On Bike for a wilder nation

On Bike for a wilder nation

Nación Salvaje - Bike-packing

We felt privileged. People go out to find them every day without success. That morning they were just there: four pumas running at broad daylight on a steppe crowded with guanacos in Patagonia Park, Argentina. Javi and I live in El Chaltén, Santa Cruz, and have been biking across the Andes Mountain Range for the last ten years. We never saw a puma. We settled for the idea that at least they probably saw us.

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood from Buenos Aires, surrounded by green plains. I spent my days climbing trees, diving in ponds, and waiting for the lightning bug hour. I was part of that natural connection. As I got older, new responsibilities arrived that led me away from that life. And then, one day, the mountain also arrived—better said, I went to the mountain. We started visiting the puna with Javi when the Andes slapped us in our faces. That sense of connection with nature returned and felt much stronger, and this time I was prepared not to lose it.

In Patagonia Park, Argentina, the Bajada de Los Toldos trail overhangs the Pinturas Canyon’s imposing sandstone walls before descending, crossing the river, and ascending to the Cueva de las Manos site, with millenary rock paintings. Photo: Canoa Films

That’s how Nación Salvaje (Wild Nation) came to life. We’ve been bike-packing through southern Patagonia for some years now, especially Santa Cruz. Bike-packing is a way of experiencing nature: it’s about covering vast distances on a bicycle, carrying on it everything you need for the journey. It demands adaptation, maintaining a constant dialogue with the environment, aiming for balance. The bike moves you in more than one sense: you learn so much from riding it.

That morning on Route 41 near Patagonia National Park’s El Sauco entrance, we learned that when protected, wild cats run free in the middle of the day and that some animals, like rheas, even get curious and closer. We learned that flamingos feed quietly on their home lakes rather than taking off at human sight; or that where you see guanacos roaming peacefully, you may also find pumas hunting. We learned we need to keep moving to discover these places that invite us to connect to Patagonia’s wonders.

A 600-km circuit of roads apt for bike-packing connects Patagonia Park’s portals, the Scenic Route 41, majestic lakes, and deep winding canyons, like the Pinturas and the Caracoles. Photo: Canoa Films

We didn’t just learn; we also discovered new possible circuits. At Portal Cañadón Pinturas, a dirt road framed by spectacular vistas of the steppe, mesas, and giant canyon walls outlined on the horizon, connects different trails —pedestrian-only— leading to a great diversity of habitats such as high volcanic plateaus, bright and colorful hills—and the wildlife that inhabits these places since forever.

The road ends at the foot of a trail that winds down to the Pinturas Canyon, crosses the river, and ascends to the Cueva de las Manos Unesco World Heritage Site, with nine-thousand-year-old rock paintings. From there, one can complete a whole circuit on the bike, returning to the National Route 40 following a gravel road with bewildering sceneries and remarkably steep hills—an undoubtedly complex but exciting challenge. Three campsites within the Park allow for fully immersing into this world dominated by jungles of rock, winding canyons, endless landscapes, relentless winds, pumas, and guanacos. 

Ya de noche, observando las estrellas enmarcadas por los paredones del cañadón Pinturas, imaginé este mismo paisaje estelar siendo contemplado por aquellos nómades milenios atrás. Las criaturas salvajes que los vieron llegar ahora me observan, con sus ojos adaptados a la noche, desde los paredones, ocultas en el calafate, descendiendo desde las mesetas, vigilando desde el cielo. El silencio es absoluto y me duermo.

After camping at La Señalada, Javi and Sol get ready to complete a possible bike-packing circuit: follow the trail to cross the Pinturas River, on which they will have to carry down their bikes along a steep slope, then a smooth zig-zag descent, across the bridge, and finally up a demanding ascent to the archaeological site. Photo: Canoa Films

Patagonia Park provoked a constant sense of discovery in us. Also, of wild nature, a concept that has intrigued us since we began journeying together. Well, that idea inspired us when choosing our name. That’s what we’re after: a community connected to nature—a Wild Nation.