(Read the dispatch from Day 3)
The day begins early with breakfast eaten, bags packed and the group on the dock at Puyuhuapi Lodge by 8:30. After a quick trip back to the mainland we slide the bikes down the wet, grassy hillside where they spent the night and are soon riding south on a 39-degree morning. Today’s route takes us through rain forest, but with no rain for some time the route and area is much dryer than usual, according to tour leader Eric Lange. This is the roughest section yet and we play dodge-the-pothole all the way or suffer the consequences. But dodging one often means smacking another so we suffer a bit anyway (poor us, riding motorcycles in Patagonia, eh?). Overhanging trees form a corridor of delight for the morning’s ride, though some tricky switchbacks catch two riders off guard and they dump their bikes in a steep turn. The only damage is a couple of bruised egos.
What stands out for me here is the constant presence of enormous, snow-capped mountains. Our concentration is always on the road, but when an opportunity comes to survey the scene, there’s usually a massive mountain in the background. But the sky sets the mood for each display and we’re lucky so far to enjoy sunny days with only scattered and puffy clouds. Sunlight brings out the bright hues of blue and turquoise from the lakes and rivers we ride along. I could stay for an hour or a day or a week just looking at the scenery, taking months instead of days to make the journey. But we push on after brief stops for photos, always looking for the next sublime vista – and always finding it.
To the relief of all, we emerge onto smooth pavement before noon, leaving the potholes behinds. As fun as it is to slide the GS around the gravel corners and spin up the Heidenau K60s on the straights, my tired hands are more than ready to give up the bumps for an hour or two and enjoy the silky serpentine tarmac that lies ahead. And the straight stretches give me a chance to test the Kaoko cruise control fitted to my bike. With just a twist of the knob, I can set enough friction in the system to hold the twist grip at a given setting, giving my throttle hand a much-needed rest. The Kaoko action is smooth and easy to control once you get the knack, and releasing it is as easy as grabbing the knurled knob as you move the grip forward. Every muscle in my right hand, arm and shoulder breathes when my hand relaxes on the grip. Kaoko’s Nic Mentis takes advantage of the straight-aways to perform a mix of yoga and calisthenics with the cruise control engaged.
Today’s lunch stop is on a hill above the busy city of Coyhaique. We maneuver through traffic – our first since Bariloche – to Patagonia House for a home-cooked meal of fajitas, black beans and rice. The serving bowls empty quickly, but seconds aren’t far behind. Topping it off is a birthday cake for Patrick Kant, whose company makes the Macna clothing I’m wearing. The day warmed up to the mid-70s and I’ve removed the membrane liner and opened the vents to bring in a refreshing breeze. When I mention assorted features that I might do differently, Patrick tells me that Macna gear is designed for the European market and is first and foremost a waterproof system. Erik Stephens of Twisted Throttle seconds that after having tested it in Iceland, Alaska and other rain-soaked locales before importing Macna to the U.S. While waiting for a Patagonian downpour, I’m happy to test the vents on a warm summer’s day.
Nine full stomachs enjoy more paved highway before turning off onto gravel to follow the Rio Murta to Lago General Carrera. I blast ahead and enjoy an hour of dust-free riding as the road twists and turns along the turquoise blue river. Each time I see a headlight behind, I twist the throttle a little harder. There’s no way to know who it is at that distance, but I figure it’s Smokin’ Nic Mentis, who can catch me any time he wants. But when I finally pull over for a break, Patrick Kant shows up out of the dust, a grin discernible behind his face shield. It’s a long day in the saddle, but well worth it when we see our digs for the next two nights – surrounded by mountains, the Hacienda Tres Lagos sits at the edge of Black Lake and offers amenities not expected in this remote corner of Patagonia. Tomorrow is our rest day and we will spend it in the amid the hacienda’s comfort and hospitality.
Continue reading: dispatch from Day 5