7) Going home? [220 km north] - In search of penguins. - CycleBlaze

7) Going home? [220 km north]

Villa O'Higgins to Cochrane

March 19   {map}

Cycle to the end of the Carretara - about 6 km.

End of Ruta 7.
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March 20

We began the day by considering our options. There weren't many so it didn't take long. We could stay in O'Higgins with little to no internet, until the local stores ran out of food. Or we could travel north to larger towns. 

Either way, we weren't going home anytime soon. Our Americain friends Greg and Maria, checked with the local police and discovered that the Santiago airport was about to shut shut down  momentarily without warning. Then we got an email from Air Canada announcing all flights to Chile were to be cancelled after April 1, and that our return tickets were cancelled. 

We investigated renting a large van to get to Cochrane. It would have saved us a few days, but for $500 cad it didn't offer much benefit. 

Cochrane is the closest real town, and is about 120 km away. The weather forecast was grim, but we set off anyway with 7 days food, and very little in the way of a plan after that. 

Rio Bravo is about halfway to Cochrane. It is an unpopulated ferry terminal on Lago O'Higgins.
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The ride was cold, dreary, and uninspiring. Within minutes, we were soaked and chilled. We felt a bit like Scott, returning from the south pole. Fortunately, there were only a few cars all day. The petite waterfalls we had seen on the way in, were now much more numerous, as well as huge and threatening. 

We camped beside the highway, surrounded by cows and their droppings. It had rained all day and showed no hope of stopping, so we setup the tarp for cooking and bike loading.

A very wet and windy campsite.
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The tent leaked during the night but our sleeping bags stayed mostly dry. 

March 21   {map}

Woke to a wet tent. At first we thought the floor was leaking. A puddle had formed under the tent during the night and was now about 1 cm deep. However, we now think the leak is due to seam tape peeling on the roof. will fix with duct tape when tent dries.

Raining hard. Heavy headwind.
We ate a cold breakfast (cookies plus jam) and quaffed some coffee. Then we put on our soaking wet, freezing clothes from yesterday. As you can imagine, our spirits were not high. As usual, we were immediately soaked and chilled to the bone.

The huge and awe-inspiring waterfalls yesterday, had transformed into violent vertical rivers that blasted out of the cliffs and smashed into the rocks below. Filling a water bottles would be suicidal. We were a bit concerned too about the culverts - many of which were almost overflowing. If they did, the gravel road will wash out out in seconds.

Fill your water bottle?
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The day, which had begun so poorly, turned much worse about half an hour later. Just when we imagined we had hit peak despair, my front tire blew out with  loud bang. I don't know what I hit, but there was a 1" long gash down the middle of the tire. The winds were reaching gale force at that point, and the rain was falling in sheets. We could barely feel our hands or feet. Louise tried to setup the tarp, but it was like hanging laundry in a hurricane. 

Somehow, I managed to remove the wheel and dismantle it. I changed to a brand new tube (bought in Santiago - got a really good deal!) and slightly used tire. Pumped it up almost to working pressure, then the Presto valve on the brand new tire fell apart. Now we were really cold and wet.

Changed the tube to our last remaining spare and pumped very carefully. We are now down to our only working pump, one very badly damaged and likely unusable tire, and a similar tube. Any more blowouts, and we are walking to Cochrane.

Blowout in the storm. The weather was actually much worse than it looks!
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Early in the afternoon (after only 10 km of survival-cycling) we came to a much earlier campsite from the trip into Villa O'Higgins. It was a refugio with a working fireplace.  Being Canadians, of course we had left firewood for the next party, which turned out to be us!

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 We spent the rest of the day drying out ourselves, the clothing, tent, tools etc. The weather did not improve all day.

Louise, tending the fire.
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As my hiking and climbing partners will attest, I am not a person obsessed with personal safety. However, hypothermia + bikepacking + Patagonia roads is an especially poor combination. The roads down here are bounded by huge cliffs; guard-rails are infrequent. A moment of inattention could have lifelong consequences (ie the next 10 - 20 seconds).  

We decided to try again the next day. After all, the storm couldn't last much longer, right?

March 22   {map}

Readers will be astonished to hear that it was still raining the next day. However, thanks to Louise's pyro-management skills, most of our gear was dry-ish.

LW: Rain wasn't full on. Traffic was minimal and we even had a spot of sunshine, that allowed us a short lunch break with the choice of cheese or manjar tortillas.

Junction to Villa O'Higgins
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We cycled into to the ferry terminal at Rio Bravo (pop 0) by about 6:00 pm. We were the only passengers until the last minute, when two guys in a pickup showed up. The four of us caught the (enormous) 7:00 pm ferry to Pto Yungay where we were greeted by an army guy. We think he was friendly - he didn't speak english but he didn't try to shoot us either. 

Puerto Yungay ferry terminal.
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We slept in the ferry terminal. It was dry and clean if somewhat unorthodox. There were no other people that night and obviously no cell or wifi reception.  

Campsite - not heated but dry and spacious.
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March 23   {map}
Rain again. Another flat tire. 

We descended from the plateau down some incredibly sharp switchbacks, following the aptly named Rio Vagabond. 

Early in the afternoon, we approached the origin of all our problems - Tortel. Readers may recall that this was the cruise-ship port from which a British tourist reported a runny nose. Chile immediately quarantined the entire ship, the next ship after it, the town, and the road leading to  it. Then the Argentinians closed their border, and we were stuck. Anyway, this was the junction today.

Tortel junction. Army vehicles are blockading the road.
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Fortunately there was a bus shelter near the junction so we were able to get out of the rain and wind to eat our lunch.  Took the time to make a pot of soup.

Then, weirdly, the sun poked through a hole in the clouds for a few minutes - for the first time in four days. The weather was much milder for the rest of the day - light rain, occasional sunshine. We camped beside a boat launch on the banks of Rio Vargas.

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March 24   {map}

We awoke to glorious sunshine for a change. And a flat tire, as usual. We dismantled the wheel but couldn't find any new holes. An existing hole seemed to leak, so we pulled off the patch and applied a new Chinese one. It worked for the rest of the day. 

Another &*%$**g flat tire!
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March 25  {map} 

Awoke beside another river, as usual. Cycling was the usual Patagonia stuff - giant glaciers, countless waterfalls, enormous unclimbed cliffs. Standard fare for anyone that watched Game of Thrones. 

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We passed a "web-headquarters". It consisted of barack-style wood buildings and wood stoves. It had been abandoned for a long time. I cant imagine why anyone would try to build a tech centre in the middle of the bush. 

Late in the afternoon we tried to check into a private campground that promised hot showers. After a slew of zombie-related questions the owner informed us the place was closed. I think if we spoke better spanish we might have convinced her we did not belong to Satan's legion of the undead. But our hand gestures and reassuring facial twitches were insufficient. We wild camped that night along Rio Barrancoso in a huge campsite, that we had all to ourselves. Again. 

March 26   {map soon}

More cycling. Flat front tire (Mike) as usual. This time we carefully marked the position of the tube's valve stem, on the tire. And when we found the new hole in the tube, we worked back to a position on the tire. It took a while, but eventually I spotted a tiny white spec in the centre of a tire lug. It was the end of a tooth shaped quartz shard, that pointed into the tire. Impossible to see from the inside, it stabbed the tube whenever a rock compressed the tire. That took all morning.  

After removing the fang, and patching the tire just in case, we continued north. It was a pleasant cycle down from the plateau and along rivers and lakes. Pleasant is a relative term of course.

There was very little traffic - we don't know why.

We flashed through a weird region that had really good cell coverage, for about one hour. This is Chile - one does not ignore such blessings from the gods. 

At about 6 pm, we were still 13 km from Cochrane and dead-tired. We could have wild camped beside a beautiful lake, but we pushed on and arrived more dead than alive. This time we were greeted by less friendly carabineros at the outskirts of town. Predictably, Mike waved assertively to them and continued down the road. Predictably, Louise didn't. We eventually got around them and found a campsite downtown near the main square. 

We checked our email for the first time that week and answered a few of the critical ones. Then we had our first shower in a week - that felt different. Then dinner and bed.

March 27 -   {map}   Rest week - Cochrane

March 30 - Update    -   Tortel quarantine lifted. No CV cases were detected. Chile / Arg borders still closed though.

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Comment on this entry Comment 6
Mike AylingYou are really doing it hard!
Well done!

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8 months ago
Ring StonechildWell that sounds like you are having an adventure...are you brushing up on your Spanish.
One warning is, dont go near any Cruiseships down there. They are full of Covid19. There was one North American one reported circling the southern coast of Chile.
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8 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonGlad to hear you are still alive! This will be a most memorable trip to recount over beers.
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8 months ago
Rachael AndersonYou’re both amazing! I hope you get home soon.
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8 months ago
Susan CarpenterYou two have incredible grit - so inspiring! Good luck on the final push home.
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8 months ago
Fay GinI've finally caught up on your adventures! Enjoy your time in Chile, as it's much better than being in self isolation!
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8 months ago