Leaving Villarrica, Panthea and I rode north into a quietness. In part, we’d lost our lively companion Cass. Moreover, our pace matching changes in landscape and season, we found ourselves sinking – synching – into an autumnal stillness. With our return home to urban chaos imminent, perhaps I was finally savouring the here and now in full – settling into a flow that comes only with surrender to the trail. We’d go only as far as we could, each day. What mattered was that we’d seen moving sights, and stayed in beautiful places. Or, perhaps it was just the intoxicating effect of crisp fall air, the sweet bouquet of ripe leaves, and a sleepiness that comes from long evenings by campfires.
Undetectable hour by hour, the changes in scenery compounded into a entirely new environment by the time we reached Melipeuco. Sitting in the mountainous heart of the Araucanía region – named for its most iconic tree, the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana – Melipeuco, gateway to several of Chile’s finest national parks, is surrounded by volcanoes and dry pine forests.
As we moved up from the valley, the Oregan pine plantations gave way to southern beech forests, in full autumnal regalia, until the Araucarias burst above the canopy not far below treeline.
At Lonquimay we loaded up with four days of food and scrounged just enough information to believe, or hope, that we could find a route through Reserva Malalchuello-Nalcas and eventually to Ralco, in the upper reaches of the Biobio River.
From Santa Barbara, near Los Angeles in the Biobio region, only paved highways laid between us and our flight home from Santiago. So, we boarded a bus and sailed 500km up the country. I have no finishing remarks for this trip because even though I’m now home, it’s not over. After a five year hiatus, I’ve rekindled a love affair with mountain biking and cycle touring, by simply merging the two. Touring in the traditional, on road, sense always made me feel trapped on the road network. But bikepacking has opened up a whole world to be explored. Finding tracks and trails that don’t show up on any printed map is a rewarding process of discovery in itself. But riding those trails on a relatively lightly loaded, fat-tired beast is pure joy. Exploration is rarely so immediately rewarded. This kind of fun is addictive.
So, I’ve quit my job and I’ll be spending this summer on the road, and most likely back in the Andes. You won’t have to wait too long for more photos…
We’ve recently made an Off Route Facebook page, where we’ll be posting more frequent updates of where we are and what we’re up to, as well as lots of extra photos. You can “like” our page if you’d like to follow the adventure more closely.