Since leaving El Bolson and the Las Alerces Parque just to the south we’ve been heading through the winding valleys and waterways between high Andes peaks on our way to a remote and scenic part of Chile. It continues to be an extremely scenic tour which one has keep pinching oneself as a reminder that yes, this is real, and we won’t be here forever, keep focused. These mountain lakes are incredible. The forests are thick. As I look at these peaks just above the sharply pitched hills I realize that there are no glades – no softening of the angles or of the greenery until the rock takes over. Backcountry skiing would have to be limited to the bowls high above. The rivers that tumble down from these spillways have that somewhat milky green hue that only glacial run off can boast. We are traveling on a mix of pavement and gravel. There is a lot of road construction happening here – by the time the next BikeDreams trip here happens this whole section in Argentina will be paved. Villages here are the exception. We are heading for one now just across the Chilean border called Futaleufu. That means dealing with customs and immigration on both sides – Argentina for an exit stamp and Chile for an entry stamp and inspection for banned fruits and vegetables. Chile is concerned about fruit flies being introduced to their country. Bike Dreams has been gradually depleting our food reserves of banned items during the week prior to our entry date. “What, no bananas?” has been heard throughout camp. Complicating matters is that there is no place to really fill our food coffers on the Chilean side until we hit the larger community of Coyhaique on our fifth day in the country. The food issue caused us to stop 18K earlier than we planned after entering Chile – we had planned a bush camp and instead stayed in Futaleufu in a hotel where we could also have dinner. The border crossing itself was a breeze. Since it is remote there were no lines. The officials here, in contrast to Peru and Bolivia, were helpful and friendly. No problemo. Futaleufu may be remote but one could see the effects of its outdoor recreation opportunities. There is some money here – second homes and well-coiffered Eddie Bauer types on the streets. We found that the only source for Chilean pesos was the ATM in Futaleufu – it didn’t accept Visa cards thus complicating finances for most of us. The hotel overcharged us for a poorly cooked salmon dinner because it could. Bike Dreams boss Rob covered our cost until we can get funds in a few days.
The gravel roads here are not like those we are used to in northern Minnesota. The one we experienced in our trip to Tacota was a miserable sandy loose rock body shaking mess which really was not bikeable. The roads we’ve been on here are at least bike able but you won’t find them in this condition in Cook County. They are a loose rock corrugated mix of dust and cuss words. Tough on bike tires. Tough on bikers. Tough on bikes. Today I had my first flat tire on this whole trip from Quito to here, south of Bariloche. I had researched these tires extensively because I hate flat tires. Schwalbe marathons. The flatless bike tires. They’ve been great. Things caught up to me today. I had my first flat. And then I had my second flat. And then I walked my bike 5 K’s till I met the lunch truck coming back for me as Michelle had biked past me and carried to word to Walter. I could have patched one of the tubes but I had been unable to find anything wrong inside the tire itself yet knew there was something there. Might as well wait for a more thorough inspection in camp. I did find a small wire barely protruding on the inside and am hopeful that there will still be air in that tire tomorrow.
The Patagonian pampas was wind. Chile is known for rain. It is raining right now and has been since we reached our bush camp in Villa Vanguardia, a town of about 10 houses and one small bodega (shop) which is closed for a couple of days since the owners are out of town. We have commandeered a small half-completed home with at least a roof overhead to do our cooking and dining this evening. It is a blessing. This rain is acting like an all nighter.
It was an all nighter. Things were wet. The ground had quickly saturated. Diedrick’s tent was now in a swamp. Barry’s was so wet he didn’t have anything dry to cycle in and had to take the truck. I know that if a truthful poll was taken this morning all would love to be in the truck. This is a very lush area – all the rain makes it so. We gathered in the small partially finished building and were very thankful to have breakfast out of the steady drizzle. It wasn’t that it was pouring but it was constant and enough to keep you and everything you own wet and cold. My tent was pitched on a small protected hillside with good drainage. High and dry. Two corners of the tent that I hadn’t stretched quite taut had very small pools formed but they had no affect on my sleep or my belongings. This coming night I’ll be sure to get them tight. Lots of wet tents go into bags and into the truck. A few wet sleeping bags will be opened tonight along with that cloudy foggy damp funk that fills your nostrils. We had 107K to pedal along the gravel Carreterra Austral. As much as the sun had accentuated the beauty of our surroundings the last few days, the fog mist and rain kept them a shrouded secret today. It was just plain a wet, cold, rough, body beating slog today. Lots of road construction which today meant slop, mud and mire. We were following a series of mountain lakes – glacier fed rivers ran across our path on their journey to cool and replenish these tarns. I rode most of the day by myself, finally hooking up with Joost, Michelle, Brian, Deb, Terry and one of the new Aussies who joined us in Bariloche, in the small village of Puyuhuapi where we found apple pie ,coffee and tea. Mmmmm, that almost made up for the rain. Now we had also reached the sea – waters of the magnificent Pacific Ocean. The Canal Puyuhuapi that we are now pedaling alongside is a relatively narrow inlet from the sea. The sun was occasionally peaking out and we had pulled off our rain gear for the last 30K’s to our camp in a National Park featuring Glacier Colante – a hanging glacier which sits right in front of our camping area. It has a beautiful waterfall and an impressive massive presence high above our level.
We awoke to the light drumming of raindrops on our tents again. Weather reports don’t mean much in this coastal rainforest. In San Diego you’re safest to say 75 and sunny – here the daily answer should be 60 and rain. Right now 45 and rain is what we have. Bike Dreams Rob gave us all a chance to hike closer to the hanging glacier Colante by calling for breakfast at 9 and biking at 10. We loved the chance to sleep in but the weather precluded a hike in the rain and fog. I used the morning time to try to get some of the sand, grit and gravel out of the working parts of my bike. These roads are really tough on bikes. They are also tough on bike riders. There has been a steady stream of road construction on the Carretera Austral since we hopped on it after Futaleufu ,which makes the travel even messier. Today we had several unscheduled stops along the way for rock blasting and clearing. It won’t be long before pavement will take over these byways. We ended our 77K day with a camp on Lago Las Torres at a small fisherman’s campground. Another deep mountain lake surrounded by snowy peaks. The old boy who runs the place has been dragging out a few small logs and cutting them for a campfire for his bicycle guests. Excited to have us here, he chatters away in Spanish and doesn’t seem to notice that we are not answering. Probably hears as well as I do. There are two birthdays to celebrate tonight including one of the Norwegian sisters, Hilde. Team Norway knows how to party. Look out, Charlie Brown. We have a building available here that is just barely large enough to fit us cyclists. Tomorrow we head to Coyhaique for a rest day – Rob has set us up in a campground but did mention that there are several hotels available in town. I will be looking for a room after so many days of camping.
I arrived in Coyhaique after a paved ride of 137K in overcast skies and mist shrouding most of the taller peaks. The terrain is lush – much like the rain forests of the northwest US only much bigger. We are in a campground about 2K outside of town and most of us have opted to get hotel accommodations since we have been camping everyday since Bariloche. It also allows us to have internet to catch up with our communications. I haven’t explored the town yet other than to find my hotel but will be out tonight searching out either a steak or some fish. The currency here makes one feel wealthy – 550 pesos to one dollar US. It may sound like things are inexpensive but despite the peso exchange things turn out to cost about the same as they might at home. Argentina is a bargain. Chile is more like what we are used to paying. I have very limited experience with finances here tho since we have been staying in bush camps and campgrounds all but one night and that was in a remote town. I am tired tonight after seven straight days of hard cycling – this day off feels well deserved. We will spend one more day cycling in Chile and then head back to Argentina. We do still have one more swing through Chile before we get to the end of our trip however.