Saturday, March 30, 2013

Carretera Austral Day 2

Day 152 (March 17, 2013)
Cerro Castillo, Chile to Coyhaique, Chile
Day's Ride: 71 Miles

Dylan just showed me how to do an interactive version of the maps that I do most everyday to map the day's route, so we'll give this a try. Right off the bat, I'm not sure how much I like it. If you think the old way was better, let me know and I'll put those back in.

View Larger Map

I awoke to the sounds of fishing and emerged from my tent to find that one of the overlanders had caught another trout. This one measured about 17 inches and was caught with some crappy second hand lures on a normal fishing rod. Jeff, if you are reading this, here's your fish:

We said our goodbyes and hit the road. The peak Cerro Castillo and some other smaller spires soon came into view:

Just past the puebla of Cerro Castillo the road went back to pavement. The road was incredible and the views were fantastic.

So far I think that the Carretera Austral is one of the best roads that I've been on during this trip. The combination of ripio, pavement, and incredible scenery have combined to make this an incredible ride.

We took a short day and stopped in the town of Coyhaique, population 50,000. This is the largest town we are going to hit for a while so we decided that it would be a good idea to get some supplies and some American dollars before crossing back into Argentina.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Carretera Austral

Day 151 (March 16, 2013)
Chile Chico, Chile to Cerro Torre, Chile
Day's Ride: 189 Miles

Leaving our awesome campground at Chile Chico was a little hard; however, we were excited to start the Carretera Austral. From Chile Chico to the actual Carreterra Austral there is a 70 mile long ripio approach that skirts the southern edge of Lake General Carrera. The views were incredible and the road quality actually fairly decent.

You can see the road running up the left side of the hill in the picture below:

After about 70 miles of riding, we finally linked up with the actual Carretera Austral. We stopped at the intersection for a quick lunch break. Lunch consisted of two cans of tuna mixed in with a block of cream cheese, chopped onions, sun dried tomatoes, a little olive oil, all smeared on hot dog buns.

As we were passing through the puebla of Rio Tranquilo (home of the Marble Chaple that yuri told me about but that I forgot) I noticed some bikers. We stopped to chat for a minute. One of the riders who was on one of those crazy DR800's had been hit by a car the day before. The people drive like crazy on these ripio roads and he had taken a head on collision with a car and miraculously survived unscathed. His bike on the other hand was a little beat up. There was also a pretty cool little XR400 in their group:

The road soon denigrated into some real rough wash board with the large suicide gravel. The views continued to be spectacular.

We passed by tons of lakes and rivers that were fed from glacial runoff. The glacial sediments suspended in the water reflect a certain wavelength of light and give the water an incredible aquamarine color that's difficult to capture on camera.

As we were nearing our stopping point at the end of the day, we came across a convoy of overland vehicles. Dylan recognized one of the trucks and realized that they were some of the overlanders that we had met in Lima a couple of months ago! We all pulled over and got out to say hi. There were four vehicles and four couples; Jed and Megan, (the American couple that had been attacked by the village in Peru), James and Lauren, and then two other couples whose names that I don't remember. We talked for a little bit and then they invited us to camp out with them next to a river that we had passed a few miles ago. We made a quick run into the nearby village to buy food then returned back to the campsite to hang out.

We ended up building a bonfire, drinking a bunch of wine, and eating trout ceviche from a fish that one of the overlanders had just caught out of the river. It was awesome!

Chile Chico

Day 150 (March 15, 2013)
Chile Chico, Chile
Day's Ride: 0 Miles

Happy Ides of March to everyone!

Spent the day chilling in Chile Chico. The climate here is amazing; this is the first day that I've spent in shorts and a t-shirt in a while and it was a welcome change. I've heard that the Carreterra Austral can be a little wet, so it was nice to soak up the sun while I could.

I took the opportunity today to check my valves, clean my air filter, and give the bike a thorough once over to make sure nothing was breaking. My improvised chain slider seems to be holding up okay. The chain has worn through about 1/3 of the thickness of the nylon, but it seems to be holding steady there.

The valve check was going pretty well at first; everything seemed a bit loose, so I started tightening everything up. I finished, then went back to double check all of the adjustments and found that I couldn't get the feeler gage in the right exhaust valve any longer. I loosened it up almost to the limit and still could barely fit the correct gage in! I had a minor heart attack, then realized that I had been wiggling the crankshaft a little after I had finished the initial adjustments. I went back, rotated the crank shaft a few times, put it back at TDC, and was able to adjust the valve properly again. Phew!

I do have one question though for all of the XRL riders though: the manual says to tighten the valve until there is "slight drag" on the feeler gage. I've been tightening the valve down all the way until the feeler gage is stuck, then gradually back off until it slides back and forth with a little bit of catch to it. Is that what I should be looking for or do I have it too tight? It seems like it's a hard thing to measure as there is always a "slight drag" on the feeler gage when you insert it unless the valve is extremely loose.

Spent the rest of the day sending emails, trying to coordinate shipping for my bike, and walking around Chile Chico. Dylan tells me that we are right next to the second largest lake in South America, right behind Lago Titicaca.

This evening a stray dog ripped a hole in Dylan's tent and ate some of his food. A few minutes later a few cats jumped up on the picnic table where we've been cooking and knocked over some of our pots and stole some hotdogs. Dylan got pissed and started chasing the cats around trying to stomp them into the ground. I just watched and laughed and wondered why girls always get angry at me for being mean to animals. They should really be angry with Dylan. Tomorrow we begin the Carretera Austral. Things are starting to draw to a close for me. I figure I still have a few weeks left but all of this talk about shipping has me feeling like I'm getting ready to head back tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ruta 40 is Dying

Day 149 (March 14, 2013)
Gobenador Gregores, Argentina to Chile Chico, Chile
Day's Ride: 265 Miles

Leaving "GG" (aka Gobenador Gregores) at around noon, Dylan and I sped north, hoping to make it to Chile Chico that evening and be poised to begin the Careterra Austral in the following days.

From what Dylan and others had told me, the remaining majority of Ruta 40 was paved. There were only a few short sections left that were still blessed with loose covering of ripio.

In reality, it wasn't long before we found them.

Just to give you an idea of what ripio roads can be like, take a look at the size of these rocks:

If you can't tell from the picture, a lot of these things are about the size of a baseball. It's really fun to hit a patch of this stuff at 60 MPH and have your front end bouncing around like a pogo stick while you clutch desperately to the handlebars and hope that you don't take a digger. Combine that with some really bad wasboards and gale force cross winds and you have for a really interesting ride. Hearing stories about what it was like a few years ago before they started paving it all makes me wonder just how many times my luggage rack would have broken while trying to ride this road. I'm actually surprised that it hasn't broken again already.

The road alternated between long stretches of pavement and short stretches of ripio all day.

We passed multiple road crews operating graders and tractors and paving equipment. It's kind of sad really. Ruta 40 seems like it has been this iconic right of passage for Trans America trips. With all of it getting paved, where are we going to get stories of people being blown into patches of ripio by the winds and being ripped off their bikes? On second thought, maybe it is a good thing that it's being paved.

While stopping for lunch we met some Argentinians on Honda 250's that were doing the entire stretch of Ruta 40 from South to North. They called their bikes "pizza bikes" as they were the same model that pizza shops in big cities use to deliver pizza on. They had a good 20 minute lead on us when we left, but we caught them up in no time. I got way out in front of them and pulled over to take a picture; Dylan decided that this would be a good time to thread the needle at 60 MPH and nearly clipped my elbow.

Eventually we reached the end of the ripio and cruised into the town of Perrito Moreno. After a brief stop to fill up on cheap Argentinian gas, we crossed the border into Chile Chico and found an awesome campground with wifi for 3,000 Pesos ($6).

I love Chile. Everything just seems so much easier here. We made a quick dash up to the nearest mercado and I bought a ton of food and cooked up a big pot of Carbonara. This trip is turning me into a total foodie. I look forward to dinner every day with an undisguised relish. I think Dylan is getting tired of hearing me talk about food.

Where in the hell is Gobenador Gregores and why am I spending my birthday there?

Day 148 (March 13, 2013)
El Chalten, Argentina to Gobenador Gregores, Argentina
Day's Ride: 185 Miles

After another frosty night in El Chalten, we packed up our gear, said our goodbyes to our hiking friends, and set off for Gobenador Gregores, a small town in the middle of nowhere off of Ruta 40 where Dylan had been stranded for three days due to a gas shortage during his ride south. We crossed our fingers hoping that they would have gas this time as the next fuel stop was beyond our maximum range.

Leaving El Chalten, Fitz Roy loomed majestically in the background as a strong tailwind propelled us to the east and the turn off for Ruta 40.

After reaching Ruta 40 and the small pueblo of Tres Lagos, we stopped at the last gasolinera to top off our tanks. Immediately outside of the service station, the road devolved back into it's natural primal state: ripio!

This section between Tres Lagos and Gobendador Gregores had been rumored to be one of the worst stretches. However, it appeared that a grader had been along recently and we were able to fly! There were also several long stretches that had just been paved or were about to be paved. Dylan commented that the road had improved markedly since he had been here a few weeks ago.

Below you can see one of the freshly paved sections running parallel to the old road on the right:

The XR650L felt like it was back at home in the gravel and the dirt and I found myself flying along faster than I normally would ride on the pavement with Metallica cranked in my headphones. Dylan tooled along at a slightly more sedate pace for the most part; however, on the final stretch into town, he cranked it up and rode alongside of me.

Just outside of town, Dylan stopped and emptied his reserve into his tank in the hope that there would be fuel.

And then we hauled ass down the remaining stretch of ripio. It was actually pretty nice and Dylan made a little movie with his GoPro:

We arrived in town and found a fairly long line for gas at the service station. We pulled in behind another motociclista riding a Harley with Italian plates.

I was extremely impressed! When I had first decided on doing this trip, I had thought about doing it on my Harley but had been talked out of it by several people. In retrospect, I'm kind of sad that I didn't. Seeing someone like this guy who has literally ridden his Harley around the world is very inspiring! I didn't catch his name and I'm sorry I didn't. He was on an older Fat Boy with the 80 CI EVO motor. So cool!

He's actually put so many miles on this bike that the odometer has rolled over!

So impressive! He said he gets a little cold while riding down here and that the ripio is a real bear, but other than that, he was having a good time.

Since it was my birthday, I convinced Dylan that we should spring for a hotel. After stashing our gear, I headed to a Parrilla and treated myself to some Asado. This was overseas birthday number two for me; last year's was in the Sandbox formerly know as Afghanistan. Argentina is a much better place to spend your birthday.

Fitz Roy from Lago de los Tres

Day 147 (March 12, 2013)
El Chalten to Lago de los Tres
Day's Hike: approx 15 Miles

I woke up on the morning of the 12th shivering uncontrollably. The lack of cloud cover had caused the temperature to plummet and the vapor from my breath had frozen to the underside of my tent fly in a fragile lattice of ice. I was seriously regretting bringing my worst and oldest sleeping bag; after warming up a bit and eating breakfast, I hunted down some cardboard to insulate my tent hobo style against the upcoming night.

Once again, Dylan and I joined our new found gang of North American friends and hit the trail. Today's hike would take us up to the base of Fitz Roy. The trail head was a short walk outside of El Chalten and began with a brisk climb.

The weather turned out to be crystal clear and after an hour of hiking, we reached a lake with a great view of the approaching peaks.

The trail continued on and the views of Fitz Roy and it's surrounding spires became progressively more stunning.

The hike was fairly mild for the most part and was made even easier by the fact that we were only carrying day packs. It was nice to have a group of Americans and Canadians to talk to as we hiked.

Just before the last portion of the hike, we came to a small shelter and found this bird just hanging out a few feet away from the trail:

Apparently so many people have fed this thing that it just stakes out next to the trail every day and waits for scraps. I threw a rock next to it to see if it would scare off, but it just took a couple of hops and then tried to see if the rock was food.

The last portion of the hike was a steep scree covered trail that left me breathless. Fortunately, the view at the top was worth it.

The views from Lago de Los Tres were totally breathtaking, despite the hoards of people that were at the mirador with us. We were even treated to a few small avalanches from the hanging glaciers above the southernmost lake.

After spending an hour or so eating lunch and taking pictures, we headed back down to El Chalten and cooked up some dinner. I ended up staying up till midnight and drinking a few beers to celebrate my birthday. At 29, I'm starting to feel old, almost like I should go and do something with my life!