Sunday 31 December 2006

Peurto Varas, Hasta Luego

Well, Arvid had our bike boxes and suitcases waithing in our room, so now it's just down to final packing, a last ride, and heading for the airport.

We're eating breakfast in the Hosteleria Outsider again, who's walls are adorned with pictures we've seen for ourselves now. There's the stilt houses by the bays on Chiloe, mountain lagos and volcans. There's also Butch and Sundance, who's image promised us a taste of our own freedom when we started out.

As Dallas has always said, true freedom can be found bike touring. Heading off into the unknown, with nothing more than your power to make progress with. You are exposed to the elements, without a metal box construct of society around you for comfort. And unlike hiking, there's still mechanical advantage. Through the best of human ingenuity, the wheel and gearing, your couple lightbulbs of power can transport you and your gear over 100km per day. There's the magic of coasting, which hiking doesn't allow, the perfect "something for nothing" feeling of rolling along.

We rode along the lake again, relatively slow and easy, about 50km. Summer is officially here, so we sat in the sun watching the lake a while. As it turns out, it seems we did most of our riding in the last bit of spring, the seasons changed pretty dramatically.

We did our final packing, loaded up the Hilux, and ate lunch at an Italian place on the lake. We've had a lot of good, natural, from the earth simple food, and this was no different, although the preparation was a notch higher.

This is a part of the world worth visiting. The main source of any of our problems would be solved by carrying more cash and/or knowing the PINs for all our cards. We've grown accustomed to paying for everything with credit or debit cards, and they're available lots of places here, but it isn't quite as ubiquitous. Travellers cheques or wads of US dollars, depending on your personal security habits, would be useful. Our rental car pickup guy wanted cash even though he had a credit card imprint. We weren't understanding how to solve it, he actually seemed content to let us leave, but we found a bilingual LAN Chile guy to help. He wanted to do an imprint for our surcharge of returning it empty, but didn't have one of those little imprint mechanisms. The LAN Chile guys just said "escribe manuel", which he didn't know he could do. So we just wrote it out on the slip and all was ok. Simple. It's a pretty good vacation when those are your only problems. No broken bikes or body parts, nothing lost or stolen, no illness.

It's new year's time again, so I'm naturally thinking of what I want to make of the year ahead. I think this can be the year where I get my road racing license up to category 2, and I'm hoping to bump my mountain bike racing license up to elite. Not to mention surviving another round of enduro events - TransRockies, Bow 80 and La Ruta de los Conquistadores are all on the itinerary again.

Mildly connected to the above, I want to lure fellow cyclists as best I can to ride and race outside our own backyard. Of course this is everyone's own choice, but I'm just working under the assumption that if I like it, there's others who will too.

Considering it's something I've intended to do for years, and that it seems I take at least two trips to Spanish speaking countries a year, it's time to put more effort into some basic language skills. So far, I haven't come across anyone who tries to be a dick if you don't speak well. Everyone just tries to help figure the situation out. Little different than France. Someone Tori indirectly knows spent years of graduate studies on Russian, Russian history and Russian culture. Apparently she spoke it half decent for a non-native. To finish of school, she went on a several month trip to Russia. Report back was that the general attitude was indifference and hostility, nobody seemed enthused whatsoever by her decent basic language skills. That's gotta feel nice after years of studying and cost.

Near Ralun to Peurto Varas

Other than a minor mishap with the fire last night that was caught just in time before becoming a major mishap, we slept well. The dogs went to wherever their hangout was, and only occasionally found something to bark at during the night. At around 7 one of them came inside all cold and tried to warm up. It's not really cold here, we slept with the windows open, but these guys have pretty short hair.

Breakfast was in the main lodge, the usual pan, queso, marmelada and kuchen with jugo, cafe and te. Kuchen is basically a German style Christmas bread at home that they seem to eat year round. We walked around the property for a bit, Tori took pictures of flowers and I found an old Willy's Jeep that looked well worn but given the age of the tires on it, I bet it still runs.

We sat on our deck for a bit, enjoying the warm morning, before packing up. Only problem is I can't find my sunglasses... bummer. I know I had them here, and we've checked the house 5 times, so I'm hoping they turn up in my baggage. I've got a back up pair, but in comparison to the self darkening and perfect optics of the Specialized ones, these are a joke. Oh well, they had a bunch of scratches on them from TransRockies and La Ruta, I'll see if I can find another pair on an off season sale when I'm back.

We began driving back towards Ensenada, and there's a whole bunch of older American (ie. team Discovery jerseys galore) "cyclists" riding towards us. By "cyclist" I mean they were people pedalling bicyles, not anything near a real cyclist. Part of me is happy that they're out there doing something, the rest of their social circle is probably still feasting on Christmas dinner leftovers. But the other part of me says "the point isn't to get out there and doing it, it's getting where you're going as fast as possible". Tori thinks this is funny. As much as I like seeing people dabble with active vacations, I also cringe when I people softpedalling bicycles with their knees out wide, white socks up to their calves, sneakers on, helmet on crooked, and orange triangle safety vests on all twisted up, achieving no more than 11kph on average. Oh well.

Coming over a hill we were presented with a grand view - Volcan Osorno was out of the clouds, and holy cow was it huge. We decided we'd stop off at the artisan shop and pick up a few wares, then head straight over to the big volcan. I also found my glasses.

The drive up the volcano is fun. The lake is only 150m above sea level I think, and Volcan Osorno is 2,652m tall. That means there's a lot of visible relief, it's a very impressive spectacle. The first half of the road is paved and windy, you can hold 3rd gear in a little 4cyl Toyota for a while, but it gets down to second gear territory soon. I'll add here that the truck is geared low, 110-120kph is basically as fast as it ever wants to go. The road then turns to smooth packed volcanic crushed rock sand and picks up in grade. They sort of attempt to keep a constant grade by adding a few switchbacks, but it doesn't really achieve the goal. It's a big cone, and the higher up you go, the steeper it is. We eventually get down to first gear territory, and with sandy switchbacks that are super steep, I begin to wonder if we're even going to make it up as the tires are spinning a bit despite my efforts. I wonder how receptive Tori would be to sitting in the back of the truck to help rear wheel traction.

We bump and slide our way up to the base of the ski area, which is on a mild plateau, and is 2 buildings. The lifts are running so we buy tickets to go up. It's a slow 2 person chair with a foot rest, that seems to cover 1/2 the elevation the ski area offers. We hike around a red crater, and are amazed at the heat considering the elevation. There's very little vegetation, but there are bugs and little lizards. The volcanic rock and the lack of ozone/elevation make you feel like you're roasting quickly. On the way back down we're treated to views of Lago Llanquihue, all the towns surrounding it, including Peurto Varas on the south end. You can also see Peurto Montt and the ocean, as well as down the valley toward Ralun/Cochacamo.

We have lunch on the lodge deck, I feel obligated to get the hamurgesa volcan, which is standard ski hill fare with a Chilean twist, it's got ham and avocado as well. For desert I get a Danky ice cream cone. Danky is good.

With my mountain bike, the descent off the mountain would be a terminal velocity riot, with the Toyota it's more of a 1st/2nd gear grind. Just like in Costa Rica, damp volcanic sand is just about the best traction I've found for mountain bike tires, you'd be able to lean into corners so much. We decide to drive around the rest of the lake after, retracing some of our route from day one, plus adding on the side we didn't see prior. We stop at the beach near where we had lunch on day one, and look back on how much distance we covered that day. The water is cold and refreshing, lots of little kids are playing in it without being bothered by the temperature at all.

The side of the lake we hadn't seen is rolling farmland, really quite beautiful. The further towards the south we get, and nearer to the main highway, the less applealing the towns are, Frutilla didn't seem to be anything worth seeing again.

We make our way around a complex off ramp and on to Ruta 5 for the last 25km to Peurto Varas, and check back into the Hostaleria Outsider. Arvid has our bags waiting in our room. The luggage, the bikes, and the gear from the truck makes the room look like a disaster area.

I take off my rack, fenders and handle bar bag bracket, turning my 24lb beast back into a 20lb bike, with light road wheels it's 18lbs, and the only bit of carbon on it is the fork. The only signs of wear are a few shiny patches on the frame from bungee cords rubbing, and my pewter Strong logo is roughed up a but from carrying the tent up front. Other than that it's just drivetrain wear and a set of break pads. I use half a roll of toilet paper trying to wipe grit and gunk off my drivetrain, and to generally prime my beauty back up for some faster riding. Pumped up the tires nice and hard, and grab our laundry bags to drop off at the lavenderia, but both seem to be closed.

We drop them off at the room, and head out on the open road again, no weight and nothing but cycling shorts, helmet and jersey on. We ride along the lake, which is a beautiful rolling road. It's 5pm, traffic is low, the air is warm, and Volcan Osorno is clear in the evening sun. I notice my bike still feels like a monster truck with 37mm tires. These things have so much rubber and other space age materials I bet they'd go 30,000km before wearing down enough to flat. The injection mold hairs are gone off the rear, but still in tact on the front, and I think that's mainly because I let the pressure down on the gravel on the way to Futaleufu plus more weight being in the back.

I never have to shift out of my 50 tooth ring in front. I don't know or care if I'm fast, but I have torque like I've never had before. Part of my achilles ailments meant it was hard to generate force solely by pushing down, so I was actually emphasizing my upstroke for days, and pedalling decent circles. Instead of instantly needing to shift down to my easiest couple of gears on any incline, I shift down only 2 or three gears. My speed and cadence stabilize much faster than I expect on the upslopes. Power is coming in complete revolutions from my pedal stroke, these hills feel inconsequential without 40lbs of baggage. I feel like Jan Ullrich. I feel like the last time I drove a diesel. I feel strong, able bodied and happy.

This bike is proving it's versatility, this is a beautiful machine in all respects. Quality parts throughout that delivered 100%. My Chris King hubs didn't have any trouble with the load, nor did my rims. My stem and bars didn't squeak while standing and climbing with big torque, the S&S couplers didn't loosen 1mm over the entire trip, or let out a single squeak, even with 40lbs of junk and hundreds of km of bumpy gravel and pot holes. This bike is both a workhorse and a thoroghbred. In my world, everyone needs a custom ti frame with couplers in their stable. Don't weight weenie it... sure this could be a sub 3lb frame if I asked for it, but what does 1lb more get me? Strength beyond any strength you'd ever reasonably need out of a bike, and durability beyond my lifetime. Only theft or a crash I wouldn't walk away from are the limiters.

Tori's Dean is built a lot lighter and more road oriented, but it made it just fine. Her bike shows signs of use, you can't look at it and say she doesn't use it. Her front hub has a little play in it now, and the rear hub sounds like it's had better days, nothing that can't be taken care of when we get home.

My achilles doesn't hurt, there's a little bit of soreness that serves as a reminder that they were really sore a few days ago, but they're definitely on the mend and I can feel that this isn't doing any harm. On a longer hill, I stand about half way up instead of shifting. Pulling up on the pedals as well as pushing down feels so good, just like standing on PowerCranks does. Cresting the hill, my legs don't burn and I'm not breathing hard. I feel like my gas tank is full and I could do this for hours. I once again am back to my natural state - my body is delivering rather than being a limiter. I'm unaccustomed to the latter, and have a hard time dealing with it.

My version of heaven will include endless hours of today's ride, the feeling of powering over hills with ease is sublime. The scenery is perfect, as is the temperature.

We hold 35kph for a while, Tori's keeping up fine as she's got the little 23mm tires at 100psi. I'm impressed and proud at the same time. Eventually we decide to turn around, and for the most part we ride side by side at a vacation pace, looking out at the lake.

Back in town, we shower up then head out for dinner. We go to a tpas bar overlooking the lake and the two volcanoes. We watch the sun set and have some great food, along with a pisco sour, our only non-wine drink of the trip. Interestingly enough, we spot two of the three attractive Chilean women that we've seen this whole trip tonight... sure are fewer and more far between than on the other side of the Andes... funny how that works.

Saturday 30 December 2006

Ensenada to near Ralun

After awaking to the big lake waves crashing on our beach, and having a breakfast of yogu yogu, chocolate milk and cereal cookies, it was time for an unloaded ride. We packed away the tent and realized slugs seemed to like crawling across the yellow fabric last night, as well as finding their way into the Hilux. The Hilux stayed at the camp site, and we geared up for a ride to Petrohue, only 15km away. You can make your way to Bariloche this way via a couple of ferry rides.

We stopped where the pavement ended and checked out a national park waterfall little interpretive trail, pretty nice. We'll be driving back along a road that intersects with this one 10km back in the next few days, and may return to the little artisan tourist shop. It seems to have nicer items at about the same price that a downtown market of shops in the sleepy Ancud. Little surprising, but fine.

The falls aren't high, it's more of a torrent coming down through various channels, sort of like Sunwapta by Jasper. Just like the fire we finally got going last night, they're fun to stare at indefinitely.

My leg doesn't feel "right", especially after some gentle stretching last night while doing my rice paddy squat to blow on the fire. Having said that, two days off the bike have helped. We did a brisk pace on the way up, but spinning instead of grinding. It felt good to get my sweat on, and to indiscrimanently spend energy knowing I didn't need to be in the saddle for 6 or 7 hours to get myself somewhere. Walking along the paths to the falls for 1-2km seemed tolerable.

After the falls, it's 6km on dirt road to Petrohue. The road is smooth, dirt essentially means pulverized lava rock, which makes a good riding surface. We're essentially on the slopes of Volcan Osorno, and the clouds are tempting us with views of the snow capped peak. The riding is satisfyingly quick and agile without the bags.

Petrohue is on lago Todo Los Santos. It has 3 buildings, a boat dock/tourism type place for people getting on and off the ferries (I don't think these ones carry cars), an artisan/snack shack. I start to think about carb-boom for lunch, but we turn around and surprsingly, a fancy hotel that's got a Banff Springs type flare/quality to it is nearby. It's much smaller, but sits proudly on a hill, and is beautiful inside. We decide to have lunch there. We start with tea and coffee, and Tori realizes the little packaged tablets they offer are artificial sweeter not mints. We're served delicious warm bread, tasty butter, and Tori get's a steak and bean sandwich. I go for tomato cream soup and chicken curry. It's great. We've only ridden an hour, and I've had coffee, but I'm tired. Guess that's what happens when you're on the downward spiral after exercising lots, it's a funny feeling.

The curry chicken sort of reminds me that we saw our first Chinese restaurant yesterday, not many of them around. Considering that Chile does a lot of trade with Japan and is right on the ocean, I thought we might find a sushi place somewhere along the way, but haven't seen anything of the sort yet.

We head back to camp at a good pace, and I clean off in Lago Llanquihe. It's cool and feels great. We start driving south toward Parque Pumalin, which I think is the largest private park in the world, and it's adjacent to Parque Nacional Hornopiren. It's owned by the guy who started The North Face, and apparently got a little help from the Patagonia clothing company and I think Chile too. We stopped in Cochamo for food, at a supermercado run by a woman in her 80's that was basically just a counter operation. We got bread, she invited Tori behind the counter to check out cookies, and I got some queso. I suspect the queso was fresh and without much in the way of preservatives. We were in a fishing fiord, with cows, sheep and goats on the hillsides. She pulled back the cloth covering the cheese wheel, and cut off slices using a hand cranked circular saw mounted to her countertop. We checked out, and she had a big blotter pad where she added up our items by hand. Dinner for two, including a juice box of red wine, was $5. We continued south, and we soon realized this was going to way longer of a drive than I wanted to do, and on bumpy gravel at that. I could do 3x the speed on my motor bike, but the Hilux said even 30kph was really pushing it with the potholes.

We turned left and went up towards Moldanado, but this is definitely dirt bike territory. The sign said it was navigable by car for 8km, then rough after. The road was totally passable, made of nice gravel and river rock, but it demanded patience as it was bumpy. You could make it to Argentina through an even lesser travelled pass than we crossed this way, it'd be super neat, but the Hilux rides too rough. Need a truck with some suspension travel and some huge tires you can let down to 18psi, or a motor bike.

We head back on our route to a nice set of cabins we saw earlier, and check in for the night. 2 bedroom, sleeps 4, full kitchen, plus living room and wood burning stove. It takes a while to get a fire going with wet wood, but we manage. The place is a fishing lodge, and has three little terrier type dogs that greet us. They're fun, and two of them have been hanging out with us all night, having the odd bit of cheese and some cookies. Dinner is bread, cheese, cookies, and rasins with water, tea and wine. Needless to say, the cheese is delicious. Tori likes the dogs, I've heard this now about 57 times. They're quiet and friendly. Occasionally they sprint when they hear something we don't, which explains why the white one has a red wine mark on it's back. It was snoring on Tori's lap then burst into action, bull in china shop fashion.

It's sort of hard to imagine being more relaxed than having simple, natural foods for dinner, a comfortable cabin with a nice fire, off and on sprinkles on the roof, and some new friends.

Thursday 28 December 2006

El Fogon de Cuaco To Ensenada

We wake up to rain, horses making sounds, and geese within earshot. It's raining, but we pack up quickly and head over to the showers. No hot water, so I just hurried through a cold one, it actually felt good. Tori wanted warm, and went to check with the lady. She had to light the heater. We heard her do it, and it didn't sound good, she wrecked it. So Tori had half a cold shower before the water stopped. We made our way over to the round building for breakfast overlooking the lake. They've got a band setup in here, I'm guessing this place might be the local social area. They of course have efficient light bulbs, but some of them are red and blue, undoubtedly for the party effect. It's cool again today, I'd say the weather has been more like the few days of Vancouver spring I had last year at Ty's apartment. If I had a house here, I'd have no problem going out for a 4 hour ride then coming back to warm up, but it's different when you don't have a place to come back to per se.

We got to our Kodak shop and did that business fine, then Tori made her way over to the post office to mail a copy of the CD home. Apparently this post office doesn't supply envelopes, so she had to make her way over to the store to buy one first.

I waited at the car to save my achilles from pounding the pavement, and eventually some guy came up to talk to me. I wasn't getting much, until he showed me his UCI card and told me he ran the Club de Bicicletta Osorno. He gave me a number to call if we were up there and wanted to ride fast. He admired our bikes for a while, and we didn't get much more out of the conversation after Tori got back other than it sounded like he was saying we could crash at his place if we wanted to.

We headed to Ancud, and visited an artisan market for a while, then the adjacent supermercado for lunch/ferry ride snacks. Not much in the way of excitement between Ancud and Ensenada, other than retracing a part of the trip's earlier riding. We make it to a campground on the lake at Ensenada. We can see Volcan Osorno poking out through the clouds. The campground is right on the water and staffed by a genuinely helpful "kid", probably the younger half of the 20's. He helps us chop wet wood, and continually asks if we'd like more, displays language patience, and brings us hot water for tea/coffee before he goes to bed. An easier day out of the saddle, but fun and relaxing. I think I'll try to find a way to ride unweighted for a while tomorrow, and emphasize spinning over pedal force. Want to make sure I don't fall into the two steps forward, one step back routine by being too gung ho.

I've realized I haven't been homesick at all because Tori is here. Guess the means the rest of my "home" is just walls to store bikes in.

Tuesday 26 December 2006

Futaleufu to Peurto Montt

I woke up a couple of times during the night with the sound of the rain, it probably wasn't raining too har, but a tin roof makes it sound worse than it really is. I spent a bunch of time looking at pictures last night, and the battery dropped down to one bar of power. That probably means this thing has got another 3 days in it, but I recharge it. I'm thoroughly impressed.

We decided the bus to Chaiten waas the way to go, so we woke up at 5:45, earliest morning of the trip so far. Headed down to the bus station for 7:00am, it was drizzling but the temperature was nice and actually wouldn't have been too bad to ride in. The bus was more of a 15 passenger van, with fairly flat tires. I assume the drived did it on purpose to handle the gravel roads better. Our bikes got strapped to the roof with the other luggage, and the van only had three seats left after this stop (this was the first stop). Our fare with the bikes was $14, for about 3.5 hours of travel. Roads were bumpy, we're glad we didn't ride. We stopped several times to pick up and drop off people, and to honk at cows, horses, ducks, goats, etc. that were blocking the road at various points, and made it to Chaiten where it was pouring. Suited up and rode over to the airport which was one km away. Bunch of people sitting here already, including an adult mom/daughter combo from Washington DC. They said plane was scheduled to be here a little after 11, and we arrived at about 10:45. We hang around for a while and chat a bit, the mom is forthcoming and the 30 something daughter is working on her journal, and her mom proclaims for us that the daughter is also a biker. Daughter takes a minute to explain the classic verbal faux pas of common language usage between a biker and a cyclist. I get bored and want to see how my legs are feeling, so I take the paniers off my bike and cruise up the runway (a guy in an old beater drove up there earlier). Tori said the daughter said "he can't do that", "you can't go there", and "they won't be able to land the plane" in the course of my 10 minutes of exploration. She sounds like a real peach to travel with. We abandon the airport at 1:15 as more people keep arriving and we figure we need food and to buy a ticket in town. First place is sold out of tickets for next two days, definitely a rollercoaster down dip, the town doesn't look overly exciting. But next place thankfully has flights open today at 4pm, that's the updip of the day. We just need 90,000 Chilean pesos. We have about 40,000, so we make our way to the only banco in town.

Most Latin American banks let you do cash counter withrawls (purchases of currency) with Mastercard or Visa and two pieces of ID. But these guys wouldn't. Only one bank machine, and my Scotia, or RBC card, or Tori's TD card wouldn't work, therefore implying the TD So down to Mastercard. Well try remembering the last time I had to use the pin on that thing, I use it maybe twice a year for purchases and never for a cash withdrawl. I used up my three best guesses and it locked it off. Lovely. That's low point #2. We change our last Argentine pesos and my last US $20 and head out. It's not very often the little investment banker gets cut off from the currency supply.

Tori doesn't like me to carry too much cash, but this reminds me again that I still like to. Even a travellers cheque would have helped. I was keeping a stash of $100US, but I let it get used on other stuff... I should live up to my passport a little better and keep a few more greenbacks at the ready, even if they are devalued a bit as of late.

We head back over to the ticket office (a small house with a fax machine and computer). We explain our situation, and they don't seem to be too phased by it. We give them 60,000. The airplane proprietor even let us keep enough cash for lunch (9,000.11 pesos), so in an hour or so we fly across from Chaiten to peurto montt, which is a decent sized place with more services. Things are on the upswing again. We go to a seashore restaurant and tell the pretty waitress we only have 9,000, and she says that'll be enough. She's also the cook and the cashier, and there's no menu, you just get what she can make. I go for milanesa and Tori has fish, both with papas fritas, plus we get some buns and Nescafe instant coffee. We watch some guys on horses walk down main street. La quenta ends up totalling 8,000, and I leave her 9,000.11. She found this funny. Other than the 7 Argentine pesos we later found in random pockets, that's the last of our currency. We ride the 1km out to the airport and hang out for a while, the airport is empty but has a warm fireplace going. Eventually a plane and crew show up, they want us to pay extra for the bikes, and we say we don't have any money. The guy who sold us our ticket is there too so he explains. We board and head off into strong rain and wind, which subsides about 10 minutes into the flight. I wake up 10 minutes before landing, and it's the wildest one I've ever had. We're in a little single engine plane with 8 seats, with a 50 something pilot at the controls. Once he banks into a U turn to line up with the runway, the wind catches the exposed wingspan and pushes us way back into the U, making it too sharp. He corrects, and we come into the runway at a gyretic angle. He didn't seem to phased, but it seems he was the only one. The wind was nearly 90 degrees crosswind... if this guy was a snowboarder we'd get serious style points for tweaking it out till the last second then still sticking the landing. Even once all the wheels were on the ground it felt like we were going to skid out.

Anyway, all went fine. Once the baggage was unpacked, we put our wheels back onto the bikes right on the tarmac and loaded up. I have to admit riding to and from airports is the way to go, I could seriously get used to that. We started riding into town, and stopped at the first banco we saw to load our pockets with loot. After that it was toward shore to find a place to stay, we ended up at one recommended by Tori's book. Seems fine to me, although as with any old port town, there's a poorer, seedier side to the place than the last week of Argentine mountain villages. Tori went to the airline office to pay our fares (the pilot talked to the people at the airport and told us to forget about the excess baggage charge since our bikes were already here, and to "just go have fun and enjoy yourselves"). We went for dinner a block and a half away and I got salmon and papas fritas, and some red wine and a tomato salad to hopefully keep my arteries from clogging with all these fries. The salmon actually came fried too.

We decided to do some sightseeing on Chiloe tomorrow which is the big island nearby. It's long enough across the flats (and probably in the wind) to justify motorized transport, and a bus ride shows up as 3 hours plus. I coaxed Tori into option 2, renting a truck. A 4x2 is same price as a tiny Toyota sedan, so we'll see what shows up. I'm hoping for a Toyota Hilux, but it may be a different make. We'll continue to ride, but I want (need!) to do it unweighted, so this seems to be logical. Tori pulled this off with her first Spanish phone conversation... inelegant from the sound of it on my end, but it worked. I completely appreciate the feat and realize it isn't easy.

My achilles are still swollen, my ankles don't even show up as bumps, the whole area is just puffed up and smooth. Hopefully they'll be on the mend from here on in.

Esquel, Argentina to Futalefu, Chile

Beatuful sunny day when we woke up this morning, pretty quiet in town since it was Christmas day. Took a picture or two of town looking back toward where I think the ski area is, then headed west. Right out of town there was a bike path/walking path on the side, so we went on that right away. Took a minute to figure the signs on the side out, but all made sense once I rode back a hundred meters or so. The path starts with a big concrete sun on the ground, and has signs representing the planets along the way. Rather thought provoking really - we've been buzzing around for a week or so now on our own power, but haven't really made it that far. And considering that mankind has only made it to the moon once, we haven't gone too far. Tori stood at earth and I took a picture from the sun, probably 30m on that scale, of course I forgot the number by now. We reached pluto 8.8km later which is what the sign displayed, although my speedometer wasn't at 8.8km yet. I think they just put it at the end of their bike path.

We rode along nice highway to Trevelin, admiring the ranchlands butting up against the dramatic mountains. We made the 25km ther in just over an hour, my legs felt pretty improved but I sort of knew it was just a matter of enough riding before they got sore again. I figured out exactly what the problem is, I've sprained my achilles - they're stretching or micro tearing or whatever happens when you sprain an ankle, but instead of one big impact doing it it's a slow process. Stopped in Trevelin's central park for a snack, then headed out to face the gravel. The next 40km were slow - gravel, headwind, and rolling hills. With less weight I'd be more inclined to let my tires down a bit so I could ride in more comfort, and faster. Doesn't help that with my sore legs I'm not inclined to stand or unweight from my saddle on short notice as it hurts my legs, so I'm not riding as fast over the gravel as I could with a little more finesse, not to mention just being able to put more power down.

I've run through the calculation in my head a few times over, and I think I could trim my carried weight in half, from 40-45lbs to 15-20lbs, and not be too poorly off in terms of gear. Turns out cabins and hotels are plentiful, so tent, mat and bag not needed. That's probably 15lbs right there. After that it's little things - swim trunks not needed, a casual pair of shorts not needed as I've got pants that zip off plus a pair of cargo shorts I wear over spandex, could leave my knickers and just have knee warmers, I've got 5 spare tubes, could bring just two and use patches (I've got two kits), seems I've got several arrays of tools, could whittle those down by half. This is really my first cycle touring trip, and it's much easier to know what to pack now. Besides changing packing, I'd probably try to adjust my gearing a bit easier in addition to lighter weight. Overall, 10% lighter weight and a 3-5% lower gear (get a 29 or even a 30) would be the trick. With those mods, and presumeably then not injuring my legs, we'd be doing 25kph steadily on average instead of hanging in just under 20kph. Those are the trips I think I aspire to try next - ride solid tempo and cover some good ground all day, thereby satisfying the racer mindset, yet carrying just enough to be self sufficient (by that I mean being able to ride without sag all day, and have clean clothes at night). If I can figure out that recipe, there's a few Deadgoats who I'd like to lure out for some travel. In Alberta, it seems "randonneur" has a slower connotation, but in France I know there was a subset of randonneurs who were know as hardcore fast guys who could stretch the days out really long. Somewhere on the greyscale of definition, rolleur enters the picture as well. I'd like to hone in a bit more to the sport side of cycle touring I think.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter so much in terms of speed as it does for just getting from place and covering some sights during vacation. I also didn't bring too much of my Norte Americano race potion mixture stuff, but just because we're going slow doesn't mean the body isn't working. I wish I would have brought at least some recovery potion like Endurox. Repeated days of 4-7 hours necessitate some recovery planning. We have access to enough food, but it just doesn't go as directly to the muscles as the refined stuff, we're eating fairly heavy stuff... sausages, cheeses and breads that keep without refridgeration, with some fruits along the way.

As we battled the gravel and strong headwinds, I felt my right achilles stretch and burn in an unhealthy way on a particular hill. Lovely. Tori had wanted to make it a ways past Futaleufu, to shorten the next day's journey, which I thought was reasonable this morning. After this latest development I knew I was stopping at Futaleufu today. We continued along the narrow valley toward the border point at a slow, slow pace, with me just softpedalling. Before the border I felt my left achilles give in to another stretch as well. Last time I checked the solution to sprains wasn't to use that particular ligament for hours on end under load the next day... but no choice. My muscles and such weren't even sore the first day it happened, I've been doing some leg weights and mormal offseason riding. It's just that those little ligaments can stand up to say an hour of slow high force grinding, but 7 hours for two days in a row was too much. Couldn't spin enough on the hills!

We check out of Argentina at what I would call a fairly low volume border station. Gravel road, one little building, manual gate across the road. This time it was only 100m to the Chilean entry point, but we had lunch between in no mans land. There was a sign posted that we had fun translating, it was basically the same as the english one you see that says something along the lines of "we didn't inherit the earth from our fathers, we're borrowing it from our children". I was proud that I actually figured out what it was talking about.

The Chilean side was pavimentado, which felt good. After sitting down for lunch and cooling off, my legs lost their mobility a bit, so it took a while to enjoy riding again. I drafted off Tori and softpedalled. All I can say is that after a week of rest, I'm gonna head outside and tear the cranks off one of my bikes. I can feel my heart, lungs and quads having so much extra power.

We coast into Futaleufu and find a cabin. It's big again, has an on demand hot water heater run off propane that's only mildly less sophisticated than my Takagi, and a woodburning stove. Tori heads to town to see if anything is open, and returns with a box of 20 tea bags for 30 cents. I'm glad we have tea to drink at night.

I wash my clothes in the sink and arrange them around the stove, then get it fired up. I'm impressed with the drain on the sink. It's a 2" diameter exit with a pipe going straight down through the floor. It's a big kitchen sink, just like ones at home, and draining it from full takes about 5 seconds. It makes a powerful sucking sound like it's got a turbo. The stove doesn't seem to generate as much heat as I expect, but once it's on it keeps going without suffocating. I'm trying to find out what the two levers do and how to position them right by trial and error, the way they're build into the stove, it's impossible to see, and hard to hear, what vents they're opening and closing.

We polish off the rest of our storebought food, saving enough for breakfast tomorrow. I'm enjoying the time off my feet, and we're considering taking a bus to Chaiten in the morning.

It's fun looking at all the roads, secondary road, tracks, and paths marked on our maps. It's easier to read them now that we've seen some of the area. A Toyota Hilux or Land Rover with a mountain bike and a dirtbike in the back could keep me occupied for quite a while basically from Temuco south I think.

Sunday 24 December 2006

El Bolson to Esquel, Christmas Eve

We began our day with our own cooked breakfast in our kitchenette. We do a lap around town, mostly so I can take a picture of a cool tree sculpture, but I get a memory card error and the camera suggests I should format the card. Instead I swap it for my other card, and hope yesterday's pictures aren't lost. Funny that I took a half a dozen pictures of the hotel and such this morning and that worked fine.

My legs are really hurting, it's primarily the left, but the right one hurts a bit too. The area usually shows my achilles as being skinny, but they're swollen. Tori investigates the possibility of taking the historic landmark train down to Esquel, but it doesn't sound like it runs till January. I try to set my cleats back further, I have success on one left shoe which is good. Right has a stripped bolt, will need to drill it out sometime. Should be easy at a mechanics garage, but it's not exactly the time of year when things are open. I do have two sets of cleats and an extra set of pedals with me so am not worried about drilling out a bold once the opportunity arises.

We pedal south out of town slowly, and pass through a beatiful rural valley. El Hoyo isn't much more than a blip in the road, and we decide to stop for a coffee at the top of the next hill, which has a quaint little cafe cabin at the side of the road. I decide riding isn't really in the cards for me today. It's beatiful, sun is shining, the Andes surround us, and my body has energy to burn... but the transmission isn't working!

There's a fork in the road/plans. It'd be nice to ride/hitchhike on the gravel road through the mountains, which the coffee shop guy says has lots of camping and cabins. Hek4 helpful, and speaks pretty decent english but continues to apologize that it isn't great. He's probably 35, sorta round and jolly looking like Santa, but with dark dark brown beard and hair, as dark as it gets without being black. Two funny dogs are on the lawn, one we feed our non-choice cherries to, to his great delight, and one that's a bit of a chicken. But it's longer, we go slower, and risk flats. Or there's the paved route which he says "has nothing" (map seems to indicate it borders desert/more arid area instead of lake country).

We decide to try taking a bus, which should be about $3 for the 100km left to Esquel on the paved route. We make our way into Epuyen, which is 6km from our coffee stop. It's surrounded once again by picturesque Andes in all directions, and doesn't seem to have too much going on... just few houses and a bus stop along a gravel road. Total distance on the day was only 47km in 2:45. Tori knows I was hurting as I'd coast every hill instead of pedalling faster.

If the bus doesn't work out, we'll head down the gravel and try to find either a nearby camping spot or hitch it with a pickup down the road. Turns out the bus worked just fine. We skipped a lot of Nevada type riding through the arid areas east of the mountains. Vast open arid area to the east, sort of a wasteland. You could see 30 miles and not see anything but low lying desert type brush and the odd bird of prey. The gravel road through the mountains definitely would have been the riding choice.

Esquel is surrounded by steep, huge mountains. Last week I was skiing at Lake Louise and admiring the mountains across the valley, and they just feel accomodating with broad treed bases that slope up to the rocky crowns. Here they look more intimidating. It feels like you're in serious country here, not girl scout stuff. The mountains are acually furthest from town to the west, but those are badass steep, jagged, snowcovered Andes that look imposing even from a distance. I love it. I'm sure you could do some mountain bike hill climbing around here that would make my 10km 10% average ascent up a forestry road in Fernie look like what the grade 3 class does at recess. All the town publications for these various cities say that they're great staging grounds for true wilderness experiences, and it doesn't look like they're kidding at all. I don't know the comparative age of the Andes versus our Rockies, but these must be younger as they're so steep and jagged. I haven't been to Alaska (yet), but I suspect it gives people the same feeling - you're in a place where nature rules and man survives, true wilderness. It may be only a day or two modern hourney from the lower 48, but in terms of mindset it's vastly more seperate.

The bus station in Esquel is an impressively modern building. We ended up staying at a cabana that's only a few blocks away, it was the first place we stopped at, but then checked out three other places before coming back. We've got a 2 level, brick walled, log roof construction cabin that sleeps 7 and has tile floors, a granite kitchen countertop and fireplace, TV and DVD player. We're splurging again, this works out to $21 US out of both Tori and my pocket. We decide we can afford a $40 place for Christmas. In Fernie this would probably be 10x the cost. One of the hotels we investigated was $100 per night, I have no idea what they can offer that would be any better than this. We haven't figured out yet if they expect you to bargain with them, once they quote a price they ask if that's ok and if you'll be staying with them. Compared to the other places here this seemed like a fair deal, and compared to home it obviously does too. If we're overpaying, I can't say I mind. This guy and his wife have built a beautiful house in his back yard, divided into two sides. He's entrepreneurial and the construction is top notch, and could have just had a back yard for himself. I hope he can make the economics work such that he can buy the open lot next door and do the same thing, if he doesn't own it already. He's nice, brought us some little local sights brochures, and showed us where to knock on the door of his house if we need anything.

Once again this is a modern town, I thought this entire trip would be much more "mainstreet is gravel with little modernity". I surmise Argentina didn't have a great landline infrastructure for phones, and took that opportunity to go for good wireless networks. I've seen a lot of public phone cubicles - post offices, stores, etc. have the little rows of cubicles for public pay phones, and they seem to be used quite a bit... which leads me to believe that line penetration hadn't made it as broad as we're used to. And the little girl on the horsecart talking on the cell phone is a vibrant reminder that cell phones are a great technology - age and locale are no longer barriers.

It's a perfect setting for Christmas dinner. We stocked up on groceries not knowing if we'd have access to stores today, and have a fruitcake type loaf that's fairly breadlike, a loaf that I think is sourdough but a little different than what I've seen prior, sausage, a couple little squeeze packs of normal mustard (I haven't seen that translucent stuff again since the first meal) salad and cheeze. We've got a mid-range chardonnay at $3 for the bottle, and a bottle of what I'm pretty sure is fermented apple cider, that was $1.

It's easy to fall in love with your most recent vacation spot, but I don't think I'm being too quick on this one. I love patagonia. It's beautiful, hospitable and friendly, has great traveller/tourist services, and is cost effective. It's not filthy, there aren't annoying bugs, and people don't make you feel unsafe or try to rip you off. You may need a cyclocross bike or mountain bike instead of a road bike to take advantage of the best routes, but that shouldn't be chalked up as a negative. It's a positive because you know you're on a route slightly less travelled, a bit closer to the edge of mankind's footprint and a bit nearer to nature. Picture riding along the Spray lakes road up above Canmore, but with services along the way, for days on end. The only complaints I have so far about the Argentine side is a distinct lack of alpacas and llamas, guess they're more on the Chilean side?? All I can say is that if I travel from the 49th parallel north down to the 42nd south, I wanna see alpacas and llamas galore, I love those critters! Other than that, they could use more ozone layer. My forehead wasn't really out for that long and I got seriously roasted!

Still it's perfecto in my books. Feliz Navidad!

Saturday 23 December 2006

Bariloche to El Bolson

I've noticed that when you just let things run their course, all seems to work out. Life is satisfying that way.

We did a few errands in Bariloche this morning, which had us on the road a little later than preferable. I got to experience an Argentine post office, it wasn't overly exciting. Snapped a few photos on my new favourite hill climb workout hill, you guys will love it. Made our way south out of town a little after 11. Leaving town, we spotted another pair of cyclists making the 120km trip to El Bolson, turns out it was a local duo on mountain bikes. They were much slower, and were wearing clothes that didn't really peg them as cyclists. I found it a bit surprising that they were game for a 120km ride, but I guess you can't judge a book by it's cover. Even Deaner in FUBAR had a 10 speed, and this dude wasn't too far off. He did have some rudimentary things that nearly qualified as paniers too. I'm not being a gear snob here, I'm trying to be objective, this stuff wasn't overly road worthy! Anyway, as another duo on bikes, they were A-OK in my books.

We passed the Cerro Cathedral mountain/ski area, and several beautiful mountain lakes. Basically the first 80km or so were continuous postcard views on both sides of the road. I don't really understand how the beauty, cost and hospitality of the area don't make it a more popular destination. The roads have tiny paved shoulders, but wide gravel shoulders. We ride on the road, and it seems that it's only once or twice a day when we feel the urge to move to the gravel shoulder. Having two trucks pass opposite ways at the same time they're passing us is the only reason to move over. The decision is made when you hear a truck behind, see a truck in front, and hear a musical toot-toot of the horn rather than the semi foghorn "get the hell off the road" honk. Most Argentine cars are small, so it's easy to fit three abreast, and/or drivers aren't in enough of a hurry to care, so they just slow down till the oncoming car passes so they can use the other lane.

My left calf/achilles interface is totally messed, my leg really hurts. I wore tall socks today to keep it warmer, but basically I pulled one smaller muscle down there really bad. I can ride as long as I do very little ankle motion, but putting force into the pedals isn't appealing. I'll spend some money on massage when I'm home to limit scar tissue buildup, which must be happening now. We're not in discomfort phase, we're more into the injuring the muscle phase. I rub it at night, and of course wine at dinner helps take my mind off it if nothing else. For a while I was feeling pain shooting down into my ankle and up into my calf... lovely especially when your legs are your transportation. Guess that proves my gears were a little high the other day on the climb.

We had some mild showers during the day, but nothing that made us uncomfortable. It seems that a 5-35C temperature band, with or without precipitation, can be handled with a very small amount of space age textiles and a robust metabolism.

We kept looking ahead and thinking where we should stop for lunch (at 3:30) and picked "the top of that hill". Another chapter was added to the "things just work out" book as there was a picnic table and tea house at the top, unseen from where we made the decision. On the menu were baguettes with cheese and salami and veggies again, plus we ducked inside for some tea and mini scone type things. 4 scones and two teas set us back about a dollar each. It was sort of a farmhouse with a welcome sign out front, and while we drank tea and looked out the window, we got to watch their little dog, cat and rooster go about their afternoon in the flower garden. Better than Haagen Daas and watching Oprah.

At that point we had 50km to go, which turned out to be a breeze. It was all gentle 2-3-4 degree downhill slopes with a tailwind, we were cruising along as happy as can be with lots of speed and not much effort.

Made it to El Bolson with the sun shining and plenty of energy to spare. Circled the town's main streets and found a house/hotel to stay at... full back yard with decorative garden, bikes locked up in oversize garage the owner appears to do some mechanical work out of, and again a full kitchenette, although this one is slightly detached from the room, for a grand total of 80 pesos or 26 bucks. I haven't decided yet if I'm gonna make Tori settle up later to split it $13 each ; )

We showered up and walked down to the supermercado, as we anticipate some holiday closures coming up, and possibly camping tomorrow as the distance to Esquel is probably too long for the day, especially with my ailing leg (180km). Suffice to say, the locals are stocking up too. It was fun shopping. Seeing different products is neat, even if you feel like a dumbass at times for not being able to figure out what they are. I bought a few items that will be taste test surpises, I don't really even know what they might be since they don't have pictures on the labels and no words I know are on the labels, and I'm actually not too bad with menu and ingredient comprehension. All the shopping carts were the size of the "kids carts" at home, and the place was so crowded you'd have to negotiate corners with patience as there'd be a logjam of traffic. But nobody seemed stressed or irritated, they just talked and carried on. It was hectic yet tranquil. Picked up a nice bottle of $3 wine instead of the $1 litre juicebox style.

El Bolsen is a bit of a cross between Fernie and Jasper in my mind. Beatiful big mountains all around, and nice streets. There's a couple of things that really stand out. There's more dirt bikes than I've seen elsewhere, and there's chicks driving them too. It's a granola type town, and there's granola Argentine women. if you haven't caught on yet, this is a good thing!

There's always the thought when travelling that "women are beatiful here", I say it and I've heard everyone else I know say it. But why? Part of it just has do do with novel/different features I think, but I've got a few theories that go beyond the novelty factor. I haven't really seen anyone wearing makeup here, not even waitresses. Obviously in Beunes Aires it's different as surgical mods and clothes/makeip are even more common than California, but where we've been makeup is uncommon, expecially on people our age (there's a few overdone older women, but they're few and far between in granola towns). People just look normal, and to me that means they're confident to a degree, which also helps the cause. Secondly, obesity is rare. This means people have jaw lines instead of jowls, so your chance of having a nice face just shot through the roof there, plus their skin looks healthy instead of flabbly and caked in coverup. Thirdly, there doesn't appear to be much stress. Even with bumper car traffic in the supermercado, people chat to those next to them instead of jockeying for position and acting all testy and pissed off. Disposition does a lot for your image.

We had a great dinner - I went for chicken ravioli with garlic cream sauce and Tori had a milanesa sandwich, of course with cheap wine. Most places don't really have pints of beer, they have the usual size bottles or big 1L bottles that people treat like a wine bottle and share.

When we were paying our dinner bill, I spotted a bottle on the retaurant bar that had huevo on it promintently - egg liquor. The owner let us try some... and I guess not surprisingly it was sort of like egg nogg in taste, and it was super thick. I thought it might be weirder than that. He siad they mix it with sugar cane alcohol (rum?), so it'd be like rum and egg nogg, just a different twist on the ingredients.

My forehead hurts from getting burned the other day. I'm surprised at what a serious burn it is, must be a little thin on ozone down here, cause we had our bakcs to the sun during much of the ride. My forehead wrinkles like a 100 year old, I've got a thick layer of skin that's toast. Feels like I've got a mask on when I scrunch my brow.

Random Observations

Every place we've been in so far seems to use hot water radiant heaters. One under windows, one in bathroom usually. Restaurants have them along windows too. Haven't seen forced air anywhere.

I haven't seen a sink yet that has a U trap plumbed in. All are just straight exits.

I'm amazed at how much GPRS (data network, ie. BlackBerry) coverage we've had so far. Haven't even felt the need for an internet cafe yet as we can do web and email. More complicated things like banking still would necessitate a "larger" computer. Might drop by a place today to burn picturs to a CD, most places seem to offer this for $2.

Most of the world uses 26" bike wheels like mountain bikes. I was aware of this, and in most instances I don't think it matters too much. I've got some extra spokes, and I'm not worried about my tires. Having a good rolling mountain bike tire with just the added volume would be nice on some of the roads just for comfort. I'd probably buy the same Conti tire anyway, I'm pretty sure they're also available in a 26".

Front racks would be nice, not to carry more, just to carry what you have more evenly.

My new and slightly smashed Panasonic wide angle mini camera has a sticker proclaiming "extended battery life" on it. I've taken 200 pictures and done lots of viewing and culling of crappy shots each evening. The LCD is "huge", and with all this, the battery indicator hasn't even gone down one bar yet. I like truth in advertising.

It may be just the kid inside me, but Leatherman tools rule. I'm still only 3% as resourceful as McGyver, but I'm improving. Plus they offer a titanium model, and titanium is cool.

There aren't obese people here. I can't recall seeing one fat person yet. Some senioritas fill out their spray on tight jeans pretty well, but there's no massive layers of flab.

There's no litter to speak of. In approximately 350km so far there's been an extremely minimal amount of litter, just an odd piece every now and then.

There's a few stray dogs in Bariloche but not many. Stray dogs seem to be a staple of anywhere south of the US. They actually seem good natured and healthy here, they're not a nuisance to they eye.

Traffic signals seem to be partially obeyed. Most cars are small, which is true everywhere except US/Canada.

Cars are cheap. A VW Golf is $21,000 pesos, divide by three rule still works. I'm guessing it may not have expensive things like ABS or airbags or other necessititos para norte americanos.

The 4 most common posters/pictures I've seen in restaurants, hotels, public areas, etc. are Che, Jesus, Homer Simpson and the Three Stooges. Any bar or restaurant with a TV on has the Simpson's. I feel dumb knowing less Spanish than a dumbass like Homer.

Tori likes Argentina. Wine is $1 per liter in stores, can be as expensive as $3 per liter in restaurants.

I've barely seen any incandescent light bulbs. Everytime I take a moment to examine a lamp it's got compact flourescent bulbs.

Beetles and old hatchback Renault's with misaligned body panels and poor exhaust systems are alive and well in Argentina. They're almost comical as forms of transportation. It's a frequent occurance to see men or women jump out of the car, open the hood latches (notice the order, the hood latch isn't an under-dash lever, they're exterior latches on the hood), and have a look see to try to fix something. Cars here in the rural areas and smaller towns appear to be treated as tools and transportation. I haven't really seen any evidence of them being treated as objects of lust or status symbols like is more common at home.

Friday 22 December 2006

Bariloche to pure relaxation

We've made some good progress so far, and decided to take a rest day before heading south along the famous route toward Patagonia and eventually Tierra del Fuego. We'll hook a right after a couple hundred km back into Chile and save the rest of that journey for another day!

As with every hotel so far, breakfast is in the price. I've been happy with all of them, none of them have left me with the feeling that they were inadequate. We lingered a while and had a few cups of tea. The walls are lined with booze bottles that are squished flat (melted?), but I don't get it because the labels are in tact.

We head out for some window shopping, all we really need is some aloe vera and I want some tall socks to keep my aching achilles warmer.

Next few hours include buying stickers, having coffee, strudel, chocolates, and lunch. We generally amuse each other just by our mutual presence, we don't do this idle stuff together often.

We make our way over to the local museo, it's got nature stuff, native history and history of exploration. I'd say that one of the strong themes was how much they like to talk about how they arrived at the current border line with Chile, no different than US and Canada really, we all like to emphasize how we're different/better than the neighbours.

The hilight for me was seeing a stuffed condor and a stuffed albatross. Both are larger than I expected by far (pictures to follow). The wingspan of the albatross is 1' longer than my stretched arms, which are a hair over 6", and it's wings aren't fully extended.

After that it's more window shopping, tea, nap and some afternoon cartoons.

We're hungry, but restaurants don't open till 8 so we stop by a pub first. They've got a bigscreen showing David Bowie live doing Nirvana covers... odd. Dinner is a 5 minute walk away at a pasta and pizza joint. I go for canneloni, Tori goes for the house special pizza, which ends up being mucho queso blanco y huevos. A little odd once again but palatable since the ingredients and preparation are good. We opt for a bottle of vino tinto de la casa for 12 pesos. It's hard to turn down perfectly tasty local wine at $4. After dinner, spending catches up to us when I pay $8 for getting two camera memory cards burned to CD (2 copies of the CD). Seems like a decent deal, but it's even better when I have free memory card space to snap a few pics of the General Lee we pass. Not a real Dodge Charger, but a very impressively done replica considering how far we are from Hazard County.

It's been rainy all day, but forecast for tomorrow is improved. If it's raining tomorrow as hard as it was today I might make up more excuses not to ride. Having said that, truthfully my left calf/achilles "interface" is more sore than I've ever experienced. Walking was painful, I had to try hard not to limp.

Couples Travelling Bliss

One common thread amongst competitive cyclists is how do we ever ride with our significant others? It's an age old problem, same issue at ski hills too for me. How do you ride with someone that doesn't enjoy head down, lung searing, quad burning speed? Or even if they do, chances are the resulting speed is different from yours? Even our "slow" rides usually aren't compatible with relations on the home front.

I think I might have come across a workable solution, thanks to the initiave of Tori... bike touring. Before you dismiss the idea, let me explain why I think 24/7 cycling time with the significant other can work, despite the difference in cycling aptitude/ability.

Who likes seeing beautiful country side on vacation? Who likes freedom, wine country, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and exploring? Who likes losing weight on a vactation, coming back with firmer legs and buns, less around the waist, yet eating practically anything in sight? Who likes spending all day together, but without having the energy necessary to let little fights happen? Well, hopefully the better half of a racer couple.

How do you pull this off when you're different speeds? It's easy - weight is the great equalizer. Stick a snazzy bike for your seniorita under the tree, and remember that what a racer wants and what might inspire matrimonial bliss are two different things. Nothing I say here is meant to be sexist, so if you read it that way and disagree with me, point it out without making it into a sexism argument.

Racer chicks might chastize, but this isn't meant for racer chicks. Buy a bike with a triple. I think it's common that where a racer may see a giant hill as a wicked quad building workout or bragging rights pushing a 39x23, your other half will probably appreciate a 30x27. Take whatever ultra light tires they spec the bike with and put on some Specialized Armadillos or Continental Gatorskins. Yes, fixing flats will happen, but tourist riders won't give a rats ass about the speed tradeoff. Go for frame geometry upright enough to see the sights, and is comfy by design and material. Tourists won't care about "ultimate power transfer" or "cornering like it's on rails". They will care about road vibration. Now comes touring. Put on a handle bar rack and rear paniers. Don't weigh it down enough to mess up the handling. Spare no expense on comfort items - rain jacket, warm jersey, arm and leg warmers, booties, cap, etc. should all be no more than a 2 minute pit stop away, stuffed in all the paniers in mesh stuff sacks. Riding comfortably equals fun riding. Pack snacks, and lots of small bills for wherever you are so it's easy to buy fruit, drinks, whatever from roadside vendors or stores. Sure you might swear by caffienated hammer gel, but put in fruit, fruit bars, sharkies, chocolate, juice, fig bars, etc. into your companion's kit. Who cares what form the calories take going in - as long as you're riding aerobically, the body digests everything pretty well. Not everyone appreciates the taste and texture of race foods.

Now for your end of it. Buy a super stong frame, some inexpensive Surly or the like with Shimano 105. Why? You've just been promoted to porter, mechanic and soigneur. You're gonna take whatever extra weight it takes to balance out your cycling capabilities, even if it's all the gear you have, so no lightweight noodle frames needed. No science is really needed to balance out Watts/kg, trial and error works. Load yourself up and ride hard all day, you'll hopefully "get something out of riding slow" like big endurance and big leg strength. If done right, no matter how hard you hammer, you won't be able to drop your companion, but even if you do, it's no big deal. Get to the top of a hill first, pull out the camera, and take a picture when the better half gets there. Or maybe you'll be able to lose enough racer mindset that you won't even think about going hard... who really cares in the off season (ok, not likely). On top of that, if something breaks, play mechanic and fix it quick. Keep a pack of Sharkies or something in your pocket, and offer them up right away. Snacks take the mind off the situation and earns you points. Same with soigneur duty. Offer up some massage at night. Why? We've been doing long rides for years, but not everyone will be used to volumes of riding. It's surprisingly easy for even "non-riders" to enjoy a 4h day of touring, it just doesn't seem like a long time, but that's work if your legs aren't used to it. If you have a happy partner, more bike vacation time is in the future!

But what to do if your partner's interest/abilities are still much shorter than yours? One solution is bungee cord. Other is choose towns near each other enough to be in the "right range", 60km or whatever. Check into your new lodging, unload the gear, and your babe can shop, have coffee or hit the pool or spa. You can explore the town or nearby roads at your own speed for one extra hour to burn off some steam before dinner. Everyone needs their own time.

Depending on each other to get where you're going is teambuilding in a nutshell, which is why we all find each other in the first place. Solving problems is easy when you both inherently know what the goal is (get somewhere), and are mellow enough from exercise to not make mountains out of molehills with the day's issues.

Resorts in my mind are opposite, I couldn't believe after dune buggy driving in Mexico how many couples were fighting. There's no common goal other than sitting around, so in my world that sort of takes away any little daily achievements. On top of that you're idle, so it's easy to have pent up energy to expend on petty aruments... plus there's usually free/cheap alcohol all day every day. This isn't a recipe for sucess (in my books anyway), enough alchohol and enough time is a defacto recipe for fighting. Add in buffet service and you come home a few pounds heavier... sweet.

I guess the attraction is that resorts "easy" and "secure". There's very little unknown, you buy a plane ticket, get picked up at the airport, and that's it. Not knowing where you're going to eat or sleep cause anxiety. Remove anxiety and your mind is at rest supposedly... but wherever people live there's food and lodging. It's not a problem at all. Finding places to sleep is easy, and any time you walk in the front door of a hotel, they know you're looking for a place to sleep, regarless of language barrier. Same with food, unless you're picky, in which case you should probably just stay at home and get some counselling to help you out. Or if you have allergies, time to work on menu reading skills!

"Finding" food and lodging are satisfying little accomplishments each day, as is achieving a new location. Rhythmically breathing fresh air all day is something that is undeniably healthy: blood pressure drops, fitness develops, mind is cleared, and it's easier to burn more calories than you take in. In my mind that's the meaning of vacation, it's rejuvenation.

Villa Angostura to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina

Christmas came early this year, life doesn't get any better than this. After listening to the rain pounding on our guest house last night, we awoke to a dry morning with just a few beatuiful clouds in the sky. Breakfast was fresh orange juice, fresh fruit salad, bread with rose hip jam, and ham and cheese. We packed up and were on the road the earliest we've been this trip, about 10am. The town itself is beautiful, the regimented architechture seems to be log construction. In most ways it looked nicer than Banff/Canmore type resort towns. We picked up another memory card for the camera and took a few pictures of the town and flowers (for mom) before heading out.

The highway is lined with yellow, blue and purple flowers, which scent the air nicely. The only comparison I can make is that it was a bit like riding the Icefield Parkway, but with lake stretching the entire way. It wasn't hot, but it was easy to stay warm. The temperatures have been cool enough that carrying extra water hasn't been necessary, two bottles have been lasting us up to 5-6 hours easily. Probably not enough, but touring intensity allows this.

As we head south, we've got a huge tailwind. 30-50kph continuous for the entire day. Snow capped mountains on the left, lake framed by snowcapped mountains on the right. We averaged 23kph riding easy, 3 hours of bliss. Stopped at a southern bay for a snack after noon, where I dubbed my new hairdo the "Argentine Breeze". It's the product of riding without a helmet for the day and unfortunately will be difficult to recreate in North America. The waves rolling onto shore at our snack spot were big enough to learn to surf on, and the entire lake had white caps.

After remounting, we headed uphill right away during a lull in the wind. I was climbing about a 5 percent grade at 13kph. A massive gust of wind destabilizes me for a second on the bike, it's like someone just shoved me. I downshift but keep the same force on my pedals. The wind keeps up it's strength, and within a minute I'm climbing at 28kph. I've never in my life experienced such strong winds, and fortunately today our route was 75k with the wind and only 10k against it. The hill had several km to go so I decided to hammer, felt like a little mid day burst (plus my snack stop 10 minutes prior included caffeine). So fun!

Once we crested the hill we were in arrid landscape, looked like dinosaur fossil country to me. We had one 2k stretch of mild downhill at 65kph in total silence as the wind was with us. Eventually we reach the T intersection, and hang a right to come back across the other side to Bariloche. Plowing into the headwind wasn't too bad, we were doing about 10kph. The hard part was steering straight with all the gusts. South of us was desert country, and the highway seemed to have a lot of antiquated Land Rovers on it. You can hear those things approaching from far behind you, aerodynamics obviously was never their selling point. They contribute to the feeling of being in a frontier town.

We stop halfway on our headwind battle for lunch at a supermarket. Baguettes, local chorizo and queso, lettuce, tomato and cilantro are the ingredients that my Leatherman forms into a satisfying sandwich. A kiwi and a yogurt drink balance it out, with a churro for dessert.

We make our entrance into town at the 4.5hr mark for 80km. Town is nice, it's one of the bigger ones we've been in so far. Seems to have a skiing, windsurfing (suicide today!), mountain biking flavour. We cruise around and pick Hosteleria Adquintue. Going rate is $75 pesos or $25 USD a night for an entirely satisfactory room in my books. I've found that Argentina economc math is much easier than Chile (Cl peso is about 450 to the dollar). Argentine prices here are the same sticker price as things would be in Canada, but you divide by 3 to get your cost. So after feeling underspent after checking into the Hotsteria, we check out the local bike shops for supplies (no 700c tires, with more gravel in the days ahead, but the do have V-brake pads for my 'cross brakes). I do a little stunt riding down a wall alongside a long staircase to the amusement of some onlookers (the bike begs for some action once the weight is off!). I notice that maybe one injection mold thread may be worn of my rear tire at this point, but I'm not worried. Tori and I place a bet - I clain I won't have any flats this trip, and she takes me on. I'm confident. We walk around and book $20 massages for an hour, my knee is still hurting from an innocent looking little spill I took a few weeks ago while riding with Jon and Devin on some ice on the footbridge crossing Glenmore trial, obviously aggravated by lugging weight uphill on the bike. They were at an aesthetics type place that seemed like a money maker. 4 womens haircuts going on up front, 4 ladies getting perms on another level, us with massages, and all waiting seats full. When we were done with our massages, all chairs and the line were still full, and two more people were heading in for massage. It was a good massage and left me feeling mellow. My other ailment, an aching left achilles/calf connection is still sore. We'll consider taking tomorrow as a rest day. After picking up two bags of laundry we left at the laundromat ($3, clean, dry and folded in under 2 hours), we head over to the dinner spot I picked. We start with an ensalada Friends, which has every healthy vegetable south of the equator included. We go for a bottle of red Bianchi Bergona ( that's n with the accent, nya) from Mendoza, and a Patagonian wild boar pizza. I get a fried banana for dessert, and afterwards we walk across the street to some overpriced small town fancy handmade chocolate shop, but still our chololate purchase works out to only a couple bucks.

Life is good!

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Entre Lagos, Chile to Villa Angostura, Argentina

After making it to bed only at midnight last night, our morning started a little late again today. Sleeping in, tube patching, breakfast, watching cartoons and packing had us leaving our cabin at 11:30. We were looking at a 110k day over the Andes to Argentina, all on paved roads.

It was mildly cool when we set off along Lago Puyehue, and we took the opportunity about 15 minutes in to stop for a picture. I was going to quckly do a snapshot of the lake, but Tori offered to take one of me in it. This quickly resulted in my camera finding it's way to the ground, after a quick bobble it was sort of flung downward. Took a little prying to get the lens to move again, but hey, it's only a $400 camera that's one month old. We moved onward and I tried to fight the "cry over spilt milk" mentality for a while. Riding along the lake was great, would be very nice sport riding with lots of rolling hills and beautiful scenery. Pavement was perfect. I should mention here what our experience has been with traffic so far - there really hasn't been any. We might get passed by one vehicle every 10 minutes, and I stress maybe. Certainly isn't much. They give you a decent amount of space, but don't really slow down (we haven't been in high speed areas anyway). Nine out of ten vehicles try to make a little toot-toot jingle with their horn, and again nearly everyone waves. Road construction crews wave and say Hola, as do housebuilders near the road. You certainly don't get the feeling that the populace thinks you're a nuisance.

My overall distance estimate of 110k turned out to be spot on, but we had a hard time guaging distance to intermediate points. Approaching the national park, it seemed that Anticura would have some services as it was marked on the map as a hotel, but turns out it was only a sparse national park campground. We stopped just inside the park to see a waterfall, and had a few Cliff bars for lunch instead of a hot lunch we were craving. We lugged our way up the hill, we started the day at 70m and eventually made it over the pass at 1,300m, which was quite a bit of work with the weight and my gearing. I was standing about half the time. Stopped at one point to take a few pictures of these plants with giant leaves. The ones we took pictures were fairly big, maybe three feet across, and right by the side of the road. There were also ones we spotted that were more like 6 feet across when they grew in just the right spots.

We came upon Chilean border control way earlier than the map indicated, and grabbed lunch from a little store. Empanadas, refrescos (I tried a can of Pap and Tori went for a can of Kem), and a box of chocolate covered almonds. Borders are a 4 step process. There's a guy in a little hut the writes down your vehicle on a slip of paper. You proceed 30m up the road to the buildings (where we ate) and stand in two lines, one for the international police (Chilean babe) and one for customs, both of which stamp a box on your slip of paper after a little due process. You then take the completed slip of paper 30m up the road and deposit it with the booth guy on the other end of the border process. We could see the snowy peaks of the Andes looming, and plugged away uphill for a couple of hours. As we neared the top, we entered clouds and rain. It was still warm while climbing, we were doing a lot of work for only 7-8kph, but I knew we'd be cold going down. After endless turns that looked like they'd deliver us to the top, we finally made it. For comparison to home, if anyone's doing trainer workouts now, I'd call the west ascent of the Andes with paniers a "leg strength workout". Pretty heavy duty one at that. I think in total it was about 4 hours at 40-60rpm with what you'd call "high torque". Guess I could have used a few more gears, but oh well. Took a few pictures and headed onward.

The descent was fun. Most people know I like going downhill fast on bikes, and today was one of those days. Lugging 2 weeks worth of gear over the Andes meant I was going to enjoy the trip down. I was still carrying the tent from yesterday, I had it jammed into the drops of my handle bars. It held firmly there, and I was riding on the hoods all the time anyway, so it didn't bother me. The tent did of course interfere with my front brake, so I disconnected it when I started carrying the tent (just one of the reasons I was faster than Tori down the backside of all the gravel hills yesterday). But now we're coming down some pretty serious stuff, and it's only like 5-10C, and downpouring. My rims are wet and my hands are frozen. Yes, it's summer here, but nobody said you can't get a bonechilling rain on the Icefield Parkway in July either. My sole rear brake doesn't have the capacity to scrub off much speed, it'd probably take me over 200 yards to come to a full stop, as I was hitting 80kph at points, plus the added inertia of all my gear. I also forgot my replacement brake pads at home in my toolbox, so might as well try to be economical with these so they last the trip.

While there are drawbacks to a loaded bike, there are some benefits. I couldn't slow down to any reasonable speed for several of the turns, but where an unweighted wheel would have the tendency to skip out or actually lose traction and slide, these weighted ones were glued to the pavement. Undoubtedly they also have their sliding point, but as anyone who's put softener salt or gravel bags in the back of a rear wheel drive car in the winter knows, weight helps traction.

I know this because I think I set a new record for myself today in terms of angular lean on a bike. Coming into a tight corner with my hand squeezing my brake for all it was worth, I realized I wasn't slowing down much. I pulled the Tinker Juarez move and pulled my left leg out for an outrigger. Let's just say that SIDI didn't seem to take breaking friction on wet pavement into account when formulating the silver plastic on their mountain bike shoes. I've got a sweet picture of the fresh plastic revealed on the sole of my shoe once the first dingy later was ground off. At this point it was a) let Tori inherit all my bikes, or b) lean into this turn in a big way and hope these tires earn their sticker price one more time. I opted for the latter, and as you can tell, all worked out in the end. I think I had 8" of pavement to spare, which is at least 8 tire widths. No problem! I'll point out too that none of the injection mold hairs have worn off my tires yet on this trip. Durability and grip is the Holy Grail of tire chemistry.

We stop on a flat stretch and throw on another jacket each under our raincoats. It's really cold, and Tori isn't looking like she's digging the challenge of avoiding hypothermia. For the record, she sleeps under down blankets in the summer... and a month ago I was doing 3h rides in -25C.

We come up to another border crossing, this time the Argentine side. I find this a little confusing, but as best I can tell they just share the national park and put border stations on either side. It's the same 4 step process, but instead of doing lunch in between step one and two, we put on another layer. All I have is knicker bibs to throw on over my shorts (on of the best cycling garments I own), while Tori has full tights. We complete steps 2 and 3, and discuss what lies ahead. It's a hilly 21k to the town, it's like 7pm already, we're 6 hours into our ride, and the rain is coming down in sheets. My little cyclo-conqueror companion looks distressed, and asks what we should do. People are looking out at us and our bikes leaned against the wall from the busses and while waiting in line for customs. One man and woman are dressed to the 9's in Patagonia Gore-tex jackets and fleece vests for their bus trip. It's like we're at the zoo, and we're the show.

This is easy. It's like a rain day in TransRockies or La Ruta, and we're at the last checkstop before the finish line. I grab a couple fruit bars, unwrap one, and stick it in Tori's mouth while she's working on her bags. The plan is as follows: you eat this, throw on whatever clothes you need, then we hammer for all we're worth to Villa Angostura. It'll take between one and two hours. We have no choice really, and now's our chance to differentiate ourselves from the herd of sheep being carted around on the bus tour wearing Patagonia brand clothes that don't do anything more than fend off the bus' air conditioning system.

We hammer, and every time I look back Tori is there, either right on my wheel or 20m behind on some of the hills. It's pouring, and I love it. We go hard enough that my hands warm up, but my feet are still bricks. The people on the bus look at us like we're crazy. I'm smiling from ear to ear, not because I'm crazy, but because I'm revelling the fact that I'm not a run of the mill softie. Wipers are going so fast on the vehicles that I can hear them almost as soon as I can hear the cars. I open my mouth and drink the rain. I love this shit. I'm near tears of joy.

We get to the town sign, but there's still several km to go to town. The rain subsides a bit, and the yellow, purple and blue flowers on the hillside are beautiful. The lake is huge, beatuful, and full of islands. It's over 100km long. Beatuful Okanagan style cabins dot the hillside. Once again, we're not in slum country here. We see a nice looking lodge up on the hillside and ride up the driveway. Works out to $50US/night. At home a room like this would be $200 easily. I play with a cat that's sitting in a cardboard box on a window sill, he's my new buddy. Tori checks in, and we drop off our bags. Only drawback is the adjacent restaurant closes in 10 mins, so we ride about one km up the road and hit a snack joint, assuming our soaked cycling gear wouldn't endear us well to the adjacent steakhouse. The t commute is fantastic. My bike is a rocket without weight on it. I tried at one point to find a meaningful reference point to illustrate the slow speeds for riders at home. On flat roads, fully loaded, I estimate riding at threshold wattage would get me only about 28kph. Hills are obviously worse, I often see my speed only at 7-8kph. The hammer rides at home clock in for an average around 35-40kph usually, and here 17kph seems to be a good pace. For the record, I actually don't care about speed now, but it makes map guesstimating different. I've always used about 30kph in figuring distance-time questions, but now even 20kph is optimistic. Maybe I cans still use 30kph, the multiply my time estimates by two!

We sit down, hang up some we clothes over a heater, and order two super Milanese sandwiches and a bucket of fries. The sandwiches had breaded veal (milanesa), proscuitto, fried egg, queso blanco, tomato, lettuce, peppers and sauce, on a toasted bun. I think they had a little bit of heaven in there as well. Tori went with hot tea, and I opted for the Knorr instant soup mix the 20 something waiter offered. Ended up drinking it rather than spooning it. He made it with too little water, so it tasted extra salty. Delicious. This time I made sure ketchup was the only condiment to get involved with the fries. I hit up the ice cream fridge for a bar and a cone after dinner (Tori had a bite of each) for my calorie top up move. The coffee left something to be desired, we're a long way from Colombia.

After an hour of bathing, hanging clothes up to dry and writing, the rain is still pounding on the windows. Could be a 100k wet one to San Carlos de Bariloche tomorrow.

That's all for now!

Tuesday 19 December 2006

Ode to Industrialism

Where to begin?

How about Japan? I haven't had a dropped chain or missed shift yet on my Shimano Ultegra gearing. It's flawless. I'm counting my distance with a 5 year old Cateye cycler computer that I've beaten around for 5 seasons on two different mountain bikes, and all I've ever done to it was change the battery once. This is what I expect from poducts, rather unlike my two Powertaps, which I've owned for a cumulative total of probably 18 months for the two of them, yet am probably just crossing the 12 month of uptime barrier. I think I'm gonna try an SRM.

How about France?
Half the planes I took here were Airbus, and I'm riding a set of Mavic Open pro rims that seem completely unfazed by the 50lbs of gear I'm carrying. I wouldn't buy a fruity little French car, but Mavic rims have earned trust world the world round. Just gotta figure out if a Look bike suits me...

How about the United States?
The Strong cyclocross frame I'm riding feels awesome so far. Mellow over the gravel vibrations and stiff enough under load. Americans are great at inventing and commercializing technology. Nothing less than aerospace grade titanium will do for self powered transport I guess (my Airborne Paka-wallup is low grade Chinese ti and it's surprisingly... noticeable). Or how about my Easton carbon fork? Is it not enough that carbon fibre is multiple times the strength of steel for a given mass? Nope, it needs reinforcing a the molecular scale with carbon nanotube technology in the epoxy to again increase it's strength.

How about the Germans?
The German quality mindset rules. American's have "price points" as an excuse for selling cheap junk, German's sell quality at whatever price it takes. The German settler influenced construction down here stands the test of time and is worth maintaining. Mercedes trucks from 1970's models to recent ones are rolling up and down the roads, helping stuff get done (none have rust).

I'm riding some Continental TravelContact tires that rule so far. Why? Because Germans get some ungodly amount of yearly vacation, like 6 weeks. They travel around a lot, and some of them do it on well engineered bicycles. The label on my tires claimed these were long lasting and puncture resistant. Tori had 6 flats today on some tires that have been pushed well past their intended use (70k of gravel) and I had none, despite carrying more of our collective weight to try to help the situation. On top of that, the little hair threads from the injection mold aren't even worn off on the center strip of my tires after 125k of mixed surface riding with a 25lb bike, 50lbs of gear, and 170lbs of me!! That's what they mean by "durable compound". Continental tire engineers get docked pay if they come back from vacation and recommend ways to make a less expensive tire. They get promoted if they make a tire strong enough to put on a 747's landing gear, but still light enough for use on a bike.

When I started looking around for paniers, I read up on the ones carried at MEC. Then I read a few web reviews about what was recommended. "Get Ortlieb, it's German for waterproof. Well actually it's not, but it might as well be.". I ask Tori what she thought of her paniers. "They rule.". Tori usually can find a way to wreck, misuse or ruin just about anything without any malicious intent. So I go for the mega-bucks Ortlieb ones over items with a lower initial price point (not to be confused with the concept of "total cost"). As I load up my bike in front of Arvid the Austrian/German hostelier, he notices the paniers. In a thick German accent he says "Ahh, Ortlieb. Those are the best ones."

And lastly, how about Canada?
Well, Canadians are just so practical and nice. That's why I can have paniers full of trendy colored, functional and cost effective (different from cheap!) outdoor clothing for all weather circumstances. Ethically sourced of course! Also, with all the Chileans walking around with alpaca sweaters and Gore-tex jackets on due to the unseasonally cool weather, I can ride around in my shorts and Deadgoat jersey, all thanks to Canada!

Chile shows the benefits of having a sensible economy with trade and an industrial base. It isn't one of the Latin American crap countries where drugs, corrupt and confused politics, and excessive masses of uneducated populace overwhelm. Three cheers for running an economy that is better for all citizens in the long run, instead of misplaced, short sighted social programs.

Peurto Varas to Entre Lagos, Chile

Arvil, our Hostelier asked us last night what time we wanted our breakfast, so we guessed 8am, even though after so much flying my body didn't have much of a feel for what 8am local time was. That left us 10 hours to sleep in theory. I hit my snooze button at 7:30 and didn't wake up till 8:30. Guess that's a sign that some true vacation rest is in order.

After our buns, ham, cheese and apricot spread washed down with te and jugo de narangjas, we packed up our gear. It's at this point that I noticed both picture walls at the hostel featured Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid posters and artifacts. I've always loved that movie, those guys always symbolized adventure and the unknown for me. The first time I landed in Bolivia, I had a lump in my throat - I'd wanted to go there since being a kid solely because of that movie. On that trip I went across the Bolivian steppe on a train, when I was 20 or 21. For whatever reason, the usher on our car didn't mind (he in fact encouraged) us climbing up onto the roof of the train to watch the country side pass. One of the highlights of my travelling life so far.

Anyway, this was a timely memory at the start of today's ride, so we packed up and headed out. First pedal strokes down the road reminded me that excess weight and acceleration don't mix. We started along the shore of Lago Llanquihue, and stopped for a few pictures. All went well for the first 10k, until the shoulder had a bit of a curb edge on it. Tori didn't see it being behind me, and I probably should have said something, but guess that's how it goes. It hooked her wheels, threw off her balance, and aimed her over toward the side of the road into the bushes. Main problem was one large curb left to go between road and bushes. Double pinch flat to a scratchy landing. Got that worked out and kept going. Made pretty good progress all the way to Ensenada, all on paved road. Took a left at Ensenada and made our way through the national park, lake on left, Volcan Osorno on right. Stopped off at a little tourist hike to check out Laguna Verde, had a snack, and carried on. It's worth noting at this point that the road isn't paved. We had attempted to get some suitably sized/treaded tires onto Tori's bike ahead of time, but they were too big (37c). She returned them at MEC and got some Conti Gatorskin 23c road tires - we didn't really plan on doing too much gravel here, but it's really just a fact of life. But this was nice volcanic hardpack and we did ok, save for a few flats for Tori.

Countryside is very nice, sort of like a Vancouver type climate. Everything is well built, roads are nice, gravel roads are quality jobs. Farmhouses are large, well built, and show good upkeep. They all feature nice gardens. Cargo trucks are Mercedes, Hyundia or Hino, same thing that moves cargo in much of the rest of the world. Lots of Toyota and Nissan trucks, and Suzuki SUVs. Lots of Nissan Sentra cars. None of the above are junky. Between the farmhouses, the trucks and the passenger vehicles, this place feels like the citezenry have good living standards. On top of that the water seems fine to drink. It's agrarian and not densely populated, but this feels like it could be a cooler corner of rural France just as much as Chile... or maybe I should say a corner of Germany. German influence is apparent, lots of farmhouses and guesthouses done in Swiss/German architecture and solid looking construction. Lots of them are named with more consonants (esp. K) than any Spanish speaker would name a place. I recall Santiago had it's problem areas, but Chile reminds me that it's an economic "have" country once again, things in this part seem to be built right the first time then kept up well.

At one point we pass a small Chevy pick up truck that somehow drove itself into a hill on the side of the road despite the road not being confusing or unsafe in any way. A large industrial truck pulled it out. Usually I'm better at identifying industry, but I don't really have the basics figured out here yet. Seems propane trucks drive around to fill buildings up, but there's also lots of trucks driving around with compression equipment on the back, and the use isn't apparent to me. Anyway, we end up eating lunch at La Cascades, pure German influence apparent once again. Sausage and mashed potatoes, with tomatoes, squeeze bottles of mayo, mustard, hot sauce and ketchup. The mustard tastes close to ours, but it has the consistency/look of a cool blue gel toothpaste that just got turned flourescent yellow. It's translucent.

We enjoy a few km of road after town, but Tori again pinch flats on a pebble in the road. We need to make an eventual right after 15k or so, and I make my first useful move of the day by calling the turn where Tori thought we should keep going. It's gravel once again, and we decide to give me more load to keep some weight off her little tires. It's hilly, so I have to stand and climb in my granny gear a bunch (34-27). The upside of climbing with gear is that even my semi slicks get great grip with 40lbs over my rear tire even while standing. The downside is it's hard work!

We're in farm country here, and notice a few things. The cows are very vocal. Plain old Holstein cows, but they just make lots of different sounds beyond a moo. They like doing solos for like 15 seconds each. Thus far in the trip (80k), no dogs chase us. They watch, or run through the grass doing their own thing, maybe raising one ear our way. But out in true farm country the chase. I ride ahead, so I wake them up and they chase me first. I ride fast enough that they can't catch me, but slow enough that they're close. This motivates them to run for a long time, so they're tired when Tori comes by. Most of the time we'd ride right together, but on the gravel we'd seperate by a hundred yards or so before I'd wait up.

While fixing another flat at one point, listening to some vocal cows, with Lago Rupanaco in view, 3 kids came by driving a horse drawn buggy. They were all looked 7-8 yrs old. Boy drove, one girl was looking around, and the other was in the back seat on a cell phone. I'll mention at this point too that I'm astonished I actually get BlackBerry coverage everywhere here so far.

We were aiming for a hotel near Lago Rupacano, but I missed it, guess I had to make up for one right call earlier in the day. The road here was freshly graded gravel, so very soft and loose compared to the hardpack that the "older" roads have. We decided to head onward to Entre Lagos. It's worth mentioning that we were already 100km (7 hours! Lot's of sub 10kph riding obviously on the gravel, with weight, uphill, etc. It all slows you down so much) into our riding so far, with an elapsed time of probably 9 hours. That gravel slows us down, as do the flats.

One more flat before Entre Lagos, a little rain shower (they've been off and on today, and I'd say an average temperature of 15C). On a slight downhill section, I see a small dog sitting in the lefthand ditch. A truck passes me before I reach him, and I'm relieved not to have to be his chase bait. Once the truck comes within about 3m of the dog, he sprints up onto the road and races the truck. I'm impressed, he holds out for about 75m. He sits in the right hand ditch, and eyes me approaching. Once I'm about 3m away, he sprints like mad. I'd only be able to catch him if I didn't have gear on. Eventually he looks back and sees how bad he kicked my ass. He's a funny little dog, don't know what kind, but he's fast as blazes. Looked like he was smiling in pride when I finally passed. I admire the racer persona in him, there's just something about creating your own challenge.

Finally we get to the outskirts of Entre Lagos, looks a little grim at first. We ask for some help, and check a travel book for any decent accomodations, cause at this point riding a few km along the lake and camping is starting to look good (to put this into context, we're over 8h and about 125k on the day). We end up finding a Hosterleria that also has Cabanas. Tori and I splurge and go for a Cabana, pitching in a cool 10,000 each. Works out to be about $50. For this we get a full kitchenette, shower with tub, and sleeping for 5 people, plus a giant bean bag to relax on. Stuff isn't overly cheap here, but considering how many Calgary bar tabs I've known of recently that come out to several hundred dollars, Tori and I don't really second guess dipping into the Christmas bonuses tonight.

We clean up and walk back toward mainstreet for dinner, and on the way I spot a giant slide! This thing is probably 30m long. It looks badass, but I'm too fat for the skinnier parts, and it isn't that slippery, so not too much sliding actually occurs. It is impressive none the less.

We pass 8 supermarkets, and duck into one to buy some breakfast supplies. The average "supermercado" in Entre Lagos is about 1/5th the size of a 7/11. At least they have fresh food in addition to junk food and lightbulbs.

We sit down for dinner. Everything on the menu is meat with a choice of either agregados (mashed potatoes) or papas fritas (french fries). Tori goes for lomo (steak) with fries, and I go for carne a jugo (roast beef) with fries. They come piping hot and I douse them in ketchup cause I'm in the mood for some sugar, only probelm is that the little red ketchup looking squeeze bottle is acutally hot sauce... same bottle as lunch, but at least at lunch I was smart enough to just put a dab on the side. Conveniently the yellow mustard looking bottle is mayo, although I did eventually find mustard.

We walk back to our cabin and catch a snack shop that's just about to close it's corrugated tin cladding. I get something that looks like a powder sugar donut, but it's a bit like a cross between pretzel and 3 day old donut in taste and texture. I get Tori a heart shaped pastry that is the size of a big cookie, and it tastes sort of like pie crust. We're actually pretty happy with both, they hit the spot. "Tastes sorta like" descriptions don't always do things justice (although I can say with conviction that my papas fritas tasted sorta like the fires of hell).

That's all for now!