A Big Steppe

Coming down from the pass, I had referred to Danny’s route notes and saw that he mentioned a potentially uninhabited green shack not long after.  Despite a record low daily mileage, I was not in the least bit bothered about calling it a day and resting my weary limbs.  For once, my upper body – my wrists and arms in particular – had had a considerable workout and the day had been right up there, in terms of arduousness.  Nearing the shack, it appeared to be empty but reasonably well-kept, and I gave up hope of it being open.  To my considerable delight, however, the door was held closed with just a leather strap and, upon entering, I was greeted by this…
A cosier little shelter you’d be hard-pressed to find.  Two fishing flies in a cork on one of the windowsills suggested that it was perhaps a fishing lodge.  Or, perhaps, just a basic getaway.  A bottle of red wine on the side was clearly a ‘thank you’ from a recent holidayer – my only regret was that my meagre rations could not offer up any such gift for my stay!  It seemed pretty unlikely that anybody would turn up but, after waiting an hour or so, I fired up the stove to warm things up and dry out my soaking shoes and socks, as well as my somewhat damp sleeping bag.  I’ve had some good fortune on this trip but I think this slots in near the very top of the lucky incidents list!  It was tempting to hang around for longer, but the rations wouldn’t permit that so, having thoroughly tidied the place, I headed off early the next day, wary of having a fair distance to cover.  It was an overcast morning with intermittent drizzle and yet more mud and river-crossings to negotiate.  Shortly after passing Estancia La Cumbre, the road thankfully started up again, albeit fairly muddy.  Here one of the vehicles from the upmarket Awasi Lodge stopped to talk and ask where I’d come from.  Although initially a bit frosty given the, ahem, legality of it all, they soon warmed upon hearing where I had started my trip, especially as the guests were a British couple!  The going wasn’t too bad and I felt like I was making pretty good progress until I got to the foot of the valley, with about 10km to go to get to the border back with Argentina.  The road turned into the worst conceivable type of sticky mud that was totally unrideable and difficult even to push through.  My fading morale, on the usual touring rollercoaster, was lifted by the sight of dozens of circling condors, a particularly large one flying about 10m over my head.  They were everywhere – I got to about 40-odd before I lost count.  Back to pushing, however, and the progress was pretty slow – the wheels needing clearing on a regular basis.  The final stretch was frankly ridiculous mud…
But, shortly after, a rocky stream marked the border with Argentina and the terrain typically and rapidly changed to dry brush.  The next few kilometres to the road were quite a fun challenge of riding a maze of animal tracks through the low scrub.
And, just like that, I was back on the dirt roads and able to pick up speed again.  This felt like truly adventurous bikepacking.  This was fun.  I could see myself getting something of a taste for this!

UPDATE: Two friends separately followed in my tracks over Paso Verlika and were both challenged by vehicles from Awasi Lodge, who operate Estancia La Cumbre.  They were both told in very strong terms that the lodge could no longer afford to turn a blind eye to people crossing illegally through their property and that they would have to report anybody else they encountered to the Carabineros.  The latter of the two literally had to beg them to let him pass.  So, if you’re considering doing a similar route, I’d either keep a very low profile (passing the Estancia at night/very early morning) or perhaps look at alternative crossings – there are other valleys which may well offer feasible options.

With about 40km left to get to the nearest decent shelter (another abandoned hotel), I put the hammer down and made good progress on decent ripio.  However, with about 6km to go to my destination and the evening rapidly drawing in, I suddenly heard a hissing sound from my rear wheel and looked down to see sealant spraying out of the tyre.  This was the first major puncture that I’d experienced on my tubeless tyres.  For those not familiar with tubeless, it’s very straightforward – you ‘seal’ the rim of the tyre using an air-tight tape and then ideally use a tubeless-specific tyre.  This mounts in the same way as a normal bicycle clincher tyre but has a slightly more refined/preciser fit.  Think of it as more akin to a car tyre.  Once mounted, you squirt a sort of liquid latex sealant through the valve and pump it up.  This sealant remains liquid inside the tyre and helps seal either any microscopic holes in the tyre or any breaks in the interface between the rim and tyre, ensuring that it is air-tight.  In the event of a puncture, the sealant will also congeal in the holes and plug them.  Much of the time, with minor punctures, this works so well that the rider is hardly even aware of the puncture until they see a slight dribble of dried or drying sealant oozing from the tyre and doesn’t require any attention.  Indeed, my tyres had their fair share of pin-prick punctures like this.  In the event of a larger gash, it may be necessary to orientate the cut to the bottom of the wheel, to allow the sealant to pool there, whilst applying a bit of pressure to the puncture.  This was what I now had to do.  The hissing slowed down and, before long, stopped entirely but not before the tyre had lost a considerable amount of pressure.  Pumping it back up, the hissing started again but slowly sealed, this time with a little more pressure.  The size of the cut was clearly borderline, in terms of what the sealant is capable of dealing with.  With the light fading and the first signs of rain imminent, I decided to just put the ‘technology’ to the test!  Lo and behold, it held until I made it to the abandoned Hotel Peralta!


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