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Posts tagged ‘Glaciers’

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.

Lago General Carrera

Confluence of Rio Baker and Rio Neff

Riding til last light.

Evening reflections at Puerto Bertrand.

“My rights are my freedom”

On the road to Paso Roballo.

Weaving our way across the billion-dollar wilderness.

Stiff climbs are the rule, not the exception.

One of Tompkins’ lodges overlooking the valley.  Construction foreman said, “That’s where rich people will stay.” in typically blunt fashion.

Sun rings and silhouettes

Riding up to our campsite for the night.

Looking back at Chilean Patagonia before crossing into Argentina.

We crossed into a new world at Paso Roballo.

Fact: in Patagonia, there are way more sheep than people.

“Last one there is a rotten egg!”

Big skies

Our new friend, Kent, has been with us since the Carretera Austral.  Sadly, he lost his right arm on the road shortly after this photo was taken.

More brief divergences in the lonely road to Highway 40 in the pampas.

Snowy Chile still behind us, stiff headwinds in front of us.

We encountered Chilean Flamingos, Black-necked Swans, and ostrich-like Rheas upon crossing back into Argentine Patagonia.

Argentine Sunset.

Cold camping at night has been a constant.

First light on the Argentine Pampas

Pampas and accompanying headwinds made for a brutal first-full-day in Argentina

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High One Highway

Denali_means_“the high one” in the Alaskan native Athabascan tongue. It refers to Mt. McKinley, the massive peak that tops the Alaska Range in Denali National Park. It is a very fitting name for the Denali Highway, due to its impressive views of the Alaskan wilderness.

Alaska is massive. It’s more than twice the size of Texas and compared to the lower 48, it dwarfs the entire Midwest region (here’s a picture for scale). In addition, the U.S. federal government owns and manages 65% of the state as public land. This means more than half the state is comprised of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Believe me, it’s enormous.

Late evening view from the Denali Highway

We are currently into our second week of riding and we have seen a lot. In relation to the state as a whole, however, we have seen very little. Over the past few days, I’ve begun to comprehend Alaska’s vastness and its seemingly boundless grandeur. Traveling along the Denali Highway, we experienced a small and magnificent part of Alaska’s beauty. We caught glimpses of glaciated mountain ranges and entirely new snowcapped peaks as the old faded from our view behind us. What baffles me still is that we’ve seen only a glimpse of all that is out there. As many Alaskans will tell you, Alaska may truly be “the last frontier” and that is what calls me back to return one day.

The scenery from the Denali Highway was spectacular. We saw wildlife including anxious caribou (hunting season started earlier this week), porcupines, and a black bear (at a distance, thankfully).  On the other hand, the ride itself along the Denali Highway wasn’t nearly as spectacular.

Washboard gravel on the Denali Highway

A majority of the “highway” is gravel. You would think three farmer’s sons from North Dakota would be well accustomed to gravel roads, right? Well, with tractors and pickups, yes. With bikes, maybe not so much. At first, the gravel was manageable. It was well kept and smooth. Later on the road became increasingly extreme alongside the challenging terrain. Large rocks, potholes, mud, and “washboard” gravel soon covered the road as we climbed up and down the mountain passes of the Denali Highway. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally. With no suspension, we feel everything. On top of that, it takes an enormous amount of focus to plot a line down the road and navigate where you think it’s smoothest. Like I said earlier, it was exhausting, so we would rest often.

Finding a spot to rest wasn’t hard. Resisting the urge to snap photos every hundred yards was (sorry bros). We had the road to ourselves, so if we needed to refuel or refill water bottles, we would stop and sit along the roadside or down by a creek (we came across them often). Between meals on the road, which normally consist of bagels with peanut butter and honey, jerky, and cookies, we would occasionally snack on candy bars and trail mix.

Our trusty travel companion, Skippy

We would also snack on blueberries, or rather gorge ourselves with them. Blueberries were so thick in spots, it was hard to stop. It’s prime blueberry season according to the locals, and we aren’t complaining.

Blueberries!

The ride so far has been challenging. Long, cold, and sometimes wet days have come and gone. We’re meeting new people every day; with towns few and far between, you would be surprised at the number of kind, generous, and encouraging people we meet each day. I’m thankful for the journey thus far and I look forward to each new day.

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Here’s a video from our last morning on the Denali Highway. Fighting the gnats, we attempt to recount our time on the highway.

Bound South – Denali Reflections from Bound South on Vimeo.