I was going through some of my trip photos for a story I’m working on and realized they were littered with roadkill from the pampas. I don’t know why I took so many. Maybe I was just happy for an excuse to stop biking and take a picture. Pampa scenery gets boring, and pretty much anything enlivens it, even dead things.

Since I seem to have a collection, and because I would rather look at pictures of dead animals than start this weekend’s pile o’ reading for grad school, I decided to put together a small photo essay on pampa roadkill. You normies probably won’t want to look at it, so just move along. This is just for us sickos.

In other news, I am indeed in grad school. Believe it or not, being in grad school is not as much fun as biking across Patagonia. But I’m learning a lot and meeting some super bad-ass journalists, and it’s making me want to become a bad-ass journalist myself. Sometimes it’s hard to envision how I will ever get out from under this pile o’ reading and onto the path toward being a bad-ass journalist, but I am trying to have faith that one day I will.

Without further ado, here are some pictures of dead animals on the pampa. If you make it to the end, you get the bonus of participating in a poll and seeing a cool map.

Another dead guanaco. There was a live one right near by

A dead guanaco, from my first day in the pampa. There was a live one right nearby but it ran away when it saw there was some crazy hanging out taking pictures of its dead friend.

jack rabbit, exhibit 1

jack rabbit, exhibit 1

dead bird angle 1

dead bird angle 1

dead bird, angle 2

dead bird, angle 2

another dead jackrabbit

another dead jackrabbit

Armadillo?

Armadillo?

Sheep, tied and about to be dead.

Sheep, tied and about to be dead.

This guanaco got stuck on the fence some time before and couldn't get disentangled and died there. There were lots of these guys hanging around.

This guanaco got stuck on the fence some time before and couldn’t get disentangled and died there. There were lots of these guys hanging around.

pile o dead bird

pile o dead bird

another hanger.

another hanger.

a third hanger.

a third hanger.

This is my bike, which is just pretending to be dead after being knocked down for the 56th time by the wind.

This is my bike, which is just pretending to be dead after being knocked down for the 56th time by the wind.

 

Each dot is a place I spent the night, from Ushuaia (Feb 6) to Puerto Montt (May 6). A few of those dots I spent a week or more, and one of them I spent a month  (Hi Magda & Fabian!). I like this image because it makes me feel like I accomplished  something amidst all the whining.

Each dot is a place I spent at least one night, from Ushuaia (Feb 6) to Puerto Montt (May 6). A few of those dots I spent a week or more, and one of them I spent a month (Hi Magda & Fabian!) I like this image because it makes me feel like anyone can accomplish something cool, even whiny, out of shape, and mechanically incompetent people like me.

 

 

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My bike and I in better days.

My bike and me in better days.

My bike was stolen. My bike! The bike that spent most of this year as my commadre del camino, my fickle companion, my terrible animal, my primary mode of transportation, my occasional foil. Now it is not *my* anything.

There’s not much to say about the actual crime. I had an hour to kill before meeting a friend for a movie so I decided to kill it at a Starbucks. The Starbucks was in Santiago’s toniest neighborhood, and offered an inviting bike rack, a strong internet connection and a hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate swirls on top. There was an outdoor seating area next to the bike rack, but it’s winter here so I sat inside where I couldn’t see the bike. After a while I walked out and it was gone. I had chained it with a thick cable lock instead of a u-lock, cuz I’m an idiot, and someone with a sharp tool clipped it and rode away.

Starbucks employees made sympathetic noises and offered me another hot chocolate on the house but I declined. They said they could call the police but it would take 2 or 3 hours for them to arrive and they would do nothing to find my bike, so I declined that too. I walked to some nearby cops sitting in a police car and they said they couldn’t do anything. So I walked to a nearby mobile police station but they said they were busy and to go a different station a mile away. On my bike, that would have been a short distance. I got a beer instead. Later I went home in a cab.

In addition to sad and mad and annoyed at myself, I am also for some reason perseverating on the fact that whoever winds up with the bike will have no idea it was ridden thousands of kilometers up the spine of their country, that it has a crazy history of flats and broken axles and crumbling racks and clueless gringa riders. They’ll think it’s just another bike, not a retired terrible animal.

Come to think of it, that’s probably true for a lot of things in our lives. Maybe the coin in your pocket lived for most of the 1990s in the bottom a fishtank at a Chinese restaurant in Costa Rica. Maybe the antique candlestick holder in your aunt’s china cabinet put a permanent dent in someone’s head in 1931 when a different someone came home and found his wife in a compromising position with that someone. Maybe Dusty, the massive cat that abruptly appeared in my parents’ yard 5 years ago, arrived via prop plane that was carrying a load of Southern Humboldt marijuana to a distributor in Fresno. The cat could have wandered onto the plane before takeoff and mid-route startled the jumpy pilot, who then defenestrated him into my parent’s yard.

The point being that our lives are crammed full of stories we will never hear, and now my bike has one of them.

Goodbye terrible animal! Thanks for a great if occasionally bumpy ride. May you roll through many more stories, wherever the bastards take you.

 

Me putting my bike together in Ushuaia.

My bike being put back together in Ushuaia after a month in a box.

My bike starting its journey. It looks scared.

My bike starting its journey. It looks scared.

 

welding my broken rack back together.

My bike getting its first of many rack surgeries.

Sometimes I like looking at maps more than I like biking. Photo credit: Magdalena

My bike wanted to take a break so I was looking at a map.

Magic skull protecting beanie! Photo credit: Magdalena

My bike after it stealthily exterminated its mortal enemy, my first helmet, leaving me with only a rainbow beanie for protection.

Cesar, fixing my bike.

My bike in its first of three rear axle operations, in the capable hands of surgeon Cesar.

My bike being resuscitated by a squadron of Chilean soldiers.

My bike being resuscitated by a squadron of Chilean soldiers.

OK, so my rack really was hapless. One of the later breaks.

My bike immediately before its dangerous rack transplant operation.

My bike snickering behind me because I am feeling sorry for myself for getting two flats in a day. Little did I know that there would be many more to come.

My bike snickering behind me because I am feeling sorry for myself for getting two flats in a day. Little did I know that there would be many more to come.

My bike camping out. It liked to have a blanket over it while it slept.

My bike camping out. It liked to have a blanket over it while it slept.

My bike trying to recover from the indignity of sleeping in a stable.

My bike trying to recover from the indignity of sleeping in a stable.

My bike waiting for a bus.

My bike waiting for a bus.

 

My bike taking a nap in the pampa.

My bike taking a nap in the pampa.

My bike photobombing an accidental picture. Kyle's hand is also photobombing.

My bike photobombing an accidental picture. Kyle’s hand is also photobombing.

Goodbye, bike!

Goodbye, bike!

 

Image

OK, so this is a weird story. I’m not much of a dreamer. I almost never remember my dreams and when I do they are usually fragmentary and involve arriving to school naked or finding myself at the alter with a horrible stranger. But on the morning of May 30, I woke up from a fully realistic dream that I was hitchhiking to the World Cup and writing about it for a national magazine. I woke up 100 percent sure that that it was all arranged, and I was behind on my packing so I’d better get up and get my shit together.

Over the next 15 minutes I slowly realized that no, I wasn’t. I was overcome by regret.

But then a week later, yes, I was. It was all arranged, and I was behind in my packing. And this time it was for real.

Here’s the story, published yesterday on Vice’s excellent Motherboard blog.

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/i-drove-2100-miles-to-the-world-cup-with-a-caravan-of-facebook-strangers

I’m proud of this story, especially considering I mostly wrote it in a few sleep-deprived hours, and I think it’s a pretty good read. I didn’t write the obnoxious headline though, so just ignore that part.

I could only go to the border of Brazil with them, because I have a flight to the US in less than a week and didn’t have the time to go further. So now I am trying to get back to Santiago, and I am stuck in Mendoza, Argentina, the Andes are a bitch in the winter and the pass into Chile is closed. The one-hour flight would cost me $900, so I am staying put for now.

In summary: Literally following your dreams can get you stuck in Mendoza, Argentina.

For old times’ sake, here’s a poll. Also some photos from the trip that didn’t get published.

P1080756

P1080765

P1080722 P1080730

P1080790

P1080693

P1080703

P1080668

P1080722

 

 

And some photos by Cesar:

10439551_10203067089370918_1596968174_n

10453185_10203067081250715_1063083429_n

10456214_10203067082850755_975610529_n

10456337_10203067097051110_515783795_n

10461856_10203067085170813_133969556_n

10466916_10203067081170713_838867851_n

10472968_10203067091850980_1992355332_n

 

10358744_10203067080250690_6438041776867239245_n

 

Me arriving back in Santiago after several days of biking and hitching and a little bussing and ferrying. I asked a 145-year-old lady walking by to take it.

Me arriving at my apartment in Santiago. For some reason there wasn’t a giant parade of people waiting to receive me, so I asked a 145-year-old lady walking by to take the picture.

Act 1

Dear Katie Worth of the past,

If you somehow lose your air pump 200 km from your final destination, but talk yourself into thinking you’ll be fine because you just replaced your tire and tube after getting six flats in a row so you’ve totally exhausted your bad tire luck and everything should be OK for a few days, right? — tell yourself to shut the fuck up. Find a new one before leaving town.

Sincerely,

Katie Worth from the Future

I took this picture in honor of my friend Gonzalo after leaving the volcano town.

I took this picture in honor of my friend Gonzalo after leaving the volcano town.

 

Act 2

I got my seventh flat of the week and it began raining. A tractor inexplicably began digging and redigging the quarter mile of road in front of me, so pretty soon I was standing in chunky mud up to my calves.

Lots of big rigs have air pumps so I decided to wave down every truck that drove by. There weren’t that many, although thanks to the tractor and the sea of mud, the ones that did pass had no way to pretend not to see me when I waved my arms frenetically in their direction and then made perverse hand gestures inquiring if they had a pump . Unfortunately, none did.

Thus passed two hours in the rain. It got dark. I pushed my bike back to a bus stop I’d spotted on the road just before my flat, figuring I’d camp there. When I got there I realized it was just an unfinished shed and its floor had made way for a large puddle.

Around then an old man with several teeth walked down the hill above me. He asked me what I was doing in the rain. I’ve got a flat and I’m thinking of camping in there, I said, pointing. He looked dubiously at the puddle. It would be better if you stayed with my daughter, he said. She’s got a big house and her husband’s away this week.

He led me up the hill to his house, and then past it to his daughter’s house. He knocked on the door. A ponytailed young woman holding a fleshy baby appeared at the door. Andrea, he told her, this gringuita wants to sleep in the shed down at the road, but I think it’s better if she stays with you. I stood there looking apologetic and friendly and awkward. A charming crooked smile appeared on the woman’s face. Sure you can stay here, she said, as though soaking stinky gringuitas showed up all the time needing housing. I thanked her and accepted.

Her father led me back down the hill. Just as we got back to my bike, a truck driver I’d talked to earlier and who’d felt sorry for me reappeared with a pump he’d picked up somewhere nearby. He leant it to us. The old man took me and my bicycle up to his house. He handed me a cup of warm apple chicha, a homemade fermented cider, and we fixed my tire.

When I got back up to Andrea’s, she was just pulling some hot bread out of her woodstove oven. The chubby baby sat in a stroller, toothlessly masticating her fist. A well behaved five year old boy told me all the words he knew in English. Andrea apologized for the windows, which were covered in plastic tarp instead of glass. They were building the house themselves, and saving up for windows, she said. Andrea’s husband worked in the fisheries as a diver for three weeks at a time, and then was home for one week. I asked if it was hard for her when he was gone. She laughed. No, it’s easier, she said. When he’s here he spoils the kids. She had the compact, scrappy body of a soccer player, and told me her favorite part of the week is walking up into the mountains and chopping down trees for firewood. She drags them piece by piece back to the house and then reduces them to woodstove-sized logs. She loves to walk and be outside. Her family doesn’t understand her, but that doesn’t bother her.

The next day the rain was worse than ever, and the wind had started up. Andrea told me to stay another day, so I did.

Chubby baby and (relatively) well behaved five year old.

Chubby baby and (relatively) well behaved five year old.

Andrea and kids.

Andrea and kids.

Act 3

It was still raining when I finally left Andrea’s house, but I didn’t mind. I was all excited and emotional to be biking my very last day of the trip. I had only 75 km and a ferry ride to reach Puerto Montt, the destination I had been aiming for since Ushuaia. At the beginning of my trip Puerto Montt seemed so far away I could barely bring myself to admit that it was my goal, it seemed too cocky or overambitious for someone like me to accomplish. But months later, here I was – goal within reach. Who cares if I was wet?

A few hours later, now 32km from Puerto Montt, I decided to take advantage of a break in the rain for a cracker and cheese break – my last! – and to take some pictures of the ocean falling on rocks below me. I lingered there longer than I meant to, enjoying the cell service, which had been a rarity a few weeks ago, but now I was swimming in. I finally pulled myself away and walked back to my bike.

Which had a flat.

OH MY GOD!!! I yelled.

The rain started again, of course. I considered my options, which were to stop a bunch of trucks in search of another air pump or to hitch into town. I stuck my thumb out.

Luis picked me up. He is a veterinarian who works in the salmon hatchery, he said. We got to talking about my trip. I told him about my flat tire woes. He told me about his salmon woes. When we got nearly to town I asked him if he knew any hostels nearby. He hesitated and then said, Katie, how would you feel about staying with me and my family tonight? I accepted.

He drove me to a beautiful house in a gated community. I spent the evening playing with his kids, who were learning German and English, taking karate and cooking classes, and had a fulltime nana. Luis’s wife came home, also a veterinarian, and told me about how nervous she was about her upcoming work trip to London, since she can’t understand the British accent. We ate salmon. It felt far away from Andrea’s tarped-over windows, but somehow the warmth was the same.

These are the pictures I took during my crackers and cheese break.

These are the pictures I took during my crackers and cheese break.

If you look closely you can almost see my bicycle laughing at me.

I still thought I was going to get to Puerto Montt. f you look closely you can almost see my bicycle laughing at me.

Act 4

The next morning Luis took me to a superstore where I bought a new tube and an air pump. We replaced the tire and then he drove me back the 32 km to where he had found me. I was determined to bike into Puerto Montt. It was really pouring but I was warm and excited to be on the road again. A couple trucks stopped and asked if I wanted a ride but I declined. I was finally going to make it into Puerto Montt, and I wanted it to be on my own two wheels.

And an hour later, I got my ninth and final flat of the trip. I laughed and laughed. And then yielded, because I had an air pump now, but I couldn’t fix my tire because I had run out of patches.

And so I hitched again. Forty five minutes later I was in Puerto Montt.

My trip was over.

Veterinarian Luis.

Veterinarian Luis driving me back to where he found me.

Some celebratory Curanto after finishing my trip.

Some celebratory Curanto after finishing my trip.

[[And for people who want to see me in a sideways video seeming optimistic that I won’t get a flat 18 km from the end of the road, you can click this link (sorry, I am too lazy to figure out how to post here or how to make rightways up.)]]

Act 5

I write this from Santiago, where I am back in my apartment. As soon as I arrived I was invaded by a nasty cold. I have spent my days peering out the window at the dim outline of the Andes through the smog, which seems thicker and stinkier than I remember it.

I am mostly unbothered by ending my trip 18 km from its intended end. I remember when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007, Canada, Canada, Canada, was my mantra for five months, all the way from the Mexican border. And then, one day, I actually got to Canada. First I spotted it in the distance, a long line of missing trees, as though someone had waxed a fifty-foot strip of forest as far as the eye could see in both directions. And then I was there, in the middle of that line, walking into Canada, and it was frankly anticlimactic. I mean, what was in Canada? Nothing but a car that would take me back to California. Nothing but the lack of a reason to hike 25 miles a day anymore.

And that’s what Puerto Montt was too – the lack of a reason to bike any more, which I have mixed feelings about because this biking trip has been filled with wonderjuice and adventures and straightforward, (almost) achievable goals. My life in the coming months will probably have less of all three.

On the other hand, my life in the coming months will have more nieces and friends and easy access to sushi restaurants than it will flats, so there’s that.

View from my window. There's a giant mountain range back there somewhere.

View from my window. There’s a giant mountain range back there somewhere.

image

Me and the volcano take a selfie

Before the volcano came the earthquakes. One, then dozens more, arriving in brief seizures under their feet. On the second night of earthquakes the citizens of Chaiten came out of their houses to watch ash fall from the sky. It’s Volcan Michinmahuida, they said to one another, peering through the dark toward its place on the invisible horizon to the east. After sleeping for 175 years it has erupted again.‬

‪Dawn broke over the seaside pueblo, followed immediately by astonishment. For the bald Michinmahuida was still as somnolent as ever. The ash was coming from somewhere else. Somewhere closer. Somewhere that wasn’t even a volcano.‬

‪It was coming from Chaiten Hill, a compact green mountain just north of town that my friend Nedy recalls had just the day before been forested on top. Who ever heard of a volcano that was forested on top? she asked her neighbors as they all gaped. But there was no denying it, volcano it was. Those forests on top had been replaced overnight by a chalky rope that was lassoing the sky. Ash gathered in their yards, their windowsills, their upturned faces, their lungs.

Within hours an evacuation plan was announced. Nedy and 4,000 other Chaiteninos were summoned to the port and told to take a boat to somewhere without an erupting volcano. She packed a few clothes and toys for her 6-year-old son in an overnight bag, figuring they’d be back in a few days. They wouldn’t be back for eight months.

‪The diaspora of evacuated Chaiteninos mostly found themselves on Chiloé, a large island off the coast of Chile and about an 5 hour boat ride from Chaiten. At first the Chilotes opened their homes and hearts and wallets to their newly homeless guests from the continent. But as weeks passed, the relationship cooled; the Chaiteninos were looking for work in Chilote towns where work was sparse. Nedy and her son rented a room in the Chilote fishing village of Quielen. To pay rent she began baking cakes and empanadas and taking them down to the docks where she sold them to men getting off a shift. They were delicious and popular, which made her no friends among the old women who had been doing this for years and were not pleased with the competition.‬

‪Chaiten Hill, immediately and permanently redubbed Chaiten Volcano, continued to spill its carbon entrails into the sky. Geologists confirmed that it had erupted before, some 9,000 years before, which was news to the Chaiteninos who had been living in its skirts for decades. In the days after evacuation the eruption grew more intense. Rock and hot gas destroyed the mountain’s ancient alerce forests, and the ash plume reached 20 miles into the sky. It spread across South America, arresting flights in Buenos Aires and making the news from Denver to Delhi. The Chaiteninos began seeing aerial shots of their town on the TV and were shocked to see it grotesquely rearranged. The volcano had somehow changed the course of a nearby river, which had excavated a new path through the heart of town. Three hundred homes were swept to sea. Those left were blanketed by ash; from the sky the town looked like granite sculpture of a nightmare version of itself. Horses, pigs and dogs wandered the streets looking for food. An estimated 20,000 animals in the region died from ash inhalation and starvation.

‪Weeks went by, and months, and the volcano’s long exhale seemed to slow.  But the government forbid the Chaiteninos to return. The experts were still evaluating risk, deciding what to do. They were deciding and deciding, but seemingly never decided. Eventually, a few people, desperate and homesick, shrugged the government’s mandate. When summer came and her son was out of school, Nedy did the same. She told the people at the ticket office that she was going to another town further south, but she got off at Chaiten and stayed. Her house had been flooded but was still standing. It now sat less than 100 meters from a river that was once a mile away. The river had washed many of her neighbors’ houses away, and inexplicably had left others. The volcano chose people, Nedy told me. It chose whom to pass by and whom to wash away.‬

‪There was no water and no power, and soon there was another major eruption–one that brought 500-degree celsius pyroclastic flows of boiling gas and rubble nearly to the edge of town. But Nedy stayed. She took a job with a man who had also come back and was now running the only open hotel in town. He needed water for the business, and the government refused to restore service, so he hired a crew to build a well on his property. He put a faucet on top and it neighbors would gather there collecting water and scheming how to get their town back from the volcano and, as they were beginning to see it, from the government.

The scheme Nedy was most concerned with was how they could open a school for her son to attend. The local government had been disbanded and defunded, but the old mayor was one of the few dozen who had sneaked back onto town. Nedy and the town’s other parents talked to him and together they deduced that the federal government would have to pay for one teacher if they opened a school outside the evacuation zone. So they found a site about 20 miles from town and hired a teacher. Since she had no car, she agreed to pay a neighbor $60 a month to drive her son to school every day. That fall, the school opened with six children.

By spring there were 64 children. More Chaiteninos were returning, despite the government’s insistence that they not do so. By then the government had decided that the risk was too high, that the village Chaiten should move 10 km north to a spot on the coast that would be safer if and when the volcano blew up again. But the Chaiteninos did not want to move their village. Their volcano was still smoking but they were convinced the worst was over. They were willing to live with a smoking volcano. They were willing to live with the risk.

The government tried to make them take the risk more seriously, explaining that volcanologists believe there could be another, more devastating eruption to come. They kept the local government unfunded and they refused to turn on power or water.

But the Chaiteninos responded with a brilliant political stroke: The town and the province that surrounded it, had the constitutional right to secede to another region — like a large California county seceding into Nevada. Doing so would be drastic and unheard of, and would dramatically change the economic pictures of both the abandoned and adopted regions. The neighboring region promised to help them restore services. They began a secession campaign. It began looking like they would succeed.

And so the threat became a checkmate. The federal and regional governments, fearing the consequences of such a rearrangement, yielded. They restored power and water to town. More people came back. Stores and hotels and butcher shops opened, barbers and mechanics and the postal service trickled back to town. Nedy quit her job at the hotel and opened her own hostel in her large house, which she renovated one room at a time as cashflow allowed. Slowly tourists began to show up. A few years later, I was one of them.

May 2 was the 6-year anniversary since the volcano came to life. I arrived on April 28, having hitched in from my sixth flat. As we pulled into town we could see the volcano smoking; the gauze that unfurled from its dome dressed a third of the sky. It’s just steam, the men I had hitched with said dismissively. While I was in Chaiten I heard that over and over, from Nedy, from the lady at the store, from the waiter at the cafe — solo es vapor, it’s only steam. The worst has passed and now el volcan es tranquillo, they all said. It won’t do any more damage. We’re safe. I couldn’t ever tell if they deeply believed this or were simply trying to convince themselves.

I stayed in Chaiten for a few days, waiting out some rain and resting. On the third day I biked north until I got to a trail that lead to the caldera of the volcano. I climbed up and up for two hours, through a forest of dead trees. Just at sunset I reached the rim of the caldera. In front of me was a soaring dome of rock. Smoke gushed from an unseen crater above, but small streams of vapor bled upward from the bare rock of the dome. I stared down into the caldera and could see where the eruption had sculpted an escape route toward town. Obsidian covered the landscape, glinting even in the dusk. I looked at my feet, trying to sense the potential catastrophe awaiting underneath. But for today, Chaiten was safe.

image

Dead trees and smoking volcano

image

Smoking dome from caldera

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Rim of a caldera

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Pyroclastic river

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Sunset

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Photocredit wikipedia, taken from chaiten during eruption in 2008

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Chaiten gets a new river

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Ash from pacific to atlantic

My second flat, back when it seemed more a charming misfortune to be documented than an inescapeable plague to cry to the heavens  over.

My second flat, back when it seemed more a charming misfortune than an inescapeable plague.

April 28, 2014

Lots of people I meet on this trip ask me if I am good at bike repair. No, I know nothing about repairing bikes, I say. Oh! They say. You’re so brave! I’m not even kidding, people seriously tell me that all the time, that I’m brave for biking without knowing anything about bikes. No, I always say, I’m just stupid!

Today I definitively won that argument.

I cycled nearly 2,000 km without a single flat–long enough that I periodically eyed the two spare tubes I’ve been carrying the whole way and wondered if I really needed both of them. Fortunately I never got further than wondering because in the last three days I’ve gotten six flats. SIX. I have no idea why my rear tire is suddenly doing a popcorn impersonation, it makes no sense: The road is way better now than it used to be; my bicycle keeps getting lighter as I chuck more unnecessary crap; and there hasn’t been a noticeable glut of thumbtacks on the road. And yet, my tire’s been deflating faster than a slug on a salt flat. I’ve tried patching the tube, I’ve tried replacing the tube, I’ve tried over- and under-inflating the tube. No dice.

I got my sixth flat this afternoon at the start of a long downhill that I’d worked hard for. In my frustration I decided to launch a full scale investigation: There had to be something that kept popping the tubes, I figured, some small shards of glass or metal my fingers weren’t finding when I ran them along the inside of the tire. So I took the tire off the bike and turned it inside out, examining every inch. Nothing.

Nothing, anyway, except the “You are a complete fucking moron, Katie Worth” written in giant script across the sky by a flock of jetplanes, because unbeknownst to me turning your tire inside out is something you should never, ever do. For those of you with a similar hole in your education, this is because when you try to turn it rightside out again it gets all topsy-turvy like a hula hoop fashioned out of a slinky, and no amount of twisting or wrenching or abject groveling will return it to normal tire shape again. And that means you are sitting on the side of the road and instead of the mild annoyance of a punctured tube you’ve got an amputated bike that you can no longer even push down your hard-earned hill, much less ride. And you just start laughing.

You’re laughing because it really is no-joke stupid to go on a 2,000-km solo bike trip if you know nothing about bike mechanics. And doing something stupid doesn’t make you brave, it just makes you prone to fucking up in all kinds of fascinating and ridiculous ways. It makes you prone to unwittingly buying a bike with a totally crappy rack and an axle system famous for breaking. It makes you prone to spending more money than you needed to because you thought the one-season tent that served you great in the summer in California would be just fine for latitudes in the -50s, only to be harshly corrected by a series of blizzards. It makes you prone to eating faceful after faceful of wind as you ride the wrong way through Tierra del Fuego. It makes you prone to sitting on the side of the road and staring at your newly unicycled bicycle in incredulity.

But, thinking about it, it’s not like I’d recommend against this particular brand of stupidity. I mean, obviously it would be better to learn something about bikes before going on a bike tour. But if I’d waited till I was a decent bike mechanic or had all the right gear or a bad-ass bike or an ideal tragelint companion before departing, this trip wouldn’t have happened — definitely not this year, probably not ever. And after all, this is one of the few brands of stupidity where the main consequence is usually just a rapid change of plans.

Rapid change of plans it was. A nice man coming back from dropping off some bulls at a slaughterhouse gave me a ride into the next town, Chaiten, where I found a hardware shop and bought a new tire and tube. The day ended with a warm shower and a comfy bed.

If only all my stupidity were so richly rewarded.

Today: 30 km
Total: 1925 km

 

As of that last blog, whose events transpired on April 11 but which I managed to put off posting about for two weeks thanks to my procrastination superpower, I had biked 1600 kilometers. For my metric rebels in the US that’s 1,000 miles. A thousand miles! That’s a little bit badass.

That’s not counting the 300 km of cheating –100 km because of a broken axle, 75 km because the wind blew, and now 125 km because of my disintegrating rack. I generally like riding my bicycle more than I like riding in a car WITH my bicycle, but the bicycle sometimes feels differently. I must respect that.

I stayed in Coyhaique for more than a week to fix my bike and do some work. I stayed with Boris, a longhaired salsa-dancing school psychologist who allows cyclists to crash on the floor of his one-bedroom apartment. He says that at one point last summer he had 18 people on his floor and many more camped out back. He hopes to bike through the Americas himself one day, although the idea terrifies his mom. He and I had many conversations about the importance of following your passion, even when it terrifies your mom.

Me and Boris.

Me and Boris.

Also staying at Boris’s was Pedro the Brazilian, who taught me how to fix a broken spoke and how to use polenta in everything you cook. We went on a ride through a nearby park one day, and even though it was crazy hilly, biking without luggage felt like participating in a slamdunk contest on the moon. On that ride he reached the 10,000 km mark on his bike trip, which is a lot more than a little bit badass. We celebrated with a feast of polenta and pasta.

Brazilian Pedro at 10,000 km. Photo credit: me!

Brazilian Pedro at 10,000 km. Photo credit: me!

A French cyclist named Paul showed up. He has spent the last few years biking south from California and aims to reach Ushuaia, even though it will be winter soon. His lover and biking partner of two years left him a few weeks earlier, for good, and his heart was as crumpled and glinting  and convoluted as a ball of tinfoil. He knew it was for the best, but sometimes he didn’t know it. He said he was worried about finding love again, an enduring love, a love he could make a family with. He was getting older, he said. We spent an evening drinking and dancing to loud pop music at a friend of a frend’s house. I think it made us both feel better, at least temporarily.

Paul and Pedro and Me and Boris.

Paul and Pedro and Me and Boris. Photo credit: a chair in Boris’s yard.

And I also met Marla, the cousin of my friend Fabian. When I left Punta Arenas, Fabian made me promise that if I made it to Coyhaique I would look her up. “She can hold her beer,” he said as way of recommendation. “You’ll get along.” And indeed we did get along — she is hilarious and smart and thoughtful and, as promised, can hold her beer. She is also a psychologist and works in juvenile prisons. All of her clients are teenagers convicted of homicide; she loves them, and they love her. She likes to listen to music that makes her sad. One afternoon we sat around watching music videos and crying. It was great.

Me and Marla.

Me and Marla.

I left Coyhaique on Easter Sunday alone and with a new rack. The doctors had long since caught up to me and then, unable to wait for me any longer, biked north. Even Pedro the Brazilian, whose procrastination skills rival my own, had left the day before me. It was both lonely and nice to be on my own again after weeks of company. The miles seemed easy–my first paved road since Argentina. But I’d left Coyhaique late and I arrived at my destination, a town called Villa Mañihuales, late — late enough that I had to night-bike the last hour.

I had just pulled into town and was stopped next to the plaza. I’d heard there was a family that receives cyclists near the plaza but wasn’t sure where exactly to find them or whether it was too late to bother them. But I wasn’t sure where else to go, either. I spent a moment paralyzed by indecision in the dark, my breath freezing in mercury puffs in front of me.

And then, in that way that happens on TV but doesn’t usually in real life, a man stepped onto the porch of a house across the street from me, as though to get a breath of fresh air. After a moment he spotted me on my bicycle in the dark and grinned. Welcome to the Casa de Ciclistas! he said. His name was Jorge. He led me inside and introduced me to his wife and children and parents and sister. In the dining room I found Pedro the Brazilian, whose prodigious procrastination had allowed me to catch up with him, and I felt reunited with a long lost friend. The house was warm and light and full of loud TVs and family noise and laughter. Jorge sat me down and handed me a plate of Easter dinner, pork chops and potatoes and salad.

A few blogs ago I described the doctors as “even more hapless than I am,” because they are constantly losing crap and needing root canals in foreign countries and overall unprepared for what they get themselves into. My dad emailed and begged to differ: ‘You are taking months off, biking in a friendly country, with amiable companions, in one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, and you use the word “hapless” to describe yourself and friends. To quote a dear role model: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

And of course he was right, hapless was the wrong word. Hapless means unfortunate, luckless, cursed, doomed — which by no means describes me or my friends. Ever since then I have been thinking about how I am the opposite of hapless just to be on this journey, and about the many anti-hapless things that have happened to me along the way. And sitting there in front of my Easter dinner I felt like the most happed girl on the planet.

The doctors, upon arriving in town, drinking the yummiest IPA in South America.

The doctors, upon arriving in town, drinking the yummiest IPA in South America.

Pedro and Boris, talking about ... polenta?

Pedro and Boris, talking about … polenta?

Pedro, packing, as usual. David, stretching, as usual.

Pedro, packing, as usual. David, stretching, as usual.

OK, so my rack really was hapless. One of the later breaks.

OK, so my rack really was hapless. This is one of the later breaks.