If you missed part one of the bikepacking Patagonia story, check it out here.

I said that this was a story about unexpected difficulties, and we surely had our fair share of them. But from some of them came the very best adventures. The ferries crossing Lago O’Higgins from Chile to Argentina were cancelled for a week by bad weather, which resulted in our spending Christmas in Villa O’Higgins, the end of the line on Chile’s famous Carreterra Austral, which winds a precarious path 1000km into Patagonia before meeting an impenetrable wall of rock and ice. As dead ends go it was fairly definite, and the town only got a road link to the rest of Chile in 2000, but there we found the warmest welcome and friendliest company in the form of a dozen fellow cycle tourers and a shared Christmas dinner. When we set off on Boxing Day to catch the boat across the milky blue lake it had been raining for a week. Across the lake and into the no man’s land between the two borders, what should have been a 20km singletrack meander through the Antarctic beech forest followed the established order of things by becoming unrecognisably testing.

bikepacking patagonia
At home in Scotland, we both work as outdoor guides and instructors, and know better than to treat river crossings lightly, but getting our tired, wet bodies and loaded bikes across the many small streams that had become log-filled torrents was nearly more than we were willing to risk. Shuttling the bikes across the worst crossings meant spending several minutes waist-deep in the snowmelt-fed water. Gradually our group split up as folks kept moving to stay warm, and uncertainty abounded about whether those behind had stayed put and opted to camp, or braved the waters and were still loving through the wraiths of fog and leering branches. We really were in no man’s land.

We arrived at the Argentinian border post in the early evening, having taken 6 hours to cover those ‘easy’ 20km. The guards pointed to a barn with a small pile of firewood, which was very quickly arranged into a fire, and soon the air was full of steam and chattering teeth. The rest of our unlikely band of bikes and riders trickled in steadily for hours, every one another voice adding to the wide-eyed tales from the journey. The shared sense of comradeship was strange to see spread over such a large group of people from far corners of the world, pushed together by something as simple as a few cancelled ferries. As the rain cleared and drier people left the barn to begin pitching tents by the shores of the lake, a guy from Colorado tapped me on the shoulder and pointed along the lake’s length to the far end. As the clouds began to lift the peaks and spires of mountains began to emerge below them, the largest we had seen and no less beautiful than anyone could hope for. In one of those comedy double-take moments, it took as all a few seconds to register the other mountain looming behind and above the clouds, dwarfing the other peaks by almost two full kilometres as we looked from 300m up to its 3,800m summit.

bikepacking patagonia
Mount Fitzroy is a colossal middle finger pointing skyward, mocking logic, perception and planning permission. Those vertical granite slabs have no place among the more reserved mountains at its feet, and it is the unmistakable elephant in the room, alongside its spindly henchman Cerro Torre. I had seen plenty of photos before we even set foot in South America, but even so it was at least a minute before anything else but profanities came out of my mouth. I would do it all again, all two months of pedalling and sweating and wondering when the respite would arrive, if I could relive the moment of recognition of that mountain again. Old Rockwell said that things look good from far away, but that’s not to say that they can’t look even better up close.

And plenty of things did look even better up close. Before the excitement of that border crossing, the Carreterra Austral Provided 10 days or so of fantastic touring; mile after mile of rollercoastering gravel road that really felt like just a superficial smear of modernity over a much more ancient landscape. The universal magic of the bicycle worked its stuff, and we couldn’t answer questions fast enough about the bikes and where we had come from (“Ahhh Scotland! Fantastico! You like William Wallace, yes?”) In places like Cochrane the chainsaw aisle was next to the pasta aisle in the supermarket, I kid you not, and where a pioneering spirit is still strong you can always find warm welcomes and open homes. A cuisine that places a lot of faith in fried pastries is always going to be a hit among cycle tourers, too!

bikepacking patagonia

Further south, there were indeed rewards waiting in return for persevering with more possible off-road routes when others had failed. It might have taken some hard pushing, but we rode off the summit of a mountain, just a fraction higher than our own highest summit of Ben Nevis, that almost certainly hadn’t felt the tread of a bike tyre before. The night before, we camped at the very edge of the forest, above which the wind and cold was too much even for the almost indestructible lenga trees, and watched the last light of a southern sunset spill between the spires that hold the weight of the Southern Ice Field behind them. Even the failed routes had their undeniable highs: despite having retreated from one supposedly clear trail two days after it had disintegrated into unreadable cow tracks, there were flashes of excellence as we found ourselves suddenly on pristine sections of trail perched above the river and the low bulk of the glacier behind. Trail that was whole kilometres away from joining up with the next rideable section, but the fact that there was trail to ride at all made it impossible not to smile and laugh despite everything else.

bikepacking patagoniabikepacking patagoniaBut I still haven’t answered the question: was it a good trip? At times I’ve been overly diplomatic, and there really were points when we cursed having come to a corner of the world where we, at least, found a whole load of obstacles facing anyone wanting to go ride their bike on good trails in the backcountry. Patagonia didn’t look the same up close as it had from far away and behind a computer screen, but then what does? For me, it was certainly a learning curve to come to appreciate that good adventures aren’t measured in kilometres of gnarly trail, or metres of climbing. They aren’t even measured in terms of whether or not your original plans worked out as you hoped. If you dwell on what didn’t work, then it was a bad trip. If you scratch out the expectations and start afresh then you a trip is what you make of it. You meet some like-minded folks along the way, perhaps you find some buff singletrack. Add some remote camp spots and sunsets to die for, and when you look back you realise that was some adventure you had, and is there such a thing as a bad adventure? I didn’t think so. I won’t be letting go of that childlike faith in my illusions anytime soon, and I fully expect it to lead to some hard times as well as some good ones. Remember now, if you’re planning an adventure then Kent’s Law states that it won’t be anything like what you had in mind, but go on, be a triumphant and restless being and do it anyway. Have a good trip.

bikepacking patagonia

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Trials and Tribulations: Bikepacking Patagonia - Part 1 - Bikepackers Magazine

  2. well done Huw and Annie . good stuff

  3. Jessica.mccarter@gmail.com

    Enjoyed your adventures from my armchair!!

    Look fwd to hearing the next one. You are indeed intrepid travellers much love Ed and Jessica

  4. The bad memories always fade leaving nothing but smiles along the miles. Better to recall even the worst than to have never gone! Keep riding.

  5. Pingback: Trials and Tribulations: Bikepacking Patagonia - Part 1 - Bikepacker

  6. Any chance your willing to share your gps file?

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