Blowout on Carratera Austral – Carratera Austral, Chile

Blowout on Carratera Austral
Carratera Austral, Chile

Must be our lucky day. It was sunny out. Our first in quite awhile.

After breakfast, Brian hung his bike up on an abandoned A-Frame and worked some more on the shifting. The rear derailleur cable was clogged with dirt and debris so he took everything apart and gave it a good cleaning.

We set off around 10am. Brian stopped to put on music and do some filming so I kept going by myself. From here, there were two stories happening at the same time.

Yan’s Story:
I cycled on. It was another wonderful ride with pretty flat terrain through the forest. The temperature was perfect; the sun made me happy. I noticed a new kind of berry bush by the road I had never seen before so I stopped and picked one – it was dry and bitter.

A small bus came across me at a narrow section of the road by a lake, so I stopped and moved to the side to let it pass. The driver waved at me, and I did the same.

After a small hill, the road followed a lake. At the corner of a turn, I looked back and saw Brian just over another corner in the distance, so I kept going.

The scenery was terrific. I crossed a bridge where a construction worker was pushing the sediment up the river bed with a bulldozer. I waved at him and he did the same to me. A couple of more small ups and downs later I stopped by a small farm house. It looked very lonely with the vast valley and mountain in the background. Where is Brian? Normally he rides a lot faster than me. Maybe he stopped to do more filming. I didn’t think too much about it and kept going.

At another narrow section on the road, I heard a truck coming from behind so I stopped to let it pass. Quite strangely, the truck stopped and the driver stepped out. He was walking towards me.

Brian’s story:
Two kilometers after Yan took off, I was on a downhill and suddenly started to hear hissing noise that sounded like a river or waterfall. But there were no rivers or waterfalls. The noise was from my back tire – I got a flat!

Oh boy, not good. I had the patch-kit but Yan had the pump. Luckily, a small bus was coming from the other way. I waved the driver to stop and asked him where Yan was. He said she was only one kilometer ahead. “Is she cycling?” I asked. “No, she stopped.”

So, I took my backpack, carried it on my back and started pushing the bike. I walked for two kilometers and Yan was nowhere to be seen. “This is crazy, I can’t be doing this.” I said to myself. A delivery truck came by and reluctantly stopped. The driver offered me a ride but he was in a big hurry and the back of the truck was so high that it would be a major effort to bring my bike up. So instead, I asked the driver to stop Yan and tell her that I needed the pump – “bombin”.

Yan’s Story:
I was a bit worried when the truck driver came over to me. He started talking. I could filter out a few words: Amigo, Necesario, Bombin: Friend, necessary, pump. Then he squeezed my back tire and said “Problema”. No good, sounded like Brian got a flat. So I asked him how many kilometers, he raised two fingers up.

I couldn’t believe it. It was some of the better ripio we had ridden. How could he get a flat? Anyway, I turned back and started cycling really fast. After over one kilometer, I heard rattling noise from my rack. I stopped and looked. One of the screws to connect the rack to the frame was about to fall out. Brian had the alan wrench.

If Brian was two kilometers away from where I was, he should be just over the corner. So, I took all my packs off, set them by the road, and took only our passport/money pouch and the pump with me. Without the luggage, I could ride much faster.

Around the corner, no Brian. Another two kilometers, nothing. Another two kilometers, nothing. I was getting really worried and rode as fast as I could. Nine kilometers away from where the truck driver stopped me, I saw Brian over the distance not very far at all from where I spotted him a while back ago.

Brian’s Story:
I stopped to take the tube out hoping the truck driver would stop Yan before she had gone too far. I had the spare tube. But wait a minute. I don’t. All of a sudden, I realized the spare was a shreader for my old bike and my new bike had a presta valve!

Nothing was wrong with the tire. But ironically, even though was a tube-less tire, I decided not to use that option because I had never dealt with them before.

I was near a lake, so I started patching the tube while waiting for Yan to show up. I soaked the tube in the water and found 3 holes. So I patched them with 3 out of the 7 patches I had. I soaked the tube in again and saw 5 bubbles coming out! I was getting really worried. Time to get creative. I cut each patch into four pieces to make more. It was a gamble but it was my only hope. I was simply running out of patches. Some of the holes were so small that I had to soak the tube in 3 times to pinpoint them. When I was patching the ninth hole, I saw Yan coming.

Yan’s Story:
I gave Brian the pump and told him I needed the wrench. After he found out all my bags were eight kilometers away by the road, he was shocked and wanted me to go back right away. We didn’t talk much. He tightened the bolt and I took off. I rode like a maniac. To my great relief, my bags were still at the same place. I was exhausted. I sat on the bags and ate a bread roll. A herdsman and three horses walked passed me across the meadow. After almost an hour, I was getting cold and decided to ride back to Brian.

Brian’s Story:
I continued patching. In the end, 14 holes! Unbelievable. I had been patching holes for the past 2½ hours! Hopefully nothing had happened to Yan’s bags. I loaded everything back on and started riding. Six kilometers later, I saw Yan coming my way.

Okay, that was the long version of “Brian got a flat that day.”

We finally started cycling again. It looked like the sun was here to stay for the day. Fifteen kilometers later, we were at another small downhill. I rode in front and heard Brian stopped me from behind. “Catastrophic equipment failure.” He said, so amazingly calm that I thought he was joking.

The rack was dangling. One of the bolts was gone.

We set the bike down and found a new problem: The rack sheared the bolt-head off. The rest of the bolt was buried in the frame. The bolt hole was completely blocked. We tried to tap the broken bolt with a multi-tool but it didn’t move a bit; we tried to use the hole on the brake mount but the hole was too small. When all failed, there were still straps. With several webbings went from his seat to the rack, several straps tied around the frame, and tie-n-wraps to secure the pannier from sliding, Brian was back on the saddle again.

More than four hours after we left camp in the morning, we had only gone 20 kilometers in a sunny, windless day on good ripio. Cochrane was another 40 plus kilometers away. With close to three hours of daylight left, we thought we could still make it.

At 5pm, a mountain pass started. We watched the same bus that we saw in the morning laboring up the windy switchbacks and wasted no time starting our climb. Roughly an hour later, we found ourselves at the top of the mountain with wild berries everywhere. Like two hungry bears getting ready for winter, we sloppily combed the bushes putting handful after handful of the pinkish no-name berries in our mouth with gusto. They tasted really good.

At 6pm, the sun was going down and we were still 25 kilometers away from Cochrane. By the road there was a beautiful spot overlooking a lake. I thought about camping but Brian convinced me to push on. Understandably he wanted to make it to Cochrane. It had been weeks since we contacted either of our families and his bike was quite a wounded duck at that point. Moreover, if we had been cycling uphill, downhill should be coming.

And so we did, cycling as sunset turned into moonrise. Around 6:30pm, the good ripio we had been enjoying the entire day turned bad, really bad. Apparently it had been freshly grated. Three inches of the surface was soft, sandy, and grainy like a sugar bowl. And to make things worse, the darkness had made route picking impossible. I would blindly move to another side of the road if the other side became hard to cycle. But nothing was good.

We finally met some downhill. I was going down at almost 20kph when I felt my front tire got sucked in to the deep soft sand, slid to the side, and before I could release my shoes out of the pedal, I was thrown onto the ground with both pedals still attached.

I started screaming so Brian could hear me and stop. He turned back and could only make out that I was down and pinned under the bike. But all he could pay attention to was the headlights of a truck coming down the same hill. “Get up, get out of the way!” He yelled as he was rushing back towards me. Just I got out of the pedal, the truck slowly passed me. Brian helped me getting up. I was hurt, but nothing seemed broken.

We put on our headlamps and tail light, took a moment for me to recover and carried on. Brian took away my backpack. Our headlamps were pathetically dim as Brian had been borrowing the batteries for his music all day. I really regretted that I didn’t insist on camping back where we could still see. Now, there was no where we could camp and Cochrane was another 15 kilometers away.

My shoulder and knee hurt. There was nothing we could do but keep on pushing. For the next two hours, we crawled through the darkness on sandy, muddy roads with deep puddles after cattle guards and bridges with huge gaps that could easily swallow a tire. I was not happy.

Fifteen kilometers down the road. Cochrane was no where in sight, not a single light or even a blink in the distance. Where is this place?

Another two kilometers more, we came to a sign after passing a house with dogs barking and howling at us. Cochrane 5km. 5km?! I couldn’t believe my eyes and certainly did not want to believe the fact. There was an intersection with an open area that was possible to camp, but after all that we had been through, stopping five kilometers short was just not an option anymore.

It was big downhill going to Cochrane. The temperature must have dropped 20 degrees. My hands were numb. I had trouble pushing the shifter. But being able to see the lights in the distance, we knew this was going to be over soon.

Frozen and exhausted, we rolled in to Cochrane after another small uphill. The streets were empty. We found a hostel with the help of a local and started to unload in the front yard. In a hurry and distracted by trying to cut the tie-n-wrap to release his pannier, Brian set our tent on the lawn then we each made two trips to bring our luggage into our room. We took everything except the tent.

Inside, we could not get the heater to work at first and when it finally did, pain and fatigue started to sink in and neither of us realized our tent was still outside.

The next morning, it was not there anymore.

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