DAY 746 - FAST PROGRESS
Day 746 - Maule, Chile - 17074 km
In Santiago I take a last longer break to fix up the bike and buy some extra winter gear. Adan, the cyclists I met in Bolivia, hosts me for a few days. A new rear tire has arrived. The old one which I have been stitching for a few times could barely hold it together anymore. The chain was ready for replacement after 3000km and the cassette was also done after 12000 km from Mexico City. I bought a set of pogies (insulated gloves attached to the handle bar) to be ready for the harshest winter days down in Patagonia.
With a bulkier load I leave Santiago and break my personal record. In one day I cycled 184 km. I left at 8am and 5 meals further I set up camp at 9pm. Some parts of the body didn't like it — I probably won't do it again soon. All the way to Temuco I stay on Ruta 5 (see map below), Chile's longest highway and part of the Pan-american Highway. It's easy to cover a lot of distance per day when there's fully equipped gas stations with showers, 24h restaurants and cafe's to fuel up quickly. I don’t have to think about where I’d spend the night, I can usually camp on a patch of grass behind the restaurants. Sometimes I'd reach a gas station and decided over dinner to do light my head torch and do another 40 km to the next one. At this time of year the daylight is short on the southern hemishphere, so there's been some hours cycling in the dark. It’s far from fancy, sleeping in the noise of traffic and running truck engines, but it brought me far in just a few days.
After Temuco I leave Ruta 5. The deafening noise of fast passing trucks is over and the landscape becomes more appealing as I near the Andes again. Picturesque Villarrica and its lake and volcano attract many tourist during summer, now it’s fairly quiet. I set up camp at a scenic spot along the lake. Along the way I already collected a few pieces of fire wood. Without a fire, it's cold and damp and I have to stay in my small tent to stay warm. The sun sets before 7pm and doesn't come up earlier than 9.10am. On a cloudy day that's a very long night. All my focus is on keeping a fire going once I found a camping spot. Not an easy task in the humid climate of the Andes. But once it’s fired up I have something to do. It’s labour intensive and the cooking takes long, but I enjoy it a lot. The fresh air, the heat of the fire, the stars in the sky. Somehow it doesn’t bore and it’s so much more fulfilling then an evening behind my laptop in a hotel.
The day after is incredibly wet. I climb up further into the Andes towards the border of Argentina. It drizzles the entire day and the climbing makes me sweaty. I have a rain jacket, rain trousers and shoe covers on, but it’s so humid that it’s impossible to stay dry. On iOverlander (navigation app) I locate a campsite. I want to avoid camping in the wild and be locked in my tent the entire evening because of the rain. The campsite is near the border, which I reach in the dark. It seems closed and its still pouring. The dark forests glimmers in the light of the street lamps. I roll down the dirt road to the river of where I think the camp site is. It’s hard to see anything because the rain reflects the light of my torch and blinds me. I find an abandoned shed which seems perfect to camp in. I can put my tent inside and make a fire, sheltered from the rain. There’s an old red tv inside. Years ago people must have lived around here.
I walk around a bit to know the surroundings. A little further I spot a house in the woods with lights on. I walk up the stairs and knock on the door, but the noise of the rain kills the sound. I knock a few times more and a man approaches. He wears an old Patagonia coat, patched up with tape. I ask if the campsite is open, but he says it’s closed for winter. I get his approval to camp in the wooden shed where I left my bike. Two hours later he brings me some extra firewood. In the meantime it hasn’t stop raining and I’m killing time at the fire. It seems like a miserable situation, but funny enough I have fine evening in that dirty shed, while the rain keeps coming down. I have chorizos above the fire with onion and bell peppers. Potatoes with garlic and red wine from a carton box. I’m warm and cosy, fee; fullfilled after a long cycling day and once again I’ve defeated the rain.