(Ed’s note: Dre Hestler is filing reports from the in-progress Trans Andes Challenge. This is No. 2, covering stages 2 and 3; the first dispatch is here.)
By Dre Hestler
Published: January 27, 2011
Our adventure has us leaving Huilo Huilo/Ewok Village on a journey of 45 miles (67km). We will be traversing over hill and dale today—many small climbs and many small descents. Our goal is to arrive at Termas de Conaripe (thermal hot springs), one of many dotting this land of mucho volcanoes.
The day begins early, with me hauling yesterday’s well-done hams up to breakfast. It’s a feeling I have put out of my mind since sometime last summer, but somewhere in the dull throb of my body is a flickering flame of pride. It would seem that as much abuse as I give myself, I always seem to get up for a bit more.
The spirit is jovial on the start line and no one is jockeying for position; one hundred kindred souls ready for a mountain bike ride. The day's weather is slightly overcast as we head out onto course.
It's not long before we hit some steep walls that climb through a forest of vines and flowers in full bloom. The lake below, Lago Natume, is the namesake of the village we just quit. The climbs are bench cut and parallel the lake, slowly taking us higher and higher onto the forested hillside of the valley. The field of athletes thins out and people begin to “find their groups,” or get stuck alone between groups. My people pull away leaving me behind, just like yesterday only a little sooner today. I am comforted as I ride along alone with the knowledge that there are no big snakes or spiders to worry about, and only a few pumas in Chile. It's just me and the jungle.
My reverie is abruptly halted as the terrain turns down. To the lakeshore we arrive and a true jungle scene is presented. Now I am directly on the riverbank, lush bushes are over-growing the singletrack as the route weaves through mint, brambles and bamboo. The fresh scent of cow dung and drying mud mix with the mint and it is all real because the brambles won't let it be otherwise.
I'm pretty much loving life, the temperature, the location and cruising through this awesome place called Chile. The rest of the day is punctuated by a bit more interaction with the locals (Mapuche Indians), their remote rustic farms, and a few other bikers.
The sun is beating hard late into the afternoon and my legs come and go, but I can feel them settling into a pace. The final descent is a total hairball with a few internationals caught out. I feel like a total stud as I let the brakes go and woo hoo all the way to the finish.
Termas De Conaripe is essentially one of those “health spas”—people are lying around half-naked in open air pools. It's like a bunch of lizards, and except for the kids yelling and screaming, you'd think you were at the zoo. Imagine how we look as we descend onto the resort post-ride covered in sweat and mud, smiling like group of looney-toons (and this is high season for them?)
Termas De Conaripe to Termas De Menetue – 77km, 48 miles
Sounds terrible, switch one health spa for another. We have all basted our skin in the volcanic hot springs, likely for too long, but it was sooo good. Lying in an outdoor pool with the steep forested walls of the valley holding us in, it's like the resort is designed to hold you and make you feel safe.
The routine is getting established: Up at 7:30 for breakfast, bags packed into the truck by 9, final pee and it's time to go at 9:30. Today will be a doozy of a day, a leg breaker short climb to begin, followed by ascending one of those massive volcanoes. There is some chit chat and a few cat calls as we roll out and funnily enough it all happens in a couple different languages, but we all get the gist and smile. Everyone is hurting a bit, but it's also a wait-and-see mentality, and like a bunch of fatalists we take it one day or one mile at a time. Let’s see how the body is today?
Cresting the first climb, a small group of us hit the singletrack; It swoops along a river, behind some small farm cottages and heads down for a good bit of time. The knowledge that we will soon be heading up quiets our elation, but nothing good comes easy and I like to earn my turns.
Today the sun has crept out early from behind the clouds and we are feeling the heat. I put on my SPF 20, but I could certainly use a re-supply about now. The climb is long and arduous, but near the top we get into the Volcan Villarica national park and the trees are marvelous. Over the top we get a couple sneaky peaks, but aren't well rewarded with views. We rip down 9 miles of beautiful undulating single/double track; this is what we have earned. The descent continues with Boys Scouts and Girls Scouts galore all over the road, like pylons, sleeping bags in hand, all headed to the park behind us. We hit 40 mph (60kms) at some points and are really cooking. It’s exhilarating and even though it's just a gravel road, it's still 10 miles more of fast, fast ripping.
The day concludes at 50 miles (80km). It has been a big day, but Day 3, or hump day, is in the bag. We are halfway home and our tans are getting really, really, good. Stay tuned for more of the 'endless summer', the Chilean adventure.