Note to self: never neglect the road less travelled. It’s so easy to do, in the rush from a to b. For that yearning sense of arrival, we sometimes sacrifice a little of the journey.
Indeed, as much as I’ve been overwhelmed by the grandiose beauty of the Carretera Austral, and the windswept solitude of Ruta 40, the roads that have become my personal favourites are those that streak off to either side. My birthday ride was one, and this latest dirt road detour is another. Unfortunately, most of these diversions can’t be interlinked – they require out and backs, rather than a more harmonious loop. But in Patagonia, these offshots are worth every moment of time and effort; they’re a brief insight into the magnificence that lies to either side of the main black line I follow…
As for this particular adventure, I was lucky enough to share the experience with fellow cyclists Myles, Marion and Matthias. Our intention: a four day excursion to Lago Frías and Glaciar Grande, via a ride and a hike.
Initially, our return to the ripio that left El Calafate might have been the Ruta 40 of yesteryear, before it was paved. Then we were pedalling under a flat light and a swathe of moody clouds overhead. And then, it was a lush valley of wildflowers, bobbing in the wind. Soon after, beyond Lago Roca, came the working estancias, where gauchos galloped on muscular horses. This preluded the most sublime, 18km stretch of grassy doubletrack, that unfurled to a setting sun. A precious moment of touring perfection; a ride of wondrous cloud formations, a Tree of Life and eternal laughter. Come morning, we hid bicycles and hiked to a barebones refugio, set above a crystalline lagoon. We traipsed to a valley of giants, set at the junction of three, mighty glacial tongues. We watched shards of ice glint and change colour in the evening light.
That’s the romantic side, at least. Pop over to Myle’s site to read a more amusing account of the agony and the ecstasy of becoming hopelessly lost, of the battles through thorny brush that ensued, of Swiss efficiency and British disorganisation… A fine team of misfits we made.
Below are a series of images, in rough order of the events. What’s not portrayed is the violent but beautiful rainstorm unleashed around Lago Frías, our smiles when the sun shone once more, the dewy tramp through grassy pampas, the euphoric return to our bikes, squeezing four in a tent made for two… and the all-you-can-eat-argentine-grill that celebrated our return.
If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos. You can find it here.