Down But Not Out

Today we had our first crash.

We are heading for the Chilean town of Puerto Montt on our fifth day since leaving San Martin de los Andes, and it is wet, wet, wet. As Marti Pellow so beautifully put it: ‘I feel it in fingers, I feel it in my toes…’ except, actually I don’t. Because I can’t really feel my fingers and toes anymore. I am instead just making circular motions with my thigh muscles in the hope that they drag my feet behind them. I am also steering and breaking ‘by sight’, as I can no longer feel whether or not my hands are in contact with the bars or brake levers.

With everything we own being sopping wet, we are forced to put yesterdays wet clothes back on for today’s ride. It’s not the most fun day on the bike, and so we choose to take a more direct route into town, via the main road.

Faye and I have just entered the very awkward situation of arriving at a highway toll-booth. The surprised attendant in his little booth-shack (who has boldly paired a hi-viz jacket with a floral shirt) waves us through without charge – largely because they haven’t developed a tariff for cyclists. We pull away from the booths and towards a sign which reads ‘Puerto Montt 2km’. We both whoop in delight and at the prospect of transporting our sodden shaking bodies to somewhere warm and dry. Zooming past the sign, we begin to go down a little hill. Continue reading

The Battle of Bettina

Today was all about Bettina.
We’ve just left a lunchtime break on an Argentinian lake shore. Today it isn’t raining, which is an unexpected treat given the hail storm of yesterday. We are gunning it along the road, using the wind and warm air to dry our pants and socks off the back of the bikes, when we spot a cycle tourist standing at the side of the road. She is next to a golden yellow bike, looks to be in her sixties, with a strong build (calves you could crack walnuts on) and short grey hair.
We pull over and begin to venture a few words of greeting. Seeing as we never know where in the world other travellers are going to be from, it’s always best to start in Spanish and go from there. After a couple of spanglish sentences, we detect a German accent, and the lady rumbles that we are English. Now in (in a more natural English language) I ask her where she’s going.
‘Well, I’m going into Chile, but I was thinking I might stop here and hitch a ride. I haven’t really got enough food, and there’s nothing for a while to get any along here’ she says.
We’re carrying the bare minimum on supplies for this stretch and haven’t got any spare food to give her, but I reach into my front bar pouches and pull out two toffees.
‘Have some toffee power!’ I say, handing over the goodies.
‘Oh thank you!’ She falls silent for a moment, and begins chewing on a toffee. ‘It’s a big mountain to get over you know’ she adds, motioning to the road ahead towards Paso Cardenal Antonio Samoré. ‘And I don’t think I can do it.’

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A Difficult Question

‘Oh would you look at all those dinky little roads Faye-bomb? I bet it’s super dooper quiet down there…’

Faye and I are pouring over the map and planning our assault on the ‘lake district’ area of Chile. An intricate web of small roads weave their way in between large patches of blue on the 2D page in front of us, and we instantly fall in love with the idea of what is to come: deserted wild camp spots on the edge of glacial lakes, rubble trails running between tiny villages, and smiling people. Oh how there will be smiling people, everywhere.

Of course before entering what we perceive to be Chilean utopia, we must cross the Andes mountains, and the inter-country border once more. After zooming down a long hill, we screech to a halt in front of a smartly dressed female Argentinian border guard, who is stood next to a white and orange barrier. Making our way inside to the neat wooden guards’ building we find three more female border dudettes sat at desks. How refreshing, I think, delighted to have happened upon the most femme-friendly of country crossings. The young woman sitting at the desk closest to us looks up, says hello and asks the most taxing question of the day so far: ‘Where are you going?’. Continue reading

A Longing For Home

I really struggled today.

Normally I wake up naturally around 8am. My eyes ping open, I have some vague recollection of a vivid and bizarre dream (usually involving a dragon) and I swing into action right away.

I reach behind me to unzip the tent a little and let some air in (and perhaps the odd pasta fart out). I sit up, unpack the clothes from my makeshift pillow, stuff them into dry bags, remove myself from the sleeping bag, stuff that away, let the air out of the sleeping mat (enjoying the ride down to earth as it deflates)… It’s a routine that I do on autopilot every single morning. And usually with a little smile, or not much going on in my brain at all.

Only, this morning, something is different.

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The Crossing Of The Andes

‘Errrr… Faye… what in the world is THAT?!’

I am stood outside my tent, midway through brushing my teeth, when a distant rumble distracts me from a love affair with Colgate Triple Stripe.

Around the mountain track in the distance, surrounded by plumes of dust and silhouetted against the early morning sun, come twenty horses. Atop those horses are people, and they are atop them in style – carrying flags, banners and all manner of brassy things which catch and deflect the suns rays. I’m rooted to the spot with my mouth is wide open (collecting its fair share of road dust) when all of a sudden two military trucks appear around the nearest bend, and three men hop out. They nod in our direction, as if finding two white chicks in their pyjamas at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (mouths open, toothbrushes in hands) is perfectly normal, and they begin setting up a video camera. Continue reading

Waterfalls, Glacial Lakes and River Rides

Our hard won, slightly bumbling, battle to re-enter Argentina is well worth the effort. After thanking the biker gang profusely for the offer of joining them for dinner (with or without meat, and or vegetables), we decide it’s still early in the day (4pm) and that’ll we’ll push on for a few more hours yet. There’s more hugs, more cheek kisses, a hefty dose of ‘good luck’s’ wafted in our general direction, before we ride into the mountains beyond.

During our chitter-chattering with the group, we had been reliably informed that the next part of the ride is ‘muy lindo’ (very pretty), and it does not disappoint. Within 20km of leaving the Argentinian immigration building, the landscape has transformed from dusty golden brown to lush green. Waterfalls tumble from the hillside – those that are closest to the road are modest in size and we can stop to drink from them, stick our faces in them and marvel up close at the cool glacial meltwater. The taller more spectacular falls are way up in the mountains, and we can only but stop and stare from a distance at the cascading white lines they cut against a backdrop of slick black rock. Continue reading

‘You May Not Enter Argentina!’

‘You do not have the correct stamp in your passport. You may not enter Argentina.’

The day started in splendid style, we leave our riverside camp spot and begin the rubble-tastic slog up and over the 2,500 metre Paso de Vergara.

The borders here tend to happen in two stages – you get stamped out of one country, then some kilometres later, stamped into the other. I’m not entirely sure who owns the land in between the two, perhaps they share it and use it for inter-country picnics or polo matches on weekends? I can only hope.

On the way up Paso de Vergara, we pull over at the Chilean border. There we greet five guards in uniform who are stood outside, and begin the passport ritual. Among the five amigos is one who speaks some english (his Dad lives in Miami he tells us), and so it becomes a rather lovely border-crossing experience. Despite having the facilities to, the guards don’t make us do the pointless ‘bags through scanner’ ritual, and instead we have extra time to chat politics and weather as Miami-man goes about his paperwork. He hands us back our passports and off we wobble, up the final section of the pass.

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A Return To The Wild

It’s our third day back on the road and we unzip our tents to find that the skies are still shrouded in a murky smoke-filled haze.

It’s a hot and humid morning and both of us confess that we’re finding it hard to get going. There’s an underlying lethargy that festers in my bones, I can’t stop yawning and everything feels a little, well – flat. Of course that’s okay, and entirely understandable when getting back into the swing of things. We’ve both admitted to some anxieties about returning to life on the bikes, about shrugging off the comfort blanket of familiarity, and pedalling back into the unknown.

So I take today as my mind and body’s way of readying itself slowly. That said, I can’t help but feel that the oppressive skies aren’t playing a part too. Ever have those days when you look out of the window at a cloudy sky, and feel a little cloudy inside too? Continue reading

Sleepless Nights And Sex Noises

“McNuff! There are four boys in our room, and they smell!”

It’s 10pm and I’m making my way home across the city of Santiago, when a message from Faye pops up on my phone. I’ve just left a lovely wine and bolognese session with one of my best friend’s Emma. Emma is about to begin her own 3 month cycle tour through Chile and so I have played the role of the packing ‘dragon’ and helped her throw out all unnecessary things. This mostly involves me telling her that she will feel so beautiful and happy in her cycling rags that she won’t want that make up, and questioning the need for enough spices to stock a Michelin starred restaurant.

Anyway, I digress. I reply to Faye’s message about the room invasion:

“Oh cripes, I knew it was too good to be true to have the room to ourselves. How smelly are we talking here? On a scale of one to vomit-inducing?”

“I’m dry retching!!” she replies.

Being on a budget and spending a few days longer in the city this time around, Faye and I opted for two spots in a six bed dorm room. We’d been lucky enough to have the dorm to ourselves for two whole nights, but tonight, our final night, was to be another matter. Continue reading

Steep Hills And Slow Days

Today will be all about going uphill, we know that much. We must drag both bodies and bikes from 650m above sea level and up to 3,200m.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been that high and we’re both eager to get some altitude burn back in our lungs, which (having spent 2 weeks at below 1,000m) have now been dubbed: ‘Lungs of luxury.

After leaving Mendoza last night we found a stellar camp spot just a few kilometres into Route 13. This morning we leave that camp spot in high spirits, and with good reason. We are now less than a week from making it across the Chilean border, and to Santiago. In Santiago there will be two very special people waiting for us. So long as the BA strikes don’t scupper plans, Jamie (aka the most wonderous boy on the planet) is flying in, as is Faye’s mum (one of the two most wonderous mums on the planet. My mum is the other, naturally). When they arrive, we’ll both be be taking two weeks off the bikes, apart, and catching up with those we love. Something that’s definitely worth cycling over a few more mountains for, I’d say. Continue reading