Day Two

Cherquenco, 6:23

I wake up to the rain drumming furiously on the thin plastic roofing of the patio. It sounds like I need not only worry about water seeping in from above, but also from below. Pulling the blanket closer, I forfeit any plans of starting early.

wpid-img_20141115_123243.jpgCherquenco, 9:20

After sleeping late and enjoying a lenghty breakfast of oatmeal with milk from my panniers, the rain has not diminished in the slightest. I am glad I brought the plastic poncho that has been hidden deep in my luggage for more than 5300 kilometers and try it on for the first time. Since I have no hopes of still being able to meet the bicycle guide in Melipeuco, going there seems pointless. The rain is so bad that I do not feel like taking the detour into Conguillio National Park, either. Instead, I decide to go south, to the beautiful lakeside towns of Villarrica or Pucón, both of which are  perfectly prepared to cater to the needs to of travelers such as I. Which one I shall stop at depends on how bad things are out there. Villarica is quite a bit closer and thus seems more realistic. If my bravery is rewarded with cyclable weather, I will stay there and explore the area. If not, I will catch a bus up north and jump out as soon as the rain stops in order to cycle the remaining way to Valparaíso in the drier climate of Central Chile.

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Rio Carbuco, 10:35

The rain becomes bearable during the first hour of riding, and I dare to take off the poncho. I feel like I am riding a bike again (instead of driving a circus tent). The gravel road is of the rougher kind, with stretches of loose rocks I have to cross carefully.

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Somewhere near Los Lleuques, 11:56

The drizzle is continuous and swells to serious downpours every once in a while. Climbing is difficult, and I try to laugh in the face of adversity to keep my spirits up. But when I find myself surrounded by snow at little more than 1000 meters of elevation, I feel like the joke is on me. Luckily, the road stops going up shortly after the snow starts. Unfortunately, it goes down at a terrifying angle. I do my best to avoid bigger rocks, patches of snow and deep puddles of half-frozen mud. My numb fingers cling to the brake levers in a mostly futile attempt to gain control of my descent.

Some people categorize the fun of an activity by the immediate pleasure derived from it. Type 1 fun is just good fun that gives immediate satisfaction. Type 2 fun is when you start to enjoy what you are doing mainly when it’s over – say, running your first marathon. I find myself meddled in solid type 3 fun – after it is over, you are just grateful that you survived. To say that the rapid downhill on a wet and slippery path is stretching the limits of my technical abilities as a rider is a wild understatement. At this point, I am wearing the poncho not only to protect me from the severe rain, but also hope that the wide flaying plastic provides some slowing down, much like a parachute.

wpid-img_20141115_123411.jpgCunco, 13:34

In the end, I miraculously survive yet another dreadful descent unscathed and come to a major intersection. The signs place my next destination, the town of Cunco, at about 16 kilometers to the west. That is precisely 15 kilometers from where I hoped it would be. Still, I am glad that the road leading there is paved. It also goes downhill slightly, so I am actually going pretty fast now – even faster when two insane rabid killer dogs chase me for two kilometers. It is fairly fascinating: I was doing about 30 kilometers per hour when they started chasing me and still they kept up for that distance even though I pedaled as hard as possible in order to outrun them. It must be the poncho that awakens the killer instinct in them.

My modest lunch in Cunco consists of a couple of slices of bread with avocado and cheese that I buy at the first minimarket I find and gobble down next to a tiny wooden stove in the back of the shop. The friendly owner tells me that many Germans immigrated to the region immediately after the Second World War, which does not seem to bother him much. In fact, his main opinion on this global conflict is that it was a “huge waste of money”. I forego entering into a political/historical discussion with him and concentrate on feeling grateful for his tiny stove that almost dries my soaked gloves (but not my shoes). He seems to know the area well and tells me that there is a shortcut to Villarrica over a good gravel road. His estimate on the remaining distance to my final destination for the day? “Definitely less than 40 kilometers!

wpid-img_20141115_123454.jpgSomewhere in the Lago Cólico vicinity, 15:12

Before even leaving Cunco, disaster strikes as I notice that my left crank moves sideways with each pedal revolution, a direction it most definitely is not supposed to move. A quick check reveals that the damage is irreperable, and my bottom bracket needs to be replaced urgently. Seeing as it is likely impossible to find a matching replacement bottom bracket in Cunco, I push on towards Villarrica, hoping to get there before the damaged part loses all usefulness.

At first, the shopkeeper’s description of the road ahead proves to be correct and accurate. I follow a smooth paved road for a few kilometers before turning right onto a dirt road in pristine condition. Yet shortly after, the surface gets worse, and before long, I find myself riding on loose rocks, dodging ankle-deep potholes. The merciless ups and downs of the road drain my energy: the uphills are mean while the downhills are downright scary. I pass the first lake of my trip, a tiny and boring waterhole not unlike the uncountable lakes dotting the landscape of Brandenburg. Shortly after, a sign informs me that I am located at 73 kilometers from Villarrica. Somehow, I am not even surprised when I realize that I am in the middle of nowhere with my hopes to reach Villarrica in daylight utterly crushed.

The rain comes and goes, and my shoes are long beyond the point of being soaked. The showers do not bother me anymore: being drenched to the bone is something I have learned to accept. The landscape is not unpleasant, but the low clouds hide the surrounding mountains from my view. Before boredom has a chance to take hold of me, I am struck with pure horror when a dog with a murderous stare begins chasing me behind a fence – and finds the hole in it. Somehow, I manage to outrun the beast on the steep uphill, but the chase is an unwelcome reminder of fierce roadside dogs blocking our way during our only nightride in Brazil. I realize that riding in the dark might not only be unpleasant, but dangerous.

Finally, the bottom bracket definitely quits service with a loud cracking sound, followed by unsettling grinding noises telling me that the bearings have given up. I am stuck at more than 40 kilometers from Villarrica. Pushing the bike uphill, I wave to the few cars that pass me. After three unsuccessful attempts, one stops, but the driver tells me his car is full even though I can clearly see there’s nothing in there. Just when I begin to lose hope, a small pick-up truck piloted by Alejandro becomes my deus ex machina. Not only is he polite enough to stop and hear my pledge, but he also has an appointment with his dentist in Villarrica and offers me a ride. Gratitude and a strong sensation of defeat wrestle within me as I climb into his car and sit next to him on the way to Villarrica.

Dripping wet, I check into the first hotel I find that has a fireplace, which is where I spend the next few hours drying my clothes.

Back to Day One.

Go on to Day Three.

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