On the ferry back to the mainland from Chiloe Island we met up with two other bikers and a couple badass backpackers. Having extra company on the beautiful boat ride helped make getting busted in the crews quarters trying to take the first real shower in two weeks a little easier to cope with. Sharing food and laughs almost distracted us from the new landscape we would soon be adventuring on with our bikes and before we knew it we were docked up in Chaiten with an incredible view of Corcovado.
We found out one of the two bikers we met would have a birthday the next day and it was quickly decided that we would all camp out together on the beach and have a carrete (Chilean slang for party). Gathering people on the way brought our number up to around 20 and the scene was set for a night of good times. Several tents were within sight of the powerful fire and at midnight we were able to sing to birthday boy and watch him blow out a few candles before finding sleep in the tents and around the fire.
People slowly took off one by one the next day until, of course, it was down to just Kanaan and Andy sitting on the beach getting sunburned. Eventually the dehydration became overwhelming and we too decided to take off. Stoked to be enjoying what we knew would be the last bit of pavement for a while, we had a relaxed ride on our first bit of the famous Carretera Austral.
Although we were still in Chile it felt like we had crossed a border and were in a new country. Beautiful landscapes everywhere and epic mountains all around grabbed our attention and soon night overpowered the day before we could arrive at the camp spot our dude and fellow A Trip Souther Chris had previously recommended to us. As usual we found ourselves under a bridge cooking on a fire before catching our nightly zzz’s.
We had high hopes for the next day but Life again let us know that he thought our plan was crap. Flat tires and a broken chain not only told us that our sturdy steeds weren’t as strong as we recently thought, but also helped Life shorten the total distance of the day to a very impressive 20 kilometers. It’s rare that we take the time to realize the crazy things that happen on our trip, but we shared a couple minutes of appreciation that evening. Camping in the plaza with a French couple and a German fellow while there were two groups of young adults partying with loud music, wild dogs barking non-stop at two grazing horses, and a herd of cattle mooing their way across the grass put us in our place and let us know we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Life hit us hard with another right jab the next day. Kanaan’s stem broke on his front tube while riding on the worst road of the trip. Fist sized boulders as far as the eye could see was our task of the day. Well, we aren’t into that, so Andy stuck his golden thumb out while Kanaan switched in a new tube. The van ride was rough and although other cyclists we talked to later were stoked on themselves for having the miserable time riding it, we were stoked on ourselves for having the wind flying through the windows while skipping the obscene heat and awful road.
When we got to Puyuhuapi the next morning Kanaan ran into three of our friends from the ferry and we decided to meet up at a glacier about 20 kilometers down the road. It was the day before Andy’s birthday and we were able to guilt them into camping with us. Stephanie, Candice, and Germany (Marlena) are three awesome chickadees and the pasta that chef Candy made was next level.
Waking up to 4 smiley faces and an oatmeal/peanut butter cake topped with homemade blueberry jam (from our family in Cucao) started Andy’s birthday off right. We saw the hitching ladies off and began our ride….TO THE TREASURE! When Chris, the Hinkle-Meister, finished the journey ahead of us a few months ago he sent us a list of info on what’s to come, including a hike to a special treasure he’d hidden for us. Unfortunately our lady friends were headed out as we were headed in and we found out they psyched us out hard by leaving a note at the entrance saying they had been in contact with Chris and added to the hunt.
The hike took us up to a lake fed by a glacier resting atop a nearly vertical rock wall. The view was spectacular but finally reaching the treasure after months of anticipation was the real excitement. Of course it was a nearly empty bottle of whiskey from Chris with Max’ lovely addition of a liter of boxed wine. Spirits were high as we made our way to the trailhead and found our German buddy Dominik waiting for us to cruise down the big hill together to paved road and another bridge campout. The depression of turning a quarter century finally wore off and everyone went to bed knowing it was an epic birthday.
Somehow the birthday surprises didn’t end on the 28th. When we arrived in Villa Mañihuales the next day we headed to the casa de ciclistas and reunited with the German, who started earlier than we did, and 7 other friends we’d met along the journey. Nicolas and Tatan who we first met in Baja, Mexico and then visited in their hometown of Alta Gracia, Argentina are now biking with Candela and Devin who we met in Alta Gracia and San Martin de los Andes. Along with those four we were amazed to see that Sarah and James from the UK had finally decided to recover from 18 months of parasites (they aren’t going to like that) and even more amazed that they left the casa de ciclistas in La Paz, Bolivia (or that). Unfortunately they were all joined by the speed talking Stephanie from Quebec. It was a shock to see familiar faces constantly popping out of different spots and the night was spent catching up with everyone and eating two delicious banana bread cakes that Stephanie had made for Andy’s birthday.
The reunion was short lived, everyone except us was heading to Coyhaique. Instead we decided to follow up on a connection in Puerto Aysen, given to us by a blog follower, Steve McGill. Within a minute of our arrival we were in the living room relaxing and drinking a cold beer. Gringo Bob and Andrea couldn’t have been more hospitable. Non-stop amazing food from Andrea, a very comfortable bed imported from the US, some great times on the water fishing, relaxing at their lodge in the campo, and their awesome company kept us fully satisfied before we got antsy for the road and took off for Coyhaique.
We didn’t get to Coyhaique until after 9PM and couldn’t get in touch with any of the three houses that said we could stay with them. Only Kanaan and Andy could screw up 3 connections at once. Eventually we got in touch with Boris and headed to his house to meet up with 10 other cyclists staying there. Nobody will be shocked when we tell you we stayed there for three nights instead of the one night we had planned. The vibes were too good and it was too easy to pretend that we had things to do before leaving. A few bike repairs, a gift box from our hitching friends, urban fruit picking, and rock climbing at the boulder behind the gas station completed the Coyhaique experience. In the evenings, insanely good flamenco guitar playing by Arom, funny stories and deciphering accents from South Korea, Germany, Chile, Holland, Ireland, Poland, and Spain kept us busy enough. But that annoying Carretera Austral was screaming at us to start moving again. So we tied up an Irish guy, Connor, and sent it back to the road as a crew of three.
Initially setting out as three, Andrew decided to snag a ride in order to visit some friends that would be passing through Chile Chico that day. He would end up spending two days with them at the house of a friend (Camila) of a friend (Benjamin). Meanwhile, Kanaan and Ireland found nothing but good times on the road. An amazing descent from the heights of Cerro Castillo, mate sessions with Leo Riquelme Torres, epic jam tastings, home brewed beer from an authentic German, and exploring the canyons of Puerto Ibañez kept Kanaan and Connor well entertained.
Camila and Andy welcomed Kanaan and Ireland off the boat and into town with a sign and two bags of Kanaan’s favorite cookes, Fruttigrans, which Andy picked up on his day trip to Argentina. Later that day we strapped up and did a bit of climbing with Camila and her buddy, Daniel. Turns out Camila and Daniel are the only local climbers in Chile Chico, but that doesn’t mean that Chile Chico is limited in its climbing options. Guiding us to some incredible sport routes, we were beyond stoked to take advantage of the opportunity to rope up and get high.
One day of climbing was not enough, so after another solid session, a pizza party, and some jam production from Camila´s orchard, we were off to continue the adventure south. Leaving Chile Chico with gusts of wind at our faces and steep, bumpy climbs made it difficult to get far, but didn’t stop us from appreciating the scenery. The following days would have the same difficult roads and amazing vistas, making it hard to cover much ground. Luckily the views of Lago General Carrera were outstanding, so it was enjoyable nonetheless. A full moon night ride with absolutely zero traffic and the same amount of wind put the cherry on the cake.
The 3rd day out of Chile Chico threw us another curveball; Kanaan’s front wheel stopped spinning. While Andy and Ireland stayed behind to slay some trout, Kanaan hitched ahead to Cochrane to figure out his bike issue. Mud getting into his hub caused the bearings to grind down and bring him to a halt. The hardware stores in town didn´t have the replacement parts he needed, but he found a temporary solution and was able to get the wheel moving again while staying with Couchsurfing hosts Camilo and Tomas. Andy and Ireland caught up the next day and stocked up for the 250 store-less kilometeres ahead. A solid night of rest in the house of Camilo and Tomas had us feeling good before hitting the Carretera Austral again the next day.
Before long we found ourselves, once again, separated. We decided that it would be better to get to Villa O’Higgins for the ferry that was leaving in three days, rather than for the ferry leaving in 10 days. Especially forceful in this decision was the fact that our brother of the road, Nico de Alta Gracia, was having his birthday party in O’Higgins the day before the ferry. Kanaan’s sketchy front wheel was also a heavy factor. After waking up in an awesome campsite we were able to flag down a truck that had room for just two, Kanaan and Connor. While those two gents scored a ride all the way to Puerto Yungay and another all the way to Villa O’Higgins, Andy was left alone and helpless. But he’s a survivor and made it to O’Higgins the next day with a combination of three rides and about 50 kilometers of hilly riding.
We hitched rides in order to make the once a week boat out of O’Higgins, but soon heard that it would be pushed back a day due to weather. This worked out perfectly, we met up with a bunch of biker friends from the road and enjoyed Nico’s Birthday without the pressure of a travel day looming. With no boat the next morning we could now celebrate properly. We coughed up the dough to spend a night camping at a hostel with everyone, and Nico made chicken for all of the 20 or so people at the hostel. The following day’s weather has as ugly as promised and everyone decided to black out the day off and we all came back to conciousness on the ferry with our bikes loaded and the crew untying the boat.
A beautiful 3 hour boat ride took us to the next stage of one of the more interesting border crossings of the trip. 15 kilometers of ‘road’ led to the border of Argentina, where the road ended. The departure from Chile was 7 kilometers of what could be a fun single track trail if we had different bikes and no bags. We camped halfway at the south end of Laguna Larga, a perfect wilderness campsite that even gave us a fish for dinner. Creek crossings, mud pits, and roots sticking up everywhere made for an interesting bike and hike to Lago del Desierto, the second lake of the route.
Another campsite at the south end of Lago del Desierto was quite pleasant until the next morning when we were rudely interupted by the police in the middle of cooking breakfast. They were furious that we had camped in a place that didn’t have a no camping sign and had made a fire on the lake shore that also lacked a no fire sign. Official “warnings” sent us on our way to El Chalten with empty bellies and a funny story of a ridiculous police officer. As it turned out our other biker friends also had some interesting run-ins with the same officer. He really wanted to make a name for himself with cyclists apparently.
A windy ride along the foot of Mount Fitz Roy put us in El Chalten, Argentina completing the odyssey that is the Carretera Austral. Known as the world capital of bicycle touring, it certainly lived up to its name. Arguably the most gorgeous leg of the trip, life on the Austral was pretty sweet. Despite technical difficulties on bikes that were not meant for that type of road, it was an unforgettable and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
El Chalten was a significant landmark for ATripSouth, as it was more than just the end of a great leg of the journey. In Chalten we celebrated the end of the Austral with a great group of friends from the road. Asados, treks in the hills, rock climbing sessions, and non-stop fiestas at Flor’s Casa de Ciclistas were great ways to enjoy a successful finish. We also celebrated the final days of ATripSouth as a group of two. Realizing our different intentions for the final part of the road to Tierra del Fuego, we decided to finish the last bit independently. Andy’s desire to get back home for summer was as strong as Kanaan’s desire to explore Southern Patagonia in winter. Therefore we agreed to go solo, much like our ATripSouth predecessors. So its like, all for one, one for all? Does that still apply? Trying to think of something epic to say to finish this blog…