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TUF Cycling Across the Andes

The Patagonia trans-Andes Challenge was the fourth in the series of cycle rides that have taken us to Sicily, Malawi and Madagascar to raise funds for The Urology Foundation (TUF) a charity that supports research and training into all urological diseases. It brings 14 urologists, including the indefatigable Roland Morley, Neil Barber and Richard Hindley, not forgetting the incredibly plucky Jo Cresswell, together with patients and other enthusiastic supporters.

The TUF team gathered in Bariloche, a town in the foothills of the Andes and on the shore of the incredibly beautiful Lake Nahuelhuapi. We were so lucky with the weather: although we were greeted by a torrential downpour when we arrived, we awoke to a perfect day and collected our almost new Wisper bikes which were sturdy enough to get us over and across the Andes to Chile, on and off road!

We set off in convoy, 47 cyclists, plus our handsome Argentinian guide, Roderigo as well as our leader Miriam, who has guided all our cycling adventures for TUF in Sicily, Malawi and Madagascar. On day one, Lesley Hawker, a bladder cancer survivor, is unceremoniously jettisoned from her saddle by an Argentinian driver who fails to give her a wide enough berth and clips her from behind with a wing mirror. Luckily Lesley suffers nothing worse than a few scratches and bruises, but it was a near miss! Later, Abhay Rane manages to outdo her with a more spectacular fall, flying gracefully over his handlebars, but like her, emerges bloodied, but unbowed.

The scenery in Patagonia is unbelievably spectacular: dramatic desert-like landscapes, then forests and mountains on the approach to the Villa La Angostura, a colonial type hotel, beside a stunning lake where we spend the night. The pre-trip information stressed the need for fitness preparation, but didn’t mention the need to induce liver enzymes to cope with vast quantities of Argentinian and Chilean wine consumed in the evenings!

The next morning we were back on our mountain bikes, notwithstanding sore heads and even more uncomfortable perineal parts, the legacy of the previous day’s cycling. A 90 Km ride with three seemingly endless climbs takes us to Aguas Calientes, where our weary legs benefit from alternate immersion in hot springs and submersion in freezing river water formed by glacial melt-water.

An Andean vulture circles ominously overhead as the last weary cyclists toil to the top of the Puyehue Pass in Argentina. A gruelling 27 Km uphill ride has brought 47 sweating participants to the border with Chile. Here, at the highest point that we reach on this Challenge, we hold a minute’s silence to remember friends, relations and patients who are sadly no longer with us.

After toiling up the Argentinian side of the Andes, we hurtled down the Chilean slopes where we encountered snow-capped volcanoes, turquoise lakes and spectacular waterfalls rushing between the rock formations of the beautiful Osorno volcano. The laughter and team camaraderie continued to build as the four sporty Belgians who cycle all in black are integrated seamlessly into the group. We dubbed them “L’Equipe Noir”

Luckily for us the good weather held for the week and although there were a few more plummets from the bikes, there were no serious injuries. We cycled 462 Km and climbed in all 16,454 feet.  We held a celebratory dinner in Puerto Varas,  by Lake LLanquihue, in Chile, with an Awards Ceremony, which includes the sought-after prize for the “best female bum”, proudly won by Georgina Stewart. The really great news is that we have raised more than £287,000 for TUF. The money will be targeted on research into urological cancers, as well as training urologists in new surgical technologies, utilizing robotics and laparoscopy. We will also deploy funds to develop our personal development programmes for trainees and younger consultants, including “SpRUCE ” interview training and “Thriving and Surviving as a First Year Consultant.”  To do these important things we need your support. Why not join us on our next cycle Challenge for TUF in South Africa in November 2013? For more information check out www.theurologyfoundation.org or www.actionforcharity.co.uk . Come on guys and gals, get on yer bikes!

Roger Kirby

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