Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week 2 – Cohaique, Pachunga and 3 trail dogs

Graffiti in Cohaique referencing the freeing of political prisoners

Last weekend our crew of 8 took the opportunity to hit the town, Patagonia style. A quick dash along the lake and an hours drive north and we made it to Cohaique (or Quahog of Family Guy fame as some of the more cynical crew like to call it).

The desolate surroundings apparent on the drive in appeared to be echoed in the town, with only a scattering of stores and an alarming prevalence of locks and barred windows on most of the homes.
Fast and Furious; Cohaique drift

Stray dogs wandered the street despite the biting cold and we were heartened to find that a local cafe had decided to turn around the lives of these misfortunate mutts by offering proceeds from the sale of English language books to feed and house them.

The Quahog markets were a veritable smogasboard of knitted goods. I took the opportunity to stock up on Alpaca wool hats from a particular vendor who could be seen spinning the yarn in the back of her stall. While her apparent blindness didn’t bode well for the fit of the finished product, it certainly upped the sense of smugness that can only come from the purchase of handicrafts hot off the knitting needle. If anyone out there wants some sweet handmade headgear (with or without earflaps) don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Ollie digs in to some Pachunga sporting his new alpaca wool hat

A number in the other crew had raved about a certain Chilean delicacy called Pachunga. The dish was constructed on a foundation of steak and chorizo sausage (cemented with cheese) and topped with a generous mound of greasy frites. To appease those who claimed the dish unhealthy, a sprinkling of egg, gerkin and capsicum topped it all off. Accompanied with a sloshing of sauce the dish was heavenly, and I’ll freely admit to polishing off a double portion single handedly.

Taking advantage of the fine weather Sunday, a small team headed up to finish some of the traverse track we’d been building. The work also served as an opportunity to work off various indulgences, pachunga included.

Trail building conditions on one of the nicer days

The cool but clear spell continued to Monday but come Tuesday the muck hit the fan and we were served with a three day long degustation of bitterly cold sleet, snow and heavy winds. During the worst conditions, 20cm of snow fell and soaked through we had no option but to keep swinging a spade or pick, the exertion just enough to keep toes and fingers warm.

Trail building in some average weather

Such is the passion (or perhaps stubbornness or even madness) of the crews here, we slaved on in the snow and wind. We had moved on to digging an alternative line down the hill to complement a mind melting piece of trail called Super Cougar. Fortunately this trail offered a fun way down the hill in any conditions, the steep loamy berms serving as an olympic luge style thrill with good dose of corner drift to keep nerves in edge.

Poopie, Nobby and Solo are two four footed friends of the team here at Paloma. The former is a hyperactive sausage dog who hits the turbo at the first sight of snow, leaping and bounding about the slopes like a gazelle in spite of limited ground clearance. Despite her being in a seemingly constant state of shiver, she is often first up the hill in the morning and is well loved by the crews for her playful antics.
Poopie on one of her adventures

Solo has his own story too. Legend has it he turned up at the lodge one day, seemingly arriving out of the mist. Originally known as Rape Wolf for his inappropriate advances on Nobby, he has mellowed to become the ever vigilant sentinel of the crew, barking to scare away approaching condors at lunch or to warn of approaching puma at night.

Solo stands guard

Nobby however seems to be afflicted with schizophrenia, following closely but dashing ahead if called or patted. His jumpy nature is the main reason he is yet to be captured on film.

All three dogs have a lifestyle the envy of dogs the world over. Free to roam about the Patagonian wilderness by day, with the constant attention of trail crews looking to rest weary limbs with a pat or two. Life for the trail builders themselves isn’t too dissimilar from their canine companions. A refreshingly simple daily ritual in an otherworldly location must surely be good for the soul.

Mountain Pedaler out...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week 1 – Lago la Paloma Chile

The view up Paloma from the lodge

A week has passed since we first arrived here in Chile. From the hustle of smoggy Santiago (complete with real live Taxi hustle) we flew south for the desolate plains of Patagonia. Landing in Balcamadea I was bewildered as to how a plane carrying nearly 100 passengers could justify a flight to a settlement with only 500, but as quickly as they had arrived at the airport everyone was gone.

An hours drive on pothole laden roads, and we were at Lago La Paloma (Dove lake). A 45 minute boat ride between the towering cliffs took us to our lodge, situated on the picturesque shores.

A day and a half to reset our circadian rhythms and it was off up the hill, the weather showering our gringo trail crew with sprinkles of rain on the ascent up the hill for our first day of work.

Our morning view to the trails below

Starting at 320m elevation, our commute takes us up a sweet bermed trail to 700m, before we traverse across yet more expertly crafted corners to our worksite some 10km from the lodge. A good 50 min ride on 100% singletrack that serves as an ideal commute, arguably the world’s best?

Despite temperatures pushing -12 degrees I usually wear just shorts and a riding shirt, anything more and I find myself uncomfortably hot by the fourth switchback, before the day’s digging has even started.

Graham carries his pick to the scenic lunch spot

Our crew joined another who have been here almost two and a half months, and quickly learned the ropes carving out scree, bamboo and boulders to form a technical descent to the valley below. We even got to ride the yet to be named trail, and the rock work left me grinning. Check some sick helmet cam footage from Emil, a member of our crew from Havelock North.

While I’m far from being a foremost expert in singletrack of the world, the trails here at Paloma have left me grasping for superlatives. Descending highlights include Flow Valley, Super Cougar and High Line. From epic berms to rival Whistler’s A-line (without the braking bumps) to rocky and rooty technical gnarl to rival the best that the Canterbury high country has to offer. All with the backdrop of snow clad Andes which have a rugged beauty that is difficult to describe.

An occasional lunchtime visitor is the Andean Condor, keenly observing the humans carving trails in his territory.

An Andean Condor surveys his territory

The hoar frost that greets us on our morning ride up the hill softens the soil by afternoon, and the humungous banked corners become safety nets for risky berm diving manoeuvres. Step 1 is to brake as late as you dare followed by step 2, throwing your bike into the corner. The result is a strange mix of elation and fear as you drift round the corner then line up for the next.

The fact that the tracks have been crafted by Kiwi riders with an obvious passion for trail riding really shines through, and I feel fortunate to be a part of such an awesome venture. By the time you have swung a pick for a day your arms are aching, but the ride home is the ultimate tonic, filling skull and limbs with enough endorphin to relegate the hard day’s work to a distant memory.

Time will tell if snow flurries and negative zero temperatures will test this enthusiasm, but for now I’m stoked to be in Chile, working in a crew of good mates, building awesome trails and riding them.

Mountain Pedaler out..