Abandoned Houses, Boat Crossings and Random Acts of Kindness

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Everything is falling apart. My dry bag is ripped, my spork melted then snapped, my Kindle broke, both my phone and laptop screens are cracked while the ‘a’ key doesn’t work on the latter, my jeans and one pair of underwear have holes in the crotch – if inadvertently worn in tandem old ladies scream in terror when I cross my legs – my one good shirt is torn, one of my tent poles snapped and is held together with duct tape, my tent pegs are bent or lost, my air mattress is riddled with holes, my cooking gear is covered in a permanent patina of filth, I look like a homeless disco pirate and every morning I’m smacked with the stench of dried sweat and wet socks.

Individually none of these bother me but combined they start to grate,  reminding me of how long I’ve been on the road and how different my concept of “normal” has become. The other day I calculated that I’ve camped or slept rough over 120 times on this trip, the majority of them in the last 4 months. That’s a lot by anyone’s standards and I’m starting to dream of a life that doesn’t revolve around packing and unpacking a tent and stooping over my alcohol stove eating watery porridge – the saddest of all meals – because I can only carry 2 days worth of milk at a time.

I’ve spent the last few weeks cycling through some of the most spectacular scenery in South America – the kind that any sane person would gawp at – and while it occasionally has me swearing under my breath in awe, it never quite reaches the dizzy heights of days gone by. It’s all very first word problems “boo fucking hoo, I don’t appreciate this incredible scenery as much as the previous incredible scenery” but I knew this day wuld arrive. Whether it’s Renaissance churches, that Pitbull album you love, or that sweet hit of bath salts, we’re only human and fatigue eventually sets in. Michaelangelo gets boring. Pitbull’s lyrics don’t hit you where they used to. You get carried away and eat someone’s face. It happens to everyone.

I have no regrets – this trip is the best thing I’ve ever done  – and I’ve still got plenty left in the tank from but for the first time in 10 months the prospect of crossing the finish line doesn’t seem quite so bad.

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Me, Sylvie and Vince took a day off in Cohaique to run errands…
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…and eat Chile’s finest: the chorillana (aka. the widowmaker) a veritable mountain of greasy satisfaction.
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About 2k out of town something snapped in my gearchanger…
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…so another afternoon was spent buying a replacement and fixing bike stuff.
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Eventually we escaped town, climbing up to the highest point in the Carretera Austral (1100m) through horizontal ice rain.
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Before being spat out into the town of Cerro Castillo with numb fingers and toes.
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All was soon forgotten when we found a campsite where the owners let us devour the remainder of their cordero (giant lamb feast).
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The next day the weather was much improved and the Cerro Castillo (castle hill) after which the town is named made an appearance.
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Leaving Cerro Castillo signified the end of paved roads – it was all gravel from here on out. Sylvie and Vince’s bikes were suffering so they hopped on a bus
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I forged ahead to spend the night at this abandoned house. Proper Resident Evil 4 shit. Zombies would have a field day at this place.
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And I was far from the first cyclist to shelter from the rain
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Soon I was at Chile’s largest lake, Lago General Carrera.
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SO TURQUOISE!
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Hello Puerto Bertrand
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I think I could flog this photo as a postcard.
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The campsite in Cochrane was pretty dead. In a month this place will be rammed with cyclists, campervans and biker crews.
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Big day cycling through the grey and green.
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I did find some gorgeous camping spots over the course of this section. The kind I always imagined before I started.
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And so the lake voyages began.
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Here I teamed up with my main man Patrick (aka. the Belgian Alan Sugar). This magnificent mogul has run more businesses than I’ve had hot showers this year and is 6 months into his bike tour from Quito.
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To hide from the rain we set up camp in the hut by the dock where we were lucky enough to witness:
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DOUBLE RAINBOW!!! *spaffs everywhere*
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We then beasted out 92km the following day through rough roads and winding hills that put me in mind of Peru.
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Luckily the wind was mostly at our backs but nonetheless by the end of that 10 hour cycling slog I felt like I was drunk. 40km from the end I ran out of snacks and started to feel my body eating away at itself. I resorted to washing down handfuls of raw oats with water and nibbling stock cubes for the salt.
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In Villa O’Higgins I met up again with my American mates Sylvie and Vince in a sweet little campsite/hostel.
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Due to strong winds we ended up waiting 3 days for the boat to arrive. Most of this time was spent hanging out in this room mainlining tea during the day and wine by night. We had a great Thanksgiving meal and enjoyed a sauna courtesy of some Polish honeymooners but by the 3rd day we were gagging to leave.
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Many a cyclepig has passed through this bottleneck. Philipp’s sticker took pride of place on the boiler (he’s now back in the fatherland).
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Look what the wind did to my poor tent.
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Eventually the boat was fit to sail and our mob of bikers got aboard.
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End of the Carretera!
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I think there were 13 of us in all.
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After a quick rendezvous with the Chilean border guards who were listening to Rammstein and a a 16km cycle through the woods (felt like I was on a jaunt through Richmond Park) I was back in Arge’s Barge.
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The 5km from the border to the lake are notorious among cyclists. One girl told me to think of it as more of a “Tough Mudder” than cycling. The road becomes a hikers path and it’s push push push over fallen logs…
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…through thick mud…
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…and ice cold streams. Just after this photo was taken a comedy of errors ensued. First I dropped my boots. When I leaned down to pick them up my bike tilted and my fleece hoodie fell into the water. Not wanting to let go of the bike I was forced to watch it ever so slowly float out of reach, down towards the rapid waters below and out of my life forever. Could do nowt but laugh.
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Almost there…
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But not before scaling the long narrow trench that’s “coincidentally” the exact width of two front bike panniers.
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Down at Lago Desierto we set up our cyclist camp.
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Soaking in the views of the prodigious Mt Fitzroy in the distance.
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Next day we were back on the boat. Tbis Brazilian couple have been cycling with their dog all the way from Sao Paolo, dragging him along in his own little doggy trailer.
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The 36km south from the lake were as idyllic as it gets. Rivers, forests, incredible vieews of Fitzroy and a rollocking tailwind.
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Holy mackerel.

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And after a couple of ours we arrived in…
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El Chalten. A funny tourist theme park of a town.
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Celebratory craft beers were had.
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Along with the Argentine pastries (facturas) which elicited “OOOHSS” and “AAAHHH”s from the deprived cyclists. Patrick was particularly excited. “WOW! WOW!”
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En masse we descended upon Flor’s casa de cyclistas.
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And soon we had a little cyclist refugee camp built in the garden.
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It was a cool spot but when Flor and some Brazilians started doing late night sing alongs of “Creep” and “Hotel California” my patience was tested. The only way to stave off the burning misanthropy forged by a jam version of “What if God was One of Us” was to gorge on two days worth of biscuits.
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I wasn’t a big fan of the exortionately expensive and touristy El Chalten and didn’t feel like hiking so I big farewell to my cycle chums and hit the road. The open desert landscape was a far cry from the Carretera Austral.
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With a ripping tailwind I comfortably cycled over 120km to the jarring shrine to cycle touring that is “the pink house”.
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Heaven knows how many brave fools have slept in the confines of this drafty squat.
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Some of the messages were great, this being my favourite. I added some Eggman Jones poetry.
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The next morning gale force winds ripped through the house. When the horizontal rain started flying through the windows I feared the worst. But just as I readied my bike the storm passed the wind dies and all was well with the world.
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Although it wasn’t long before the wind kicked up again. The 65km down to the turnoff to El Calafate ran the gamut of headwinds, crosswinds and intermittent tailwinds.
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Cycling the  35km detour to El Calafate into a belligerent headwind wasn’t on the cards so I stuck out my thumb. Within 5 minutes I was picked up by the living legend that is Nicholas and ferried to his flat to shower.  Once his girlfriend Daniella gave me the green light I was allowed to stay the night. Score!
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Token dog pic. Her name is Ren after Ren and Stimpy. Although weren’t Ren and Stimpy both guys?
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Nicholas works as a driver for this resturant called Don Pinchon and he wrangled me a free meal of the famous lamb. Flavia and her daughter Luna invited me to join them and they told me all about Buenos Aires and invited me to eat asado when I get up there.
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SO GOOD
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And so the sun set on another memorable day on the road. Cycle squat in the pampa to swanky restaurant? I ain’t complaining.

Tunes: Bad Brains – Bad Brains, Lou Reed – Transformer, The Smiths – The Queen is Dead, Tom Petty – Wildflowers, Full Moon Fever, The Replacements – Let It Be, My Bloody Valentine – Loveless, The Strokes – Is This It, Weezer – The White Album

Reads: Skagboys, Porno – Irvine Welsh, Meet Me in The Bathroom – Lizzy Goodman, If Chins Could Kill – Bruce Campbell, The Circle – Dave Eggers, The Old Patagonian Express – Paul Theroux

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