Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Puerto Veras to Quellón, Chiloé (Part 2)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 About 1:00 a.m

I’m at a campground right at the end of the Pan American Highway (Highway 5 in Chile). I arrived here about half an hour ago, after a bizarre little side-trip.

Just north of Quellón, is a cluster of small towns, including Conco and Santa Rosa. A sign on the highway indicated camping off on this side road. It was gravel (and it was night, 10:00 p.m.) About six miles out, following the shore of an inlet, I think, the road suddenly turned up a little canyon and before I realized, I was committed. It was narrow, steep and there was no room to turn around.

And the off-camber path was filled with round cobbles and soft dirt. I came to a halt in a rut and couldn’t progress any further. The bike started sliding backward and the brakes weren’t holding. Gaining momentum, there was nothing I could do but let it fall under me.

The bike was at such an angle I was able to lift it up again and get back on, but I still needed to get it pointed back down hill; fully-loaded I wasn't going to get any further up the hill. Using a technique of turning the front wheel from side to side, while trying to keep the rear wheel in place, the front wheel slipped downhill an inch or so at a time.

Working it this way, I nearly had the front coming around to the downhill side, when the shoulder started to give way and I was now sliding forward, into a ditch. The bike went over again, this time on the left side (with the engine - and weight -uphill), breaking the front turn signal. (I’m now accustomed to the sound of crunching turn signals.) If the bike fell into this small ravine, there would be no way to get it out without help.

Wearing my headlamp, and walking all around, I studied the situation for a while. First, everything would have to come off (except the left pannier, which was trapped underneath.) I could then try to pivot the bike around on its left cylinder head and pannier (damaging both). I didn't like that option, though it would be the easiest. Or I could first lift it upright while attempting to prevent it from rolling off into the ditch. (Reverse would be nice to have at a time like this.) Then I would try to lift the front end back onto the road.

It was a humbling experience, as a series of poor decisions (or reactions) brought me to this point. It was foolish to be out here, in the middle of the night, to have kept driving rather than stop to ask for help (finding a campsite).

There was no use in becoming angry, or feeling sorry for myself. It was just one of those situations you have to patiently work through. (A part of me felt like laying down and going to sleep right there.)

Carefully removed each piece of gear; I couldn't afford having the bike slide any further off the road. Climbed down the embankment, and grabbed the front wheel, lifting it slightly, making sure the bike wouldn’t tip, then resting. Then repeating. Eventually, I had it back up on the road, but I still had to get it down out of this rubble.

Maneuvered gingerly another 50 yards down the road, to a point where I felt it could safely be re-loaded. Perhaps most annoying was that everything I had so carefully cleaned in Bariloche was pretty much a dusty mess again. (But, to my surprise, this whole episode felt like only a minor annoyance.)

Back on the road to Quellón, looked for some vacant space where I could camp. But fence lines restricted access beyond the road. The cold wind, which earlier had me very anxious to find a refuge, now, after a little exertion, felt refreshing. I was no longer in a hurry.

In town, I "broke down" and inquired after a room at the "Hotel Suizza", but they were full. The manager told me there is a campground at the end of the highway, three kilometers away (why didn’t I ask before?) and mentioned another nearby hotel.

Before looking into the campground, I stopped at a hotel along the waterfront. They had space, but $40 was far too much for what you get. So, I continued driving. Things were looking a bit dismal at this point.

Then I found the turn-off for the campground, and drove down the dirt road. A woman met me as I arrived. She said there were plenty of sites, and the cost was 2,000 Pesos, about $4. When I asked if she sells drinks, she said they don't but invited me into their house, where her husband was busy cleaning up after dinner.

She offered me some pineapple soda and typical bread (something like a cross between a shortbread and a muffin: about 3 or 4" diameter, very dry and no sweetness.) It was a welcome gesture capping an otherwise trying night.

The campsites are spread around the perimeter of a grassy field, each site with covered picnic table, light and electrical hook-up. It felt luxurious!



Tim, great post. I imagine these setbacks will one day be remembered for the great adventure they really are when you return to your real life and have to deal with life's day-to-day annoyances. Your ability to keep your situation in perspective and still drink in the wonders of your surroundings are admirable. Your photos really place the reader on the road with you. Great work--saty safe.

Tim Spires said...

Glad you made it out of that one ok....Good read!

Drew Kampion said...

Whew! You had me sweatin' bullets there ... but since I was reading about it, I kept reminding myself, you MUST have survived! Great going, Timbo!

timtraveler said...

Of course, silly!

timtraveler said...

Mr. Paynter,

You nailed it. If I can take away the lesson of perspective, it will all have been worth it!