Monday, February 22, 2016

Patagonia Adventures Continued!


Our nice cabin on the day off proved to be even nicer than expected. That night, our Russian friend Timor offered to cook everyone a traditional dish for dinner called borsch. We sat around and feasted on a hot soup of boiled chicken, beets, cabbage, onion, and carrot for hours. To make the night more animated and truly Russian we drank chilled vodka in a very specific order: make a toast, breath out, drink, eat soup, breath in.  It is surprisingly effective to take the edge off the alcohol. To make the night a bit more American we shared a couple craft brews from the area. Excellent evening.


The next morning, we didn't end up biking all that much. It turned out there was a national park along our route so we decided to check it out. Off the bikes, we wandered up a very rugged trail to see a hanging glacier. Apparently in Patagonia they want you to feel a part of nature on your hikes because this one was dense forest and very much a part of the natural landscape such as uprooted trees. When we made it to the top, we finally realized how spoiled we are. Here was a beautiful glacier with two steady waterfalls flowing from the melt, and we were a bit disappointed we weren't closer. Our standards are starting to be ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was great to mix up the riding and a thoroughly enjoyable hike and view.



That night we ended up camping by a river. However, the good campsite was on the far side of the stream so we decided to ford it Oregon Trail style. Using sticks and bikes to carry our gear, we set up our spot looking at some gnarly snow peaks and started a fire to warm up from the crossing. Kai ventured off and came back with the first fish of the trip, using a horsefly we had killed at camp. Patagonia is now two trout fewer but boy did they taste good fried up in our pan with a cracker breading.

The following day, the scenery decided to show off more than ever. After waking up to clouds weaving through our jagged peaks near the campsite, we spent the passing mossy trees, waterfalls, and glaciers. Our progress was slowed once again because we constantly felt compelled to stop and look at water crashing down over 100 meters or a mass of ice hanging up in the mountains. Even with the steep inclines that continued to roll in front of us, it didn´t matter because every break was an incredible view. At one point, I got lost staring at a valley listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Life is tough down here sometimes. We ended our day next to a lake, where there happened to be free camping. Not only was it free, but if you got there early enough there were cabins built you could use. Despite the concrete floor and slight smell of old wine, we slept 5 wide and were able to feel the benefit of a roof besides our tent. Jon took it upon himself to clean out a ton of the trash and toilet paper around camp using a rubber glove from the med kit, and I´m proud to say that when we left it actually looked like a nice place to stay again.


Patagonia continued to show off scenery the next few days, but the weather took a turn for the worse. It stayed around 50 to 65 degrees most of the time, but for two straight days we had a light rain. Riding in 55 degrees and wet is a bit tough, and apparently uses a ton of body energy because our appetites could not be satisfied. It´s a weird sensation to finish nearly a kilo of rice full of veggies between the 4 of us and feel hungry before falling asleep. Since we've been chasing summer so much, it is also weird to wake up, open the tent vestibule, and see your breath. Incredibly different from the nights of sweat that weren't so long ago.

About this time, we realized our distance to the end was further than we could ride and feel good about making our plane home on March 9th. After realizing that the ferry companies refuse to answer their phones and their websites are unreliable, we accepted our fates and began to look into a bus once more. Making for the nearest town large enough to have busing options, we crossed the border back into Argentina on Valentine's Day. It was so windy then that although we were on gravel, we could move down the road at a steady pace without pedaling. Thankful the wind was at our backs, we made steady progress but struggled to find a decent campsite with shelter. We opted for a gravel pit used with construction and in the spirit of Valentine's we sipped on wine, ate an unhealthy amount of chocolate, and shared dating stories. Not wanting to end the mood as we huddled together for warmth, we waited a bit too long to set up tents. The wind was still howling as the sun went down (with an absolutely spectacular sunset) so we resorted to tying additional rope to the tents, attaching them to buried stones and logs, and put piles of gravel over our tent stakes to try and keep them from flinging up with the gusts. We even used our bikes as anchors and had to weigh a few of them down to prevent sliding. Without a doubt, it was the noisiest and windiest night I have ever camped in. I will say, REI your tents amaze me. If there was ever a night for them to fail, I would have expected the wind to flatten them but both of our setups lasted throughout.

Leaving down the gravel road the next day, we were glad to have the wind at our backs once more. However, the quality of the road degraded so much that we tried to hitch with a flatbed truck carrying two cars in the back. Although there was plenty of space, the bouncing of the road was actually painful. It became so bad and we were so concerned with watching our bikes bounce in a stack of 5 with each pothole hit that we waved down the driver and opted to ride out the road. I repeat, we CHOSE to ride on more gravel. It helps put in perspective how nasty this metal bed was because it takes a certain sort of motivation to cancel a free ride.


Luckily, before long we turned back on the main road and hit pavement. Unluckily, this meant the wind was now at our side and not at our back. We decided to camp in a dry river bed, taking in an incredible sunset and rise. Since the land was so flat, the area of color wasn't only where the sun dropped behind the horizon. Instead, the color seemed to stretch the entire sky. I´m not sure the wind blowing across the flat plains was worth the view, but it was incredible to witness. The next morning, we started into the wind and fought it all day. We even hit a stretch of rain that was so cold, we all put on our entire arsenal of clothing just to stay warm while riding. It was easily a 40 mph steady wind with higher gusts. Since all of the rivers ended up being dry, we had little choice but to push onward to the next town, brutally increasing our time on bike by a couple hours and finding a new definition of the word motivation.



Once in Perito Moreno, we were able to check into buses. The only one with adequate storage for 5 bikes brought us to Calafate, so we made the jump. Knowing we needed to go a bit further south to comfortably make Ushuaia in time, we learned the next bus left at 5:30 am. Using the opportunity to knock an item off my personal bucket list, we made the most of our day by reserving a ticket to the Perito Moreno glacier. As another UNESCO heritage site, it didn´t disappoint. Although a bit tourist heavy, the mass wall of blue ice was incredible. We were even fortunate enough to watch the ice cave off the sheet twice during our visit and hear the delayed thundering boom as it crashed into the water. Honestly, the sight is hard to describe and pictures only do it some justice. It was so different from the other places we´ve seen. Well worth the trip in my opinion.

Since our bus the next morning left so early, we decided to ride to the outside of town for free camping and wake up at 4 to catch what we hope will be our final bus. We arrived back in Chile after a sniffing dog caught Kai nearly smuggling an apple into the country (luckily he checked yes on food items for customs) and spent the day at Puerto Natales. Besides picking up the usual groceris, Jon had to invest in a new chain since he´s broken 4 links now in the old one. It´s crazy that all we have left to do is ride a bit further, take a ferry, and finish up the trip. With less than a month, we are definitely trying to soak up the last bit of adventure. It seems like our Russian friend Timor has decided to stick it out with us and we believe he´ll be riding to the end. The journey so far has been amazing, so I have full confidence the last couple weeks will be the same. Thanks again for following along and can´t wait to see what the last few days have in store!

-Ben

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