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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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