El Chalten, Argentinian Patagonia.
3 days off of the bike in El Chalten showed me the magic of Los Glaciares National Park, including the famed Mount Fitzroy. I hiked, collected mushrooms, and cavorted with a crew of cyclists at the local Casa de Ciclistas owned by sweet and kind Florencia. With sore quads from the long hiking descent, I decided to work them out on the saddle heading to El Calafate, a mere 220km to the South. While I could have conceivably made the crossing in a day, I’d heard the cross/headwinds through here could be show-stoppers. Instead I aimed for a special respite to which I’d just been referred, about half way there… perfect.
Rolling out of El Chalten, a thick, grey storm system was following me Southward. Moments after this shot it swallowed the mountains, absconding my rear view. Perfect timing, as yesterday was crisp and clear in the mountains!
Unfortunately a growing melancholy has been accompanying my experience as of late. There are so many more places to explore, hikes to take, people to meet. I had merely skimmed the the surface of El Chalten on the trail most-traveled, feeling a longing to take a more extended tour of the national park’s outer reaches. But winter was approaching, the weather was dropping, and I had many more places to see…
I know, I know. “Cry me a river,” you’re likely thinking, and for good reason. I appreciate the privilege it takes to even feel anxiety over such things. But this is MY life, and these struggles are MY struggles. I choose not to burden myself with property, extra belongings and responsibilities. The last 3 years have been my experiment with NOT compromising and they have offered many lessons and insight as a result. But as this chapter approaches closure and the next looms closer, I am beginning to realize the need to compromise this degree of freedom for the sake of other needs (money and community primarily). A mourning process has begun, and for now all I can do is feel it.
Most of the day’s ride was spent riding around the North shore of the immense Lago Viedma. While intense winds did accompany me right out of El Chalten they fortunately were also headed Eastbound, bringing my speed up above 30km/h at times on flat ground, no pedaling!
Unfortunately that tailwind ended at the lake’s Eastern shore. Around mid-day the winds shifted partially to the North, just as I was shifting my route to the South. Suddenly, sustaining my meager 12km/h speeds on flat ground required all my strength. As all bikers know, strong cross/headwinds can be extremely demoralizing. You don’t SEE the impediment to your speed. You don’t get the satisfaction of climbing up a big mountain or through rough terrain. You just go slower and work harder. Sigh.
30km of this was all I had in me for the afternoon, which worked out perfectly. Just as my spirits were dropping I noticed a set of abandoned buildings to the left of the roadside. The house on the end was pink, sparking the memory of some advice I’d received from a Northbound cyclist down in El Chalten: “Stay at the pink house!”
So I did.
I’ll let the video speak for itself, simply adding one thing: It’s impossible to fully express the feeling which arrises from spending a night surrounded by such cycling history as inscribed on these walls. I’ve expressed how much I try to avoid mainstream tourism, how I prefer to take in my sights in solitude, but this place. A living and growing shrine to two-wheeled journeys, both past and present, with wall space available for future inscriptions. I’m proud and inspired to be a part of this fierce community of odd-balls!
I left the pink house after a leisurely morning of taking in the graffiti under wind solace, having felt the wind’s gales attacking the roof and some loose planks from within throughout the night. This squally assault met me at the door, and accompanied me all the way into El Chalten.
I reached El Calafate by late afternoon, never having felt so draining from a day on pavement. All I wanted was food, shower and sleep. Luckily I ran into a Kanetomo, Japanese cyclist I’d met back in Cusco many months back (different one than the last post), who led me to the cheapest campground in town, El Ovejero. We shared a beer and some stories before I collapsed into deep slumber. I’d need all the energy I could muster as I planned to set out on a rough trail route through the mountains the following morning, up and over Paso Verlika to Torres del Paine…
Awakening late the following morning, I realized there was still research to be done about the next section of my route. I wanted to reach Torres del Paine, a world famous national park just Southeast of El Calafate over the Chilean border, but the only sanctioned route there was to head East on paved highway around Lago Argentino to reach an official border crossing. The other option was far less clear. My friend Campbell had just completed another route, over Paso Verlika. It would require some hiking and two illegal border crossings… guess which one I wanted to do?!?
I’d also considered a 3rd option. Heading West out of El Calafate there was a hiking trail marked on one of my maps that led directly into Torres del Paine National Park. Unfortunately there were no customs offices managing that border, so I’d have to enter Chile illegally, then find a way to re-enter Argentina further South on Tierra del Fuego. Much riskier. I visited the Gendarmeria in town to see if there was a work around. Perhaps they could stamp my exit and I could get an entry stamp in the next city South, Puerto Natales? No go. They assured me the Chilean police would arrest me if caught on that road without a valid visa. Damnit! Paso Verlika it is. A healthy combination of adventure, risk and likelihood of success.
I spent a rest day messaging with Dalila, trying to determine what future we might have if any… It is so odd to attempt challenging relationship conversation 1, in Spanish, 2, over text messages, 3, with weak, limited internet. Sigh. It was a painful exchange wrought with apparent miscommunications. She called me selfish for creating an illusion about the potential of our relationship then withdrawing when it came true. I had felt I was being totally honest, open and clear about my reservations all along, but feared the accuracy of her words. I felt how differently we approached things. While I struggled with the limitations of reality: She was raising 3 of her 4 children still, bound to support them in Santiago for many years to come, while I was a broke cyclist choosing everything but the stability and responsibility of child-rearing.The idea of living an urbane life in Santiago, helping to support a family was the antithesis of what I’d been cultivating. Somehow she didn’t see this as a limitation. She’d fallen in love and wanted to try, above all obstacles, while my heart was slower to open and I could not see past them. It felt so good to feel her love, care and connection, but it moreover it felt irresponsible to accept all that without being able to fully offer it back with open heart. I wanted more time with her to see what was there, but didn’t see a way manifest that kind of time. I saw the care-free, “choose love over all” path but it felt laden with sacrifices I wasn’t ready to make. So, many more exchanges, but no resolutions. I dragged a heavy heart to the grocery store for supplies, focusing on the path ahead to mask the tenderness of this dilemma.