Bariloche, Argentina to Villa O´Higgins, Chile (12-26-08 to 1-20-09)

January 27, 2009

 The 26th of December we enjoyed left- over Christmas dinner of chicken and stuffing and apple pie (a very nice break from the usual oatmeal we have while camping!) for breakfast and gave good-bye hugs to our Christmas family, David and Mo (traveling by motorcycles), and headed onward on the final leg of our journey. 

hanging glacier Colgante

hanging glacier Colgante

 Again, we traveled through more beautiful forest and past large, long, clearer-than-you-can-imagine lakes.  We left the pavement after 1 ½ days near Epuyen and headed toward Los Alercas National Park.  We hit a horrible headwind along with a gravel road under construction, which slowed our pace to 30 miles in 6 hours!  Let us tell you about South American road construction.  The continent has many narrow dirt and gravel roads that are in dire need of improvement.  Paving one of these roads is done in an amazingly illogical manner.  Instead of working on a 10 mile stretch for several months from start to completion, they usually tackle a 20, 50 or even 100 mile section and seemingly work on it for years.  Layer upon layer of road base ranging in size from sand to 10” boulders is laid down (dredged from the river!) and haphazardly compacted, then left for an eternity before final re-grading and paving. We think this is to allow plenty of time for settling as thousands of trucks, buses and cars shake, rattle and roll over it for several years doing the compaction for free.  Where does that leave the lowly biker?  We are left bouncing, spinning, cussing and of course, sucking up tons of pulverized South American real estate that billows up as the endless vehicles pass. 


Back to our story – we got to the park, got a beach-front campsite with stunning views of snow-capped peaks across the super-clear blue water.  The next day we rode past 2 more large lakes, each of them crystal clear and surrounded by fantastic peaks.  After a day off in the small town of Trevelin we crossed the border into our 14th country on this epic trip – Chile.  We spent New Year’s Eve in the border town of Futaleufu (no, we did not make that name up!)  with 5 bikers from New Zealand.  While we were having lunch that afternoon, Pat told the group that she thinks we will be able to be entered into the “Guinness book of World Records” for being the oldest couple to have ridden bikes together from Alaska to the tip of South America – and still stayed married!  No sooner than the words tumbled past her lips did a British couple come strolling up to our table and say, “great to see more bikers!”  As it turns out, they are on a 3 month trip now, but had done the Alaska – South America trip 7 years ago – at age 57!!!  Poor Pat was shattered!  We had a great time sharing biking stories and rang in the New Year toasting cocktails on the plaza under the Christmas lights. 

 New Years Day found us biking a little later than usual along the River Fu, famous world over for kayaking and rafting.  Now at 48 degrees south of the equator, we have daylight until 10 PM again, so long days are not a problem!  We could see the volcano Chaiten puffing out a couple small plumes of smoke from its earlier eruption near the end of last year !                                                                                                           We camped on the beach of Lago Yeicho at the end of the day.  The water is so clean in this part of Chile that you can drink it right from the lake.  We still filter it, but we do drink straight out of the small creeks coming off the mountainsides. (We guess that Montezuma never made it this far south!) 

Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo

 Part way through the second day of the new year (WOW – it is hard to believe – we have gone through 2 calendars on this trip and are into the 3rd!) we hit the famous Carratera Austral, the narrow road built in the 1980’s to boost tourism and commerce into remote, wild and spectacularly pristine southern Chile.  It runs south to Villa O’Higgins and slices through some of the most spectacular country on the planet.  We spent the next few days pedaling south through thick forests, valleys of remote cattle ranches and small villages, next to more crystal clear streams and lakes and the occasional towering peak. 

 All along the Austral so far, we have been able to find some great (and some not so great wild campsites and established campgrounds.  Two of the campgrounds had wood-fired water heaters for hot showers – now that’s stylin’!  One day we camped near a hanging glacier with a monstrous waterfall gushing out of it’s base and thundering into the valley below.  While Ralph was viewing the glacier from a lookout, a huge chunk calved off of the glacier, shattered on a ledge below, and flowed over a lip as a powder slide and poured like water into the valley floor 300 feet below.  What an amazing sight to see!!

Pat taking a little break!

Pat taking a little break!

Near Coihaique, the only city in this region, we climbed up onto higher ground (1500′ – we had been near sea level since joining the Carratera) and out of the thick trees.  We had ridge-lines towering on either side of us with coniferous trees on their flanks and big broad rolling grasslands in front of us to bike through.  It reminded us of the area around Fremont Pass near Leadville, Colorado.  To us, this country was even more impressive than the Lake district of Argentina and the previous Austral section.  We dropped to the shores of huge Lago General Carrera and camped on the shore near Puerto Tranquilo.  We spent an extra day here because it truly was tranquilo and the water the bluest teal-blue color you can ever imagine.    

Lago General Carrera

Lago General Carrera

caves formed from the water at Lago General Carrera

caves formed from the water at Lago General Carrera

Since we entered the lake district of Argentina, and now all along the Carratera, we have met loads of bikers touring.  We usually meet 2,4,6,8 bikers per day.  They are from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Philippines, the USA, but mostly from Europe.  In fact, we have joked that we doubt there is anyone left in Holland and Germany, they are all in South America biking!  What is even more interesting is staying at a hostel where we all share the same kitchen and try to communicate in 4 or 5 different languages and come up with something to eat!  But we exchange much information about the road ahead and behind and share our adventures with each other, which is great because in the past we would not see another biker sometimes for weeks. 

 One whole day was unpleasantly spent pedaling through a steady rain, ending in a bone chilling descent into a river canyon.  At the bottom, we ducked under a bridge to get out of the rain, change into warm clothes and make hot drinks.  We spent the evening there and set up camp nearby.   The next morning we woke up to fresh snow on the spectacular rugged mountains!  Burr!!!!  We took a 12 mile detour off the main road and visited the unique village of Tortel – unique because all the buildings are elevated, built on pilings, there are no streets, no cars and the only way to get around town is by foot up and down endless steps all along boardwalks!  The only road into the remote village was completed only 4 years ago.  Up until then, the only access was by airplane or boat. 

boardwalk town of Tortel

boardwalk town of Tortel

We traveled the last 100 miles of this chunk of our adventure through a very remote section.  Up till 10 years ago, there was no road in this area of the world and you could only access it by plane or boat.  It was one of the most remote and magnificent of our entire trip.  Big long climbs were rewarded by views of huge valley, braided rivers flowing ½ and ½ with mocha-coffee color on one side and teal blue from the glacial flower on the other side, volcanoes spitting plumes of smoke, hanging glaciers, multitudes of waterfalls and of course – screaming, hair-raising descents on a loose gravel road.  We feel very fortunate to have gotten to visit this part of our planet and advise you to see it now because, sadly enough there are plans to build 5 big hydroelectric dams in this region, which will definitely destroy this remote, pristine beauty with paved roads, powers lines, etc… (You can picture it!).


We are now in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins, on the very narrow part of the South American continent and can almost see both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.  From here we have many more rivers to cross, ferryboats to take, bikes to push up steep hills and then on through the strong winds of Patagonia to our final destination of Ushuaia!  We are now praying for strong tailwinds (wind in Patagonia can get up to 150 miles per hour, so we may make the last 800 miles very quickly!) to blow us the rest of the way south and onward to see the penguins.


Bikin’ On,

Ralph & Pat



  1. Being a scuba diver, I wonder what it looked like in those bluer that blue lakes

  2. Wow. You guys have gone so far since we saw you pushing your bikes through the mud in Guatemala. An amazing trip. Back here in the US, just working hard to be able to keep working hard, with the economy getting so bad. It’s a good time to be on the road.

  3. I am glad that you could make it thru Futaleufu. Whan we tried in November the road was closed because of Chaiten reerupting. Good for you guys! I (we) envy you.

    Liz & Lito

  4. Your descriptions and photos bring tears to my eyes… even if you are 7 years younger then the oldest bikers you met, your journey is more then we will ever attempt and commendable. Bike on!

  5. I did not know when you are for sure finishing but just wanted to say “Congratulations” now. What an accomplishment! You better feel so proud but I am sure right now you just want to finish and get the heck home. What are you going to want to do first? Cook in your kitchen? Plant your garden? Visit friends/family? Hug the girls alot? Just sit in your PJs all day? or go on a nice bike ride? Enjoy your final days as much as the rest! Love, Kristi

  6. Ralph and Pat,
    When it is cold, like the minus fifty-two degrees today, I pull up your travel journal and enjoy the warmth of your travels. It is great to read of your day to day experiences. Best wishes. Judy in the Frozen North

  7. Ralph and Pat,

    Had 15 on the Polar star trip this week, fine cold powder and belly-roll laughs. Am investigating hut availability for Mar. 1-4 as Lou from AZ wants to go. Will ask a few others, including yourselves,(you may be adjusting or a bit ‘tripped out’!) before making the reservation. Got some Karhu Storm BC’s for hut and floated even through chokes and stumps. Not much here compares with the last round of pictures from Chile…can a bunch of us do a return trip after I retire?!…Mark Mace.

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