THE ALTERNATIVE AUSTRAL

After a day off, I headed into the prevailing wind, along scenic ripio, for 50km to finally join up with the Carretera Austral for a short stretch.  Merging onto the smooth pavement, I think I began to understand the emotions that had propelled me to seek alternative ripio routes in the first place.  It’s quite obvious in many ways – it’s essentially the difference between road and mountain bike riding.  I still love flying along the open road at high speed as much as ever but, whilst I’m here and have such a wealth of opportunities to get off the beaten track, I’d be crazy not to.  Riding dirt-road routes, the bike is much more lively and requires a much greater level of concentration which, in turn, heightens your senses and makes you feel very alive.  Conversely, on the asphalt, it’s much easier to slip into an almost trance-like state where your senses can become a little dulled.  Road riding is regularly compared to a form of meditation and I think perhaps your energy tends to become more focused on yourself – more reflective – and less on the environment around you.

Anyway, my stint on the Ruta 7 (Carretera Austral) would be short-lived, as I turned off to find my riverside campsite for that night about 35km further South.  There were some spectacular views from the road but, for all the reasons that I’ve already outlined, I felt vindicated in my decision to eschew it.

That didn’t stop me, however, having one of my biggest moments of indecision of the entire trip the next morning!  I don’t know what exactly was to blame for my somewhat foul mood, but I awoke to an overcast morning that was threatening to drizzle and, combined with a certain lethargy, I couldn’t make my mind up which way to head.  I could either stick with my plan to take another dirt road detour or re-join the Carretera and have an easy cruise.  Having finally got all my stuff packed away, I literally stood at the side of the road for several minutes, racked by indecision.  Then I set off in the direction of the Carretera, pedalled about 50m and turned around and headed back the other way!  The only reason I could come up with, which was as good as any at that moment, was that at least I could be happy that I hadn’t taken the easy option!

Before long, as I moved Eastwards, the sky began to brighten up and, once I had passed a large mine, the landscape rewarded my efforts…

Eventually, I made it to the village of Ñirehuao and found an alojamiento to spend the night.  From the window of my room, I could see one of the main reasons for coming out this way – the Valle de la Luna…

The next day was a beautifully clear one, riding on the quiet track past the Valle and up a climb over to the next valley, where I would turn back Westwards and towards the bustling town of Coyhaique, which marks the approximate centre of the Carretera Austral.

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