Traveling by bicycle we’ve developed a rhythm that has become a standard by default. A week or two of biking, followed by a week or two of relaxing in a cool place, keeps things interesting and comfortable. When biking becomes tiresome, it’s time to find a chill spot. And when the crew starts getting antsy, it’s time to ride on. But the rules of the road are never consistent, and Chile had a new style of travel in store for us.
After spending nearly two weeks hanging out in Valparaiso, Chile, we were finally ready to get back into bike mode. It was a good celebration of our return to the coast after more than four months inland. We hooked up with the Valpo Surf Project, friends of friends that started a non-profit to help local underprivileged kids learn how to surf. They happened to be in between class sessions and looking to spend some time on the water.
Our impeccable timing allowed us to hangout at the headquarters with the dudes, use their gear, and get the full tour of the area exploring six different surf breaks with them. It was exactly the situation we were looking for. But after much enjoyment with our new friends, the work was starting to stack up for them and we remembered that we were supposed to be on a bike trip. Two weeks off the bikes left us a little unbalanced.
We could almost hear the oversaturation of relaxation sagging off our bones — bike mode was beckoning. After so much time in SurfCity the transition back to the bikes was a bit harder than usual. We finally made it out of town with a solid 5 p.m. start, but we didn’t make it very far.
Another half day of riding put us in San Antonio on Dec. 24. The rotisserie chicken lady in San Antonio couldn’t stand the thought of us camping on the side of the road that night, so she told us that we’d instead stay at her house. A late wake up combined with our low energy levels kept us from riding Christmas day. The family really wanted us to stay, and especially considering the great food and company we didn’t want to let them down.
The following day we convinced ourselves that we must be rejuvenated and figured that it was probably time to roll. Pichilemu was the next destination on the list, about one and a half days from San Antonio. We knew that we had to get a couple sessions in at Chile’s most famous surf town.
We had plans to meet up in Pichilemu with our German bike touring friend Thomas and ride south together. We were to surf for two or three days while he came down from Valparaiso to join us. But when we arrived, Thomas was already there waiting for us. He had passed us during our detour in San Antonio.
“I make ze vatch to ze vebsite, to see vhere are you, and I sink, ‘vat is zis? Zey are not yet hier?” Thomas told us when we found each other in the streets. It’s best not to keep a German waiting, but we still had to surf Pichilemu. He decided to hang out for a bit while we got our fix.
Then the clock of fate turned a new hour and sent us a bonus moment. While enjoying a sidewalk band of some of Pichilemu’s finest musicians over a round of beers with Thomas, Juneau friends Kendra Buerger, Craig Kasburg, and Deborah and Alex Reed just happened to get off the bus from Santiago and run into a couple of hairy dudes that they hadn’t seen in over a year and a half. Hugs and high fives went around like sea lions on a school of herring. It became clear that we were not leaving town any time soon.
A week later we had enjoyed a handful of parties in the waves, celebrated the New Year and eaten a ton of seafood. Thomas even stuck around, seeing that there was no reason to leave that much fun. Finally we saw the Juneau friends off on a bus and got back on the road, ready to ride again.
However, as we passed Punto de Lobos, on the south end of Pichilemu, the waves were looking good. It just didn’t seem right to leave such an awesome point break without one final session. So we didn´t.
Then Andrew realized he had left his Patagonia jacket back in San Antonio, where we spent Christmas. This is perhaps one of the most crucial pieces of equipment for the future rains of Southern Chile; you can’t go to Patagonia without your Patagonia shell. We stored our bikes with a friend and hitchhiked back to San Antonio to retrieve the jacket. Things were not looking good for our bike ride with Thomas.
Six car rides to San Antonio and six more back put us three days behind Thomas. And we couldn’t visit our favorite family in Chile without spending a full day together. But eventually we made it back to our bikes and really, truly got back to riding south.
Four days of steep coastal hills, often on the loose dirt of the back roads landed us in Cobquecura. We were a bit beat up after such hard days following a long period of little biking. Cobquecura was the recommended surf spot from our friends back in Valparaiso, and as luck would have it Craig and Kendra also found it after their brief detour to the eastern mountains. Friends, waves, and a beautiful, mellow little town convinced us that we were in a pretty cool spot. Plus, we were exhausted and ready for a day off (we ended up taking three days off). It was just too comfortable to leave any sooner.
We met a ton of friendly people in Cobquecura. Many of them asked the two most common questions that we had been getting in Chile: “What do you think of Chile?” and “Wow, over 19 months of traveling, aren’t you tired?” To which we would reply, “Chile is great, awesome people and beautiful places, and no, we aren’t tired. We just spent nearly a month relaxing with very little biking. Why would we be tired? Life on the road is chill.”
Our departure from Cobquecura was also a departure from the ocean. We figured it would be easy to cover some good ground in the coming days without all the coastal distractions. The first leg was to be a day’s ride east, to a city ironically called Chillan. In Chillan we would reach Chile’s main highway, Ruta 5, which cuts straight down the middle of the country.
But I woke up with a mean stomach ache, and after an hour or two of riding found myself lying on a bench at a bus stop, contemplating my illness. It was the worst stomach pain I’d ever felt, combined with strange random body aches. The symptoms didn’t seem to add up to anything I knew before. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
Andrew rose from his slumber on the ground and asked me if I thought he would ever get enough sleep in the bank to not have to take naps every other day. I considered it, thought about my weird health issue, and had a realization: maybe we are tired. We have been going for a long time. Maybe it is starting to add up. It’s a hard thing to admit, as people who pride ourselves on endurance (what more could you expect from the two outside midfielders of a three-time Alaska Youth Soccer state champion team?), but then again, we have never tested ourselves with a challenge of this duration before.
We didn’t make it to Chillan that day. We ended up spending three days in the towns of San Nicolas and Ninhue, hanging out at the clinic, dealing with what turned out to be a bad reaction to expired antibiotics (all the health care was free, thank you Chile for being awesome). We also met up with some local friends that we had met in Cobquecura. When we left Ninhue, we got a ride to the city in our friend Pedro’s truck. It was certainly the chillest way to get to Chillan.
Starting down Ruta 5, we knew that we could have no expectations for what “bike mode” would be like. Though we have been at it for more than 20 months now, we can still never know what is going to come next. Only a few thousand kilometers remain until the end of the road, but as we get closer to the destination, our travel techniques continue to change and adapt. We are finding it easier to give each place the time and attention it deserves, enjoying the flexibility to appreciate unique experiences and allow obstacles to shape our path. Chile has been a teacher in the art of chilling, giving spoonfuls of patience to help A Trip South go down, one pedal at a time.
• Kanaan Bausler is a member of A Trip South. Follow the group’s progress online at atripsouth.com.