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  • Writer's pictureSteve

Heavy and slow. Part 4

Coyhaique - Puerto Rio Tranquilo  

We stock up on supplies during a wet morning, before leaving Coyhaique. As we ride out of town, we talk about what it will be like to come back here in two weeks time, to get a flight from Balmaceda, the local airpot, back to Puerto Montt and home in time for Christmas. We are wrapped in waterproofs as we negotiate our way along the wet RUTA 7. My bike weights a tonne. It’s loaded with 3-days worth of food, and we spend most of the day climbing in the rain. By late afternoon the rain has disappeared, but the climbing and head winds are still very much against us. The road is tarmac and busy, as this road leads to the airport. Buses fly past tooting their horns, with passengers waving and laughing at our craziness. We meet Steve and Andrea again as they are trying to find a camping spot, so we join them and the search. We cycle far longer than we hope for, before camping in a gated field after lifting Karen through the bars of the locked gate. It’s perfectly flat and has lush soft grass for the tents. We cook left over steak from the pervious night’s feast in the rain, then all quickly retire to the tents. I feel in need of recovery after pulling the trailer and pushing Karen up the 860m of ascent.

The following day we wake and hit the road, knowing it will be a tough day as we enter Reserva Nacional Cerro Casttillo.  This holds the highest pass we will cycle over on this trip. Sitting high in the clouds at 1100m, it’s not the gradient that gives us difficulty today but the persistent head wind. It feels as if the gusts are pushing on our chests, and the harder I drive my pedals, the harder it pushes against me. It’s a gruelling day’s riding, and progress is very slow with us fully-loaded and helping Karen, but the views are simply incredible. I have to keep reminding myself to look around, and not just at the handle bars and the ground three feet in front of my fat front tyre, as this sort of scenery is what we came here for - it’s world class. As we cross the top of the pass, surrounded by mountainous peaks on either side, we come across a sweeping descent, worthy of the Tour de France. The ribbon of switch backs would have been an invitation to freewheel all the way down to Villa Cerro Castillo, had there not been the headwind to constantly buffet us. We set camp up for the night in the blazing sunshine, in a dry dusty field surrounded by mountains and hanging glaziers.

I wake to a strong wind and wall to wall sunshine above a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. We pack up dry tents and hit the road. After 3 days of riding tarmac, today we kiss that riding surface goodbye for the rest of the trip. From now to Villa O’Higgins, we will be at the mercy of the gravel roads, and over the day we find just how bad they can get. After 20 minutes, Karen is talking about getting only as far as Cochrane and reassessing her plans for the trip. We push her up the smallest of inclines as the surface is so bad, with even my fat bike tyres struggling to find traction. The head winds are aggressive, and slow our progress to a crawl. I spend most of the day riding in my 22 tooth granny ring. The roads are badly wash-boarded, making the trailer I tow bounce around, even with the heavy load sitting on top. This makes controlling the bike a real challenge. I fight with the handle bars and the winds, trying to avoid the pot holes on the loose pebbled surface, the whole time getting an all over body workout. Putting my bike down to then push Karen, walking back to my bike, picking it up, catching back up, and repeating the process countless times slowly takes it toll on my tiring body.

We find a concrete bus shelter at the side of the road, which we stop in for lunch. It feels so good to be out of the wind and dust. We eat dry, two day old bread rolls, filled with cheese, tomatoes and avocado, which makes life a little better before getting back onto the bikes, and into the wind. We climb over a small climb, to find the valley opening out below us. There’s a joining of two rivers here, one, a clear fresh water river, with the other running from the high mountain glacier which is bluey green in colour. The two run together but struggle to mix,  and the colours are something special - I’ve never seen anything like this before. The roads get better as we go on, but we finish the day having our slowest yet with only 46kms covered. We camp road side again, as there is nowhere else available. I set up a tarp as a wind break to try and escape cooking in the gusty wind. We decide that evening to get up earlier the next morning to try and get some gravel under the tyres before the wind picks up again. As I lay in the tent, I tell Jaco I have spent all day riding in my tiny 22 tooth granny ring again, fighting the world famous, Patagonian head wind.

We got away by 9am, set for a big day which turned out to be our longest on gravel - 75km with the surface always changing. From good to bad, then bad to worse and back to good again. After lunch we picked up a tail wind, which helped us push on all the way into Puerto Rio Tranquilo. The views along the way are becoming super charged as Patagonia is really starting to show off. We ride through lush green farmlands, scattered with sheep, turquoise blue glacier rivers and ice capped mountainous backdrops. Everywhere you look is like a picture postcard. We leave the mountain valleys and ride the lumpy shore line road of the Lago General Carrera, the second biggest lake in South America. The colour of the water, for such a big lake is mind blowing, and so is the road. It’s not easy, getting into the small town where we will spent a rest day, exploring the famous marble caves of Lago General Carrera. It’s a long day by the time we find a Cabana for the night. The team all look tired after a 9 hour day. We get a quick wash before heading out for food in a local microbrewery, something I was really looking forward to, and giving the tinned tuna and pasta a miss for the next couple of days.

At 10:30am we lift Karen and wheelchair into the boat that with take us to see the caves. It’s a short 10 minute trip around to the next bay, before we come across the hollow, rounded, cave formations. The reflections of the lake make the pale marble caves flash greens and blues. After a bumpy ride back across the lake, we head back to the Cabana to chill out. People go their own ways and do their own thing. I have bikes to wash and clean up, tents to dry, washing to do. Then I catch up on writing and downloading film footage, before charging all the film equipment, ready for another 3 day stretch to Cochrane. Not so restful, but a very enjoyable afternoon pottering.

Thanks to my sponsors, BioCare and the badass Dirty Dog Eyewear.


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