Climbing the Hill of the Devil

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Climbing the Hill of the Devil
March 10, 1997

Rule number one of cycling: Never begin the day with a climb known as "The Hill of the Devil." Yet here we are straining, cursing, sweating, and pushing our way up this beast of a mountain. Of course, it must be under construction. We are fleas, and the annoyed semis scratch us off the side of the road. This was supposed to be the easy part.

We should have never taken advice from someone who claims to know exactly where the wind stops. But that´s exactly what we did, nodding our heads eagerly as the Chilean border patrol pointed to the map between Puerto Ibanez and Balmaceda saying decisively "Here. The wind stops here."

Please understand. We were desperate. Perito Moreno was to be the end of our struggles and all our mental energy was spent pushing toward this pot of gold at the end of Ruta 40. The map showed asphalt all the way to Chile Chico and after a ferry across Lago Buenos Aires. Sheer cruising. But the wind has another plan.

We find ourselves again waking through the night listening anxiously. The howling through the trees never abates, but we force ourselves out at 5 a.m. knowing it can only get worse. Puerto Ibanez, our stop across the lake, is desolate; even the morning roosters sound like wailing women in the black night. We have been told the road ahead is more or less flat, so what do we find but 30 kilometers of constant climbing through continuous washboards. I´m not kidding. At the end of this torture we reach "La Cuesta del Diablo," the Hill of the Devil. We hear the grind of truck motors fighting the grade as they inch along the sheer walls. No way.

Of course, we have learned that every Patagonian pleasure is preceded by hardship. The greater the difficulty, the greater the reward. Our efforts meet a dramatic change of scenery: rocky outcrops, babbling streams of bucolic splendor, and more shades of green than we knew existed. This is Eden after our desert passage.

Coyhaique comes at last and we stop at of the edge of town. With tears in our eyes I present Nancy a flower and we share a silent hug. We know we have reached the end of a saga, and although so much more lies ahead, the Patagonia of the pampas, the gauchos, the estancias, the mate, and the wind are already swirling together in our memories.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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