Cycle-touring designers are keeping in mind that a cyclist returns home after their holiday. Rohloff thinks like this, Magura thinks like this and the Chinese manufactures count on this real hard. Oil for the hub needs to be part of your spare parts, in large quantity. No one can fix your hydraulic brakes when the cable snaps, even I can’t, would I have the complete repair set. The new Shimano brakes I’d replaced needs constant adjustment, and the rubber of the brake pads is melting like wet snow. The new Chinese self inflating mattress I just bought is especially good in self deflating, and excellent in letting the earth’s cold coming through.
Perhaps I am too spoiled, too naive, too optimistic.
When I meet with Dario, I am convinced I am. He does with a lot less than I have, and does so for already 2 years. He wears Peruvian sandals made of truck tires. Where I carry a glass jar of sticky honey, incense and an ever-growing bag with embroidery requirements, such as stones, cacti needles and a collection of animals hairs, he carries merely a guitar for his pleasurable needs.
His minimal set up bicycle and his panniers made of canisters made him look like a local, even a Mapuche from afar. I do need spectacles indeed but I almost let him pass with only a wave. Dario has none of the flashy colors, or recognizable German gear, he just wears two dark faded shirts and his washed-out sleeping bag is rolled up neatly on his front rack, without any flashy rain cover. Neither is he himself covered in rain gear. Bare hands, sandals, uncovered neck line and only a thick, healthy bundle of black dreads as head-gear.
I admire him. Like I admire Daniel, the Chinese, and Antoine, his horses’ hoofs are right besides me for days on end. Those guys need so little to get yet so far. Daniel doesn’t cook, Antoine relies on locals, while Dario use a self-made hobo stove each day. None of them carries as much food as I do. I feel enough food and plenty of milky drinks does add to my happiness. While all three guys start early morning and end late, the cyclists making as many kilometers as 100 a day, I feel 40 a day is plenty enough.
I find it weird I still enjoy camping so much. The moment I decide I’d enough and am on the look out for a spot, finding one and setting up camp at the most leveled, most little stony underground. Erecting the tent, moving gear from the panniers into the tent and make it once again my little home for the evening and night to come. Sitting at a gasoline stove, about 10 centimeters away from it, hardly getting warmth, boiling a milk coffee and enjoying a sugary threat, solely as a comforter for the shitty circumstances. And as soon as I sit in my tent, the answer of why I like it come to me at once.
Hostels have the (dis)advantage of having WiFi which has me frantically checking my messages, trying to blog as hard as I can and answering as many people who wrote me, not to mention repairing the tent, washing laundry, fixing gear. This makes a stay in a hostel very tiresome, where I am barely able to sleep very long, trying to make best use of my paid time.
But camping, too, is fiddling with the pans inside the vestibule, trying to keep the inside clean, avoiding another burned patch on the ground sheet, keeping things dry and hoping I placed my tent not in a dip, so I won’t collect a pool of water underneath my place. Camping these days means peeing in the frying pan, because it often rains and I don’t want to get out of the tent. Spilling loads of wheat flour in the vestibule which becomes a wet hump of sticky stuff. But then, when I go to sleep, after 10 minutes of twisting inside the sleeping bag, having disentangled the inner-sheet from the sleeping bag and arranged the pure polyester blanket in its exact correct place, I feel a huge achievement and sense of satisfaction.
In the mornings, I just want to go out of there! This way, I keep moving nicely along the continent.
The road ahead of me, the views of the mountains, strained by clouds, an icy color revealing only a part of them, is pulling on me. Harder than ever. I don’t know what awakens the desire to head into the cold further and further. But the pull is strong.
Then, after cycling in the cold for well over a month, I suddenly get fed up with it. And although it is only a minimal cold of maximum 10 degrees below zero at night, I just long for the desert. I miss the sun, simply as that. Cycling in the snow is nice for a day, but really not so much longer than that.
The clouds cover all there is to see, leaving me longing for openness even more. The nature is quite fantastic, but all I see are clouds.
Thankfully, not always, as the photos shows.
Mice gather in the vestibule of the tent, perhaps seeking warmth too, leaving me awake, gnawing on everything which has a smell, and that is just about everything. Next morning all my kitchen stuff is covered in mice shit. Other day’s it is cow shit from camping on cow fields, not that the cows poop on my gear but I spread it underneath my shoes so that kitchen gear get dirtier.
From disliking I evaluate to hate sleeping in a zipped down sleeping bag. The bag is designed so that you can only lay at your back, as the backside contains less feathers. With every turn I feel a cold grabbing my sides. And on my side I can’t lay for long as I feel my bones protruding through the airless mattress, a Chinese rubbish product which costed me $80. The cold from the earth is coming straight through the mattress and so no wonder I start to long for nights of those in the desert.
By chance I happen to choose a route which is popular, the village I cycle through described as comfortable rustic. But in winter it is a terrible moody place where rain and clouds rules. All people hurdle inside and the ones outside seem not too eager to help me out with directions. The phone with its GPS will get wet when I use it, the camera too, and I rather not use them.
Crossing the border with Chile has me arriving at 3 o’clock in Futalefue where the shops open only at 5 PM. I search an hour in the rain and then set off without veggies and with an incredible dedicated aspirant sheepdog. He is super devoted and stays at my side, except when he is chasing cows, biting them in the heels, trying to do the same at every car tire passing him.
This dog makes me laugh but my mood is down, it rains, it is cold, I don’t look forwards to another night on a Chinese crap mattress, and I don’t feel like camping with a hungry aspirant sheepdog who loves me from the moment I paid attention, and one cookie, to him.
Then a pickup truck stops, just when I push my load up a hill. ‘It is going to snow, there is nowhere to camp as there are no flat places along here, come with me if you want,’ says a woman. I hesitate. ‘I live only 8 kilometers from here,’ she continues. I decline. ‘But there are two more steep hills coming up’, she adds. I accept. The lovely super dedicated sheepdog with excessive energy wants to make a jump in the pickup and sit beside the bicycle, but is regarded as scum by the woman, who single-handed shoves my bicycle in the Hindustan produced Mahindra pick-up truck.
Claudia is her name, and she lives in a huge wooden house with no heating whatsoever. It is as cold in her house as it is in my tent, and so I sit with 3 pair of socks, a down jacket and all my winter gear on. It is far from comfortable with a 5 degrees inside the house. On top of that Claudia talks really too much.
She’s a strong one, working as a machinist on a potato farm, she makes a daily ride to work at a farm, while the house she lives in rents out apartments in summer. The place is her brother’s, she lives for free to be a house-sitter and the surroundings are truly magnificent, if not for the terrible cold and hopeless weather. Probably to compensate she adds loads of sugar in her coffee, smokes cigarettes and lays in bed watching television on a Sunday, together with Clau, her adorable dog.
She feeds me well, not having expected me, with the bread she bought for only herself. She makes me a bed with a thick down cover, the snowy mountains seen through a window with a crack right at my feet. She talks and talks. She talks so much I feel it drives me insane. It is hard to share my facial expressions when I understand so little, and am far from concentrated to try so, as her cascade of words is strangling me.
I guess it’s a small price I have to pay, as I have an incredible good night sleep! I get awakened by Claudia’s snoring, but that’s not a real problem as I have slept 12 hours straight!
I continue along Rio Futalefue, an incredible fast flowing azure river. I pass handsome gaucho’s, longing for photos I’d never made. Much clouds keep hanging low. I laugh with free roaming pigs bitten in their heels by adorable little dogs. Smile at the sound of a pleasant reeking sheep. The muddy road meandering with the river, hidden in a thick forest, is all drenched with beauty, if not for the wintry gloom. I could enjoy, would I be so free to have myself invited in, sit a fire-place and socialize. I wonder whether the locals would accept me, as this is a very touristy place in summer season. I never find out.
Then, when the sun shows up from behind the thinning clouds, a smile immediately appears. It dawns on me I was cycling with a very similar feeling as I do in the Netherlands. And that is really not fun. I need sunlight, that much is clear. I can handle the lack of desert-alike openness for a while longer, but sun seems a priority…
Snot drips out of my nose. The sleeping bag needs to be fluffed up for about 2 hours before sleeping, to get the wetness out of it. It gets dark at 7 and somewhat lighter at 9 in the morning. ‘Why are you cycling? It is cold. Brrr, I do not like to get outside now, I love to sleep all day,’ says a woman who’s selling the most basic supplies. I somehow agree with her.
Yet I am a bit hopeful as I am about to move on to the famous Carretera Austral. Never wished for, though here I am…