RAISED WITH WOLVES


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 7

My bike slowly and silently came to a stop in front of two old blue passenger buses that had been converted into a short order restaurant called La Cocina de Sole. One of the buses served as the kitchen, and the other as the dining room. They were both hand painted with whimsical designs, and a white dog sunned out on the wooden patio. The words CAFE CAFE were emblazoned on the menu, and I regarded it as a godsend.

Ulf parked his bike beside mine and took off his helmet.

“What happened to you back there?” He said as he dismounted the KZ.

“I ran completely out of gas about halfway down the hill” I replied, the wind whipping between us, rustling his nice moto-jacket.

“Did you run out of your reserve tank as well?” He asked me as we walked up to the front door of the bustruant.

“Well no.” God dammit. “No I didn’t even think of the reserve.”

Of course I hadn’t thought of the reserve. I ride a Harley sportster. When the tank is empty the tank is empty and you’re shit outta luck. I was kicking myself for all the internal drama and the praying and the coasting down a sidewinding mountain road.

Ulf just laughed that goodhearted German laugh. “It’s okay, Russ.” He patted my back as we sat down in the cramped bus.

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I ordered a cup of coffee and a pork sandwhich as the wind blasted through the valley, rocking the bus almost imperceptibly. I was more annoyed that I’d ridden 100 Kilometers without having my morning caffeine than I was with the almost-running out of gas bit.Of course panic-induced adrenaline is just as good as caffeine, and without the crash.

The bus began to fill up for lunch, it being the only place to eat in either direction for about 100 kilometers, and everything began to slow down. Ulf and I were no longer criss crossing patagonian highways and backroads on motorcycles in damp socks. Now only the wind was moving, and we sat still in a bus without tires, on a desolate road, overlooking an immaculate valley.

I watched a little pale french girl eat a pork sandwich (there weren’t many options on the menu, really) trying to liven up her meager meal with ketchup. Her squatty, windburnt, boyish face heaved a sigh out into nothing as she stared out the bus window, ignoring her family, with whom she was vacationing. She was wearing a blue hoodie, the hood framing her pensive countenance, and for a split second I knew everything I needed to know about her, and I loved her in a way that only those of us who have stared out whimsically painted remodeled buses can.

After our lunch and coffee, Ulf and I switched to our reserve tanks and rode into the village to look for the gas station that was denoted on our map. We independently rode our Kawasakis up and down each barren street, dodging stray dogs and listless villagers before meeting back up in the city square. There was a ramshackle store with a screen door that sold toiletries and ice creams and the sort, and Ulf tried to ask them in his best Spanish if there was a gas station ,but the woman behind the dusty counter didn’t seem to understand. I sat out on the covered porch, petting a stray dog, cursing Ulf under my breath for not stopping for gas earlier in the morning.

I asked a man walking into the little store if he knew where we could buy gas, and he told us “En la Forestero, por la calle a la derecha” and pointed down the street.

So Ulf and I walked, in our damp socks and motorcycle boots, down the dusty street and knocked on the door of the Forestero, which claims on a handwritten sign to sell “Provisiones Y Combustibles” but no one answered. Dogs barked, the wind howled, our socks smelled, but no one answered. So we sat and waited, in frustration.

A few people in busted old cars parked, ran past us, up to the door, and knocked repeatedly. I told them “nadie aqui” and they shrugged and went back to their vehicles. Finally someone told me, in spanish, that the man who ran the place goes up to Coyihaque (the place we should have fueled up in) every other  day to refuel, and that he would be back in an hour or so. So we waited some more. At least we had an answer.

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One of the hardest things for a person like me to do is to wait. Especially after two or three fresh Chilean coffees. Ulf, meanwhile, is “having a nap” on the other side of a broken fence, in an empty pasture adjacent to the Forestero.

I sat in front of the ramshackle, informal gas station ,as the wind blew through the quiet, empty streets. Six or eight boxers slept in the dusty backyard of the gas-shack, discouraging any would-be gas thieves.

I pulled my crumpled itinerary from my pack and went over my bulleted schedule. I was a full day ahead, so it wasn’t like this was the delay that was going to break my trip, but it did mean I couldn’t lose another day due to engine trouble or a flat tire, and it definitely meant I couldn’t afford to get lost on the road. It was such a preventable error that it made my brain vibrate, or maybe that was the coffee.

I took out Chatwin’s “In patagonia” and read in the town square that doubled as a small park. I considered lifting entire passages of description from his book, as I traveled through some of the same mountains and valleys as he had 40 years before. Patagonia couldn’t have looked much different then.

I eventually nodded off in the park, despite the Andean mountain wind howling. the sun was nice and warm and I was full and Chatwin and the whole thing finally put me to sleep. I woke up to the sound of a truck turning off Route 7 onto the gravel road of the village, and got up thinking it was our gas-man, but no luck.

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I’d taken off my wet boots and socks and let them out to dry on my motorcycle after Ulf laid out in the pasture, s o I was walking around barefoot through Cerro Castillo drawing stares from children pointing at the tattoos on my feet and my dirty, disheveled beard. I walked back through town to the Bus-turaunt to find the dining room empty. I ordered another coffee and finished my paperback Chatwin alone.

I hate to finish a book too fast. It’s nice to control the speed at which its characters must leave you. And Chatwin is a good character to have around– an englishman with whom I’ve been glad to converse in English, no matter how one sided the conversation.

As I sipped my coffee, wishing Chatwin hadn’t finished his journey while I was still only on my fifth day, a family got out of their little hatchback and sat at the front of the bus. I listened as the pug nosed, black haired, red lipped little daughters slurped and smacked on hot dogs covered in guacamole, while their high cheekboned parents, both with jet black pony tails, talked to each other lovingly in spanish.

A tiny gray bird, the same color as the gravel, flitted about looking for provisions, and finding none, as skinny threadbare trees bowed over in the wind, and I figured in my head how many hours we had until sundown. Ulf and I had six hours left of rideable daylight, so it was feasible that we’d still make it to Puerto Tranquilo by sunset, but not probable. Not to mention the fact that most, if not all, of the rooms would be booked, and we’d still have to find a place to eat.

As I stepped out of the little blue bus for the last time, a small brown mutt with a bandaged foot lay lazily in the sun, his leg shaved, looking pathetic but wagging his tail–thumping against the dusty sidewalk.

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I found Ulf back at the gas station still sitting in the shade, with no change in our situation. So we waited some more. A parade of characters and dogs came to our little Forastero and I told each one “No esta aqui, iraba a cohayaique” in an unenthused monotone, but they rang the door for the absent shop owner anyway.

The gas man finally returned triumphantly in a jalopy of a red pickup truck with the gas from Coyhaique. He parked around back, penned up his six or eight dogs, and filled three green five liter glass jugs in wicker baskets with 93 octane gasoline from a tank on his truck.  As he walked smilingly  out to our bikes, the jugs hanging from a wooden rod that he carried across his shoulders, he looked like an italian boy returning home with fresh wine.

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“YO TENGO SED” he said with a toothy grin as he poured glug glug glug into my Kawasaki’s tank.

We were back in business.

 

 

 

 

 



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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Chapter Four
March 23, 2015, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

Ulf and I managed to find a bed and breakfast with two cabañas in the tiny town of La Junta. There were very few options for lodging, and no real options for food. There were restaurants, but all were either abandoned, or simply not taking customers. It is honestly hard to tell sometimes in Chile.

We pulled our bikes into the backyard, careful not to rut up the bright green grass. The two cabanas we were staying with were adjoined by a covered front porch, which afforded us a view of the proprietor’s lush gardens and white sheets flapping on the clotheslines. Towering above the cabanas, just outside town, was a green mountain, almost entirely concealed by the dense clinging fog.

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The cabins were rustic, but nice enough. There were fresh flowers on the blue tile kitchen counter, and a small stove with a tea pot. The three person table, which was squeezed between the empty mini fridge and the door, was covered with a dutch design table cloth with clogs and windmills. There was a small box fireplace with a stovepipe that puffed innocuous smoke as it heated the room. Next to the fireplace was a wicker basket already full of wood, ready to be burned. There were raspberries growing right outside my bedside window, almost within reach. I hung my flannel shirt up on the porch to dry it out (I had washed it the night before in a sink to get the dust out), clipping it to a bit of twine I’d brought along with my leatherman. As I sat down to admire the scenery, Ulf handed me a cold beer he’d bought at the gas station. A little bird flitted around in the yard with a worm in his beak, and horses snorted, nickered, and shifted restlessly across the street. There were hours of sun light left, and I intended to enjoy them.

As I began to unpack my things into my cabin, I noticed that my phone was nowhere to be found. I immediately began to panic, thinking that four days into the trip, I was losing my only method of contact to the outside world. I began unpacking each bag, pulling out every item I’d brought along, searching frantically, throwing t-shirts and maps and motorcycle tools out on the floor.

Ulf walked in to inspect the commotion.

“I lost my phone. It’s a disaster. Four days in and I’ve already lost it.”

“Oh that’s terrible, Russ.” He said, trying to sound empathetic. He went on to explain very excitedly that the cyclist he’d stopped to talk to spoke german, and even lived in germany, although he was of Chilean descent, and that he had invited him to have supper with us, and probably to stay in the cabin.

I hunched down with a sigh, sitting there on the floor among my things. “that sounds great,” I said un-enthusiastically. “I refuse to eat pizza,” I said, cutting Ulf a telling glance.

I went through all of my things three or four times in absolute defeat. Checking and re-checking each pocket and compartment and zipping and unzipping and swimming through all of my gear until my eye caught my camelback hanging from the hand made chair furthest from me at the little table. There it was all zipped up, untouched and un-rifled through. I sprang to my feet, unzipped the bag, and there it was in all of its un-lost totally accounted for glory: my phone!

I did a dance in the little cabin and came out high fiving Ulf in celebration.

He smiled warmly and said, “You know, at least once a day, I get to see you at your lowest low and highest high emotionally. It is quite interesting.

I went inside the main building, which wasn’t much bigger than our cabins, to use their wifi, and let my family know I was still alive.

The bed and breakfast was run by a very nice, graying woman who  has a green thumb, a special attention to detail, speaks zero english, and can not seem to understand my broken spanish. She did offer me tea, which I took on her front porch, sitting on a cushioned wicker bench.

Before too long, the Chilean cyclist showed up looking for Ulf. I introduced myself in spanish, shaking his dusty hand, and he let me off the hook immediately in decent English, thank goodness. His named was Pato, and he was a short statured man with jet black hair, mestizo eyes, and a chin that cascaded to a point. He spoke freely in Spanish, English, and German, and he and Ulf spoke in jubilant bursts of Deutsch. Even though I was left out of a lot of conversations, I didn’t mind. I knew what a relief it must have been for Ulf to be able to speak in his native tongue to someone. The three of us wound up visiting a “supermercado” which was small and ramshackle even by Chilean standards, and shopping for supper. There was little rhyme or reason to where or why foods were stacked. Crates of packaged olives were on the floor next to cleaning supplies. Austrian energy drinks sat behind the counter next to tomato sauce. Dust covered packages of noodles at the bottom of derelict shelves. I bought the beer and wine, and the two of them split the supper-makings.It was so much easier getting what we needed with Pato there to speak for us. It was also fun to watch him go between Spanish, German, and English all in one conversation in that little store. It made me feel like a real philistine, only knowing one language fluently.

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With our ingredients tucked in our arms, we walked back, calling happily to stray dogs in the sidewalk.

That night, as darkness settled in the valley, I sat back and drank beers and ate meager spaghetti and sausages cooked on the little stove, and I stoked the fire in the fire place and Ulf and Pato talked of Germany and told me about their wives and the horses across the street winnied nervously and dogs barked somewhere in the night.


The next morning I repacked my bags, painstakingly gathering up each and every item I’d thrown across the room in a mistaken frenzy. The daughter of the proprietress was outside my door with a tray of breakfast, which I took over at Ulf’s cabin with him and Pato.

The daughter was a strikingly beautiful girl, not just road pretty, but actually pretty. She had dark eyes and long black hair that wouldn’t stay out of her face as I spoke to her around a daunting language barrier. Her nose was a little too big, which is what I liked most about her. It betrayed her far away European descent.  As she walked back across the grass, barefoot, her clothes flowed in the wind, not entirely hiding her shape.

After a standard breakfast of cold cuts and cheese and a little bread with some dulce de leche on it, we paid the front desk, in cash, and packed our bikes. In Chile and Argentina, it is common for one to “deal with the ugliness” of the payment, in the morning before you leave. I kept trying to pay at the hotels, but was constantly brushed off with a “pagar en la manana” and a smile. It is a real shock to Ulf and I, who are used to being treated as potential suspects, rather than guests, at hotels.

We bade Pato farewell, as dark clouds began to roll in over the hills of La Junta. He would continue on for a few weeks on his bicycle, down to Punta Arenas. He had a long way to go, as did we. Ulf took the time to put on his rain gear before we left, but I thought that putting it on would be an act in pessimism, and chose to believe that the day had sunshine in store, just over the next pass, perhaps.

Ruta Siete, in that area, was under heavy construction. The road was exactly what I had expected Chilean riding to be. Beneath the pervading mist, not unlike Seattle’s, was a one lane dirt road, with a cliff on your right, and a river 100 feet down to your left. Zig zagging and switch backing up and up higher and higher dodging trucks, buses, and pot holes. There were holes in the road where men in orange and yellow rain slickers were excavating with dynamite. The river ran muddy brown beneath me as I white knuckled the grips in second gear.

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I should have noticed the day before, but was perhaps too tired, the enormous gunnera leaves that were springing up along the roadside as I entered La Junta. Now, they were ubiquitous, some bigger than my torso all along the road. I’m no botanist, but it seems like a plant would need a lot of rain to get this big. The soft dirt road, which had been cut into a cliffside, was now descending into increasingly humid and lush green, and snaking along the Río Cochamó. Just as it occurred to me that I was entering the rain forest, it did, indeed, begin to rain.

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The shifty one lane road, seemingly a superhighweay for construction vehicles and tour buses, quickly turned into a soup. I was down in second gear, mucking my way through smooth river rocks that were being used to fill up pot holes.

This was what I’d signed up for, I thought. The river rushed below me,the trees grew up lush and green and would have concealed the sky if the grey rain and mist wasn’t already doing the job. I kept having to raise my face shield and wipe it off with my gloves because it was so fogged up, leaving streaks behind.

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I was switching down to first when taking the 90 degree hair pin switchbacks up through the mountain, then back to second in the straightaways, passing SUVs in the rain, KADOOSH through mud puddles, with my visor up to see in the darkness. The road rose up out of the lowlying river valley until I was what seemed like miles above the Cochamó. I was cutting through the rainforest, through the mountain, on a mud and rock road riddled with potholes, which was barely wide enough for one truck, thick forest rising up on either side. The rain was coming down hard, with no intention of letting up, and I was soaked. Not only was I soaked, but I was freezing. When the road finally flattened out, and the landscape opened up a little bit, I pulled over to put on my rain gear. Through the clouds and the mist I could see three waterfalls rushing down a mountain across a valley from me. My motorcycle boots left footprints in the mud as I walked closer to the ledge and took my steamy helmet off to get a better look. Magnificence through the mist: for a moment, I didn’t mind being so wet and cold.

3.2

After about two more hours of riding in the pouring rain, I stopped for coffee and fuel at the first Punto Copec I saw. I sat in the tiny convenience store and tried to have a little small talk with the attendant as I ate a candy bar and sipped the cafe cafe. I used the same shitty spanish I’d been using all over Argentina and Chile, but she just could not understand me. I’ve noticed that the further I get into the rural areas, the harder it is for people to talk with me. I tried to talk to the girl at the hotel, but she looked at me like I wasn’t even speaking Spanish. I know my pronunciation isn’t perfect, but I promise you gas station girl, we are speaking the same language.

I guess its similar to when I’m sitting at a sushi bar with my Texas friends and the waitress asks them a question, in broken english, and they just look at me to translate. If you haven’t spent much time with people butchering your language, there are a lot of linguistic cues and pronunciations that you take for granted that just aren’t there, making it very hard to understand.

I thought about this as I watched stray dogs saunter around the parking lot. I was shivering with a pervasive chill. My teeth were chattering. There was standing water in my boots and my jeans were soaked through. The coffee was getting cold in my red hands, that were peeling from a sunburn I got on the Lao Lao loop, and stiff from the cold.  Ulf caught up with me at the convenience store (he had been lagging far behind all day) and after he warmed up for a bit, we headed back out into the rain, which showed no signs of letting up.

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The road leaving town was a tight paved innumerable waterfall on all sides kinda road that UIf and I glistened over side to side like black bugs in the mist. We stopped only once, to pay tribute to the Cascada de Virgen, a galloping, rushing waterfall that fell heavy on a flat rock, sounding like thunder. A few feet away was a beautiful, but humble, statue of the virgin, which was cut into the mountain side. Although it was protected from the rain by a canopy of thick tree cover, there was an enchanted halo of waterfall mist around the little statue.

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Back on the road we could tell we were nearing civilisation again. There were more cars on the road, more people, and every now and then a bridge or a tunnel crossing rivers and bypassing mountain sides. One such bridge’s exit revealed a wide pastoral irelandesque landscape below that simply dwarfed anything I’d seen in Ireland. Each day I’m more surprised at just how big this place seems.

Mist and rain clung to the surrounding mountains, but nothing can conceal Patagonia’s beauty entirely. From great southwestern ranchland mesa tops to cold Alaskan mountains down to Chilean rainforest to massive snowfed waterfalls like fingers to Irish pastureland in two days– that is why you come to Patagonia. Creation is undeniable here.


Songs stuck in my head:

Damn the Rain- Randy Rogers Band
Peace in the Valley- Dawes
Graceland- Paul Simon



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.

3.5

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- Preface.
February 16, 2015, 11:53 am
Filed under: Adventures | Tags: , , ,

My Spanish isn’t very good. I bought a spanish to english dictionary at Barnes and Noble that I never took out of my pack. Every ounce counts when you’re backpacking, and that little book was dead weight. By all accounts, My Spanish poderia ser mejor. I don’t even know if that’s right.

This is one of many of the issues i didn’t even consider when planning my trip through Patagonia on a motorcycle. I knew I wanted to go to the southern hemisphere for winter, and I knew I wanted to ride a motorcycle. I drew a Venn diagram, x’d out Ebola stricken Africa and went from there.

My three previous winters had been spent in Pennsylvania, and after the record setting lows of 2013-2014, I felt like I deserved a little break from the cold. I was in Wyoming when I started looking for “vacation” destinations, and before thanksgiving temperatures had already reached -20. The southern side of the world promised sun, warmth, and a good old fashioned escapism.

I eventually decided on South America, specifically Patagonia, because of the sheer grandeur of the scenery.Being plunged into that mysterious, awe-inspiring land scape would be good for my teetering mental health, and serve as a sort of year end baptismal. I’d been on the road working since mid 2011, and while much of it was very dramatic and adventurous and I’d seen a lot of the country, my passport hadn’t received a new stamp  since Europe in ’09 and that seemed unforgivable.

So in a coffee-fueled, manic frenzy, I chose a Motorcycle outfitting company, planned my route, sent the check and bought my plane ticket. No going back (without a considerable cancellation fee of course). I would be spending three weeks of January riding a motorcycle through the Andes, criss crossing through Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, down to Ushuaia, otherwise known as Fin Del Mundo, the end of the world.

I consider myself a somewhat experienced motorcycle rider, but I had never done adventure riding. At that point, i’d never even been on an enduro bike. But how hard could it be? I’d been riding my Harley all over windy Wyoming and down into Colorado all summer. I’d ridden in 20 degree weather that fall. I’d be fine. And if I wasn’t fine, I’d get over it.

As I wrapped up the job in Wyoming, spent a week snowboarding, did Christmas with my girlfriend and her family, and came home for the new years, the reality of my trip started setting in. The days started counting down, and Jan 6th felt ominous. I started calling up my friends: “Let’s just go somewhere quiet. Lets watch hockey and drink some beers and just talk. We never talk anymore”. The underlying sentiment was that it might be the last time I saw them. Its not like I was shipping off to war, for god’s sake, I was just going on vacation. But the world felt bigger– more daunting. I could already feel the mountains rising up around me and pressing down on my shoulders. It seemed dark down there, and I’d be all alone with a motorcycle and the road and honestly I considered the fact that I might die down there.

It seems dramatic as I write it out. But it was like a rock in my gut: this could be the last time I see you people.

I made my rounds like a man who secretly had cancer. I tried to keep my fear subdued as I spent time with my friends and family. I went to my grandmothers for breakfast the day before I left, and on the counter there is a calendar with daily bible verses and inspirational quasi-spiritual quotes. She hadn’t flipped it in a few days, but the proverb that showed was: “The greatest sin is fear”.

Depending on the day or hour or positioning of the sun in the sky I have been known to be a deeply quasi-spiritual man. On this day, I took what was probably the baader-meinhof phenomena, or self-affirmation bias, and accepted it as a word from God. The right transcendental threads were pulled tightly to support my self-confidence, and it helped, quite a lot.


I’ll be updating this blog with entries from my travel journal, and pictures from my trip, as time permits. Hope you enjoy:

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