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(80) ‘No paine, no gain’

January 16, 2014

After a hard start with unhelpful bus drivers and headwinds and headaches from not just from beer and wine we were looking forward to spending a bit of time in a national park and with Sara. We were certainly in for a treat.

Friday 29th November

We got up after a good night’s sleep and went for breakfast.  Tim got to enjoy his crunchy nut cornflakes that had been kindly sent by our friend Becs. Although we had sorted through our things it seemed to take ages to pack our bags and gather all our things. We did a little on the blog and found there was a problem with Sharon’s SD card. Feeling fed up with technology Tim did yet another virus scan while Sharon and Sara went to do a little shopping. By the time we were ready to leave it was now 4pm and we felt like we hadn’t achieved much. We were heading to Torres del Paine which is a popular national park in Chile.

We picked up a couple things in town and headed down to the water front. It was stunning riding as we made our way along by the water and this time with very little wind.

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DSC_0885(Not us!)

 We rode out of town stopping what felt like every five minutes to take pictures it was stunning. Sharon started to struggle a bit after having a nasty bout of home sickness.  It was hard to imagine how far we still had to go and not only missing this Christmas but also the next was a lot to take in. The thing that were helping was the stunning scenery and having Sara with us.

DSC_0926Stunning landscapes

DSC_0916Hitching a ride…

We were soon joined by a group of cyclists from Chile heading out to see some caves. We rode with them for a bit and while they went in to see the caves we found a quiet spot to cook enjoying the view.

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P1090699Heading to the caves

We enjoyed some of the beef that we had the previous night with mash potatoes and onions.  We were still having problems with the stove and after a few tries Tim ended up using the diesel jet for the petrol. This seemed to work for now and with a couple gas canisters as a back-up we could relax.

DSC_0967A stunning eagle spying our dinner

We went in to see the huge cave once we had finished tea and with the sun slowly setting it produced amazing constantly changing landscape.  The clouds slowly changed shapes with the sun shining through at different angles. We had only really seen mountains in Ushuaia on this le of our trip and it had been flat since then with only the odd climb but we were now heading into what would be the start of the mountains. We found a camp spot on the side of the road knowing we would have a hard gravel road ahead we settled down to a good night’s sleep.

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With the scenery we had today it looked like we were in for a treat of some fantastic views which helped as it can be hard at times and we can feel isolated during our trip especially being close to Christmas.

Saturday 30th November

We left our roadside camp spot and rode up and down for an hour or so stopping regularly to take pictures of the stunning scenery. Tim mentioned something about cake and within seconds we agreed to stop and have tea and cake. It was nice lying in the sun and we could have stayed there all day except it was getting chilly. We got going soon warming up as the sun came out and got to the beginning of a large detour which could have meant about 100km extra. We were looking at the sign when a bus pulled over and the driver said it was ok for bikes to pass, it was such good timing and made us happy we had gone this way.

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P1090747Enjoying the scenery

We started along the track and soon stopped for a 2 hour lunch in the warm sunshine. We all fell asleep! The afternoon was cooler and the road was getting hillier and we were soon stopped by a road block. We understood the man told us we could pass after 7pm so we headed down a track out of the wind to make dinner and bake some delicious bread to pass the time.

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As the temperature dropped we packed away our things and headed back up the track to the now deserted checkpoint and rode past the sign – we might have thought twice if our Spanish was better!!

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We rode on with no problem for many miles except the wind, it was so fierce in places with Sara registered 49 mph at one point.  As we were struggling up a hill a man in a truck stopped and told us off for riding past the sign.

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We tried to explain that his colleague said it was ok after 7pm but he kept saying ‘no way’. Anyway we kept going after he left but it was steep and winding and clearly not safe to camp with construction workers all around us. We finally stopped around 9pm having found a semi suitable camp spot that was past the worst of the road construction all feeling totally exhausted.

DSC_0144Just before we found a camp spot

Sunday 1st December

With the wind picking up in the night we wondered whether we would stay put knowing how bad the tents were pegged down. We did however stay put and all slept well after our tough day to find there was hardly any wind with a clear blue sky. We sat and had breakfast which Sara had prepared knowing we were in for an amazing day of scenery.

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With a couple of short climbs and descents we soon treated to the start of some amazing scenery.

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After about an hour we arrived at the visitors centre at the entrance of the park where we filled in a registration form and rode on towards the massive peaks of Torres de Paine. We rode along the flat road to the main visitors centre to get some more information before sitting down to have lunch.

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We were so hungry and as we looked into our food bag we noticed how much our food bag had shrunk. We sat eating cheese crackers then moved to jam crackers as a large group turned up and enjoyed wine and beef kebab sandwiches. All we could do was stare. So we got the last cake out and devoured half of it to make us feel better.

We rode on and what was meant to be a flat road turned out to be a series of very steep hills. The scenery however was stunning all be it the same group of peaks but as the landscape changed around us with red flowers and blue flowers and a lake that was so blue it was hard to imagine it was real.

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Add to this the moving clouds and different angels of light it was mesmerising.  We stopped to see a small waterfall and after a bit of diverted walkways which looking at the amount of wood they must have used we weren’t surprised there were no trees in the area, we finally found the waterfall. It was nice to see but as always when there is the back of a large hotel plonked next to it, it took away its beauty.

We headed back to the bikes and noticed a load of vintage cars on a rally around Patagonia. They had 4 days left and we thought it looked a ‘rally fun’ way of seeing the area. We got chatting to a few of the drivers who were really great to chat to listening about their adventures. We asked them where we could top up on food when they all reached into their cars and pulled out a few tins of food. It was what we needed and made us very excited.

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We thanked them all and wished them luck then headed off stopping at a camp site to have a cupper. We picked up a bottle of coke to perk us up and got going to the ferry which was going to take us to the beginning of a glacier walk to see ‘Glacier Grey’. The climbs became steeper and longer with many corrugations making it hard but the views were just amazing making our going slower so we could take pictures.

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As we neared the port a ferry left the dock and our hearts sank. We had got the times wrong and would have to take the next one in the morning. This meant we would have to drink hot chocolate and eat cake in the cafe and speak to some very nice French people but we got through it ok managing to leave with clean plates.

Only one down side – the park had a ‘no wild camping’ policy which meant we had to head the 4 miles back the way we had come to camp and although it was a beautiful campsite it involved the same long and very steep hills. After about 40 minutes we arrived and pitched our tent noticing Tim had snapped another spoke in his back wheel. This was the third spoke that had broken in a week and with 5 left and a road that was very bad and remote we would have to be very careful.  The most annoying thing was it had happened after Sara had been with us and not before flying out. If we broke anymore we would have to look into how we can source more. With new ingredients in the pot from our rally driving friends, we were ready for a good feed and a good night’s sleep.

Monday 2nd December

With the rain hitting the tent and the odd gust of wind gently buffeting us the thought of getting up was not appealing at all. We did get up however with Sara armed with a hot cupper each. We soon had the bikes loaded and headed north back to the ferry port hoping this time not to miss it. We were passed by a couple of vintage cars starting the day heading on south and although they were in cars it didn’t feel quite as romantic as it would on a clear sunny day.

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P1090848Tim took full advantage of this sign…

We climbed the few sharp hills and soon arrived at the port to be greeted by the owner who was going to let us put our bikes in her container. She always had a smile which seemed to make us feel happier. We scrabbled through our things making sure we had what we needed for a night on the other side of the lake and the right clothes to walk in.  We locked the bikes up in the container and made our way to the boat.

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We got chatting to a few lovely people and after an hour on the boat we arrived at the base of the mountain ready to pitch. We made a cupper and grabbed a few snacks from the shop at the camp site and put the tent up ready for when we would return later.

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The walk to the refuge where we would be able to see the glacier was 3 hours each way passing a tiny lake and on to the larger lake that was much lower. We soon saw our first iceberg (ever!) which seemed strange and out of place in a lake but looked stunning with a vivid blue colour glowing from within. We made good progress stopping on the way to have crackers and cheese before descending the few long descents towards the lake.

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DSC_0307Pretty flowers along the way

As we approached the glacier it became more impressive with a face of ice around 50 metres high and a flow of ice that must have been up to 200 metres in height slowly rising up making the icebergs  look more like rocks in a stream compared to the huge glacier behind. Glacier Grey is in the south end of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field which feeds dozens of glaciers in the area and covers 4773 square miles.

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By the time we reached the refuge the wind had picked up and the clouds were moving in. We cooked up some soup and went out to the look-out where we saw one of the large icebergs had broken off. We would have loved to have gone on to get a closer view but with the wind already gusting to 50 mph and Sharon’s back aching we had to get going. We started the long walk back and made better progress as the wind pushed us up the hill. By the time we reached the small lake the wind was making huge wages and lifting the water off the surface. After almost being taken off our feet we arrived back at the camp feeling wet and cold to find our tents were being battered by the wind. Tim went to secure everything down before we headed in for a beer and biscuits at the main bar. It was nice to be in the warm but we would soon be out in the elements again.

We headed out to the mess hut where the room was filled with cold, wet and hungry trekkers cooking up a various array of pasta and noodles and joined in to refuel our tired bodies. The wind kept increasing and as it did the odd tent started to collapse under the strain of the wind. We headed to bed around 10pm managing to have a cold shower and climbed into our battered tent. We tried to sleep and with it were woken by the odd massive gust misshaping the tent before popping it back into shape. We just hoped it would stay up.

Tuesday 3rd December

We woke up to a cold and damp day. Sara made porridge while we checked the tent for damage before packing away. It had done well but with the odd tear in and strain marks we had got away lightly. It felt like a military operation because of the wind but we managed to get everything in the right place and headed down to the port. The ferry picked us up at 10am and we were soon sat back in the cafe enjoying another piece of cake and hot chocolate J We said goodbye to Amanda who we had met on the ferry and thanked the cafe guys for letting us keep the bikes and kit in their storage container, we packed our things back in the right place even finding Sharon’s overshoes which she had tucked under the wooden walkway that she had left behind. It was 23 km to the next campsite and the wind was howling. Fortunately it was a tail wind for most of it but as soon as it was a crosswind everything would come to a standstill. We dropped down a hill as the road changed direction taking us and our bikes out from under us, it was so strong we all lay on the road at different points unable to stand up or do anything until the wind eased enough to get up and out of trouble. It was like we were drunk being forced all over the road falling off and hanging on to the Armco barriers. If we held our bikes side on to the wind the wheels would start to slide through the gravel as the wind caught the bike with all its bags. We got caught in one gust which Sara measured as 69 mph. It was so tough at times but we covered the miles fairly quickly because the wind was helping us for a change. We just had to be careful as the road was gravelly and we shared it with many other tour buses.

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We finally got to the rangers station where Sara caught a bus fed up with fighting the wind and we rode on the final 5 miles to the camp. It was uphill to start with but the headwind we feared as we changed direction didn’t materialise and we were soon at the camp. It was £6 per head so not too bad and we soon had the tent up and coffee on the go. Sara arrived having had to wait for the bus and we sat around eating dinner which included delicious smoked mussels that the vintage car guys had given us. We went to bed watching a film before settling down for a good night’s sleep. Within 10 minutes we realised we’d left the washing outside and not trusting the wind wouldn’t whip it away, Shaz quickly brought it in to dry the next day.

Wednesday 4th December

We got up early to do a day’s hike up to the lake. After breakfast Sharon appeared and was staying behind to look after her back. We packed the few things we needed and headed off to the track. It was steep at first and as we climbed it became more and more beautiful. Having small packs it made for easy going managing to reach the first refuge in an hour less than had been marked. We decided to keep going and reached the next steep section and were soon at the lake putting the stove on for a cupper.

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DSC_0471Being passed by pack ponies

The lake was stunning in a deep green colour with the snow and ice clinging to the sharp peaks that rose steeply behind. We had seen these images before but to sit in this amphitheatre of one of nature’s finest was truly awe inspiring.

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After our cupper we flew down the mountain and stopped at the high camp to cook lunch. We were soon joined by 3 guys and a lady from England two of which were hoping to climb the centre spire. It would be an amazing achievement and in such a windy environment a very challenging one. We wished them luck and headed down the mountain stopping on the way for a coke and a cake at the refuge. It was so nice to have something sweet which boosted our energy for the rest of the journey down. We very quickly descended and reached camp 3 hours before we were due back. It was so good to have the extra time to rest and spend with Sharon. It had been a good day but not really the rest we needed but what a sight. It made it all worthwhile and having Sara there and being a place she had always wanted to visit made it even better.

Thursday 5th December

Happy to have a lay in we woke listening to a guy trying to motivate 2 young Chilean girls to hurry up so they could go trekking. What they really needed was some motivation from Sara who arrived at our tent with a cup of tea and all we needed was someone to motivate Sara to not go home in a few days. It was around 10 when we got up and sat at the table where Sara produced a camp cake for an early birthday treat for Sharon as she wouldn’t be with her on the day. The cake was amazing and Shaz sat in bliss opening her pressies from friends and family which Sara had brought out.

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It seemed to take ages to pack our bikes and make sure everything was still right from building them up in Ushuaia. After replacing a couple lose or lost bolts on Sharon’s bike we loaded up had a shower and headed for the restaurant where we were going to treat ourselves to some lunch.

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We met a couple cycle tourists from Poland who asked us if we know where they could buy a back pack. Now having our purple backpack spare Tim offered them that one which looked like it really made their day and in exchanged Tim borrowed a computer from them so he could copy all our pictures to a hard drive to send home with Sara (for some reason our card reader wasn’t working). We sat together after ordering a meal and enjoyed each other’s company trying not to think about the fact that we would be saying goodbye to Sara tomorrow. We ended up drinking 2 of the most expensive cartons of wine they had making us feel very relaxed. With the end of the day approaching we couldn’t leave it any longer and headed out of the park. It had been a great few days and was nice leaving with a tail wind. We rode for about 2 hours, the going was good despite the rough road.

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We started looking for a good free camp spot out of the wind and with a bit of searching we found a large mound that would do.

DSC_0545Spot the tents??

DSC_0567A stunning sunset

 It was a beautiful spot not quite out of the wind but good enough and we settled down for tea. As we walked up to the top of the hill to enjoy the view before bed, we noticed that the ground was littered with sheep carcasses. Tim suggested that it might be a puma’s dining room which didn’t put us in the mood for a good night’s sleep….

Friday 6th December

As the night went on the thought of pumas attacking us in the night wore off as the wind had picked up considerably. Our tent was buffeted constantly with ever increasing wind. Even being in the lea of the hill nothing was stopping the brutal ferociousness of this wind and it certainly wasn’t going to let us have a good night’s sleep. Sharon did manage to get a few hours but as the sun started to rise and the tent trying to flex in all shapes Tim got up to watch the sun rise shining light on the pinnacles of Torres del Paine. It was stunning and added to this the strange shapes of the clouds that form here it was a true spectacle.

With Sharon and Sara tucked up Tim returned to the tent, falling into a deep sleep for a couple hours before waking Sharon. The wind had now battered the tent for so long and with the inner zip starting to cause problems again we wanted to limit the destructive force the wind was giving.  We managed to get the tent down and join Sara for breakfast. We didn’t have far to ride to the border post where we would part company but not wanting to part today we hoped we could hang out at the border and say goodbye the following morning. The track remain rough but ok with a slight tail wind but soon turned into a cross wind forcing us into deep gravel. We all struggled and with all of us in various states of disarray it was almost comical watching each of us trying to stand up in the wind. It didn’t last long before the road headed south east giving us a tail wind and a much needed break. It was bliss and so it continued to the border.

We stopped at a cafe for hot chocolate and cake before heading into the windswept border village of Cerro Castillo that looked like it was having a lot of construction work done. It could be a nice place but the wind and its remoteness made it feel desolate. As we looked around we came across a French couple who had been touring from the north of South America catching the odd bus on the way. They were very nice and told us we could camp for free outside of a council office once we had asked for permission. Once this was sorted, we headed up to the local shop where we picked up loads of supplies. With pork chops, fried eggs and mash for tea we were in for a treat.

DSC_0599The road signs were in the shape of horses

We joined the French couple and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We were told that if we needed the bathroom, the hospital across the road would be open.  Sara soon announced that she was off to hospital to use the loo which we thought was so funny! We all headed over around 9 for a wash and headed to bed for what was hopefully a good night’s sleep.

DSC_0601The view from our camp spot

Saturday 7th December

Once again the wind battered the tent but being slightly protected by the fence it was less brutal. Tim woke Sharon to say that we should get up but after mulling it over for 30 seconds fell back into a deep sleep. We were only woken by Sara with her morning call – what were we going to do without her? We didn’t really want to get up as it meant the last morning with Sara so we wanted to make it last as long as possible. We joined Sara for breakfast and watched while the French couple packed their tent and things ready to take the bus. Sara was riding back to Puerto Natales to catch a boat to Puerto Montt, then a flight to Santiago before flying home.

We made our way the short distance to the roundabout where we picked up a few bits from the nice guy in the shop and not wanting Sara to leave we went to have a last hot chocolate. It felt strange having to say goodbye. It seemed so normal for Sara to be with us yet we hadn’t seen her for over a year and to say goodbye again was like losing a key member of the team. Sara was much more organised than us and it was always good to look at the route ahead and small details but without Sara we would just muddle along picking up information as we went. We were so grateful to her for coming out to see us. Not being about to prolong the agony any longer we headed out to say goodbye. With lots of hugs and not really believing she was going we stood next to the junction and watched as she headed off into the wind.

P1090967We were heading into Argentina and Sara back to Puerto Natales

DSC_0609Sara riding off into the distance – a very sad moment

We soon stamped out of Chile and just able to see Sara on the horizon we headed east feeling sorry for ourselves. The road was a rough gravel road and after only 5 miles Tim picked up a puncture.

DSC_0626Climbing away from the border (after wiping the tears)

The wind was really cold and by the time he had changed the tube we were both shivering. We soon crossed the border back into Argentina along with another stamp. Soon after came a new Tarmac road which with a tail wind was bliss. We sailed along slowly catching a rain cloud in front of us. We decided to stop for lunch at the next junction which was 30 miles away but at a good speed we arrived at 2pm. We filled our fuel bottle up and found a place out of the wind to make a brew and have lunch.

P1090980The small hamlet of Tapi Aike

We felt great to have made such good progress and soon set off along the shortcut which was dirt road and would save us around 45 miles. Although it would save us time and potently a head wind it was slow going with large sections of hard rocks and deep gravel. With the rain starting to increase we became more uncomfortable with the mud and grit getting everywhere.

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We pushed into within 12 miles of the next section of Tarmac and stopped after spotting a police house. With no one home we found a shed big enough for our tent and cooked in it hoping the owner would return. With no-one but the cat to ask permission and the rain hitting the tin roof we set up camp and hoped for a peaceful night. It had been a sad day for us all but felt so happy Sara had joined us and hoped she would again.

P1090990Our home for the night with the resident cat!

Thanks for reading!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    January 16, 2014 3:32 pm

    Hey guys, that made for teary reading. Thanks for coming to the park with me and the great hikes too. Tim and I also saw a Chilean wolf on our way down from the Spires but as we were stuffing our faces with chocolate cake there is no photographic evidence! The ride back to Natales was an easy tarmac road watching the gauchos herding Hereford cattle towards Cerro Castillo. Sorry to hear about the puncture, the first in South America. Zeal performed perfectly even if I ran out of steam on the hills. You are both so strong and it is a challenge to keep up with towards the end of the day. Keep going with the Spanish and I’ll see you in the States if you can cope with it. Think I’ll give Alaskan winds a miss!!! xxx

  2. Elaine permalink
    January 16, 2014 6:30 pm

    How lovely to read- I was in Cerro Castillo base camp a million years ago… building a long drop loo and clearing paths prior to it being mentioned in the lonely planet to reduce the environmental impact…. also leones valley, yes the lovely puerto montt….. it’s such a stunningly beautiful part of the world…. and very cold melt water dips in weirdly coloured water next to ice burgs! Well done guys, well done on your epic adventure and your supreme determination. Miss you loads xxx

  3. Mum and Dad Pitts permalink
    January 16, 2014 7:17 pm

    Another good read with beautiful pictures. Those cycle tourists look very interesting i must say !!!LOTS of love from Mum and DadXXXXXX

  4. Oguz CETiN permalink
    January 17, 2014 4:31 am

    🙂

  5. January 17, 2014 10:41 am

    More amazing cloudscapes. I can imagine you do have days where you feel seriously flat; it must take a lot out of you to cycle virtually everyday! My wallpaper is now that photo you took of the lake, mountains and the blue flowers in the foreground. Lovely! Showed Ivy on our map where you were. She said ‘that will take 2 or 3 plane rides to get back!’
    Take care, X

  6. January 22, 2014 10:01 am

    Awesome trip! As we were driving up Ruta 40 from El Bolsón to Mendoza, I was thinking of you two. Pedal on! We’re heading to East Africa this week.

  7. Sara permalink
    February 25, 2014 10:37 pm

    Just given a talk to my cycle club, about my part of this trip with you two, put them off hardcore cycle touring forever. Donations to ShelterBox coming in which is ace.

    • March 3, 2014 10:18 pm

      Thank you so much Sara, you did such a great job – the donations to ShelterBox are coming in thick and fast which we are so grateful for. ShelterBox are currently in Bolivia at the moment helping people who have been affected by the flooding there – this is their fourth visit to the country as a result of flooding. Maybe we need to line you up with another talk…

  8. Sara permalink
    March 4, 2014 3:52 pm

    Any time guys, its a pleasure to promote the cause. You will have plenty to do of your own when you get back.

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