Turns out all you need to fix toothache is an injection in the bum! Not 100% sure if something was lost in translation along the way or he just wanted a closer look and my toned bum after all the miles we have ridden but whatever he did it worked.
We had a last super of pizza and then we were off, route 40 was the same monotonous road, miles of straight lines with a head wind and we couldn’t wait to try our hand at some real South American roads and get onto the 35. All we had to do was churn out the 80km or so till we got there.
We camped the first night just off the side of the road taking what little shelter a drainage ditch would offer us, hoping that over night there wasn’t a sudden change in the weather. Turns out there was to be a surprise up the sleeve of the cycling gods, the cold, wet, snowy weather we thought we had left behind returned. We awoke to 3 inches of snow. We opted for a lie in, in the hope the sun would come back to play. With a slight improvement we upped and left hoping that the river crossing we knew lay ahead would not become impassable. The problem with ‘ripio’ roads is that they transform from dusty bum rattling ride to a consistency that would be great if it was drizzled over your chocolate cake or sticky toffee pudding, you know the kind that makes your jaw ache. It’s not great to try and ride bikes through. Here we struck our first problem, Oli’s bike, being the cleanest, seemed to like the mud so much it decided to collect the treacle like sludge around his mud guards to the point that his wheel was unable to spin. We attacked this gloop with ferocity, scraping, kicking and swearing at it, but in the end it turned out removing the mud guards was the best plan of attack, ironic really, mud guards causing the problem with the mud. By the time we had come to this solution Oli had already put his legs through hell and had been basically riding with a brake on for the best part of 20km, even with the mud somewhat cleared our legs were done. This pass was already starting to look a little too much for us and we had barely started. On a positive note, we did have a tail wind and the snow was no longer with us.
We retired to the tents early in the hope that the worst was over, and the snow had passed us by. By morning the clouds had gone but in came problem number 2. Head wind. I know this blog is going to be getting repetitive about this damn wind but it seems our old nemesis was back to haunt us. This was Oli’s first real taste of Patagonian wind and oh how he had his fill, for 50km we battled on, I was having horrible flash backs to the start of the trip, luckily this time I had someone to share the pain with as the only way to make progress was a chain gang approach. Jess has also learnt she definitely doesn’t like wind and took on the persona of a moody 13 year old in her way to cope. If I ever have children I never want a girl, moody girls make the wind look like a pussy cat!
Even with moody girls, tired legs, wheels full of gloop and head winds we managed to get to the boarder crossing, not before taking our first dip to cross one of the, I don’t know how many, rivers. This pass really was throwing everything at us. On another positive note, the scenery was unbelievable, this has probably been my favourite part of the trip so far, I felt like we were not only off the tourist track but also the cycle tourist track, forging our own route. It also helped that I didn’t seem to be hurting as much as the other two, things are always better when someone is hurting more than you…
Camping at the border we were approached by a weathered gent, this man looked like he had spent a few winters out here and to our amazement he spoke English. It turns out the land we would be crossing was part of his estancia, that’s a fancy word for big farm Mum, he asked us how we heard about it and what our plan for the rivers were. We explained we had been told about a bridge through a blog.
This bridge, it happens, belongs to him and it is what he uses to move his sheep from one area to another. He also explained that this bridge was private and cyclists don’t really have permission to use it, in fact he couldn’t guarantee it would be there much longer as it was coming to the end of its life. He explained his concerns over it being heavily used and somebody having an accident. After using this bridge, that he said we could, his concerns it seems are very real. The bridge is not designed for humans and it made for a worrisome crossing, not as worrisome as trying to ford this stretch of river however.
The 14km of pathless terrain was not much fun. We pushed more than we cycled. We crossed rivers and marshes. Went up and down loose gravel tracks with rocks the size of babies’ heads. And finally, to top this stretch off we pushed for 3km through thorn bushes only to find a fence that we had to unload and then reload our bikes after passing them over. Cycle touring at its best eh.
It took us over 5 hours and it was the longest 14km of our lives but we arrived in Chile without entering the country illegally which is a bonus. Even more of a surprise was how little damage we seemed to have done to the bikes or ourselves. One puncture was our total cost and that went to Oli who isn’t rolling on Shwablle Marathon Plus tyres, looks like my run of bad luck I had in Asia is now over! From the border post we decided to actually try riding our bikes, turns out they make walking really difficult. We managed 10km before we realised how much this crossing had taken out of us. We came across an estancia and asked to camp for the night. Here we witnessed Chilean hospitality at its best, not only did they allow us to camp, they supplied us with wine and coke and threw in a chicken to boot! This made every meter of that 14km worth it. I don’t think they realised just how grateful we were just for a fizzy sugary drink never mind the food and fresh bread. Oli was also made up as he was given his daily dose of caffeine that he would have had to go without; he had used the last of his coffee the previous morning this also made Jess and I happier as Oli without caffeine is not a pretty sight!
The final 40km wasn’t easy but it was stunning. With food supplies pretty much non-existent, and snacks dangerously low for my liking we dragged ourselves into Villa O’Higgins tired, no, beyond tired, exhausted but we had done it.
I have seen pictures of the ferry crossing from Lago del Desierto, the normal way cyclists get to Villa O’Higgins, the unpaved stretch you have to negotiate there, I wouldn’t like to say which is tougher or which is worse. All I know is we have done in excess of 400km extra to get to where the other crossing goes but without that we wouldn’t be able to ride the Carretera Austral. Now we can see what all the fuss is about. Not after a day or so to recover mind…
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.