I arrived at Quellón on the Isla de Chiloe from Chaiten. I continued north on the island to Ancud and then back to the mainland. The route then took me through Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, around the Volcan Osorno and out of Chile via the Paso Cardenel Antonio Samore. Once back in Argentina I cycled from Villa la Angostura to San Martin los Andes.
Despite being 3 months in, I’ve realised that I’ve hardly begun the enormity of this challenge. That I’ve been through to get here is merely the froth on top of my morning coffee or is it that the whole dream is really a succession of nightmares, with pockets of dreamland to connect them?
What have I begun?
The Isla de Chiloe was nothing short of brutal. The hills were by far the steepest I’ve encountered on a loaded bicycle, the only saving grace was they didn’t last for long. The scenic route on small ripio roads tore my quads to shreds.
One crazily steep piece of ripio claimed a piece of my pride, by tossing me into the dirt. I had come to a stop halfway up, balanced precariously, rear wheel spinning as I tried to get going again. Brakes hard on to prevent me and the bike tumbling backwards. The front wheel slewed sideways, tipping me over. Managing to catch an errant water bottle as it attempted to reach the bottom of the hill.
Now I was mad.
Veins popping, obscenities shouted at the hill, the road, the sky.
Brakes hard on, engage one pedal, balance, weight on the rear, turn the pedal, try to engage the second pedal before I lose my balance.
Fail. Try again. Fail. Try again. The sequence repeated numerous times.
Eventually I succeed and make the top of the hill with my heart jumping out of my chest. Pride restored.
The island repeated the same trick plenty more times. I would have ridden straight off it if I hadn’t been waiting for a package to arrive in Puerto Montt, a city just to the north. A place that no one recommended spending any time in. I laid up short in the town of Ancud at the top of the island, in a beautiful campsite on top of the cliffs. A much needed few days rest.
Thankfully my package soon arrived and I made my way to Puerto Montt the quick way. Straight up the Pan American Highway, Ruta 5 in Chile. A day that was absolutely no fun, cycling along the hard shoulder of a separated dual carriageway.
Puerto Montt was not a nice place and I was in the not nice end of town. I collected my package, did some shopping for amongst other things a new warm sleeping bag. This was going to be my last chance to get decent quality equipment before I headed back into Argentina where quality foreign goods just aren’t available. I wasn’t stuck with the paradox of choice in Chile either, making buying decisions easy.
Skirting around Volcan Osorno I headed for the border. The banality of myself as a foreign cyclist having to queue up at Customs to get a stamp to say I didn’t need a stamp still making me chuckle rather than fume.
The climb over the Andes, just a bump at 1320m compared to what is ahead, left me exhausted. A German woman in the campsite I stayed in, asking if I had come to South America for the Falklands before saying she thought I looked 18 (I’m 38) leaving me exasperated, devoid of a pithy comeback.
I had crossed back into Argentina to take a less trafficked route north. It will be slower but I felt there isn’t much point heading up a dual carriageway in Chile. When I consider the options it always returns me to why am I doing this?
Is the point merely to reach Alaska?
I don’t have an answer to that question. If I say yes, I attach my self worth to reaching Alaska, which is a dangerous precedent to set. If I answer no, what is the point in what I am doing?
For now, the point is to head north on roads that are interesting to cycle on.
The day after I entered Argentina, dark clouds formed overhead, literally and metaphorically. I read up on the route in front of me and the altitudes of the roads that plotted my course north. Doubts consumed me. I had struggled to get over the pass from Chile, a 1000m ascent. There were roads four times as high ahead of me.
I entered the spiral of fears and worries. Over 3000 metres, altitude sickness is a concern. I’ve been higher than that a few times in my life and it’s hit me each time, although I’ve recovered after a few days. I wasn’t riding a laden bicycle before though.
This is too much, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. How can I get out of this? I don’t want to do this anymore.
All this running through my mind whilst I had managed to have a day off in a deserted campsite, having left Jan behind in Ancud, I was on my own once more. Devoid of anyone to voice those fears too, they compounded until I bought a bottle of wine and allowed them to morph into melancholy. Always a bad more but very difficult to break the habit.
The next morning I did the only sensible thing and got on my bike and road north through the Argentine Lake District. Thoughts of giving up more prevalent than usual. I do think about giving up a lot of the time, I also think about reaching the end of South America, entering the United States, reaching Alaska…..they balance each other out so far.
The only way I know how to keep going is to focus on today, tomorrow and maybe the few days after. A few hundred kilometres north at best. Where can I get food, water and rest in that distance?
I think this is why long journeys by bicycle are such a mental challenge. It’s the monotony. I don’t mean the landscape, I mean the way you compress your fears and worries into a very large box and open the very small one that says ‘basic elements to enable forward progress’. And you do that each and every day. It’s impossible to see the end of this repetitive cycle. It’s impossible to fathom the energy it’ll take to get there.
I have no doubts that integrating back into life at home will be difficult after so long leading such a simple life. The contradiction jarring. That isn’t a thought that worries me too much at present. What I have considered is that no one (bar those who have done the same thing) will be able to empathise with what it’s actually like. It is why I appreciate the kinds words many have expressed and continue to do so.
Today I’m resting. My right knee is sore and I got a lot of sun yesterday (unavoidably) and felt drained. I sat in front of the ingredients for my dinner last night and wished for it to be cooked and placed in front of me. A sure sign of fatigue.
Tomorrow, or maybe the day after I’ll continue north, hoping for serendipity to cross my path.
Leaving Coyhaique it had already been decided that we weren’t going to continue to the end of the Carretera Austral. We were going as far as Chaiten, where we would get a ferry west to the Isla de Chiloe and the port of Quellon. This would actually lengthen the distance and delay our arrival into Puerto Montt, which was the point.
I say we, as I have been cycling the Carretera with Jan Petter, a Norwegian teacher with an overloaded bicycle.
So far it has been unusual to find someone that stops as frequently, does as few kilometres in a day or has as many rest days as me. However, Jan is older than me and has historical injuries that require an elaborate stretching regime each day. Therefore it has worked well in so far as neither one of us has wanted to continue when the other has had enough.
It helps not to be in a rush to get anywhere.
The section from Coyhaique to Chaiten was much further than previous sections with no sizeable towns in between for a rest. I had reckoned on it taking 8 days cycling so a rest in the middle somewhere would be ideal.
Leaving Coyhaique was literally an uphill slog, thankfully on tarmac (asphalt), until we took the gravel road short cut…..I knew that it wouldn’t be quicker but it was shorter and would definitely have less traffic than the alternative.
I was grateful to get back on the tarmac, at least for a short while as the map indicated it wouldn’t last. It makes me smile how I was looking forward to the 1000km of gravel road of the Carretera Austral but was now excited by the return of the tarmac. Little by little the Chilean government is turning the whole thing into tarmac, we found brand new stretches of tarmac, without even the lines painted. However, the bits they are working on, especially the climbs, are somewhat of a challenging road surface. Some of which was like cycling uphill on marbles. Throw in the odd vehicle coming down the hill towards you forcing you off line, made for some frustrating climbs.
I had been told that in the middle of the Queulat National Park was a sight not to miss. Normally a phrase to guarantee that I give it a swerve. However I was intrigued by the description of a glacial waterfall. It also came about half way in the trip to Chaiten so everything lined up nicely for a day off and some non-cycling exploring.
It’s name is Ventisquero Colgante and it is as impressive as it’s name. Getting there in the morning we managed to get one of the few camp spots adjacent to the glacier. The Chileans do their official national park camp spots well, providing you with your own large area, a water tap, a shelter, fireplace and a bench. The weather held for the two days, providing clear blue skies which had been lacking of late.
The only sounds apart from the birds we could hear was the glacier calving at regularly intervals during the day and night. It was moments like this I tried to remind myself of the privilege I have, of the life I am leading and not to complain so much.
A hard, long day’s cycling followed, mainly due to lack of camping options which ended in someone’s back garden and little sleep.
The last few days to Chaiten gradually got easier but my knees started to complain about overuse. Thankfully it was tarmac again and we could break it up into short ride days, still leaving plenty of time to catch the, once a week, ferry we were aiming for.
Getting into Chaiten at a decent time, we spent too long searching around town for somewhere to stay, eventually ending up at the first place we had seen. I managed to negotiate (in Spanish!) a 20% discount for staying three nights which was promptly spent on beer and wine. The places we have stayed at are somewhat varied. Upon arriving in a town for a few days rest I want a bed. This place actually included the second B of B&B which is a red rag to a cyclist. Being always hungry, we sat at a table for four and promptly ate everything on it. We managed to do this for three days without comment from the owner. On the Sunday, there was even cake. For breakfast.
Chile, for South America, is generally semi organised and things operate pretty much as a European mind thinks is logical. Occasionally things occur where you have to remind yourself not to apply European logic to a situation as it just annoys you. Loading a ferry in Chaiten falls into this category, two hours it took to get maybe 50 people, 30 odd cars, a couple of lorries and 3 bicycles on to it and you just know who was last on don’t you! Don’t think that last on is first off either!
Upon arriving in Quellon more rest was called for, judging by the amount of sleep I’m now getting it was needed. In the last week I’ve managed to get a ferry further south than I was and cycle only to the end of the road here which is the Pan American Highway, the other end being in Alaska.
A further reminder, should I need it, that I’ve got a very long way to go and I should get a wriggle on!
Leaving Coyhaique the Carretera Austral wound further north on a mixture of seriously bad ripio and an increasingly greater amount of tarmac (asphalt). There are plenty of road works ongoing which accounts for the condition of the road. I continued as far as Chaitén whereupon I’m about to get a ferry west to the Isla de Chiloe and continue north from there.
I was dearly hoping that upon leaving Villa O’Higgins, the trip would change. That it would morph into my idealised version I had dreamt about.
I no longer wanted to experience the dread of waking up to the sound of the wind howling past the tent. In hindsight, what I had hoped for South America was my ride across France but with mountainous scenery. In fact my ride across Europe in the summer of 2014 was a holiday compared to what I am doing now.
Every day in South America has been a challenge. There hasn’t been in my memory, an easy day. As I’ve talked about before, prior to Villa O’Higgins, the challenge was predominately mental. To keep going despite everything screaming at me that it was nuts. Always the wind. That experience alone has given birth to confidence I never knew I had.
Would I go back and do it again? Not a chance. Unless it was in the other direction!
Am I glad I did it? Yes, it’s something I can always look back on when I doubt myself in the future.
Now the challenge has become physical. The wind has made a couple of appearances but nothing like on the scale of before, it’s just an inconvenience now. The weather has generally been sunshine and blue skies bringing with it flies and mosquitos. It’s rained a good few times as well but I’ve noticed I don’t run from the rain as I used to. I used to hate cycling in the rain, now it means the flies disappear….
I’m only about halfway along the Carretera Austral and so far some of the scenery has been absolutely amazing sandwiched between awesome and epic. It doesn’t come for free. The road is a gravel road, they call it Ripio in Spanish. Saying it varies in quality would be a slight understatement. On occasion it has been like cycling on tarmac (asphalt) but mostly it is often corrugated, like cycling over a washboard. Causing enumerable changes in direction, searching for a smoother line, for some reason, often on the wrong side of the road. When it comes out of nowhere on a downhill, it is the most problematic, suddenly you are shaken everywhere, the bike flexing and bouncing, myself cringing with the damage that it might be causing. Never mind my wheels, how the laptop I am writing this on still works I don’t know!
It is however the (up) hills that occupy most of my worries.
As long as I can spin my pedals at a decent cadence going uphill I don’t worry about my knees. When that ceases to be possible because of the gradient and loose bumpy surface I have to concentrate intently. There have been times when I’ve barely been able to turn the pedals, all the force transmitting through my knees. Is something going to give? If you saw my legs, you would say yes.
Popeye is not my middle name.
There is more than one way to pedal a bike and so I concentrate on my form, getting my back as straight as possible, keeping my upper body still, power from the hips and pushing the bike away from me. Have to keep the knees in line with the ankles, letting the right joints do the right job. Meanwhile my heart rate has skyrocketed, my breathing is fast and barely controlled, I’m soaked in sweat, at times feeling like I’m in a shower. Realising my body’s functions are approaching limits. Reminding myself I’m 38, not 28, I need to manage the situation.
Normally the serious gradients come in waves, giving a respite before the next ramp. When it’s tough, I use the technique of huge deep breathes in and out to purge the carbon dioxide and flood as much oxygen in to my body, giving it a chance to recover slightly.
I ponder what is all this doing to me as I shovel more calories inside me, desperately seeking more fuel. Running out and bonking is not a nice feeling. It’s happened a couple of times, when the destination was further than I thought. The desire to reach the day’s end overtaking any logical analysis of food consumption.
Like an exponential gradient, the busyness of the road has gone up and up the further north I travel. Both with vehicles and cyclists. This is a popular route for cyclists, little wonder why with the scenery. Many people come to Chile to cycle the Carretera Austral and then return home. These people are easy to spot, they always have a front suspension mountain bike with just rear panniers and a rack bag. They normally are wearing just lycra, travel fast and talk of how much distance they cover a day. Amazed, normally in equal proportion, about my quantity of luggage and my proclamation that I am riding to Alaska. We have little in common other than sitting aboard a bicycle.
I haven’t been doing any sight seeing or ‘touristy’ visits to attractions (much to the consternation of the holiday bikers). I’ve just been riding my bike and when reaching a town for a break, my focus is on eating and resting.
The judgement on a town is reserved for how much choice the supermercardo has. Coyhaique has knocked it out of the park, the best choice I’ve had in South America, let alone the last few weeks. Bizarrely they even have imported products from Waitrose, a novelty if nothing else. The first peanut butter without hydrogenated vegetable oil, I was worryingly over excited by this. Welcome back banana and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch! Don’t judge me.
The fruit and vegetables aren’t mainly rotten and look fresh, they have more than onion and carrot. The bread lasts longer than a day. The beer is in a fridge that is turned on. They have fresh meat, including chicken. Still, alas, just cheese in slices. I now understand why a Chilean guy I met raved about the choice of cheese in Argentina. This is highly unusual; for Argentina to have a better choice of something compared to Chile.
I seem to develop a temporary eating disorder on these rest breaks and become incredibly gluttonous, denying the nutritional knowledge I have and over riding it with a wanton lust for calories. No doubt it is a form of comfort eating. It fills the days, generally which revolve around checking email, catching up on sport, editing photos, reading and then maybe a glass or two of something red or amber coloured.
I’m yet to find a balance of cycling, resting and enjoying the surroundings enough to do something different. There is a desire to make progress north, to put a dent in the huge undertaking, to make it seem achievable balanced against just resting from the turmoil my body is undergoing.
That is not to say I don’t enjoy it. I love riding my bike for my ‘working’ week, I’m very lucky to be able to chase the dream and this last week, it has been that dream I had.
I need to remember that like anything worth having in life, it comes at a cost. Constantly requiring adjustment to my perspective so as not to lose the point of doing this trip in the first place.
If I had known how hard this first month would be before I began, I doubt I would have started.
Often in my life I have to kid myself to make a big decision.
Deciding that the idea sounds great but not to dig to deep into the details. If I do I will find something to convince me not to do it. Once I have begun then my determination will keep me going.
I’ve found the beginning section between Ushuaia and El Chalten (the first month) a massive challenge. Ninety five per cent of it was not fun. I wasn’t enjoying it. I was just getting on with it because that was my only option.
I had to figure out pretty damn quickly that I would have to dig a lot deeper than I have done for many years to be able to continue. More than once I thought I was done.
Virtually every day I cycled there would be a point where I considered my options on how to get a lift. But I didn’t get that lift.
I cycled it.
I know I would have regretted it if I had taken a lift or caught a bus. I came here to cycle from Ushuaia to Alaska and that is what I am trying to do.
I’m not a martyr to it. If I thought I was putting myself (or others) in physical danger or I was injured then I would have stopped. I used this formula each time I wanted a lift. Never did I get to the point where I thought I should stop.
Each time I realised, I just didn’t want to do it. I wanted to stop because it was hard.
The weather was unrelenting at times, draining me of physical energy and mental reserves. I wanted it to be over.
I had to harden up quickly, to lose the airs and graces of day to day life. My mental energy was reserved for keeping moving, seeking shelter, water and food. The basics of life.
I became that Frenchman who didn’t care about getting petrol on his hands. It didn’t take long.
Getting over that first huge hurdle at San Sebastian was the key. The decision to try and do that section was a rubicon moment. If I hadn’t cycled it and taken a lift instead, I would have backed down at every other challenge that came my way. Now I fall back on that memory when times are tough.
The futility of riding a bicycle into a crazy wind* is balanced by the confidence it gives me that I can look after myself, I can achieve things I don’t think I am capable of. Yes, it is a pointless endevaour to the casual observer but not to me, not to those other cyclists that ply that road from the south to the north. Chapeau to each and every one of them.
I never thought that cycling would reduce me to tears, firstly through sheer frustration and latterly through sheer exhausation. The last 10km into El Chalten just emptied me of every emotion I had left. I called a previous post the Broken Man, however I truely was on that last section. Knowing that it should be the end of this crazy wind. A months worth of blood, sweat and tears came out, leaving me utterly drained.
I made a sorry, sorry sight, sat in the dining area of the hostel in El Chalten, shovelling food into me. My face completely blank, devoid of any recognition of being in public with other people. Dishevelled from sleeping in the dirt for several days, no one spoke to me. I doubt I could have managed anything civil in response.
Even though it was over, no sense of accomplishment or joy, just nothing. That would come later, I would get my reward.
From El Chalten things should be different. El Chalten sits in the valley of the mountains, the bottom end of the Andes. Fitz Roy, towers some 3400m high above the town. From here the adventure begins; dirt roads, mountain valleys, boats across remote lakes where there are no roads.
This is what I signed up for. This is what kept me going on those long days in the flat pampa. This is where the fun should begin.
I truely hope so, not because I feel I deserve it. I need parts of the trip to rekindle my fire and love for cycling if I am to make it to Alaska.
That is my hope for the next month.
*Crazy wind – this is the top end of my windscale, reserved for wind that it’s not possible to stand up straight in. You need to lean into it to remain upright, walking is very difficult. Cycling on the flat is possible in lowest gears, cycling uphill into it requires extreme effort.
I arrived in Punta Arenas, toasty warm, after a two and a half hour ferry crossing from Porvenir.
Wanting nothing more than somewhere to rest for a few nights, I went to a hostel that had been recommended by another cyclist. They had no beds but I could camp in the garden. Bugger.
It was the worst camp spot of the trip so far. Hardly any room, uneven ground and the wind was swirling around the enclosed yard like a demented monster. Along with having to hammer in a peg of the tent door during the night, slicing a bit off my thumb in the process, it wasn’t a restful nights sleep. Thankfully I got to spend the following two nights in a warm bed.
On leaving Punta Arenas, bound for Puerto Natales, I felt I had been rushing around for the last few days. I should have stayed an extra night. Mentally, at least, I wasn’t rested. A bike weighed down with five days worth of food didn’t help.
The wind was kind that morning, helping me along that first hour until I was well out of the city and back into the barren landscape. The kind of inhospitable, intimidating scenery that reminded me how insignificant a person is in nature.
Twice, I crossed valleys that were completely flat for around 20km. No where to hide, no where to run, no shelter. I just had to keep going and trust that I would get to the other side and relative safety at some point.
Approaching Morro Chico on the Sunday, I noticed in my mirror a cyclist catching me. In these parts cyclists always stop for others to pass tips on shelter, where to get water and just to say hello. I slowed up until I was caught by Jose, a Chilean teacher who was on his holidays. Clearly mental as he lives in Punta Arenas and knows what the weather is like but still chose to start his cycling trip here!
We got acquainted over lunch, sat in the dirt in an abandoned barn outside a police station. Myself having cheese sandwiches, tuna and rice for Jose. We cycled the rest of that day together, into the wind, taking it in turns to lead. Both of us having enough at the same time. Upon spotting a few small trees and bushes decided it would suffice as tonight’s accommodation. Climbing in and out of a couple of large ditches to get to it was worth the extra effort for the shelter it provided.
In the morning, just as we were about to set off, another cyclist, Jan from Norway, arrived. We had actually seen him (although didn’t know it at the time) curled up in a sleeping bag asleep in a bus shelter the previous afternoon. My solo cycle become a threesome as we took it in turns to lead and break the wind.
My normal pace was a lot slower than these two guys and I didn’t have the power on the hills that they did.
It was touch and go at times whether it was worth the extra effort to stay on a wheel or just drop back and use that effort for the wind. A cruel ultimatum to have.
Jan and I camped early on Monday afternoon while Jose continued on to Puerto Natales. There wasn’t much socialising, as soon as the tents were up the rain came. We both squirreled ourselves away in our respective tents only emerging to cook dinner.
A tough following morning got us both into Puerto Natales for a four night Christmas break.
On Saturday, with a good weather forecast, Jan went to Torres del Paine National Park. I left for El Calafate, once more a five day leg with no resupply.
That morning, leaving Puerto Natales I felt strangely alone again. Having spent just two days with other cyclists, I still felt exposed leaving on my own despite the vast majority of the trip so far being spent alone.
It was a long hard climb up to the Chilean border post of Dorotea. I crossed back into Argentina and enjoyed the free ride down to the Argentine town of Rio Turbio and my source of food for the next five days.
Leaving town, I headed into a darkening sky which soon changed to a rain filled one. It was a dirty road passing an industrial plant of some nature, the scenery being full of ugly scars on the hills, mud everywhere.
Turning back on to Ruta 40, I soon escaped the rain, left alone with my thoughts as I climbed slowly but easily up a valley. The wind deciding to have a day off from tormenting me. Once more, camping by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, I felt safe again. Helped by using the relief of the land to shield me from the road and elements.
The next day was monotonous, back to rolling open land with nothing there, apart from ridges teasing you into thinking that is the high point. I arrived at a junction of the road, called Tapi Aike. It is named on the map but there is no town. There was a petrol station, a police house and a road workers house.
I had been told it was possible to stay here. I asked at the house and was led to a Portocabin on wheels and shown a bed!
Being inside makes so much difference to my mental state. I spend far too much time worrying about the weather. Constantly scanning the surrounding land for spots to shelter from the wind, even if just for a ten minute break. My other major worry is rain. I hate it. Being wet is a sure fire way of getting cold and all that implies. It also makes cooking next to impossible. I never like being wet, cold and hungry.
The Portocabin on wheels calmed these worries in a stroke.
Having enough water is my other major worry. You need water more than anything, running out is something I am paranoid about. I always try to carry more than enough to cater for unforeseen circumstances. In the mountains I have no problem with just taking directly from streams but not in this flat agricultural land full of sheep and cows polluting the water. The opportunity to fill up with water, always gratefully accepted.
Monday came and I was up before dawn, wanting to leave early as I expected it to be a long hard day. The wind was always worse in the afternoon.
Today’s ride was over a long gravel road (ripio) heading for another road workers camp and possible safety. The road was really bad, a lot of extra effort required to ride, never being able to roll, hitting big rocks, bouncing you this way and that. Constantly trying to find the flattest part of the road to ride on, often weaving around. It didn’t matter what side of the road I was cycling on. I didn’t see another living soul for the first two and a half hours.
Of course, as I got close to my destination the weather decided not to let me go easy. I could see the storm clouds coming my way. They were dark and menacing, the type to run away from. The type I run from. Despite the vague promise of somewhere safe to get to, I was desperate not to get caught in the rain. Doing the one thing I hate doing.
I pressed on.
Getting more and more wound up by the road surface deteriorating and the wind, slowing me down. I kept looking over my shoulder at the clouds, further demoralising me.
I looked one to many times and the wind blew my unbalanced self into the deep gravel. The inevitable over correction as the gust dropped slid the front wheel from under me, I knew enough about what was happening to jump off and let the bike crash to the floor. Never a good idea, unfortunately for the bike, my health and well being take precedence.
My frustration well and truly boiling over, roaring animal noises at the wind, at the road, at nothing at all.
Shouting at myself to stop and take a breath.
Ignoring myself I immediately tried to go again and dropped the bike in the gravel once more. Just about realising I was spiralling out of rational action. I managed to get a breath, take a drink and start off once more.
A building came into view, a few kilometres in the distance, realising it must be the road workers camp I tried to slow down as my heart was pounding and my breathing rapid. Not wanting to immediately stop that level of exertion and the inevitable painful surge of lactic acid through my muscles, I slowed as I approached. It felt like an age covering that last final kilometre, the wind battering me, teasing me, keeping my goal just out of reach.
When I arrived I was greeted by a friendly Argentine man, my basic Spanish keeping up a stilted conversation with him. He was the only one there, a lonely existence. Once he realised I wanted to stay for the night, despite it being 2pm, he showed me to a small building. For a fee of just over one US dollar I could stay for the night. There was even a mattress on the bed.
Two nights inside, sheltered from the elements, two beacons of light to me, vastly helping to soothe my worries.
Leaving in the morning, later than planned, two nights inside making me lazy, carrying enough water just for the day. There was a hotel I would reach in the afternoon where I had been told I could get water.
Arriving at the hotel (Rio Bote) that afternoon, my spirits dropped when I realised it was an ex-hotel. It was closed down.
I needed water.
Knocking on the doors of the various buildings it was obvious someone lived in one and was around somewhere. I tried in vain to find someone, shouting out, knocking on the doors. It was no good, no one was in earshot.
Turning the handle of the front door, it opened. Shouting hola with the door open, still no one came.
I could see the kitchen sink.
Stuck in two minds. To enter someone’s home and take water from them without permission or to walk away with no other options I knew of to get water.
My need for water was too great. I went in and filled my bottles from the tap. Embarrassed, I quickly left.
The road, from here, went directly west towards El Calafate, my destination. There were very few opportunities for camp spots. In the end, picking a spot that was below the level of the road and what I thought was sheltered from the wind. Lots of flies and sharp grass hardly made it ideal but I had been looking for a while and had seen nothing better.
Facing my tent parallel to the road, west, to take the brunt of any wind that came, I went to sleep.
Although I didn’t sleep.
The rain came and then the wind. The tent was flapping all over the place, eventually freeing itself from one of the pegs.
Having to get out of the tent in the night is something I really try to avoid, doing it in the wind and rain is reserved for when there is no choice.
Come dawn, it sounded still outside the safety of my tent, I had a lie in, getting up at 7am. I got out the tent and was immediately scared by the sky. Huge, black menacing clouds loomed all around me. Frightened enough to bypass my morning coffee, I sprinkled the instant coffee powder on to my breakfast oats to speed things up.
My frightened demeanour subsided as I got moving. Instead of scaring me, I could now soak in the beauty of the landscape. The threatening sky framing the rolling hills and high ridgelines, reminding me of parts of Scotland. Images of home are always a sure fire way of calming my nerves, it’s the familiar that creates the illusion of safety.
The rain never came, I managed to relax a bit, took my time, treating the morning as a recovery ride, helping the body recover from a couple of hard days.
My thoughts turning to the pleasure of the ride, where nature threatens but ends up entrancing.
After all, it is that feeling that led me here.