Monday, February 18, 2019 | Pablo Piferrer / Mirko Heilhecker | North and South America
A sunny day begins in Osorno, the air is fresh and clean and the asphalt dry, a perfect picture that invites us to explore this Patagonia Adventure tour. A short distance ride to collect our bikes and sooner than we know it, we're riding north towards Pucón.
With a new day comes a new ride, certainly an adventure packed one. With a mountain pass straight out of our hotel and a border crossing right after. Today, we sleep in Argentina!
Shortly after the border crossing, one of the bikes had a slight fault, and since we are still close to the garage, we took al measures to organise a new bike and change the one we had. Now, we had to put the faulty one on the truck, like back in the day!!
After a prior long day with some excellent roads, the ride ahead had a high bar, but it passed it with flying colours. While part of the group continued down towards el Bolson, two went back to Chile to change the bike, and enjoy an additional border crossing. All of it done with a smile, and as an addition to our adventure to tell our grandkids, the road of inexplicable beauty and the chance to be “free to ride” gives the chance to really meet the locals and feel for an instant, a part of the locals lives in a different way.
A new day and another border crossing. Leaving El Bolson to go back to Chile for a couple of days, but the morning had a very interesting visit to Butch Cassidy's ranch near Cholila and ride through "los Alerces" National park. A quick stop by the viewing point and as we crossed the bridge, the sun and the clean flowing river, invited some of us to go for a quick dip, but the water was.... chilly. So, after a beautiful day of riding, we reached the most beautiful customs office location ever seen, in the Argentinian side, and off to the Chilean one to finish off the papers. After crossing in, a 10 KM road looking, and feeling like a Go-Kart track, lead us straight to our hotel for the night.
The long day prior, left us all pretty beat up, and so we decided that we could take a little extra to recover our strengths from the ride and leave a little later. It was a good idea, as the worst part of the rain had gone by, by the time we were on the bikes.
Within the first 20 kms, we were already into hard pack, light off-road or as the locals call it, "Ripio". As it had been raining early morning, the dust stayed down and the road was supper grippy with our mixed terrain tires, so a good speed and good riding combination from the group, took us to La Junta for a quick coffee and cake, to let the last part of the rain pass, with a quick hard shower!
By the time we finished our coffee, the rain had stopped completely, and we were able to take the loop round the lake, to a very narrow bridge. Visual Spectacular.
Dinner was spectacular, in a small restaurant close to the hotel, fresh fish and local meats, excellent!!
Start of day six begins with a beautiful sunrise and not a cloud in the sky. The fjord lights up and with the smell of coffee, we begin the day. We're already 1100 kms into the tour but merely 400 as the crow flies, nevertheless, the opening towards the ocean in which we passed the night, brings a chilly breeze to wake us up.
South we go towards Coyhaique, following the fjord for a little while, till we venture a bit more inland, seeing the spectacular roads that were once footpaths over the hills, driving by cascades that flow from underground rivers.
The ride takes us to our first rest day hotel, while preparing the next day's briefing, Mirko shared how beautiful the day was going to be and the fact that it is his favourite day, it doesn’t matter how long he could have gone on about it and how well he explained it, because nothing can prepare you for the visual show this day has to offer. Every corner, every straight, each switchback and every single metre on the off-road, is simply stunning
While riding behind Budd, he stopped at a point to admire the beauty and take it in, he said:
"I know what you're thinking, you've seen glaciers move faster than me"
I was happy that he was, because it gave me an excuse to take a really calm pace and enjoy such a "Visual spectacular" as he called it and share some of those pictures. They don't do it justice, but I'm sure you can all remember it.
The name says it all, rest day! But, there's also a ride available. While some decided to do it, others, took the chance to relax by the lake, or take a horse ride round the ranch, or maybe just read a book, after all, it's been 7 days non-stop!
300 km "rest day" ride all on gravel, some easier, and some a bit less, nevertheless, wonderful.
Longest riding day, in fact, so long, we need to fuel up three times. We cross back to Argentina, where we get back into asphalt after a couple of days (not for long though!). After a long morning and first fuel-up came the hardest part, getting used to the Patagonia winds, front, sideways and back, once we matched the speed, of the rear wind, not only did we save fuel, but we could hear the engine, and the tires!!
The most challenging day was over, and a well-deserved beer was in order.
We begin with a light breeze and for 50 kms, all asphalt, but it's soon to change, first 70 kms of gravel and as we hit asphalt and are almost at our first fuel stop, the wind begins, it wouldn’t be Patagonia if there was no wind!!
Gravel teaches us a lot about riding and it's that you can't trust the ground, ever, so in a way, it's good, because it makes you better. While riding, a quick stop to take in the landscape and suddenly ... an armadillo appeared out of nowhere, so it was worth the extra picture stop.
While fuelling, we went for a "German" lunch as Mirko called it, something quick to get back on the road, because El Chalten, is a really cool town to visit, specially of you like trekking as it is packed with nice routes. The welcoming view to the town was that of Fitz Roy, majestic, breath-taking.
Behind we leave the beautiful town of el Chalten, to head south to Calafate, and by coffee, Mirko finds his suspension has exploded! But that's ok, first, let's get a coffee and enjoy the wonderful view and break from the wind by the river bank.
The day to Calafate is short, but the highlight was in the afternoon, Perito Moreno Glacier and the road that lead to it. After battling with the wind in the opening from the fjords, the closeness to the mountain and the curvy road, made it all worthwhile, specially when all of a sudden, the sight of the 67 metre high glacier wall popped into sight.
There's a lot of things to do in some of the places where we have rest days, and after having been to see the Perito Moreno Glacier the day before, we were left wanting to see more! We booked a boat trip to see the other Glaciers.
Picked up from our hotel early morning by a bus and dropped off in Puerto Bandera, where we would be taken for a 6-hour trip on a catamaran.
The pictures speak for themselves, but for some info, we saw the Upsala glacier, disputed by Argentina and Chile and the Spegazzini Glacier, with a wall twice as tall as the Perito Moreno!!
One of those things that rarely happens round here, is to have no wind, and that is exactly what we got, a start with very little of it, barely noticeable, that said, after the previous days, it felt like nothing.
270 kms to a really cool hotel in Puerto Natales, so as to be able to have our next rest day. After the border crossing, we were almost there, but a good hearty lunch came in nicely at Cerro Castillo after border crossing, and before enjoying a calm ride to the hotel.
The rest day ride would take us to Torres del Paine National Park, a day, where even those that had been here any more times, were surprised too have had blue skies and hot weather, and hot it was, 32ºC! Not even a slight breeze, and lots of signs saying to keep away from the rapids, but trust me, looking like a power ranger, the sun was scorching, and it felt like dismissing those warning panels!
The ride towards the park, is like eye candy every turn we take, but the cherry of the cake is after a small hill, seeing the towering mountains and its distinctive shape. After a couple of kilometres, we made it to the gravel that would accompany us for most of the day, but it was so well maintained, we could have as well been on an asphalt road.
Early morning, we all set towards Tierra del Fuego, the final leg of our tour. We are crossing over to Isla Grande and staying as close as possible to the border so as to have as full a day as possible in Argentina the next day. By coffee we had two groups made, one would take the gravel road to see the standing tree, and the other would take a more relax ride towards the ferry.
One doesn't simply get on the ferry, it's really up to the captain to when he wants to let you on. So, assenting with his head knowing you are ready, doesn't mean you will get on it... as we found out.
As standing as it gets round here. The wind blows so hard, that itsiclose to a miracle that it's still alive!
We're all ready for the big day, the one for which we have ridden 4000 Kms. We ride to Ushuaia, the goal of this tour, to get to the most southern tip (or the most southern rideable part).
420 Kms to our next stop, Ushuaia. A beautiful ride after the border and a great lunch in the most amazing bakery you could imagine. Delicious cakes, mouth-watering empanadas and an enormous choice of churros and vienoisseries.
Full of energy, we take on the beautiful Garibaldi Pass and from there, a stone throw away from our goal, Ushuaia, for two days.
An overwhelming feeling of achievement upon entrance to Ushuaia hyped us up; "WE MADE IT!"
The most southern city in the world, only 1000 Kms from Antarctica, had much to offer for a rest day. Thanks to Vlad finding a boat trip that would take us to see the penguin island, we were able to have an actual rest day that would get us off the bike, or not, as some decided to go for a ride. The great thing, the tour started right by our hotel and brought us straight back after a 5-hour boat ride, in which we saw cormorants, penguins and seals. The live guides gave us information in 5 languages and took time to see everybody and explain individually any doubts or questions that could arise.
Overall it was a great morning, very entertaining, but everybody was exhausted at the end, and not one could resist a little nap on the way back.
After reaching worlds end, we started making our way north back towards Chile, but we still had something important to see before we left. The National park and Lapataia bay. We had ridden the NP-3 over the past days, asphalt, gravel, wind, enough to make it unforgettable and what better way to finish it off than to get to the very end of it. A couple of pictures with the sign and a walk around the area and off to the next spot, the post office. Now, we had high hopes, but, it's a one man show in that post office and unfortunately, it was closed.
Our hotel in Rio Grande had an excellent restaurant and even though we did arrive relatively early, everyone was exhausted.
This is our last day, heading back to Chile to deliver the bikes, but it is a long and arduous day. Starting with savage winds all the way past the border and onto the first fuel stop. Shortly after a ferry crossing, and as said previously, the captain will take you this time ... or not, while we waited with the cold wind.
It is a nice calm ride, we have seen part of it before, and the hostile looking landscape, suddenly becomes an old friend that we'll miss. This adventure has marked us, it made us better, more appreciative and certainly humbled us, not only because of what we have individually learned, but because it has made us realise how small we really are, how much more beauty there is to see and because we have only touched but a fraction of this incredible area of the world.