Hornopiren to Chaiten

Chileans are very nice people. After riding 57 km today on gravel roads through hail and rain, and untouched wilderness, I was welcomed warmly at a hostel in Chaiten by an old man and his two sons. They called me crazy to be riding today, and gave me a bowl of soup and a beer. I’m at kilometer post 200, which is a lie since 40 of that was a on a ferry ride yesterday. What a two days it’s been.

Hornopiren volcano and town. Another beautiful morning.
Hornopiren volcano and town. Another beautiful morning.

The ferry from Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo is split into two parts, with a 10km stretch of ripio in between where drivers have to get off and drive to another landing. The first ferry ride is about 4.5 hours, and the second is 15. I hitched a ride with a truck so that I wouldn’t miss the second ferry, and the driver told me about his life. His job was to service fishing equipment up and down the Carretera, and although he loved his job, it required him to travel up and down Chilean Patagonia several times a month. So here I was, thrilled to be on these crazy ferries going up and down Patagonian fjords, going maybe 50km a day, while he’s flying up and down a few times a month popping ibuprofens to deal with the rough road and slow ferry service.

First ferry landing.
First ferry landing.
Ferocious guard dog at the ferry crossing.
Ferocious guard dog at the ferry crossing.
Pic 6
Fjords.
Pic 7
More fjords. and rain. Lots of rain.
Pic 5
Obligatory bike on boat picture. Everything’s holding up well, especially my homemade bag. Waterproofing on my jacket and gloves is meh.
Pic 8
Waterfalls, fjords, and snow from the boat at sea level.

The ferry ride was spectacular. Snowcapped fjords and waterfalls everywhere. Clouds were also everywhere, so I couldn’t get the full view. But I guess I chose that by going in September. On that note, September is a wonderful time in Patagonia if you like inclement weather. The mornings have generally been nice, but the evenings and nights get really windy and rainy. I’m not riding as long as I could each day because of this. Generally I start at about 9-10am and finish by 2-3pm when I get tired of the rain. This, and the state of the road, has slowed my progress. I can’t go very fast on the ripio, and on steep uphills (some are unbelievably steep and I just laugh when I see them.) my back wheel skids out every once in awhile on the soaked gravel. I can’t go very fast downhill either. I did that once today, hit a pothole, and my rear rack came apart. Had to get my tools out in the pouring rain (or maybe it was hail) to fix it.

Caleta Gonzalo is the start of the Pumalin National Park. Pumalin was created in 2005 by Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face. This is one of a couple of parks he has created in Patagonia with his, understandably immense, fortune. Pumalin is Chile’s largest private nature reserve, and it is incredible. There are well-kept campgrounds everywhere, and the first night there I felt as though I had stumbled into paradise.

Pic 9
Caleta Gonzalo campground
Pic 10
Bridge to my campground.
Pic 11
Rio Gonzalo, under the bridge.

All around the campsite were these towering cliffs with countless waterfalls jetting out of the sides. It was incredible. Way to go Doug!

I don’t have many pictures from today. No more ferries until much later, and  It was a grind, albeit through some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. 3000 year old Alerce trees, waterfalls, volcanoes (which I couldn’t see), and destruction created by the aforementioned volcanoes. But also rain, hail, and hills that were so steep I had no choice but to push my bike.

The grind.
The grind. From Caleta Gonzalo.
Entering Pumalin at the beginning of the day
Entering Pumalin at the beginning of the day.
Pic 2
Lago Negro in Pumalin. Right after a 12% grade climb.
Pic 3
Don’t lie, Carretera. Still felt good.

So now I’m in Chaiten, which was destroyed by a volcano in 2008 and has been rebuilt since, and the wind outside sounds like it’s about to blow the house down. This has been pretty much standard for the evenings. In spite of this, I’m still incredibly happy to be here. It’s hard to be down about too much when you’re riding through scenery like this, even if I’m cold and miserable for the last 10-15 kilometers. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when locals call you crazy. I was passed by maybe 5 cars today, mostly surveyors doing calculations, and my campsite last night was deserted. I’ve been promised that there’s some pavement coming up, but we’ll see about that. They also said there might be snow.

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