Cycling Chile/Argentina '04 | ArgenChile Index Day 24 Day 26
Day 25: Laguna del Desierto -> Argentina/Chile Border Bike Pushing: 5.5KM | Ferry: 1/2 HR Digging Deep

3AM in the morning, Brian got up and felt sick. It could have been the cold, the smoke, the smoke sausage, over-dosage of Mate, or the combination of them all. Both the "mountain man", the ranger who first introduced Mate to us at Torres del Paine, and our Mate book mentioned that for those who have never had Mate before, too much of it might get them sick, especially when using a new calabash Mate pot. But for whatever the reason(s), when we got up to get ready for the ferry across Laguna del Desierto, he could not even handle a couple of crackers.

An old home remedy he trusts for stomach upset calls for whisky with black pepper. So Brian turned to the camp host to see if he got any liquor in house. He found a lonely bottle by the window with 33% alcohol content. Brian took a shot from it anyway.

Yesterday's rain took a break at night and started right off in the morning. As we were there packing, a girl walked up to us and said she was coming with us to the ferry, and she had a bicycle too. Turned out Chris met her, Gabi from Switzerland, in Chalten, told her about us, and talked her to come along. So, she became the 5th member of our crossing team, or the 4th for taking the ferry across Desirto. Graham insisted he wanted to walk the track along the lake. He lost his wallet in Punta Arenas shortly after his trip started in Ushuaia and was running out of cash. We offered to take his bike and luggage on the ferry as long as the captain would not question why 4 people needed 5 bicycles.

Rain poured on us as we started loading our gear on to the ferry. There were no other passengers. I could understand why. A long line of backpacks and panniers were passed from one person to another. Our bikes, including Graham's, were loaded up the last. "This is it", I remembered telling myself, "once we leave the dock, there is no return".

The scenery along the lake is absolutely stunning even with the rain. Hanging glaciers tempt you with brilliant blue crests; Waterfalls dance ever so elegantly cascading multiple levels in non-linear paths. It is tranquil and magnificent in beauty and grandeur; the moisture and lushness brought by the abundance of rain give it a sense of being "hidden", as in hidden treasure, and "lost", as in lost in paradise. Why they call it "Desierto", "Desert"?

30 minutes later, we were land-bound again. The captain commanded the docking with master precision and even helped us unloading the gear. We felt like Marine hitting the beach for a mission full of unknowns in less than favorable condition.

It was raining like crazy. We shuttled our gear up the hill by the small office of Argentinian border control. Apparently business was scarce. It took the officer more than half hour to gather his stamp, paperwork, and log book. No complaints from our side. We were happy to have a warm and dry place to stay for a while anyway.

A new stamp on our passport and it was time to repack our gear for bike-pushing.

In an empty shed outside the control office, all four of us had different ideas how to handle the track with everything we had. Chris and Gabi wanted to do two trips, one with bike and one with other gear. We thought we should be able to push through most part on one trip and shuttle only as needed.

Re-packing was a task in itself. Our backpack was not big enough to hold everything in. Brian's solution was to put most of the heavy stuff in the backpack, hooked the two panniers together with slings, saddled the panniers over the backpack, and wrapped the whole pack with more straps. Not even sherpa could carry a load as evil-looking as his setup.

I left my panniers on the bike with some light stuff in and managed to jammed the rest into my backpack.

Everything was wet, that added at least 10 pound of water weight. Our load was heinous. We could feel the pack compressing our spine and I had trouble taking a full breath.

The track went across a bridge right past the border and immediately started to go uphill. With the rain, it was already hard enough with a heavy backpack, not to mention pushing a bike. The track was narrow, loose, and muddy with firm bushes on the sides waiting to poke you. Some sections were so eroded that the track was 2 feet deep and merely 1 foot wide, barely enough to push the bike through with the pedals on. Sometimes, we would tip-toe on the side and let the bike take the whole track, or walk on the track and lift the bike up on the side. Either way, it was not easy.

The first 100 feet totally consumed us. We started to make double trips. Pushing only bikes, we came to a river crossing with some logs and rocks scattered across. The river was at least knee-deep. We walked sideways balancing with the bike that was half submerged in the water.

For the next hour or so, we continued pushing and hauling up the hills. On one trip back to retrieve our backpacks, we were shocked to see Graham who had not only finished running across the lake but geared up and caught us. Unbelievable. He even said to come back and help us when he got to the end.

After several more river crossings that required quite some acrobatic coordination, we came to a relatively flat valley. But this time, it was the exposed roots on the track and deep, slushy, sticky mud. Inevitably, I stepped into a puddle and picked up 5 pound of mud on my shoes.

Then, we met Chris and Gabi coming back for their second trip. They reported the border was only 45 minutes away. Not terrible, but we didn't have much left, especially Brian who hadn't had anything all day.

The track got a bit wider, so Brian took the panniers off his back and put them back on the bikes. We made good progress, but still struggled.

Soon after, Graham showed up on the track. It was only 15 minutes to the border for us, so he continued down the track to help Chris and Gabi.

Quite a long 15 minutes, we doubled the time and were totally exhausted and relieved to finally see the border sign: Welcome to Chile.

We had no intention to keep going even though it was not the perfect spot for camping. Brian was in pretty bad shape. He looked pale and started shivering in the cold wind. Quickly, I set the tent up and put him inside the sleeping bag. With some hot water I saved in the thermos and a pack of cold medicine, he began to feel better.

The rain had gotten lighter. It was only drizzle when I walked down the hill to get water. All I could find was a small pond of rain water on a river bed. I pumped it anyway.

Within an hour or so, the whole crew showed up. They pitched their tent next to ours. Soon, we had hot noodle cooking with jokes and laughter passing among the tents.

Index Day 24 Day 26