I roll out of the hotel underground parking, backlit by subterranean garage lighting and into the morning fog. Like Maverick and Goose, I’m on an F14 being hoisted onto the deck of the Nimitz.
It’s an inspired moment. Early morning light struggles to pierce the fog and rain, but the blue glow illuminates the bay to my right as I work my way down this coastal highway. This is the Carretera Austral, one of the most stunning and challenging roads in the world, a glorious mix of billiard table asphalt and pot-hole washboard incisor-breaking gravel.
Miles 5 and 6 roll by. This early, the smooth road is barren of traffic, mine to enjoy as the sky gets a little brighter. Mile 7, I am Joy personified. One of those experiences that already surpasses the expectations you envisoned when you gazed at the wall map, Mile 8—
SNAP TWANG GRRRRR.
No drive. Something dragging. I coast to a halt in front of a farmhouse, where two dogs start barking at me before I can even dismount.
Putting down the KLR’s cruel hoax of a kickstand, I climb off and glance down. Chain is off…. but not broken. Headlamp in side pocket of tank bag comes out, and I inspect the rear sprocket. No damage I can spot. I get half of the chain back on, roll the bike backwards, and the chain eases into place. The dogs cheer.
However, the chain is much looser than when I did my inspection that morning. And this is the triple ferry day, where the goal is to ride 25 miles to La Arena, catch the ferry to Puelche, then 35 miles to Hornopiren for the once-daily 11 am ferry to Leptepu, then a short 6 mile hop to Fjordo Largo and the final boat to Caleta Gonzalo.
I baby the bike onto the highway and play things conservatively, easing my way slowly to a max of 30-35 mph. All seems fine. I roll up to a backlog of trucks and vans at what appears to be road construction, so I roll past them to see what’s the hold up. Turns out, I’ve reached the first dock! And the boat has just dropped its ramp!
The euphoria of success sweeps over me. I slap the KLR on the tank , the deckhand waves me forward with a flourish, and I putt onto the ferry. Rain still falls, harder, but I’m all grins.
The ferry pulls out for its short 30 minute voyage, and I take the opportunity to look at the chain again.Seems the same as when I got it back on, and rear wheel seems tight. I have two and a half hours to ride the 35 miles to Hornopiren, so I decide that when this boat docks, I’ll look for a mechanic immediately.
That search proves fruitless. If I miss the Hornopiren ferry, I’ll be stuck until the next day, so I opt to gamble the ride. If I break down, I miss it. If I don’t try, I’ll miss it.
I chug slowly out of Puelche….. at least the road is paved…
To be continued….
I traced what I thought was going to be your route on Google Earth yesterday. Absolutely amazing country.
Sean, it is truly exquisite country. The challenge of reaching it on a bike, has also been amazing!