RAISED WITH WOLVES


Chapter 11

When we crossed back into the Argentinian border the road turned back to pavement and we opened our machines up. I was dusty and dry, my beard a tangled mess under my helmet, and I was in a bad mood from being jostled around for four hours straight on gravel roads that meant to murder me. I could finally un-clench both my fists and my asshole, leaving the heightened sense of alertness and the constant rush of adrenaline behind me on the dusty roads of Chile.

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We stopped in Los Antiguos, which looked like a Mediterranean port city, but was really just an empty town on Largo Gran Carerra. We gassed up the bikes, having learned the lesson to get fuel every time you see a gas station, and pulled some Argentenian pesos out of an ATM.  I sat down and drank an Austrian energy drink with a donkey on it on the sidewalk next to my bike and watched stray dogs and Argentines saunter about.

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The sun reflected off the white concrete overwhelmingly, in a sense akin to snowblindness. Gulls hovered in the air and I wriggled my toes inside my riding boots uncomfortably as I squinted up at them.

I tried to walk around the shops and buy a postcard to send home, but despite there being no less than five tourists shops in Los Antiguos, none sold postcards. I also found that most of the shops I tried to enter were closed, with signs saying the proprietor would return in a few minutes. I’ve noticed this in a lot of South American towns. Besides the grocery stores and most gas stations, most shops will just be closed at random times with little to no explanation. There’s no point in looking at the posted hours, or checking online, because maybe Juan just didn’t feel like coming in, or maybe he is off at lunch for two or three hours. Ulf says it is because they are Catholics, and Catholics don’t feel as if they have to work for anything and  that Protestants never think their work is good enough. Ulf is old enough to remember the Berlin wall being erected, so I think he might know a thing or two about work.

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We rode through hours of rocky wasteland, our bikes eliciting side eyes from sheep and goats as we passed. The landscape was beginning to flatten out, the mountains behind us to the west, but the lake was ever present as the road danced in and out of its view.

We arrived in Perito Moreno, the town, not the divine glacial masterpiece, earlier than we’d expected. The hotel was small and sterile, but had hot water. There is something unsettling about the all-white hotel room after spending days in the patagonian cabanas, tending the fire, listening to the wind envelop the cabin.

After a quick shower, which left a ring of grey dirt around the white tub, Ulf and I went looking for something to eat. We passed shuttered storefronts, hotel restaurants, and a sparse city park filled with languished teens, and finally settled on a cafe that didn’t serve half of what was on their menu. As we ate a plate of cold cuts and sliced cheese, Ulf remarked that the grey, shuttered town looked a lot like Russia. The main activities seem to be sitting in fron tof abandoned store fronts with one or two of your friends and a dog on a leash, or riding around in cars so beat up the hood won’t close properly, blaring music out of the one speaker that still works, so it sounds like those greeting cards your little brother gives you for your birthday that play “bad to the bone” when you open them.

I saw the same boring chubby little black headed kid sitting on three different storefront steps, just watching the same 5 cars drive to the edge of town and back again.

Another option is sitting at the edge of town on the porch of a dilapidated burnt out building, trading kisses with your underage girlfriend.

Ulf and I continued to walk the street, the only street, looking desperately for a bar but there wasn’t one to be found. Ulf bought two pints of Cristal, possibly the worst beer south of the equator, and went back to his room. I joined the locals, and sat on once polished granite steps in front of a shuttered building that probably used to sell shoes or meat and watched the foot traffic.

There are, though, a number of gated well kept lawns, with impressive flower gardens, and here in the twilight, the waving trees and yellow flower bushes are quaint enough. And then there was a pale disheveled but pretty little teenage girl, sitting on a crumbling rick wall with her perky friend. Her stare lingered and her fever blistered smile was wry and telling. But teenager girls and flowers be damned, do not stop in Perito Moreno unless your bike is breaking down or you are dying of thirst ( and then don’t expect any decent cerveza). Keep going to Bajo Carjoles, 100 km ahead. They at least have a bar and a restaurant that serves more than cold cuts and salty pizza.

 

 

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Chapter 10

I stayed up reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, tending the fireplace in the 8×10 common room, and drinking Patagonia Pale Ales until the sun finally went down completely, leaving no trace of pink clinging to the mountains or the lake out the window.

I had decided long ago that I’d never read “Zen and…” because my ex was reading it at the recommendation of her secretly lesbian room mate with whom I assumed she was having a secret tryst.

The room mate had a boyfriend who was a motorcycle mechanic, so like every girl with few hobbies and a feminised liberal boyfriend who is too scared to erect some kind of relationship boundaries, she went out and bought a motorcycle too, and they were a perfect hipster austin motorcycle riding couple, I suppose. The room mate then convinced my ex-girlfriend to buy one as well, as she was entering her “anything a man can do, I can do” feminist jean jacket wearing stage, thus signaling the eventual death of our relationship. The ex rode that yamaha all of four times, wrecked it in a parking lot, lied about her scraped up knee, and then sold it for less than what she paid.

So for some reason I said “No, absolutely not” when she tried to lend me her tattered copy of Pirsig’s classic philosophical travelogue. But I suppose I’d grown up since then. I was taking my own cross country motorcycle trip, trying to write my own motorcycle trip story, and thought it would pair well with Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” at any rate.

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The sun took eight or nine hours to traverse the globe, and rise and bleed over the mountains behind my cabana: the same amount of time it would take for me to ride the 240 Kilometers to Perito Moreno, Argentina.

Ulf and I packed up, fueled up, and had a few coffees while using the Cafe’s rare wifi connection. The two coffees, plus the energy drink I’d chugged the moment I’d woke up, had me primed and ready to leave the lakeside village behind and head further, ever further, south.

We may have left Puerto Tranquillo behind, but the lake stuck with us for hours, its electric blue shimmering and flickering in the sun. We rode up mountain passes, back down to the lake side, back up and down, circling around the west side of the lake for about four hours before finally trudging up a rough gravel ascent and parting ways with Lago General Carerra for a while.

The road to Perito Moreno was gravel of varying quality from solid smooth packed clay, to unmanageable shifting gravel, that finally deteriorated into an absolute nightmare of slipping, then giving, then sinking  soft gravel.

There was a thirty minute stretch, sometimes at a 25-30 degree slope, that I had to put the bike in first, and almost walk it up and down the winding “road”, as my front end shifted constantly and tried to betray me. The weight of the bike plus all of my gear plus the grade of the road plus the thick shifting gravel was an equation I was trying to solve minute by minute as the variables changed, attempting to solve for “X” which was not tipping over.

In some spots, the road was one lane between a sheer tan, dusty cliff face rising to my right, and a 300-500 foot fall down to the lake to my left. Keep in mind that this isn’t the scenic route into Argentina from Rio Tranquillo: It was the only route. Ulf and I were sharing this “road” with tour buses, freight trucks, and family cars, all throwing dust into the air and leaving behind giant ruts in the malleable gravel.

All of this while trying to solve for “X” and trying to soak in some of the most undeniably beautiful sights in creation. It was almost unfair. It took a constant concentration just to stay on two wheels. One glance out into Patagonia beyond and below, and the bike would falter and slip.

Despite the sometimes terrifying Ruta 265, we were making pretty good time. Ulf was ahead of me, but not too far ahead, which was saying something since he had ridden from Germany to China on a similar bike, and all things considered, I felt pretty good. The road straightened out for a while, and even smoothed out a bit as we came into view of Lago General Carerra again, looking vast as the ocean. The lake, the far off mountains, and the sky were all blending together into a subtle three-hue striation of reality.

The road turned away from the massive patagonian lake, and away from those great snow capped Andean monoliths. We were in the high country now. I felt like I’d accomplished something, like I’d defeated that stretch of road with transcendental math and pure concentration and will power and maybe even a little skill.

The scenery slowly changed little by little from grand patagonian postcard welcome center panoramas to Arizonan tans and New Mexico browns. It looked like an old western movie, complete with barbed wire and flat-top mesas rising solitary from the landscape.

My hands were tired. Really all of me was tired. It had basically been three straight days of rough gravel, pot holes, and rattling and gripping and tensing and bouncing.

There was a cliff off to the left that overlooked a pastoral, almost Keatsian meadow, and a farmhouse sitting on the shore of lapping, pristine, Laguna Verde.  I slammed on my breakes, skidded to a stop in the gravel, pulled off the road and dismounted my bike. I went and sat with my motorcycle boots dangling over the cliff. Down below were ten or twelve horses grazing in the meadow. A few of them looked like foals, lying on their sides in the lush grass. The last Andes I’d see for some time stood gargantuan and opaque in the distance, and I prayed to God., thanking him for a moment before consuming the scene below me. I added the rocky overhang to my running list of possible ashes-spreading-sites as I mounted the Kawasaki again, looking over my shoulder one last time, heart heavy.

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Chapter 8

The route from Cerro Castillo down to Puerto Tranquilo was a 100 kilometer pockmarked, grey gravel engagement with more potholes than road. It looked as if someone had taken the circumference of the moon and cut it in half like a ribbon and laid it out south to Puerto Tranquilo. The roughness of the ride made me think that literally any port off this road would seem tranquil in comparison.

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Route Seven did have it’s redeeming qualities though:the gravel was very manageable, and as you can probably guess, it immediately descended into overwhelming beauty on all sides. Ulf left me behind pretty soon after we left. I found it very hard to ride on the shifting gravel and keep my head on a swivel as I downloaded each scene into my hippocampus, hoping I hadn’t drowned the little guy in years of beer and coffee, and that my short to long term memory processors were still intact, if not a little buzzed.10984214_774528329283068_8720649011507307677_n

We began to gain altitude again, leaving the river valley. I say we in the royal sense, I guess, or in the sense of me and the Kawasaki, because Ulf was so many curves ahead of me I’d lost hope of seeing him again. The rode rose above a lake that was the truest example of turquoise I’ve seen in my entire life, though I’m told I will see many more like it.

For a while, the road stretched straight toward two massive verdant shoulders, rising up above the landscape, that were West Virginia green, they were Ireland green, and peaking up from behind them a perfect snowcap, all together resembling an ancient golem with a snowy halo.

The road curved away from him toward the river it was mirroring, and I stood up and bent my knees to help absorb all the shock from the potholes. I thought, “I’m getting the hang of this! I got it!” Which of course meant I’d either fall on my face in loose gravel, or run into a bus around a blind curve.

As I rode along the river, more huge elephant ears growing on the road side, and tall waving trees stretching toward heaven, I considered the scenery I’d experienced so far: Innumerable waterfalls, lush forest, terrifying snowy peaks, picturesque Andean ranges, rushing rapids beneath humble bridges, aquamarine paradisaical lakes. It was as if I were racing and bouncing through the background of the most beautiful Tex Avery cartoon God ever created.

If I stopped at every panorama photo opportunity I’d never make it to my destination. It was frustrating that I wasn’t able to capture some of the scenes to indulge my friends and family, but that wasn’t the point of this trip. I’m not a photographer. I didn’t go to Patagonia to take pictures. That’s what they make postcards for.

About halfway through the ride I stopped at a picturesque bridge, water flowing robins egg blue below me, dismounted the kickstand and parked. I walked down to the rocky shore and thanked God, listening to the shhhhhh of the water and the frshashhhh of the wind and not my 650cc engine and stock suspension creaking.

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The potholes on the route had eased up a bit, but lest you think the universe was going easy on me, the gravel had become much less forgiving, taking a lot more mental and physical exercise to stay upright, and to keep my tail end from slipping, or for that matter, my front end from collapsing.

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I walked back up to the bridge after letting my brain cool off a bit, and sighed, looking out at the frigid mountain range beyond, and got back on the bike, feeling very small.

I think Ulf senses my inexperience with the KZ and it makes him nervous. To be fair, this is my first experience with a dual sport. But go big or go home right? That’s what people say. Course, that’s how people get dead too.

I guess I’m always afraid I’ll get cancer or some kinda disease or get a Christian girl pregnant. The first time I did a cross country road trip, it was in a school bus I wasn’t qualified to drive. the first time I left the country and really encountered other cultures? It was three months in Europe at 21 years old. My first adventure bike trip? Through Patagonia to the end of the earth without a guide.

I just don’t want to be lying awake at night thinking “I wish I’d traveled more” or “I wish I’d taken that trip through Patagonia” or “I wish i’d made love to more girls when I was young”.

Of course, all that said, I do have regrets:

  • I regret having spent my entire time in Ireland boozed up on Guiness, following around some Canadian-Inuit girl that would never love me.
  • I regret not going all the way to the top of the Eiffel tower. It was only fifteen more euros!
  • I wish Seth and Bob hadn’t left Paul and I in Mexico. Seriously you guys ruined that trip.
  • I wish I HAD made love to more girls when I was young.

I could go on forever. I didn’t say it was a perfect philosophy, but it’s all I’ve got.

I finally rode up on Ulf, who was sitting on the side of the road, clearly shaken up. He had wiped out going too fast into a curve, winding up in a grassy ditch on the roadside, just a few feet from an old rusted up, overturned, burnt out car. His old german bones couldn’t have lifted the heavily packed bike on his own. I couldn’t have either, honestly. The bikes are heavy enough by themselves to be picked up from the ground, but with all of our bags and cases, it was almost impossible. Thankfully a bus coming north stopped, and five men got out and helped him not only get the bike back on two wheels, but pushed it up the ditch back onto the road. South American hospitality, I suppose.

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The rest of the day we didn’t get too far from one another. The road hugged an arm of Lago Gral Carrerra, the turquoise jewel centerpiece of a snowy peaked rugged crown of Andes Mountains. It was a long hour of the two of us staring out into heaven from our bikes. I could have thrown myself into it, disappeared into the lake, given myself to it completely. Crazy talk, I’m aware, but it’s no hyperbole. It’s an unmistakable feeling I’ve felt a few times before that looks a lot like what Sunday school teachers tell us Salvation feels like.

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Ulf and I arrived in Puerto Tranquilo feeling strangely refreshed after such a long day. We had enough time to find some humble little cabanas right on the lake that were just big enough for our gear, our persons, and a wood fire stove.

 

 

 



Chapter Six

I let the gaggle of kids from the table next to us ask me a hundred questions as Ulf laughed from across the table, enjoying his Lengua and rice. One precocious little girl pointed at every tattoo at my arm and asked what it was. Her little finger pressing into the lines on my skin and asking “Y este?”

“Esta un Mermaid.” I said “como…Ariel? Do you guys…have that here? Probably. Yeah you probably do”.

“Y este?” she said, not answering my question.

“Esta un Flor”

“Y este?” her little finger poking again, her eyes wide with curiosity.

“Esta un Zoro” I said, bearing my teeth, “Rarrrrrrr”

She giggled and pointed up at my eyes.

“sus ojos!” she exclaimed, looking back at her parents for verification and then pointing at he own eyes.

They nodded their heads, agreeing that, yes I did indeed also have eyes, and yes, they were a different color than hers.

“Si,” I said softly, “Mis ojos son blue…I mean…Azul”

She ran back to her parents with glee. Asking them where I was from.

“Estatos Unidos” They said.

She stared back in confusion.

The dad sighed. “Mickey Mouse”.

That one she understood, judging by the look on her face as she settled back into her chair at the table.

A little boy pointed at my beard and said “Santa claus!!!” All the children laughed. I went back to eating my beef tongue and washing it down with my fourth Hopperdietzel thinking that their Santa Claus must be much younger and more handsome.

Ulf and I rode back to our little suite outside of town and got ready for bed. I checked on my clothes that I had left wrapped around the stove pipe to find that a couple of my shirts had been burned from the stove pipe, and that basically everything was still damp, but damp and warm. I sighed heavily and hung them up all over my room, on whatever surface. I went down in my pajamas to put more wood in the stove, and then got into bed.

As I lay on the twin spring mattress, under an itchy wool blanket, I was finally still enough to feel the aching in my hands from white knuckling the handlebars, and the pain in my back from riding in and out of slipshod potholes on rainforest roads. I smiled as I fell almost immediately to sleep.

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A new morning in Patagonia meant new blue and sunshine pouring in through the paned window of my tiny room. I rubbed my eyes and stared out at grandstanding mountains jutting up in contrast to the clear sky. Everything seemed so pristine and full of promise.

We were leaving Cohyhaique and heading 220 kilometers south to Puerto Tranquilo, Chile. It was just another day of winding through Patagonia, a vast geological drama, and above all, complete spacial grandeur, on a kawasaki 650.

I began packing in between sips of instant nescafe in a styrofoam cup. My high-socks were still wet, so I put them back by the stove pipe, careful not to get them too close, and went on putting on the least damp clothes available.

We left early to get a jump on the 6 hour ride. Ulf said he’d spotted a petrol station on the way into town, so I followed him out and onto route seven. He passed two gas stations, but I kept following him 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes out until I realised he’d made a mistake.

In rural parts of South America, you don’t pass up gas stations. Even if you have almost a full tank, you go ahead and stop and you make it so that you have a FULL tank. So as we left civilisation behind and started climbing in elevation I just started praying that we’d make it to the next dot on the map, Villa Cerro Castillo, which was 100 kilometers from Cohyhaique.

I was only five days in and here I was trying to stretch out what little gas I had, in wet boots, talking to myself in my helmet over the noise of the wind and the engine, which at this point had melded. I felt like an astronaut so far from home, so far from anywhere, really. I felt alone.

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Ulf was a dot in the distance as my bike began to spit and sputter in that language that all irresponsible and absent minded motorcyclists know: Running on Fumes. I passed a sign that read Cerro Castillo: 10 Kilometers and started doing mental math while staying mindful of the Rheas that ran along the roadside in herds. The earth tilted upwards as I counted down the kilometers, and I prayed to whomever was listening inside that helmet that I would make it.

The bike sputtered and gasped and I coasted to a stop just before the CERRO CASTILLO: 6 KILOMETERS sign. Ulf was long gone down the road, and I sat there on the incline trying to start the bike up, rocking it forward, heel to toe, trying to get the last few drops of gas to ignite.

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The KZ finally screamed back to life and i kicked it into gear and rocketed up the hill long enough for the road to crest and reveal the beautiful Ibanez river valley beyond. I passed Ulf, who was parked on the left side of the road at an overlook, taking a picture of the most quintessential Patagonian postcard view I’d seen. Vast green valley surrounded and encrusted by snow capped andes reaching high into the Chilean sky, a massive, glowing glacier looming beyond.

My God! It was overwhelming, but I was in a hairpin turn and couldn’t slow down to take it in properly. I didn’t get a photo, but I suppose that in a zen way I lived the entire valley in that moment desperate not to run out of gas, corkscrewing down into it, the Andes standing on all sides like divine sentinels. I managed to get about halfway down the mountain before the bike died again.

I coasted at about 20 miles an hour, in and out of turns until she turned over again and sprang to life for another few minutes until it sputtered dramatically and I sat there in relative silence, left with only the wind in the valley and the sound of my tires on the pavement. I popped up my visor and took it all in as I coasted, corkscrew switchbacks tumbling down, all the way into Cerro Castillo.

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Caminos De Patagonia: Chapter Three

Woke up in Esquel after my first true night’s sleep, with the window cracked and cool morning air blowing in off the roof. I methodically repacked my things and met Ulf upstairs for breakfast in a large open room, that likely used to be a ballroom. The red curtains were pulled back from the windows like hair tucked behind a woman’s ear, and refreshing morning sunlight flooded the room.

Breakfast was as meager as the day before: breads and jams, cold cut ham and turkey, slices of cheese, yogurt, and cereal. I laid out my maps on the table in front of me, trying not to spill anything on the white tablecloth. Ulf sat down in front of me with a big cup of coffee.

“Careful with the coffee,” he said as he settled into his seat, “The handle is for a garden hose or something, it is very hot”.

Outside on the sidewalk, we loaded our bikes back down. I realised I had packed too much. My thoughts were that I could overpack my ruck because, unlike previous trips I’d made, I wouldn’t be lugging it around from Plane to Train to Cab and walking miles upon miles with it. It would just be from bike to hotel to bike. But I’d taken that thought too far and I could tell when I took hard turns that the weight differential of the motorcycle was seriously off.

Besides my hulking rucksack, I now had to figure out what to do with everything that was packed into the left plastic sidebag, and the tank bag, both of which I’d broken in the spill. We’d tried, and failed, to reattach the bags; there was no use. I wound up strapping the olive green duffel bag my grandpa had given me straight to the luggage frame.

“I kinda like this better,” I told Ulf, admiring my work. “It looks much more Mad Max.”

He looked at me with a blank stare.

“Nevermind”.

I ditched the busted luggage there on the sidewalk.

“Fuck it,” I said with my hands on my hips. “They can just bill me for it.”

There was a sign there in front of the hotel pointing North and South. To the south it read 1,937 Kilometers to Ushuaia, Argentina and to the north it read 16.363 Kilometers to Anchorage, Alaska. I thought about sea kayaking last spring with the otters in Homer, Alaska and just how crazy it was that now I was in Argentina, hopped up on coffee, about to head forever south.

We hit the pavement hard, quickly cruising at 75 mph with a prevalent tail wind. The 650, all loaded down with my gear, was just about at its top end, the engine whining loud, but smoothly. The pavement didn’t last long. After Trevelin, it was back to gravel, and from the look of the map, it would be more of the same the rest of the day.

As we neared the border, to cross back into Chile, the wind came howling across the valley, slowing us down to about 20-25 mph at the most. The dust was kicked up so high in the air it blocked the sun, and the wind hit us so hard that it was pulling my helmet off my head, the chin strap choking me intermittently. The wind would die down for a moment, letting the dust settle, and then come again with a gust that threatened to knock us off our bikes. One gust was so strong it pulled the visor completely off my helmet, a second gust came and pulled my face shield out of the bindings. That’s what I get for buying a cheap moto-x helmet. But it had looked so cool. We pulled into the Aduana building, a wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere, and dismounted our bikes in the wind, a threadbare Argentinian flag whipping high above our heads.

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I pulled my helmet off and looked down. My clothes were completely covered in dust. I pulled off my gloves and noticed that my hands were beet red. I shrugged it off and walked inside.

From the customs line, I looked out the window at our bikes, cloaked by the dust storm. Ulf’s bike was suddenly on the ground, all 500 pounds of it blown over in the wind.

The rest of the day I was fighting with my helmet. The binding for the left side of the face shield was now completely gone, and wind was coming up through the bottom popping the shield out of what was left of the bolt into the helmet. Thankfully, after we entered Chile, we had some mountains around us blocking the wind. We also immediately hit a narrow two lane paved road that snaked through a river canyon, bobbing up and down hills, around smooth but sharp turns. For the first time the scenery took a back seat to the riding, which was perfect, for about ten kilometers.

We stopped at a bridge in the Futafelu canyon and listened to the rapids rush loudly beneath us. The canyon rose high above, striations in the rock revealing a violent geologic past. I pointed out how the trees were growing off the side of vertical canyon walls, looking like moss clinging to a rock.

“It is the struggle of nature,” said Ulf stoicly.

After a much needed breather on the bridge, it was back to god damned gravel.

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The gravel conditions vary widely on the route to the bottom of the world. I can’t find a rhyme or reason for why solid packed gravel suddenly gives way to loose murderous rock. You learn to judge the conditions of the gravel, and therefore your appropriate speed, by color and, to some extent, texture. For it to make any difference, and keep you rubber down, you have to be constantly looking ahead 12 to 15 seconds just to make sure your clay/gravel solid ground isn’t going to turn to a pile of river rocks and force you down. According to the billboards put up by the Ministerio del Interior, Chile is undertaking a massive public works campaign to pave all of their main roads, so I apologise for cursing them so much.

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As we neared our destination, I took advantage of a few kilometers of solid gravel, to think about the scenic grandeur of Patagonia. It was like all of the beauty from every place I’d ever been– Switzerland, Alaska, Ireland, California– dropped under the same southern sky, and here I was completely immersed in it.

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I watched Ulf in front of me, dipping down with the gravelly road, stop to chat with a cyclist. We’ve seen quite a few of these guys on the route. Ulf calls them the “real heroes”. They always look exhausted, like zombies pedaling with blank expressions, eyes fixed on the horizon. I feel bad for them when I pass at 50 miles an hour, dusting them as I penetrate their panoramic view.

I stopped in La Junta, named after the famous Chilean coup d’etat of ’73, and waited for Ulf to catch up. The scenery had gone from the wide open golden plains of Trevelin to the tapering Futafelu canyon, and now to the green foggy mountains of La Junta.  The road coming into town was so bad it was almost impassable. I keep thinking about access roads to well heads out in West Texas, and how the big semis left pot holes and craters and how miserable they were in a truck and how now I’m on a motorcycle dealing with worse, and how when the wind picks up I just have to sing something in my helmet and white knuckle the grips and hope I don’t take a spill.

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Songs stuck in my head:

Survivor Blues- Cory Branan
Matt Aragon- Dogwood



Los Caminos De Patagonia: Chapter 2
March 2, 2015, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I walked four blocks down and two over. I kept repeating the street names in my head over and over until i’d reached the ferreteria, which as a Swiss biker later explained to me was like “wal-mart but tiny and shitty”. I asked for bandas de elastico, and mimed a bungee cord in the air. The woman behind the counter squinted, and then her face lit up, she ducked through a curtain to a back room. I could hear her rummaging through packages on the ground, until she came back with a set of ratchet straps.

I handed the Chilean pesos to the dark-haired woman like an open ended question. She counted out the change as she laid it in my palm and I headed back to the German Resturant, where Ulf waited with the bikes. I used my new ratchet straps to latch down the last of my luggage to the bike, and away we went, without breakfast. I had already held up our departure by having to get more money from the tarjeta automatico in the supermarket, so I didn’t want to complain about my rumbling stomach, or the lack of caffeine. The adrenaline of novelty and adventure would have to get me there.

We rode up to the Argentinian border with few problems, the villarica volcano rising above us us like a diplomat puffing on a pipe. I was still trying to get used to the dual-sport, which was a new experience for me entirely. Thirty minutes into the ride the smooth civilised pavement gave way to switchback segments of loose gravel that rose up through the Chilean woods.I routinely had to squeeze my tank with my thighs to keep the bike from getting too squirrely in the white gravel.

I had been very anxious about the first border crossing. I was sweating in the cramped customs office, surrounded by Chilean and Argentinian families and their diapered kids and chatty teenagers and I was just hoping all of my papers were in order. The man behind the desk had a beret on. I practiced my spanish over and over in my head until it was my turn. The man stamped my papers, looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped it loudly, and away I went.

There are two border crossings, two customs lines, two immigration lines, two stamps, per border. The entire process takes about an hour or more, depending on whether or not you get stuck behind a tour bus full of elderly Germans. Between the two offices, can be anywhere from two to three miles of what seems like no man’s land– a place between the two countries. I envisioned it as the big black line on the map.

We passed over rolling Andean foothills beneath a imposing mountain– smooth riding into San Martin. San Martin was a beautiful, but perhaps slightly disingenuous, ski resort town. The little resort town sat on a lake, and during the summer it was teeming with life.  I had exactly zero Argentinian pesos, so I began searching the main strip for a cambio exchange, finding nothing. I went into a few banks, only to be denied. When I met back up with Ulf, he had found a “private exchanger” in an alleyway and offered me half of his pesos. As he sat on the sidewalk eating ice cream, I bought two yogurt bars and a energy drink from a mini-mercado that was smaller than some people’s walk-in closets.I was eager to get back on the road.

As we rode out of San Martin, the lake jumped out from behind a corner. It was suddenly breathtaking, and as blue as the garment of the virgin. We rode up our first real mountain road. I looked over my shoulder at the shimmering lake, framed perfectly by green Andes and thought “Here we are. Patagonia is probably paradise.”

We stopped to take a picture at a little mountain side pull off. Not to capture the beauty, which I believed to be impossible, but just to prove that we were there.

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The road cut through verdant rocky forest and wrapped around the lake like a hand around a pint glass. Moss grew infinitely like the Buddha over large stones. Shrines to the saints littered the road side looking like little red dog houses, visited by pilgrims in flip flops and swim suits.

At every other curve, an immaculate snow capped mountain burst into view. It stood tall among the others, Christlike, outside of time and forever out of reach.

the road plunged down into a valley, and we hugged the mountain like missionaries. The wind howled around the mountains in some places, threatening to push me off the road. Sometimes it rushed through the mountain roads, sounding like an approaching truck as it cascaded down. It reminded me a little of Wyoming, but in color.

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The lake in San Martin was the first of many oases along the road to Bariloche, where we would stop for the night. Students and families swam in the sapphire waters, soaking up their summer vacation. Hitch hikers were staggered along the road. I jokingly offered a seat to all the girls as I passed, making faces at them from behind my helmet and face-shield. Goats adn cows grazed along the roadside contentedly, jaywalking as they pleased. I wondered where the hitch hikers were going. Why would they want to leave such a paradise. Maybe the cows and goats had it right, I thought, as I passed at sixty miles an hour.


Ulf and I went to a pizza place in Bariloche around eleven pm. It was my first meal of the day, but I was feeling fine, settling into my oversized wooden chair. The temperature had fallen with the sun as we entered town. we managed to find a lakeside hotel before sunset, complete with gated parking. I’d rather sleep in my own room. but it definitely beats my Pucon hostel that I shared with twenty people the night before. I feel like maybe I’m getting too old and grouchy for youth hostels.

Ulf ate a cheese pizza, each individual piece with its own large green olive basking in the cheese. I went for an Empanada and a home made “cerveza rojo”, which was all they had on tap. Ulf told me of his trip five years earlier from Germany to China on a dual sport bike. He had to ditch his bike in Kurdistan after gangsters sold him bad gas that destroyed in engine.He walked the bike to a farm house, the only one within miles, and just gave the bike to the family without words, then continued on into China.

The retired German is sixty six years old. Although much separates us, he is good natured, we have similar riding styles, and his English isn’t bad. Thank God for Ulf. After my first day riding, I can tell you that God exists in Patagonia, and I intend to praise him for his creation: turquoise lakes, beautiful south american women, ancient mountains reaching to the sky, safe travels, microbrewed Argentinian lager, and for Ulf. Its heavy handed but Patagonia is heavy handed.


I only had 100 pesos left from the money Ulf had loaned me the day before. I went out that morning as he loaded up the bikes and tried and failed to find an exchange house. I ate breakfast in the hotel, overlooking the lake and lloaded up on coffee to ready me for the 270 mile day ahead. Before leaving town we rode the Lao Lao loop, which loops around the lake. The zigzagging lakeside road rose and fell with the 360 degree postcard zen panorama.

Just before the panorama opens up outside town, there is a humble little church, looking like a playhouse compared to the towering peaks around it and the infinite waters down below.  I dismounted at a wooden catholic church on a grassy hill and trudged up the 20 or so steps in my clanky motocross boots, which were stiff Italian leather. A  student group on a field trip  stood outside, taking selfies in front of the church. Not one, but two, giant St. Benards sat on benches, posing with tourists for a few dollars. I thought about when Jesus chased the merchants out of the church with a whip as I ducked inside the humble sanctuary.

The cabin-cathedral must have been from the thirties. It was simple, but it was gorgeous inside. I took a splash of holy water from a dispinser on the wooden wall that reminded me of a hand sanitizing station in a gas station restroom. I made the sign of the cross after observing a catholic to make sure I had it right, and kneeled at the alter.

I walked back out into the sun, almost startled at the patagonian mountains, and the almost oceanic lake. Ulf, who waited by the bikes, made a comment about the Chinese worshiping every god when they travel, just in case.

“I’m always a Christian when I travel,” I said as I put my helmet back on.

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South America is full of stray dogs. Happy, frolicking, chasing motorbikes, napping on stairsteps in the sun, trotting out of the woods dogs. Even if people down here don’t put ice in their water and men kiss each other on the cheeks and there’s a bidet in my hotel room, Patagonia is the land of stray dogs and I feel at home.


Rocky mountain picturesque Patagonian S curves after S curves for hours until El Bolson, a typical South American lazy town seated beneath a gargantuan peak.We detoured down ruta setenta y uno into the Las Alerces national park, which houses five beautiful iridescent blue lakes.

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The road into the park quickly turned to gravel, which at first wasn’t so bad. Caballeros moved to the side of the road as we approached,, probably looking like horsemen of the apocalypse,  a cloud of dust rising behind us. I was starting to get used to the bike, and the constant give of the gravel. We were riding side by side at about 45 mph over the gravel road, which rose high above the lakes and in and out of deep dark forests.

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My confidence level was rising, and my whiteknuckles loosened up a bit. We rode under a thick canopy that blocked the sky completely. Sunlight bled through the , illuminating the dust that we were kicking up. I began to overtake an economy car that wasn’t much bigger than my bike, going about 35 mph. The sun burned white through a break in the trees and the lake suddenly appeared down below, the road dropped down over a hill and before I knew what was going on, I was down, sliding across the gravel, still holding onto the throttle, the bike whining as it slid away from me. Ulf is also down, his bike sliding past me.

I immediately jumped up, like a skateboarder recovering from a spill, and examined the damage. Side bag was broken off completely, but otherwise the bike was fine. Ulf strapped it to his bike, just barely leaving room for himself on the seat. I had a bit of road rash, but neither of us had any real injuries to speak of. Kids got out of the car we’d passed and helped us get the bikes back up on the road.

The rest of the ride was gut wrenchingly stressful. The gravel, which had been manageable, gave way  to loose rocks that could barely be described as a road. We had to ride inside of tracks cars had left behind. These are VW Golf sized tracks, not big ford Texas sized tracks. So about two feet of grace, with white rocks piled up on either size begging for your tire to drift into it.

The scenery was beautiful, but I honestly couldn’t enjoy it.

Once we exited the park, and hit pavement, I wanted to get off my bike and kiss the road, but it was already eight thirty. We had about two hours of day light left.

Out of the woods, away from the lakes, off the mountain side, down down down smooth forgiving S curves into a valley. Sundrenched like honey, the great southwest before me with Alaskan snowcaps behind in my side-views. I breathed easily and heavily, hugging the turns like old friends.

We made it to Esquel in gray twilight, and I had a platter of what seemed to be lunch meats and cheeses that the hotel’s resturant was trying to pass off as Picadillo. Kids screeched and played as their parents ate at 11:30 at night, and I tried to enjoy a Cerveza Austral.

The key to my room was large and victorian and I couldn’t get the damn door open with it. So I went out the window, onto the roof, and into my room to bed. I was exhausted, hands aching from gripping the handlebars so tightly.

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Songs stuck in my head for two days:

Burn- Alkaline Trio
Open Road Song- Eve 6
West Coast- Coconut Records
Best Deceptions- Dashboard Confessional
I Will Play my Game Beneath the Spin Lights- Brand New



Los Caminos de Patagonia: Chapter 1
February 17, 2015, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

06-01-2015

When I was young, and even on into my college years, flying was a thrill and a novelty. Now I have twenty eight years on my belt, and a beer gut above it. Nothing about sitting in a commercial airplane is exciting to me anymore. When I was a kid I always requested the window seat. I didn’t think it was possible to lose that child-like wonder of staring down at the earth and watching the landscape change, but I definitely have.

Like when I was thirteen, sitting on my bedroom floor, trying to squeeze another ounce of fun out of my micro-machines. Trying and failing to hold onto a relic of my youth, but the feeling was gone.

These days I try to sit in an aisle seat because my bladder seems to have mutinied against me.

I blame it on my summer in Laredo, surveying million acre ranches for the new wind farms. Way out there in the huisache, we would just hop out of the truck and piss as soon as the urge presented itself. There was no one around for miles but buzzards and jack rabbits.

Now every pee is an emergency– conditioning, I suppose.

I pissed myself last winter looking for my car in the allegheny courthouse parking garage. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that I had to walk through the snow, back into the courthouse with pissed jeans.

I don’t know why opening with this story. Or telling it at all. Those weren’t Chekov’s pissed jeans. Those jeans are completely gratuitious and I suppose that makes me a bad writer. Or maybe I’m trying to humanise myself. Do I need to do that? The reader assumes I’m flawed and human, right?

God, I’m rambling because i’m nervous. I’m flying down, on a whim really, to ride a motorcycle through the Andes, through Patagonia, down to Tierra Del Fuego. My Final destination is Ushuaia (which I have no idea how to pronounce), otherwise known as Fin Del Mundo.

I’m going down there alone, which is probably a mistake. But I’ve learned that if you always wait until your friends and family are ready to leave, you’re likely to  never arrive– so it’s three weeks alone in rural Chile and Argentina.

A woman at a bar asked me a few nights ago if I was going there to “find myself”, which I really hadn’t considered. I leaned in closely, so she could here me over the music and replied, “If i didn’t know who I was, do you think I’d be doing something like this?”


07.01.2015

Pucon, Chile sits nested between a lake to the north, a spine of squat Andean mountains to the east, and an active volcano to the south. It is a South American tourist destination, but for me, it was just the kickoff point of my trip.

After sleepless flights from Houston, to Miami, to Santiago, Chile, to Temuco, then an hour and a half shuttle ride into Pucon, I was ready to go to bed. My overstuffed rucksack collapsed onto one of the sixteen beds in my no frills hostel. I was tempted to flop down on top of it, but I still had to get some Chillean currency (the ATMS at both airports were out of order, and there was no currency exchange open at either), and attend to the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day.

It was nearly five pm by the time I sat down for a beer and an empanada. Girls with jet black hair and pumps walked up and down the streets in pairs. Teenage boys skateboarded down the sidewalk. Tourists bought sunglasses and wine. Stray dogs sauntered carelessly across busy streets– all beneath the silent, snowcapped Villarica Volcano.

I finished the last of my beer, a refreshing golden ale, and gazed out onto the active sidewalk. This must have been what Pompeii was like up until the end.

Villarica Volcano

Villarica Volcano

After supper, I walked down to the beach to relax. The scene there was no different than Madrid’s beaches, or any beach side town along the med: girls sunbathed, staring into books; families splashed in the tide; teenagers played volleyball in sandals; and merchants sold juice and fruit, navigating the jungle of multicolored umbrellas.

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The stark difference here was the sand, which was black as onyx. Sand like this is created when a lava flow meets the water, and is slightly magnetic. The black sand created a beautiful contrast to the bright blue sky, and the bronzing South American bodies laid out beneath it.

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I walked across town to meet the men I would be renting the Motorcycle from, who operated out of a German Biergarten and restaurant. The owners of the business were not present, so the new mechanic, a stocky boy from Connecticut, sat me down and did his best to ease my reservations. The co-owner’s wife, a buxom German woman in an octoberfest outfit, poured me a big, heady Pilsner and sat it in front of me with a thud and a toothy smile.

The kid had only been in country for three weeks, and had done some of the route that I would be taking. Public speaking was obviously not his forte, and he had very few tips or suggestions.

Another rider was there, getting the same ill-prepared speech I was, and just happened to be leaving the same day as me, with a similar itinerary. He was a tall, retired German in his sixties, who looked very spry and able for his age, but reserved and stoic, true to his north-German heritage. We decided it would make sense to ride together, at least for the first few days.

“Will you join me for supper, so we can talk over the details?” the German, named Ulf, asked me.

I was exhausted. My eyes bloodshot and heavy, but I accepted.

We sat at one of many sidewalk cafes and I tried to be engaging and attentive, despite my weariness. He was a vegetarian, which severely limited his options in Chile and South America, but he ate fish, which as we all know have no souls, so he ordered a salmon and a beer.

“I’m a vegetarian, but I do not preach,” he said as he sliced his salmon.

“Fish is an animal,” I responded, as I dug into my pork loin. I don’t mind preaching.

We discussed our route plans, which were similar enough to combine, and beautiful chilean women an the economic benefits of not having children early in life, and though there was a slight language barrier, it was thin enough that we could get by.

I walked him back to his hostel and we made plans to meet at the Biergarten in the morning to pick up our bikes. I was forcing myself along at this point. My entire body was already travel weary, but there was still daylight. Instead of going back to my hostel, I passed it up and found myself back on the beach.

The sun was finally setting, casting a subtle pink glow that was not bright enough to penetrate the black lake. Tinges of cobalt rolled in with the waves, as they sloshed on the coal-black shore. I didn’t take my shoes off as the volcanic sand wasn’t so easy on my tender feet.

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A group of teenage boys rode up on their bicycles, rid themselves of their t-shirts, and began to splash in the quickly cooling lake. The rest of the tourists had cleared out, leaving only a few friends picnicking on the black shore. I stood alone, listening to to the glub-glub of the tide, for a while, before deciding it was time for bed.

As i left the shore, i felt the gravelly rocks in my shoes, and it reminded me of sliding down the municipal gravel dump on highway 2004 with my friends as kids. We’d found a car hood at the nearby park and ride, and would trudge up the gravel hill, just to slide back down on it. We’d come back home with tar and gravel in our pants and shoes and hair, smelling like a road crew.

As i Fished volcanic rock from my converse, a pack of stray dogs strolled behind some children. The brindle mutt in the back was limping slightly, and there was smoke rising from the volcano in the distance.