Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mud And Pine Trees

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Sunday, July 30, 2006

Last night's wedding would have been perfect, had it not been for some of my ex-classmates from school, assholes and full-time cretins Made in Chile, who started getting loud and annoying, and it the bride's dad had to come over and shut them up. Unfortunately, I was the catalyst: My mere presence seems to set them in overdrive, and they start shouting my name, and the silly nicknames they made up for me in school (this was never a nice, friendly interaction) and they slap me on my back, give me fake buddy-hugs and get in my face, and when the music is loud, as it was last night, they also tend to shove their enormous nose in my ear canal (I swear I am not making this up, unfortunately). But let us not dwell on the misadventures of those with whom we can always do without.

The Adach guys were riding to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso today, but today I didn't feel like empanadas and asphalt. Yesterday, before the wedding, I rode 2 hours to get to Requinoa, to Juan Ignacio's farewell asado. I was able to stay for just under two hours, and then I had to ride back for another two hours. His honourable mum made some arab pastries, more or less like arab empanadas (to this ignoramus, at least), though ten thousand times better than the chilean variant. After riding 240 km at 100 km/h, I'd had enough of the blacktop.

I set the alarm clock for 11:00 AM, and if hadn't been for my dog's insistent requests to come into my room, I would have fallen asleep again. Ben Kenobi would be riding with the group, and was at the service station with the rest of them, waiting to set off, when I called. I proposed that we try out his new toy, a colour screen Garmin GPS, at Laguna Verde. We agreed to meet later on.

I set off with no clue how to get to Laguna Verde, because last time, Francisco was my tour guide, and we made our way to the forest by means of complex twists and turns on the outskirts of Placilla.

The ride down the Ruta 68 was cold, but sunny. After the first tunnel, there was a tiny bit of haze. After the second one, quite a bit. I said to myself: if the air is at all misty down on the coast, I'm sending Laguna Verde to hell, and then I'll surely ride around the central valley. But deep down, I wanted to go to Laguna Verde; Francisco had told me that the roads were muddy, and I was curious about that. I have never ridden on muddy roads before, and I wanted to know if I'd fall flat on my face, or not.

I found a way in through Placilla, after having asked around, and reached the Tranque La Luz, but where they rent rowboats and kayaks. That's as far as I got. I backtracked, and went into an unfinished housing project. I skirted the metal oil drums set up as a symbolic barricade, and went over to the cuidador, to ask him if he knew a way into the forest. Indeed he did! It was just a block away, up a road that still had not been surrounded by houses.

I took this pic 50 metres from the paved road, all civilization behind me and forgotten:

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I'll anticipate that there aren't many pics in this post, because I was having such a good time, that I didn't feel like stopping. That's how good it was.

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And what about the mud? Not a problem. Everything was damp, and there were muddy puddles where the bike danced around, as well as some (rare) hard and dry bits. On one occasion I rode onto some of that black mud, you know, the rotten slippery type, and my tail slid out, I did a 40-degree slide as I went along, but I didn't fall down, for some reason.

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I did drop the bike as I tried to turn it around on a narrow path, which was also on the side of a hill. With a crack, the Acerbis handguard broke, but that was it.

Everything was fine and dandy, I was riding down an infinity of small, winding, pine-bordered roads, through mud, puddles, ditches. I even learned how to bring up the front wheel without using the clutch.

I then came across a big puddle that there was no way around. None at all. It was big. Should I go along the truck tracks, or down the middle? Guess which I chose, and guess what the right choice was.

The back wheel started to skid, but I still had some momentum. I started helping the bike along with my feet. Slower, slower, deeper, deeper. Until I was no longer moving. I killed the engine. Gloop. Gloop. Gloop. I was sinking. The mud was a few centimetres from the front brake disc. Behind, it was up to the chain and sprocket. This was not looking good. I carefully got off the bike, and had a very hard time not leaving my boots behind in the mud. This was boot-eating mud, this was.

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There was no alternative: time to pull like an ox. Or an ass, in my case. I'm not sure what I would have dont if I hand't had the rear rack. It was invaluable. Every yank I gave it, with all my strength, my feet would sink into the mud, and the bike would move about 5 centimetres, no more. I must have pulled it 10 metres. The front wheel did not cooperate at all, and would turn spontaneously, forcing me to straighten it every three tugs.

A wise man would have taken off his riding gear for this before starting. Not me. I did it all with my double layer of clothing, and my helmet on. My panting was like Darth Vader pumping steel. When I finished, I was soaked, literally.

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I took several layers off, and contemplated the work done. Because of the double layer of gloves, I didn't have blisters, but I did have lines of burst capillaries, which later started to hurt.

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Up to my ankles in mud.

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I carried on, and there wasn't more than an hour of daylight left. I called Ben. He was on his way to Laguna Verde. We agreed to meet, if possible. Out of nowhere, I came across three little huts, almost as small as outhouses. A guy, standing around. Either he was going to mug me, or say hi. We talked, and he told me about bikers that leave gates open, horses that escape through open gates, and so on. He told me that Laguna Verde was 10 minutes away, but on the other side of a fence. And if I took him to the gate, he'd open the padlock for me. I decided to run the risk, and I did. The bike was amazingly stable carrying two people down winding hilly dirt roads, on damp ground. We got to the gate, and on the other side, a wide stream, about 30 cm deep. I said goodbye, and went across without thinking twice; a little water in my boots to get the mud out. So much for Gore-Tex...

In twenty minutes I'd met up with Ben, and after talking about our adventures (and playing with his GPS), we set off for Santiago.



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