A Pause in Pucon

1/26/17.

Pucon, Chile.

The Plan: Take my one free day alone in Pucon to do bike repairs, replace cables/housing, pick up replacement tent pole hub from post office, and head off on a 4 day adventure following Dalila’s arrival early the next morning, then keep rolling South on day 5. The Reality: 10 days of exploration in Pucon. 

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I arrived to town late in the evening yesterday with just enough light to find a hostel with an open bed. Not an easy endeavor. Waking up the next morning I looked up from a street corner to see the towering Volcan Villarica, a small billow of smoke oozing from her crater. Excited to take 4 days to camp with Dalila in wilderness, I started with the post office to get a working tent in order. Shit. The replacement part that Big Agnes express mailed to Chile had not arrived. First problem: no functional tent. I did manage to get the bike repairs all done, then got working on trip plans with Dalila. But quickly I realized that without a bicycle to get me/us out of town, I didn’t know how to get out to the wilderness! I’m so used to just riding to the woods and ditching the bike to hike in, but this wasn’t among our options…

Luckily the hostel owners told us a place we could bus to where we could hike in to a trail system and camp for a few days. GREAT.

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Dalila arrived right on time. I was nervous. We’d been texting for 2 weeks now and the clash between virtual relationship and two humans face to face was causing anxiety. What if I didn’t feel the same way when she got here? What if she didn’t? Big breath. We took things slowly, catching up over a leisurely coffee in town. It was lovely. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the corporal electricity spurred by our mutual attraction. We both agreed it was time to get out of town and be on our own in nature. After stocking up on food and packing our packs, the local bus dropped us off at the end of a dirt road leading to the trails. Upon arrival to the trailhead we knocked on a caretaker’s door to register and get a map of the area, but were told that all the national parks and trail systems in the area were closed to foot traffic due to potential wildfires. NOO! I had no idea. I’d not seen any fires on my ride here, and not kept up with the news either. So, left on a roadside with nowhere to go, we begged the caretakers for ideas. After much discussion, they sent us to find a semi-touristic waterfall attraction nearby, where we could at least find a place to camp for a few nights. Definitely not the wilderness solitude we were hoping for, but better than being stuck in the shi-shi downtown Pucón. 

We walked up the lonesome dirt road to the waterfalls by evening light, deeply hoping to find a quiet and private place to camp and connect for a few days. Unfortunately the small campground was overrun by a large family with screaming kids. Shit. Strike 2. Slightly desponded yet somewhat hopeful we wandered into the woods behind the campground property, perhaps hidden in the back of the private property we would find a little nook in the forest. 

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 Voila! A perfect little flat spot over a hillside, hidden just enough as to avoid human discovery. While we didn’t have the luxury of enormous mountaintop vistas as I’d envisioned, we kept our focus on enjoying being together in our little campsite for a few days. It was fantastic. 

 

 

 Hard to leave our little spot in the woods, but we’d only planned on 4 days together here. I was feeling an increasing pressure to stay ahead of impending winter cold down South, so didn’t ask her to stay longer.

There is so much more to write about this internal conundrum. Acknowledging and responding to the pressures of time and season when I’ve tried to live a life free of those constraints for a so long. I was torn between living in the moment and staying on the Southbound mission. The mission was winning the tug-of-war yet again…

 

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We took one final day together back in Pucon. Feeling a bit mournful over our impending separation, we found distraction by observing the absurdity of Pucon’s tourism by Santiago’s wealthy elite, but the distraction was fleeting. We didn’t have a plan for meeting back up. Her daughters would be returning home from their Summer vacation (Southern hemisphere Summer that is) and I was getting further and further away one pedal stroke at a time.

Choices. We are manifesting our life every day, one little choice at a time, even if we don’t acknowledge it. So why was I choosing to ride away from connection? Fear, of course. Fear of feeling constrained, of relegating my personal passion which has brought me more joy and peace than any other so far in life for connection whose future was not yet determined. I was not ready to let it go. So I subconsciously began seeking faults. The ways in which she didn’t listen well enough, the ways in which her life choices to marry and have children depicted a person different than I, the ways in which we couldn’t possibly have a future together.

And of course, my ego-protective ploy worked, convincing the rest of my spirit that I’d be better off continuing my journey. I know it sounds depressing. I’m even a little depressed reading these words. I know the free-spirited, romantic, care-free choice seems to be walking into the unknown with her. But I’ve still got work to do, inside. My greatest fear, in imagining choosing to be with her, was that I would resent her and our relationship for causing me to give up something I loved. I still live with significant emotional turmoil, not sure if I’m doing it right, not sure if this life I’m living is “enough”. I’ve watched my relationships crumble under the weight of these feelings once projected onto them, and dreaded repeating the pattern. So is this choice substantiating the attitude that I’ll be better off alone until I “figure it all out”?

Maybe. But I hope not. 

Above all, I want my chosen life partner to feel a resounding “YES!” from me, not some wishy-washy version of “I think so…”. So I’m sticking to my guns, that if it’s not a complete “yes” then it’s a “no”. At least for now…

 

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In a moment of overwhelming intensity Dalila was on a bus headed back to Santiago, and I was again, alone. The eternal conundrum of balancing my strong need for sequestration with an appetite for deep connection seems to only get more complex the more I explore it. For now, the pendulum would swing yet again toward toward solitude. 

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I assumed that in the 4 days we spent camping that my tent pole hub had arrived. Assumptions. You know. So now stuck in Pucon on the verge of a rainy season down South and a broken tent, I was at the mercy of the postal service. I spent 2 days in cafes, writing blog posts and researching routes, but was antsy to get back on the road. Wandering into the local bike shop in town, I saw a map on the wall and noticed a set of hiking trails off of the Volcano. I asked the owner if people rode those trails and he shared with me a variety of routes! If you’re gonna be stuck waiting, might as well ride…

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So I took a big day and rode up the volcano slopes to a ski resort high above town, a fantastic downhill trail would bring me back down… 

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The air was thin and cold up here. Every additional meter of ascent is progressively harder earned. 

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But at long last I made it to the upper trailhead to begin the long Villarica downhill trail. Super fun! 

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From loose scree fields, it transitioned to lush duffy forest trail. 

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… Then transitioned again into technical rocky riverbed trail.  All in all a super fun day of riding. 

For those interested…

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The culprit. Almost any part of modern-day tents can be repaired with local parts… except a 3-way tent pole hub. The open hole now filled with epoxy should have a male nub sticking out of it, but that broke off. Once broken off it’s almost impossible to repair.

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I tried using a veritable cornucopia of metal epoxy to stabilize it (pebbles added for comic effect), but to no avail. It broke on the first use. After 3 more days of waiting for the mail, I was going crazy. I spoke to two cyclist friends who were a week South of me by this point. Tyndall and Liz are from Alaska, two members of a tiny group of other cyclists who have been bikepacking South through the Americas. By chance I was explaining the broken hub issue to Tyndall and he said in such a matter-of-fact way it almost felt condescending, “Well why don’t you just drill 3 holes in a piece of wood and stick the pole ends into that?!?”

I was dumfounded. 

Here I was trying to fix the broken part by recreating it as it was originally designed and Tyndall, thinking outside my tiny box of creativity, came up with a solution in seconds… I felt a little stupid, but mostly just appreciative that I know smart people. 

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That very night I found a piece of wood on the street corner, cut it down to size with a borrowed hack saw, and drilled 3 holes into it. 

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Within 10 minutes my 3-week long tent problem was not only solved, but now easily solvable again should this happen in the future! Much obliged, Tyndall. 

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Luckily I got a random message just before leaving town from my old friend Guillermo. He and another kind kayak guide taught me my first strokes and techniques back in Veracruz Mexico almost 2 years prior. He was back to his home country of Chile to guide and happened to be in Pucon for a few days visiting friends. Fantastic! We stayed on his friend Diego’s land outside of town for a couple of nights, enjoying quiet days and the ruckus of Pucon by evening… 

The evening’s festivities ended with an extremely sketchy 25km ride to Diego’s house, the 3 of us piled onto his little scooter. No helmets. Way too fast. I’ll take my bike over that any day, no matter how tired I am! One final night’s rest and I’d be off in the morning headed South toward La Reserva Huilo Huilo. 

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