A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Broken Road

After a day longer than I'd hoped in Coyhaique, watching an endless drip from the sky drowning my hopes of progress, I woke to parting skies, bone-chilling cold and a fresh layer of snow on the surrounding peaks.  I left town smothered in down and was soon drenched in sweat, climbing the small sprints only to have it freeze solid to my body as I barreled down the backsides.  Despite the added weight on my bike, thanks to a couple of over-zealous shopping excursions anticipating lonely roads ahead, I found myself screaming along with the help of a gale-force tailwind from the north.  My grins of good fortune were perhaps a tad premature though as, 60km into my day, I finally stopped to inspect an odd knocking sensation that had finally achieved this-isn't-going-away-on-it's-own status coming from my crank with each revolution.  Thinking it was a pesky pedal bearing that had been dogging me for several months, I went to give it the jiggle I usually do that makes it go away for another week or so (out of sound, out of mind, right?).  As I grasped my pedal, the usual firmness of my well tuned machine played sloppily in my hand.   Another tug and I felt my whole crank, indeed my immediate future on the road, wobble like a drunken man on a unicycle.  With a terminally ill bottom bracket, my options were suddenly limited.  I pondered this for a moment, trying to imagine exactly how I was going to employ the use of my rations of duct tape and baling wire to solve this problem and suddenly realized that, in short, I was screwed.  Return from whence I came (headfirst into the hurricane force winds I had just been enjoying) or continue on, take the shortcut across Lago General Carerra and hope for some miracle in either Chile Chico or Los Antiguos, the last two towns before beginning the long stretch into nowhere on Ruta 40.

I chose option two and, after a long night enduring winds that I have only heard tell of in movies like Twister or The Wizard of Oz, caught the morning ferry to Chile Chico.  My enthusiasm for this grand lake I had been looking forward to circling for so long was tempered by the fact that I was missing a fantastic ride around the lake by taking the ferry across it and also by the realization that I would be a fool to continue on in the face of the pending failure of my bottom bracket.  Upon reaching the other side, I paused in the small, cozy town of Chile Chico to ascertain the likelihood of finding a modern-day splined bottom bracket in a small touristy border town.  After visiting most of the twelve or so buildings that make up the town, it became apparent that there was none to be had as the most modern bike in town looked to be about as old as me. 

I again reflected on my journey, where I was and where I wanted to be...two very different places.  The glory road in soutern Chile is the Careterra Austral, the best part being from Coyhaique south bisecting glacially carved valleys and passing through impossibly remote countryside.  Due to extreme weather conditions during most of the year, critical ferries connecting the route run only in the peak months of December through March, thus making the route virtually impassable the rest of the year (this theory has recently been debunked by our friend Sarah and her compadre and will again be put to test by another road brother in the coming months).  As a result, the adventurous off-season cyclist is left with no option but to endure a week or so of some of the worst conditions a biker can imagine on the Argentina side following Ruta 40; horrible roads, extreme distances between food and water supplies and unfathomably strong cross winds that often make cycling impossible (let alone setting up a tent, using a stove, etc.).  

A long night in Los Antiguos left me more sure than ever that it was time to pack up, swallow my pride and cut my losses.  This trip has never been about the destination, but about the journey; the getting there, anywhere; the adventure of never knowing where we were going to end up when the wheels stopped rolling.  I felt that, for the moment at least, the wheels had stopped.  The weather was tickling me with the promise of much colder days to come, my bike was hopelessly ill and I had lost some crucial motivation.  I vowed to return as soon as the weather and Kirsten's schedule allows, hopped on the once weekly bus out of town and headed north. 

So, that's where the story ends for now.  Nearly 11,000km, 317 days and a world away from where we started, I was back home.  Stay tuned for more tales from the road when we return in mid December.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Patagonian Wonders...

The cool bite of fall wrapped tightly around me as I left El Bolson, the nostalgic combination of rotting leaves and fallen, fermenting apples taking me back to Octobers of my childhood. Solitude enveloped me as I said goodbye to pavement and entered Parque Nacional Los Alerces, the land that time forgot. Magnificent rivers of sparkling emeralds flowed smoothly and swiftly into lakes of impossible greens, flanked on all sides by monolithic rocky peaks. Stands of massive old-growth coihues reached high amongst them, pushing skyward on near vertical slopes, their deep red color dripping down the mountainsides like fingers of fiery hot lava burning its way through the forest. The rivers were a fishermans´ paradise, pulling me from the road again and again with their promise of the prizes of my dreams. What I wouldn´t have given for a float tube and a pair of waders as the frigid glacial waters kept me on the banks, mostly out of reach of the man-sized trout I could see loafing about. After 2 days, the cool weather and the pull of the south kept me on the move, back to Chile. My friendly crossing at the border, on the Chilean side, turned somewhat sour when the man searching my bags came across my kilo of popcorn, meant to sustain me for the coming lonely stretch of riding on the Careterra Austral. He held it up to his boss, both with a twinkle in their eyes. We´ll have to take this, they said. I rode off dejected, swearing I could hear the popping of my sweet maize on their raging fire behind me.

On through the Futaleufú valley, along another epic river of the same name. I stopped in town to stock up and inquire about fishing with an old guide I met. They won´t be biting, he promised, but come look at my record fish. An impressive creature it was - 18kg of brown trout (that´s almost 40 lbs!) and over 4 feet long. A chilean record, he said as he told me the story of catching it in the river and the hour and a half long battle. It was his pride and joy and hung on his wall as a monument to possiblity. I was jealous.

My welcome to the famous Careterra Austral consisted of rain, mud and a long, lonely stretch of road. Due to a malfunctioning ATM in Futaleufú, I had almost no money and thus very little food leaving me tired , wet and hungry and profoundly unimpressed with this road that for many is a destination itself. Still, even a rainforest sees some sun and after 2 days of misery, the clouds parted and nine seperate rainbows brightened my mood. I stopped for lunch alongside a river bank and as I finished the last of my cheese, I threw a small chunk into the water, where it was immediately devoured by a large trout. Hmm. Still waiting for my introduction to a Patagonian trout, and in spite of what the wise old man had promised, I pieced together my rod that I have luged across two continents for exactly this moment. My first cast...WHAM! My small 4 weight rod double over with the weight of a fish far to large for it. It was gone in seconds, taking my fly and half my leader with it. I quickly tied on another and again, snap. Four flies and several meters of leader later, I landed my first beauty, a spectacular sea-run rainbow. In the next 3 hours, I would have one of the most incredible days of fishing ever, losing count at 12 after the first hour or so. For every one I caught, I lost 2 or 3 more, my stash of flies fast dwindling. The fun ended with the loss of my last fly. They hit hard, on nearly every cast, and fought like whales. What a day!

The road climbed steeply from there and as the air grew frigid, I found myself surrounded on all sides by huge, glacial-capped rocky peaks, reminding me of why I love to ride and taking my mind off the seemingly endless mountain I was climbing. At long last, after 9 days of almost continuous gravel and mud that makes up most of the Austral, I finally reached the one paved section that would lead me on a windy and rolling path into Coyhaique, the capital of southern Chile. Surrounded by sheer granite cliffs and large snow-capped peaks, it is an adventurers´ paradise and a perfect spot for some days of rest before beginning the next leg south, back into Argentina and into the national parks Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. A few more weeks will find me deep in the south amongst icebergs and penguins and the end of the world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Greetings! Time has somehow escaped me and I find myself gone for more than 3 weeks without an update. I´ve come a long way since then! My departure from Santiago and its associated Ag/Industrial corridor of enormous viñeyards, apple orchards and kiwi plantations took the better part of five days. The riding was fast but boring to say the least and good camping was at a premium, always an endless stretch of barbed wire seperating me and my tent from a scenic, peaceful nights sleep. When the preferred lake or river side epic was not forthcoming, a gas station always proved to be a sure bet, with grassy stretches in back, hot showers and well stocked coolers of cold beer to relieve the pain of a long, hot day of riding.
It was a grand relief to finally depart the madness of freeway riding and the solitude and lack of traffic I was immediately afforded was much welcomed. I took a day off in Villarica, a quaint little tourist destination in the shadow of the magnificent Volcan Villarica before making my way east towards the Argentina border. I left Coñaripe, a small town in the hills and my last stop before the border, hoping to make Argentina that day via a little used route over Paso Carirriñe, but it was not to be that day. The rains began soon after leaving town, pounding so hard that continuing on on the dirt (mud) didn´t seem feasible. A deserted house, dry and cozy in a bombed-out-house sort of way appeared at the perfect moment and I made myself at home for the night. All that night and the following day, rain in heavy sheets turned the already mushy dirt into full on soup. I left amid ongoing drizzle upon realizing that in southern Chile, if I don´t ride in the rain, well, I´m not going to get very far.

The last 20km before the border were the worst, the road becoming unrideable with ankle deep mud on crazy steep slopes, my stubborn mule refusing to budge. I pushed and prodded, yelled obscenities, threatened abandonment and finally dragged her most of the final 10km to the Carabineros (Chilean police). I had some idea of how I must of looked, but the sympathy in the eyes of the men who came out made me realize just how pathetic I looked. They were obviously excited for some company (I was the first person they had seen in 3 days) and after processing my papers showed me the way to the kitchen with a raging fire, a bottomless cup of coffee and the conversation of 3 lonely guys. After a couple hours of warmth, it was tough to leave the that room to get back on the road, the rain now heavier and colder than when I arrived. Don´t worry, they said. There are hot springs 10km up the road. Just knock and someone will let you in.
It was about dark by the time I pushed my way to the entrance of the hot springs and sure enough the gate was closed and all the lights were off. Two men appeared just as I was giving up hope of the steaming bath I had been dreaming about for the last 3 hours. Sorry, it´s closed, they told me. Again, my pathetic appearance must have appealed to their better halves because after looking me up and down, they told me to follow them. Down a path, into a deserted bog onto a small wooden platform. Just make sure you close the gate on the way out, they said before leaving...oh, and don´t tell anyone we let you stay. No problem! I spent 2 hours roasting in near boiling thermals, marvelling at my good fortune and defrosting my fingers and toes.

The land beyond was remote and untouched and I got the feeling I could be passing through 500 years ago and it would all still look the same. Huge old-growth coihues (a type of native beech) and monkey puzzle trees towered over me, silently reminiscing about a life from long ago. Several epic looking trout waters got me drooling, but the continuing drizzle zapped my motivation to stop moving. Somewhere ahead was the Argentina immigration building with another hot fire! Sure enough, after a few frigid hours, I came upon it and recieved another dose of comfort from a lonely pair of Gendarmerians.

San Martin de los Andes was my next stop and is the Aspen of northern Patagonia; a skiing mecca and a pricey destination by a poor bikers standards. Still, a cozy hostel with friendly travellers and staff kept me warm and dry and when it was raining even harder the next morning, I opted to kick it for another day. The 2 days following San Martin pass through the infamous seven lakes district and I was hoping for good weather but, again, it was not to be. A slight break the next morning lasted all of an hour and by mid morning I was soaked again with a long day ahead of me. If there were fantastic views, like everyone says, I didn´t see them. I tried to use my imagination...but to be honest, water was about the last thing I was intersted in. Still, there is a threshold, a point at which it is impossible to get any more wet. I met that moment early in the day and from then on, I was like a five year old playing in the rain, hitting the biggest puddles at full speed, daring it to be deeper than I thought. Shouts of encouragement from the many construction workers I passed as I barreled along kept me smiling and after 7 hours of insanity, I finally reached pavement and yet another cozy little lake town. I have never been so willing to shell out money to camp. I took three long, hot showers in the few hours that followed my arrival and enjoyed the first night in six without rain. The trend continued on into the next morning when I woke to blue skies and a beaming sun. Yeah! I made the short ride to Bariloche for a day of rest and to make some much needed bike repairs before heading south again to the hippy capital of Argentina, El Bolsón, where I am currently. Fall is in full swing, the cottonwoods glowing magnificent shades of gold as the cold bite of winter is reaching out a little earlier each afternoon and holding on a bit longer each morning, leaving me wondering what another month or so and several more degrees of latitude south will bring.