Austral Diaries III: Of Mice and Mountains
In_the_Austral lands of southern Chile, the rhythms of the days astride our bicycles seem to follow the harsh contours of autumn’s heat and cold. Predictable and mundane pleasures provide sustenance for the spirit on this hard road as consistently as sunshine. Never discount the catharsis of the ignition of an MSR stove and the promise of morning oatmeal for a frozen morning. Or the magical feeling of sitting down in a warm room with a cold bottle of Coke after riding washboard gravel for hours on end. And for the record, empanadas de carne in this part of the world deserve their legendary reputation.
There are low points too and they are as necessary to our growth on this journey as a freeze is to a thaw. Our parents once asked us in a Skype call what the hardest part of each day was; if there was a typical point of each day where we would usually be most despairing or discouraged. I jokingly responded that it’s the moment I wake up and see Angus lying expectantly on his side by the tent. But really, the hard times don’t schedule appointments.
For months we’ve taken the good and the bad together, simultaneously, and learned to take a big serving of both with a smile on our face. Riding the serrucha (meaning “saw blade” to connote the jagged washboard surface of the road) of the Austral for an entire day makes you feel like you’ve been forced to ride a two-wheeled jackhammer for six hours. Yet even as rock gardens dent our rims and the endless washboard gravel makes us want to throw our bicycles off of a cliff, we look up and cannot help but be swept away by the sheer beauty of the places and people we are encountering here. Patagonia is like God’s sandbox, a wild place of unearthly forms and mercurial weather. One moment we see castles in the sun; tomorrow we’ll feel like we are living through a child’s temper tantrum with a garden hose.
One night, after riding hard all day across the serrucha we found an abandoned house in which to camp for the night. The chill of a 20 degree (F) night was made more bearable by the shelter indoors. Yet the next morning we discovered that a family of mice had taken to destroying our livelihoods. Shifter hoods, water bottles, saddles, and clothing were all partial casualties. When your life fits entirely into three bags you tend to be very protective of what you’ve got. We found ourselves to be lucky and blessed the next morning that we weren’t more harmed by the terrors of Patagonian mice; we reflected on stories we’d heard of mountaineers climbing cliffs in the Himalayas at altitude, where a simple slip can drop a crucial tool or item down thousands of feet into the abyss. We’re not quite at that level yet, but every day brings reminders of our own frailty and mortality. No things of this world will last forever, and we didn’t need mice to prove that maxim to us. In the end both our bodies and bicycles will make it to Ushuaia, but nothing will be as intact as the memories and lessons of the Austral’s ups and downs.