planning my Pacific NW bikepacking tour

Brainstorming stage at this point.

Most likely start in June and finish early August.

I want to hit as much of the planned Great American Rail-Trail as possible.

Originally I’d planned to start on the Cowichan Valley Trail. But it turns out I need to work in Vancouver before departure so I’m now headed first to Galiano Island.

1. Vancouver to Galiano Island

2. Islands to Port Townsend WA

I’ll make it up as I go along. Looking for the most scenic route via Canada’s Gulf Islands and the American San Juan Islands.

3. Port Townsend WA to Rattlesnake Lake WA

Sidetrip down the Mt Baker Highway (542) for hiking.

4. Rattlesnake Lake WA to Tekoa WA on the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail

5. Plummer ID to Mulan ID on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes

Sidetrip to Stevens Peak ID

From there … I’m not sure.

Perhaps Montana.

Whitefish and West Glacier?

North to Castlegar.

Eventually I’d like to loop back via the Kettle Valley Rail (KVR) Trail and the Columbia & Western Rail Trail.

Hope to Vancouver.

Vancouver to Parksville.


CHILE to ARGENTINA the hard way

Once in Villa O’Higgins, Chile you have two choices for continuing south to Fitz Roy National Park in Argentina.

You can backtrack and drive 19h 43min (1,072.4 km) or …
continue by ferry and on foot.

This must be one of the wildest (legal) border crossings on earth.

I knew it was complicated and often fraught with complications. (e.g. Ferry doesn’t go due to too much wind.)

I knew it took 1-3 days … depending. 🙄

So I figured I’d best do it the easiest way possible —> signing on with the expensive Robinson Crusoe tour company.

I paid them C$160 and figured they’d get me across in 1 day. … And stopped worrying.
That was a mistake. 😕

We left Robinson Crusoe lodge at 8am for the short mini-bus ride to the first ferry. There were more cyclists than passengers on foot.

Boarding was confusing. There were two companies. And Robinson Crusoe had two different boats.

I was NOT welcomed on the nicer one.

Turned out the nice one does a side tour to a glacier. If you pay extra for it you can’t make the crossing in 1 day.

My boat was smaller and rougher. Though faster.

Once across to no man’s land, you check out of Chile.

This was to be our biggest problem. A very diligent border guard was SUPER slow processing anxious travelers. I was there nearly 2 hours.

Once stamped out of Chile you have to walk 22km to the border post for Argentina.

As I paid good money it was ASSumed that my tour company would somehow shuttle me that distance.


I walked like everyone else. It took me about 5 hours and I only made the second ferry with 30 minutes to spare. (I did send my backpack on a vehicle for 15km. That cost an extra C$10.)

It involves a climb of 700m.

Worried that we wouldn’t make it on time, our spirits were greatly cheered when we got our first glimpse of the famed Fitz Roy peaks in the distance.


15 years ago I’d been there and not seen even the base of these mountains. It’s an infamously horrific microclimate.

Clouds rolled in and out over the afternoon, but this is still one of the very best vantage points.

Turns out most people plan to camp at the second ferry landing in any case. And catch the boat next day. That way they are not rushed.

Some — including Sam from Calgary who I hiked with — tent here and then hike out along the lake next day to save money. (In fact 3 Calgarians met up on the trail this day!)

We were worried about an 81-year-old man from France. He almost made it.

Instead, someone loaned him a tent so he and his wife could camp.

Myself and the very widely traveled cyclist in this photo did get on the boat. He and his girlfriend had cycled London to Hong Kong before heading to South America on this trip. They had the smallest gear I’d seen over the past weeks.

There were good views on to glaciers from the second ferry.

The lakeside trail looked pretty tough to me. There won’t be a road put in here … ever.

I fell asleep on the mini-bus ride to town. This was a non-stop 12 hour travel day.

Still, I was thrilled to return to El Chaltén, one of my top 10 hiking towns in the world.

Chaltén’s changed a LOT since I was here 15 years ago. Back then it was a sleepy little dead end town. Now it’s party central on the backpacker circuit. My hostel has a restaurant open 24 hours a day!

Here’s the whole trip.

related – Stingy Nomads trip report

Bikepacking Patagonia – days 21-23

My Bikepacking trip has ended after 23 days.

I shipped the rental back to Puerto Varas.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Feb 3, 2019 – Coyhaique (0km)

Exhausted from my 120+km very hot day, like God I rested on Sunday.

There is one very good hostel here.

Got the laundry done. Bought shoelaces. Tried to get my Chilean phone service to continue working past the first month. (You have to register it with the police.)

When backpacking you have 1. clean clothes and … 5. filthy, wet, ammonia-reeking clothes … and about 3 categories in-between.

Nothing feels better than getting everything washed. 🙂

I did some planning for my life after cycling. I’ll continue to head south on the Carretera Austral.

Feb 4, 2019 – Coyhaique – wild camp (38km)

It was a scorching 33+C again … so I waited until 3:30pm before heading south.

This was the first day I was unenthusiastic to get going. And I was still tired from my last long ride.

A much less wild environment. But I still loved the more open scenery. A nice change from rugged mountains.

As you can see, autumn is coming.

On this ride I lost my old, trusty Elf camera. It was near end-of-life, in any case. From here on I’ll be carrying only my iPhone X camera and an old camcorder.

I set up what would end up to be my last bikepacking wild camp. Close to a little stream.

It was a another gorgeous, clear night.

Feb 5, 2019 – wild camp to Coyhaique (0km)

In no rush I enjoyed the morning at camp. Then packed up my steed for the run to Cerro Castillo. And further south.

Within the first km my chain jumped off 3 times from the rear wheel. (A cyclist later said problems with the spokes and thrown off the wheel alignment.)

It didn’t take me long to decide to end the trip.

As it happens, it’s easy to hitchhike anywhere if you have a broken bike.

An entertaining campground owner / caballero picked me up and drove me back to Coyhaique.

I had a bit of trouble finding the shipping company AGM. But they turned out to be very friendly and well organized. My cost to return bike and some other gear C$42.

After dropping the bike the Patagonian wind was like freedom. I felt terrific walking the 3km back to town.

The trip was excellent. I’d do it again for sure. Most of my distress came from worrying about mechanical issues with the bike. I’m terrible ☹️ at all things mechanical.

It was easier than I expected too. Things have improved since I last travelled the Carretera Austral 15 years ago. For one thing, free internet is easy to find.

So … here’s the map of the total trip. Perhaps 1400km when you count all the side trips.

I’ll be catching the bus south tomorrow. On the same roads that I would have cycled if I’d continued to the very end.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Bikepacking Patagonia – days 19-20

Feb 1, 2019 – Queulat National Park to wild camp (74km)

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

In bright sunshine I rode out of Queulat National Park.

And immediately had problems. ☹️

No cyclist likes to see something like this coming up ahead.

That means I’d be pushing my bike up a long hill.

But the scenery over these next two days was the best so far.

When taking photos I’m tempted to crop out the road.

Quite quickly it became obvious that my self-fixed pannier rack was not working. The fix I had installed was gone. ☹️

All I could do was replace the spacer with a sunscreen lid held with a zip tie.

To keep this one from breaking I decided to carry my hiking pack rather than try to strap it on the rack.


The great weather and gorgeous scenery kept me going, however.

I stopped at tiny Villa Amengual to use their library wifi.

And bought my first completo.

These are the super popular Chilean hotdogs. Mine actually turned out to be some kind of ground beef.

Little towns like this on the Carretera are all trying to become more attractive to the passing tourists. All are being improved in 2019.

Not to mention the spiffy statues!

As there were no long hikes en route today, I tried to put in some miles. The sooner I get to a bike shop for repair, the better.

About 7pm I happened upon a perfect campsite. Couldn’t resist.

A lovely night. No fly.

Fine dining with red wine.

Feb 2, 2019 – wild camp to Coyhaique (121km)

Next day dawned perfect again.

I decided to try to push though about 120km to Coyhaique in one day.

I took very few photos.

My biggest cycling day of the trip.

In the sun, I worried about heat emergency at times.

Though I drank 4 litres over the day it wasn’t nearly enough.

There was a huge hill to climb just before the city. End of day.


Still, I was thrilled to actually make Coyhaique. The population is about 55,000 — a megalopolis compared with the other towns I’d seen all 4000 or less.

Too tired to eat I had, instead, chocolate milk, Diet Coke and Rum & Raisin ice-cream.

This is it. The end of the line for this cycling trip. I’ll be shipping back my rental bike from Coyhaique … but not until I do some days cycling around the city.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 18

Jan 31, 2019 – Puyuhuapi to Queulat National Park (38km)

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Queulat is another of Chile’s newly announced Route of Parks (Ruta de los Parques) – a chain of 17 stretching 1500 miles.

Since I’d had a rest day in pretty Puyuhuapi town I felt I had to push on … despite the rain.

My bigger problem than H2O was my detached pannier rack. I’d fixed 🙄 it with a metal spacer, but didn’t have much confidence it would last the 218km to the next bike shop in Coyhaique.

Also, I had to attach my ugly load far to the left in order to keep it stable. Not good.

Though I got muddy, I actually like gravel road in the rain better than dry. The tires roll more smoothly. And there’s less dust.

Each year more of the Carretera Austral is getting paved.

I’d really been looking forward to getting to Quelat. And it is great. They are very used to rain here.

I stashed my bike in the forest. And hiked to Ventisquero Colgante: The Hanging Glacier of Queulat.

This is a land of great lakes. Pristine rivers. True wilderness.

I found the cutest little high, dry, flat nook in the bamboo to set up my tent.

About 5m from the river.

The weather cleared during the night. I had red wine and a starry, starry night.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Bikepacking Patagonia – days 16-17

Jan 29, 2019 – La Junta to Puyuhuapi (45km)

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Nice breakfast at my place in La Junta. But no milk for the coffee.

I do like La Junta. But sure wish someone would open a hostel here.

This little town is infamous for it’s highway memorial to Pinochet.

He was the horrible dictator of Chile between 1973 and 1990.

Pinochet assumed power in Chile following a United States-backed coup d’état on 11 September 1973 that overthrew the democratically elected socialist Unidad Popular government of President Salvador Allende and ended civilian rule. …

Pinochet persecuted leftists, socialists, and political critics, resulting in the executions of from 1,200 to 3,200 people, the internment of as many as 80,000 people and the torture of tens of thousands. …

It was Pinochet who pushed through this southern highway in the face of criticism. It wasn’t needed. … Only a dictator could have got it done at the tine.


Soon after La Junta the highway reverted to gravel. They are slowly but surely paving the highway north to south.

I stopped at huge, beautiful, undeveloped Lake Risopatron and did a little day hike.

It was here I noticed that one of the tie downs for my pannier rack had broken off. I now understand this is the most common maintenance issue on this cycling route. They should be welded instead of bolted.

This is the good side. The other side broken.

I wobbled my way another 12km to Puyuhuapi (pop. 826) hoping to find a mechanic to fix it (somehow).

An American had run a Hostal here for 20 years but had shut down for this season. He’s selling it. But recommended the excellent Cornuy-huapi bed and breakfast. (C$60)

I unloaded the bike … then decided to wait until morning before trying to find a mechanic.

It was fiesta time in Puyuhuapi. Everything festive. Music in the plaza. Foot races for kids. Much of the town had been repainted in bright colours.

I’m sure I didn’t stop here 15 years ago. No doubt my ride rushed past on the highway.

With a bit of extra time I listened to Coffee Break Spanish lessons. Caught up on this trip report. And wandered the town.

AND I enjoyed my best meal on this trip so far … crusted salmon a lo pobre (fries, caramelized onions and eggs).


Jan 30, 2019 – Puyuhuapi (0km)

Nothing opens early in small town Patagonia. I decided to stay another night in my B&B to allow time to repair the bike.

I went first to the main mechanic in town. He said he couldn’t help me.

Instead I tried a temporary fix using zip ties and a metal pipe fitting I bought at the hardware. I believe it will work. #ZenAndTheArtOfBicycleMaintenance

I’ll reinforce with wire if needed.

This was my most tranquillo day so far. I peddled the area on a naked bike. Walked the village several times. Hung out in the plaza. …

AND there was a parade. Only two floats, but HEY … quality over quantity.

I’m headed for Quelat National Park next.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 15

Jan 28, 2019 – wild camp to La Junta (80km)

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It was another overcast / drizzly day.

I ended up cycling all day with only 1 major stop. I didn’t see any hiking trailheads through this section.

It’s difficult and costly to build & maintain trails in this impenetrable foliage.

The further I go south, the less the traffic.

The only memorable part of the day was visiting Villa Santa Lucia.

The town was devastated by a flood and mudslide on December 16, 2017. High tourist season.

21 people killed. 

The cause was heavy rainfall plus the detachment of a glacier.

Click PLAY or watch some of the mudslide on YouTube.

Here’s one house that has not yet been repaired in January 2019.


But people are still rebuilding.

As it happens, a lot of cyclists stop at Villa Santa Lucia taking refuge from the rain by setting up tents under tarps.

I was happy to finally reach pretty La Junta (pop.914).

As rain and wind were still getting worse, I decided to get a room.

Lonely Planet and the tourist information kiosk recommended Hospedaje Tia Lety. It’s a homely, friendly place. But I left disappointed: wifi didn’t work; showers alternating from freezing to boiling.

As I couldn’t use the kitchen and was starving, I decided on the most decent looking restaurant in town.

I was the only customer at 8pm during high season. 🙄

Food was … OK.

But I did make some miles over the past 2 days.

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12/13 | 14 | 15 | 16/17 | 18 | 19/20 | 21/23 end