The (long-awaited and long-lost) Carretera Austral, Part Dos

I honestly hadn’t meant to so long enough that Zach would post the first chapter of the post Ted/Bernie/Carretera days but, alas, we find ourselves in this situation.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to part one of our adventures on the Carretera Austral.

When I left off, before Patches, Gampy and the Flea left me for greener (read: colder and flatter) pastures, we were camping next to an abandoned shack on the side of the dirt road known as the Carretera Austral. As romantic as that sounds, team morale was quite high at the time. We were building funeral pyres of black flies, and observing with awe while Derek calmly and deftly swiped fly after fly out of the air with remarkable ease.

If I remember correctly, this was one of the first times it got downright cold at night. Zach had it the worst because he had co-opted a platform from the shed for his sleeping bag and spent the night in the open air, sin carpa. The dew fell heavy that night and his down sleeping bag was rendered useless, leaving him layered and awake. He actually abandoned the idea of sleeping by 4 or 5 in the morning and built a fire for us to wake up to.

I was up a few times during the night and only wish I could have captured the night sky for you all to appreciate. The stars were endless, unlike any other place I’ve been in the world. There was no light pollution for thousands of miles to dull the twinkling. If you were ever up at night, you were almost always treated to a shooting star or five. The constellations were different, as well. Orion was massive and we joined the exclusive club of gringos who can say they’ve seen the southern cross in person.

The next day we pushed on, with the added bonus of starting the day with a long descent. Here’s a view from the top…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… we couldn’t have had better weather while riding. Just about everyone who preceded us on the road bore stories of rain and wind throughout their trip. We would face rain, as you will see, but it will only taint one memory of the trip in my mind. When I look back now and for as long as my memory lets me, I’ll remember blue skies and pleasant days.

In the following picture, the casual observer would likely think the mountains are the most beautiful part of the photo. The bicycle tourist, however, thinks the sign indicating an upcoming downhill is most beautiful.

I often tried to capture the roads we traveled in the photos I took. In some cases, this made the photo.

We really felt like we were riding on a tiny path that cut rather harmlessly through raw wilderness. Unlike the highway system in the US, you can see what the landscape looked like before the road went in.

None of us had ever seen anything like this… Even Dan, who’d been in this area before, was seeing this all for the first time.

As it turns out, anytime the water looks like this it’s because it’s glacial meltwater.

Even when we were seeing it in person, it was hard to believe our eyes… looking back on it is even tougher.

Here’s a photo demonstrating the water quality. You can trace the path the water takes to get from the melting point to my water bottle. The water was so unbelievably good, and it wasn’t just the never-ending thirst from riding so much every day. Staying hydrated was wonderfully easy!

Not only were the bridges paved, which gave us a nice reprieve from the bumpy ripio we were riding, they also offered unique angles for landscape photography.

If you take a look at a map, you can see that the Carretera Austral (aka Ruta 7) in Chile spends a significant amount of time along the border of Lago General Carrera. Many cyclists choose to ride the northern shore of the lake to Puerto Ibanez, take a ferry across the lake to Chile Chico, then cross the border into Argentina and head south along the famous Ruta 40 into Southern Patagonia. We opted for the western coast of the lake and a beautiful stretch of road between Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand. There was still a fair amount of civilization along here, but we never saw boats on the lakes or anything like that. What I mean by “a fair amount of civilization” is that when you got close to the “dot on the map” representing a “town”, you’d find either a store or a stretch of residences about a half kilometer apart at times. For the most part, however, we’d ride 10-15km at a time between any kind of development, farm, estancia, or otherwise.

Here we are approaching the shore of Lago General Carrera, a lake with color like I’ve never seen. If you take a look at a map, we’re just right where Ruta 7 and Lago General Carrera first meet.

We ended up finding a great spot to camp, though we had to pay the landowner the equivalent of about 10 dollars (split between the four of us) to camp there for the night. Nobody had any complaints as it was breathtakingly beautiful.

We ended up camping with a couple that we’d passed earlier in the day. Julian, a Frenchman, and his Mexican wife Adriana, had been on the road for 2 years and 6 months, respectively. They are incredible folks and we ran into them repeatedly along the road the next month or so. We saw them along the road several times per day and spent some time in the “towns” with them restocking on supplies. Julian lent us the fishing lure that Zach ended up catching the biggest trout of his life on. We set up camp fairly early here and were able to fish, do some laundry, swim, and relax.

The next day we rode into Puerto Rio Tranquilo, where we restocked on supplies. A typical shopping run for us involved fresh bread, some kind of carb-laden dinner food like pasta or rice, some protein (meat, but by the end Dan figured out a way to rehydrate beans during the day), and various sugary things (marmelade, cookies, etc.). When touring, you need a steady intake of calories to keep yourself going. If ever you’re not hungry for some reason, you need to force yourself to eat or you won’t get very far that day. Luckily, we were able to restock every 2-3 days at this point, so we didn’t have to really load our bikes down.

Puerto Rio Tranquilo is famous for being the closest “town” to the Catedral de Mármol, a famous series of caves formed from the natural erosion of marble along the coast of the lake. We couldn’t really afford to go out on boats, so Patches, Gampy and the Flea were eager to see if there was any other way to get out. Although willing and physically able to swim to see it, we weren’t able to pin down exactly where it was and opted against blind ambition. While we know this isn’t the Catedral, it’s a beautiful picture from within a few miles of there.

The farther south we went, the more extreme the mountains got. The border between Argentina and Chile is roughly determined by the Andean cordillera, which is basically the ridge line along the Andes. This is often in conflict, so we frequently encountered maps with different lines and names, as well as the occasional gray area denoting a controversial region.

Believe it or not, we actually got excited when we saw our road heading straight for the mountains.

The wildlife in Chile was as free range as it gets. There were fences along the roads, but they
seemed fairly inconsequential; they never cordoned off land parcels or anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone set them up to guide the people building the road and never took them down.

On this particular day, we hit a long dry stretch that felt very remote and somewhat barren. The sides of the road were all scrub brush and short trees and we didn’t see anyone else. If it weren’t for the mountain, this would have been a tough stretch. We rode 15-20km after we were ready to call it a day because we needed to find water and wanted to camp somewhere a little more hospitable.

We eventually found our river and a cleared out, level camp spot that I, for one, thought was too good to be true. We had a nice little campfire and did some routine bike maintenance. Dan and Zach even jumped in the water, though it was frigid and oddly silty.

We didn’t have any problems, which was nice. I guess I thought it was such a perfect campsite that someone might come ask us for money to stay there, but only one car passed us the whole time we were there. The map we were following showed us a dot nearby, which usually denotes a store or a few houses together or something. In this case, the dot represented a single abandoned building and a fork in the road that would have taken us to a glacial lake some 40km out of our way. We thought about it, but upon closer inspection the road was only smooth for 5km, while the next 35km were “ATV only”.

The next day the road took us between Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand. Along the way we met a nice couple from London, though one half was from Canada and the other was from New Jersey. Dan and Derek were jubilant upon meeting another New Jerseyan. We shared experiences and route advice and they recommended we make the push all the way to Cochrane that day as there was a rodeo and town festival that weekend. It was a Friday, so if we didn’t get into Cochrane that day we’d get in on Saturday, effectively giving us only Sunday to enjoy the festival. We conferred, checked our supplies, and decided to make the push. It would be our longest day on the Carretera so far in both time and distance, but also our favorite.

We passed the fork in the road that could have brought us along the southern shore of Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico. As I mentioned, some riders opt for that route and then the flatter, more boring Argentine Ruta 40. We stayed on the Carretera to the end. After the fork, we climbed up a beast of a hill and stopped at the top for a snack. I had to stop partway up for a photo from a wooden lookout point. This lake was called Black Lake, or Lago Negro, and appeared have a series of lakeside condos on it. Some of the signs around here were in English and Spanish, suggesting an influx of tourist money. While it’d be a beautiful place to live, it doesn’t strike me as the place to go live if you’re not interested in some level of cultural assimilation, or at least immersion.

This was no time for a debate, however, as I still had climbing to do.

At the top, Derek and I met a north-bound Frenchman who told us we were bicycle tourists number 11 and 12 that he’d passed that day. What’s amazing about touring in a remote place like this is you get the feeling that you’re all alone, but in reality you’re paralleling other cyclists. You could ride 25km behind someone for a week and never see them. Dan and Zach were numbers 13 and 14 for him. He was taking the southern shore route to Chile Chico and then heading farther north from there. We pushed on, aiming for a lunchtime rest in Puerto Bertrand, a small town between Lago Bertrand and Cochrane.

After lunch, we put on varying amounts of our rain gear as it started to lightly rain. Rain is often very relaxing with the proper attire, and this was no exception. The rain helped suppress the dust kicked up on the road and kept the temperature down a bit, too. Eventually, the road joined up with Rio Baker, a river famous for its vibrant blue color.

It rained off and on that afternoon, but nothing too bad. The road followed the river, but certainly did not stay in the valley. I’d say that this was the biggest day of climbing to this point.

While the roads look long and arduous in the photos, and justifiably so, they really just flew by. On climbs, you just keep your eyes on the beautiful scenery and not on the top of the hill. Keep your legs turning and soon enough you’re at the top.

At one point in the ride we came to an enormous climb that just kept going and going and going… It was so steep that it was composed of several sections of switchback turns. We had all separated at this point as each person rode at their own pace and stopped when they needed to, knowing without saying that we’d meet in the town square in Cochrane. As I slowly but steadily approached the top I realize that a car was coming up the hill at a similar rate to mine. I kept on going, knowing full well that if the car wanted to pass me it would. When I finally reached a flatter section, which at the time falsely appeared to be the summit of the climb, the car pulled up next to me. It was a smiling Chilean family of about six people. They rolled down the passenger side windows and applauded me, cheering me on for a short stretch of hill. I laughed with them and charged on, willing myself through another kilometer of climbing into a headwind.

Eventually the road mellowed out a little bit and it was just distance to cover and not mountains to summit.

It was a beautiful day of riding and I only wish I took more pictures or could somehow convey the feeling of accomplishment I felt at the end.

The day ended with a short but very steep climb into town, and I found Zach sitting in the town square with a nice warm beer in his hand. I grabbed one myself, along with some salami and cheese, and we told stories of our respective rides and awaited Patches and the Flea. Before long, we were all together again. Dan had been to Cochrane before, though during the winter, so he knew where he wanted us to camp. About 6km out of town lies Reserva Nacional Tamango, a reserve with hikes and campsites right along the Rio Cochrane. It was incredibly beautiful and cheap. We paid an entry fee and camped for 3 nights, riding into town for supplies, internet access, and the rodeo fair. As it turned out, we met a bunch of people working for Douglas Tompkins’ Conservación Patagonica land trust and conservation project, one of whom we’d met in Santiago while staying at a hostel during our brief stay there over a month prior. We swapped stories with them over the course of the time and nearly took them up the offer to go stay at the CP Estancia in Valle Chacabuco where they were normally residing.

We were able to leave our gear in our tents at the campsite and ride into town unweighted, so we took full advantage. I can’t say I took many pictures in Cochrane, but I enjoyed the city greatly. By city, of course, I mean town of about 2000. At that point, however, it was unbelievably large and populated in our eyes.

Here’s a picture from the rodeo that Zach took with my camera.

After our three days of R&R in Tamango and some time in an internet cafe when it reopened on Monday, we left town and rode a short while to get out of town and find somewhere to camp. It began to rain very hard as soon as we shoved off and we were forced to set up camp in a torrent. We didn’t have the luxury of riding for hours until we found a beautiful spot, so once we were 15 miles south of Cochrane we pulled off and camped next to the road in the first clearing we could find. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, now is a good time to state that I used Zach’s old tent for this trip. Zach wanted something more lightweight and compact for the trip, so I took his seasoned veteran of a tent. I should have re-waterproofed the rain fly before the trip but as they say… hindsight is 20/20. Given that my pack towel was hanging from a bike after preventing disaster in the great-beer-explosion-in-my-pannier along the ride that day, I had to use my mess kit and a handkerchief to do the bailing in my tent that night. Let’s just say I barely slept a wink and some scuba divers have stayed drier than I did during that rainstorm. I’ve taken showers that were less intensely wet than that night in my tent. Even though I was miserable in the morning, when the rain cleared we were treated to a beautiful mountain view.

In addition, this horrible night had been Valentine’s Day and my girlfriend was nearly 6000 miles away. So yes: when it rains, it pours.

Naturally, I was the last to break camp the next morning as I had barely slept and all my gear was soaked. About ten miles down the road, however, I caught up to the rest of the guys at a section where the road was flooded out. Zach, who had arrived there first, was knee deep in water guiding cars across. He’d been there for over an hour and had already hiked his bicycle and gear across. Apparently, right after he first found the flooded section of road a pair of Chilean road inspectors arrived. When Zach asked them how long it would take for the road to clear they said “We don’t know, maybe a couple days.” Zach, being the industrious type, waded out to check the depth and determined that it was passable despite being two feet deep in sections. When people saw him crossing with a bicycle in the air they were inspired to slowly cross in their cars. Derek did the same when he arrived, losing a sandle and nearly all his gear in the process (ask him some time), and then Dan crossed by foot when he arrived. Dan, however, was able to convince a car to take his bags in exchange for walking ahead of the car so the driver could gauge depth. When I arrived, I was in no mood to unload my bike, take my shoes off and cross several hundred feet of frigid water with sharp gravel underneath. Instead, I said “Screw it, I’m waiting for a ride.” As luck would have it, not five minutes after I said it a pickup truck rolled up and offered me a lift in the back. It was full of backpackers from Viña del Mar (near Valparaiso) who were driving to Villa O’Higgins on their summer break from University. They were a friendly bunch and we would see each other in passing several more times. Upon reaching the end of the road, they turned around and flew a huge Chilean flag from the back of the truck for the return trip. Once we were all across, we ate some cookies and met a German couple heading the other direction. We traded tips and road stories and continued on our way. They were friendly and got our excitement level back up. Another fifteen miles or so and the sun came out, so I stopped to have some lunch and unpack my gear to dry it out.

In one direction I was looking at a waterfall, and in the other I was looking at…

I had left first, so eventually all three of my compatriots passed me. Derek flew by like the tortuga he is, Zach stopped for a while to enjoy the sun and view and have a snack with me, and then eventually Dan came through as I was packing up. He’d had a terrible equipment malfunction that nearly totaled his rear derailleur and wheel. Luckily, Keep-it-runnin’ Dan is a skilled mechanic and was able to get things back together just fine. We rolled out together and caught back up with Zach and Derek a little while later. When it came time to set up camp for the night, we found a great little plateau by a river. Unwilling to risk another wet night, I decided to take things into my own hands and set up camp where I knew the rain couldn’t get me…

At the time I thought the rainbow was a figment of my imagination and symbolic of how appealing having a bridge for a rain fly was, but when it showed up in my pictures I realized it was actually there. For a fleeting moment it was the second double rainbow of our trip. Here’s the view from my campsite of where the rest of our crew camped.

We set up a fire pit, had a great dinner, and enjoyed the conversation of a local farmer who was out walking his dogs for the evening. Apparently he’d seen us riding by his farm earlier in the day. He told us all about his family and invited us back to stay with him any time we wanted. Although I hate to generalize, Chileans are wonderful people.

The next day we pushed off for a detour to the town of Tortel and then on to Puerto Yungay, where we’d camp and take a ferry the next morning. On the way, we passed Rio Vagabundo its two Puentes Vagabundos. I took pictures because, well, we felt a whole bunch like Vagabundos at this point. Look like vagabundos, smell like vagabundos, feel like vagabundos… must be vagabundos.

The road to Tortel was long, flat, rainy and somewhat boring. It was about 25km of this…

I know, I know… it’s still beautiful and we shouldn’t take stuff like that for granted, but it was all worth it because when we got to Tortel the clouds parted, the sun came out, and we were treated to incredible weather in a truly unique locale.

Tortel is a tiny little town composed entirely of boardwalks and stilted houses. It is located at the intersection of two rivers and subsists on fishing and tourism. They were just starting to pave part of the road in around the time we arrived. We were told that we were lucky because it seems like it rains 364 days a year there, and we happened to arrive on the one nice day. We parked our bikes on the side of the worksite and went for a walk. A lot of bicycle tourists that come to Tortel hike their bikes through town to a paid campsite on the other side, but we weren’t planning on staying the night. Even if we were planning on staying the night, the farmer from the evening before had told us to camp for free on the grounds of the “airport” right outside town because it was only open one day a week.

It was a beautiful rural town and I’d recommend it to anyone riding through the area.

It wouldn’t be a stop for us without tasting the local empanadas…

Then we shoved off again and rolled back out the way we came in. My legs felt great that afternoon so I took the lead. It’s also worth noting that we found a discarded piece of sheet plastic at the construction site, so I cut myself a piece to put between my tired rainfly and tent to help me stay dry the next time it rained.

The second half of the day was beautiful but featured a whole bunch of climbing. At the bottom of this next picture you can see the beginning access road out to Tortel that we rode. Between where I took this picture and that road were about fifteen switchbacks, taking us nearly vertical.

After the climb (which didn’t stop after the switchbacks mind you), we eventually came to the second Puente Vagabundo…

I loved this day of riding. My legs felt great and the combination of weather and scenery was up there with the best in the world.

There were waterfalls everywhere… I guess that’s what happens when you’re surrounded by glaciers.

I’m sort of glad there wasn’t anybody else around because I was hooting and hollering out of pure ecstasy. This place was incredible.

This is what the world looks like when people don’t develop it. I must have stopped to take too many pictures because Dan caught up to me before long. If you can find him in the next picture, it’ll give you an idea of the scale of what you’re looking at. (I don’t care if I finish a sentence with a preposition, it’s that pretty.)

If you look closely, you might be able to pick out the road…

Eventually, the climbing ended and we had an incredible descent to the port where we were to take a boat across the next day. Boats crossed three times a day and could take 8-10 cars across each time. Given that, consider just how remote this stretch of road was.

I made it to the port in time to see the boat leaving on it’s last trip for the day.

As if it were meant to be, I was able to watch the truck that carried me across the flooded road back onto the boat. They were heading across to start the last leg of their journey.

We set up camp on the beach at Puerto Yungay.

We’d heard about a shelter on the beach for travelers that are waiting for the next boat, but it turned out to be a dirty and dilapidated shack full of broken glass. The nice, new one was on the other side of the boat ride. We met a nice woman who worked in the only open business for fifty miles and she gave us some clean water from her sink with which we cooked our dinner. Here’s where we ended up camping for the night… tough life, ain’t it?

The next day we loaded up and hopped on the first ferry across.

Dan made friends with the captain and crew and got us some tips for the next leg of our trip. It was here that we heard about a potentially free ferry ride across Lago O’Higgins, which indirectly led to Derek’s wonderful story about “What Happens When You Take Directions From a One-eyed Cowboy”. If we didn’t think there was another option, Dan and Derek might have ponied up and paid their way across like Zach and I did. You’ll here about our adventure in a few paragraphs.

After the boat ride we brushed our teeth and changed into our riding gear. We met some more bicycle tourists on the other side who just missed the chance to get onto the boat from which we debarked. Some bicycle tourists are fine with a wave and a smile, others like to talk. I like to think it all depends on which way the wind is blowing… We started the day with a lonnnnnnnng climb through a beautiful region.

Try to find the road in this next picture… it’s there, I promise.

I stopped at a nice mirador for a snack break and took in the view.

We were riding in search of a hut that we’d been told about by the two cyclists we’d met after our ferry ride. We were told that it was an abandoned shack with a wood stove and some bike stickers on the windows from other cyclists who’d stayed there. We decided we’d ride until we found it, stopping only for snacks, water and fishing. Eventually, we came across a shack that we kind of doubted was the one we were looking for. It was past where we were told we would find it, but we definitely hadn’t passed the one we were seeking yet.

It had a great mountain view, a wood stove, a table and a couple platforms to sleep on.

Zach and Dan each took a platform, Derek laid out his groundcloth on the dirt floor, and I took one for the team and set up my tent outside.

We had a waterfall out back for drinking water and even a spot (downstream of our drinking source of course) for some cursory bathing. We knew we had a short day of riding left before we arrived in Villa O’Higgins (the end of the Carratera Austral) so we took our time leaving the next day. We were so comfortable at the shack that there was a considerable amount of deliberation over staying for another day as Zach’s ankle had started to hurt him and Dan loves sleeping in abandoned shacks (not to say the rest of us don’t also love it, but he just loves it that little bit more…). The idea was to hitch into Villa O’Higgins to resupply and stay for a couple days to rest. At the time, none of us really considered that only 3-4 cars passed by each day, if that. Eventually, common sense got the best of us and we pushed off the next day. My goodness it was nice.

Did I mention we looked like vagabonds at this point?

We were low on food at this point so we did a fair amount of rationing to have enough calories to burn to get into town. We also stopped and enjoyed the views a little more often. Or at least I did.

After about ten miles we passed the shack we’d been looking for, but nobody was too upset that we hadn’t kept going. One of the great lessons of this trip is that immediate hindsight is worthless and while you want to learn from your mistakes you should just make the best decision you can and roll with it through thick and thin.

That’s easy to say when the views distract you so easily…

Can you spot the road?

I’m going to go out there and say that this might be the most beautiful road to bicycle in the world. As I’ve said before, even if it’s not the best, it belongs in the conversation.

Eventually, we arrived at Villa O’Higgins. It was nothing like we expected, but then again nothing on this trip was quite like we expected.

What’s incredible is that the town is in the most remote depths of Chilean Patagonia, yet it had free wi-fi (at times, in a few limited spots, but it was municipal wi-fi).

We stayed in town for a few days and camped alongside a river.

It was by this river that we met Adolfo, the now infamous one-eyed cowboy who was as nice as it gets. After a couple days of reading and relaxing, we came up with a plan. Dan and Derek were hell-bent on avoiding the wildly overpriced ferry ride across Lago O’Higgins and Laguna del Desierto, while Zach and I were fine with it. Zach’s ankle was still hurting him and my back was declining rapidly. We decided to part ways and meet up in El Calafate, Argentina in five days.

Here was the route Zach and I took.

The boat ride across Lago O’Higgins was absolutely beautiful.

It was after that boat ride that things got tough. We had heard, from everyone we’d spoken to, that the 22km stretch between checking out of Chile at customs in Candelario Mancilla and checking into Argentina at the customs building on the shore of Laguna del Desierto was a terrible, muddy fiasco. We figured it had to be, because they said it’d take 6 hours to bike 22km. We figured a lot of things, and none of them mattered. We left Chile with no problems (and got our passports stamped, unlike Dan and Derek), and started up a long sandy and loose climb.

It was about 3km of climbing, then 12km of wonderful rolling hills along a logging road. This was incredibly fun and we rode it fast because we knew we had a rainstorm coming behind us. When we hit the border we said “this hasn’t been so bad…” Boy, were we wrong.

The Chilean side was a nice road with a tiny sign. The Argentine side had a huge sign followed by, well, the dumbest 7km of my life.

I was so angry, tired, sore and appalled that I only took one picture. This was the best the terrain got for the whole 7km.

It was up and down and over and under and everything else. We waded through rivers and mud fields, we climbed trees and jumped logs and boulders. In another setting, without a 75+ pound bike at the very least, it may have been a whole lot of fun… but I guess in this case I lost the forest for the trees. When I finished the day I had worn through both front and rear brake pads, broken a water bottle cage, and ripped a fender off. Even still, I was amazed that nothing else went wrong.

We got to the Laguna del Desierto and customs right as the rain hit, which certainly could have gone worse.

We checked into Argentina without any hitches (once again, this differed from Dan and Derek’s experience) and set up camp. More than a couple times we thought to ourselves “I wonder how Dan and Derek are doing…” and just assumed that despite how difficult things were for us, they were probably harder for Dan and Derek because otherwise this would be the road less traveled. As it turned out, we were right. You can read about that in Derek’s entry I referred to before. That night we shared a campfire with several other backpackers and another pair of bicycle tourists. Among us, we spoke English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and probably a couple other languages. It was an incredible experience and worth every ounce of effort. We even had a chance to wash and dry our gear.

We also had quite a lake view. It was right here that Zach caught a huge trout (that he didn’t share with anybody).

After another short boat ride the next day, we rode out and found a place to camp. I tried to take a picture of every camp site, but failed in this case. It was rainy when we set up camp, followed by mosquitoes, but we found a nice tree covered shelter to set up our tents. The next morning we rolled out toward El Chalten, where we’d see pavement for the first time in a month. Along the way, we rode through Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

This achievement was greatly overshadowed by the sight of pavement…

For those of you keeping score at home: Yes, I kissed it.

We got some Argentine pesos in town and loaded up on supplies. We found a place that served waffles and had a nice intercultural lunch. El Chalten is predominantly focused on tourism dollars, so it wasn’t exactly the kind of place you see honest Argentine culture. It was a melting pot of cultures influenced by the influx of backpackers and outdoorspeople from all over the globe. El Chalten also marked our first official miles in Southern Patagonia.

We blew town after filling our panniers as we were on a tight schedule to meet Dan and Derek in El Calafate. On the way out we were treated to a great view of the famous Monte Fitz Roy.

The clouds never moved, but it was still beautiful.

At this point we were heading into the Argentine pampas or plains, a flat-ish stretch of land that is basically a desert. The riding was easy compared to what we’d been on, so Zach and I shifted into our big rings for the first time in a month and picked up the pace. We realized that the wind switched around mid-day, so we did most of our riding in the morning.

Along with the changing landscape came changing wildlife.

There wasn’t really anywhere to camp that was out of the wind or out of view of the road, so we took what we could get. There was a great sunset that night… our two man team morale was sky-high at this point.

The next day we had great weather, a little bit of a tailwind in the morning, and a great view of the kind of mountains we had just left.

We also saw a wild guanaco, though as Zach will tell you he could care less if he ever sees one again. At this point, however, it was still cool.

We found a river to camp at the next night. After coming from an incredibly lush region, this stretch was remarkably barren. It wasn’t easy to find potable water here. In fact, even though we were coming back into civilization, the stretches between towns were as remote as we’d seen yet. As such, when we found the river we took what we could get. The wind was relentless and we were camped on sand so we had very little to stake into. Note the rocks holding Zach’s tent down and all my gear holding my own down. I also bungie corded my tent to my bicycle.

The next day we left early for El Calafate, the biggest civilization we’d seen since Coyhaique.

Sadly, this marked the end of my bicycle tour. About 2000 miles from the start over two months prior, I was done. My bike was beaten up, my tent could barely keep me dry, and mentally I was cooked. Dan and Derek managed to make it to town that night (thanks to a long bus ride to catch up to us) and we spent a couple days telling stories to each other before Dan, Derek and Zach left for Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine. I found a flight to Buenos Aires where I was due to meet up with a family friend. I boxed my bike at the campground we were staying in (with a bike box from a local bike shop) and caught a bus to the small airport outside town. Before I left, Dan, Derek and Zach came back through town to restock after seeing Perito Moreno and being unable to pass through a shortcut they’d heard about.

It was great to see them again, though it was short-lived.

I made it safely and smoothly to Buenos Aires where I stayed with Graciela and Roberto Moyano. Gracie had done an intercultural exchange when she was a girl and stayed with my mother and her family in Newington, Connecticut. Gracie and my mother have stayed in touch ever since, and while I had yet to meet her I’d always felt like I had an Argentine tía. I had my first bed in a month and my first non-river laundry and indoor shower in the same time.

Needless to say, I was exhausted. The Moyano family welcomed me like I was one of their own and showed me the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. I enjoyed my time there and will remember it as one of the highlights of my trip. I was able to eat, drink and sleep to my heart’s content and even got out to play soccer with Gracie and Roberto’s son Ignacio (aka Nacho). I experienced a true asado courtesy of the Moyano’s, and even got to attend their daughter Maria Cecilia’s family birthday party. I saw a friend from the USA while I was there and can confidently say it was a perfect finish to my trip.

Here I am with Gracie and Roberto on the day of my departure.

It was incredibly easy and incredibly hard to leave, all at the same time. I had a truly unforgettable, life-changing experience that I will never stop talking about. I hope you all enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

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I am not sure if many people are still following the blog…but Dan and I completed Peru! We climbed a lot of big mountains and met a lot of nice people…In five nights we were invited to stay with strangers three times! The mountains of Peru are a great place to be…Now, we are in Ecuador…we only have a week and half left of biking before out trip is over…and then we are hanging out in COLOMBIA…

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Peru has been pretty amazing thus far. Peru has every type of climate-ecosystem that you would want to experience…from deep desert, high mountains, to the Amazon rain forest. You could spend six months just biking around Peru and I think that it still wouldn´t be enough time to see everything this country has to offer.

Soo for our route thus far….Dan and I started in the South of Peru…crossed the border from Arica,Chile to Tacna, Peru…The southern part of Peru is desert…total desert…we thought Las Pampas of Argentina was desert…welll this was more so…not a single bush or tree, sometimes I felt like I was biking through Mars. Red rocks a lot of sand, etc. Well after three days of this, we had enough and hopped on a bus to Lima….

The desert

In Lima we stayed with a great family!!! I actually stayed with them three years ago when I did service work in Peru…The Otarolas were so generous towards us…Lots of food and great conversation. As well as great company for my birthday and Easter! Also I need to mention that we reunited with Zach again…

Yes, Dan and I have had many many times where we have reunited with Zach for one reason or another…hahaha…Dan and I kind of change plans in the blink of an eye because we never really have plans…So Zach! Thanks for being patient with us two space cadets….

After we left Lima, Dan and I headed for the Andes! We had a really big climb ahead of us…Actually a 12,000ft climb (4,000). It took us two full days of constant climbing. We had the help of a truck. We grabbed on the back of slow-moving truck that towed us on our bikes for about 20 kilometers…A site to see, two gringos clinging on to a back of truck….We made a lot of Peruvians laugh that day! We ended up camping at the top of the climb…When your 12,000ft up a lot of things don´t really work…For example your head hurts, its hard to breath, and most importantly your MSR stove doesn´t really like the altitude either…Oh yeah I forgot to mention trees also don´t like high altitudes! So, to cook dinner that night we didn´t have a whole lot of options…I just finished This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and sorry for all you book fans out there but we burned the book to boil our water…Yup we had a book burning…but we got to fill our bellies with some good food!!! (Thanks Backpacker´s Pantry!)

The following day we woke up with intense headaches from the altitude and slowly made our way to the city Huaraz…On our way to Huaraz we got to ride some beautiful descents after climbing for two days. We also got hit by a hail storm…Hail on a bike hurts…so we hid under a truck…and then went back on our way…

After eating some street food, I woke up with a bit of a stomach ache…but luckily for me we met a great old man in the city Yungay who invited Dan and I back to his house for the night. At his house his wife made me all kind of great tea for my stomach and fed us a great breakfast in the morning…I left feeling a lot better. The amount of nice people you meet on the road….Its just incredible….A hot cup of tea and a warm bed goes a long way in the heart of a bicycle tourist!!! Muchas Gracias…

We then made our way to the coastal city Trujillo..The road to get there is a famous route that follows a beautiful river…Also on the route, you have to go through 37 rock tunnels that look more like cave then a tunnel…It was a pretty surreal experience.

After we stopped in a small town for some lunch where we were greeted by some happy workers celebrating May Day (Labor Day)…We got to drink some beers in the streets with our new friends…Some beers for lunch always makes the rest of the day move a little slow!

Drinking beers with our new friends!

Peru is a great country! Everyday is a new crazy expierence…You never know what it’s going to be like!!! Also just to let everyone know…We ate guinea pig the other day…Until next time.

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Peru, Peru

Hey Everyone!!!
Just wanted to give you a little update about our travels.
We have been in Peru now for the past three weeks…We have covered a lot of ground through deserts and high mountain passes!
We are currently headed for the border of Peru and Ecuadors and afterwards headed for Colombia!

….and then there was two! Thats right, its just Dan and I now…We said goodbye to Zach in Lima two weeks ago!
The picture below is the three us celebrating my birthday with the family, the Otrarolas, we stayed with in Lima!!! Muchas Gracias

My Birthday in Lima, Peru

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What Happens When You Take Directions From a One-eyed Cowboy

*Editors note: This post was begun several weeks ago.

Hey everyone this is Derek, my first post of the trip…I have been trying to learn how to use this thing…

Anyway Dan, Zach, and I are hanging out in Valparaiso, Chile. Clean shaven, showered, and eating…lots and lots…we were a sight to see when we rolled into the Zapata’s house. Three bums looking pretty haggard!!! I want to share one story/lesson with you. It´s about a vision quest Dan and I took across the border from Chile to Argentina. While Zach, dealing with a swollen and painful ankle, and Ted, a good friend to accompany Zach, hopped a boat south and had an adventure of their own, we headed towards the mountains in search of our white buffalo! Here we go…

We finished the Carretera Austral bringing us to Villa O’Higgins. At Villa O’Higgins the road just comes to an end….nothing more. If you want to continue further south in Patagonia you have to take a boat across two lakes. The boat is a little expensive so the four us were looking for some other options. We heard about a free boat we might be able to take that transports cattle but it wasn’t running while we were there. At the place we were camping we ran across a (gaucho) cowboy of Patagonia named Adolfo. He was a rugged looking guy with one eye….straight up cowboy. He told us of a free way you can pass from Chile to Argentina by land! He said even though there was no actual road for the 12Km in betweent both countries, the trip should be no problem. We spoke to the police in Villa O’Higgins to learn more about the pass….they said you can cross now the river was low enough. Awesome….

Day 1

The following day Dan and I said “chau” to Teddy and Zach and that we would try to meet back up in about 5 days in El Calafate. Teddy and Zach left early in the morning to catch their boat and Dan and I got up kind of early…mmm…8:30 or so….Zach can tell you that we are not the two easiest people to get going in the morning….So we begin our approach to the border crossing between Chile and Argentina called Paso Mayer. It was a 60K ride from Villa O’Higgins…no problem…

…but on the way my rear derailleur rattled loose leaving me stranded on the side of the road with some sheep while Dan was three miles ahead of me…Thinking I may have been hurt he rolled back, found me, fixed my bike, and then we headed to the border. We came across a fork in the road and chose right and right was right…

We rolled up on the Carabiñeros de Chile (Chilean State Police) talked to the border patrol who was surprised to see us, since it is not a popular route for tourists. We gave them our passports to process the border crossing and parted ways… This is where things started to get interesting….So we get some directions from the police…which are spoken very very fast. Now my comprehension of Spanish is really bad so I didn’t have much of clue at all and Dan, who speaks fluent Spanish, had trouble understanding! So the first part of our crossing has us walk through four streams which means carrying a really heavy bike on your shoulder while getting your feet all wet.

Then the border starts in a person’s front yard. So we had to open the gate to a person’s house and roll through their front yard. Next you have to jump a fence in the front of the person’s yard to find a horse path.

Simple right? Follow the horse path that breaks up into fox runs through a bunch of spiny bushes then walk through a marsh. Lug your bike up another hill to find some more random horse trails which leads you out to a river.

At the river we were told to cross a pasarela.

Pasarela was not in Dan’s vocabulary…so we knew it was some kind of bridge but we weren’t quite sure what it would be. Well we found it and if you can imagine your stereotypical skinny rope bridge that you find in all Indiana Jones movies that’s what it was! It was so skinny that we couldn’t even push the bikes through. Dan carried his bike over his head!

“Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones!” After the bridge there was no trail…we didn’t know where to go, all we knew was that we had to get to this big round boulder that we could see off in the distance. We searched and searched for a trail but no real luck…we were tired and we decided to camp next to the pasarela. We were hoping that in the morning we would find a nice shepherd who would show us the way. So there we are camping the night in South America, not in Chile or in Argentina, but in the DMZ, that’s short for Demilitarized Zone aka “no man’s land”.

Day 2

The next day we decided to head for high ground…we found a horse path! But then as we followed it it turned into a rabbit run. We could still see the rock so we headed towards it. However, there were so many fallen down trees that we kept having to haul our bikes over and over and over and over. Then the rain came…We were just walking and singing,* I hear the rains down in Africa. * Eventually we come to the face of the boulder, climb it and look out at the land before us……..and we saw nothing, nothing at all for miles and miles. We ate a sandwich, talked about our predicament and decided to give up. Turn around and head back to Chile which was still in sight. We walked down towards the river…and what was in front of us a horse path! We followed it and then even better!!! We saw a truck! A truck! We started yelling “Hola!!!!” Awesome. The man in the truck gave us awesome directions and we found a great easy 4×4 trail to Argentina. We made it!!!! Wow we thought it was over! But noo noo no no. Well when the Argentina border patrol checked out our passport they realized that we never got exit stamps from Chile…the border patrol never stamped our passports….so unfortunately Argentina said we had to go back to get stamps.

Yup we had to go back into no-man’s land. There’s only one thing you can say to something like that, ooooo s#@t. So, we went back…got stamps and then returned back to Argentina. Three crossings in one day.

If anyone wants to cross Rio Mayer let Dan and I know we are selling maps of that area for pretty cheap.

Finally the day was done and these nice farmers let us stay in a cabin they had on their estancia(ranch).

Well just when you think the hardships are over…it ain’t over until the fat lady sings…We entered the pampas of Argentina. The high planes. Dry, flat, windy, and nothing around……..We found out that the next closest town of any sort was 250 k away. Now you’re saying, that’s not too many K…well when you have to ride a 4×4 tire rutted out road through deep mud and a head wind that’s a lot of K.

Not to mention because of the whole boarder fiasco…we were cutting it with the amount of food we had left. We pedaled and pedaled and decided to just sleep in our sleeping bags in the side of the road. Yup we slept in a ditch, bike touring sure is marvelous. At this point we were eating rice and powdered milk…mmm…We started pedaling the next day and we saw a truck….a truck!!!! Stuck out our thumbs and next thing you know we are in the back of truck!!! woooohooooo…..We got a ride for 150 k to the town GBR Gregorias. Where we made a huge dinner of chicken legs and then treated ourselves to some bacon in the morning.

Well my advice to you all think twice you get directions from a one eyed cowboy!

-Derek and Dan

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The Adventures of Patches, Gampy and The Flea: Part I

We must apologize for leaving you all in the dark for so long. We’ll leave the remainder of the travels for which Bernie was present for him to finish up and we’ll try to pick up where he’ll inevitably leave off.

So where were we? That’s right El Calafate, Argentina.
El Calafate
As most of you have learned by now Bernie made the decision to split from El Calafate the and hop a flight back north to Buenos Aires and later back to the US. So Dan, Derek, and I said our goodbyes to Bernie and headed out Sunday afternoon towards Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to check out the famous Glaciar Perito Moreno.

Before leaving town we stopped at the Argentina Gendarmeria, the Argentine equivalent of US Border Patrol, to inquire about getting exit and entry stamps so that we could legally take an unofficial border crossing through a high mountain pass between Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Chile. We had heard rumors from other cyclists that it was physically possible to pass here and if we were able it would have saved us about 130KM of backtracking and an additional 170km through the pampas. If you don’t know what the pampas are yet, don’t worry, you’re going to find out. We had already asked several border officials in other regions about taking this route and were told on several occasions that we could not do so legally but we wanted to get the final word from the Gendarmeria that were actually in control of this pass. Again we were met with the same cynicism and were told that we could pass but would risk a $300US fine each or possible detention. Hmmm… no thanks!

Here in red is where we wanted to go. In yellow is where we had to go.

With our big hopes smothered we headed out of El Calafate towards the park, located about 100KM west of El Calafate. That night we camped just outside the gates of the park so that we could enter early and make a full day at the glaciares. We arrived early and paid our 100 Argentine Peso ($25 US) entry fee each. After about 30 minutes of riding along the park road we came upon the first mirador(viewing area) of Glaciar Perito Moreno.

We were all clearly impressed by the view and were anxious to get a closer look so we hopped back on the bikes and carried on. A light rain had started to fall and the sky had become thick with clouds but this didn’t whether our spirits. Especially since we had expected an unpaved road through the park but which turned out to be entirely paved. Upon arriving at the Glaciar Visitors center we quickly changed into our “street clothes”, grabbed our lunches and headed into the cafeteria to fill our tanks before going to see the glacier. Within a few minutes we were asked to leave the cafeteria as we were eating our own food and not food we had bought. So we obliged and went outside and found some shelter from the rain on a grassy patch beneath an overhang. There we enjoyed some food and mate. Apparently we weren’t welcome to sit there either though luckily the woman was nice enough to allow us to finish our food before she asked us to move off the grass. It was pretty clear by this point that park was not to used to worn out DIY bicycle tourists.

So with full bellies we headed off onto the labyrinth of walking paths to view the glacier. I think I speak for all of us when I say that our first view of the glacier up close was breathtaking. For all of us this was our first time ever seeing a glacier. And I know I can speak for myself when I say that I could hardly believe what was before my eyes. Glaciar Perito Moreno has a length of nearly 5KM(3.2miles) and a maximum height of 60M(180feet).

All the while we were approaching the closest boardwalk for viewing we could hear giant crashes every few minutes which sounded like thunder from a midsummer storm. The color of the glacier ranged from pure white to aqua emerald blue to deep deep blue. Once we were on the closest boardwalk we realized the loud crashing sounds were only small pieces of ice falling off the glacier. Of course perspective is pretty hard there but in relation to the size of the glacier they were small. We also read a sign that warned any adventurous types from wondering closer to the glaciar. Between 1963 and 1983 thrity-two people were killed by flying pieces of ice! What a way to go…

We consider ourselves pretty lucky because while we were there a piece of the glaciar, easily the size of a house, came tearing off and crashing into the icy waters below. It was easily one of the most amazing natural phenomena that I have ever witnessed in my life.

So feelings fully accomplished and satisfied we hopped back onto the bikes and headed towards El Calafate. A strong tail-wind (read a cyclists best friend) sent us easily cruising along at about 30MPH and put us about 10KM outside of El Calafate where we camped for the night.

The next morning we got into town early and resupplied with approximately 5 days worth of food because we knew from talking to other cyclists that there would be no real services for over 500KM. So fully supplied we headed towards our next destination Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and also our furthest destination south. The riding was steady and pretty unremarkable. We were headed into the infamous Pampas. For those of you who don’t know the Pampas are something the equivalent of the Midwest plains in the US except much drier and a containing alot less people. Rather than there being fields of wheat, corn or some other grass there is pretty much just a land of dried up dirt, very short scrubby tough bushes and very frequently herds of hundreds of Guanacos and less frequently herds of hundreds of sheep. How or why the sheep and Guanacos are able to survive is beyond me. However, the first time I saw a Guanaco outside Cochrane on the Carretera Austral I was ecstatic. The last time I saw a Guanaco in the Pampas I don’t think I cared if I’d ever see one again.

So anyway the riding was rather uneventful except for the 10KM(6.6mile) completely unexpected hill climb we encountered. I think we expected all the riding to be completely flat at this point. Around every turn I expected to see the summit but just more climbing. However, we are all familiar with the theory of what goes up must come down so I persevered knowing id be greeted by a great downhill soon enough. Eventaully I reached a mirador near the summit were I decided to wait for Dan and Derek. There was an Argentine family stopped taking in the views. We started chatting about the trip and pretty soon I was enjoying sandwiches and juice. Before leaving they snapped a photo of me with both father and son. Soon Dan and Derek arrived and we all took a nice rest, drank some Mate with a young Argentine couple whom were on a short road trip and then we were on our way. The three of us finally reached the summit together to realize that what we had been climbing up to was a high plain. This is something I had never seen before and was pretty amazed of. Instead of there being a long downhill on the other side of the summit there were just flat plains for as far as the eye could see. However again another tailwind sent us cruising along and soon we had reached the junction of a dirt road where we decided to camp for the night.

The following day was pretty uneventful.

A change in travel direction from south to west put us against the wind and as well the dirt road surface became awful so biking that day was pretty difficult. The only really remarkable thing that happened that day was passing a funky old truck painted Day-Glo Orange and Aqua. Little did I know at the time that I would encounter that same vehicle nearly two weeks and 700KM later. Finally after a long day we arrived back on to pavement. Worn-out we opted for any campsite that seemed suitable and which turned out that night to be more or less a ditch on the side of the road.

The next day we made the border between Cancha Carrera, Argentina and Cerro Castillo, Chile and also hit the 2000 mile mark of our journey! The border crossing was pretty uneventful except at the Chilean border where we were forced to either throw-out Derek’s remaining three oranges or eat them all on the spot. It’s rather an interesting and strange thing but not once at a Chilean border crossing have we been asked about drugs or weapons that we might be carrying, only fruits and vegetables, which are prohibited to cross into Chile. We devoured the oranges and then were allowed to pass into the tiny town of Cerro Castillo. There isn’t too much in Cerro Castillo however it is an access point for entry into Torres del Paine. Upon arriving we needed to find a place to camp. We stopped in at a tiny restaurant to buy some empanadas and ask about camping. Upon asking the women at the restaurant she told us we could happily camp on the lawn at her house down the street. She showed us which house was hers through the window and off we went. The generosity of Chileans to perfect strangers and foreigners none the less again amazed me. We settled in to our usual routine, setup camp, cooked dinner and then heated up some red wine with orange juice, sugar and cinnamon to make the intoxicating Chilean version of mulled wine known as Navegado.

The following morning we broke camp and headed up to the restaurant to thank the women for allowing us to camp at her home. At the restaurant we told her about our trip and where we were from and she offered us coffee and more empanadas as a gift. Which we gladly and gratefully accepted. At this point we told her how we’d like to go to Torres del Paine but the headwind was too strong to ride our bikes and asked if she knew a place with the police or elsewhere that we could stash our bikes while we were gone. Sure enough she knew a great place…inside her house. Well who could turn down that offer? So again we said thank you and goodbye, stashed our bikes at her house and headed over to the road to Torres del Paine to try our luck at hitchhiking. The wind was unbelievably strong blowing a steady 30 or 40 mph with much stronger gusts. We assumed our positions on the side of the road where we played “Guess that Song”, “20 Questions” and other games to pass the time. Finally a man driving a transport van stopped and said that he was going to Torres to pick up customers and that he could bring us all the way no problem. What luck! The drive into Torres was gorgeous and a little over an hour later we were in the park.

If there is one thing you probably shouldn’t do with bicycle panniers its hike with them. Our original plans were to hike for a few days completing a large loop in the park. It soon became clear to all of us that that wasn’t something we would probably enjoy doing given the equipment and therefore we opted to simply hike up to Campamento Torres alongside the towers, spend the night there, hike up to the towers in the morning, and then hike back out that day. We got some nice views of the towers although the clouds never broke while we were up close.

It also became clear pretty quickly that none of us were all too impressed with Torres del Paine. For one it was so packed full of tourists that you felt you were at an amusement park. Also compared to many of the mountains and natural rock formations seen along the much less touristy Carretera Austral Torres del Paine just didn’t seem as impressive in real life then as it did in pictures before leaving the US . However, that’s not to say we didn’t have a good time in the park. Satisfied and ready to leave we hiked back to the trailhead and within a short time got a hitch from another transporter all the way back to Cerro Castillo. It’s worth remarking to all of you, although clearly only hilarious to Dan Derek Ted and I, that on both our hitch into and out of the park the drivers played our two most favorite Chilean songs on the radio… Osito Gominola and 1234.

Back in Cerro Castillo we bought our driver a coffee and donut as a thank you, parted ways and headed over to the restaurant to again say thanks and see if we could buy dinner there that night. The sweet lady, who we’ve at this point dubbed our mother of Cerro Castillo, suggested that we go down to her house, setup our tents again for the night and come back to the restaurant and she’d have dinner ready for us. Oh, did I mention that of course first she treated us to some pastries and coffee?

Through casual conversation during dinner we came to find out that her son is a guitarist and singer of traditional gaucho music and that he is in fact the musician whom we saw at the Rodeo in Cochrane, some four weeks and 700KM earlier. Small world indeed. Our dinner which should have cost about 15,000 pesos($30US) she would only charge 6,000 pesos and as well told us to come up for breakfast the next morning.

The next morning was really the icing on the cake. We packed up camp with the help of our new friends who showed up the night before and headed to the restaurant. Each time we had eaten at the restaurant we sat at the same table closest to the kitchen and when we arrived that morning she had already set the same table for us for breakfast. We again enjoyed our food and some conversation, gave our hugs and said our final goodbyes, and snapped a photo to remember her by. Each time the hospitality of locals has really changed our experience from being strangers in a foreign land to feeling extremely welcome and part of the community.

With full bellies we left Cerro Castillo the way we had entered and crossed the border once again back into Argentina. At this point a month and a half straight of cycling without a house or bed to stay in was wearing on us and returning to Valparaiso had been on all our minds for a couple of weeks. The three of us easily decided that riding our bikes through the Pampas was pretty low on our list of priorities and that this day would begin our journey back north some 2500KM to Valparaiso. Being the thrifty and adventurous travelers that we are we decided that our plan of action would be for each of us to go separately and hitchhike/bike all the way back north to Bariloche where we would meet up to ride some of more scenic routes in that area. So we said our goodbyes to eachother and headed out on our new adventure.

To find out what happened next you’ll have to check back for the Adventures of Patches, Gampy and The Flea: Part II

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The Carretera Austral (aka Paradise) Part Uno

Much to the delight of PETA, the cat is out of the bag: I’m home. I (Ted) opted for a slight itinerary change to facilitate a bit of decompression and rest time before heading back to work at the beginning of April. While I miss my compañeros, I feel tremendously accomplished and am relishing my return to the EEUU. Somerville, it’s good to be back. Now that I’m back, I’m hoping to fill in the gaps for the guys and for you, our loving audience.

Here is a more recent photo of the four of us. I’m happy to be back, but goodness I miss these guys.

I’ll start with the good stuff, a trip-to-date recap from Puerto Aysén to Buenos Aires. In the days coming, I’m hoping to highlight our campsites, talk about the routes, and maybe give some lessons learned. In case you want to learn more about the Carretera, here’s a helpful link: The Carretera Austral on Wikipedia

Otherwise, enjoy the views… I’m going to do this in sections so if you don’t want to see my pictures without knowing the story behind them, don’t click through to the album just yet.

Here’s the direct link to my full album of photos from the Carretera on, though I’ll feature many of the better ones in the narrative below.

We last left you in Puerto Aysén, a beautiful city located in a river valley in Northern Patagonia. Thanks to our guide and host Katy, we were made privy to a gorgeous view of the city and the surrounding hills and rivers.

The next day we got ourselves together and reluctantly left the loving embrace of the Heresmann-Gutierrez family. Here is a photo of our hosts (from L to R) Helga, Carmen, and Katy.

And here’s one of the bunch of us before rolling out to take on the elusive (to this point) Carretera Austral.

We can’t possibly thank the Heresmann-Gutierrez family enough for their hospitality and care while in Aysén. We left with bellies full and minds at ease, two qualities that aided our voyage unspeakable amounts. While the separation anxiety was difficult, we were greeted on the road by an incredible view that foreshadowed what was to come in the following weeks. For those of you following along at home, we’re now on Ruta 240 heading east between Aysén and Coihaique.

Unfortunately, not only did we look in the direction of Carmen, Katy, and Helga when we turned around, we also saw snow capped mountains as well.

We mustered up the strength to continue, probably through the consumption of dulce de leche in some form, and soldiered on. Our first stop was to be the Cascada La Virgen, where we promised Carmen we’d fill our water bottles. Drinking the water from this waterfall is said to bring blessings and good luck.

We continued on, having intentionally hydrated (with water at least) for the first time in a week or so and were greeted with beautiful scenery at every bend.

Shortly after taking that photo we met a very friendly Chilean family (this was and continued to be a recurring theme, if you haven’t noticed) and struck up a conversation. The father told us about a great spot for fishing on a nearby river and suggested we stop and check it out. Now, faithful readers, I must admit to you that bicycle touring is not exempt from Sir Isaac Newton’s concept of inertia. Once we stop, it’s hard to get moving again. Just ask Valparaiso, Chillan, or Aysen… This is especially true when the scenery is beautiful and there are incredible camping spots everywhere. Dan, in culturally appropriate fashion, tracked down the residents of the closest domicile and asked permission to camp there for the night. We were granted said permission with the understanding that we would not throw any parties and would leave the place we chose to camp as close to how we found it as possible. No problems there.

We set up camp and threw in a couple lines. Zach caught a little fish for dinner and the rest of us lived with what we had. We got to watch some wild mountain goats graze along the mountain top and relaxed the afternoon away.

The next day we broke camp early and started up a long climb. Part of the climb went through a pretty cool feature: a rockslide tunnel.

Climbing on a bike tour is bittersweet. It’s certainly not quick and/or easy, given the weight and physics involved, but eventually you forget you’re doing it and then you’re greeted by a new, always beautiful view at the top. Here was our first glimpse of Coihaique.

We also got to see the wind farm that Dan researched when he studied abroad in Chile a couple years back. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this trip for me was seeing the country and people that Dan had been rambling on about all this time. We’d all lived in Chile vicariously through Dan since he returned, but to be able to have him show it to us first-hand was just incredible.

Just before we hit Coihaique, we officially joined up with the Carretera Austral (aka Ruta 7). At this point the road was paved, but we didn’t let the smooth surface ruin the experience for us.

We routinely passed waterfalls, and almost always took the time to stop and smell the flo-, er, water? However that proverb works, we did it. Here’s Zach taking in the view.

And here’s a 2D view of something more easily appreciated with all 3 dimensions present.

Here’s Zach attempting to solve a welcome dilemma. We were at a bridge that gave us access to four different sections of the river (to the left and right of both sides of the water). It seemed that the four of us each saw a different section as more virtuous than the rest.

Instead of separating and meeting up in the morning, we reconciled our differences and picked correctly.

Given that it was our first full day on the Carretera, I treated myself to a couple Cerveza Australs. Here they are cooling off in our refrigerator.

I must say, this was a particularly beautiful campsite with a fantastic river and a view of the mountains in the distance.

And in an extreme case of whatever the opposite of adding insult to injury might be called, we had a gorgeous sunset to top it all off. These are unfiltered photos, people… this is honest to goodness natural color.

We roasted some salchichas over the fire and had a nice dinner before bed.

It was a good thing we rested easily that evening because we spent the entirety of the next day being knocked off our feet by the stunning beauty of Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Here was our first taste, and it only got better from there. I won’t attempt to convey the feeling through the written word, I’ll let some pictures speak. In any case, I’m fairly sure I was dumbfounded with awe that whole day so my words might not even make sense.

Eventually we came through a very high mountain pass. I don’t think it was physiologically possible for my brain to think it could get better, but it did. We had an incredible descent (one of those descents where stopping to take a picture to remember it by prevents it from being an unforgettable experience… we all chose the latter over the former). We did, however, stop at a vista at the midpoint of the descent. You’ll see why…

To give you an idea of how good this downhill was, even skinny little “Pulga” Derek nearly hit 50mph on the straight sections. Shortly after, we came to the image that so many of you were left to ponder nearly a month ago…

Behold, Cerro Castillo. In case any of you were wondering: yes, cerro is Spanish for hill. HILL. If that’s a hill, why are we trying to cross the Andes MOUNTAINS?

Eventually, we came to the end of the pavement in a small outpost settlement called Villa Cerro Castillo. This is not to be mistaken with Cerro Castillo, a town outside Torres del Paine in Southern Patagonian Chile.

We loaded up on whatever supplies we could and prepared ourselves for the end of paved roads for the foreseeable future. By this, I mean we drank a Dolbek and bought some sausages. Here marked the beginning of the hardest and most amazing thing I’ve ever done.

We’d already ridden a lot that day so we focused on finding the first campsite we could. To this point we’d been able to pick out a river on our map and ride there, where we’d be greeted by an almost always perfect place to camp with delicious clean water. At this point in the day we were all exhausted and overheated. It was easily 90 degrees and in this part of Chile there is almost no ozone to protect you from the sun’s blazing rays stealing whatever push your legs had left. Our first hope for a river was a total failure.

We pushed on, stopping occasionally to catch our breath, cool off in the shade, and take in the views. The riding surface was terrible, sandy and loose or miserably washboarded. We could see a river the whole time, as the road was following it, but we were seeming to keep climbing away from it.

Eventually, we found a turn-off that advertised a lake in 4km. Unable to resist, we turned off and chased camp… and what an amazing choice we made. The road kept us in the watchful eye of the mountains…

And eventually brought us to Lago Las Ardillas.

We got past the bouncers…

And found access to the lake.

In a move contrary to our usual form, we didn’t even set up camp before we started to unwind. As it might appear, we immediately found the water and jumped in. Wouldn’t you?

The next day we rolled back out the road to rejoin the Carretera Austral. It may have been the good dinner and the refreshing swim or any number of other influences, but things just seemed to get easier from here on out. The road tightened up a little bit and made riding much easier. Most people do this road on mountain bikes with wide, knobby tires and suspension; we did it on rigid touring bikes with slick tires (including 700×32 tires on Dan’s and my bicycles.)

Nonetheless, nothing was going to stop us now…

We pedaled on, with a new magnificent view around every corner.

Here’s Zach enjoying a snack the Patagonian way. I couldn’t have been more pleased that my 1000th photo on the trip came out this good.

It wasn’t all mountain vistas either… take a step back and you’ve got a different view.

On the Carretera, we no longer benefited from pace lines and drafting, so we traveled at our own pace. We’d usually leapfrog each other as the day progressed and we all knew about when we should call it a day. Anywhere between hour 4-6 of riding on a given day, we’d regroup and work on finding a place to camp. Therefore, I passed Zach knowing I’d see him again before long.

Sometimes it’s just the view that prevents you from riding for a few minutes…

The water had such an incredible color to it. I’m not sure why it had a milky hue, but I didn’t care.

One of the funniest parts of the Carretera was the use of signage to mark hills on the roads. Note the pitch of the wedge showing the size of the hill Zach was (luckily) descending. Sometimes they were honest, sometimes they weren’t.

The road kept giving as the day went on. I don’t think there’s a more beautiful road to bicycle on the planet.

Keep in mind these aren’t just my best pictures from the 3 weeks on the Carretera, the last 13 pictures up here were taken ON THE SAME DAY. More from that day…

Believe it or not, this is only lunchtime.

We rolled on, eventually looking for a place to camp and embracing the luxury to be picky about it.

We found a cool little abandoned shack on a river with a beautiful waterfall behind it.

Inside the shack was pretty dirty and gross, so we set up camp beside it and cleaned up in the river. Even though it’s hot during the day, most of the rivers around here are glacial in origin (thus potable) so they are cold as cold gets. This one was no exception. The moon came out early that night (and most nights) and it got dark as late as 10-10:30pm.

That’s all I’ve got in me for now… check back in the next few days for the next installment of The Carretera Austral (aka Paradise) and beyond.

Let me know what you all think in the comments section, and fire away with any questions you might have. I’ll actually do my best to answer them this time around…

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