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.

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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.

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

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Volcan Callaqui steams.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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I come around a corner and see this.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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