When more and more people are contacting you directly and asking you how it’s going it’s obvious that a blog update is long overdue. So when I reached Villa O’Higgins – the end of the Carretera Austral – I was motivated to finally write about my experiences since I left the Titicaca lake. Now that the end is getting near my thoughts are more often directed to my soon homecoming. The feeling that I actually almost made it and soon will be able to hug friends and family members again is a very emotional one. I’ve been riding alone for most of the time during this journey and while I very much enjoyed the loneliness and doing my own thing so far I was pretty happy to have quite some company during the last few weeks in Argentina and Chile. I was soaking up all the energy I felt on the road, e.g. from motor bikers passing me on the rainy days on the Carretera Austral and raising a motivating fist into the air or car drivers which slow down to check if I need something or just want to chat. It felt a little bit like the last kilometers on my first (longer) triathlon when you can already hear the crowds at the finishing area and start to realize that you actually made it and soon will be enjoying the finisher buffet.
But somehow I was not able to finalize that article and decided to go for a hike near Villa O’Higgins instead. It was supposed to be an easy one with less than 300m of elevation gain and a total distance of 7km. It started beautifully and easily as expected. I was enjoying the views, taking a lot of pictures, was reflecting the past days and still thinking how to finalize that blog article. All was fine till heavy cramps kicked in once again. I first tried to continue as it was not far till the 2nd viewpoint which was my dedicated turnaround point but I soon had to realize that it would not work. I stretched my legs at almost every tree I could find on the way down but it got worse with every meter I continued to walk. I was able to handle the pain a little bit better when I walked down backwards the steep parts. But I was now moving so slowly that I was getting a problem with making it back to the campground before the dark. Luckily I had my headtorch with me. I was breathing heavily with every step I made and while I was pretty confident to reach Ushuaia on time just a few hours ago I now found myself barely able to walk and desperate in the darkness of a forest still more than 1000km away from the final target of my trip. How will I be able to do the difficult crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten where I would have to push my bike through 6km of single trail. After more than 15 months of traveling I have my first mental breakdown. For a few minutes I have to cry out my frustration before I slowly continue my descent. The stars are visible already and it’s a beautiful night. It’s already past midnight when I reach my bike at the beginning of the trail and slowly start pedaling back. Every pedal turn results in extraordinary pain but after a few stops for more stretching it finally seems to improve. I reach the campsite at 12:30am in the night, where the concerned manager of the site is already awaiting me. I apologize for the trouble I’ve caused but everybody is happy that I finally made it back. I drink some hot water with salt and then decide to quickly go to sleep. The boat to cross the lake to Argentina leaves early the next morning.
The next day I get up earlier than the other cyclists who are doing the crossing with me together since I first want to check if I’m fine and also planned in some more time to cycle the first 7km till the ferry. My legs are still feeling sore but I decide to give it a try. I gladly reach the first ferry without the need to stop because of cramps or pain in my muscles. After a bumpy boat ride I slowly start the uphill section on the other side of the lake. I’m the first to reach the Chilean border station and quickly stamp out. It continues to go up steeply with loose gravel where I often have to push the bike. I take my time and make regular breaks for drinking, eating and stretching. After approx. three kilometers the road becomes flatter and more rideable until I reach the border sign. Here is where the single trail starts. Still no major muscular problems so far, so I’m confident to start cycling this bit of 6km. Luckily it’s better than I expected and some people (who did it the other way around) told me. I have to push through a few little creeks and lift my bike over a few obstacles but I never have to unmount my stuff and finally reach the Argentinian border station at the Lago del Desierto more than 1 1/2 hours before the ferry to cross this lake. I have made it. Less than 24 hours this had seemed impossible but now I’m relaxing in the sun, having a lunch and enjoying the view over the lake with the amazing Fitz Roy rising on the other side. Still more than 1000km left till Ushuaia but the confidence is back. But I know „it ain’t over till it’s over“.
Photos are coming soon. 😉