Cycling up the volcano

When I got up this morning I had no idea what my day was going to be like. One could argue that no one does. But for most of us with routines, and plans, we kind of can predict what we will be doing, let’s say on Monday, or over the weekend. Some things might be unexpected but mostly we have agendas, so we kind of know.

But I am in Chile, and many things can be quite unpredictable – like buses! Because I don’t own a car, whenever I want to go somewhere too far to bike I need to go by bus. The buses in Chile are as classist as the country itself.  There are top of the notch buses, way better than those in Europe, and then there are the urban buses in Puerto Montt. They are so old and unreliable that I am always expecting busses to come downhill when they are pushing uphill.

So today I had planned to cycle up a volcano.

Osorno, is a perfect conical shape volcano sitting about 60 km from the place where I am living. When I first saw it 3 months go, I though: I want to cycle up this mountain! But…I had no bike – it took me about 3 weeks to buy one, and another 3 months to actually attempt to climb it! I figured out that my best shot to do this was by joining in the Conquering Osorno Volcano race event, which seemed an easy thing to do – I mean, I wasn’t going to race I just wanted to cycle with people around! But as it turned out to be, I had several tiny issues:

  • when I heard about the event the subscriptions were already closed;
  • the race started at 10:30, but the only one bus that drops people off is 20 km from the starting point and doesn’t have a fixed time to arrive at the destination…
  • it is up to the drivers decision to take bikes or not…
  • and there is no return bus ticket, it is a first-come, first-served policy…

Given the odds, I did not have any high expectation of even getting there, but if I could take the bus, and cycle those 20 km on time to see the start of the race, I could at least see the scene. I mean it was going to be 1000 mountain bike racers, it must be great fun to see that, right?!

So I started planning and packing on Friday. I had a shopping list: buy the bus ticket, buy lots of sugary stuff, ask people if they roughly know how long it takes to do the 20 km to the start of the race. Well, the answer to this question couldn’t be more dissimilar and puzzling:

  • Person A: “Ohh, the road is a dirt road and in terrible condition!”
  • Person B: “No worries, it is a paved road, totally flat, I go there every weekend!”;
  • Person C: “But…there is no cycling path”.

All these 3 people told me this at the same time in the same place – the family run supermarket where I bought 8 different chocolate bars. I have had this experience many times, whenever I need to plan a day trip and start asking people about logistical details, such as how do I get there, I never get the same answer!

The week before the big day had been incredibly sunny and hot. But Saturday morning started very grey with some annoying drizzles – bugger, I thought (my thoughts can come in English/American, Portuguese and Spanish, strangely, swearing is usually in English/American)…anyway I went to the bus station, and I knew it was going to be a negotiation process to get my bike on the bus. I knew this, so I paid the ticket in advance, and used this as my main argument. I had to wait for a decision. A decision was made – the bike could go, but at some point it had to go to another bus, which would take my bike to its final destination, but … without me. This was very confusing and I insisted I wanted to travel with my bike. In the end there was no need to change buses. One hour and ten minutes later, I was dropped off and  set up the bike – it was 9:20, I had exactly 1h and 10 minutes to cycle 20 km and arrive at the starting point in Cascadas!

Remember, the totally flat road in terrible conditions with no cycle path? It turned out to be an up and down roller coaster, totally paved with a cycle path!! Good news, I had a chance.


A van passed by me with 3 bikes, a car passed by with one bike, several cars passed by with bikes – there was no doubt I was going on the right direction, but they were fast and I … I was slow. I have no GPS, so I wasn’t really sure how far I was… at some point I saw two bikers on the side of the cycle path. I stopped to check if they were OK, they thanked me and asked if I was going to the race. I have no ticket – talking in Spanish while exercising can be daunting! That doesn’t matter just go there!

And so, against all odds I arrived just on time to listen to the national anthem, smile at the drone and helicopter cameras and join 4 other outsiders! I quickly lost track of the other 3 and kept a low but complicit profile. I had been told that this was a National Park and the maximum allowed people at one time were 1000 bikers. I made it here, now I just need to go up the volcano and go back home!

It turned out to be easier than I thought. OK, alright, I had to walk  the last bit as there was too much volcano ash and a killer slope. But I reached it, I had cycled and walked up the volcano. Now I knew the worst part was coming – 12 km downhill!! But  before starting the descent just needed to do a few things: picture session, deflate the tyres just a bit, put extra layers on, saddle down, ready, GO!


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