Some of you might remember my post ‘Chasing Millionaires’ from last year, those that don’t, This is a brief summary: After a series of random events, realising we were very close by, I tried contact Douglas Tompkins (Conservationist, Founder of North Face & Espirit) but was left standing there with a toothbrush in my mouth, watching his plane fly overhead after literally walking past him in the middle of an empty Patagonian field. I had so many questions I wanter to ask, why did the fates bring me so close only to stupidly miss out?
Once again, this is a story I really enjoy thinking back to.
It was Rok’s 27th birthday, a beautiful day in the hills at the put in of Río Michimahuida. Much warmer than last year, water level a bit higher, it was good to go. On the water by 9am we were expecting a BIG day (last year we did it as a two day trip), we set out at good pace and I was happy that a lot of the lines & rapids were coming back to me. The water level was perfect, opening up new lines; we were flowing. I soon realised that we were making and EXCELLENT pace, and that this day was not going to be as long as the reputation of the Michi says. We stopped for a Birthday Block of Chocolate for Rok, enjoyed under the backdrop of glaciers cascading into the valley. A perfect boat-scout run on the Michimahuida, we were off river before 3pm, less than 6 hours to do the whole thing.
Being the only one with Spanish, I headed off to do the ~30km shuttle. An old fishing guide & carpenter soon picked me up and we were on our way. I offered to pay him to take me the extra 15km up the sketchy dirt road to our truck, but the generous fellow wouldn’t hear of it; he took me the whole way (completely out of his way!) for free. On the way past, I saw that Douglas Tompkins’ plane was sitting in the airfield; he must have dropped into his Amarillo offices for the afternoon. I kept driving with the old fella, not willing to give up a hitchhiker’s dream ride back up to our truck.
Having picked up our truck, I was driving back down thinking of all the things we might be able to talk about if I stopped in for a chat. No I wouldn’t ask for help, I would simply ask to share his experience in running the successful ‘Patagonia Sin Represas’ Campaign. Getting pretty excited on this short drive, this year I felt more like a colleague in the conservation community of South America, where last year I just felt like a dirtbag kayaker scrounging for any help, advice or word of wisdom I could find. I came round the final bend and there it was. Douglas Tompkins plane, sitting in a field in the middle of Patagonia! I had not planned it, I was not trying to meet up with Tompkins, but figured if the opportunity was there I should certainly take it.
In the same instant I glimpsed the little aircraft, I kid you not, the engines fired and it roared to life. It started taxiing through the field to the other end of the airstrip. I burst out laughing, I found this moment absolutely hilarious. How had the events of the whole day, even the whole week prior lead to me to the exact same moment as last year? Well not exactly the same. The plane did a U-turn and took off overhead but this time instead of standing there dumbly with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, I was laughing and even managed to grab the camera in time.
It was if the world was telling me: you’re close, your getting there, but not quite yet. You don’t need that kind of help, that would be too easy, but keep trying, maybe next year. The whole day was a feedback of how far I have come. Running rapids that last year I portaged, boat-scouting whole sections that last year we spent time walking up and down to investigate; through to the personal realisation that this year, I didn’t really want any particular thing from Tompkins; I have everything I need, for now.
For an extra bit of serendipity, the story continues into the afternoon. A friend I had not seen or heard from for about 3 years had messaged me a week earlier saying that he too was cycling through Patagonia. He was near a place called ‘La Junta’ which wasn’t on our map, so I had kind of given up trying to catch him; Patagonia is a big place, and Rok & Žan were on a mission to get back north for their flights. Whilst hitchhiking the shuttle I asked my fisherman friend “Did you happen to see any cyclists heading north while you were driving up here”, low and behold, yes he had. He couldn’t remember where though, just that it was very far away.
Having finished our run in incredible timing, we had some time to kill in the afternoon, so I convinced Rok and Žan to drive with me south for a bit (not a pleasant task on Patagonian dirt road), to see if we could find a cyclist. We stopped all cars coming the other way, and asked them the same thing. “Yes I saw a guy on a bike, noo noo it was very very far back, 100km”, “Yes I saw a guy, maybe 50km ago”, varying to “No no, no-one heading north on a bike”, “Yes I saw a cyclist, VERY VERY long ago, maybe 10km”. I had decided to drive to the top of the next big hill, then give it up. Even if there was a cyclist, what are the chances it would be my mate James? There’s a decent number of people cycling one of the worlds most famous bike touring routes.
We were almost at the top of the next big hill, when around the bend rolled a lonely cyclist. He was extremely grateful for the beer thrust upon him, and it turned out, that it was in fact James. We told him where we would camp, and arranged to meet there in the evening (he wanted to finish the ride).
We finished up the afternoon with Ice-Cream Cake & beer on the windy beach for Rok’s birthday, and then continued celebrations with a hearty meal under a stunning Patagonian backdrop back at camp. All in all, a very good day.