Left Behind–Chile November 2014

The ride from Ralun to Ensenada was quick and dreary. The Rio Petrohue was steel grey and ominous, the treed landscape dark as we flew done the mountain road we had climbed yesterday.  The air was raw, the sky threatened rain, spitting and sprinkling as we headed toward Puerto Varas, our final destination on a 50-mile ride in the Lakes and Volcanoes district of Chile.

By the time we reached Ensenada there was a steady drizzle.  Our companions were two couples, Mike and Margaret and Gary and Anne. Long time friends, our ride in Chile was our ninth international DIY bicycle tour.  Our friends stopped for coffee and a snack at Cafeteria Delice, a roadside store/café, the windows covered with colorful pictures of Coke and various meal options. They parked their bikes under an overhang protected from the rain.  A few minutes behind them, Rich and I found a table near the others who were sitting together at a four top.  A busload of teens arrived as we ordered coffee, tea and a couple of cookies, slowing our progress.  After finishing our warming drinks, Rich went out to adjust his brakes and I followed, planning to put on another layer of clothes for warmth.  It started to rain harder and when I next looked up, the other four had crossed the road and were heading out of town.  They must have thought we were getting ready to leave too, when in fact we were still fiddling with our bikes and panniers.  Distressed, I quickly mounted my bike and started before Rich did.  I hurried to catch up with the group.

There was a road/separated bike path along Lake Llanqahue from Ensenada almost all the way to Puerto Varas so we anticipated easy riding to our destination.  The potential of a pleasant day’s ride was now compromised as the clouds descended and released a steady torrent.  This was the rain we had expected but had by and large avoided for the first four days of our ride.

I pedaled furiously trying to keep Anne’s and Gary’s bright pink and yellow rain jackets in sight. Within a few kilometers I lost them. I focused on the path ahead, trying to out run the rain, moving as quickly as I could. With my hood up under my helmet, there was little peripheral vision—almost impossible to look back without stopping—and I wasn’t stopping.  I was annoyed that the other four had ridden off without first checking to see if we were ready to go or making sure we were behind them.  We don’t always stay together in a pack when we ride, but usually whoever is in the lead, stops periodically to wait and ensure that everybody is okay, that there hasn’t been a mechanical breakdown, a wrong turn, a fall or other injury.  Gary is diabetic and occasionally his blood sugar is low or high and he needs to stop and refuel or take insulin.  Although he always urges us to go ahead, we wait…we’re generally not in a big rush.  Three of us also bring phones with global service.  Gary and I always have the phone on and close at hand.  Even with the global plans, calls are expensive so we generally text if we need to communicate.  In Chile, for the first time, we also downloaded Whats App a free world wide texting service.

I pumped on, through the heavy rain for 6 or 7 km (3-4 miles), never looking back, assuming that Rich was right behind me.  On level ground I often ride faster…slower on both sides of any climb.  Coming upon three men dressed in yellow jumpsuits repairing a broken railing on a small bridge on the path, I slowed to go out into the road and once past the construction stopped to wait for Rich.  I looked back—no Rich.  It was a straightaway with few obstructions.  Strange that I couldn’t see him.  I waited for three or four minutes but there was no yellow dot in the distance so I started back, watching the kilometers add up, thinking that we were really behind now, but expecting him to appear at any moment.  I saw a woman heading toward me, head down and bundled up to shield herself from the rain.  I stopped and in my broken Spanish asked “uh…un hombre en una bicicleta?” …had she seen a man on a bicycle coming this way?…“No, No” she replied.  I kept riding, at one point questioning myself—had Rich passed me somehow? Then I worried—had he taken a fall? hit by a car? Guilty thoughts because I hadn’t looked back or waited.  He had no phone. I thought that I should stop and text Gary…but what would I say? “Rich is lost”?

Finally, I spotted Rich.

“Oh my God—what happened?”

“I had a flat just out of town. Luckily, I found a shelter and changed the tire.  But with this damn pump I couldn’t get enough air in the tire… I have to keep stopping and pumping…Mike has better pump…where are they?”

“You’ve got me…they’re gone…I haven’t seen them since just out of town”

Relieved that we’d found each other, we started backtracking the 6K, the third time for me.  It occurred to me that we were now at least an hour behind the others and that I should text Gary. At 11:20 I texted on Whats App:

“Rich had flat. I didn’t know it for a long time went back now at marker 39K. Let us know when you stop.”

As we slogged through the rain, I continued my internal rant, “I can’t believe they didn’t stop and wait for us…how far did they go before they realized we weren’t there?”…then shame-faced…”but I didn’t stop or look back for Rich”…then righteously…”at least I stopped after 6 kilometers to check”.

At 11:45 Gary texted on Iphone Messages: “At lake view restaurant at 28k marker”

His message was displayed on the face of my phone.  I assumed he had seen my text.

At 12:02 PM I texted on Whats App: “Rich pumping tire at 30k. Order for us anything is fine”

The rain had stopped and the clouds lifted a bit to give us a view of the now glimmering lake. A few minutes later, as we rounded a rocky outcrop we saw Gary biking towards us.  They’d been at the warm little restaurant for almost an hour.

Gary rode up to us; “What happened?”

“Rich had a flat…Didn’t you get my text?”

“No, did you get mine?”

“Just the one saying you were at a restaurant…I responded to it”.

“I didn’t get it so I figured I better come look for you…we’re just up here a ways.  We ordered for you.”

“I sent a Whats App text…”

“I didn’t get anything on Whats App…I sent mine from my Iphone messages.”

Damn…using Whats App seemed like a good idea at the time but evidently I relied too much on technology!

As we entered the cozy, little Lake View Cafe, our firends  greeted us heartily:

“You made it…what happened?”

“I had a flat just outside of Ensenada…couldn’t get my pump to work”

“Could have used yours”

I piped in, “We were way behind you anyway, we didn’t know you were leaving.”

“We ordered for you.”

“We’ve been here for an hour or so but were waiting for you before ordering.”

The lunch was comforting and delicious, chicken and avocado sandwiches with piping hot French fries.  The proprietors seemed particularly friendly and concerned about us.

As we left, Margaret asked another customer in the parking lot to take our picture…together. The rain began again and we were once again cycling briskly. This time, we stayed together and whoever was in the lead, stopped periodically.


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