Now available on Kindle

To subscribe to this blog and have it downloaded directly to your Kindle device, click here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


I intended to write an account of my daily journeys that might provide a useful resource for others who might like to make a similar journey (although I would hope with a different impetus). I searched the internet before I started planning in earnest and was helped immensely by a couple bikepackers who had already made this journey, particularly Bill Hoadley who keeps a journal at the crazyguyonabike website detailing his trips with bike friday.  Bill and I have exchanged emails and I am grateful to him for his sage advice.

Anyway, the best laid plans...  I have had only rare access to the internet and, after biking for 6-10 hours with a fully loaded bike, the effort to keep a journal seems monumental. I will go back and fill in the blanks, but not tonight.

I am at the Patagonia Hostel in Coyhaique for a down day while I work on my bike. The rear derailleur has not been shifting, initially shifting poorly and then yesterday not at all. Serendipitously, I already planned to take a day at a hostel and clean Friday and myself up, so the timing was good. I thought mud and debris must have gotten caught up in the rear derailleur, so I got the toothbrush out and applied degreaser.  I noticed that the shifting cable was not moving easily through the outside cable that surrounds it.  I found that the shifting cable had become quite frayed and was hanging up in the supporting cable.

Now, Coyhaique, where I am staying, does in fact have a bicycle shop with  a repair person. But Chuck Sherman from the Bisbee Bicycle Company was wise enough to provide me with an extra shifter cable and he would not have done so if he didn't think I might be able to figure it out myself.  Additionally, if this happened 50 miles down the road where no bicycle shops exist, I would have to woman-up.  Being within walking distance to the only bike shop for a few hundred miles in either direction provided a nice safety net in case I screwed something up.

Needless to say, I felt like I was preforming neurosurgery. I managed to identify the problem that precipitated the first cable event just a few miles out of Puerto Montt, which simply got worse as the days went by. I took the leap, pulled out the old cable, inserted the new cable, tightened everything, and gave it a try.  I think it shifts better than it ever has. I immediately went to the bike shop and bought another shifter cable.

Coyhaique.  The halfway point for the Carretera Austral. I am halfway there with ample time left.  I am not rushing but neither do I linger.  People ask me what my average mileage is per day. The question is not useful.  I ride somewhere between 6-10 hours a day, either until I cannot ride another meter or I have reached some place I wanted to camp.  How far those hours get me depends on the road.  Some short segments have been paved; however, most of it has been rocky, pitted, and sandy.  Some of the road has been simply unrideable. On any given day it may be a combination of some or all of those.

Why I ride 6-10 hours a day is a useful question, though. I ride because I love to move. I love to ride my bike; but I would run this road and could do so faster, but for want of someone to pack my camping gear. Something in me needs to move- not in an antsy, squirming out of my undies need, but a need to move through...hmmm... what?  Through this plasma, this stuff around us we can't see?
How does the universe know we exist if we do not move? I sometimes imagine that the wind is the way the universe senses me and interacts with me. Sometimes it does so playfully and sometimes it challenges me. And so movement is a way for me to create my own wind, to inform the universe of my presence, my intent.

I am halfway done with cycling the Carretera Austral. In half the time I planned.  I will have to move the goalpost. If my bike surgery is successful, I plan to ride as far as Puerto Natales. Time permitting, I would then take the bus down to Punta Arenas and ride around for a couple days looking for penguins.  If time doesn't favor my plan, I can catch a couple buses up to Santiago.

The road is a fat tire road. No question.  Two inch tires would have been better. That said, I saw a younger bikepacker with bigger tires walking the same segments as I, heading north. And what I am able to ride has evolved over the past ten or so days. The condition of the road is not static, so it's difficult to describe. Much of it is like desert roads, rocky and sandy, doable on the flatter portions but near impossible to get traction on the hills, which are endless. Other sections resemble a river bed with either coarse sand or smooth, palm sized rocks, both utterly unfordable. And then there's the mud.

The most dangerous segments of the Carretera Austral are those with fine sand and gravel because they give the illusion of being traversable. These are the portions that require my absolute attention. When the front tire hits a piece of gravel at a certain angle on loose sand, the gravel shoots out in one direction and my tire in the other. In an eyeblink I am on the ground, retina detached. This is the road that took me down in New Zealand, landed me in surgery. Needless to say, the moment I feel out of control, I am off the bike.

The worst sections of the road are where road construction is ongoing. Outside of the towns and off the pavement, this is not a heavily-traveled road. I see few vehicles on the dirt portions and the road is mine. But in the construction areas, scores of cumbersome trucks laden with gravel, sand, and rocks pass you within inches. Curves in these areas are day trails and I dismount and walk.

I have walked far more often than I'd care to admit, especially when, like in NZ, I had trouble with my climbing gears. I have spent significant hours pushing this little bike and her fully packed packed up hills I just couldn't conquer, especially in those last two hours of my ride.
I fixed my rear derailleur during this mid point down day and have reached a reasonable compromise with my front derailleur. On dirt and very steep hills, I manually drop the chain down to the smallest of the three front rings. On the rare paved segments, I move the chain up to the middle ring. It's a compromise that seems top be working. I climbed about 4000 ft coming out of Coyhaique today and only had to hop off to pee.

This is hard and not for everyone. I met a young man from France today whose cycling partner dropped off in Coyahique. I suspect that happens a lot. I also met a woman from Oregon who, although an accomplished and passionate mountain biker, is not drawn to the long road. She is here to hike. I would like to hike as well, but my short hike up to the glacier viewing area was enough to know that I can't do both.

First, I risk a sprained ankle or some hiking injury that would pull me of the bike for a period of time. I had a couple near misses on the short hike. Second, I push my legs to the point of exhaustion. Not intentionally but I do. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night with a leg cramp so severe that my foot is grotesquely distorted. Liberating my leg from the sleeping bag under those conditions is extremely painful and takes a monumental effort. I cannot ask more from my legs then they are able to give. They get me out on the open road, running and biking. I learned from my Oregon hostel mate, who is also a physical therapist, that pickle juice works wonders for muscle cramps. I intend to pick some up in the next town.

As to the state of my heart?  I will keep biking...


  1. Thank you very much for taking us with you, Alyson.

  2. cool. I've heard of pickle juice as a remedy. maybe the sodium? keep on bikin.

  3. Great to read. You probably can't get much supplies, but I had trouble with cramps too. My PT said magnesium. So far, so good, but have not had a summer where I pushed myself to really test.