Austral Diaries IV: Billion Dollar Wilderness
The_most_important commodity for Bound South is not food, clothing, shelter, or even paved roads; it is information. And unfortunately, when we go off the grid we can’t Google for every contingency. We found ourselves amongst the most spectacular portions of the Carretera Austral; glacial peaks and turquoise rivers, all connected by a wicked, washboard road with no respect for the tired legs of three hungry cyclists. Since winter is here, the ferries across the southern lakes of the Austral don’t run and the only way to leave the Austral was for us to press east of Cochrane for a little known road and crossing known as Paso Roballo. Empty dirt passed through a mountain valley for hours and hours of riding, and for a second time on the Austral, we unexpectedly ran out of food and supplies. Perhaps it was hubris about our riding abilities or confidence in the size of the small-named-pueblos on the map of Patagonia, but either way we found ourselves riding alone in the mountains with nonexistent road traffic and no supplies for hundreds of kilometers in any direction.
Suddenly a new Jeep SUV pulled up behind us and without hesitation we flagged them down for some information. After initiating the conversation in Spanish, the man in the driver’s seat responded to me in a thick British accent, “Would you prefer to proceed in English?” I flagged Nathan and David over, explaining that my dirt-encrusted, haggard-looking brothers were even more charming when they could join in the conversation. The driver asked, “Do you know who Douglas Tompkins is?” Admittedly we had no idea. “Well, you happen to be on his property.” There are few fences, signs, or man-made demarcations of any kind in Patagonia, and it wasn’t as if Mr. Tompkins had acquired a small plot in southern Chile for a vacation cottage. Tompkins owned everything as far as the eye could see; over 2 million acres of Patagonian wilderness, purchased from families and sheep farmers and businesses with the goal of creating some of the largest natural reserves in the world.
Just a few kilometers later we stumbled on his village. In a place with no electricity, no plumbing, and only one very bad single lane dirt road, we found beautiful stone chateaus and lodges being raised up out of the Earth. We were hopeful that they would have some food and water. After striking up a conversation with a construction foreman and office lady, we suddenly had new friends. Within moments they had showered us with bread, jam, tuna cans, cookies, and a bag of instant chicken-flavored-rice. Manna descended from Patagonian heaven.
And so we pressed on, only to find more washboards and hard riding, and soon out of food once more on the Argentine border. And again, the border guards had mercy on us, taking us in out of the cold, putting us at a kitchen table in front of a wood stove, and giving us all of the hot coffee and tea that we could drink. They also gave us a tip that a lady and her son lived fourteen kilometers down the road in Argentina, and that she could sell us a few pieces of fried bread, potatoes and onions. We had no spare food to speak of, with our only goal being survival of the 125-kilometer-dirt-road to Bajo Caracoles, a small town in the pampas of Argentina. We found still more washboards to accompany the famously brutal winds in this part of the world. We found more difficulties and miracles to answer them; just wait for the wonders that come after the Austral Diaries.
We don’t always get what we want, but we get what we need. So now we ride together, with the Austral behind us, brimming with the inevitable confidence that infects us as we approach the end and new beginnings.