Puerto Natales, Chilean Patagonia.
Spring equinox has arrived. So interesting on these globally relevant dates to reflect upon where I’ve been. I decided to compile a list of my locations during equinoxes and solstices. Interesting to see the trajectory from this perspective:
3/21/14: Seattle. Last week of work before closing my massage practice indefinitely. Days are getting longer. I will need this for being above the arctic circle.
6/21/14: Northern Alaska. Headed for the Top of the World Highway. Haven’t seen a star in about a month. Darkness is getting foreign.
9/21/14: Riding on the Colorado Trail toward Durango. Days are getting shorter. Pushing South to escape Winter. Nights are cold in the high Rockies.
12/21/14: Yuma, Arizona. Just off the Camino del Diablo route skirting the edge of the Mexican Border. Tomorrow I cross into Mexico. Shortest day of the year. Weather is warm and dry.
3/21/15: Seattle for short visit after Boston for family emergency. Days are getting longer. I fly to Mazatlan soon to continue South. Mild Mexican weather is warming up fast.
6/21/15: Oaxaca, Southern Mexico. Longest day of the year. HOT. Best to be above 4000’ elevation to beat the sweltering heat. Sand flies are my nemesis.
9/21/15: Lake Atitlan, Central Guatemala. Days are getting shorter, but by less of a degree. Seasons don’t follow typical cycles of heat and cold down here. Only dry vs. rainy.
12/21/15: Bahia Salinas, Northern Costa Rica. Shortest day of the year. Still very hot here. Riding South on the Nicoya Peninsula.
3/21/16: Northern Colombia: Days are getting longer, but minimally as I’m close to the equator now. High Andes are cool at night, warm during the day. Valleys are unbearably hot.
6/21/16: Riding on the Trans Ecuador MTB Route. It rains a lot here, but the temperatures are warm and comfortable during most days.
9/21/16: Climbing Mt Salkatay, Central Peru. Days are again getting longer, minimally, as I’ve now crossed the equator. Nights are cool above 15,000’.
12/21/16: Uspallata, Northern Argentina. Longest day of the year. Perfect mountain weather, but hot in the valleys.
3/21/17: Puerto Natales, Southern Patagonia, Chile. Days are getting shorter. Winter is coming. Days are cool, nights are getting cold.
From Puerto Natales the routing options are a bit slim to reach Punta Arenas. I’d need to ride a day of pavement in order to begin a dirt loop to the West, then cut back to the Chilean port city where I’d be catching my final ferry onto the island of Tierra del Fuego. From there it would be less than a week to reach my Southbound terminus, Ushuaia. Deep breath. Just be in this moment. Don’t worry about what it means to reach the “bottom”. One day at a time. This form of self-coaching was becoming a more regular practice as Ushuaia’s arrival accelerated toward me.
Rolling out of Puerto Natales, I took one last spin through the ramped skate park on the shore, fully loaded. I wish I’d recorded the Ogresa banking those curves.
Luckily the wind was mild. Not great shoulder on this stretch of highway so it helps not to get blown into oncoming traffic! I reached for my headphones to mask the chalkboardesque sound of riding in traffic, but found I had somehow lost them. Alas. Perhaps it’s a message for these last days of riding: pay attention. Don’t drown out these precious moments with distractions, even if they’re uncomfortable. Okay. I’ll listen to that.
Lots of big fancy estancias around here. All with matching roofs and fresh paint jobs.
I noticed along the highway the occasional structure. Most people would see a bus stop. I saw potential shelter. The wind can be ferocious and these little shacks seemed to line the highway and were just long enough to lay down in. Note to self, this may come in handy later today!
No shortage of them!
By early evening I reached my day’s goal of Villa Tehuelche. A small town about 1/2 way to Punta Arenas if one were to remain on the highway. For me it was the turnoff for a more interesting route… In town, I asked the police officers if they could suggest a spot to set up my tent that wouldn’t bother anyone, and they sent me here: Horse stables.
Not quite sure if/when they are used as they were all totally clean inside. One of the small doors was unlocked, so I rolled my gear in and set up shop for the night. Even had a place to charge my phone in the stall!
I did hear some scuffling in one of the adjoining stalls by night, and upon investigation saw only the end of a long bushy tail as it disappeared around a corner. Turns out there are LOTS of foxes around here. I saw at least 10 while riding through town the following morning. Glad I had my food up on a shelf last night!
A followed a dirt road almost immediately South from Villa Tehuelche, toward the large Seno Otway inlet. Still more big fancy estancias, even out here.
Turns out Estancia Rio Verde lets people stay in these little studio cottages upon request! I saw this one with a little sign suggesting visitors to ask at the estancia to be given a key! I really did consider it. Beautiful location and it looked really comfortable inside… but not knowing how much it would cost I chose to push on…
While the winds were moderate so far, it appears they tend to blow from one specific direction, based on the tree growth. Everything here looked like a freeze frame from a tornado.
Imagining the power of these winds when in full force I was really appreciative to be able to playfully stage photos like these!
Climbing past a small estancia in the distance, I heard a familiar hiss… that tear in my rear tire from 2 days back… must have opened up again. I struggled with stuffing a bit of tire plug into the hole as the grey clouds started perspiring. At first a mist, but evolving into rain. A man on horseback who I’d passed 1km back rolled up to me and asked if he could help.
“No I think I have it, but thanks for asking.” I often prefer to suffer though mechanical challenges in solitude.
“No. Come over to my estancia. You can dry off, the rain will pass soon and we can have a cup of coffee and a snack.”
As my jacket continued to soak from the cold cloudburst I accepted that this actually sounded quite lovely.
Ismael walked me up the long path to the Estancia Palomares. He, his wife and child were caretaking the property through the winter, managing the cattle. As I peeled off a layer he returned from his chicken coop with a handful of fresh eggs. What a lovely couple of hours we spent, learning about each other’s lives, joking, relaxing. The rain finally calmed I finished my tire repair with a full stomach and dry clothes, the air of woodsmoke pleasantly radiating from them. Ismael offered me to stay the night on the Estancia, but I wanted to continue. Plenty of daylight left and lots of energy from our meal. Deep gratitude for this man’s kindness and warmth!
Another Rio Verde cabaña appeared a ways down the road. But this one was uniquely unlocked…
Inside I found two bed platforms, a small table for cooking and a wood stove in the corner. Certainly are lots of opportunities for respite here!! still, I decided to push on.
My route diverged from the main road when I reached the enormous salt water lake Seno Otway. Following a rarely used 2-track along its quiet shores was gorgeous.
MANY fishing shacks lined the old road…
… though the insides were slightly less inviting than those fancy green cabins I’d passed earlier!
Based on all these potential nightly abodes I photographed, I considered writing a photo exposé for Better Homes and Gardens…
… or perhaps a piece for its lesser-known rural Patagonian sister publication, Better Shanties and Ramshackles.
Eventually the road faded to nothingness, rare tire tracks seemed to divert onto the rocky wet seashore only to disappear from tidal ablutions. So I followed suit, attempting to keep the salt water out of my moving parts, wiggling around the puddles and slippery rocks.
At times this got harder. I guess I’ll have to wash off the bike later…
The afternoon was approaching evening and I was considering a camp when I encountered one last lone structure, beckoning me to explore within.
Inside, the place was pretty gross. Trash all over the floor. The ironic sign still posted to the bathroom door translates to: “Please keep the bathroom clean.” Hilarious. I continued onward.
A little creative map interpretation led me to assume that the dead-end track I was considering likely met up with another dead-end track in a straight line ahead, only flat ground appeared to separate them. I could always backtrack if need be and there was more than ample flat ground on which to place my tent…
Unfortunately I hit a 2km section of very sticky mud. Time to start walking.
Shit! I forgot my bike shoe was tearing in half lengthwise down the middle! As I squished into the deep mud it oozed up though the sole-hole, packing up against my arch inside the shoe. I tried to remove it but that action was futile, as 5 more steps would repeat the muddy injection. Alas, I’ll just walk with 8 pound shoes on for a while I guess.
I reached a grassy field by twilight, only 40km from Punta Arenas. A short day tomorrow to reach town, but too far to make it tonight.
Gotta say I’m not a huge fan of the durability Bontrager shoes are exhibiting so far. These are only 2 months old.
I reached Punta Arenas by mid day and found a famed biker/backpacker hostel, La Independencia. Super comfy beds with down comforters for reasonable rates. I considered the slightly discounted option of camping in the hostel yard but tents were almost overlapping already in the tight space. I can spring the extra few dollars for a bed I guess!