Jimmy has been going on about bike packing for a while now. To be honest, I brushed it off most times as another one of those things he says is “Freakin’ awesome!” I should have known by the subtle hints along the way that he had a little more planned for our bicycle tour than pleasant pedalling through the countryside.
…You see, bike-packing is not a how to guide on how to pack your bike. I guess I would describe it as serious cross country mountain-biking with a light weight set up or rig consisting of only the most essential survival stuff. Perhaps with items such as a bivvy-tent, cooker, some food and a jacket stuffed with an extra set of undies. I think for me a few descriptive words which come to mind would be hardcore, mud, balance and calve muscles. None of which I associate with me.
Jimmy had downloaded the Huilo Huilo bike-packing route from bikepacking.com way back in the days of Berlin life. We were sold on the description, the spectacular photos and the fact that it was rated at a difficulty factor of 4/10. No worries mate. We planned our journey through Chile to incorporate the route, looking forward to getting that far from the asphalt for the first time.
The route began on paved roads. We had a blast cycling around the gorgeous Lago Ranco, and Lago Maihue and were high on life and sunshine. The day before reaching the turnoff which would take us into the wild, we stocked up on food, telling ourselves that we should add an extra day of supplies because we would probably be a bit slower than someone on a bike-packing rig.
I remember it so clearly. The roadworks on a stretch of dry pebbly road, the dust clouds engulfing us with each passing car and the sight of green in the distance where our turn off into the rainforest would be. At our turnoff there was a sign which clearly stated PROPIADAD PRIVADA : NO PASAR. What could that possibly mean? We gave it a thought, got our story straight and dove down into the lush forest.
At first it was a gorgeous ride through forest and the occasional field of grazing cattle. It was steep and we had to push our bikes a few times, but it was rideable, and we were loving it. We found a place to stop for lunch and to do the daily drying of the tent and sleeping bags.
Eventually we came to a locked gate, and had to zoom in a bit on the GPS. There was a a tiny path entering straight in to the forest which we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Woohoo! Single track through the forest, and Woah what a beauty she was! There are truly magical places in that forest, pockets of mossy landscape brought to life by by dappled sunlight or falling leaves. Places where fairies live. I recently found out that the same forest is home to the worlds smallest deer, which reaches a max height of 40cm!!!
Then it got ridiculous. Now, in this particular instance I don’t mean ridiculously beautiful or magical-charlie-the-unicorn-like ridiculous, I mean like I-can’t-actually-physically-do-this-ridiculous. The mountain started sloping upwards at an incline which I wouldn’t even attempt on an unloaded bike, and the single track became so deep that we couldn’t ride along it because our front panniers would hit the sides.
Within about 30 minutes, Jimmy and I had a mutual agreement. I was to ride and push my bike uphill as much as I could, and when I was too exhausted and needed to catch my breath I would stop and wait for him. He would come back down the hill and push my bike for me…
… anyways I don’t need to repeat everything that happens in the film, so I’ll just pick up from where it left off.
That road. I would have kissed it if my thighs hadn’t made me wince at the thought. Yes, road. I can now say that I thoroughly understand the difference between a track and a road. We could actually ride, but not only that, we could ride with a bit of wind in our helmets and even side by side sometimes. Awwwww. My confidence in myself as a capable bicycle-tourer returned again and soon we were lapping up the road ahead of us. The forest opened into grassy expanses, mountainous horizons, and a dazzling sky. We rolled over hills, and across rickety wooden bridges, some more forest and eventually hard black volcanic dirt. This time we were slow not because of the amount of luggage we had, but because we stopped so often to pick our jaws up off the ground.
When we arrived in Neltume we were completely shattered, but by the time we were falling asleep, we had begun to realise what a humbling and moving experience our bike-packing journey had been. Being that immersed in wild mother nature had left a deep impression, and we already knew we wanted more.