Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ralun to Puerto Varas

The dogs stayed in the living room last night when we turned in for the night. Erik made a comment about feeling good they were there. We had talked about how amazing dogs are, with their keen sense of smell and hearing, and how they can sense danger before people can.

Well, so much for that.

Just as I was falling asleep, I heard Erik get up and say 'Tori! Grab some water, quick!'. Erik had laid some logs on the top of the pot belly stove to dry out, so the next guest could have an easier time starting the fire. He also left a piece of paper there. Unfortunately, he built such a spectacular fire, that the paper reached flashpoint on the surface of the fireplace. By the time Erik noticed it, a good four logs were in flames. The dogs were continuing to relax peacefully on the rug. When I ran to the kitchen to get water, they bolted. I guess they knew danger when they saw it, eventually. A kettle full of water did the trick, and disaster was averted. Erik and I looked at the drapes, which were right beside the fireplace, the clothes line, which hung right above the fireplace, and the construction of the cabin, which was almost entirely wood. Yikes.

We woke up the next morning alive and to clear skies and the sound of birds. My sister's husband, Todd would probably like it here. I've seen many very cool birds here, and I don't even like birds. It was the first day that seemed to me like tshirt weather. We said goodbye to the doggies and headed out to see Volcan Osorno.

Volcan Osorno is a key feature of the landscape in the Puerto Varas area. We hadn't had a real glimpse of it yet because of the constant overcast conditions in the area. Today, with the sky clear and the volcano visible, the whole lanscape seemed to change. Unlike the continuous mountain ranges we are familiar with at home, this towers over everything nearby. For perspective, the adjacent landscape is less than 200 metres above sea level, while the top of the volcano is about 2600 metres above sea level. The contrast is quite dramatic. The volcano has a nice cone shape to it and plenty of snow up top, adding to the visual appeal on a nice warm, clear day like today.

On our first day of riding, we saw that there was a road that went to a ski park on the volcano, and it looked like today might be a good day to check it out. Just over half way up the volcano, the road stopped at the ski lodge, where we were able to buy a ticket to go up a chair lift. The sky was quite clear and we could see Ensenada and Puerto Varas, as well as Puerto Montt and the ocean in the distance. At the top of the chair lift, there was a hike to a crater. While I have seen volcanos before, I always get a kick out of volcanic rock. It just feels so unearthly. It was a fun little diversion for the day.

We eventually made it back to our original hotel in Puerto Varas and took our bikes out for a n evening ride. The weather was awesome and we felt speedy.

We finished the night off with a light dinner and some wine and Pisco Sour on the second floor patio of a restaurant overlooking the lake, and a view of Volcan Osorno in the distance.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ensenada to Ralun

Windy night with a few showers. The wind was strong enough that it caused the waves from the lake to sound a lot like we were by the sea. When we woke up, it was overcast but fairly warm. Erik was feeling a bit better, so we decided to start the day with a short, easy ride to Petrohue, which was about 16 kilometres away. Many people that come to visit this area cross over to Bariloche through a combination of buses and ferries. Petrohue marks the first leg of the ferry route, across Lago Todos Los Santos.

We left the panniers in the truck at the campground. It felt really good to ride again and even better to ride without the extra weight.

After about 10 kilometres, we came across a park with some waterfalls and took the opportunity to do a walk around. From there, it was a 6km ride through volcanic sand and gravel to Petrohue. Petrohue was a bit smaller than I expected, and there were few people around since the ferry runs only once per day and, from the looks of it, today's departure had already occured. The one restaurant on the lake was closed, so we were going to have a quick snack and head back but decided to see if the restaurant in the one main hotel was open. Good choice. The hotel turned out to be surprisingly upscale, with a decent looking menu. The food was delicious and the view was stunning. It was an easy spin back to the campground and then time to get cleaned up and hit the road again. Erik chose to clean up in the lake. I opted for the hot shower.

Our drive today took us south, along the Carretera Austral, a project started by the Pinochet regime to open up southern Chile. When I first read about it, it was incomprehensible to me what could be so difficult and expensive about such a project. I guess that's because I come from the prairies. These are no prairies. We are effectively in rainforest country and in the lower Andes. The forest is so dense that it would be impossible to walk through. There was a paved road for the first 30km south of Ensenada, and then it was a narrow dirt road with very little traffic. We weren't sure whether we would camp tonight or grab a cabana, but we knew there wouldn't be restaurants where we were going, so we stopped at one of the supermarcados in Cochamo to buy some groceries. Fresh cheese, bread, a tetra box of wine, cookies and chocolate. We continued down the gravel road only a bit further but realized we still had another three hours ahead of us at the pace we were driving, so we decided to turn around and check out our lodging options. We settled on a nifty little Cabana near Ralun. It was in some rainforest just off the highway. When we arrived, we were greeted by some friendly little dogs. They have been hanging out with us in our cabana for most of the evening. Erik made a fire, even though its warm enough tonight that we don't really need one. So we have the door open, to keep things a bit cooler and also so the dogs can come and go when they hear something interesting outside.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cucao to Ensenada

It rained all night and through the morning. Our campsite was close to the shore of Lago Cucao. It was peaceful and very scenic, despite the poor visibility caused by the rain. We fell asleep to the sound of frogs (I think), and heard birds, horses, sheep, cows, chickens and roosters at various times through the night. In the distance we could hear the ocean waves crashing. There was the constant sound of raindrops falling on the tent. All were noises that I didn't mind at all. I was really glad we camped.

No hot showers this morning. Erik testosteroned his way through an icey cold shower. I was not motivated enough to do the same.

Hiking seemed like a futile effort today because of the volume of rain, so we decided to head back north to the mainland, with the goal of getting to one of the parks in the mountains for tonight. We made a few stops along the way, including to Castro and the market in Ancud. The drive itself is nice, but it was nicer yesterday when it wasn't raining. It's a bit like Kauai. There are a few key fishing towns, like Ancud and Castro, but not much in between. There are obvious signs of agriculture (including the occasional horse drawn buggy), but its not as abundant as one would expect given the apparent suitability of the land to growing stuff.

The fishing towns themselves are pretty neat. Very different architechture than on the mainland. Along the shore there are houses on stilts. On dry land, the houses use corregated tin and shingles as the primary building materials. Another noticable feature of the architecture is the number of old churches. I'm used to seeing churches made of stone, or something similarly ageless. These were thrown together with the same materials as the houses, but were ointeresting to look at nonetheless.

Before we knew it, we were on the ferry again and it was already 4:30pm. When we hit the mainland, we continued north to Ensenada. The rain, which had poured all day, cleared up shortly before we reached Ensenada, so we found a place to camp for the night. We are the only campers at this campground, so we had our pick of spots. We got a primo spot by the lakeshore with what will be a view od the Orsono volcano (if the clouds ever clear). The young guy that runs the campground has been really helpful and Erik managed to make a fire out of wet wood. It's a great quiet evening. Since I haven't had much success in predicting the next days weather or activities, I'm going to hold off on thinking about tomorrow and just enjoy sitting by the fire and drinking a bottle of wine and listening to the waves hit the shore tonight. I'm not even going to proofread this.

Puerto Montt to Cucao

Our travels today took us to the island of Chiloe. We drove a short distance south of Puerto Montt and then took a half hour ferry ride to the island. The ferries here are relatively small (ours held seven cars, three trucks and two buses) but very frequent (perhaps 10 minutes apart). Erik and I saw a penguin and some pelicans as we crossed.

We stopped for lunch in a little fishing town on the north end of the island called Ancud and ordered the chef's special. What we got was a massive, delicious, flaming plate of a wide range of shellfish, fish and chorizo. There was even something I had never seen before. It was a small red ball, similar in size and appearance to a cherry tomato, but with two little purple nipples. It looked like a tiny little alien. I can't describe the taste because it wouldn't break apart when I chewed. It was like a tiny little red rubber ball. Had there been only one, I might have actually thought it was not food, but there were probably a dozen on the plate, so Erik and I had ample opportunity experiment with them and ensure this mix of the catch of the day wasn't coincidentally from a place by the rubber ball factory.

After lunch, we drove out to Punihuil to look at some Penguin colonies that inhabit the area. There is a nonprofit German organization called Fundacion Otway that promotes the preservation of the penguin habitats in the area. The drive out was awesome; following a dirt road through some small family farming area with great views of the coast. When we arrived, they told us that the sea was too rough to take people out but there might be other 'independent' operators on the beach that would do it. It didn't appear as though anyone else was going out either, so we grabbed a coffee at the Otway office and watched an instructional movie on penguins. You could tell the video was produced by Germans. It was orderly, factual, informative and efficient, not wasting any time on useless qualitative description.
We walked down to the beach one last time to snap a picture and were approached by a stranger asking if we wanted a tour. Sweet. We watched as he and his buddies positioned their boat for launch. It took several attempts, but at last they got the motor started. Our tour lasted about 15 minutes, which was enough time to see a handful of penguin colonies, some sea otters, and a variety of ocean birds. It was also enough time to have the engine quit twice. But it was well worth it. I was really glad to have been able to get the tour.
We then drove south toward the national park with the intent to camp in the park. Single lanes, dirt road, construction, and an underestimation of the distance resulted in a later than expected arrival - about 9:30pm. We ultimately picked a camping spot outside the park that was less wet and muddy and so that we could get firewood and have hot showers in the morning. No plans yet for tomorrow, but if its clear and Erik's legs cooperate, I'd like to try a hike. It looks like there are some good spots around here, but it started raining when we got in the tent, so we will have to play it by ear.

My Sugoi rain jacket

I really like my rain jacket. I bought it in a hurry a day or two before I left for this trip. I had gone to MEC and couldn't find anything suitable and almost didn't bring rain gear. Then I did an emergency trip to the Bike Shop. I almost came out empty handed, but this Sugoi jacket caught my eye as I was leaving. It looked like a simple plastic rain coat, but felt light and I was told it was breathable. I figured there was no way it could be both waterproof AND breathable, but I bought it anyway because I figured I needed something. I first used the jacket when we went through the Andes on our second day of riding. After an hour or so, I thought I had put it on inside out because it was a rough texture, kind of a micro waffle, instead of the smooth jacket I remembered buying. Upon checking, I determined it was, in fact, on the right way. Maybe I had remembered incorrectly. It was definitely waterproof. It seemed to be reasonably breathable too, as I didn't get that sauna effect that typically comes with waterproof jackets.

The next day, when I packed up my rain jacket, I noticed it was smooth again. I was confused. So I watched closely the next time I used it in the rain. It looked like it swelled when it became wet. It was really cool. I don't know how it works. The tag says it is made of polyester and polyurethane. As far as I know these are impermeable to water. I'm fascinated with how it works. Erik is too. I've caught him touching the jacket and trying to make it expand and contract.

I don't know how it works, but this is the best rain gear I have ever bought.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Futaleufu to Chaiten

It poured all night, so it was good that we were not camping (and having to pack up all of our stuff wet early in the morning). We woke up early to catch the bus to Chaiten. The only bus of the day leaves at 7:00am. Despite the fact that the Cabana owner had tried to call to make a reservation, the bus people were a bit unprepared for us. On the list of reserved seats, there were two marked 'gringo'. I guess that meant us.
The bus was a 14 seat van, including the driver. There was not room for the bikes to ride inside, so they agreed to tie them down on top. There was a third cyclist, so that meant three bikes in total needed to be strapped down in preparation for driving on the bumpy gravel road ahead. I just had to close my eyes and pray there wouldn't be any major damage to the bike. The road was slow and bumpy and the rain poured for the whole three and a half hour drive. Every half hour or so the bus would stop and someone would get off or another couple of people would cram in to what seemed like an already full bus. Seemed like a decent business, although I think the road takes its toll on vehicles, which could be expensive.

The route would have made for tough cycling and probably would have been more than two full days of riding. The scenery was great, basically rainforest and mountains. Every day so far has been uniquely different in terms of landscape. There has been no shortage of cool stuff to see.

When we arrived in Chaiten, it was pouring rain and we really didn't know where we were. The bikes made it unscathed, so I was happy about that. We had decided it was worth the money to try to take the 35 minute flight, rather than the 10 hour ferry ride to Puerto Montt. We were uncertain about how frequent flights were, how full they would be and whether we could get bikes aboard. Since Epuyen, we've been in no English whatsoever territory. This is fine, but it means I can't asked the more complicated questions. So, I asked our bus driver for directions to the airport. We rode in the rain back down the highway and onto a gravel road that led to the airport. The was no ticket counter or information regarding flights at the airport. This is where a broader understanding of spanish would have come in handy, as we would have been able to determine that this was not the place to get a ticket BEFORE riding out to the airport.

The aiport was essentially one large room, maybe 1000 square feet, with a pot belly stove on one side. There were a few tourists, two of the tourists were from Washington DC. We learned from them that an airplane was scheduled to arrive in the next half hour to take them to Puerto Montt. We decided to take our chances and wait to see if we might be able to hitch a ride on their flight. At the very least, we were indoors and getting warmer.

After two hours of waiting, the weather was clearing. It was still overcast but it was no longer dumping rain. We decided to ditch this plan and head back to town to book a ticket we could count on. It was easy to find a ticket office. Chaiten has a poulation of about 3500 people in a concentrated area; seven blocks by five blocks. The first place we tried was full for the next two days. The second (and I think the only other) place had space today at 4pm AND they didn't seem to mind that we had bikes. YES! We quickly booked our tickets and then realized they only took cash. No problem, right? Just go to the bank. We went to the only bank in town. After trying my bank card numerous times, we realized the problem was not insufficient funds, wrong pin code, or too large of a request. Rather, my bank card and visa card only work on the 'plus' network. This bank machine was on the 'cirrus' network. Unfortunately, it was the only bank in town and the nearest place to find a 'plus' compatable machine was Puerto Montt. We could not get Puerto Montt without cash, but we couldn't get cash without going to Puerto Montt. UGH. Erik uses the same banks as I do, so he had the same problems. BUT, he had a mastercard, which could have worked, except that he couldn't remember his pin code and used up all of his attempts. Long story short, we spent a long time at the bank and couldn't get any money out. The best we could do was exchange our remaining Argentine pesos and US dollars, which came out to about two thirds of what we needed. Erik commented several times that we had enough for one of us to go and I was getting a little bit worried. We went back to the ticket office and I explained as best I could that we only had two thirds of the necessary amount and wanted to pay the rest when we got to Puerto Montt. They were nice enough to agree and they even let us keep a few bucks so we could buy lunch. Lifesavers! It was such a strange feeling having no money. My favorite tools, bank card and Visa, were useless here.
I should point out that the only reason we did have that much money is because of Erik. I always prefer to keep as little cash on hand as possible, I guess in case we get robbed or something, I don't know. I do it in Canada too. I'm just spoiled by our system. Cash is a nuisance, or so I thought. Several times on this trip, Erik has insisted on getting more cash that I think we need. Thank god for that, as I'm not sure how we would have gotten out of Chaiten today otherwise.

We went for lunch and spent every last peso we had. We rode out to the airport for our 4:00pm flight. There was a man at the airport telling us that we owed more money for our excess baggage and that we couldn't fly unless we paid. So, we had to explain our situation again. Fortunately, he eventually agreed to let us board. By now it was pouring rain again and we watched the baggage guys get soaked as they loaded all of the luggage onto the plane. Considering that rain appears to be very common here, we were surprised to see how poorly dressed they were. This went for almost everyone else we saw today too. It doesn't appear to be a matter of insufficient means to buy proper clothing. There was one lady this morning wearing a down jacket in the pouring rain. The baggage handlers wore simple winter jackets that were not waterproof. Others were dressed in fashionable, but permeable clothing. Erik and I sppeared to be the only ones in rainjackets.

The plane ride was fun. I love smalll planes. This one sat 9 passengers. We rode through the clouds quite a bit, so you could see nothing but white all around. Our landing was a bit rough. Actually, the roughest landing I've ever experienced. I generally don't get nervous on airplanes, but it was really gusty and we were wobbling all over the place. Approaching the ground, we were not even parallel to the runway. I didn't think we were going to die, but I thought there was a good chance we were going to crash. But, we didn't. I have to wonder if the pilot was ever nervous.

We rode our bikes from the airport and into town. This is seriously the way to travel. No messing around with transfers and such. We stopped at the first bank we saw and took out more money than we can probably spend on the rest of the trip. We then rode around to find a place to stay. Of course, it started pouring rain again. We checked into our hotel and I walked over to the office of the company that flew us here to pay off the balance from our tickets. It would have been easy not to pay since they had no information about how to reach us. Its unusual to come across that level of blind trust. It made me feel good about coming here.
Over dinner, Erik and I discussed our objectives for the next few days. His leg issues combined with a big list of things we want to see, led us to the decision to rent a car. The guy from the hotel, who doesn't speak any English, helped us out a bit, but I had my first productive telephone conversation in spanish tonight! I normally require a degree of charades and broken spanish to advance a conversation, so this was a big accomplishment for me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Esquel to Futaleufu

Another lovely day. Sunny and windy and cool enough to warrant a long sleeved jersey. The cool air was okay with me, since I'm still babysitting the sunburn on the back of my hands by wearing gloves.

The first 25km was nice and easy along a paved road to Travelin. From there, the road turned to a mix of dirt and gravel. Traffic was light and there were no excitable farm dogs, so it was managable.

Today's route took us through the Andes again and back into Chile. While there were big mountains on either side, the road followed through a valley that had a very neutral grade. The two border stations were split by only a few hundred meters this time. You could tell this was a far less frequented crossing than the one we went through almost a week ago because the gate to let cars through on the Argentine side was manual. The Argentine Gendarmarie were fairly laid back and didn't even bother making us go through customs. Erik and I had lunch just past the Argentine border crossing but before the Chilean crossing. Besides being in a beautiful mountain setting, it was a cool place to have lunch because we were in no mans land. We had salami and cheese sandwiches again.

At the Chilean border crossing, things were so slow that we had to get someone's attention to let them know we were there. I still had some leftover salami, which I had to claim at customs. The customs guy came out to look in my bag to see what kind of salami it was and kind of laughed and then let us carry on riding with the salami.

We made it to Futaleufu, only 75 km from our starting point. Erik's legs were past done for the day, so we found a place to stay for the night in the town. I had kind of hoped to make it a bit past the town so that we could camp near the river, but Erik had already pushed his legs too hard for the day.

After dropping our gear in our cabana, I took my bike around town to see if there might be a restaurant open or a supermarcado to buy some dinner. Just my luck, there was a supermarcado open. But the selection was more limited than any other supermarcado I've seen. I bought everything I could; tea, sprite and some yogurt. Fortunately, we had three more buns in bag, some cheese, and a salami left in anticipation of Christmas day closures. Good thing the Chilean customs dude didn't take my salami! So, just like Christmas at home, we got to eat the same thing for several meals after Christmas dinner. I've probably had my fill of salami and cheese for a while. Well, salami anyway. Accompanying our christmas sandwiches, we drank tea out of San Fransisco 49ers mugs that were in our Cabana. It is amusing to find the little tidbits of North American culture that make it down here.

Futaleufu is a small little mountain town next to a raging river that boasts some of the worlds best white water rafting and kayaking. No blackberry coverage though.

With Erik's legs not getting any better, it looks like we may take the bus to Chaiten tomorrow, rather than ride. I've asked the people that rented us the cabana to make a reservation for us, but I'm not certain it happened. They were confused when I gave them my name. People here really struggle with my name.

I'm sort of sad that I'm not getting my fill of biking. But I'm sort of glad that I don't have to ride my road bike on an unpaved road tomorrow. With my skinny tires pumped up to probably 90 psi (just a guess, since we don't have a gauge to check), gravel roads are challenging. My whole body shakes so much that its hard to see where I'm going. Added to that, I have to watch for sharp rocks, ruts, and sandy patches, which takes my eyes and attention away from the lovely scenery. I have definitely learned that my skinny tires are not well suited for off roading.

I'm not sure we are going to get a chance to camp at all on this trip. I think maybe I'm the only one that wants to camp. In fairness, the weather hasn't been spectacular for camping. As it turns out, tonight probably wouldn't have been an ideal camping night, as it started pouring rain and the wind picked up a few hours after we settled in to our cabin. It is a bit comical though. Erik thinks its a big nuisance carrying all of the extra weight when its possible to go to hostels every night. I think its a good fall back since we didn't have any plans when we came and I actually thought we might choose to camp on at least a few nights. Yes, its extra weight but, if we were really that worried about weight, we could have not packed so many clothes, three sets of spare cleats, an extra set of pedals, two tubes of toothpaste, etc, etc. Its good education for our next trip...along with the importance of cyclocross tires for unpaved roads.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve thoughts

The bathrooms at every place we've stayed at have been tiny. So tiny that the bathroom doors hit the toilet seat when they are only half way open. But somehow, there is still always room for a bidet.

The sunburn on the back of my hands is recovering well. They are still lobster red, but the sensation that my skin is going to peel off when I put my gloves on has now stopped. I think that's a good sign. Erik's forehead is also recovering. He looks like he has leprosy, but he is starting to be able to put his shirt on without having to stretch the neck so that it doesn't come close to touching his forehead.

It's funny reading Erik's blog after I post my comments for the day. That two people can spend every minute of the same day together and have a different perspective on the highlights of the day is interesting. I like reading Erik's blog because sometimes he writes about stuff that he doesn't talk about during the day. Sometimes we we even write something similar, eventhough we never discussed it.

As a nice way to spend Christmas eve, Erik and I read each others blogs and chastised each other for spelling mistakes. It was entertaining but painful. We both work in an industry in which attention to detail is a must. In addition to developing a strong sense of pride in our own level of accuracy, we have learned to enjoy searching out and exposing the mistakes of others. It was painful for us both to hear about the stupid mistakes we have broadcast on the internet when we are powerless to fix them from our blackberries. I'm almost tempted to go find an internet cafe right now to fix my typos!

I'm still constantly surprised and pleased by the hospitality and kindness of people here. We have had only two impolite honks from motorists. We have felt welcome everywhere we've gone. Even when we were soaking wet and dripping all over the tidy reception area of the nice hotel in Villa La Angostura or booking a massage while wearing our stinky, sweaty bike clothes in Bariloche (I wonder if they knew we were planning to shower first?), we felt welcome. I haven't yet felt like someone was trying to rip me off. I can't say anything this nice about where I live. It's too bad this is such a foreign feeling.

El Bolson to Epuyen to Esquel

We woke up to the best weather yet. Sunny and warm and windy, but not too gusty. Erik's legs were still sore, so he wanted to check into whether we could take the train to Esquel. The 'Viejo Expresso Patagonian' passes nearby El Bolson and makes a stop in Esquel. Unfortunately, the next train isn't until January, so our only options to get there by means other than pedalling were by bus or to hitchhike. Erik decided to carry on by bike. I think he has a strong aversion to those big buses. Based on the number of motorists that honk and/or wave, I think hitchhiking could be a viable alternative except that two loaded bikes would be difficult to fit in a tiny little renault.

Despite carrying extra weight in preparation for minimal availability of services for the next couple of days, the ride felt easy thanks to a nice tailwind. This was the kind of biking I had come here to do! It was clear very quickly that I was alone in this thought. Watching Erik pedalling in front of me, it was obvious that he was in pain. He was coasting whenever he could. Anyone that knows Erik, knows that he doesn't coast. So, after a couple of hours, we came across a nice little coffee shop just before the town of Epuyen and took a break. The cafe was run by a rotund man with a beard. Maybe a bit like Santa Claus, except with dark hair and no red suit. He was very friendly and spoke a little bit of english, a suprising amount if you consider that he runs a tiny little cafe in the middle of nowhere. He provided us with some much needed information about the road ahead. We relaxed with some friendly doggies, a nice view of the mountains and some cafe con leche. It was here that Erik broke the news to me that he wanted to revisit the topic of finding alternate means to get to Esquel. I have to admit I was a bit sad, since I had really been enjoying the ride so far, but I knew that Erik wouldn't even consider stopping the ride unless he seriously needed to give his legs a rest.

The man that owned the cafe said he was pretty sure a bus would be coming by in an hour and a half and that there was a bus station up the road. So, we biked ahead about six kilometers to the bus station, bought a ticket and waited. Our bikes fit nicely in the cargo bay with no disassembly required. The fare for the 130km trip was about $4 each. It was a double decker bus (like all of the buses here seem to be), but the lower level was for cargo. Erik and I secured a primo seat in front, so we had a great view of the road ahead. There appeared to be only three other passangers on the bus. I think the bus service is more of a public service than a money making venture. What ever it is, I think Erik was really really happy to give his calves a rest. Only 45 kilometres of cycling for the day. As we rode the bus to Esquel, I realized the bus was a great idea. We had ridden to the limits of the mountain scenery and it was mostly desert that remained between Epuyen and Esquel. It reminded me of driving through Nevada. I kept my eyes peeled for places we would have camped, and there really weren't any good looking spots. It was fairly flat and, regardless of how far we walked from the road, I think it would have felt like our tent was right next to the highway. Plus, it was windy and our tail wind eventually would have become a cross wind and a headwind. So, it looks like things have worked out alright.

For Christmas Eve we are staying in a nice little cabin in Esquel. Esquel is a cute little town in what feels like the middle of nowhere, which makes the fact that I have perfect blackberry reception rather amusing. Because we arrived here early, we didn't need to settle on the first accomodations we found (though we ultimately did). We passed some cool looking cabanas, but thought the price was a little steep (just over $40 per night), so we continued riding around to check out our options. We looked at two other places. One was only $30 per night and included breakfast, but it smelled kind of gross and just didn't have the right feel. The other was over $100 per night and I didn't pay attention to what it included, but I can only assume it included a visit from Santa Claus. So, we came back to the first place and it turned out to be perfect. A massive cabin with a full kitchen and a living room (plus an additional three single beds and a fold out sofa). Its gorgeous. Beautiful brick walls and timber ceiling. This seems sensible since the wind is howling outside. My dad would love it. I can't help but think of the three little pigs. Our cabana is obviously very new. The kitchen counter is granite, there are nice tiles, its very clean.

It doesn't seem like this should be a boomtown, but there appears to be a fair bit of construction and some high quality structures going up. This is in contrast to the other places we've seen on this trip, which either don't have obvious signs of growth or have vacant space. We can also hear there is a lot of traffic outside. It's Christmas eve, but there is plenty of activity around here.

We have just finished a nice Christmas dinner in our cabana. Salami and cheese sandwiches, wine, and fruit bread. Suprisingly satisfying. I think I may even crack the Toblerone bar my mom gave to me when she dropped me off at the airport. I'm not hungry, but I want to carry as little as possible when we continue riding tomorrow.

We are now a bit ahead of schedule, which will allow us more time to make our way to Chaiten. We expect the road to come to be very picturesque, but it is also mostly gravel, so the extra time will be good. Next stop, Futaleufu, Chile. I think we may actually get to sleep before midnight tonight, so it may be an early start tomorrow (if I have anything to do with it).
Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bariloche to El Bolson

The weather really turned around today. We woke up to an overcast sky but, by the time we finished breakfast, the sun was peaking through the clods and steaming the water off of the asphalt. Just another example of how things are working out on this trip.
By the time we headed out of Bariloche, it was after 11am and we had to fight a lot of stinky cars leaving town. Once we were a few kms out of town it was gorgeous. Still windy, but fortunately the wind was mostly at our backs. The weather changed rapidly all day. It would go from cold, windy and rainy to warm and calm and back in the course of ten minutes. We packed our own lunch today, knowing that there would be few amenities along the way. Fresh baguettes, some salami, some veggie mix and some of this soft cheese triangles did the trick. Worked out to about 2 bucks per sandwich and holy crap they were yummy.
The quality and character of the ride from Bariloche to El Bolson most closely resembled riding in Kananaskis, except that the traffic was slower, friendlier and more sparse. We saw only two other cyclists. The road condition was great and the scenery was amazing once again.
My thoughts today centered primarily around the fact that this seems to be a very under appreciated area. Why are there not more people out here enjoying this area? People go to Cancun/Puerto Vallarta/Los Cabos for a taste of something exotic, some spanish culture and a killer deal. And if they are really crazy, they might go farther south and visit one of the major cities in a Central or South American country. Like Caracas or san Jose or Buenos Aires really give the full picture of the culture in their respective countries. Seeing how people live outside of major business centers is far more telling of a culture. I think its safer too. Then taking the next step and choosing your own adventure instead of a packaged itinerary allows you to open your mind to the full experience. Finally, pushing your way from a to b, rather than hurrying around in a rental car, allows you to smell the flowers, hear the birds, notice the hidden waterfall (I'm selectively forgetting that it also allows me to smell the diesel fumes, hear the crappy engines of old cars, and notice the litter at the side of the road). If the world only realized how much a bicycle can open doors to new experiences, I'm sure everyone would do this. There's  
We arrived in El Bolson much earlier than expected, thanks to a tail wind and a net descent of 500m from our starting point. El Bolson is a town of about 20,000. We found a cool little place to stay that is somewhere between a guest house and a hotel. It's like someone built a mini hotel, say 6 rooms, in their backyard. Its nice. Nicer than the place we stayed at in Bariloche, but more expensive too. It's about US$27 per night and does not include breakfast. But it has a great garden and feels a bit cleaner.
The more we head south, the less development we see. We will have to keep this in mind as we continue toward Chaiten. The next town, Esquel, is 180km away and that's probably more than we want to ride in one day. This means that we will have to start carrying a lot of food with us, particularly since the next few days are holidays. I don't know what to expect by way of amenities for the next 72 hours. So, Erik and I went to the grocery store to stock up on food. We picked up sandwich supplies, basically exactly the same as what we had for lunch today, plus some cookies, and some wine and special bread for tomorrow. We will likely have to camp tomorrow. I'm looking forward to a really rustic christmas dinner in the middle of nowhere. I hope we can find a good spot to put up our tent. I paid close attention at the museum in Bariloche to whether there are any crazy predators in this part of Patagonia and I didn't see any. It will be an adventure for sure. I'm open to just about anything, but I really hope the weather cooperates.
This might be my last post for a couple of days as there may not be blackberry coverage where we are going. When we arrived in El Bolson, we thought we were out of range, but somehow we have reception now after a few hours. It's a good thing too, as I received an early Christmas present. The girl that I had asked to be my Transrockies partner has accepted my proposal! I'm pretty damn excited!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bariloche to Bariloche

We were up again until midnight, typing away on our blackberries. These things are so useful and the reception has been excellent everywhere we've stopped so far.

Reflecting on the last couple of days, things have worked out very well. For starters, beginning our trip in Puerto Varas was a blessing, because we would likely have been forced to camp in a ditch beside a dirt road on after our first day of riding if we'd started in Puerto Montt, which is 30km south of Puerto Varas. Second, we barely made it to Villa La Angostura with a starting point of Entre Lagos. If we had started the day any farther than Entre Lagos, there is a good possibility we would have had to set up camp in cold, windy and wet conditions. Third, our ride yesterday was great, but it would have been incredibly difficult and cold if we'd been dealing with rain (and it rained today).

The bed we have at this hotel is broken but surprisingly comfortable. Turning or changing positions is noisy and difficult since the matress bends to fit your every curve and creaks noisily as it bends. It's basically a giant, dense, noisy sponge. Not being able to move much was probably a blessing last night. It allowed me to keep the backs of my hands from touching anything. I don't understand how they are so seriously sunburned, but its quite painful. The sunburn on my legs is sensitive, but I think it will be fine with one day out of the sun. I'm used to having sunburns recover within a day, but my hands will take a few days I'm sure. Erik burned his forehead. Sounds like it is as painful as my hands. At least I can wear gloves, I'm not sure what he is going to do. This is some seriously intense solar exposure down here!

Over breakfast we decided to stay in Bariloche for one more night. A rest and recovery day seems like a good idea and we have 122km to our next target destination, which would have been tough to pull off today with what would have been a late start (after staying up until midnight AGAIN) and what looked like it was shaping up to be a windy and rainy day. The original plan was that we would still ride today if we stayed in Bariloche for a rest day. There appears to be a nice 60km loop nearby that would be perfect to spin out our legs (with no panniers)and see the area. But, the weather was not well suited to a recovery ride, so we watched some Spanish cartoons, did some groceries to replenish our supply of snacks for the road, went to a cool museum and walked around town. The museum featured Patagonian history and wildlife. It was cool to see what kind of animals live here, some of which are unlike anything I've seen before. There were also displays on ancient artifacts and the more recent development of Argentina.

Today would have been a tough day to bike. I hope tomorrow is a bit better but, even if it isn't, I will be better prepared after having had a rest day today. Bariloche is a neat little town and I've enjoyed this rest day, but it has reaffirmed to me that I'm happiest when I'm active on my holidays. I'm not a shopper. One day here is enough for me to see everything I'd like to see. Even if tommorrow is rainy and windy, I'm looking forward to discovering more of this unique landscape (I hope I didn't just jinx myself by saying that!).

Villa La Angostura to Bariloche

It poured all night but, in the morning, the sky was a mix of sun and cloud and the view from our room was great. What a difference a day makes. First stop in town was to the bank to get pesos. Villa La Angostura is a cute little mountain town. Maybe something like Kimberly.

For the first part of the ride out of town, we were surrounded by colour. Mostly bright orange flowers and also pink and purple ones. The road followed along the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi through a national park by the same name and there were snow capped mountains on either side. The wind was at our backs most of the time, so it felt like we were really flying - especially compared with yesterday. The road was in great shape, but there wasn't much of a shoulder and there was more traffic. It was amazing how long we rode with stunning scenery and so little development.
The farther we went, the more the wind seemed to pick up. It was some serious wind too! I've ridden in Calgary with winds at 30km/hr and still not been aware of the wind when it was at my back. So, I know this was a serios wind, because I could still feel it. I could feel it pushing me up hill. The lake was completely covered in white caps. I have never seen such wind in my life. We knew our route continued around the lake, so we took advantage of the wind at our backs as long as we could, knowing that, at some point, we'd face a strong head wind and cross wind.

About 20km to Bariloche, we turned into the wind. It was gusty, so it was difficult to maintain a straight line along the non existent shoulder. After about 5km of this, we took a lunch break, stopping at a supermarcado for some 'do-it-yourself' sandwiches. Yop, gourmet ham and cheese sandwiches and churros. Tasty!

Slowly but surely we made it to Bariloche. 88km for the day. Easy as pie (except for the treacherous wind on the last 20km). It was only 4:30pm when we arrived and we were dry so it was kind of nice to be able to ride around and pick a place to stay. The place we are at now is about $25 per night and includes breakfast. It's probably on par with a super eight, but smaller...and somehow it just feels nicer because its foreign. Erik turned on the tv right away, which is funny because he is so anti television. The Simpsons was on. Spanish Homer is pretty funny. It reminded me of the place we ate dinner at last night, which had a picture of Che on the wall, as well as a picture of the stooges and five pictures of the Simpsons. Interesting combo. Simpsons seems to be really popular here.

We scoped out all of the bike shops in town in search of some better tires for me for when we go south and hit gravel roads again. This was way past the limits of my non-english vocabulary - tires, tubes, break pads, degreaser, and spokes are somehow not words that make it into beginner level spanish vocabulary. Unfortunately, 700c tires are not common here. We were able to pick up some more tubes and patches as well as some spare spokes, break pads for Erik, and an Argentinian bike Jersey for me.

While we were trying to find one of the places, we had to carry our bikes up a bunch of stone stairs. Erik decided to ride is bike down the stonre railing. I pretended not to be phased by it but I was secretly having a heart attack. There wasn't even an audience for him to show off to. He just does stuff like this for kicks sometimes. We have so much in common and yet we are so different.

After we got back from out bike supply shopping spree, we packed up our dirty clothes and looked for a laundry place. $3 to wash, dry, and fold all of my grody bike clothes? SOLD! I normally resist the concept of paying people to live my life for me, which includes tasks like laundry, but $3 per load is pretty awesome.
Then we went for a massage. Basically $16 for an hour. Not bad. It wasn't exacly a deep tissue massage but, at this point, I can't complain. During the massage I figure out that the back of my hands are severly sunburned. My quads and the backs of my calves are also sunburned. It was an interesting balance between the relief I got from a sore muscle being rubbed and the pain I felt from a sunburn being rubbed. I tried taking the opprtunity to practice my Spanish during the massage since the girl didn't speak much English. You can read and practice all you want on your own or in a Spanish class but there is something really cool about combining a few words that are nonsensical to you and having a complete stranger understand them.

By the time the massage was finished and we had picked up our laundry, it was dinner time. Erik picked a nice casual spot called Friends. We had a killer salad with eggs, beets, peas, pineapple, and a bunch of other goodies. We also had a half metre of 'taz' pizza with wild patagonian boar. Yummy! Erik also ordered a fried banana and we split a bottle of wine. We discussed the plan for the next few days and are considering staying here and extra night since Erik's knee is bothering him. This would be a good place to stay since there are many things we could do on a 'rest' day in Bariloche. I'm not sure when we will decide what our plan will be tomorrow.

Over dinner we were entertained watching a little boy out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. He was full of energy and seemed to have no concerns about expending it at every opportunity. I thought about how I wished I could be like that. I fully admit to being a serious energy conservationist. I don't even like to use the brakes on my bike because it makes me feel like I'm wasting energy. At what point did I go from being an energy exhibitionist like that kid to being the energy conservationist that I am now? I considered this as we ate dinner. And then as we were waiting for the bill I saw him pass by again, asleep and being carried by his dad. Maybe that's the answer I'm looking for. I'm still like that kid, I've just learned to pace myself.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Entre Lagos to Villa La Angostura

We couldn't get the heater working last night, so we slept in our pajamas. Our pajamas also happen to be our fancy dress up clothes for when we eat at restaurants. I love vacation!

We slept in a bit today and didn't leave until 11:30. Erik decided to take the tent again to lower my risk of flats. Because of the way his bike is loaded up, he's got the tent loaded in the round part of his handle bars. He says it helps with balancing the weight on the bike, but it apparently also means he can't use his front break. He's not called Dr. Danger for nothing.

Leaving Entre Lagos, it was interesting to note that there were was a small sheep farm in between the supermarcado and the liquor store. I guess they have different zoning requirements here?

Despite our primary map suggesting a long stretch of unpaved road, the entire journey today was on pavement. Yay! AND, no flats! Unforunately, I started the day by breaking our brand new digi cam by dropping it when I was trying to take a picture of Erik. Oops.

Getting on the saddle, I was surprised to get that 'oh god I can't sit on this thing all day' feeling. I haven't had that for a few years. I'm guessing it might have something to do with riding on a gravel road for 5 or 6 hours yesterday. Just a guess.

Our ride today took us over the Andes and into Argentina. It was overcast and cool for the first half, and overcast and cold and wet for the second half. The road was in excellent condition and the scenery was amazing, despite the abundance of clouds. Todays route was very well suited to cyclists. It is incredibly lush in the Andes and it was really cool to see such a wide variety of plants that I'd never seen before. There was also very little traffic, which was great. The vast majority of cars that passed us gave us a friendly 'meep' with their horns (in contrast to the unfriendly meeeeeeeeeep I am used to hearing around Calgary). One truck even gave us a meep meep meep meep meep, meep meep! Most of the people we passed waved and said hi. It is so nice to feel so welcome here.

The first 30km or so was relatively easy, with rolling hills and views of the lake on our left hand side. On the right hand side was insanely green tropical looking forest. We passed some hot springs with a nice resort but decided to wait to get lunch since there was a place called Anticura identified on the map not too far ahead. As we began a steady ascent, we were really looking forward to lunch (especially since we left so late). When we arrived at Anticura, it turned out to be just a campground, so we kept plugging along and hoped that there might be something at the border. Indeed there was, hot Empanadas! The Chilean border patrollers were very friendly. They were also helpful and advised us that we had another 20kms to go uphill. It was a pretty steady uphill, averaging close to 5 percent grade but with some stretches that I think were about 10 percent. The roads were marked every 100 metres almost the whole way today, which made it easy to guage distance.

We reached the highest point at 1321 metres above sea level. By this time we were in the clouds and it was cold enough that we could see our breath and needed to wear several layers underneath our rain jackets. The rain steadily increased as we descended and my body temperature quickly decreased. After another 20kms we came to another border station. Apparently the first was only the Chilean border control processing people leaving the country, and the second was the Argentine border control processing people entering the country. I'm not entirely sure why they are separate like this. There seems to be a park between the border stations - perhaps it is shared territory. The Argentine border people were also very friendly. While we were waiting at the customs desk, Erik showed me that the heel of his shoe was significantly worn. To compensate for having only one break, he had to put his heel down a few times as we descended.

I was really really cold at this point and dreaded the next 22kms to our final destination, worried that we might not have enough daylight and be forced to set up camp in the rain. We eventually made it to Villa La Angostura around 8pm and we splurged on the first decent hotel we saw. Since it was late and we were not actually in the middle of town, we checked in and then headed down the road for dinner because we wanted to get there before it closed. Food tastes so damn good when you are tired and hungry and cold. Erik and I each had a big sandwich and split some fries (this time with ketchup instead of hot sauce). He had two icecream bars for dessert (I'm not going to lie to you, I MAY have had a little bit of each). Erik saved me from a near second mishap of the day after I had leaned my bike up against the side of the building, in advertently putting my tire dangerously close to the exhaust for the space heater. That would not have veen pretty as neither of us has a spare tire. From there, it was back to our hotel, which is actually very nice and has a great view of the lake. It's now dark and late, and it's pouring rain outside. I'm hopeful that it will rain so much that there won't be any left tomorrow.

Today we rode only 110km, but it was still a long day in the saddle due to the elevation gain. I think we totalled 6.5 or 7 hours. We have about 100kms to go to get to Bariloche, and it should be reasonably flat. It would be great if we could there before 8pm. I could really go for a beer and an early bed time one of these nights.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Puerto Varas to Entre Lagos

Erik and I loaded up our panniers this morning. I had expected there would be economies of scale by travelling as a pair. When I rode Vancouver Island, I fit all of my stuff into my two panniers and this time we are sharing a tent and we have decided not to take a stove, so one might think we would have saved half of one pannier just from that, not to mention other 'shared' items such as tools, toiletries etc. But somehow Erik and I still filled both my panniers beyond capacity. Maybe its because I've chosen to be extra conservative on a few things - like bringing four spare tubes and some extra warm clothing.

We left a bit later than expected; just after 9:30. We decided to head North toward Ensenada and around Lago Llanquihue. We had a general idea of our route for the day but had not specifically chosen a final destination for today because we were unsure of how far we could get. Challenge number one was that Erik and I have not ridden in this way together before today - so it was difficult to predict what speed we might ride. Challenge number two was the weather, which was forecast to be rainy today. Challenge number three was the amount of road that appeared to be unpaved according to our map. The big question mark was what 'unpaved' meant - it could mean a lot of things and you just never know by only looking at a map. Combined with the rain that was in the forecast, 'unpaved' could mean mud. While Erik's bike is relatively well suited for unpaved roads, mine is not. I had tried to get some tires that were suitable for offroading but my narrow fork limited my options and I ultimately chose a set of slicks that were practically bullet proof.

t was raining lightly when we left the hotel, but warm enough that it was kind of a refreshing rain, so it seemed (at least for the moment) that the weather was not going to be an issue. Erik rode in front and picked the pace. It was a good pace, probably similar to the effort I would have put out if I had been on my own. So far so good. But then after only about 5km, we had our first little adventure. I was following maybe a bit too close to Erik's wheel and he didn't point out a rut/curb. The next thing I know, I'm in the bushes with two flat tires and a scraped leg (the 'bushes' here happen to be roses in many places, which are pretty, but not so great to ride your bike through). Erik was kind enough to change my tires and we were quickly back on our way.
The road was very good to Ensenada, paved, scenic, not too busy, and Erik was keeping a very enjoable pace. From there, we continued around the lake toward Las Casadas. We entered a national park and made a quick side trip to Laguna Verde. Once we were back on the road, the pavement lasted only anothe couple kilometres before changing to a dirt road. Fortunately, it was reasonably smooth and it was volcanic rock and sand, so it drained the rain reasonably well (it was still raining/drizzling). Erik was faster on this stuff, but I did my best and he was patient with me. Based on the map, it looked like it wuld only last about 30km anyway. Along the way, we passed a truck that had 'crashed' in the bushes off the road. Erik and I watched as a larger truck pulled it out of the bushes. Also along the way, I had another flat.

Eventually we made it to pavement again, but it only lasted 13km or so. I still managed to get a flat tire on the paved stretch though. While it was a bummer to use them all in the first half of the first day, I was really glad I brought four spares!

From there it was more dirt road. The rain had stopped and the dirt road was a bit more of a gravel road. Now Erik was much faster than me and took the tent so that I could limit the weight on my back tire to reduce the risk of flats. We decided to target a little place called Hotal El Paraiso by Lago Rupanco. Unfortunately, we didn't see it somehow and basically had to keep going toward Entre Lagos. I got two more flats along the way. One was in a spot by some cows that were the noisiest cows I've ever seen. While I was changing my tire, Erik amused himself by making cow noises and watching the cows react. Also, because it takes me about ten minutes to change a tire, we had a good opportunity to observe the passing traffic, which included a horse drawn buggy being driven by a little boy that must have been under 10 years old. He had two passengers, also children, one of whom was talking on a cell phone. It was an interesting sight.

We finally made it to Entre Lagos after about 8 hours of riding. We only covered about 125km, which is telling of how slow my bike is on the unpaved roads. In total, we were out for about 11 hours after adding on my six flats for the day, a stop at Laguna Verte, and a quick lunch.

In Entre Lagos, we found a nice little Cabana that seems perfect for our needs tonight and went for a walk to the supermarcado to pick up breakfast and then for dinner. Along the way, we passed a giant slide, which Erik just had to try. He ultimately had to walk down the slide because it was too narrow and not slippery enough for him to enjoyably make it down on his rear.

We passed three supermarcados before we actually bought breakfast. Supermarcado means something much different than you might think. I'm not sure there is a specific definition that is universal but, from what I saw, a corner store with pop, beer, yogurt, and fruit can qualify as a supermarcado. Dinner was fun, we went to the only place that we passed that was still open. Most of the stuff on the menu was out of the realm of our vocabulary. Erik ordered a mystery meat and fries and I ordered steak and fries. Erik drenched his fries in ketchup, which turned out to actually be hot sauce. Pretty funny. I was amazed that he still ate them all, but I'm a little worried that he's killed a few taste buds. On the way back to our cabana we stopped for dessert at a sort of fast food place that was just closing up and bought some sort of local donut things. I love trying new things.

Tomorrow we will head west toward Argentina, with the goal of making it to Bariloche in the next few days. How far we ride tomorrow will depend on the roads and how late we leave (its now just passed 11:30pm here, and I will be busy patching some tubes in the morning). One of our maps says there's another big stretch of unpaved road between here and Bariloche, and another suggests its paved all of the way. We'll see.

I'm having a lot of fun so far and I think Erik is too. Its an adventure anyway. I hope the roads ahead will be more paved than not. Erik was really patient with me today, but I think we will have a lot more fun if we can ride at a closer pace on smoother roads. I am also looking forward to pavement because there are constantly dogs coming out of peoples yards and chasing you. Some are more aggressive than others. Erik commented that he thinks they probably wouldn't bite and riding faster to get away probably just gets them even more excited. I'm not interested in testing that theory, and it's much easier to out run a dog on a paved road that to deperately manouver through patches of gravel, mud, puddles as quickly as you can on a bike with skinny, slick tires and an extra 30 pounds on the rear wheel.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Calgary to Puerto Varas

Long day in transit. We started in Banff, returning from Erik's work party. We left extra early as we had been tipped off that the security workers at the Calgary airport were on strike and that travellers should leave arrive four hours in advance. As it turned out, they were not, in fact, on strike - and it we actually faced some of the smallest lines I've seen in recent memory at the counter, security and security. Maybe it was because we were the only ones that were there so early. In any case, it was nice to start the holiday in a laid back way.
We flew with American Airlines on the way to Chile. It was refreshing not to have to fight with the person at the counter over whether I had to pay the bike fee even though my bike fit within the allowable baggage guidlines by size and weight. Maybe its the American way or maybe I just got lucky, but American Airlines scored some points with me today. Before we even left the airport in Calgary, I had a close call involving my passport and the toilet - but I will spare you the details. First stop was Dallas. It was my first time in the Dallas airport. What a great airport. We only had to move five gates over to catch our next flight, so we had time to enjoy the amenities - the highlight being a FREE 15 minute deep tissue massage from the massage chair at Brookstone. I was pretty impressed with how effective it was. Before we knew it, it was time to board our next flight through to Santiago. When I booked our flights, I was a little bitter about the three hour layover in Santiago but, as it turned out, we needed the time. An hour and sa half to get through customs. Then we had to pick up our bags and check in for our next flight. Two guys that worked for the airport (or at least I think they did), helped me and Erik through the baggage screening area and upstairs to the flight check-in area. Sounds easy eh? Not so much. I bet they saved us half an hour as they speedily led us through a disorienting mass of family and friends, chilean police, taxi drivers and tour operators...and then up to the second floor to the check-in counter. These were two of the skinniest guys I've ever seen - I'd bet they weighed very close to the total of our luggage plus the cart. It was evident in the way they had to throw their whole bodies into getting the cart going, desperately steering around people and then being dragged along the ground on their feet as they tried to bring the cart to a stop. It was entertaining.

Finally, we arrived in Puerto Montt at 2:40pm. I had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport. When he saw how much luggage we had, his eyes popped out of his head and he had to find another driver to take some of our luggage for us. From there it was a 30 minute drive to Puerto Varas, where Erik and I will be staying tonight. Nice place. Similar to Vancouver in terms of weather, though its a bit inland. Perfect cycling temperature, although the forecast calls for rain for the next little while. Our hotel is more like a hostel - but nice. Its a big bold blue building run by a german guy named Arvid and there appears to be only two other guests here - from Austria - on a much longer trip than ours. The town population is about 22,500 people. We've gone for a quick walk around town and put our bikes together. We had an early dinner at a cute little place that had homemade pasta. It was great. I was able to get some maps and info, but not all of the info I I still don't know which way we will ride tomorrow. I guess we will decide at breakfast. Time to get a real nights sleep.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Traditions - Revisited

So I did two cool things today that have given me renewed hope with respect to family Christmas Traditions.

New Christmas Tradition #1
This morning, Erik and I volunteered for a Feed the Hungry event at St. Mary's Church. I have to admit that I was a bit reluctant at first. I think there's a pretty decent safety net in Calgary, I'm not overly keen on benefits tied to the Church, and I've always thought it was a shame that everyone does this at Christmas when the 'need' is year round (although, its not like I've compensated by signing up for something like this after Christmas). But when Erik asked if I had any interest in doing this with him, I figured it would be a good opportunity to try something new, spend some time with Erik, and help a worthy cause. We were given a morning shift, which involved food preparation for a dinner to be served later that day. There were about a dozen others signed up for this shift, some of whom I knew, and some of whom I did not know. My tasks included chopping vegetables, cutting buns, bagging buns, cooking potatoes and poking holes in tinfoil with a fork. Sounds kind of boring, but it was actually pretty fun. It feels really good to be productive like that, especially when I spend so much of my life sitting at a desk doing work that doesn't provide immediate tangible results. It's kind of funny that this is the sort of task that people pay other people to do. Manual labour has its appeal. It was also a good chance to talk to some people that I hadn't seen for a while and to hang out with Erik.

The other volunteers included some of Erik's coworkers...and a family. What a great idea for a family Christmas Tradition. Everyone shares the workload. It's a chance to spend some time together. Nobody has to dress up. No gift exchange related stress. And it's pretty flexible in terms of timing.

New Christmas Tradition #2
Every year one of my dad's best friends hosts an evening of carolling at his farm just outside of Calgary. It's a pretty casual evening that includes immediate family as well as 'adopted family', which is how my parents fit in (and me, by extension).

I have gone to this event for the last few years, even though I don't know most of the people there. I go because it's an opportunity to hang out with my parents and I enjoy having a chance to visit with the host family, who is always so kind and welcoming. I realized today that I also go because I think it's a great Christmas Tradition. Everyone brings some edible goodies, rather than a sit down turkey dinner. The family matriarch still seems to get stuck in the kitchen longer than is fair; although, in this case, I think she secretly enjoys it. After a couple of hours of chatting, the group breaks into some Christmas carols. Each person or couple has to start at least one song. After years of gentle prodding, this family has actually succeded in getting my dad to sing. In fact, my dad even slips in the occassional improvised lyrics.

All in all, it was a good day. I hope I can find a way to make these things part of my family Christamas Tradition.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Contender

When I signed up for the Transrockies, I had two candidates in mind.

The first candidate was a suggestion that Erik made to me. My first reaction was no. I'm not going to lie, I was intimidated by her. I'd never talked to her, but we'd exchanged hello's at several of Erik's bike races. She does bike races with the same team as Erik. It seemed absurd to me that she would ever even entertain the idea of doing this race with someone that has never raced and has limited experience on a mountain bike. At the same time, I knew she would have many of the qualities that I would want in a partner, so I sent her an email asking if she'd like to do the race with me.

The second candidate was someone I had actually talked to before. I knew her through a friend. She had the advantage of a bit more familiarity but, with no racing experience, there were more uncertainties with respect to skill level, fitness, endurance and ability to handle tough situations. Ultimately, she declined my invitation after deciding she was not ready to take on this level of commitment. I was glad that she was able to make this decision early on and I look forward to riding with her this summer. It will be interesting to see what kind of a match we would have made.

But, back to the first candidate. To my surprise, she did not say no. She did not say yes either. Instead, we exchanged emails discussing what our objectives might be for the race. It seemed like there could be some potential for us to be a good team, but this was not a decision to be taken lightly. A logical first step was to have a real, in person conversation. We met for lunch Today. I was pretty nervous. I was happy that she had not said no, but I was struggling with wanting to try to get her to say yes (I really wanted to impress her), while knowing it would be better if it was her own decision i) to do the race, and ii) do the race with me. I was also struggling with how to balance all of this with the decision I would have to make regarding whether I would still want to do the race with her. What if I didn't like her. Would it be really rude to go through all of these motions and then tell her I wanted to go find another partner?

Lunch was good. I'm even more excited about the prospect of this girl as my partner. I think we have a similar philosophy with respect to what the race should be about. She has a different lifestyle than I do. I think it would be good for me to spend time with someone that lives a bit differently than I do - I think we could learn a lot from each other. There are still a lot of question marks - there's only so much you can cover over lunch. But, for whatever reason, I have a good feeling about it. She's still a contender. I would definitely have a lot of work to do to close the skills and fitness gap between us - but I think we'd have a lot of fun as a team. She told me that she would give me an answer by the end of the year. So, I'm just going to have to be patient over the next few weeks as she mulls it over.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Christmas Traditions

When I was a kid, we used to go to my grandparents house to celebrate Christmas. It was one of the few times of the year that we would all gather to spend time together. Everyone from my dad's side of the family would join - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins...and sometimes my cousins would even bring dates. Christmas with the Fahey's involved a gift exchange and turkey dinner. It was a pretty typical family Christmas tradition...

Leading up to the big day, mom and dad would ponder the appropriate gift to buy for the person who's name they had drawn several months earlier. If you got grandpa, it was easy, you just had to get him something to do with Don Cherry. Or a puzzle. He liked puzzles. Auntie Keli was pretty easy too, she had a phase for a while where she was into pigs, and then bears. I think cows at one point too. And then there were the others with the less obvious interests. I think its hard enough buying a gift for someone you're very close to and whose interests you know well - buying a gift for a relative that you see a handful of times each year is really taking a stab in the dark. I remember on more than one occassion that there was a mix up with the names where someone recieved multiple gifts and another received none. It's kind of funny that this was a key part of our family Christmas tradition.

And then there was the turkey dinner. Scheduling always seemed to be a bit tricky - trying to get it as close to Christmas as possible, while respecting that some would have vacation plans over the holidays. The family matriarch was charged with the vast majority of the cooking and cleaning duties. It always seemed a bit unfair that the person that got stuck with the most work barely got to enjoy the family visit.

As I got older, the family eventually drifted away from this tradition. I remember feeling a bit of relief when we eventually stopped doing the extended family get together and opted for a more simple dinner with my immediate family. My mom puts in a good effort and invites my grandpa to join and usually tries to get some board games going. It's enough that I have generally tried to stay in town over the holidays so that I can take part in our new, scaled down, family Christmas Tradition. But at some point, without the critical mass, it's not quite the same, the tradition loses momentum. This year I will be away from home for Christmas for the first time in a while. It was an easy decision when I first made it, but as Christmas approaches, I'm beginning to feel a bit of remorse over potentially contributing to the downfall of our Christmas Tradition.

As silly as the extended family get together may have seemed at times, it was an important opportunity for the extended family to spend some time together. I know I miss having a reason to get together with everyone. I've wondered whether it would be worth trying to make it happen again...but who am I kidding? I can't fit that many people in my house and the thought of a gift exchange makes me cringe.