Section 9, Part 1: Carterra Austral


Day 106: Puerto Montt to Hornopiren, 46k, a ferry, 56k

The first day of the last section! I am ready to be finished, but now we get to ride through Patagonia which is what I was most excited for on the trip. We will be riding along the Carreterra Austral, the only road that travels all the way through Chilean Patagonia. It is hilly and mostly gravel. Let’s do this!

There wasn’t much traffic to battle when leaving Puerto Montt, which was nice. I believe it only took 15k to get to Ruta 7, or the Carterra Austral. We rode through many small towns that bordered the harbor. IMG_3391It was windy but the sun was shining and I felt very strong. The air temp was cold but starting to warm up. Bruce and I were motoring up hills like they were nothing. The further south we went the less traffic and more vegetation came to life. The roads were lined with hundreds of different trees, bushes, and ferns. It seems like the vegetation is more wild and organic so far, rather than planted by farmers and loggers.

At 46k we entered a village where we had to take a ferry to continue. The tour leader had arranged for us to have lunch at a restaurant while we waited for the ferry, which ran every 30 minutes. The restaurant made us empanadas and a cup of coffee. The empanadas were delicious and the coffee was a nice treat. IMG_3394As we were finishing eating a ferry was arriving and Bruce said we should wait on the next. We enjoyed another coffee and relaxed for a bit. When the next ferry came, the crew didn’t let us on. The next ferry was a few minutes behind, and they didn’t let us on it either. So the dozen or so of us riders went back for more coffee. Finally we were able to load and endure the 45 minutes ferry in the wind.

On the other side, it was instant climbing, but the roads were clear from traffic for several kilometers since everyone has to take a ferry. We had ridden away from the water so the wind had died down and I was actually getting hot. After shedding several layers and strategically securing the items on my bike, Bruce and I continued on. We hit gravel around 13k and it was an steep up hill, 16% grade!

Our tires were slipping so we agreed that we need to put on our wider knobby tires the next chance we get. IMG_3395The gravel and hills continued for 25k, and there was lots of construction to maneuver around. Towards the end of the gravel we had a long snd steep descent that was a little scary on gravel, but as soon as we reached the bottom it was paved again. Go figure. IMG_3398We climbed a bit more on the pavement and then we started to have mind blowing views of snow capped moutons in the distance. It was unreal to see. I can’t believe we get to ride this route for the next 27 days.

IMG_3400Our camp was in a small town on a lake. We camped in someone’s yard, but they have it set up for guests with flushing toilets and hot showers! The beach is just across the road so we get to listen to the waves crash all night long.

 

 

Day 107: Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo, 4k and a ferry

Basically a rest day!! After packing up we walked, some cycled, 1 kilometer to the ferry pickup. IMG_3406We had be there almost 2 hours before the ferry left, so everyone enjoyed a few cups of coffee at a cafe on a tiny pier, watching the boats move into shore.

IMG_3405When we loaded the ferry, we walked the second floor to a cushy waiting area with leather booths with tables and a cafe that served hot drinks and food.  It was a nice set up for the 4 hour ferry ride. IMG_3407The water flowed through towering fjords for the entire day. Everyone got settled into their chosen area as the vehicles were being loaded. An hour later we finally disembarked. We walked the deck to watch the boat take off, as we gained speed a few porpoises played in the wake the boat. It was exhilarating to see them jump in and out of the water, I assume it’s the same sensation as drafting on the bike.

IMG_3408We had four hours to occupy our time, so many people took naps, including myself. I read and observed the other passengers. There was a French family with 3 kids, ages 6 to 10-ish, that were cycle touring the continent. I am in awe of the parents organization and determination and of the kids’ laid back attitudes.

We docked at a small island and had to rush 10k to the other side to catch another ferry within an hour. The tour leader gave us the choice to race on our bikes along the dirt road or catch a bus. I was anxious about the logistics and decided to ride the bus. Bruce opted to race and hammered it out in 23 minutes! Everyone who rode their bikes were absolutely covered in dirt from all the dust, they resembled coal miners.

The next ferry was less than an hour and we docked at a nature reserve, Pumalín Park. It has many camping sites and trekking trails. This area was initially purchased and maintained by Douglas Tompkins who started the North Face company.  It was later gifted to the Chilean Government by his widow Kristine, former CEO of Patagonia. IMG_3413The camp was across a river and we had to take a footbridge across.The camp was beautifully maintained and just beyond there was a shop that was still closed for the season and a beautiful home with a massive vegetable garden. This was a home of the Tompkins family, it also had an air strip for their private plane.

The river through the camp was a stunning shade of turquoise, like the other water sources we have seen, it looks so clean I could just drink straight from the source.

 

Day 108, Caleta Gonzalo to Yelcho Lake, 108k

We woke to a light rain shower. The first time this trip, I believe. At least the rain moistened the dirt road enough to reduce dust! We enjoyed 45k of rolling dirt road first thing this morning. I absolutely loved it! The climbs were steep and short and there were a lot of them. I loved the challenge and was thankful for the power and energy I had to hammer through them. IMG_3421The views were mostly foggy, but the temperate rainforest still gave us lovely scenery. We enjoyed zero traffic for the at least 30k then we embarked on construction and the massive trucks started blowing dirt past us.

We finally hit tarmac again and had steep climb right afterwards. We continued with the steep hills for 10 more kilometers until we arrived in Chaiten. It was a booming town until a volcano erupted in 2008 and destroyed it.IMG_3422 The town has worked hard to rebuild, but still working on it. Since it was raining it seemed like a ghost town, with the exception of the random backpacker heading to a hostel, or a mercado with lights enticing you in.

We continued on mostly flat terrain for another 25k. We had tail wind which helped us hammer through. We stopped at 80k in a small town for a coffee. I was surprised that the shop was well designed and had an espresso machine, let alone a selection of North Face clothing.

IMG_3430We had another 28k to camp with gently climbs and more tail wind. We continued hammering into camp. We stayed at a small resort in Yelcho lake, a popular fly fishing area. There was a modern camp ground and a hotel with a couple of rooms available. Bruce and I got a room because rain was in the forecast. We enjoyed hanging out in the cozy bar drinking beer, and enjoyed chatting with other riders until dinner. It was a beautiful area and the sun came out for us to see the stunning white capped mountains in the afternoon.

Day 109: Yelcho Lake to El Silencio, 111k

We woke up snug as a bug in our cozy hotel room. The rain was starting to sprinkle outside. IMG_3439We enjoyed 30 extra minutes of sleep since we didn’t have to pack up a wet tent! There were several other riders that stayed in the hotel and we decided to enjoy a leisurely hotel breakfast instead of the usual granola and yogurt. We finally left the hotel around 8:15, all the other riders were gone by 7:30. It was still barely misting outside, but the clouds were randomly placed, so we could see tops of some the mountains. IMG_3442There was an epic climb around 11k, it was through road construction so we endured dirt, gravel, massive trucks on top of a 500m elevation in 5k. By time I reached the top it was raining harder and we had a long descent, I prepared to freeze. My sunglasses kept fogging on the descent so I was torn between not seeing at all or not wearing glasses and squinting while risking an eye injury from debris. I chose squinting and remained unharmed.

IMG_3444The views were beautiful and we could see more since the road was not covered in vegetation and the clouds are clearing. Bruce and I rode together and were blown away buy the scenery. Every corner we turned it was a new snow capped moutain to enjoy.

IMG_3449Our camp was on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. We camped in their pasture but they had bathrooms and showers for us to use. They also had a small restaurant that they use for special events. IMG_3450The rancher and his family slow roasted two lambs for us over open fire. We got to enjoy the dinner inside with real plates, what a treat! The family was very sweet and an hour after dinner the Rancher played his guitar for us. IMG_3451He had written a few songs and played a few local favorites. Several couples even danced along. These moments I really wish I understood more Spanish because I am missing out on learning about this amazing culture.

 

 

Day 110: El Silencio to Villa Amengual, 110k

We woke up to blue sky and a rising sun, the first time a while! However, everything was absolutely soaked with morning dew. I wasn’t cold when we got up, so I did not put on all my cold riding gear. IMG_3455Unfortunately, after waiting around for 30 minutes, I became too cold and it was too late to change clothes. The riders huddled around the fire in the restaurant before breakfast to dry wet feet and keep warm.

When we started riding my hands and feet were so cold they hurt. Usually I warm up after 30 minutes, but I was miserable. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the day. At 8k we had dirt roads again and we started passing people and I gained more energy from that and having to focus on the rough and loose gravel.

We entered a small town around 24k and enjoyed pavement again for 15k. We reached a construction zone where cars were stopped. IMG_3456There were several riders waiting and we found out that the road was closed and we had to take a ferry for a few kilometers in a the lake. This put us behind about an hour, but it was still fun and we got to seen the illuminating mountain views from the lake.

IMG_3460We continued on the gravel for 30k or so. There was also an epic climb on the gravel, 500m of climbing in 5k. It was very steep at points, 17%, and the switchbacks were made of loose gravel. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the top, but I endured. The views along the way and at the top were magnificent. More snow capped mountains highlighted in the sun. We rode through National Park Queulot. The descent was very fun but kind of scary because the switchbacks were loose gravel and I was nervous of crashing. Around 80k we were back on tarmac and undulating roads for the rest of the day. We rode along green pastures with the white mountains towering above. There was one more steep climb of 200m in 4k then we descended into our camp.

IMG_3462We stayed in a tiny town that had a a few dozen building and homes. We actually camped in someone’s cow pasture and had access to a restaurant bathrooms and showers 100 meters away. There was a nice stocked mercado even closer where we binged on junk food and beer. The best were fresh donuts in the afternoon. They were amazing, I enjoyed two!

Day 111: Villa Amengual to Coyhaique, 145k

Another cool and damp morning, but the sun was shining and I just wanted to this day over with. We started with some big rolling hills for the first 20k, the roads were tree lined and you would see white capped moutons just above. IMG_3464It was beautiful, although very cold. I wasn’t sure my body would be able to do 145k of rolling hills though. Soon enough we entered a valley that was flat road and gorgeous. IMG_3465I couldn’t help but turn my head in every direction to see all the mountains. The green pastures were filled with livestock and newly born babies dancing around their mothers. A couple of farmers stood at the end of their driveway to watch the unexplained parade of cyclist so early in the morning, they would smile and offer a greeting. I wanted to take a picture every 100 meters, but my iPhone was too cold and wouldn’t turn on. The sun was gleaming off the snowy mountains and shades of green descended into the pastures. IMG_3467Soon enough the sides of the roads were engulfed in purple lupine, a beautiful wildflower, or “weed” if you have no heart. Bushes of red and yellow mixed in with the purple   was a kaleidoscope of color among the mountains. Today was one of the most scenic days, even if it was a challenging ride.

At 58k, I entered a small town and noticed several bikes lined up outside a restaurant. Once I entered it was a welcome blast of warm air and smiling faces from my riding buddies. They had found the holy grail; espresso and empanadas. It was a delicious stop and rejuvenating to relax for a few minutes with so many others.

Continuing on with the rolling hills and colorful vegetation, I couldn’t get enough of the views. Some riders suggested that this area resembled The French Alps. The air temps heated up significantly and I was able to strip down to my shorts and jersey, with all other layers stuffed into pockets. IMG_3470There has been an increase of bike tourers, the Carreterra Austral is a very popular road to tour. Also, many bike tourers start in Ushuaia and head North. With the influx of bikes, vehicles are more courteous and locals are used to riders, they are very pleasant and ask where you are heading next.

There was one large climb of the day, and at the end of the day. We climbed up a mountain pass into Coyhaique. There was a tunnel that we had to go through, normally we bypass tunnels, but there was no way around it. This tunnel was long but well lit, the echoing reverberation form passing vehicles scared me to death so I rode as hard as I could and tensed every muscle in preparation of impact. On the other side was a long steep climb, which clenching every muscle and hammering for 800m made very easy to climb…

At the top was a wind farm, which was luckily harvesting a tailwind for us! It was a nice change to have a tailwind up hill and the continuing down to the city. The views, once again, were mind blowing. I regrettably did not stop for pictures, but I was ready to be finished.

Coyhaique is the last large city on our tour. It is a bustling town with many gear shops and hostels for the travelers passing through. The locals still enjoy the plaza and surrounding areas, so its more than a tourist stop. We are looking forward to resting up and replenish some necessities before the next difficult section. We only have 17 riding days left, and we will have to work hard each day. Patagonia is beautiful, but the conditions can be daunting.

Categories: bike touring, Chile, cycling, South American epic, travel, Uncategorized

2 comments

  1. Hi Becky! Nice blog, love the pictures, love the writing! You will cherish this blog journal in years to come. Enjoy every moment!
    _Erin Broestl

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That picture of the purple flower has to be the prettiest picture I’ve seen from your trip! Can’t believe your almost done but I am excited for you to be back. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

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