We’d been riding two days in cold pouring rain, followed by one with sidewinds and gusts of up to 80 km/h. At least our clothes were finally dry and it was a relief to get out on the road in fair weather again.
What made this day seem perfect: the previous three days
The Carretera Austral is a picturesque and special road, with mountains, fjords and glaciers all around. It is connected by ferries to the regular Chilean road system and in this region, it is the only north/south road. They say if you are trying to go fast, you won’t get far. You have to take it easy and go with the flow here. The conditions of the road seem to have changed a lot according to accounts I’ve read. It’s in pretty good condition and improvements are continuously underway.
We left the Carretera Austral briefly on a little jaunt out to see Futaleufu and back, but as we returned and continued south, we were warned by oncoming travellers of a roadblock ahead. It’s normal to expect construction and even regular daily closing times in some sections. This one, however was different. There was a rockslide and no one knew how long the closure would last. It would only be possible to open again if the rain would let up and that didn’t look likely for a few more days. We decided to track back again, covering the road off to Futaleufu a third time in order to cross over to Argentina and continue south a bit. We would cross back over to the Carretera Austral at the next chance.
Our detour took us through the unremarkable Argentine towns of Tecka and Rio Mayo. The ride between these two places was paved but quite often difficult. Westerly winds swept us into a slanted position all day. It was a bit unreal. We had experienced strong winds in the desert and on the coast of Peru, but in this vast open flatness, the wind seemed even more brutal. Whoever rode second got the best view of how crazy the wind was and that’s how Andy saw me leaning just a little bit to the right in order to make the left curve. Luckily there were few curves and even less passing to do. The gusts just made it very tiring. Rio Mayo was our first chance to cut back over to the Carretera Austral and we took it. I was eager to get back to that beautiful, enjoyable, legendary road.
A perfect start
The route from Rio Mayo, Argentina over to Coyhaique, Chile isn’t paved and it promised to be a long afternoon of dust and gravel. Despite sleeping in what might has well have been a jail cell (seriously, we had view of a bricked in-window). I was in a great mood, happy to return to one of our trip’s highlights. We didn’t know yet where we’d be for the holidays and with all this warmth and sunshine, it wasn’t feeling much like Christmas, but for some reason I was giddy, singing carols anyway.
The road required a lot of concentration, because it changed quite quickly and unexpectedly. Some parts were just normal gravel, some a bit deeper with big grooves to navigate, but some areas were very surprising layers of large rocks piled up on one another. I found the best way to deal with these surprise patches was similar to how I managed the slipperiness of sand: roll on the throttle a bit, lean back and get it steady. The bike might swerve a little right and left, but we mostly had the road to ourselves, so there was nothing to fear really. It was working out well and this day seemed perfect.
It was about halfway to Coyhaique that my bike became unstable, I couldn’t make the save and I fell. It happened really quickly, a right-left-right-left over big smooth rocks and I about had it, but then it seems hit the one rock in the road which wasn’t moving, my steering turned and I was sliding sideways on the right side with my foot pinned under the bike. My leg was turned back, my foot was being dragged under the foot peg and I had a pain in my foot which I knew wasn’t good. I remember thinking that this would have to change soon, I couldn’t take this position much longer. About then, the bike popped up for a split second, my foot was freed, a 180 degree turn was completed and the bike bounced from the right pannier, then landed on the left and that was it.
I got off the bike and just wanted to remove my boot. I poured some water on my foot and laid some of the cold rocks around it for a few minutes. It hurt badly and it was swelling, but I could still wiggle my toes, so I assumed it wasn’t broken. I had never broken any bones. The leather on the front top of boot around the big toe was badly scuffed, so I thought maybe it was just a bad sprain from the twisting.
We had about another 100 km to go in either direction. Return to Rio Mayo? I couldn’t even think of going back over that horrible stretch of road again. Coyhaique is sort of isolated over on the Carretera Austral, but it should be a town big enough to have whatever we need, so I wanted to continue on.
Riding was tough. Singing helped. Standing was difficult, only possible if I put most of my weight on the left foot and only had my heel on the right peg. When sitting, I could kind of brace myself and hold my right leg out away from the bike to avoid feeling the big bumps. Stopping at the boarder crossings and trying to walk was the incredibly painful part. Walking was not working. Soon though, there was paved road into Coyhaique, at least it was a smooth ride for a little while.
Andy did the checking in at a hostel. Our room was upstairs. I was moving slowly, not knowing how exactly to get up there. The receptionist looked at me strangely and asked if I was sick as I hobbled sideways up the steps. “Si, un poco.” I didn’t have words to explain in any language, I just wanted to finally lay down and call it a day.