The first day of cycling was a real baptism of fire with a 70kmph headwind the entire way. That evening I quickly forgot the difficulties of the day and headed to the nearest nightclub with four French travellers to try and learn how to Salsa dance and see if we could survive the onslaught of double tequila slammers that somehow became obligatory. At some point we got invited to a house party in a nearby Bario. Naturally this seemed like a good idea at 5am despite how dodgy it sounded. The next morning my plan of setting off early didn’t exactly happen…I ended up setting off at 2pm! Whilst great fun, I was a little worried that this was going to be the norm for the remainder of the trip.
|The sweeping hairpins on the descent into Villa Cerro Castillo|
|Not what you want to see when the nearest bike shop is 1000km away|
|The wild last section of the Carretera|
|A winding mountain pass on the Carretera|
|Reaching the end of the Carretera Austral after around 500km of ripio|
|Drainage channels make for entertaining singletrack|
|Reaching the middle of no-mans land at the seasonal border crossing|
|The climber's Everest: Cerro Torre (Pinnacle on the right)|
|The impressive nose of the Perito Moreno Glacier (50m high and 5km wide)|
The next morning I only had a short way to Puerto Natales, however despite an initial tailwind, which was blowing me along nicely, the last few kilometres where awful with torrential rain, cold and a buffeting wind. It was me stamping on the pedals trying to race to the relative shelter of the town that caused the trip ending moment for my crank. This time my bolt hadn’t come loose but the metal that sat in contact with the axle spindle (Square Tapered BB) had worn itself into a circle. So I could physically spin my left crank round independently from the other crank. Not good. I really did think that this was the end of the cycling on my trip. After giving in and finding a hostel to stay in I went to an info talk about backpacking in Torres del Paine and caught word of a bike shop nearby. My saviour, here I bought a crank that would fit my bike and could be held on by my bodge, with the one caveat, that my cranks where now at 135 degrees to each other instead of parallel…
Early the next morning I embarked on the ‘Q’ trail in Torres del Paine, with six days worth of food and all my equipment (I estimated that my starting pack weight was a fairly low 16kg which all fitted into my 55L rucksack, just). I was hoping to cover around 160kms plus a few thousand metres of height gain in under half the recommended time. Initially this went quite well with gorgeous weather on the first day if you exclude walking 22km into a 110kmph headwind (I was still at sea level…). The next two days were spent in the most travelled part of the park which was at times quite strange due to the sheer number of people but it was nether the less beautiful and any bad weather was very quickly blown over. During the day it was possible to see and hear huge seracs falling above from the white covered peaks, which was a bit worrying given the location of the campsites. The most sought after vista in the park is the three huge granite spires, which require a fairly gruelling 2km walk through a boulder field to reach. I planned to watch the sunrise over these but unfortunately despite the 5.40 am wake up the view was masked by cloud, rain and snow. Fortunately I had decided to take advantage of the good weather the previous afternoon and had managed to see them and the impressive geological structures beneath them (Laccolith flow pipes – feeder magma pipes for a Sill like structure).
|Torres del Paine National Park from the start of the 'Q' trail|
|Torres del Paine|
|Reaching my high point whilst on the backside of the 'Q' trail|
This day was the hardest of the entire trip with my forecasted tailwind materialising
as headwind, continual rain and the temperature falling as I headed south with the added dehydration and lethargic feeling following my food poisoning. It all left me in a mild hypothermic state. Not to mention the bike problems. Leaving the bus stop that I ate my lunch in was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The temptation to just curl up and fall asleep and thumb a lift the following day was massive. Fortunately I carried on and after a further 50km I pitched my tent in an abandoned barn where I hung my clothes up to dry and managed to stomach some food.
I woke early the next morning to try and beat the worst of the wind as it had been buffeting my tent all night through the opening in the barn. The morning was cold but beautiful with clear blue skies. Unfortunately after the initial 20km passing swiftly the road turned and the wind was soon at a very awkward cross headwind. This eventually meant that I couldn’t stay in a straight line and zigzagged my way forward. Having a fully loaded bike was great in that I had greater inertia so gusts had less impact but it also meant that I was effectively a huge sail. I can only say that they were on average a benefit because on a road bike you simply would have been blown over. After zigzagging for 10km a police car pulled me over and insisted that I get in their truck and put my bike in the back. I was a bit confused as to why until they pulled into there station a few miles later and told me that I must cycle in a straight line, as zigzagging was dangerous. The temptation to tell them to try cycling in what they said was 120kmph winds was quite strong. At this point I tried to fill my bottles up but to no avail. At this point I faced the remaining 100km of the 150km day (7hrs of riding) with only 700ml of water to drink which when combined with my already dehydrated body made for quite an uncomfortable few hours. The next 40km where okay but then the road turned again and this time the wind was a straight crosswind and was like nothing I have ever experienced before. My zigzagging had now become being blown not just across my lane but across the lane of oncoming traffic and onto the gravel on the far side as well and I was helpless to stop it, I couldn’t try to pedal into it to turn back because my windward pedal would catch on the road because I was leaning over so far to try and stay upright. To say this was scary is an understatement and I actually think it was probably the most dangerous thing I have ever done on a bike. I tried pushing my bike by the side of the road but just got blown over constantly. With no shelter to stop and put my tent up I had no choice but to continue. I did my best to manage for the next hour until I reached a police station where I hoped I could get a lift. Unfortunately they didn’t have a vehicle that could transport my bike so I decided that I would take the safer option and hitch a lift the remaining 30km to Punta Arenas, my final destination. That evening I was told that the wind had been blowing around 130/140kmph (80-85mph) and may have been gusting more. After an evening of relaxation and rehydration I rose early the next morning with the aim of catching a ferry to a nearby island, which was home to a huge Penguin colony before starting my journey homeward by plane.
|Cold but clear blue skies in the morning on my final push South to Punta Arenas|
|Magdalena Penguins on Isla Magdalena|
Overall I had an incredible time throughout my trip despite the pretty serious mechanicals and learnt so much along the way. For anyone interested in cycle touring I would wholeheartedly recommend the Carretera Austral although when I say the ripio is bad, it really is. The desert like roads of Argentina are also amazing to cycle through providing you don’t mind carrying lots of water and I would cycle there again without hesitation.
A selection of totals from my journal:
Distance cycled: 1,256.4km (504km on ripio)
Height gain: 13,420m (by bike)
Distance walked: 222km
No. of things broken: 11
Languages spoken: 8
Max weight carried: 45-50kg (inc. 15kg bike)
Max amount of water carried: 5.6L
If anyone would like further information on the trip for their own adventures just ask as it will probably be a long time before I finish writing up my journal completely.