Knowing we had a busy day ahead, we got up around 8AM. We enjoyed jefe's breakfast and returned to get packed.
The room was in total disarray with supplies and equipment everywhere. It was hard to find inspiration in all the mess.
It took nearly two hours, but amazingly, we found a place for everything. So with every compartment maxed-out -
every seam, zipper and buckle at its limit - we were finally ready for real adventure.
Out in front of the hotel, we said good-bye to jefe, and cycled over to the local hardware store to pick up some
foam insulation for our handlebars. The thin, narrow bars hurt our hands riding on the pavement. Riding on ripio would
be 10 times worse. We spent some 1,600 pesos and with foam and duct tape applied, our bikes were finally starting
to look official. The padded grips actually felt quite comfortable as we rode out of Natales heading for Paine.
Sometime around noon and nearly 15km north of Natales, we reached the backroad to Paine and encountered ripio for the first time.
We turned left onto the road and headed downhill immediately disliking the loose and unstable ripio. I remember thinking, "1,000km of this?"
Not even one mile down the road and we both almost fell over. It was really hard to balance the heavy loads.
It was sunny and warm. Despite the new, difficult road surface, our spirits were high. 5km further and we passed the
Cueva del Milodon - an archeological site for an ancient super-sized sloth. Ever since we found out the life-sized replica was
made from plastic and totally cheesy, we have been poking fun at it even while we were taking a 2-minute break outside the entrance.
We cycled on through gently rolling hills not sure exactly what to make of ripio. Certainly, it slowed us down and was much harder
to ride. It seemed awfully hard on the bikes and our bodies.
At 30km away from Natales, we stopped to eat some apples near an old wooden fence. We were so excited to be following
this deep green valley as it wound its way past towering mountain peaks and rivers. Well, at least for the next hour or
so until the wind picked-up and the ripio got worse.
At 45km and just past a military camp, we stopped for a more substantial meal. We had fruit, hardboiled eggs and some
cookies as we savored our mini-picnic. We were feeling a bit tired but knew we needed to push on because camping here
was simply not possible.
Back on the bikes we pushed on through the wind and cooling temperature. Shortly down the road, we came upon some construction vehicles and some signs
for explosives in use. There was not much activity perhaps because it was late in the day. Ultimately, the track came to a fork in the road.
The road to the right had a sign indicating tourist activities like horseback riding. Sounded good, but we knew we had to push northwest, so we took the
left road and crossed a bridge. On the other side, we saw a woman tending her horses. Brian asked if we were going the right way.
She confirmed the direction: Paine was 30km away - up steep terrain, subject to very strong winds and no place to camp.
Sure enough, as we came around the first corner, the winding road went straight up. At 30 degrees and covered with loose rocks,
it was impossible for me to ride. Despite his best efforts, even Brian was pushing his bike. Occasionally, we could ride something, but it never lasted long. This went
on for an hour before we could start riding more. Still, it was boulder-infested track and mostly uphill. We were running out of energy. To make matters worse,
we were gaining elevation fast and all the water sources disappeared. We had traveled all day near pristine rivers and lakes, and now we couldn't find a drop.
As tired as we were, we pushed on vowing to stop at the next water source. By that time, we had climbed nearly 1,000 vertical feet.
The last couple of hills were really hard. At one point, we came upon a mud puddle - hardly worthy of our extreme effort put forth all day. So we pushed for something
better with Brian scouting ahead. Our perseverance paid off when finally we came upon a tranquil lake nestled in pine trees. It was
big enough to supply a small city and looked ever so pure. We found a flat area right next to the lake and made this our campsite.
Tired and hungry, we could not have found anything more welcoming.