RAISED WITH WOLVES


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.

 

 

 

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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