Turn, Turn, Turn! (Carretera Austral Part 2)

Damp and Cold

The days before the New Year were not fun. A storm had moved in, and given that my accomodations were already booked, I needed to get up each day and make it to the next town on the schedule.

When it’s this green everywhere, that means it rains a lot.

Cycling into Villa Mañihaules, I was freezing, my hands inside of socks (my ProViz ‘waterproof’ gloves were anything but, so I swapped them for a dry pair of socks) and my feet like icicles (my ProViz waterproof shoe covers not holding up their waterproof end of the bargain either). At one point, about half way through the day, it began to hail. “How I spent my summer in Chile” was taking a different path than I’d expected.

Veronica, the hostess of El Michay in Villa Mañihaules, the hostel that I stayed in, cooked me two vegan meals and her husband put a giant heater in my room (hot enough to cause the soles of my trail running shoes to start smoking and shrink the inserts…). It’s probably the best hosting experience I’ve had in all of Chile.

The next day was 60k of more rain, arriving in Villa Amengual. The hostel was basic, and completely empty except for me. The town had only ‘fast food’ (sandwiches and french fries). Not going on my top 10 list.

The next day was 89k of rain, a full five hours traveling in a downpour, with not a spot of sunlight to be seen. Luckily the temperatures were not as cold as the two days before, and I could wring the water out of my waterproof gloves every hour… At one point I stopped under a bus shelter to eat a quick sandwich for some energy, and looked up to see a full length tour bus, filled with people staring out the window at me, probably wondering why this poor creature was out in the rain. I smiled and waved. They just stared.

Crete and Margaret, the wonderful Dutch couple I met in Villa Mañihaules, outside my hotel in Coyhaique, where I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day..

I arrived in Coyhaique to find the entire town shut down for two days (New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day), and had it not been for the restaurant in the hotel, I would have starved.

The hostel where the Dutch stayed. It was not very nice, according to them despite it’s posh external appearance.

I had a day of rest on New Year’s Day, my first in 12 or 13 days. My body was tired, my immune system was low.

The next day was 100K to Villa Cerro Castillo. The pavement was good, the drivers were nice, but the wind, cold, and 1500m of total climbing (to two peaks each about 1100m) wore me out, and I realized I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I was wearing three layers of cycling gear and was still cold. As the snow flurries began on one pass, I asked myself if this was really what I wanted.

One of the sunniest moments of the week before New Year’s. And good pavement. And a tailwind.

For the last five days, I had had very little fun or adventure or anything outside of getting to meet Veronia’s family. While the views in Villa Cerro Castillo were perhaps the most stunning I’d seen on this trip, it was like I was numb, and couldn’t enjoy the ridiculous beauty around me.

Hiking not biking

The next day, along with two Dutch women I’d met in Villa Mañihaules, I went for a 26k hike up around the mountains just below Cerro Castillo. The trail was gorgeous in places, the views spectacular, and the going quite difficult a times.

Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain), from which the pueblo ‘Villa Cerro Castillo’ gets its name. The glacier is really impressive up close.

There was a simple up and back trail that was only 12k, but we opted for the longer route, thanks to the advice of an American from Florida I had met in the restaurant last night. As we began the second leg of the route, we realized that we were going to have to climb a lot higher than the lake. Doubts entered our minds about our ability to complete the hike, but we banded together and moved on.

My favourite part of the trail. Wooded, shaded, wonderful. All we need is elves.

The park rangers had talked about a road of rocks (clearly a bad translation on my part), but what they meant was a steep climb through a rock field. I worked hard to pick out the trail as we scaled to reach the peak of the trail just under 1700m. I was really proud of my two hiking companions who had not done a hike like this before, but who were strong the entire day.

The rock road. At times you had to guess where the trail was, despite a lot of great work by park rangers to place markers and cairns (“Stone men”, according to the Dutch) all throughout the 26k trail.

While our goal had been to get to Laguna Castillo, the lake was outshone by the three glaciers and mountain views that surrounded it.

It wasn’t that cold, except when there was wind at the top. One of my guidelines for hiking is, “Don’t worry about how you look, just wear the right stuff.” Mission accomplished.

The walk down was actually mundane and steep, and as usual did more damage to ligaments, tendons, and muscles than the hike up.

It’s hard to focus on the trail when there’s always a crazy mountain peak somewhere in the distance.

I was quite happy. While it was supposed to be a rest day, and my body was now a new kind of wreck from the hike, I knew I would not be going on with the cycling trip.

A new plan

As I’d arrived in Villa Cerro Castillo, I had talked to a bunch of backpackers, cyclists, and hikers, who told me about the conditions I’d face in the next week. Frost on tents. Freezing temps at night. Stronger winds. My tent is a Summer / Spring tent and not made for Winter. My sleeping bag is an ultra-lightweight bag, rated for 10 C, but certainly not freezing. I didn’t have the room on the bike to bring big puffy Winter gear, and the research I had done said it shouldn’t get much colder than 10C in the South. Well, my research was clearly wrong.

Indian Stone Vegano is the only vegan restaurant I could find in Coyhaique. The falafel were delicious, and disappeared quickly.

One of my 2019 Coaster (New Year’s Resolution) Items was “Come home safe from South American and the even more dangerous United States of America.” Basically a guiding principle to not follow my usual routine of putting my head down and just pushing through whatever was in front of me, but being smart for a change.

A portrait of a local priest, painted on an old satellite dish. An art installation, for sure. From a distance I had hoped it would be Johnny Cash.

The week ahead required me to camp out three times. If I had one day of bad rain like I’d had three of in the last week, I wouldn’t be able to get warm or stay warm. While the decision was not one I wanted to make, it was pretty clear I didn’t have the gear for the weather.

One of the bluffs along the route from Coyhaique to Cerro Castillo.

I had enough history on both the good side of adventure decisions (Turning back in our sea kayaks during a Northerly in Abel Tasmen in New Zealand) and the bad side (Hiking in Banff without a map or a compass to ‘prove something’) that this one was clear and quick, but I have to admit it hurt. The next day I looked at the bike and felt like I needed to apologize to it, because we wouldn’t be going any further together in this part of the world.

A future tour guide outside a cave in the region around Puyuhuapi.

I’d still get to see the sights of Southern Chile, hike in Patagonia, but the cycling was only going to be 30 days and not 40. On the surface, the show was going on, but without my favorite character.

Yep, it’s a damp, wet climate. Moss, tundra, etc.

This, however, was one of the main points of my trip – learning to be flexible, and deal with changes in the plan. I knew that my bike setup was an experiment, because I kept calling it that. Here are the results of our experiment:

  • Would the cross-bike/gravel-bike approach work on the roads of Patagonia? (Yes!)
  • Would I be able to cover the longer distances on this trip each day? (Yes!)
  • Would I have enough space in the frame packs to bring the gear that I needed for the weather? (No!)

We had talked a lot about risk taking over the past few years at work, and looking back, I felt like most of my professional risks were highly calculated – which made sense given the size of the bets I was asked to make. But I really made very few high risk gambles, and I wanted to try a bit of a gamble on this trip, where I didn’t know the answers and was going to have to find out along the journey.

While I would not consider myself an animal rights activist, I passoinately fight for the rights of dog statues. The person who broke the dogs nose must be brought to justice. After all, this is one of the few dogs in South America who does not bark all through the night or run after cyclists.

The world ‘failure’ has had some love with concepts like ‘fail fast’, but inside most people I know, saying “it failed” or even harder “I failed” is gut wrenching and next to impossible. Here, I can proudly say that a big part of my experiment failed. But I don’t have any negative emotions associated with that. The scariest part of this entire thing might be that it’s a sign that I’m growing up.

So, the plan has changed. It’s amazing that this can take up so much mental energy, and definitely fits well into the “high class problems” category. But now that I have a new direction, I’m just as excited about what’s next.

A man. A plan. Subscribe via email at http://eepurl.com/dhhmvr

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