There’s a road through southern Chile, northern Patagonia. It winds down past lakes and glaciers, cliffside bordered valleys, through historically small communities cut off by wilderness from the rest of the country, and the world. This road is called the Carretera Austral. It’s inevitably billed as one of the premier cycle touring routes in South America. Pinochet ordered the road’s construction in the 70s, one of a number of improvements that he introduced to Chile. Paul and I dropped onto this route a few days ago, game to make actual progress south on a dirt road.
But progress is a double-edged sword. Paul and I are racing south, for once putting in distance with eyes set on a destination. This literal legend of a route, it succumbs to progress too. Those famed long stretches of dirt are being replaced by asphalt. Quiet solitude is lost under the noise of road construction crews. Better wait for that backhoe to shove piles of dynamited rocks out of the way before continuing onward. The Carretera is still a fun little route to pedal, especially as the frequent fall rain showers leave fresh white snow on the tops of surrounding mountains. Beauty exists everywhere. But the storied wondrousness of this road’s reputation- maybe sometimes we just want to project the best face onto our stories.
A number of Pan American cyclists have concocted some great detours for this route that keep to its celebrated roots- see Nathan’s blog for some good ideas. Paul and I crossed onto the Carretera from Argentina using notes from Kurt via Mike– thanks guys! This entrance, via Esquel – Trevellin – Corcovado – Atilo Viglione – Lago Verde – La Junta, is a lot of fun and very doable, just a few easily crossed cold rivers and many gates to open and close en route. Each of those towns has a store to restock in. Paul has some more photos up on his blog.