It turns out that a my relatively wind-free day yesterday climbing to the mirador was yet another good fortune bestowed upon me and my fellow trekkers. After a quick breakfast of mediocre coffee and overcooked bread, I trekked out to the parking lot to tie my dry bag down and head to Lago Pehoé to catch the Catamaran across the like to hike a bit in Valle del Francés and then set up camp at the campground near Lago Pehoé. Then something caught my eye. Flapping in the breeze and clinging on to a tree was what first looked like a large trash bag. But at a second glance, I realized it was my bike cover. I shuffled over to the tree and pulled the reigns in and packed it up into my sack. My bike looked naked and exposed. It’s my usual morning ritual before a days ride when I have to park my bike outside or in a place where lots of eyeballs might see it.
The wind was steady but not too fierce. I figured it must have gotten whipped off in the early morning and luck followed me again as it clung onto the trees waiting to be retrieved. Both the refugio and hosteria here at Las Torres are surrounded by a number of tall trees, so the wind is typically tamer than other parts of the park. But even on the hike yesterday, the wind never reared its ugly head. But today was different. As I took the road over those crazy bridges and headed toward Lago Pehoé, Doc and I entered battle once again. The road winds around the gorgeous Lago Nordenskjöld offering at times beautiful views of the Cuernos del Paine. But the alternating extremely heaving 50-60mph cross and head winds combined with the dirt road and piles of loose gravel between the tire tracks meant ever bit of concentration had to be focused on keeping the bike on track. The head wind felt like a massive hand was pushing me and Doc backwards, the only thing keeping me with forward motion was a heavy turn on the throttle. At times I think I was full throttle.
When the majestic view of the Cuernos del Paine soured from behind the shimmering blue of Lago Nordenskjöld, I had to pull over. The driver of the van carrying a couple explora guests gave me a dirty look as I was wrestling to pull my camera out while trying to keep the bike from being pushed over by the wind. I gave up. The massive power of the wind was guaranteed to make my bike a tumbleweed on the side of this narrow road. I journeyed on. I decided to try again. I stopped in a small turnout. The wind pushed, played and hammered me. I couldn’t find a place where I could stop the bike and get off to take a picture. There was such a strong wind and every few seconds it would gust with twice the velocity. No way. I wished that I could plant both of my feet firmly on the ground and was cursing my Dakar’s high ground clearance. Taking the photos you see here with the lake were pure luck. At times when a gust would throw me a screw ball I would have to let my camera drop and dangle from my wrist while I grabbed the handlebars to provide further support from getting tossed.
This was the strongest wind I’d faced in nearly 30,000 miles and eleven months of travel. It was tiring me. Yet the stunning vista captivated and challenged me. While Doc wanted attention, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the mountains. Then a mini-bus carrying a bunch of German tourists stopped. A few braved getting out of the van to grab some snaps while others just reached out the window with their cameras and took their ubiquitous photos. An elderly couple started asking me questions in German. I explained i don’t speak their language. They continued with a rapid fire of extremely long words and a double fist thumbs up. I got the idea. But was so tired of this wind. I wanted to ask the driver to reposition his bus so I could have used his van as a wind-block and get off my motorcycle. But before I could he sped off.
What would normally take just under an hour to ride took me two hours to get to the Catamaran dock at Lago Pehoé. But when I arrived there. The rocky and hilly parking lot challenged me to find a place I could park Doc. Then I remembered the bike falling incident at El Chalten. I’d have to come up with a strategy. Then I spotted two other F650’s with German plates lying on the ground in the grass. Their owners either gave up and just dropped them or the wind had its way with the bikes. I leaned Doc up against a balcony railing of a tiny admin building sitting at the far side of the lot. It was a bit of a challenge to writhe my leg and body off the bike. The one Jesse bag and front of the handlebar provided contact against the railing. It was a temporary solution.
I crowd had gathered about 200 yards away at the Doc waiting for the Catamaran to show up. The German bikers weren’t there. Must have left yesterday. I wonder if the wind was as strong when they left. The crowd huddled together close, all bundled up and many with two hands on hats or hoods form their jackets doing their best to shield themselves from the wind.
The short Chilean guy with narrowly spaced eyes and an official national park jacket explained that the wind is always strongest on this lake, but today was extremely strong due to the moon. He said come back in 3-4 days and there’d be 10 percent or so of this wind. Incredible. Then I thought about the hiking. Would I be riding the Catamaran an hour then to brave winds this fierce only to have to turn around a few hours later and come back? I figured I’d just have to lie my bike down like the Germans. Then other logistics started playing with my brain. All the while the wind just whipped and flapped and blew everything in sight. The 20-20 thinking told me that I shoulda left the bike at the refugio where it was relatively safe and shielded and taken a mini-bus. Then I thought about setting up a tent in this wind. All the while I realized I had choices. If forced to do these things, I’d embrace the challenge willingly. But I was in Patagonia and the most beautiful park perhaps in South America. I didn’t have to stay here. I could move on.
But I didn’t want to. More head games. And more analyzing the options. The catamaran came. I wasn’t prepared and frankly excited.
So I left and headed to another part of the park. The wind came. The wind slowed. The wind raged. And the wind died. Then the resurrection. Then more. Then less. The wind blows every way and every day here. I took the challenge to just ride through the park. Along the way I was greeted with amazing scenery and more than a few options to stop and get off the bike and shoot some photos, grab some sun and take in the day. This was more like it.
At one point the whole road got blocked by what seemed to be a thousand or more sheep. A sheepherder on his horse herded them down the road and to the valley. His four sheep dogs fascinated me as they ran to keep the sheep herded together while at times jumping five feet into the air clearing the four foot fences with ease. Like music they bounced, ran, dodged and moved those sheep. While I’m sure Valle del Frances would offer as interesting and beautiful and experience, I spent about a half and hour watching the movement of sheep. Amazing.
Still other times I’d spot guanaco, a deer/llama like animal that make their home in this park and the Andes. I sat nearly an hour watching these animals. And they watched me. I picnicked on my bike and simply enjoyed the day until the chills of the ensuing evening set in. I pressed on.