Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales 8km (Total 705Km cycled)
Highlights: Rain, snow, hail, wind, stunning views of Los Cuernos in Torres del Paine, Peli’s pannier plays hide and seek and a flying overtake by my red pannier.
Day 28 and 29: 5, 6th February 2012 – Rest days
We had a day extra in Puerto Natales to book a bus to Torres del Paine National Park and stock up on food for the next leg too El Calafate in Argentina. We are planning to spend one or two days in the park and the ride over to Argentina. In all this next part would take 7-8 days so we got food for ten days this time as we learned our lesson on Tierra del Fuego. We’re not running out of food again!
We hunted down some more spare spokes since I have already used my spares. The first bicycle shop had nothing that fitted but pointed us toward “El Rey de la Bicicleta” which is an old-fashioned LBS. The friendly old chap who runs it could have been a racer in some bygone year. The spokes he had were either too long or too short so he carefully set about creating some bespoke spokes for the Tank. After a little bit of measuring he disappeared into the back and returned with six new spokes cut to size, both for the drive and non drive side. We paid the princely sum of 500 Pesos for this service and as we left the owner pressed stickers and his card into our hands. The stickers, of course, now grace our bicycles.
Back at Camping El Josmar we woke up to find a can of Stella standing outside our tent. It was from the lovely Kiwi couple, Jo and Alan (http://www.alberttown.co.nz), with whom we shared route details and tips. We wish them a great onward jourey.
We also met Baptiste (http://frenchguyonabike.blogspot.com) who has spend 30 months from Alaska to Puerto Natales. We had a good old natter and learned more about our route north. Stick to the hills, he said.
You see, there are benefit to going north against the traffic and the wind: you receive more frequent updates on what lies ahead from those going south.
Day 30: 7th February – Leaving Puerto Natales.
We got up early in the pouring rain and packed up for the bus ride out to the national park. After two hours we arrived at the main entrance to the park at Laguna Amarga where we were met with administration and paperwork typical of South America.
A Guardaparques (Park Ranger) jumped on our bus to warn us of the park rules and gave us an unwelcome forecast for the next four days: storms and snow. We then had to fill in a park registration form (if you don’t know your passport number of by heart you will after a week in South America).
Then, the next stage in the administrative process. We were ushered into a building where we handed over our forms to be stamped and parted with a 30000 Pesos entrance free. A third person then took one of the stamped tickets and one of the forms each and gave us a map of the park. We returned to our bus only to find that it was going no further, we’d have to change. How we were supposed to know beats me…
While unloading our panniers and bikes from the first bus we noticed, horror of horrors, that a pannier was missing. Chaos and panic ensued as we frantically tried to find the lost pannier and keep track of everything. It didn’t help when the helpful bus staff decided we’d waited around enough and began to load our gear onto the next bus. We now had three places to keep track of things, first bus, the place we’d piled our stuff and the second bus. As Peli said, let’s try not to use too many buses – it’s just too stressful!
In the midst of the running-around-trying-to-keep-track-of-wheels- trailer-panniers-(12 of them)-bikes-and-searching-for-the-lost-pannier chaos, Peli and her eagle eyes spotted it! Just the bottom corner of the lost pannier was visible from behind the doors of the bus. It somehow got hooked on when the doors closed. That was very good news, since the precious little pannier contained her sleeping bag and warm stuff which would later come in handy during the chilly mountain nights.
The forty minute bus ride took us over some rough roads towards the beautiful blue Lago Pehoe. Sadly, we really couldn’t enjoy the view because of the low rain clouds.
It is a bit challenging to assemble your bicycle and affix panniers when you have the famous Patagonian winds with snow, then rain, then the very next second sunshine. Several seasons hit us within a few minutes before the wind picked up yet another massive gust, with some gravel thrown in for good measure this time.
When we set off it was nice and calm all the way to the campsite, located four kilometres along Lago Pehoe. Everytime we spotted a bit of mountain in the clouds we snapped a picture, since according to the park guard and the weather forecast, we were in for four days of nasty weather.
Camping Pehoe is a lovely spot with shelters from the wind and views over the lake towards Los Cuernos. It is rather expensive at 8000 Chilean pesos per person per night, but then everything is rather dear in this park. As we pitched up the clouds cleared and from the fantastic viewpoint of the end of the Lago Pehoe we saw the mountains, especially Los Cuernos, in their full glory.
We cooked up dinner while the temperature dropped, and got ready for a cold night with snow. We’d spotted the omnious clouds rolling in over the mountains and Lago Pehoe.
Day 31, 8th February 2012 – A Windy Walk
We woke up early in the hope of at least getting a glimpse of the mountains during a break in the bad weather. It’s funny how wind and sand on your tent flysheet sounds like heavy rain.
Throughout the night the wind in the trees sounded like we were pitched up next to a busy road. When it kicked up a notch it sounded just like a plane taking off at a nearby airport.
We crawled out of our snug shelter and were treated to a not-so-vicious wind and almost clear skies. So we quickly went to the lake and snapped some photos of the clearing mountains before breakfast. They were seriously impressive.
Just as we were setting off for a short walk we spotted a fellow Surly rider – this time a Surly Troll – in full cycle touring set-up. It was Andrei from Russia who was doing the same as us and cycling north.
He joined us on a wonderful walk up to Mirador Condor, a prominent lump on the hillside which offered great views over the Massif. We didn’t get much cover from any bushes since they had burnt away: it’s easy to understand how the fire spread so quickly in these winds. In under 15 minutes it reached the top of the hillside, and left nothing but ash and burned branches in its wake.
We had a great chat with Andrei and enjoyed the stunning views over Lago Pehoe and Los Cuernos. We even tried our first taste of Mate and shared biscuits and food tips before Andrei set off towards Cerro Castillo.
We then cooked up a storm and rested before our massive ride tomorrow. 70km to the border, up and over a few hard, ups and downs, before we would enjoy light rolling hills and hopefully a good tail wind at times. On our goodnight walk to the lake to wave goodbye to the mountains, we popped into the reception. Chatting to the Guardaparques, we learned that the weather would be the same tomorrow as we had had today. Not what we had been told upon entering the park, but then you never can predict mountain weather.
Day 32: 9th February 2012 – Sand Blasted
Throughout the night we heard the wind. The famous calm night didn’t happen on this occasion., We got up at sunrise and had blue skies, but the wind had woken up too, but nothing worse than we have cycled in before.
We packed up and set off, only to reach just two kilometres down the road before we had to dismount and walk our bikes. The wind picked up water from the lake and dust and ash from the burned hills, which made it very hard to see, let alone ride, at times.
We could see the heavy ‘sandstorms’ of ash, dust and stones building up across the water before they hit us so we had time to brace ourselves. The next few storms got fiercer in strength and they hit us hard. We tried to hide behind the panniers to get away from the hailing stones that rained down upon us. Any bare skin or skin under just a few layers, such as lycra in Peli’s case, got hammered by the pea-sized stones. By stones I’m talking about the size of those they put into the tarmac/asphalt on the roads.
We managed to get where the road turned in our favour, east so that we would get a tailwind, which would hopefully made it easier to cycle.
We had only got around 500 metres further down the road when a big, black, sandstorm hit us extremely hard. It was probably the strength of the last three combined and it came upon us incredibly fast. Within seconds we couldn’t see the road for dust and stones, plus we were pushed along at a stupid speed. Peli’s odometer later showed over 14mph, and she was feathering the brakes as she was forced up the incline. We’ve cycled in up to 40km/h winds on Tierra Del Fuego but this was easily 2-3 times stronger.
Peli was around 20metres ahead of me and got the storm from an different angle. She made a good call in feathering the brakes and deliberately attempting to fall off the bike. She was eventually pushed off by the wind, but had reduced her speed considerably and was therefore almost completely unhurt.
I knew I was going to go down hard, when I was pushed heavily to the left and saw a red pannier, which normally sits on the trailer behind me, overtake me like tumbleweed on speed. I landed on the left side of my back, while gliding along (pushed by the wind) the gravel road. The bicycle got lifted up and over me, and landed hard on top of me, with panniers and tent still attached. I can just about lift the Tank when it is fully loaded, so you can imagine the strength of the forces at play here.
It’s funny how you have time to think about random things at a time like this. As I lay on my back with the bike falling on top of me I distinctly remember thinking, “There goes my new rain jacket!”. The brand-new jacket now has 3-4 big rips on the back. I might be able to fix it with gaffa tape, but how waterproof will it be?
When I got up on my legs again, I just had to find Peli and find out if Peli was ok. I haven’t seen her come down or could see where she was. I could just about see in the sand/stone storm my bicycle, pannier, trailer and bottles still flying along in the wind. When I spotted Peli walking towards me, I had some how managed to run off the road, as I had just run in the direction I was sure was towards Peli. She was pretty much unhurt, just shaken up and very dusty.
All this was probably over in seconds. From the time the wind hit us until I was on the ground, 5 seconds. Until I was up on my legs again: 10 seconds. Until we found each other again a further 5 seconds.
The storm was also very localised. It was only around say 100metres wide and after it had gone, there was no sign of it ever had been there.
Damage report, woolly:
Three cuts on two of my fingers on the left hand.
Left leg below my knee some road rash.
Right lower leg some light scrapes.
Right elbow has a nice blue egg coming up. Right shoulder hurts along with right side ribs front and back. Probably from where the bicycle landed when it was blown over me.
Right side of my back covered in scratches from me hitting the ground, at bit weird since I went down on my left side.
The back of my legs are covered in red marks from where the gravel hit.
Damage report, Peli:
Sore bum and lightly sore left hip from the fall.
Back and bum also covered in red marks from the hail, erm, gravel.
Damage report, the Tank:
Front flat tyre.
Front right brake boss on the forks broken, probably new forks needed.
The red pannier that overtook me has a hole the size of a 5 pence piece.
Honey-coloured Brooks B17 rather scraped (sob).
The fuel bottle lost its top and most of the contents, I remember smelling alcohol while rolling about with the bike.
The mud guard on the trailer, one of the stay fixing points is ripped off.
The front tubus rack is bent but I’m sure that I can mend it back to normal shape again.
Yet to check the contents of the panniers.
Damage report, Milly:
We managed to walk to Guarderia Pudeto, which had burnt down but the bus stop, come cafe, come ticket office for the catamaran was still standing. We did a full body check there. Bar the three cuts on my fingers it was just light scrapes on the rest of my body.
While we were waiting in the cafe few other storms came by. Only one of them was as strong as the one were got knocked over in. Even the staff looked rather worried when the windows got hammered and the whole “hut” was shaking on its foundation. Other guest were moving away from the windows as we got hammered for 10-15 seconds.
We were considering how to get out of the park – should we get a bus back south to Puerto Natales or go north to El Calafate? We tried to get a hitch from a private tour bus, but all they could do was call on the radio the Carabineros (park rangers/police) at the main entrance and ask them to come to us.
Half an our later the scheduled buses started to arrive along with the guards. The carabineros were almost totally useless, but at least managed to talk one bus driver into taking us. Peli managed to heckle a good price on the bus back to Puerto Natales, the only destination from the park.
We arrived at the same campsite we left two days before and rolled into bed utterly knackered.
Day 33: 10th February 2012 – Are we forked?
Now as warned there isn’t much even in the great bicycle shop in Puerto Natales. Most forks are cut down to size already or for 26″ wheel and don’t have braze-ons for racks. If there was a frame builder in town I would have asked him to try to fix it. But looking at the forks now I can see that they are also bent/twisted from the fall.
So we are now looking into options:
Order one online ship it to here.
Return to Punta Arenas to see if the shops there have one.
Get one shipped to El Calafate, since we are going that way anyway.
No matter what, I need a rest after my tour in a cement mixer.
Update: our panniers are waterproof but we keep finding sand and gravel in them and our stuff. All our gear in the panniers is just fine, even the cameras and laptop, no further damage. Oh, while the whole thing was happening yesterday, I said to Peli: I’m pretty amazed that my sunglasses stayed on, while I tumbled along the road.
Now edited for clarity!