6. Coyhaique to Puerto Montt (Carretera Austral Part 2)

It is said that an adventure only starts when everything goes wrong. I have heard that quote from so many sources in different variations that I almost feel bad using it here. Almost

With that definition in mind, at certain points in the past two weeks, I was starting to think that this trip was going to turn into a certified adventure. However as I´m learning quickly, everything does work out in the end.

Picking up from last time, Coyhaique was quite relaxing and was a well deserved break from the road. It was a better spot to stock up on food than usual with stores providing more than the one can of peas.

Coyhaique was also a good location to learn a little bit more about some of the current issues in Chilean Patagonia. One topic is Sin Represas, translated to ‘without dams’, which is a movement by the Patagonia locals to stop the building of hydro-electric dams in the region.

They protest that these dams will alter the rivers and destroy the local landscape, culture and livelihood. There are way too many points of view with pros and cons to start listing here, but it was very interesting to learn about and witness a protest considering what I plan to study in Norway when this trip is done.

Too much thinking about real issues often hurts my head. So shortly after the protest, English Matt and myself decided it was time for more mind-clearing pedaling. As with the southern portion of the Carretera Austral, the northern road was beautiful and diverse with too many highlights to list completely.

The weather also mixed it up a bit with some not-a-cloud-in-the-sky sunny days and also days of never ending rain downpours. Although the wet days did slow us down a little bit, forcing some nights in half constructed barns and roadside huts to dry off < odd places I have slept in numbers 9 and 10 >, we felt it was part of the territory we were going through and didn’t really get our spirits down.

But enough with the fluffy stuff, now on to the things that went a bit wrong…..

I should be old enough now to learn when to shut my mouth while things are going well and not to jinx myself. Should.

Up until two weeks ago, I have been glowing with pride about the limited mechanical problems I had encountered with my bike so far.

I wasn’t quite dumb enough to post anything on this journal but I did find the stupidity deep-down inside to write a well crafted email to some friends back home. This is where I proudly explained that I haven’t had a single flat with only minor mechanical fix-ups needed while other cyclists have had much worse.

I hope one day I´ll learn these important life lessons in humility. After that fateful email, like a deck of cards, my bike went from being in great shape to limping.

Oddly enough a mountain bike wheel doesn’t like it so much when a 195 pound guy on a 90 pound fully-loaded bike gets both tires 6 inches into the air at the same time.

Actually on second thought, just like myself, I´m sure the wheel loves being 6 inches in the air.

It´s just the rocky landing that follows the airtime, I think the wheel would prefer skip. It seems like in this situation, the wheel also has the tendency to fold and lose the characteristics that metal rims are best known for.

This situation would never be a happy dream anywhere, but being in the middle of nowhere with the closest bike shop containing replacement parts 250kms away puts the situation closer to the nightmare category.

Of course at this point I could have taken a bus for 250kms and skip the dirt road mountain passes, but where is the fun in that?

For the next 250km I proceeded to tighten, repair and replace spokes to keep my back wheel straight and true. However there is only so much you can do when your metal rim has the consistency of powdered donut – I guess a crack that goes around the entire rim will do that (my biker-dork friends were impressed by the damage I was able to pull off).

With the rim now having a mind of its own, performance of surrounding parts also suffered and eventual caused 4 flat tires and sucking my rear derailleur (the piece that shifts gears in the back for the non bike-dork) into my wheel requiring some major twisting and bending just use again. Lots of roadside fun and custom repairs.

With these mechanical issues, I was averaging about 20kms on the bike before I needed to put some emergency band-aids on the situation. At one point my spokes were so far off, I decided it would be easier to loosen them all and basically build the wheel from scratch.

It you look at some of the pictures in the photo gallery, you´ll notice a lot of them with my bike upside down. This isn´t because I´m experimenting with new photographic compositions, rather it is exactly what I have been looking at for the past two weeks.

I will be a dirt-road certified bike mechanic at the end of this trip. So if you need some bike work done in August, give me a call because I´ll need the money. It probably won`t be pretty, but I can get you to the next bike shop at very least.

As you can imagine, my progress north was slowed a bit. But considering I had a lot of extra time until I needed to meet my friends, I was still comfortable with the pace to Puerto Montt. Matt was quite relaxed during this time and was in no rush at all, which made the situation easier.

Positivity was still with us despite the setbacks and we even found a nice old airplane to camp next to – complimenting the old boat we slept in weeks ago quite nicely.

I can´t really claim this as one of the odd places I have slept in because I didn´t actually sleep inside. This wasn’t from a lack of trying, however the jagged steel with no flat areas eventually won. We had to settle for just cooking and eating inside instead. Honorable mention I suppose.

My timing was just fine, this was until I received my second lesson on water transportation in Patagonia.

With limited service, broken boats and some really bad weather patterns, the liberians are still debating whether the Ferry Schedules belong in the Fiction or Non-Fiction part of the local Biblioteca.

After being delayed for 50hrs trying to cross Lago O´Higgins earlier in the trip, I thought things would really need to go wrong to beat that. It seems that Old Lady Patagonia is very skilled in topping herself.

Because it was the end of the summer season by a whole 3 days, most of the ferries in the region either had limited service or the route was no longer running all together. So when we rolled into the town of Chaiten, we found ourselves in a dead-end on the road to Puerto Montt.

Alongside being in a region regarded as the rainiest in Chile, Chaiten is an interesting place in its own regard but not necessarily the most ideal location to be stranded in the rain. A few years ago, a local volcano erupted causing the whole town to be flooded with ash, silt and water.

It was once a touristy town with all the amenities, now its a town trying to get on its feet again. With a massively shrunken population, very limited electricity, no land-line telephones and most of the buildings abandoned – the new Lonely Planet travel guide should have an interesting write up on the history of this place. I actually heard from one local that the street lights were just hooked up again a week before we arrived.

Because there is no direct road north to Puerto Montt from Chaiten and with the remaining running ferry routes, the best option I had left was to wait 8 days for the next ferry that wasn´t sold-out.

This time schedule put me in Puerto Montt a day late, not counting the time needed to buy the new parts and fix my bike. I didn´t really have a happy camper feeling in my stomach when I realized this.

Another secondary option was to cycle 60kms to a near-by fishing village and beg for a ride on a fishing boat. Hopefully a fishing boat could drop me off at another village where there was a road north.

After much thought, I had to make the mature decision (surprised even myself on this one) and go the safer route in order to get Puerto Montt in time to meet my friends, get the parts I need and of course not risk a total failure to my bike.

English Matt, without such limitations, decided to push on and try his luck with the fisherman. I was incredibly jealous that he was going for it but I made my decision and had to live with it. This jealously didn´t last long.

Two days later, Matt was back at our campsite with stories of torrential rain, 2 meter tall white caps, and fisherman pissing themselves from laughter when he asked for a ride. After giving this option a noteworthy attempt, he ended up having to ride the 60km back to town.

As you can imagine, it was a good moment when I found out my decision was the right one and the talkative Brit up took a dose of humility as well.

A few more days later, perhaps due to the intense Americano taunting, Matt decided to backtrack farther south so he could do a new route into Argentina to skip the Puerto Montt all together. Once again, an option my timeline couldn´t afford so we said our goodbyes.

Now on my own, one option I could afford was show up for every sold-out ferry and beg the captain to let me on.

It turns out that camping in the rain makes you look pretty pathetic and after two attempts I had success in this approach. I was able to get on a ferry which put me in Puerto Montt just barely on time to meet my friends!

Although the time spent in Chaiten didn’t seem exactly ideal at the time, while looking back it was actually a good thing. I got to relax in one place for 6 days which was really nice for a change.

I met some interesting people including a street juggler from Santiago who taught me to juggle 4 objects at once. Juggling rocks has already provided hours of roadside enjoyment in front of passing buses or cars, so I can only imagine the new possibilities.

We also had quite a nice camping set-up right outside town. Our site contained a wooden structure to kept us dry with plenty of fresh water nearby. And although rain is the main weather noun in this area, don´t let me lie, the sun did make an appearance or two.

Sometimes it seems that the problem is actually a solution. These experiences turn out to be quite valuable and close to impossible to plan.

So after breaking my bike and being delayed in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, I finally sailed into Puerto Montt just in time two days ago.

As an added bonus, while waiting for my friend´s bus to arrive yesterday, I also got the special opportunity to spend some quality hours waiting at the bus station and setting a new personal record in coffee consumption. I think at any other time of my life I would felt out of place in a dirty bus station. However since I haven’t shaved my beard in about two months, I strangely fit-in just fine.

So now with my friends now in town and also my bike back on the up-and-up, it is time to move north with two old friends through the Chilean Lake District.

The three of us together are known for some fun nights and have the combined Spanish speaking skills of a 3 year old. What could possibly go wrong?

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