Our guide, Dan Frideger, shares how wonderful things came from a change of plans when mother nature threw a curveball on his Chile bike tour.
It’s 7:00 AM in the Southern Hemisphere, just a few days past the “summer solstice” in early January. For the past three days, sun has graced our route. Glittering mountain lakes ringed by deep, lush woods—with names like coihue, lingue, araucaria, alerce—slumber beneath snowcapped volcanoes. Well paved, lightly trafficked roads wind their way along rushing streams and past small family farms with scurrying chickens, a few shaggy sheep, pealing paint, and the ever-present Chilean “guard dog.” Though the breeds vary, all seem to share a good-natured lethargy. The effort required to get them up from their sun-soaked patch of dust often seems like a bigger task than they can even contemplate. This might mean a cyclist or a passing truck has to change course to go around them.
Days well spent in the company of new friends, with sore muscles and sore bottoms after the early season efforts, are followed by fantastic dinners and Chilean wines sipped late into the night. In short, the ideal cycling vacation thus far. However, the sound of pounding rain, and the grey leaden clouds that fills the sky from horizon to horizon are going to add a new element to our days of bliss.
While a day of rain is a small matter in the grand scheme of things, it does put a damper on anyone’s cycling vacation. From a guide’s perspective, rain impacts both the logistics and morale. The mood can be read in the faces of the guests for whom that first morning cup of coffee is just not quite as satisfying, the orange juice a bit too tart, the croissant a shade shy of desired crunch. One can almost see the mental math calculating what percentage of the total riding will be missed as the rain splatters the windows. Consequently, a cheery pep talk regarding the hidden virtues of riding in the rain is a must. And so, with a “hope for the best” attitude and an hour and a half shuttle south before a decision to ride has to be made, we load up the vans and head out.
As we drive, the ambiance is atypically subdued, with more introspection than conversation. Passages of dry weather and distant patches of blue sky give hope to the optimistic and seem a cruel tease to the unconvinced. When we arrive at our ride start, a usually stunning “mirador” above Lago Ranco, its azure waters dotted with alluring islands, we are met by a veil of thick mist mixed with a light rain and stiff wind. Plan B, of heading another 20 kilometers to our lunch stop first to see what the afternoon brings is quickly and unanimously adopted. A typically hearty Chilean meal with choices of fresh fish, lamb, beef, pork, steaming mashed potatoes, rice, and flan convinces many that their riding day is over, while others feel fueled up for whatever weather the afternoon throws at them. With a quick change into layers of brightly colored rain gear and a second cup of coffee for the road, the group splits up into the committed and the confounded.
Though cycling guides would not be in this profession were it not for the riding, there are times when the comfort of a fine, country-style hotel with a full spa, indoor-outdoor pool, sauna, and massage appointments holds a certain appeal. Though riding in the rain is almost always better than one thinks it will be, even a seasoned guide can be seduced by the alternative of a hot shower. After a quick game of rock, paper, scissors to see which of the guides would win the golden ticket of helping deliver luggage, one van whisks guests directly to the hotel while the other supports the riders along the route.
By the time the group comes back together for cocktails by a warming fire and nestles into plush couches, the general mood of the group is in stark contrast to that at the breakfast table. Those who braved the afternoon rain have epic stories of overcoming torrential downpours, struggling through piercing headwinds, and finding new depths of inner strength, all in a 30 kilometer ride! The guests who came directly to Parque Futangue, a 33,000 acre private reserve in the heart of the Los Rios region of Chile, do not seem to regret their choice either. The afternoon was a mixture of activities, alternating between the covered pool and sauna, getting massages, doing yoga, enjoying the workout room, or the rarest of activities on a Trek Travel trip, taking an afternoon nap. Despite the good humor all around, the weather report for the following day has still not improved. Rather than have a night of uncertainty on what the morning might bring, the guides suggest that we postpone our early morning departure and instead take advantage of what the property has to offer. For those still intent on getting some exercise, two of the guides will be in the lobby at 8:30 AM for a morning hike, while the third will offer a yoga class.
The night is full of lashing rain and occasional lighting, which lights up the lush, dense forests and steep volcanic slopes that ring the property. By morning, the conditions improve greatly with a light rain seeming a reprieve from the night’s battering. Eight of the 15 guests are ready to hike. Three have chosen yoga and four are sleeping in. The disappointment at not being on bikes does not seem to be an issue as we stride along a dirt track through the verdant pastures of the reserve’s cattle operation.
Almost on cue, the rain turns to light mist and then beams of brilliant sunshine begin to pierce the clouds. Steam rises from the moist earth only to dissipate in silence. The loud and raucous cries of the ever-present Bandurias with their long curved beaks and the darting Queltehues, break the tranquil silence. This seems to give flocks of parrots the go-ahead to swoop from their hidden roosts and fill the sky with their squawking chatter. Within a half hour, we arrive at a wooden overlook thick with moss above the dancing waters of a mountain stream, lined with bright red fuscias. Slowly, the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains begin to pierce the layer of clouds. The general feeling is one awe and appreciation. Though we have been riding through similar landscapes for several days, our pace and focus has been such that we had missed these smaller details and gentle contours of the terrain. The rain we had cursed the day before has forced us to alter our routine, slow our pace, look more closely, appreciate more fully. None of this was planned, nor could it have been foreseen. Lemons turned to lemonade.
As a result of that memorable morning, we now do that hike on all of our trips, taking a break from the bike to experience Chile in another way. While the magic of that first stroll may never again be repeated, every time we discover something new, the appreciation deepens.
Looking to discover the beauty of Chile for yourself?