Section 9 part 2: The Carretera Austral


Day 112: Coyhaique to Villa Cerro Castillo, 109k

My legs hurt as soon as I started pedaling. I did not sleep well on the rest day and didn’t seem to recover at all. The ride out of Coyhaique was hectic with traffic, I haven’t seen so much traffic since Puerto Montt. Yesterday morning seemed like a ghost town so I don’t know where these cars were going. IMG_3479Once out of the city, the snow capped mountains greeted us in the sunrise. A few dogs chased while we rode by, one little dog trotted up to me at the top of a hill and jumped up to give my leg a hug. She licked my hands was was so soft and fluffy. I wanted to take her with me, and she wanted to go. I tried to pedal a few times but she wouldn’t stop pulling at my tights or shoes. I finally took off down the hill and a few riders said she chased me for a long time. I’m still heartbroken over this.

IMG_3483Traffic finally died down 20k out of the city, but then we ran into some construction, which wasn’t a big deal to for us, we just ride through while cars wait impatiently. The country lands were rolling green and the homes were positioned perfectly to view the mountains. We had a tail wind for a while which was fantastic, I thought this was going to be a quick day! But we turned west and entered a headwind for the rest of the day.  IMG_3485Around 50k we started a to climb and the headwinds made it exhaustingly frustrating. We rode through a nature reserve which was in a beautiful canyon, but it turned into a wind tunnel. I couldn’t even focus on the beauty of the area. By time I reached lunch at 74k I was exhausted and defeated. I continued on after filling my belly, the top of the climb was 6k away. It was a gentle increase in elevation, a mirage of flat. The descent would have been epic if we didn’t have headwind to force peddling. Once out of the canyon the land opened to a massive valley and gigantic formations of snowy mountains encompassed the area. IMG_3487I couldn’t stop looking in every direction. The winding descent continued into Villa Cerro Castio, our last stop for snacks. Camp was another 12k past the village on a dirt road. The dirt was loose gravel and lots of climbing. I was exhausted and ready to be finished for the day! I finally arrived at our camp, a small farm that welcomes cyclist and trekkers. We had real bathrooms and set up our tents among the livestock. Several baby chicks hug out with us expecting morsels of food.

Day 113: Villa Cerro Castillo to Puerto Rio Tranquillo, 45k

Bruce and I, as well as several others decided to take a half day of riding to enjoy a tourist attraction in Puerto Rio Tranquillo. IMG_3490We woke up to another frigid morning with ice on our tents. Bruce and I loaded onto the lunch bus to get a boost for the day. The road continued to be loose gravel and steep climbs, as well as freezing cold shade. We were glad for our decision to skip the first half of the day. Lunch was set up at 65k, the total for the day would have been 110k. IMG_3492The dirt road was smoother with less loose gravel at this point, although still in the shade and freezing. The road followed along several rivers and we enjoyed views of snow capped mountains and more farms with livestock. IMG_3498It was a pleasant ride and I am sure that because we did not have to endure 65k a rough riding beforehand it made it more enjoyable. We reached Puerto Rio Tranquillo around noon, had lunch then arranged our next adventure. IMG_3507Rio Tranquillo is located on Lago Gral Carrera, the largest lake in Chile that also extends into Aregentina. Along the cliffs of the lake are limestone rocks that have eroded from before the ice age and formed into beautiful litter caverns of marble. IMG_3515We rode in a speed boat to the cliffs and even coasted into a few little caves. I did not know what to expect but really enjoyed seeing the geological phenomenon. Strangely, the rocks photograph much better than viewing in person. IMG_3551The tour was about 90 minutes and only cost about $15 USD. Our camp was at an organized camp right on the lake. We had access to real bathrooms with hot showers, which was energizing! The views of the mountains and lake at sunset were gorgeous and a nice end to a good day. IMG_3559

 

 

 

 

Day 114: Puerto Rio Tanquillo to Cochrane, 117k

Miraculously, we woke up to dry tents and sunshine. We did not freeze during breakfast and my toes still had feeling when I got on the bike. A long grueling day was ahead and that little bit of warmth was a welcome beginning. IMG_3560We continued on the Carreterra Austral for the day, which continued to be all dirt and gravel. Traffic was somewhat busy, trucks and tour busses sped by kicking up dirt that would hang in the air like a fart in an elevator. We rode along the edge the lake for most of the morning, which was beautiful but we had lots of steep rolling hills. We passed through the same stunning white capped mountains and pastures. The further we rode the less traffic we encountered. As I approached one hill a farmer was ahead pushing a wheelbarrow up the hill. Once he crested, he stopped stretched his back and gazed out over the lake for a moment, then went back to work. It was a beautiful moment because I always wonder if the locals enjoy where they live or do they feel repressed.

The day heated up quickly, I am not used to hot days at this point. I drank both of my water bottles before lunch, which I haven’t done for a while. fullsizeoutput_c01By time I reached lunch, which was further than anticipated, I chugged half a bottle of water before eating. After lunch I continued on in search of a Coke stop, but each one was closed. The climbing continued and the sun overhead zapped my energy. We followed along a river for about 30k after lunch and then crossed a small bridge and continued climbing up steep rollers along the same mountain we had ridden along the opposite side of the river. This road was relentless with steep climbs, the only positive was that the gravel smoothed to a enjoyable hard packed dirt. There were a few times the road curved around the mountain to reveal even more climbing. I screamed into the open air several times in frustration. I had eaten all my snacks, and even eaten more than I usually do and I was still hungry. My water was once again running low, so I had to conserve. Around 100k I realized the this road was basically across from where we had lunch. The engineer for this highway is a sadistic jerk. We could have cut off 50k if they had just put larger bridge across the river.

IMG_3563Finally, I reached some descent into a valley, just to climb back up to our destination town. I stopped at a gas station for water, and the attendant said the shop was closed. I almost broke down in tears. The next shop I tired 500m later was closed as well. Luckily we went through the town, which I did not think we did, thus my meltdown. I found a shop and guzzled a Coke, water and candy bar. Satiated for a minute I continued on and was annoyed that once again we had more climbing just to get to camp, which was 4k in the opposite direction we need to continue tomorrow. Yay.

After finally getting to camp on a winding dirt road that did not appear go anywhere, The sign for the Nature Preserve finally arrived. We camped along a lake in a big grassy field. We had access to hot showers and toilets, however it was a 200m walk up a hill. The sun was still hot, and it doesn’t set until 10pm now. Hopefully,  it cools down enough to sleep.

Day 115: Cochrane to Puerto Yungay, 130k

We woke up to a warm morning and dry tents. I was able to ride in jersey and shorts leaving camp. Bruce and I navigated out of town together then started the climb up and of the valley. IMG_3568We passed through quiet tree lined areas and up a mountain pass that had views of the beautiful views of the distant mountains. We rode along the ridge line for most of the morning, where every turn was a jaw dropping view of the valley and snow capped mountains sprawling ahead. There were only a few farms and lots of tree covered forest sections. IMG_3570I stopped several times to soak in the solitude, the only sounds being the birds. The Carreterra Austral has turned into basically a one lane road with minimal traffic, its strange riding on back country road that is the major highway for Chilean Patagonia.

Around 40k I got to enjoy an amazing descent with switchbacks and steep drops. At the bottom of the fun was flat valley with a tiny bit of tail wind. I passed a few more farms and enjoyed more forested areas. Yesterday, I didn’t think I would be able to ride the whole day because of exhaustion, but I still had lots of energy at lunch and was really enjoying the day. Around 106k we had long climb for 20k or so. IMG_3571It was really hot by this time and I was getting tired. The first 8k was super steep and I was worried the rest of the climb would be this bad. After a few kilometers up, the lunch bus passed me and I was able to fill up with water and eat an apple, a refreshing treat. After I enjoyed my snack I was ready to tackle the rest. A few hundred meters from where I stopped, The road opened up into a beautiful canyon. It was stunning and the rushing water was a lovely distraction. At the top of the climb was a lake and a beautiful view of more mountains. This really was a beautiful day!

IMG_3572The road continued to roll for several kilometers then finally we enjoyed a very steep descent into Yungay, our camp town. Yungay was not really a town anymore, it had burned down a while ago. There were still piles of ash and ruble left behind. A few new structures were in the build process but it still closely resembles a ghost town. When I arrived at camp, right on the beach of a lake, I was ecstatic that I rocked yet another difficult day. There was a shop by the ferry terminal that sold snacks and drinks, no beer through. The woman that ran the shop was an amazing baker and made delicious empanadas that everyone had at least 2 each.

Day 116: Yungay to Villa O’Higgins, 99k

IMG_3575We had a late wake up time due to ferry schedules, but I woke up around 5:45 and had a glimpse of the sun rise and peaceful lake before the rain clouds moved in. We were able to finish breakfast and pack lunches before the rain started. It was only a light shower, but still enough to drench you after a while. Several of us pitched in to help clean up the breakfast and had everything packed in less than 10 minutes. We huddled into the ferry terminal that was dry and water than outside. IMG_3578The little shop was open so I joined some others in there for a coffee. It was the correct move because the lady had made a lemon coffeecake with raspberry preserve and streusel topping, it was heaven. The ferry was only 40 minutes and had a indoor seating area that we huddled into rather than bearing the elements as we had expected. IMG_3579We sailed along the fjords and cloudy skies to our next dock, an even more desolate location. Everyone hopped on bikes immediately after docking and started the climb. We had about 450 meters to gain in 40k. Bruce and I rode together for while, enjoying the fast and flat terrain in humid temperate rainforest like conditions.fullsizeoutput_bd8 We climbed up and over a range away from the humidity, and then down into another valley that was quintessential Patagonia; turquoise river, trees, and snowcapped mountains. The real climbing had started and it was difficult, steep 20% grades at times. At the top, I had a view of the next valley and was excited to see these mountains. IMG_3589Another fast descent then it was fast and flat for several kilometers. The road had smoothed out and the tailwind picked up, I hammered along at 30kph, laughing at the sensation of flying on dirt. A gaucho, Patagonian cowboy, was riding along the road and offered me a big smile and wave. A few meters later, I slammed on my breaks to get a picture of the glaciers on the mountains to my right. The brilliant ice looked blue among the white snow.

fullsizeoutput_bebI met up with Bruce again at the lunch stop to refill water. It was starting to get cold so we rode on. I was exhausted at this point and my buns were really hurting on any angle of my saddle, I told Bruce to go ahead. I took a caffeine gel and waited for the energy to kick in. We rode along gentle rollers for the majority of the afternoon and along a river. There were a few farms that we passed by and more frosted areas. Around 80k we passed a lake and the mountains that we had passed earlier were massive in comparison to my current location. I stopped to revel in the beauty and try to burn the image in my memory for later. I found some energy finally and hammered out the last 10k. There were more forested areas with flat rock slabs peaking through. It is is impossible to capture all the beauty of this area.

IMG_3594Villa O’Higgins is the end of the Carreterra Austral. We made it to another milestone! The town is a tiny settlement with small houses, hostels, a grocery, and a couples of restaurants. IMG_3601We stayed at a cozy hostel for the night, and enjoyed several beers. The best part of the evening was a glacier plane ride at sunset. IMG_3603The tour leader and chef had gone up with the pilot much earlier in the day and showed Bruce their video. He was captivated and insisted we go, it was 8:30 and I was ready to go to sleep. I’m glad we did because it was an amazing experience, especially at sunset. IMG_3611We flew over part of the road we rode into town on, we had views of Argentina, and got so close to one of the glaciers its was like sliding down it. A great end to another beautiful day.

 

 

 

Day 117: Viila O’Higgins to El Chalten, 65k and ferrys

An exciting day of adventure and logistics! We left the cozy hostel at 7:30 and rode 7k of dirt to the ferry dock. The tour leader had chartered a ferry to take us 3.5 hrs to the Chilean border. IMG_3635We were excited to see the indoor area had ample space and chairs more comfortable than an airline seat. Although, we were told their was a cafeteria on the boat, it was sadly misinterpreted. The galley had a tiny kitchenette that was only used to brew coffee in a percolator. We had packed snacks before leaving the hostel, but we had visions of cookies and empanadas on the boat. So a lot of us ate our snacks before docking. The ride was a little bumpy with the winds, but we did get to see many glaciers along the mountains and even an iceberg floating in the lake. We docked near the border, which was 1 kilometer away and basically straight a mountain trail with loose gravel. IMG_3642We then passed through a military base and entering “no man’s land” for about 20k before arriving at Argentinian border crossing. This is the one of the only border crossings in the world that is solely done on foot or bicycle. We had 5 hours to get through the border crossings and ride 20k of rugged and steep single track trails before the next ferry. The chilean border crossing was pretty easy, one military officer checked each of us in. He found it hilarious that Bruce Wayne Nation had come through his office!

At 12:20 we had started back on the trails. It was more steep hills with loose rock, it was more like a fire road or jeep track. Just one kilometer later my left pedal wasn’t clipping right, then my foot slipped away with the pedal. My pedal had lost the screw that holds it to the crank. Awesome. After a brief freak out, I resigned to walking my bike the next 20k. Bruce walked with me for moral support. When we reached a slight down hill and flat section, I became impatient and jumped one my bike to coast, and realized that I could still use the pedal with careful placement. Bruce and I were making time flying through the fluid rolling sections and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We are on a remote trail for military and trekkers. No vehicles!

fullsizeoutput_bbfHalfway, we reached the Argentinian “border” and the trail turned to single track. I was excited to do some technical skills but the trail was more challenging than expected and not for a gravel bike at all! Bruce had gained momentum and flew through most of it. I resorted to carrying my bike of the rocks, roots, washed out sections, bogs, and creek crossings. Luckily, I have a tiny titanium frame!  A lot of the trail was completely unrideable, even for a mountain bike. I still enjoyed being in the forest area and the adventure of the day. I do feel bad for the solo bike tourists, having to haul their heavy bikes with several bags up the trail. We passed several and they did not look happy.  IMG_3654After 3 hours of slogging through, we reached an opening and had a stunning view of Mount Fitz Roy, the iconic Patagonian mountain range. Only 500m or so down more steep descents to the end. I was hoping their would a little shop to refill water, no such luck. It was just a small camp for military and one office for passport stamping. We sat in the grass, resting in the sun, until the next ferry at 5:30 arrived. We had about 2 hours to wait. Luckily all the riders made it to the dock with plenty of time to spare. The wind picked up significantly, and when the ferry started making way to our dock it seemed to take forever. This ferry was another boat with ample indoor seating and only took 40 minutes. We were hungry and thirsty and ready for the end of the day.

We docked a round 6:30pm, and had 35k of dirt road to get to El Chalten. The lunch bus met us 2k along the road for sandwiches and water. Everyone was famished and devoured sandwiches and chugged water as fast as they could without choking.  Less than 10 minutes later, I was back on the road hammering away to get this day over with. The ride was pretty and most of the dirt was flat and easy to ride. I rode harder than I ever have on dirt. Luckily it was a predominant tail wind. We did a circle around Fitz Roy, and I got to the see the lenticular clouds that only accumulate around the mountains in Patagonia due to the shape and winds.

I finally arrived in El Chalten and hit the paved road, which after 5 days on dirt felt like riding on ice. The wind had picked up so significantly that I was flying through town that was lined with trendy looking restaurants and hotels. I had passed our hotel and had to turn around after 500m. Of course our hotel was the dodgy one off the road a bit. The staff was incredibly nice and helpful but the walls are paper thin and the room was old and not comfortable. We are here for 4 nights so Bruce and I, as well as many other riders, found rooms in other hotels.

El Chalten is a great little town with lots of amazing restaurants and bars. I love that Patagonia is more beer focused, we have enjoyed some delicious micro brews. There is also some amazing hiking that we hope to have energy for tomorrow!

El Chalten

Bruce and I ate our weight in Burgers and beer over the rest days.IMG_3674We enjoyed a long hike, Senda a Laguna Torre. It was 18k round trip and took us to glacier lake and we were able to see the glacier. IMG_3664We were reminded about how much we miss backpacking and look forward to doing more in the future.

IMG_3668El Chalten, is so much like a small Colorado mountain town. It reminded us so much of Crested Butte, our favorite ski town. The town is packed with college kids trekking through Patagonia and retirees on tours. IMG_3670It is exciting to know that we are in the same town as so many pioneering mountaineers and climbers have stayed in throughout history.

IMG_3673The best part about this town is the clouds. They are not like this anywhere else I have seen, and they are definitely unique, especially at sunset.IMG_3676

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

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