Chile's Carretera Austral, a 740-mile stretch of road from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, is one of the World's most famous bicycle touring routes. We rode 600 of those miles, cutting off the most northern segment and riding through a spectacular National Park-laden section of Argentina instead, but I think we still qualify as officially riding the Carretera. We experienced it alright, and are quite happy to be done with it. Any time I complete something that was a major challenge for me, it typically takes a few days for the miserable memories to fade before I'm left with only the fond memories and the desire to take on the challenge once again. It's been more than a few days since we finished the Carretera, but I think once was enough for this one. If there's ever a “next time” I will surely be riding a horse instead of a bike.
We don't regret making the decision to ride that route and the scenery was utterly breathtaking for most of the miles. However, the roads could not have been any more horrible and frustrating than they were. To put it nicely, they were shit and took a lot of fun out of the riding. Pedaling 600 miles of continuous gravel washboards and river rock protruding out of cemented mud makes for a painfully bumpy ride. Out of the average 40 miles we rode each day, we could actually sit on our bike seats for, collectively, maybe 5 of those miles, our hands were constantly going numb due to the vibrations and our eyeballs bounced up and down in their sockets like a cartoon character that just got bonked on the noggin for hours after we stopped riding each day.
Every once in a while we would run into other cyclists heading north instead of south and we'd inquire about the road conditions along the next stretch. Almost always their replies were, “it's bumpy like this for a little bit more but then it gets much better and is good road until such-and-such a town.” Our hopes would skyrocket that we'd actually get a good road for a few miles and we'd take off anxiously awaiting the corner we'd turn and find different conditions. But it never, ever happened. If anything the road would worsen and we'd find ourselves at camp each night growing more and more frustrated with the roads as well as the the false information we were constantly receiving. Now maybe we're just a couple of road snobs who don't know the meaning of good, but I don't think so. I feel like we have a fairly standard definition and there must be some taboo that we don't know about in telling fellow cyclists that the road flat out sucks! Well, I'm not afraid to tell any bike tourers who might read this before riding the Carretera that the roads are not fun so be prepared for a long and painful ride. And don't let anyone you meet try to convince you that there's good road up ahead...because there's not.