A Different Kind of Fun
The group started arriving on Thursday and as I got off the plane, I noticed the tell tale riding jackets of motoadventurists. It was Jim and Nicole, fresh from Seattle and newly wed and ready for action! We caught up with Joanna, the fire plug from Poland and made plans to have dinner together. Target of choice was a local restaurant just down the street from our hotel, from where a noisy soccer game and cheers erupted. Good fun, as this was off the beaten track and down to earth. We ordered some micro brew and started the talk of adventure, bikes and excitement.
Friday, November 4th.
The next day, the rest of the group flooded out of the luggage carousel at the Osorno airport and you could feel the excitement. Taxis were rounded up, riders checked into their hotel rooms, and every one got acquainted. There was Ken and Nancy from Alaska, Kevin and Keliegh from Irvine, California, Henry from California, Steve from Utah, Brian from California, Jim from Massachusetts, and Bill and Ed from Michigan. Most of the riders had been with me before, but we had some promising new faces.
We signed all the needed paperwork for the bikes to do up to the 5 obligatory border crossings and retired for the afternoon. Later that evening we reconvened for the welcome dinner at a restaurant just a short walk from the hotel. There, we enjoyed steak (since we were in the cattle capital of Chile) and trout and wine and got to know each other. It had been a long day, so before it grew too late, the riders drifted off to bed to get the needed rest for the coming ride.
Ashes to Ashes
Saturday, November 5th
We arrived at the bikes, loaded the support truck, and did the practice lap around the block and were off to the Andes by 10:30AM. Cows, honky birds, and verdant pastures flew by. The temperature hung just around 60 degrees and the clouds were burning off. Just 20 minutes down the road I pulled over to the Mongipulli Auto Museum...that boasts, literally in the middle of nowhere, the second largest Studebaker collection in the world. For a car aficionado, this is heaven. For the coffee drinker, there was I little slice of heaven for that too. Steve and I looked over the green pastures and idle cows and compared notes on what this landscape looked like. Oregon, I said. Florida was his vote.
On the road again the skies cleared, and the conical brilliant peaks of the surrounding volcanoes came out in full force. There really is nothing like them, the way they stand alone and shout to you: "you are in the land of eruptions!" As we neared the Andes, you could see what looked like an eruption..or a cloud..or a forest fire off to the north. As we sped closer, it was no doubt, ash was spewing into the air! Soon after the Chilean Border crossing, we were in the midst of this mysterious realm: cloudy. Kind of. This pulverized rock created a mist that made the riding dreamlike and sucked the color right out of the scene. The road had been cleared, but everything else was carpeted by this whitish/grayish powder. Only the road seemed to have color....and that was gray!
After passing into Argentina, we settled in for lunch at Villa la Angostura. It seemed rather dreary there since everything was covered in ash, and the stuff hung in the air. Pedestrians donned breathing masks. Cordon Cauye - the naughty volcanic culprit, had been spewing up ash for months now, and was not intending to stop. It put the whole scene in a rather moonscape sort of setting.
After lunch we sped away from the ash and rounded the lake Nahuel Huapi, and you could see clearly the band of ash blowing across the lake, due East. We entered the city of Bariloche...and you could see the eruptions after math. The riding was good, in fact great, but you just could not see anything.
We pulled into our hotel, and the riders hit the streets. Chocolate, money exchange and general checking the scene out was in order.
Dinner was soon to follow. Not a long day, but not a short one either. The border crossings add time to the day and make it so you need to use your patients, and a ball pen.
The Oldest Trees in the World
Sunday, November 6th
We awoke to no wind and a subtle ash fog in a city that is usually windy and clear. We would be heading to Esquel, which was not all that far away, if you were to take the main Route #40. So, I proposed to the group that they go at their own pace, leave early or late and take alternate routes. The one I had in mind turned to dirt road and went through the Alerces National Park, which features the oldest trees in the world.
Some left early, some left late, but we all had a great ride. I decided to lag behind and ended up riding with Kevin, Keliegh, Jim, Nicole, Bill and Ed. Jaime, as always, stayed till the last with the support truck and followed us. We went first along west to Llao Llao and did the loop around the lakes. The ride was delicious as we cruised along the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, through tall trees and past an assortment of log restaurants, ice cream shops, and hotels. All done with style, all made entirely of wood and emitting "Come in, I'm Quaint!". The road still had ash on it and we passed more than a dozen joggers with faces covered by cloth or masks. The volcano had really put a dent in the local tourist economy, having shut down the airport. Bariloche was struggling, but you could see that the residents were just going with the day to day despite it all.
The loop out to Llao Llao is not too long, and certainly worth your time. The views of the lake and riding underneath the thick canopy of trees was fantastic. We stopped at one point on a bridge. No traffic passed us. Underneath, a clear flowing stream, connecting two lakes hosted dozens of large rainbow trout. We stood there, watching them play chase and ttook in the tall mountains, which framed in the scene. The words "Idaho" and "this is like nothing I have ever seen before" were said.
Then we pointed our bikes south, got back on the main highway, and cracked it open. Traffic was sparse, the two-lane road was in excellent condition and threw sweeper after sweeper at us. Each sweeper was like pivoting in a scenery room. The mountains rotated back and forth in the postcard country as we rocked on and off the throttle. The weather was perfect: not being too hot, nor too cold with some cloud cover but mostly sunny.
We stopped at the side of the road at one point as an enduro race was going on. Dirt racers challenged their way along a steep trail as we stood above them. Each rider would pass, and then it was time to look up and take in the wonderful landscape with its sharp, snow covered mountains and verdant valley below. Of course, a clear water stream meandered through the scene. This part of Argentina is simply magic, and I think anyone who loves nature and good riding should head south out of Bariloche for the day.
After lunch in the town of El Bolson, we had a decision to make. We could either take the main Route 40, which is paved, to the flat pampas, or we could take a dirt road leading through the Alerces National Park. The group emphatically voted for the dirt, so we headed for the mountains. The scenery just got better as we entered a steep canyon, before which gave us a view that seemed surreal. A slow moving aqua blue river shimmering as it quietly flowed through fields of cows. The pastures were as green as the color had ever been and butted up against steep rising mountains. We passed the locals playing soccer. It looked like the whole town was there, and how festive could that be? Soccer and Argentina!
The road narrowed and passed clear lakes, rivers, through tunnels of forests, and kept smiles pasted on everyone's faces for the next hour.
When we exited the park, the road turned to europe quality pavement with "I can see my own tail light" curves as it wound into a broad valley. Soon we were in the town of Esquel and parked the bikes. It was 7 p.m., and there were happy, tired faces all around. We met in the lobby at 8:30 and walked a couple of blocks through the town to a Parilla, and had a great dinner. The lights were out, so we ate by lantern light for most of it. It had been a long day, and so all the riders went to bed soon after the meal. What a great day of riding in Patagonia!
Monday November 7th
The day started out great, and just got better. We gassed up in Esquel and took the highway south out of town. Snowcapped mountains rimmed the broad valley on both sides. Ponderosa pines, Short pines, and large leaved trees lined cow pastures. Every once in a while you would go through a burst of blossoms, cascading down to the road. Springtime in the Andes. Funny, I had just left snow on the ground....
After a few minutes, the road turned to dirt and headed straight for the Andes. We crossed numerous clear streams. Cow pastures drifted off to the distance and came up to greet the road. All the while, the snow capped peaks loomed closer and closer. We stopped on a bridge over a wide fast-flowing river. Joanna came up to me and pointed out something wrong with my bike. Indeed, the back brake had broken off its base, and hung there against the wheel base. When I had taken it off the ABS, and engaged it into gear, it would not move. I tried it again, still resistance. Then, it freed. That freedom was the brake snapping off. A rock must have made its way into the disk...and now I was without the brake!
We passed through customs on both sides and arrived in Chile. Soon, we were in the small town of Futaleufu and we picked out a little restaurant for lunch. It was a little early in the day, but now we were distancing ourselves from all services. It was either now or never. The menu was simple: Chicken or Salmon. Rice or Mash Potatoes. It was a good meal. The sun was shining. Smiles permeated through the group as they left the table to get on the bikes and head into mountainous southern Chile. The road continued out of town as dirt. Just the width of a car and a half, this country road dipped and turned through a forest and steep mountains. Waterfalls could be seen at almost any instant. Cows and sheep paraded on and along the roadway. There was a velvety consistency to the grass in the pastures that worked well with the trees and stumps. Trucks and other oncoming traffic would surprise you at odd intervals. Wooden fences lined almost each turn and the world-class rafting river, the Futaleufu, escorted us west to remote Chile. The group spread out, and we ended up leap-frogging for the rest of the day.
At one point, I spied a turnoff offering a comfortable looking patch of short grass, overlooking the wild and scenic and aqua blue Palena River. I stopped the bike and laid down in the warm sunshine. A cool breeze brushed past. I could suddenly hear birds chirping, and the odd cry of a sheep in the distance. Clouds cruised by overhead. Ed and Bill rode past and turned around to join me. We sat there, soaking up the sun for about 45 minutes, leisurely comparing notes and watching the rest of the group sail by. The warmth of the sun seemed such an oddity after leaving the cold grip of winter in Alaska.
The end of the day was just as beautiful as the start of it. Mountains owned this country, and you were never without seeing high snow capped loveliness as you sped underneath the trees. Rivers would come and go and all I could think about was grabbing my fly rod. There was little or no traffic and the road narrowed to about one lane width. It was had packed, so it made for fun in the curves (even without a back brake!).
We ended the day descending into the little villa of Puyuhuapi, right on a sheltered cove of the Pacific Ocean. The town was a collection of weathered wooden houses, a small municipal park, a boat dock and some boats. The smoke from a team of chimneys from all around town drifted slowly by. Wind was at a standstill, and the bright white of the far away snowy peaks shouted at you. As you looked across the ocean you could see far away islands and mountains. The call of adventure beckoned from way out there. Thick forest reached up the mountains sides to collect a better view. Children played in the park and fished from the dock. The dogs actually owned the town and freely ran to and fro. Not a collar nor name seemed to be attached to these lucky souls.
We ate at a small restaurant which openly accepted our rather large group of 15. Fresh fish was on the menu, and the quaintness not only the restaurant but the town seemed to permeate through you. "Slow Down!" it shouted with a whisper.
10 out of 10
Tuesday, November 8th
We went from fish farms to the heart of fly fishing country in Chile today. Sprinkles met us as we made our way south along the coast. The road was narrow and lined with Jurassic flora: Large ferns of all types, thick woods and all sorts of outlandish vegetation. I looked for dinosaurs as I inched my may through the curves. We entered the National Park of Quealaut, a place of perpetual rain. We were lucky today, as we could see the mountain tops. Large tufts of snow giving birth to epic waterfalls silently spewing from high above. It was a real treat. I had been through here 4 times before, and never got a chance to see such beauty. Up we went, curve after curve to around 2,000 feet. Then we descended rapidly, negotiating the gravel road. At the bottom, the road turned to pavement, and it would stay that way for the rest of the day. The scenery just would not stop. The endless snow-capped mountains made for a stunning backdrop as we wound our way through tall trees and past countless wild rivers. Being a trout fisherman, I had a hard time passing up so many beautiful opportunities. What about dropping everything and just rambling through this remote and majestic wilderness?
At one point we traveled past close by the base of a 1,000 foot rock face. Then, the valley opened up and featured a picturesque pastoral scene that went on until out of sight. Pastures, cows, wooden farm houses all dotted the landscape and time stood still. Life had not changed out here for years, and it did not look like it was in a hurry to do so. The road was paved perfection, with little or no traffic. We rode in cadence and the light filtering down sparking each one of us we passed added to the whole experience. We were traveling as friends through a wonderful world.
At a road construction stop, Bill and Ed were ahead of me talking and clasped hands. Here they were, friends for life, having the ride of a lifetime. You could feel the energy!
At one point, Kevin and Keliegh pulled up and could only shake their heads to say that this was one of the best rides they had experienced for a long, long time. "It just doesn't stop!" he exclaimed.
We pulled into the small farm town of Manihuales and sat down in a small restaurant. The choices were simple, the food was the best on the trip so far. This mom and pop operation from the outside hid the fact that the meal would be one of the most memorable on the trip. It's gems like these that make you want more travel.
The day ended with great paved riding through a steep river gorge with waterfalls and cliff faces. We pulled into Coyaique all smiles. As I sat down for an after ride drink, Steve, who had traveled the world by motorcycle, pronounced, " If you take into consideration road condition, scenery, temperature and traffic...today was a 10 out of 10. "
"Better than Alaska"
Wednesday, November 9th
Remember that children's driving game where the landscape is on a conveyer belt and the car is steered by you on a road through it and all the houses go by while you turn left and right to stay on the road? Yesterday was like a huge version of that. Instead of houses, there were skyscraper mountains, glaciers, aqua blue rivers and forests...on and on and on.
The ride out of Coyaique, with is Half-dome-esque rock formations, waterfalls, snow capped peaks, broad valleys and farmlands stretching far into each direction made me think that somehow we had made it to Montana. Then the ride to the villa of Cerro Castillo on a little piece of perfect pavement, up and over a pass to almost snow line past long needle pine trees made me think of Colorado.
So much does this landscape remind you of places in the western USA..until you pass a Monkey Puzzle Tree. There is an exotic element to the vegetation that always sends you back to reality. You ARE traveling through a far-away land!
I pulled up to Steve, taking a picture in the middle of the road at a rock tower. The striking mountain was a world-class piece of natural history. The clear blue sky seemed to accentuate it, and it sat between two other majestic peaks. "Another 10 out of 10" was all he could say.
The road turned to dirt from Cerro Castillo on and looped up and down for hours along wild rivers, through forests, past vast fresh water lakes and steep mountains. Glaciers came and went silently. Lakes the size of small states passed by. Streams and rivers flowed on while we motored past. Cows chewed cud and watched us fly by. The entire earth was made of epic nature this day. As we sat down to lunch in a little lakeside villa of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, even the Alaskans were saying this was one of the most beautiful natural environments they had ever been. Johanna simply said, "This is the best day of riding in my life!"
There is no doubt about this country. It is equally as beautiful as it is remote. I had ridden through this country years ago and was impacted. Riding it yesterday brought it all back and more. Kevin even pronounced, "I thought of just staying down here and never going back!"
We ended the day in the small frontier down of Cochrane. We checked into the hotel and walked to dinner. It was a long day, having been on the bikes since 9 am and arriving around 5pm. The road was mostly dirt and very curvy. It was only a lane and a half wide and dusty. That took its toll on us, and exhaustion was in the eyes of the riders. Soon after eating, the riders drifted off to get needed rest. The next day, we would be entering Argentina again, and riding the famed "40".
Garden of Guanacos
Thursday, November 10
We doubled back up the Carreterra Austral north for about 15 clicks before taking a secondary road which climbed into the Andes. Nothing to mention except the scenery was absolutely spectacular. I guess the glaciers and the aqua blue Rio Baker did not hurt!
Paso Roballo is the furthest southern crossing on the Carreterra Austral, and it is rarely used. This remote part of Chile is just too far for the average traveler to come. You can stop your bike and hear complete silence. Not a car will pass for hours at a time.
The trees exchanged themselves for low scrub brush. We were entering the pampas. The wind picked up. The snow covered peaks started to space themselves out and there was a dryness in the air. The one-lane road was easy to ride, with captivating vistas everywhere. Tall mountains lined our way, lakes waved hello as we cruised by. At any meadow, up to hundreds of Guanacos - a type of Alpaca - lay lounging, eating or playing. It was a Guanaco country club. They ran across the road in front of us, stood watching us from small promontories, and generally went about their business as we rode past.
I stopped the bike in the middle of one valley and stood there watching the clouds speed past the mountain tops. It looked like those scenes where the film was sped up. I felt the wind, a constant invisible force pushing me back. I looked to the sky once again and spied several condors suspended near the tops of the peaks. This was Patagonia!
We came to a stop at a lonely outpost of a guard station. Passports and motorcycle papers stamped, we carried on. 11 kilometers down the road, the same type of lonely outpost, only this time Argentinean, was there to allow our entrance into their country. After all paperwork was finished, The guards all came out, and took a picture with us. Then we were off.
The landscape turned more barren, and you started to have the feeling that, after a full hour and half of riding, that we were close to the middle of nowhere. We gassed up in the one-horse town of Bajo Caracoles. Big sandwiches were washed down with drink, a top off of fuel, and we hit the highway south. We were now officially on Route 40, and the vastness of this landscape was starting to take hold.
We sped down the straight road through a landscape of scrub brush and desert plateau. There was no end in sight. The road was unwavering and only switched direction after segments of 80 kilometers. Some of it was under construction, and some of it was high quality pavement. The 40 had come a long way since I first rode it several years ago!
On the last 20 kilometers, the road went back to its original self: rutted straight-aways mixed with attention grabbing crosswind. As I was riding, it came to me that this was not just a motorcycle ride, it was an accomplishment. If anyone thinks that riding to the end of the world in Patagonia is just like any ride, they are wrong. This is a physical and mental challenge worthy for people who like that kind of stuff, period.
We pulled into our oasis of an estancia located on a flood plane of a meandering river which cut through this open space. We were greeted with smiles and beers. Gas was brought out of the garage, and our bikes were filled up. We all made it to our comfortable rooms and walked over to their dining building for a traditional lamb meal. This estancia was a working cattle farm, and they hosted travelers to supplement their living.
The food was one of the best meals on the trip. Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions in a salad, potato salad, fresh salsa made from crushed olives and other goodies, and, of course, lamb. Water and Malbec wine littered the tables and laughter permeated through the group.
This was a great end to a very adventurous day!
Friday, November 12th
I looked out over the breakfast table out the window and watched a gaucho dressing a lamb in the distance. A cast of dogs collected waiting for scraps. Cows and horses staccottoed a flood plane in the background. Wind filtered through the scene. Could there be more of a scene that said Patagonia ?
We turned onto the Route 40 and headed south. The road consisted of pebble-sized rocks with two sets of car tracks. You just picked your rut and opened up the throttle. The wind smacked me from the right, sometimes hard. The 40 stretched into the imperceptible distance. The landscape was a collection of desert grays and browns. Dry lake beds drifted by. Not a soul could be seen for miles at a time. This must be one of the most remote regions of South America.
We started encountering road construction and the irony of riding the bumpy and variable detours alongside perfect asphalt was mentioned by all of the riders later.
Its the wind on the 40 that makes this not just a ride, but an accomplishment. Here you are, going along just fine in your own rut, and the wind suddenly pushes you uncontrollably into the other lane. All bets are off when this happens!
We finally pulled into Tres Lagos to gas up and there was relief throughout the group. Pavement had started, and would be with us for the rest of the day. We opened up the throttles and breezed through the desert landscape, past enormous light blue lakes, over glacial rivers and onto the town of Calafate. When we got to the hotel, the wind had taken its toll, and there were weary but happy eyes in the group. We had tested ourselves on the 40 and made it. This was not an ordinary collection of people. They loved the adventure, and though they were glad this day was over, they would be back again to challenge themselves.