ALTERNATIVE GAINS

I can quite happily say that those last few hours were some of the most incredible of my entire trip. There’s no doubt either that the highly challenging conditions prior made it even more so. I never fail to be amazed at how bike touring can swing you emotionally from one extreme to the other. After a real high like that though, I now make a conscious effort to concentrate on the road and not slip up, as I did when I fell and sprained my wrist all those months ago in Peru. Racing to the bottom of the mountain, with the wind picking up and the rain starting to get heavier, I eventually reach the turn-off for the border crossing. Pausing to take a little shelter behind some trees and check out the camping options in the area, I see the most beautiful double rainbow…

With the only half-decent spot right next to an overflowing river and not wanting to wake up halfway through the night under several inches of water, I figure that I’ll push on the last 4km to the Argentine Customs and try my luck there. Enquiring about nearby camping spots with a little protection from the wind, the friendly border guard suggests that I can camp here and then leads me over to another building, where there’s a kitchen room with an open wood fire! Once again, the Argentinians Customs have come good! I think he maybe took pity on me when he saw that my somewhat chilly, unresponsive hands were unable to grasp the pen properly to fill out the customs form! Either way, I’m able to hang up all my wet gear – even my soaking tent – and dry it out. What a luxury.

I had a very cosy night, occasionally awaking to stoke the fire, listening to a howling wind outside and regular rain squalls passing over. It would have been a miserable night of camping and, frankly, I’m not sure that my tent would have stood up to the ferocious winds!  The next morning, the nearby mountains had a fresh covering of snow and, despite the somewhat crazy headwinds, I had to brave the elements and head off…

The 11km or so to the Chilean border control were hard work and I had to stop entirely and brace myself against the wind on several occasions. It eased off a little after that but was still strong and made for slow progress. With every kilometre into Chile, however, the wind died down and once I was riding through Parque Patagonia (one of the parks established by the late The North Face founder, Doug Tompkins), it was far more manageable. The park was full of herds of Guanaco…

The road through the park emerges back onto the Carretera Austral opposite the dramatic confluence of the Chacabuco and Baker rivers, which was the site of a bitter dispute over a proposed hydroelectric dam project that was finally cancelled by the Chilean Government in 2014. It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful spot being blighted by a concrete monstrosity, besides the potential impact that the dam would have had on the local community and ecosystem.

From there, it was a short ride into Cochrane, where I would take a rest day and get a few things sorted. It was a delight to find a ‘reparadora’ there, who could repair my shoes and several other bits of my gear, replacing worn stitching and broken buckles and eeking out a bit more life out of otherwise good items.

Back on the road a day later, I pushed on through the increasingly glacial landscape until the weather threatened to close in. With relatively few obvious options for camping and keen to find a roof, I kept my eye out and thankfully spotted a small hut through the trees with the door ajar. It turned out to be a very cosy little spot and, once again, kept me and all my stuff dry.

The next morning, however, offered a drizzly outlook and I set off up and over a climb, about 30km to Caleta Yungay to take the short (free) ferry ride to Rio Bravo. Crossing at midday, I got to the other side and decided to just push on and see where I got to, expecting to cover about 40-50km of the fairly hilly 100km to Villa O’Higgins. The scenery was clearly lovely but, with the clouds set in, it was all very grey and a little difficult to appreciate. There were, however, numerous Condors regularly swooping low overhead, which served as a fantastic morale-booster and a useful distraction. With few decent camping spots and constant drizzle, I just kept the head down and, before long, it was apparent that I could make it that day and I rolled into town at around sunset, wet through and knackered but content.

2 Comments

  1. Was wondering when we’d get the pleasure of reading the rest of your exploits dude!!
    Those views are just amazing!
    U gonna be at Allans leaving drinks?

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