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Cruzando Los Andes

Read more about Lau Nitzsche’s multi-passionate bikepacking and splitboarding journey, with artistic elements, from Argentina to Chile.

A few months ago, as spring transitioned to summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Lau Nitzsche embarked on a multi-country, multidisciplinary journey along and through the Andes Mountains. Throughout the past year, Lau—an incredibly talented artist, entrepreneur, and outdoor athlete from San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina—had dreamt up and mapped out an adventure that would combine her various passions.

She started in Villa La Angostura, Argentina; bikepacked along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Argentina’s Lake District); passed through San Martín de Los Andes and Junín de los Andes; crossed the border into Chile; and traveled through Pucón before ascending Volcán Villarrica on foot and splitboard and descending on her snowboard.

In addition to bikepacking and splitboarding, at various overnight stops, Lau intentionally incorporated visual art and music (Lau is a flautist) into her time spent outside—often at sunrise, sunset, or under the stars of the Northern Patagonia sky.

A woman bikepacking on a road with a mountainscape in the background
Image via Tomás Popritkin

This dream and journey were for Lau and Lau alone. While she ultimately shared the road and volcano with a few friends—fellow athletes and creatives—“Cruzando Los Andes,” as she calls the project, holds roots in challenging Lau, giving her the time and space to step outside her day-to-day life, and offering the opportunity to weave her multiple passions into a single outdoor pursuit.

We sat down with Lau to learn more about “Cruzando Los Andes”: how she prepared, what she learned, and what’s inspiring her now.

Osprey: What was the inspiration for Cruzando Los Andes? Where did the idea come from?

Lau Nitzsche: On the one hand, there was this idea to combine everything I do in a single project. On the other hand, these are ideas that my brother and I often think about. Since I’ve traveled a lot by bike with him, we’re always thinking about combining that with other sports.

Then, during the pandemic, I met with Manu Dominguez, a local snowboarder. He had an idea of ​​going to Laguna Ilón [a lake near Bariloche] by bike with splitboards as well. We discussed that idea, and in the end, we didn’t do it.

But years later, I still really wanted to do something like that, so I organized “Cruzando Los Andes” and invited Manu. He couldn’t do it for one reason or another, and I decided to continue with the idea, which has also been inspired by seeing people in Europe and North America take on similar pursuits.

How did you prepare for the journey? How long did it take to prepare?

It took me a year of organization. I actually wanted to do this a year ago, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have anyone to accompany me for the crossing. And then, the volcano was also something I didn’t dare do alone. So I took a year to organize, assemble a small team, and plan the trip well.

Within that, the volcano and its status were something we had to factor in. We had to be alert to changing conditions and plan our dates a bit that way, too.

And then, my bike was another factor. My dad is actually a bicycle maker and mechanic; he has his own business. It had been quite a while since I’d made bikepacking trips with my bike, so I needed to reconfigure it for this journey with help from my dad and my brother.

What did you take with you? How’d you pack light, while still packing what you needed?

I tried to make something as minimalist as possible, especially because carrying all of the hiking and splitboarding equipment adds more weight than is normal for bikepacking. The timing at the beginning of the summer was ideal because I didn’t need much clothing, so that was nice. I didn’t bring a tent; I brought a sleeping bag and sleeping pad and bivouacked along the route.

In the front bag [on my bike], I carried my sleeping bag. In the bag on the bottom of the bike frame, I carried my clothes and dehydrated food. In the bag on the top of the frame, I carried my cell phone, an extra camera, my flashlight, and my tools. In the back bag, I packed more clothes. My boots and splitboard were hooked onto the bike, and in my backpack, I carried the gear I needed for the volcano.

A woman standing with her bike on a bikepacking expedition; loaded with on-bike gear and snow gear
Image via Tomás Popritkin

What did you expect, if anything? What did you carry with you, in terms of fears and excitements?

Since I spent so much time planning, I did have expectations. In the process, you pass many moments when you say, “Why am I doing this? What are the motivations?” Throughout, there are a lot of demanding moments. I think this happens a lot whenever you go to the mountains. There is a moment when you question “the why” of things. However, in the end, there is always a satisfaction that is much greater than the doubt and suffering.

The biggest fear I had was with the volcano. It’s an active volcano with smoke and lava, and its alert level or level of activity was something I needed to check often, during preparation and throughout the journey itself. You just don’t know what the volcano is going to do, and you don’t know if it’ll let you go up or not. It feels like it has to give you permission to go up because it’s more or less a living being. Ultimately, we needed to have a good day—where the volcano wasn’t very active and we had good weather and then thinking about the snow conditions, too.

I also wondered at times if I’d be able to complete this journey physically, both the cycling and the splitboarding. It was a strange year for me. I hadn’t trained very much for this. So yeah, those were some of my fears.

And at the same time, within these fears, there’s a sense of excitement. The challenge and the new experiences are a motivation in doing this. Everything went very well, really. The places exceeded my expectations, and the volcano itself far exceeded my expectations.

How did you feel as you started the journey?

In truth, I felt a lot of anxiety to just get on my bike and ride. After so much planning, all I wanted to do was get on the bike and start pedaling. The moment I did just that, I felt a certain relief. It was like, “Well, I’m doing it. This is happening.”

A woman splitboarding up a snow-covered volcano
Image via Tomás Popritkin

Are there any moments from the road and/or the volcano that stick with you?

What I remember most is getting close to reaching the summit of the volcano. The climb became very long, and it was also very hot. That was also the final stage of this journey, so it seemed like I was already there, like I’d already completed it, yet I hadn’t arrived at the summit. Time seemed to stretch out. I was already exhausted from four days of cycling, so that moment was very much a mixture of sensations—tired, happy, excited, all at the same time.

And then, that same day, I remember the feeling of achievement, of having done this journey that I wanted to do.

There’s another moment at the border that stands out to me. A funny moment. I met a group of 40 cyclists who were on a cycling tour of Argentina and Chile. They were traveling super light, as they had the support of vehicles and everything like that. They were very impressed with the bike and the splitboard. It was nice to talk with them and share that moment.

From start to finish, how long did the journey take?

In total, it took five days.

What did you discover or learn about yourself through this journey?

I’m going to say something that is a bit trite, but it’s how I’ve been feeling this last year. It’s this: If I set my mind to something, I can do it. Whatever I set out to do, I’ve achieved it in one way or another. It might not always be in the way that I thought I would do it or in the moment that I thought it would happen, but eventually, it ends up happening—in the way I expected or even better. Throughout, the experience still carries the good and bad things.

Knowing that gives me a different vision of what I can do and what I can achieve.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is this question of being very good at something or very professional at something. I feel that maybe my parents’ generation had or has a vision that you have to be very good at one thing—and that, if you are not excellent at one thing, you are no good. In work and life, it’s like that: You have to adopt one thing and be excellent at it.

Because of this, for a long time, I had a complex, so to speak, around sharing that I do or specialize in a lot of things—both personally and professionally. But I can see how all of those things make me who I am. Rather than be very good at one thing, I think it’s good to find your path in life, to find your purpose and do what you do with passion, love, and dedication.

More and more, I feel that this multidisciplinary, multi-passionate approach is respected and valued now.

A woman snowboarding down a snow-covered volcano
Image via Tomás Popritkin

For you, has this adventure inspired new ideas?

I want to splitboard more volcanoes. And alongside the small team who accompanied me on “Cruzando Los Andes,” we’re already dreaming about future projects we want to do together. Each of us has our own ideas, and we all see ways to support each other in those pursuits.

How would you encourage others who have passion projects they want to pursue (in outdoor adventure, in art, etc.)?

You have to believe in what you do. There’s definitely a lot of hard work involved, too, but you have to believe in what you do and trust the process. It’s a bit of what we talked about before: Even though, sometimes the results are not there immediately or as you expect them to be, if you hammer the same nail for a long time, things end up happening.

Something that I do a lot is, perhaps in moments of frustration or when I feel I’m not moving forward with things, I take a moment to look back and see everything I have achieved over the years. You will always have achieved something, even if you don’t feel like it. That look back can give you motivation. You’re able to say, “Look where I was five years ago, and look where I am today. I’m doing things right.”

Follow Lau’s journey as an artist, entrepreneur, and outdoor athlete in Bariloche and beyond on Instagram at @launitzsche(Opens in a new window). Interested in seeing more from this adventure? Stay tuned for a forthcoming short film about “Cruzando Los Andes.”

Throughout the bikepacking portion of her journey, Lau used Osprey’s Escapist on-bike packs(Opens in a new window). During her ascent and descent of Volcán Villarrica, she used Osprey’s Sopris 40(Opens in a new window).

A woman facing a body of water, playing the flute
Image via Tomás Popritkin
A drawing of a map of Lau's journey
Art courtesy of Lau Nitzsche
A drawing of Lau's bike set-up for her trip
Art courtesy of Lau Nitzsche
A drawing by Lau of a volcano and a snowboarder
Art courtesy of Lau Nitzsche

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