The End: Cochrane – Villa O’Higgins

In Cochrane I started by going to a car mechanic I had already seen when I entered town. He couldn’t weld my rack and according to him there’s no aluminium welder here. He had another bike rack out of steel, but there’s no way that will fit my bike. Then he suggested using strong hose clamps to hold the rack in place and sent me to a hardware store.

I got a few clamps there, but I already didn’t like them much when I bought them. Indeed I found out they won’t work for me. As I was trying this at the hostel a motorbike rider arrived who also took a look. He suggested to just use strong zip ties or otherwise use small steel L-brackets. But that will have to wait for tomorrow. Looking at my bungee cord fix I think zip ties, applied correctly, are indeed likely to hold and it’s easy to carry spares in case they break. Update: I had contact with the bike’s manufacturer and they also suggest a fix using hose clamps in combination with a piece of wood, so I’ll try that soon.

The following morning I went to the only ATM in hundreds of kilometers to get some more cash. On the other side of the village square was a general store that sells almost everything. You can get food, TVs, electrical generators and air rifles all in the same shop. Only bread is something they don’t have. I got most of the food I need for the next few days and I also bought some stronger zip ties than the ones I had with me.

That evening Bata and Daniel had also arrived and we went to the local brew pub. William should also be in town, but I didn’t see him.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
09:09:56 07:47:04 95.42 12.26 30.96 1,285.00
hours hours km km/h km/h meters

 

Friday morning I left early. About 120 km from Cochrane is a ferry which runs just three times a day. I want to catch the noon departure tomorrow, but that means I have to get quite close today. Thus I plan for a long ride today. My bike is also heavier than usual, since there are basically no shops on this section. I want to ride it in three days, but I have food for four days with me. I loaded the food as much to the front of my bags as I can.

The roads are some of the worst I’ve seen so far. There is much washboard, loose gravel and even loose sand. The day started with some climbing too. All this led to an average speed of just 10 km/h, even including a downhill section. After lunch at a bus stop the road got better and I got moving faster. The scenery was nice, but I had to pay much attention to the road.
Later that afternoon a headwind started bringing in some clouds.

Out of Cochrane were a few small lakes.
A short but wild river connecting the two lakes.
A silent witness of a previous accident. It looked quite recent, with fire department tape still around.
A rather steep descent followed.

I caught up with three others, two of whom had started their tour in Alaska. I rode with them until they decided to stop for camp. I wanted to go some 20 km further today to catch tomorrow’s ferry, so I continued alone. Soon after I saw two people on Bromptons. They were running pretty smooth (and of course small) tires. I’ve seen several people using Marathon Plus out here, which seems very tough to me. I’m very glad with my Marathon Mondials on this terrain and they really have to work hard. Looking at the long distance tourers I meet this seems to be by far the most popular tire among those, with more than half of them using it.

As I was talking to them another rider coming north stopped by. He was touring for three years already, visiting at least Indonesia, going from Brasil to Ushuaia and now heading to Alaska. He said he had met six other cyclists today, which is one more than he met in the last three years. I think he is up for a big shock in the coming weeks and months. I met eight others today and I know about five more leaving Cochrane that I didn’t see.

Many meetings were had today.
Trying to tour on Brompton bikes.

Soon after we continued riding it started raining. So I’m getting a little taste of the normal weather here, which is four seasons every day. It may continue tomorrow and then all should be fine again. I was close to my goal, so I just went there quickly. Just before reaching it I was overtaken by a pick-up truck with the two Brompton riders in the back. I immediately set up my tent and went inside to enjoy some cookies.

Speaking of cookies, the Chilean ministry of health requires foods with much sugar, fat or calories to print a health warning on the packaging. This is great for us cyclists, because the foods with the warnings are the ones we need. And cookies have all of them! It’s amazing how much energy they manage to pack in these. Just 30 grams of chocolate chip cookies contain 130 kCal, much more efficient than anything else I’ve found. Obviously I’m not just living on these. After getting a bit of my energy restored I prepared pasta again, but by now I learned to use the water I cooked it in for soup.

Today was very long and tiring, even if the second half was much easier than the first. So I lay down soon after eating.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
09:16:55 05:40:20 69.65 12.28 34.56 1,377.00
hours hours km km/h km/h meters

 

I left at 8:40 the next morning so I could certainly make it to Puerto Yungay before noon. There was a slight drizzle in the morning, but when I left it was dry. Soon the last hill started and it was very hard. The rain also resumed and it progressively began raining harder. As I stopped to adjust my brakes on the downhill, William caught up with me and so we rode into Puerto Yungay together at 11:30.

We had tea, empanadas and cake at the cafeteria while waiting for the ferry. Luckily that has inside seating too, as it was raining quite hard during the crossing.

A steep climb to Puerto Yungay in the morning.
The window of the cafeteria at the ferry landing.
Our ferry in front, the other one goes to far-off places like Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales.

The ride on the other side was very nice. It was still raining off and on, but not too much. The road is very easy and good for the first 25 km with some good views as usual. Then a series of three difficult climbs starts. I walked part of the first. Objectively speaking it was probably not such a hard climb, but I’m still tired from yesterday and this morning. At the tops we got a hard tailwind for a while.

After the second descent there should be a hut with beds for rent, but it didn’t appear to exist anymore. We discussed going some more kilometers over the last hill to the next option on our maps, but we were tired and so we became proper hobos and slept under a bridge. For William this was the second night in a row sleeping under a bridge.

William is still riding, I was walking here.
The second climb offered views of this river valley.
Camping under the bridge. I didn’t find a good box to sleep in yet.

 

The last real day on the Carretera Austral felt like a summary of the whole road. It had a little bit of everything. A little rain, some sun with mostly tailwind, but also headwind. Lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains. There were some small but tough climbs and bad roads, but also some great riding. We met some new cyclists on the road and at the hostel in Villa O’Higgins. And there were even small technical problems in the final 10 kilometers. Williams GoPro mount broke and my derailleur was coming loose.  Just fastening the bolt fixed it.

Ominous-looking clouds, but we’re still in the sun.
Sunny, cloudy, windy, Patagonian!
Lago Cisnes, where the road turned into the wind for a bit.

But the important thing is: We made it to the end of the road. Literally, there’s 7 km more and then the road just ends. Villa O’Higgins is a tiny village with some hostels and shops and not much more. Internet here works via satellite and is thus slow and unreliable. The only way to get out on a motor vehicle is to go about 120 kilometers back and catch a boat there or return all the way to Cochrane. Cyclists and hikers have other options, but that’s a story for another time.

Arriving at Hostal El Mosco in Villa O’Higgins.

The hostel is interesting. It’s full of hikers, bikers and people on motorbikes. Every table is covered in maps and people are discussing which parts of the Carretera were the most beautiful or hardest, or else how the route should continue. We discussed the same over beer and wine to celebrate its completion. Many of the bikes are also desperately in need of repair or at least some maintenance, including mine. It needs a thorough cleaning and parts you didn’t know could be lubricated need it now.

Distance covered: 222.2 km. Total so far: 4461 km.

2 Replies to “The End: Cochrane – Villa O’Higgins”

  1. As ich dien verhaol laes wäörtj `t waal steeds drökker dao ,sjoean det ge uch kèntj helpe óngerein en eder väör zich fietstj en det ge uch toch weer treftj. Gooi vaart vanaaf O`Higgins en väöl wanjej/sjravel plezeer aanne angere kantj.

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