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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Last day on the Carretera Austral

I woke early and moved my stuff out of the small shelter quickly so as to not disturb the two German hikers who had shown up later in the day yesterday.
I reheated the thick, goopy pan of lentils and rice I made the night before.   I was down to that for breakfast and a handful of crackers to get me through the next, and last, 55 km of the Carretera Austral. I knew wolfing down the rest of the banana chips and nuts mix the night before was a mistake but, not stopping to eat during my rides, I wake ravenous during the night and cannot get the food in my mouth fast enough. Perhaps I should skip over the night when, reaching in my nut mix, I discovered something, many somethings, had hatched there.

After the grueling 4 passes Friday and I had to conquer the day before, I was hoping for some flat terrain and, for a while, it was just that.  The road, however, had not improved much.  Loose sand and rocks, reminiscent of most of what I had ridden, continued to plague me.  As I have repeated probably more than necessary, this is the type of road best ridden wet, when the sand is tamped down. Dry, we were not riding on the road, more  like riding in it.  I thought it similar to a boat that moves through choppy water, but with quite a bit more drag. At the beginning of the road, I was not able to cycle through much of it, but now I am able to make some pretty good headway.  My technical skills have, indeed, improved.

Soon, the flat road gave way to hills and would remain so for the rest of the day. Traction. For me this has been the most difficult issue. Perhaps 2" tires would have made a differece.  The sand and rocks are so loose that my tires just end up spinning out.  More often now, I am able to keep spinning until the tire finds something to hold onto. A metaphor, perhaps, for the maturity one gains with age to simply persevere, keep on keepin' on until you can regain a foothold.  However, if I have to hop off, 50% of the time I am unable to hop back on until the hill evens out a bit.  Those times, I just remind myself that I have no deadline, no place to be, that I am just here to ride my bike.  Immediately my shoulders untense and I begin to enjoy myself again. I'm just a girl on a bike,

It's a trade off anyway.  Although rainy days solve the traction issue, sunny warm days set the backdrop for some of the most beautiful photographs I have seen of this road, and the photos are ones I have taken. I am one of those rare people who have had the good fortune to experience this road with a minimum of rain.

I would be hard pressed to say whether this was, in fact, the most beautiful ride of the entire road or whether everything was made that much more brilliant knowing it was my last ride on this very challenging terrain.  I rode along a valley lined by snow capped mountains on one side
and run off lakes on the other, lakes so still that they gave rise to perfect mirror reflections of the mountains behind them in the distance.

Every hundred feet or so small cascades of waterfalls lined the road, like supporters lining up along the last mile of a marathon to cheer you on.

As I crested one of the last hills and stopped to appreciate the view, he 3 UK riders cycled by and greeted me. Nadine was nice enough to stop and capture the moment with Friday and me in a photo.

And they were off again. But god they are awe inspiring cyclists. I was surprised to see them again, figuring they'd be on an entirely different continent by now, but they took a down day in Cochrane (and were still ahead of me). As they rode off, I wished I had asked them for cookies.

The technical difficulty of the last 20 km of the road prevented me from giving much thought to what Friday and I had accomplished.  Even to the very end I needed to maintain absolute focus on the road, looking for that big rock when, more likely, it is that small pebble on a bed of sand that sits ready to take me down.  How much of life can be like that, prepared for the big catastrophes and brought to our knees by a broken fingernail. In a strange way, I thought it appropriate that it be difficult until the end, which it was. It was never easy and was never meant to be. That said, neither was it meant to be an end to something, a getting from one point to another thing.  I simply wanted to ride my bike on a difficult road in a beautiful place.

Riding thus, 8 or more hours a day, until I am ready to drop from the seat exhausted, has prevented me from giving much thought to the impetus that sent me on this journey.  I have no idea about the condition of my heart. The rabbit seems like a million years ago in a life that does not belong to me. In that life, someone does not want me.  In that life, I fall short.  In this life I have taken a tiny but indomitable little bike and together we have accomplished, if not the impossible, at least the extremely difficult. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with.

I look at the picture taken of me my last night on the road. I have become myself, finally,  Unwashed, unkempt. Half feral, joyfully fierce. Had I seen that picture as a child, something inside me surely would have been stirred, my heart quickened with recognition.
 I would have thought, "that, that is what I want to be". I am not someone to be wanted or not wanted. I am not above that, simply aside from that. It does not apply. A devolution occurred here, a reversion to wild-type that arises with an urgency that can no longer be denied. I am esctatically alive. A fire burns in me, rekindled.

[To know more about the UK cyclists, the German hikers, and the myriad of adventures I have had on the CA, stay with me as I retrace my steps for you.  I will ride south though parts of Argentina and back into Chile, to fly out to Santiago and back home the first week of March]


  1. How many miles miles why the journey of what do you think.

  2. The carretera austral is about 1300 km from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins. Most of it is difficult, unpaved road. The last half is documented at about 36,000 ft. in elevation biked altogether. The first half is probably just a little less. It is challenging, but some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see. I did it because someone broke my heart.

    1. Can I borrow your bike when your done with it?
      Love you

  3. You are inspirational in this - so often I don't do things because I am a woman and going out there alone gets everyone anxious about safety and then me too. I know there are real challenges for safety, but it really does help build confidence to see a woman conquering a challenge like this. Thank you for sharing it with us all.
    I have only half-read your entries as I was focused on work, but will go back and read them all now, as this year I shift my focus a bit

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