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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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