Everything seems to be taking longer at the moment. Cycling, rest breaks, blog writing (sorry, James!) – we’ve slowed down. In fact, I wrote this blog post about our time in the Lake District two months after it happened, in deepest Patagonia. Christmas has just been and gone and, while we still have a way to go, the end of our trip is almost within sniffing distance. But it feels like a good time to be looking back. New Year can make you nostalgic, after all.
We didn’t mean to take almost a month off the bikes, but it kind of just…happened. We’d got off to a strange start in Chile. Quite obviously, our own petty struggles were absolutely nothing compared to what our friends in Santiago were (and still are) living through. While we were fretting about getting into town to buy a new bike pump, our friend Joaquin was coping with tear gas seeping through the air vents in his seventh-floor office. Nevertheless it was a tiring two weeks and by the time we left the capital city by bus and arrived in peaceful, tourist-friendly Pucon 994km further south, I’m sad to say we breathed a sigh of relief.
The next stretch of our cycle ride was intended to ease us in to Patagonia. We were a little sad to take the bus from Santiago to Pucon, as it somewhat defeats the object of cycle touring. But, by all accounts, we weren’t missing out on much and we now have a solid deadline, having booked our flight home for March. We wanted to maximise our time in the south and, writing this post during one of many detours we’ve taken in Patagonia, I am so grateful for that now.
Our planned three-day stay turned into a week at the oh-so-inviting Chilli Kiwi hostel. We had two active days, hiking round the lakes of Huerquehue National Park and completing a gruelling climb up Villarrica volcano in strong winds, but other than that we were total hostel bums. We spent most of the time chatting with backpackers, strolling around town and eating yet more lemon meringue pie. It became a bit of a joke with the hostel volunteers when we kept appearing at reception in the morning asking for one more night. But our bank balances couldn’t take much longer in Pucon and we finally mustered the energy to get back in the saddle.
Other cyclists advised us to cross back to the other side of the Andes to Argentina and head south from there through the beautiful Siete Lagos route, but we were stubborn. We’d only cycled two days in Chile so far and wanted to see more of it. We started with an almighty, sweaty cycle on our first two days up the back of Villarrica Volcano along a totally rutted dirt track. I say cycle – for me it was mostly a push.
After bashing out several 100km+ days in Argentina my confidence in our cycling was through the roof, so our slow progress on this stretch brought us back down to earth. I was knackered and feeling a little defeated. This wasn’t the roaring start I’d expected. I was feeling angsty and worried that we were moving so slowly.
Then, just as we felt we were getting back into the swing of things, Chillo’s knee started acting up and we decided to take two days off the bikes, icing and resting. Time felt like it was slipping away from us, and it didn’t help that the towns we stopped in along the way didn’t feel particularly welcoming. Wild camping was also limited as most of the land along the roads was fenced off for farming, so we felt very restricted in terms of where we could stay. To add to my huff, the scenery wasn’t what I expected, and we spent a lot of our time cycling through monotonous farmland that could have easily been anywhere in Europe.
Pretty glum, right? But hang on a second – during this time we also pedalled through pristine forests, passed one volcano after another, slept by a glistening lake, sharing our campsite with two american van trippers who plied us with beer and donated half a roast chicken to our dinner. We drank water fresh from a spring and pedalled along deliciously smooth tarmac while enjoying podcasts and audiobooks.
We were living a simple, straightforward life, and all in the most gorgeous sunny weather. But my impatience at our progress and overblown expectations of this route hindered my ability to appreciate everything around us. I was waiting for the next big epic view, or the satisfaction that comes with cycling a huge distance in one day. On the days neither of these happened I felt like we weren’t “doing it right”. I forgot about the importance of all the little details that make travelling by bike so rewarding.
Of course the scenery did start to change. Within a few days we left the lakes behind and began to encounter rugged mountains, emerald green rivers and quaint fishing villages. Patagonia as I had always pictured it was beginning to emerge. But that doesn’t mean the cycling in this region is any more meaningful. In fact, it all gets quite overwhelming sometimes – you are faced with so much natural beauty that you don’t know how you can possibly remember or appreciate it all, and a couple of days’ cycling through simple farmland become quite appealing. Oh, the irony.
I suppose this was one of those lessons about appreciating what’s around you, not constantly looking ahead or wondering what would have happened if you’d chosen another route. Sometimes you can almost feel a pressure to make every day of a trip like this incredible, as you never know if you’ll get the chance to do something like it again. But it’s also about embracing the slower times and giving them equal importance, without worrying about what’s next.
Two months down the line, I’m now much happier to just plan no more than a couple of days ahead. We have an overall goal – reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world – and we have roughly six weeks to get there. But rushing and overthinking won’t help. It’s just one peddle stroke at a time.