Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Our last full day in Santiago. We have recovered a bit, but are still tired, and it may take a few days more of semi-normalcy in the US to feel energetic. I keep meaning to write more on here about the trip, especially the crazy change we made for the last week of it, but finding time and energy has been difficult.
We had planned to spend our last few days, including Christmas, hiking in Cerro Castillo National Park. When the forecast went from bad (cold & rainy) to worse (cold & rainy & windy & snowy), we changed our tickets to head north that same day. Suddenly we had to rush, having only a few hours to toss our bags on the bike and ride the 55km to the airport. A sidewall blew out on our rear tire just minutes into the race, but we did a full-on NASCAR pit crew move and had the tire and tube replaced in under 10 minutes. A wicked strong tailwind actually let us arrive over an hour earlier than we needed to, amazing how it pushed us along.
Our change in plans left us in the Santiago airport after dark, so we had two options: riding off on busy highways and roads in the dark, hoping to find somewhere to stay or camp, or getting transport to a hotel or something. To make a long, painful story short, our plan to get dropped in a small town a few minutes (hypothetically) north of the airport and find a place there went terribly wrong, as the van driver first got lost (for hours) and then wouldn´t drop us in the town, claiming it wasn´t safe, and finally leaving us at an expensive hotel in Santiago, which is exactly what we had wanted to avoid in the first place. Things went better the next day, and we had a good time riding north along the coast, eating seafood and enjoying the ocean views and warm, sunny weather.
Now, off to pack the bags, strategizing how to distribute the weight to avoid extra fees.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All downhill from here....

But the road is gravel, and we have a headwind. Well, not really. Sometimes the Carretera Austral felt that way. It was challenging, but very rewarding. Some mechanical problems, but not many. No physical problems, which is a real blessing. Even when problems seemed to loom, there was always something that solved them easily. No ATM for 500 km? Well, I happened to have $80 in dollars that helped us along. That is running out? Well, the Swiss cyclists are willing to buy our otherwise useless Argentine pesos. Bottom brackets dying? The awesome bike shop guys will stay open till 8pm on a saturday to fix it cheaply. And so on. The weather and the road weren´t always our friends, but they were never our enemies, either. There was always a bright side of it- we used way less sunscreen than we may have otherwise, and didn´t sweat nearly as much as we would have had it been warmer.
Mostly the miles passed easily, with us engaged in conversation, commenting ad nauseum on how beautiful the scenery was, how many incredible waterfalls there were, etc. We stopped frequently for coffee breaks, lunch breaks, water filtering breaks. We felt no time constraints, since we always had plenty of time to reach our destination, and with 16 hours of daylight no matter how late we left we still could go quite a ways before dusk. With only one road to follow for most of our trip, getting lost was never a problem- if we were actually on a road, it was always the right road. Considering the pounding of the washboarded gravel roads, only three flat tires and a worn-out drivetrain was getting off very easily.
Everywhere we went, the people were great, both locals and tourists. Comparing this trip to my tours in Thailand, it is remarkable how much richer an experience it is when we can speak the language. I could really go for some Thai food right now, though.
Well, I´m off to have my afternoon coffee & pastry break (a thing they call a donut, but it isn´t, but still tasty), then time to fix the spare inner tubes and rotate the tires. Our Swiss friends, Tom and Janine, are heading out today, so we may not see them again, since we ride around the same speed and they will have a 1.5 day headstart. It has been great riding with them for most of the Carretera, we´ve had some excellent conversations over coffee at weird roadside campsites, or sheltering up at bus stops against the wind and rain while having food breaks. They quit their jobs and are riding until their savings run out, in maybe two years. That brings up a funny thing about vacations: while two months is amazingly long by American standards, it is a relatively short trip compared to the many bicycle tourists we´ve run into on the road. Many of them are cycling six months, nine months, a year, three years. Funny that. Two months feels just about right to us, we´ll finish while we are still having fun, but won´t feel like we missed out or rushed back.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

45 degrees south

The end of the road for us- Coyhaique, Chile. We have a flight booked from here back to Santiago in just over a week. We arrived here a bit earlier than expected, with a bike that is suffering from all those kilometers of rough, rough gravel. It was an epic ride. Spectacular scenery at every turn, some wet and nasty weather, but mostly good for riding, nice people, and many hours in the saddle. We kept commenting on how great of a trip we were having, and it is true, but it is also hard for me to describe that in words right now. It doesn´t help that I´m tired and a little sick, but mostly it just hasn´t really sunk in or been fully processed.
Now we are weighing our options. The weather forecast is particularly bad, so the 3 day trek in a nearby national park we had planned may be unpleasant. For being the equivalent of June in the US, the weather is abnormally bad; many people walking around outside right now are wearing jackets or even parkas. We have some thoughts of bumping back our flight and heading to Santiago earlier, since it is sunny and 80 degrees there now. I´m not sure. Cake & coffee may help us with this decision.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Predictable Unpredictability

That was Karinne´s term for the mileages listed on our maps, and on the road signs. All are just off. Sometimes you see a sign that says 30 km to the next town, then a few more km towards that town, there is another that says 31 km. Fortunately our bike computer broke on day 1, so we don´t know anyway, nor are we constantly reminded just how slow we are going.
Slowness is actually good on these wicked gravel roads. They call it ripio, and we´ve covered hundreds of miles of it, and we have almost pure ripio ahead of us for the next couple weeks. I´ve come to understand it- you can´t fight it, you just have to flow with it. This usually entails going much slower than we maybe could, since that minimizes the jarring and skidding. But that is what is needed, so that is what we do.
We haven´t run into as many bike tourers over the last week as we had for a while, I guess we´ve gotten off of the famous Ruta 40, a 5000 km long road stretching from the northwest corner of Argentina all the way south. Much of it is gravel, but spectacular, and a popular riding option.
We will miss Argentina, it has treated us well. The food, the people, the scenery, all have been far better than we could have hoped. It feels like our trip is winding down, and it is, which is someways sad and in some ways good.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Breweries everywhere

The campground has a brewery. The rustic backcountry huts we spent a couple nights at brew their own beers. The farmers market has at least 4 breweries selling their wares. This is great.
The coffee situation is bleak, but whatever.
Still, this trip is proving incredible. Having travelled a fair bit, we have gotten used to some hassles, some scams, some misinformation. But we haven´t run into any of that. Just nice people, everywhere we go. The only hassle has been the sometimes unfriendly weather, including some gusts the other day that almost knocked us over, or brought us to a dead stop almost instantly. But the weather is just the weather, and we fortunately have good rain gear, and just enough warm stuff to make it not uncomfortable.