March 29, 2004

To pave or not to pave? What a question.

As I had mentioned in my previous entry, I had a really interesting conversation on the logging truck in which I hitch hiked to Cochrane.
The driver of the truck had grown up just south of Cochrane in the southernmost region of the Careterra Austral. Onboard with me was another local from the small town of Puerto Bertrand. I asked them what they thought of the future plans to pave the entire Careterra Autral in 3-4 years. As you may have already guessed, pavement has become a concern for me as a cyclist as it has taken quite a toll on my bike so far. Around 90-100 years ago if my memory is doing me justice, the bicycle riding clubs in Vancouver were the main group lobbying the municipality and government to pave the streets.
Although it can be argued that it is the automobile that really reaped the benefits of paving and pushed the development of road building in the 20th century.
My truck driver was dead set against paving. He really throught that it would significantly alter the landscape and change the character of the region. From the peaceful backwater that it is now to a real estate and tourism bonanza.

So many things change when a road is paved. In an urban setting I remember landscape planners like Patrick Condon at UBC bemoaning the loss of permeability. Once a road is paved and the curbs cemented, it seals out the rain water from the ground and goes to the storm sewer system. This bypasses the groundwater and sends the water straight into the rivers, lakes and ocean and affects the water table levels. In a rural road, paving the road concentrates runoff to the sides of the road. Paving a mountainous road like the Careterra Austral also comes with much more roadwork to reduce the steepness of the road and cut down on very strong curves. But as Vancouverites may know a paved road like the sea to sky may not necessarily be any safer. I wonder if the unpaved road forces vehicles to go slower due to the "discomfort" factor caused by the ruggedness of the road. On our bikes it is definitely noticable and we have to break down hills to keep our speed from rattling the bikes to smithereens.

A nice narrow unpaved road is definitely less obtrusive and seems closer to the natural landscape. You certainly get a greater sense of remoteness on an unpaved gravel road. Currently there are 150km of paved road on either side of Coyhaique; which allowed us to see the difference between towns that are on the paved sections and those that are on the unpaved sections. Manhuales was on the paved section and Villa Amengual was 60km further on the unpaved section. Were they any different? I really don't know yet.
One thing is certain at the moment in March there is very little traffic on the Careterra Austral on any section. There are whole days when no more than 12 vehicles pass us.

I look forward to reading comments about your thoughts on paving. As a cyclist I am definitely conflicted. The lure of travel into remote unpaved regions is amazing, the scenery and the nature are stunning and you certainly feel much closer to landscape. But at the same time travel on a paved road is so much easier and as long as you can occasionally go off the paved road into a park or a nice section is it really that different? For the moment after just over 2000km of riding of which 1500km was unpaved I am totally ready for a rest on some nice black tarmac.

This last section of the Careterra Austral from Coyhaique to Chaiten was amazingly beautiful. It is definitely kind of bittersweet to soon leave behind the beautiful wet temperate rainforest of the pacific coast behind. It was a hard 420km with many breakdowns (the back wheel is on its last "legs", and was definitely underbuilt for this type of trip) Luckily Arvon, the bike builder, is building a new wheel with more and fatter spokes. During this last leg, we slept under bridges a few times to avoid the rain. Yet, all the rivers and waterfalls are for sure a highlight of this section for me!

Check out the video of us so happy to have a warm hut to stay in after 6 days of rainy cycling! video

Posted by gwendal at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2004


We are definitely now in Chile where the roads are harsh and very hilly... but we are progressing fairly well despite having broken the trailer... see photos
Luckily, a car was willing to take it ahead to Puerto Guadal where after two days of riding to get there, we have been able to get it welded.

Today I hitched down to Cochrane to pick up a care package at the post office- new tires and bike parts...yeah!!!
This afternoon, I am going back up to Puerto Guadal. From there we continue for 300k before we arrive in Coyhaique with legs of steel as there are nothing but hills and beautiful scenery, including one pass that goes up to 1200m!

This is a quick one as I am using the library internet and there are loads of people waiting behind me. Stay tuned for my next entry where hopefully then, I can tell you about my conversation on the hitchhike ride down here in my next posting. Canada has an interesting reputation down here.

Posted by gwendal at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2004

The beginning of the Careterra Austral

I decided to write my latest entry in French and I did not yet have enough time to translate it. Please check out the latest french posting if you are brave enough. Otherwise I should have it translated in a week or so.

I am currently in Chile Chico on the shores of the Lake General Carrera. We are about to get started on the infamous Careterra Austral that goes from Villa O'Higgins to Puerto Montt.

Things are going very well and hopefully the dirt roads down here won't defeat me before I can find pavement again in about 500km.

Check out my daily noon picture of the road ahead gallery.

Posted by gwendal at 04:19 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2004

Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales

After a week of somewhat stressful rest (waiting anxiously for my knee to feel better and trying to find a solution to a back wheel that keeps on breaking spokes) we were able to set out again with a true wheel and a well aligned knee, from Punta Arenas.

Before I describe the trip to Puerto Natales, let me just add that we were invited to a kareoke bar with a fellow resident of our hostel in Punta Arenas 'los tres hermanos'.

He was a architect down for a few days for a contract. He introduced us to interpretive dance kareoke! something I had never seen before. He did an incredible performance to the tune of 'Rock DJ' by Robbie Williams. The fortunate/unfortunate consequence was that is got the whole room of the somewhat seedy bar dancing and kareoke was no longer possible.

On Saturday there was a big Chiloe Islanders cultural festival on Magellanes University grounds with music and food. I am now very excited to visit the Chiloe Island as the food at the festival was very interesting. Many many giant barbeques with several lambs on racks roasting around the fire


There are also giant rolling pins wrapped in a 5cm thick roll of potato flour that were then roasted over the coals. Once cooked, the Chochoca were unwrapped from the rolling pins and filled with chicharones (fried grissly lamb) and served as a sandwich. For cyclists who are burning a lot of calories every day this was a very appetising prospect. We also found Milcao which is very similar but made into patties that are fried in oil but just a little more fatty!

The following night the family who runs the hospidaje where we were staying had a big feast to celebrate the birth of a new boy in the family. So the night before our hopeful early rise to beat the wind, we were up till 1am dancing with the kids and the family in the kitchen. There was no early start.

But there was a start at around 11:30 and we were very pleased to find that a beautiful ribbon of solid concrete links Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas for the entire 250km. On the first night we had to camp in a ditch next to a culvert to avoid the winds that blew in the evening. The second day, after an early start at 6am, we had 3 hours of cycling before the wind was too much. We set up a wind barrier on a fence with a tarp and waited 7 hours for the winds to abate and finish cycling for the day. On the last day after saying goodbye to a very friendly carabineros at Morro Chico (looks like 'Uluru? Ayers rock from afar in the pampas) we cycled the 100 km to Puerto Natales. The Carabineros have been incredibly friendly everywhere in Chile so far and that night they offered that we use the barn as a wind shelter which was great because that night we heard some of the strongest winds which, accentuated by a creaky wooden barn, were scary. The third day was our longest day of riding so far, mostly because it was overcast and for nearly the first time the wind never came.

Ryan, Damien and I are really doing well and it is fantastic to have such a support network with you when you are challenged by the elements and equipment.

We broke three spokes on the back wheel. This is going to be a problem that definitely needs more attention. Wheel spokes were just not designed with a fully loaded tandem bicycle in mind. Currently we are trying to find horse pacing cart wheel spokes which have been described as 'rebar' compared to regular bike spokes.

My knee is feeling better every day and with a few new excercises should hopefully be fine for the rest of the trip (fingers crossed).

As promised in the last entry I am still researching my classroom entry. Tomorrow I am going to meet the rangers at the Torres del Paines National Park. So hopefully I will have a complete story to tell after that.

Posted by gwendal at 02:14 PM | Comments (1)