot day by large trees at roadside.  The curving road that was cut into the hillside continued, but we crested the hill at the120 km mark and began a beautiful and gradual descent for 37 km into Salta.


       The forests were thick with trees, and everything was so GREEN!  We were in a “cloud forest”, a sub-tropical rainforest of sorts—where rainfall is plentiful.  A broad river of brown silt water, flowing rapidly,  accompanied us on the right side on our descent.


       The approach to our hotel in the city of Salta included several round-abouts, a bike path, and heavy city traffic. We arrived at the Hotel Alto de Balcarce shortly after 3:00pm.



       Situated on the Rio Arias in the wide Lerma valley of Argentina, Salta  lies in a mountainous and strikingly beautiful district.  Founded in 1582, the city possesses a number of colonial buildings.  Capital of its province, it is a great handicraft center.  The Museo Historico del Norte was the HOT museum to tour this afternoon.  The city is alive at night.  Our restaurant was still filling up at 10:20 pm.



       Tonight we said “Farewell and Ciao” to Germano, who returns to Italy tomorrow.  We lose a good friend!



  • Posted: Thu, 12 March 2009

    THE "PUNA"




                                                             THE “PUNA”




       “Puna is the word the Argentines use when referring to the Andean Plateau—a windswept, stony, and treeless plain in the Northwest part of the country.  Today we cycled 138 km (85 miles) on our last stretch of this Altiplano. We had it ALL today in terms of a challenging climb, a soaring descent, and some of the most amazing scenery found anywhere.  It was a great day to be on a bicycle!



       We left the small colonial town of Susques at 8:30 am, passing by the adobe church with paintings and frescoes from the 1670’s.  It was cold and we were dressed for the weather….long- fingered gloves, windbreakers, arm and leg warmers.  We took them off in the afternoon sun and for the long climb, but suited up again for the quick, prolonged descent in the wind.


       I rode alone the first 15 km in the solitude of the desert. The morning air was clear, crisp, and “thin” at this altitude of  approximately 13,000 feet.  I did not disturb a herd of llamas grazing at roadside. Some of the peaks visible to us are over 6800 meters high!



       Pedaling through the shady, long gorges (quebradas) the “Cordoon” cactus was observed growing on the hillsides.  It looked like Arizona!



       At the 72 km mark we reached the former salt lake called “Salinas Grande”, covering a large area in white—as if covered in snow.  Salt is still being extracted from the site.  We, of course, had to take a walk on the salt.



       Next came the “assault” on the Abra de Porterillos, a steep switchback of over 25 km.  It was perhaps the most difficult climb I have ever made, considering the distance, the altitude, and it coming late in a long ride day.  We reached the top at 4170 meters above sea level-over 13,000 feet. It was COLD with “mucho viente”—unpleasantly strong winds fighting us as we climbed.



       Our reward was the longest, most AMAZING descent I have ever experienced.  We navigated our way down the 6561 feet Cuesta de Lipon with some 30 hairpin turns and switchbacks for over 35 km.  The scenery was spectacular.! I stopped often for a photo.  I have never seen rock formations and colors like those approaching the town of Purmamarca, Argentina, where we spent the night.





       A rest day in Purmamarca was another bonus for the touring cyclists.  On a morning walk, Mary, bob and I crossed a creek and climbed a rocky hill in town for an overview of the famous “Cerro de Siete Colores”—a hill of stratified rock in 7 colors.  Some bikers later shuttled to the nearby town of Tilcara to visit a famous fortress there.











  • Posted: Wed, 11 March 2009





                                                 BIENVENIDOS  A  ARGENTINA



       Several of us arose this morning ill.  The trifecta of altitude sickness, stomach and intestinal problems, and dehydration took a toll on our group.  Our traveling paramedic was a busy man.  Only 3 members of group of 10 made it through the day in excellent shape.



       Nevertheless, we loaded a bus for the shuttle to the Chile-Argentina border, after spending the night in San Pedro de Atacama.  It was a long ride up to Hito Cajon, and  then another 100 km to the Argentine border.



        We cleared immigration and customs at the border checkpoint.  Those “ailing” were then driven to our hotel in the town of Susques.  The medic tended those in need very professionally.  He has much experience with altitude sickness from his work with mountain climbers in the Andes.  He regularly took our blood pressure, which can reflect the demands of high altitude. Mine was always fine. 



       A diet of clear soup and white rice that evening was enough encouragement to get me back on the bike in the morning.  I wanted the Llama stew, but that was out of the question today. Coca tea, made from coca leaves, was dessert.  It is used frequently as a digestive aid and is supposed to suppress altitude sickness.  It is perfectly legal, readily available in the Andes, and not the processed drug. 



       I am looking forward to our 23 days in Argentina!


        Buenos Noches,





  • Posted: Tue, 10 March 2009





                                            CYCLING  THE  ALTIPLANO



    After 2 days in Bolivia to acclimate us to 14,000 to 15,000 feet of elevation, we were ready today to try a 90 km bike ride at this altitude.  Living at 15,000 feet, and strenuous exercise at that elevation are very different challenges.



       I rode all day with Fritz and Bob.  We all began the ride at the top of Hito Cajon, where we had celebrated our achievement of reaching this Andes peak a few days ago, before departing for Bolivia.  Our route would take us to the border with Argentina-but not into the country, yet.  We would again return to San Pedro at 7700 feet for the night.



       We paced ourselves well, I thought.  We had only minimal climbs today as we were already on top.  Our highest altitude on a bike was 4800 meters-16,000 feet.



       At the midpoint of the ride we enjoyed the benefit of a strong tail wind—music to a cyclist’s ears!  Bob and Fritz rode down the road with arms outstretched, while pedaling only minimally and sailing along with the wind.



       We were amazed at the sight of a deeply colored blue lagoon, obviously made by some mineral deposits in the ground.  The scenery on the Chilean Antiplano is the stuff of postcards!



       We reached the Argentine border at the conclusion of today’s enjoyable ride.  Once again it was a shuttle ride back to San Pedro for a night’s rest at lower altitude on the now very familiar route.



       The paramedic, I, Javier and Bob posed for a photo before heading down the mountain.



       What will tomorrow bring?






  • Posted: Sun, 8 March 2009








       We traveled 50 km to Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama by bus the morning following the Big Climb.  The purpose was for us to acclimate to the conditions of high altitude, and to give us the opportunity to see some of the most unusual and phenomenal scenery anywhere in the world.  We experienced both to the nth degree! 



       The most impressive  sights to me involved COLOR:  The shades of browns, the shadows of the wind-carved rocks, the flaming red waters of the Laguna Colorado (the Red Lagoon), the jade-like color of the Laguna Verde (the Green Lagoon) the bluest sky imaginable, the snow capped peaks, the white lagoons of borax…and on and on.



       The landscape changed constantly and beautifully.  The remoteness added to its appeal.



        We traveled from point to point in 4 wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers over rocks and gullies on the harshest terrain one could imagine.



         We spent the night in a “refugio” in Villa Alota, an isolated town we explored on foot in the evening.  A refugio is a basic shelter for travelers in remote areas.  It is “no frills” in all respects.  We slept in sleeping bags in a room for five of us.  The “facilities”, such as they were, were located a short walk across a muddy lot.  I didn’t sleep well, but wouldn’t have missed the experience.   We brought our own cook to prepare our meals.


       The altitude adjustment was difficult for me, but even more difficult for some others.  We were living at 14,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level, not an easy task for a Florida boy.



       I asked other cyclists what their impressions were of our visit to Bolivia.  Here are a few of their responses:

        Mary (FL)  Bolivia was an experience in wild country, touched by nothing but nature!


        Fritz (WI)  Thank the Lord for desolation-It is comforting to know such quiet, peaceful, untouched land exists-the desolation is touched by pure colors and tone, covered by endless blue sky.  Truly a spot not to be missed!


        Germano (Italy)   La Bolivia ha dei colori che nossun artista potra mai riprodutte.  Chi non verde personelmenti non puo capice, a Puerto e fuzze l’unies limite.


        Carolyn (UT)   The flocks of flamingos were a wonderous sight!


         Harold  (UT)  Tremendous sights that will not be replicated anywhere on this earth!


         Dan (CA)  Bolivia?....The real people were in San Pedro.





  • Posted: Sat, 7 March 2009





                                                   OVER  THE  ANDES



      Hito Cajon” it is called.  It is 15,000 feet above sea level at its peak near the Chile-Bolivia border.  Paso Jama, a mountain pass road over the Andes Mountains scales Hito Cajon at this point.  It is our destination today.  It is the biggest climbing challenge of our 38 day tour.  This is our BIG DAY!  



       We knew it would be a long and arduous day of climbing—7500 ft of elevation gain over 45 km—in a continuous ascent.  The extremely high altitudes and thin air would increase its difficulty.



       At 7:45 am we rolled out of San Pedro de Atacama and biked a short distance to “ruta” 27, or Paso Jama, an important pass in the Andes connecting Chile to Bolivia and Argentina.  The challenging climb commenced immediately.


       There was no relief for 7 hours as we slowly and steadily pedaled in our lowest gears.  Fritz and I were together all day, joined by Javier, our Argentine guide, along the way.


       Our familiar cone shaped volcano, Lican Cabur, was at our side shining brilliantly in the sun most of the day.


       The kilometers passed by as slowly as did the trucks, roaring in low gear.  We made short range goals along the way--the next sign post , the next curve,-- to divide the mountain into “doable” segments.  We could always see long uphill stretches of the road ahead. 



       The staff in the van gave continual encouragement to the riders on our march to the top.  We were careful of maintaining hydration and a sustainable pace.  Occasionally we stopped to slow down our breathing, eat, and drink.  We made painfully steady progress.



       With only a few kilometers to go we knew we had made it.  But actually seeing the sign to the entrance to Bolivia, and the chalk mark in the road indicating the turn-around point was a great feeling.  We had reached 15,000 feet on a bicycle!  We had met the challenge of the Andes! 



       This will always be a memorable day in our lives.  So few have done what we have done.  The sense of accomplishment is our greatest reward.    




  • Posted: Sat, 7 March 2009



       We had and enjoyable rest day in San Pedro de Atacama.  The highlight had to be our guided tour of the beautiful area surrounding the city, including the Valle de la Luna at sunset.  The Museo Arqueologico and the Iglesia de San Pedro were also popular local attractions.

       The pictures tell the story: