Closing In

I have two messages from Katie. She’s writing to say the last 100 kilometers of the Austral are the best. Don’t miss them she says. I leave Cochrane with high expectations.

The road gets narrower and narrower, windier and windier. Thick vegetation lines the roadside. Mist hangs heavy in the air. Lucky for me and for Katie, she’s not wrong. At the very end, the Austral finally becomes the kind of road we love.

image

image

image

In Villa O’Higgins we learn that our friend Scott is only a day behind, but with tickets for a boat the next day, we’ll miss him again. We kill time, waiting for the grocery store to open again after lunch. I watch two boys kill a large, beautiful moth outside the library and then get mad.

Late in the day we leave town, going down the road a short ways to camp on Rio Mayor. A strange animal making strange noises circles our tent in the night. I lay still, not even breathing, hoping it just leaves. I have no idea what it is. In the morning we learn there are pumas in the area. Maybe it was a puma. Maybe it was a very sick dog.

image

We take a boat across Lago O’Higgins, stamping out of Chile before riding a gravel 4×4 track to the border.

image

image

image

There the track becomes a muddy mess of a trail. We slip and slide and even ride a bit to the shores of Lago del Desierto.

image

image

I watch Fitz Roy come out on the other side of the lake while waiting for our second boat to arrive. By the time it does, the mountain is gone and the rain has moved in.

image

We arrive in El Chalten in a deluge. Soaked to the bone I search out a room. We warm up and dry out, the rain still falling outside. It quits, only to come again in the night. We decide to stay.

Late in the day I get a message. Scott has arrived in town. We go searching for beer and ice cream together, only to end up with fernet and Coke instead. We pass the evening, telling stories and catching up.

Heads foggy from too much fernet, we leave town in the morning, Fitz Roy still hiding behind dense clouds. Wary of wind, we look for sheltered camping. A tip from a five year old blog post helps us find this.

image

Since then, someone has moved in, but he’s more than happy to share his space. For him, the observatory is only a place to store hay and meat. We sleep the sleep of the dead.

We wake in the morning only to find it has rained again in the night. We squish through mud back to the paved road. Back in El Chalten we had debated the merits of other, smaller dirt tracks south verses the merits of just kicking it down the paved, main road quickly. With inches of recent rain, our final decision came easily. The earth here is sticky when wet, quickly becoming a muddy mess that’s no good for biking. So, for the second day in a row, we find ourselves spinning easily, covering ground on the main road.

image

image

At the end of the day we crest a small climb. We poke our heads up around the corner only to see a blank, featureless landscape.

image

With no where to call home for the night in sight, we retreat to a small gravel pit next to a mirador. It will do.

Again with the help of the wind we make quick work of 85 kilometers, only turning to battle it for the last 15 to Tapi Aike.

image

Guanacos and rheas don’t mind the wind, neither does a flock of flamingos. But we do, camping early in the shelter of a stand of trees at the police station. Perhaps the morning will be better.

image

The wind howls like a banshee, roaring across the pampa. It works it’s way into my head, prying open all the carefully shut doors and compartments, making chaos out of order, making my shell crack. Even with a tired body, sleeps eludes me.

The morning is no different. We resolve to find another way. Hours later, a man with a small Fiat Adventure delivers us 80 kilometers down the road, away from the worst of the wind. Instead of a Chilean National Park, we find ourselves in an Argentine coal town.

image

The weather makes the decisions for us these days. We’re just along for the ride.

Where we rode: Cochrane – Villa O’Higgins – El Chalten – Tapi Aike – Rio Turbio – Puerto Natales

Another Austral Detour

Conversation lags. After all these months of traveling together through empty places it seems we have finally run out of things to say. We move together in companionable silence down the road. There’s still plenty to look at.

image

Years ago, giant trees were cut down for pasture. They now lie, wasted and decomposing, only a shadow of their former selves.

image

image

Here on the Austral, other cyclists are a dime a dozen. I find I don’t have much to say to them either, never having been keen on talking just for the sake of making noise.

But then in Coyhaique we’re given a tip, an idea, and it sparks hours of debate.

While I navigated the aisles of Unimarc grocery, Tyndall chatted up two Belgian cyclists. There is a boat from Caleta Tortel to Puerto Natales they say. It runs once a week and costs 40,000 CLP they say. It takes 40 hours and sails through narrow fjords they say. Tyndall clutches a website and a phone number in his hand.

We leave town with renewed vigor for our route south. The only problem is that all the information we have is hersey. Until we can find an Internet connection it’s just an idea, possibly even a pipe dream. Through kilometers of paved, busy road we nurse this pipe dream, debating the merits of pushing ourselves to make this alleged sailing in a week’s time.

There’s still plenty else to amuse us though. On the descent towards Lago General Carrera it seems dark.

image

It’s 11:00 in the morning and a blue sky day, but somehow, it seems to be getting colder rather than warmer. The sun is dim. We look at each other in confusion, and then have a light bulb moment. A few days ago a cyclist from London told us that there would be a solar eclipse Sunday. Today is Sunday we realize. Everything now makes sense.

At the library in Puerto Ibañez we connect up. The boat does run Saturdays. It does exist. The government subsidizes the sailings, and as such, charges extranjeros like us three times what they charge Chileans. That’s a deal killer.

We return to our original plan of riding to Villa O’Higgins and the end of the Austral. But first, we make one more detour off, back into Argentina. A ferry takes us across Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico. From there it’s an easy ride out of Chile. Laden with tasty Argentine pastries, we go out into the barren and windswept pampas.

At first Ruta 41 is a wide gravel washboard monstrosity. Motivation lags. We follow a sign for a fishing spot and camp early, not ready to commit to an afternoon climb. Rain comes in the night, as it does every time we come to Argentina. The sandy river wash becomes a bit muddy. We move up the road. It’s empty and it improves.

image

Past the last estancia the road gets smaller, turning into a twisting two track burrowing into the mountains.

image

Rain squalls come and go. The road gets sticky. We debate the merits of continuing on. A weather update from the Delorme makes the decision for us. More rain, colder temps and possible snow. We decide to make tracks while we can, riding through Paso Roballos in the late afternoon light.

image

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

A lull in the wind tricks us into a camp spot. Mother Nature is fickle, and soon she’s blowing from the other direction. Tyndall scopes out other options. There are no good ones. Instead, we build a wall, Tyndall staying up way past his normal bedtime to perfect it. He says it is the best birthday ever. I accept a windy night in the tent. These pampas are relentless.

image

The wind blows all night. The wall works. Morning comes and we emerge. There is fresh snow on the surrounding peaks. We descend past guanacos and sheep, to the Argentine border.

image

From here we turn west, going back to Chile. A greeting committee awaits us at the border.

image

Tyndall asks the Carabineros if the wind is always so strong. Always always it is this strong here he says, but not down below. I insist on knowing how many kilometers until the wind abates. He says 30. I don’t care if he’s telling the truth or not, it’s something to hope for.

X-83 snakes through Parque Patagonia. It’s wild. In 2020 the park will be given to Chile, but for now it’s still a work in progress. Unfinished campgrounds provide shelter for the night. We watch the clouds whip by and a couple of guanacos mill about. The Carabinero was right. The wind does lessen after 30 kilometers.

image

image

The road ends back at the Austral. From here we accept it and it accepts us, having become a narrow dirt road snaking through the mountains. The first person we see is a cyclist, many minutes later, a car. I can handle this.

Where we rode: Manihueles – Coyhaique – Puerto Ibañez – Chile Chico – Los Antigues – Paso Roballos – Parque Patagonia – Cochrane

Although quick drying with a bit of wind and sun, Ruta 41 through Paso Roballas has the potential for sticky, stop you in your tracks mud.

Snaking South

From Chaiten the Austral is paved. It’s hard to be bothered about this when the scenery is so good. We move fast.

image

In Villa St. Lucia I look around for someone to ask for water. All I see are bikers and back packers, no locals. The back packers look like snails, lining the roadsides at intersections thumbing for rides. I wonder how long they wait until someone picks them up.

image

Chilean house shingles

Laguna Yelcho has stellar wild camping, and water warm enough to swim. I clean myself and my clothes, watching the sunset light the clouds pink for a moment.

image

We head for Argentina. As we go east the ground begins to dry out. The grass turns brown. The trees aren’t as thick. Chile lets us go with a smile and Argentina gives us a thumbs up upon entry. Just past the border we spot some unused fairgrounds with a couple other campers.

Solveig and Roland are traveling through Argentina by horse. They remind us of other people and other places.

image

Someday Roland would like to travel the CDT by horse. We tell him the West is great for horse travel, that you can go in Wilderness areas that we cannot.

In Corcovado we find everything we need in the first store we go into. The sky is a lead grey. Rain threatens. We leave town anyways.

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

When I stop stewing about the shit road and pick my head up I see jagged peaks, open grasslands and big sky. I see hints of autumn and remainders of summer. I see places we have been before.

image

The weather catches up and rain falls. I press on, climbing up and up. We stop and slather manjar on fry bread, looking for a quick jolt of energy. By the time we are done, the weather has passed. A quick look at the sky though and I know there’s more to come.

I lay awake in the tent, listening to the wind whip down off the mountains, knowing it’s going to lash our tent before moving on. I brace for it, and then the gust is gone. I like the wind in the tent the least and wish for a proper, paper book to distract me. Instead, my mind fills with other memories of storms weathered in a tent: in the Brooks Range, Tyndall sick and feverish insisting thunder was an airplane and me, knowing better, waiting for it to come; of sleeping on the banks of the Meshik River, it’s waters teaming with salmon, expecting a brown bear to burst in at any time; in the Wind Rivers in Wyoming, listening to snow fall lightly through the night; of all night pouring rain on Caines Head, irrationally expecting a flash flood to come and wash us all away.

But we’re still here, and in the morning the sun shines through the clouds. All day we dodge rain clouds, taking layers on and off, on and off.

image

image

In Atilio Viglione the road runs out. A small bridge takes us to a 4×4 track covered in river rock.

image

It winds through small trees, to the quiet Argentine border post. We are met by a young pup and friendly border agents. He warns of high water at the river crossings ahead, and says we can come back and stay there if we can’t cross. There are no more bridges.

We press on. The pup wants to come too, but I bring her back. She has a home. At the second crossing we run into two fishermen from Massachusetts, staying at a lodge down the way.

image

At the third, a man in a truck tells us we are close to Chile, it’s just a little bit farther.

image

The weather worsens. A pair of knit gloves and plastic bag poagies keep my hands warm. At the border there’s one last gate. On the other side the Chileans have “improved” the road.

In town we’re stamped in by the Carabineros. As such, there’s no paperwork and we don’t have to hastily consume our cheese and avacados. Win win.

The rain pours down. We find the lady in town who rents rooms. She has a fire roaring in her wood stove and is baking bread. It’s easy to stay. I read The Glory and the Dream and listen to the rain fall on the tin roof, knowing I have no where to go and nothing to do.

On the second day we wake to partial sun and make a move. We have our eyes on a small section of the Sendero de Chile. It’s been 12 hours since the last rain, and we think we can get through.

The road out of town winds through pasture past colorful rocks. The ground is saturated and water runs everywhere.

image

image

We turn off the road onto a horse trail, later spotting the two track we should have turned onto instead.

image

We hop a fence and climb. While the horse trail went straight up, the two track has an easier grade. I look at the sky, trying to gauge the weather. It’s no use.

image

image

image

At the top of the second climb the rain comes. We squish through mud. Mist swirls around big peaks, but they don’t show. We roll through pastures and old growth forest. A cowboy camp is home for the night. Tyndall builds a fire and we dry our socks and shoes, knowing they will be wet again within minutes in the morning.

image

The sky clears in the night and the temperature drops. I know this because I don’t wake up sweating, tearing off my woolies in the night. The peaks that were hidden yesterday are out yoday.

image

We follow the road on. It takes us to a summer cowboy camp. We go in for coffee and to talk. The new road pushed through means it’s easy to get big equipment in here now and the land is being cleared. Even quiet places like this aren’t safe from humans. Most everywhere I think, land is either lived on by humans, or used to graze and grow our food. Very little is true Wilderness anymore.

image

image

Two sweaty climbs and two white knuckle descents later we are at the last river crossing. It doesn’t look so shallow, and sure enough, comes most of the way up my thighs. I cross and wait. Tyndall makes multiple trips for our bikes. His legs are longer. But then it’s over and everyone and everything is on the proper side and we’re back on mapped roads, going south.

Where we went: Chaiten – Villa St. Lucia – Palena – Corcovado – Lago Vintter – Atilio Viglione – Lago Verde – La Tapera

Detailed route information can be found here and here.

We rode from Lago Verde to La Tapera on the Sendero de Chile after two days of rain. The trail was wet and river crossings higher, but we never encountered wheel sucking, bike destroying stop us in our tracks sticky mud.

South on the Austral, kind of

There’s a world map on the wall at the place we are staying.

image

I gauge the distance between here and The End to be about the length of the Baja. That’s it. A Baja length ride between us and home. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I do know I still get to ride my bike somewhere. With repairs accomplished, we rocket out of town on a mostly flat paved road that goes directly south.

image

Fish farming is big business here, as is honey.

image

image

Fresh bread is around every corner. A few fruits and vegetables can still be found. They look a bit more like the Alaskan produce I’m used to than their counterparts just north of here.

image

image

The road snakes along a fjord and then joins with the Carretera Austral. We only ride for a second, maybe two, before going right. A slightly quieter road winds along the coast. Wooden boats are being built in yards. Wooden churches stand tall against the elements.

image

We settle down at the harbor, and then watch something catch fire down the road. An hour later the fire truck comes roaring through. Ten minutes more and the water truck arrives. The fire is out by now, whatever was burning long gone.

Fishermen come in, anchoring their boats for the day. I comb the beach, looking for treasures.

image

image

The tide comes and goes in the night. The full moon making them higher and lower than normal. Boats are piled in a jumble on the beach. People comb the beach, collecting shell fish and seaweed. We collect blackberries.

image

image

image

I ask a woman for water. She takes our bottles inside and I wait outside with her small daughter. The girl would like help removing her red rubber boots, and I oblige. Soon, she’s stomping in the mud in her bare feet. Her mother returns. She gives me the water and scolds her daughter. I thank her and leave, hoping the muddy feet don’t cause too much of a problem.

Our quiet deversion from the Austral over, we return. This is where everyone else is. We join the masses for a bit, taking the road to Hornopiren and a ferry south.

We have been told the north part of the Austral is quiet, and it is. In between ferry arrivals and departures we have the road to ourselves. It twists and turns and goes up and down through Parque Pumalin. We follow a short trail through a stand of old Alerce trees.

image

We make our own camp spot on Laguna Negro, watching the sun makes its’ wide arc, going down and left across the sky.

image

Where we went: Ensenada – Puelo – Contao – Rolecha – Hornopiren – Chaiten

Border Hopping

The streets of Melipeuco are quiet. We are told the national park nearby is closed because of high fire danger. It’s hot. People aren’t going anywhere fast. I look at the weather and all of Central Chile is hot. Other cycling friends are languishing throughout the country, not riding in the afternoon or looking to the Coast, for a cooler way south. We head for the mountains. A lackadaisical start ensures we are climbing at the hottest part of the day.

image

Tyndall finds a small dirt track that heads up, through Reserva Nacional Villarica. For a moment, we’re deterred by a closed sign for the park, and then by a private property sign. We ask at the Nevados de Sollipulli lodge about going on. Of course he says, just close the gates behind you.

Four shallow river crossings lead us onto a small dirt two track and into the forest.

image

We don’t go far before stopping to camp. It’s early but we want to linger.

image

From the river we climb just a bit, through big old Monkey Puzzle trees. It’s cool and shady.

image

Dropping down the other side I feel the heat move in as the trees give way to pasture. I pause at a bus stop, intending to take a break in the shade. It turns out others have the same idea.

image

In the morning we intend to leave but don’t. We have found a place with a quiet back garden popping with flowers.

image

I buy a kilo of grapes and a melon and sit in the shade. We have been meaning to make a few adjustments to our bikes. The four Salsa stainless water cages we have had since the Baja have been welded and repaired in every country. Two good ones remain, and the other two we abandon. Water is plentiful now and we don’t need the carrying capacity. I tell myself my bike feels lighter now.

From Curarrehue a quick ride down the paved road delivers us back to gravel, and then to a small dirt two track into the mountains. We pass six Argentine cyclists. All insist the park is closed and we cannot pass. Determined to try and to see for ourselves, we go on. We see no one and no signs. We go on, climbing up a washed out two track and descending down through a monkey puzzle forest.

image

image

Only when we exit the park do we turn to see a closed sign.

image

Reveling in our success, we arrive in Coñaripe. Cars and people confuse us. We look for lunch, only to realize the time has past for that. A sign for empanadas catches my eye and we order some, sitting down to regroup.

Satiated, we leave town, choosing to pay for camping because it’s easy. Down here in the valley fences line the roads.

In the morning we ride along, fueled by tortillas and pan. They are really the same thing around here, just different in size.

image

Making a right on the main road to Neltume, we join the masses. It’s high summer and everyone is on vacation. Making the choice to forgo the Huilo Huilo route, we ride to Puerto Fuy. From here we take a ferry, and return to Argentina.

At the Argentine border we learn Interpol is looking for another Robert Ellis. This one comes from Georgia, has a different middle name is about 30 years older. We are allowed to go, but first must have our belongings inspected. It turns out fruit and vegetables aren’t allowed through here. It seems Argentina is taking lessons from Chile. I tell the inspector we won’t have lunch if he takes our food and it is 40+ kilometers to town. He relents and we skeedaddle.

For a minute the road improves. A water truck keeps the dust down, but then he turns around and we’re on our own again. I find myself wishing they would just pave these dusty, washboard, busy gravel roads. There’s no escape and nothing to do but pedal, so we do.

A small dirt foot path leads down to the lake. We take it, cleaning ourselves and our clothes in the afternoon sun. The road south will still be there tomorrow, the dust perhaps less pervasive in the morning.

San Martin overwhelms. Another biker told us it was similar to Banff. She is not wrong. Tyndall’s shorts are falling apart as I write this. He needs new ones, and goes looking. Everything on offer has too many pockets and too many zippers. Instead we eat empanadas. The contents dribbles out, making my clean shirt dirty dirty shirt dirtier. I don’t care.

We wander aimlessly for a bit before focusing on gathering supplies. The grocery store is crowded. A boy bounces a ball in the produce aisle, hitting me as he goes. Another grabs some nectarines and starts juggling. It’s time to get out of here, whether I have what we need or not.

A paved road takes us up and out of town. Argentinean hitch hikers dot the roadside, laden with heavy packs and clutching mate thermos and cup. The trees are smaller here, the ground drier. The national park is fenced in, with do not enter signs posted along it. We go to the free, designated camping spot with low expectations. It’s nice, pleasant even, aside from the lack of a toilet or two for the masses. There are rabbits running about everywhere. Tyndall wonders if they live on human feces.

Late in the evening a truck with Colorado plates pulls in. We say hello, craving conversation in English. They tell us that Constitucion has burned and show us photos of places we just were, now just piles of ash and burned snags.

Early in the morning, rain comes. It’s just a quiet pitter patter on the tent, but it’s enough to deter us from an early start. For our laziness, our new friends reward us with second breakfast. It surpasses our porridge by far. Buoyed by good conversation we head on. The drizzle can’t damper my spirits, nor the paved road. Today we’re going somewhere.

After only two nights, we stamp out of Argentina. With Chilean Customs 40km away, we know we won’t make it today. Rain falls down. Mist swirls around. I dig in and climb. Near the top we make camp beside a small stream. Tyndall looks for fish but finds none. When the border closes the traffic stops and I sleep the sleep of the dead.

The weather hasn’t cleared and all the volcanoes are still hidden behind fog. We descend back into Chile. These busier passes seem to have even more paperwork. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt, finding all our stamps and then getting the prize at the end: entry to Chile.

image

Here everything is a bit more lush and green.

image

There’s a German influence, and a dairy industry.

image

Pollo asado and papas mayo temporarily fill a hole in my leg.

image

Tyndall cuts a piece off the tent groundsheet and takes it and his shorts to the seamstress. I’m skeptical about sitting on tent groundsheet while riding, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

We leave the paved road and go up, gambling on the clouds clearing around Volcan Osorno.

image

image

They do, and we’re rewarded with a view late in the evening. I go to sleep, hoping she’s still out in the morning.

A few more kilometers on a dirt road delivers us onto the trail for Paso Desolación. The volcano is still out and I pedal hard, wanting to reach the top before the clouds roll in again.

image

I mostly win, eating a cheese sandwich at the top before chasing Tyndall down the other side.

image

image

We coast along, stopping to talk with a hiker from Montreal. He tells us the trail ahead is steep and covered in deep volcanic ash from an April 15 eruption. At the bottom he suggests we ride down the arroyo and then take the beach back to the road, as opposed to the trail. Always eager to try beach riding, we fall for it. The arroyo is fine, and the beach is even solid at first.

image

image

Then it’s not, and there are big rocks and trees and I walk.

image

But it’s ok. We’ll still get where we need to go. 

Where we rode: Melipeuco – Reigolil – Curarrehue – Coñaripe – Neltume – Puerto Fuy – San Martin de los Andes – Entre Lagos – Volcan Osorno – Ensenada

Route information for our ride around Volcan Osorno can be found from Fat Cycling.

Chile’s Lake District: The Monkey Puzzle Trail

We are going the Right Way and the wind is at our backs, pushing us towards Ralco. The road goes past crowded beaches and beneath steaming volcanoes.

image

We camp on a cliff, overlooking the Bio Bio River. It is clear and blue.

In town I log into the library WiFi. Trump has become president. My family marched in Boston. My friends marched in DC and in Anchorage. I surpress an overwhelming need to be there marching, too.

A utilitarian gravel road takes us up into the mountains. A series of dams tames the Bio Bio into clear blue lakes.

image

In between, it still rages. I count four holes in this rapid. Just looking at it brings a small surge of adrenaline.

image

Volcan Callaqui steams.

image

In Chenqueco we wait for the store to open. I think we have enough food. Tyndall doesn’t. I fear running out of water, he food. Others wait for the store to open too. Everyone seems surprised that it is not.

I help reunite some chicks with their momma. Shadows lengthen. Everyone else clears off. It seems we will have to make do with what we have, and so we leave too.

We are following the Monkey Puzzle Trail, and here it gets interesting, the gravel grinding soon forgotten. We go down a dusty ditch to a pedestrian bridge and haul ourselves out the other side.

image

A short stretch of single track takes us to double track and on to some of the best camping we have had in awhile.

image

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

The occasional piglet darts into the bushes, sheep roam around, curious caballos come by and later, a man on a horse with his dogs pushing cows. Just before sunset, a lady and her son walk by on their way home. They were in Chenqueco waiting for the store to open, too. They assure us it’s still closed.

I wake in the morning to watch the new moon rise, followed shortly by the sun. The two track turns right, and we go up. The trail does not disappoint.

image

Two times we drop back down to Lago Ralco on grin inducing descents and two times we climb up and away.

image

Late in the day we run into another cyclist going the other way. He is heavily loaded and says he would never ride a bike like ours. He tells us the best parts of the Carretera Austral and he tells us our friend Scott is a day ahead of us.

Known for leaving La Paz and magically resurfacing in San Pedro, Chile 12 days later and pushing 200km days through the desert in northern Argentina, I know we will never catch up to him. It’s still fun to pick out his tracks in the dirt.

image

I come around a corner and see this.

image

Piles and piles of what I think is a lava flow. It looks like vomit from the center of the earth.

image

I think about Aniakchak Crater and how long ago that errupted. This looks recent, too but I don’t know enough about geology to really say what recent means. We pedal up and around in the diminishing daylight, camping on the edge of a cold, blue lake.

At the top of the climb in the morning we find a mirador with an information board. It IS a lava flow, and it happened in 1988. That is recent. The whole thing is 10km long and 60 meters deep. It came from a parasitic cone on the side of Volcan Lonquimay.

image

image

image

image

In town we eat. I check the news and my heart breaks and my blood boils. It seems that truth is a relative concept these days. Not everyone had the benefit of 11th grade American Studies with Mr. Ronco. He wouldn’t accept a source that wasn’t validated. Ever.

I close the connection and we leave town. Ice cream can’t lift my dark mood and so I pedal, back up into the mountains, the monkey puzzle trees and the rushing creeks. We find a quiet camp and soak our hot feet.

In the morning a Chilean offers us a ride. He’s really just a kid, with braces and a fancy pickup truck. He can’t belive we are doing this by choice, that we turn down his offer of water. It rus everywhere, why carry it?

We leave the gravel road and inquiring minds behind, riding through Reserva China Muerta and more monkey puzzles. It’s tranquil and quiet. We linger, not wanting it to end.

image

image

The descent takes us through burned forest. It’s coming back though, and wild flowers pop out all over the place.

image

Mid afternoon the heat chases us down into Melipeuco, in search of cold drinks and a resupply.

Route information can be found from Bikepacking.com.

Chile’s Coastal Cordillera

We met Nancho in Malargüe. He invited us to his house in Romeral. It is on our route, and so stopping is a no brainer. He shares his house and his family and his stories and his food and his company with us. I learn a little bit more about Chile, how to choose a good bottle of wine and that Chilean women are given six months of maternity leave, the men none.

image

We leave Romeral, aiming for the coast across the Central Valley, through orchards and vineyards. We need to ride just a few kilometers down Ruta 5, to cross Rio Teno. A no bikes sign gives us pause, but we go on, not intending to be on the highway long. But then we see our bridge. There’s no shoulder and two lanes of traffic hurtling down the road at 120kph. Even if I could convince myself that crossing here would be a good idea, I know I can’t convince Tyndall. His fear of traffic is healthier than mine.

We look at an old dam just up river, but it won’t go. Tyndall looks at the map and picks out a different bridge. One melon and 35 kilometers later we’re back on track.

image

We stop in Santa Cruz to visit the Colchagua Museum. It has fossils and pre Incan artifacts and jewels and even a few things from not so far away.

image

The Central Valley is hot and a bit crowded. We stop for another roadside melon and then get serious. It’s time to get out of here. We head for the coast, hoping for cool sea breezes. Past Lolol we take off down a sandy side road. It rollercoasters through vast pine plantations.

image

In Llico we watch fisherman bring in the days catch, and then find empanadas to eat.

image

image

image

Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

It’s a laid back little seaside town. Late in the day we return to the hills. Here they don’t mess about. The roads go straight up, or straight down.

Past Vichuquen we watch a small wildfire burn on the hillside. We ask about it, and are told it’s fine. It’s controlled. Skeptical, we go on, finding camp by a creek. I figure we can jump in the water if the fire turns.

Sitting on the ground, Tyndall turns to see this guy.

image

I see a flock of geese coming up the creek. People are scarce, but the wild life is not. It’s a good thing we fixed the tent zipper.

Late in the night, I wake to see the geese sneaking past the tent, single file in stealth mode. In the morning they are hanging out in the road, making a commotion. I suspect they are not actually wild.

The climbs here are steep, the descents the same, but in between, we roll along ridegtops.

image

image

From the forest we aim for the beach. I look at Constitucion from afar and am wary of entering. It looks big, but the beach beckons.

At the end of the road we find a dune to camp in. I put my feet in the Pacific and watch the sunset over the water. Lines of cars go up and down the road, doing the same thing. This particular place is crowded and trashy. Tomorrow we’ll move on.

image

I wake up feeling wet. In an effort to prolong the life of our tent fly zipper, we haven’t been using it. Clear skis mean it’s generally safe to sleep without, but here on the coast, the fog has rolled in and the air is damp. We’ll dry the quilt out later. For now, it still insulates.

People are curious, wanting to know where we’re going and how we’re getting there. Advice and opinions are offered whether requested or not.

Here aguacates are paltas, frijoles are porotoes and fresas are frutillas. No matter, they still taste the same. Fresh food is plentiful.

image

image

image

image

Each section of the Central Valley seems to have a specialty. Here’s it’s strawberries, and they happen to be in season. It’s easy to buy a box and stash it away for later.

image

We eat strawberries for dinner, breakfast and lunch. They don’t last any longer as we roll through the mountains, taking advantage of long summer days. We intend to drop out at Buchupureo but miss a turn and end up 5km north, in Pullay. For our error, we are gifted a bonus hill.

From Buchupureo we go to Cobquecura, finding a place worth staying for a bit. We listen to sea lions roar and drink wine on the beach as the sun slowly sets. Locals play ball with a portable speaker blasting American rap music. What’s not to like?

Past town the pavement on the coast road runs out. Wheat fields abound. Oxen, too.

image

image

We turn inland, having lunch in Trehuaco. On TV I see Michelle Obama and Sunny and Bo take one last walk through the White House. I see protests against Trump that look more like large dance parties. I wonder what Chileans see.

Cool sea breezes gone, we pass the afternoon in the shade of the town park. I buy a chocolate bar for later, hoping it won’t melt. It does, a sure sign it’s too hot.

From here, we work our way back across the industrial Central Valley, towards the mountains.

Where we rode: Romeral – Santa Cruz – Llico – Vichuquén – Constitución – Curanipe – Cobquecura – Trehuaco – Ñipas

We found a vast network of well kept dirt roads in the Coast Mountains, between the Central Valley and the sea. The camping in the mountains was easy but dry, and the fresh fruit and seafood in the coastal towns plentiful. Not all the roads were on our maps, and there’s more to be explored.