“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
A guy and a girl. Three horses. Two dogs.
1000 kilometers across Patagonia
What began as a crazy idea to ride horseback across Patagonia became an experience that would change the course of our lives. When we first hatched our idea, a million and one plans unfolded- from strict timelines to buy and train the horses, to logistical planning to find fixers and map a route. As the time for our ride drew closer, we realized this was a journey that was meant to unfold outside of the boundaries of a strict plan; so, we decided we’d be better off being prepared for anything, rather than trying to prepare for everything.
In January 2016, we packed up our house in Pucón and headed south with our two dogs. Our plan? Hitchhike the entire length of the Carretera Austral to Villa O’Higgins, the “terminus” of the Carretera Austral in Chile. Once we made it there, we would begin the process of finding three horses to buy and ride as far north as we could- our idea was to ride all the way home to Pucón, but the health of our horses and the unpredictability of what could occur deep in the wilderness of Patagonia would ultimately dictate how far we would ride. One way or another, we would get the entire team back to Pucón.
We spent the first month camping in Villa O’Higgins, getting to know the local families who had lived in the region for generations. How does one go about buying horses in Patagonia? With a whole lot of patience. Building trust in the local community was an essential part of this ride. As locals got to know us and our intentions, we pulled together our equine team of strong, brave Chilean Criollos and the first part of our route.
Although there is currently no uninterrupted wilderness trail running through the region, we pieced together a unique route based on the terrain we encountered and access we were granted as we traveled north. We took our time to meet and listen to locals and connect with land owners and caretakers as we passed through the region. We followed rivers the the mouths of the glaciers from where they were born; we traversed mountain ridges and countless old growth forests of southern Patagonia using old pioneer routes that have nearly been forgotten. We followed unmarked trails guided by the stories of the few local gauchos who still used them to move animals into the backcountry. When necessary we followed old logging roads and even spent a bit of time riding along the infamous Carretera Austral.
We spent three months riding steadily north, fully embracing the elements of Patagonia and feeling fully embraced by its people. As we approached Puerto Cisnes, we decided it was in the best interest of the health of our horses for us to get home to give them a rest. Enduring the weeks of icy rain that blew in with autumn was also wearing on us as we awoke each morning to frosty tents and frozen equipment. Once we got to the port, we loaded our loyal horses and pups on a boat and sailed through the fjords of the Patagonian coast, onward to Chiloe. From Chiloe we finished the last leg of our journey via truck- the first time we’d used a vehicle since we bought our horses in Villa O’Higgins.
Our adventure didn’t end in Patagonia. Shortly after arriving in Pucón and settling our Patagonian Criollos in volcano country, we had four more horses come into our care as our journey connected with that of another pair of Long Riders- Matty and Heather- who were traveling south along the coast of Chile. They had spent the last six months riding and surfing from Pichilemu to Concepción, and thanks to a twist of fate that connected us, we were able to offer their faithful equine crew a sweet little home. Needless to say, we’ve got quite a special herd now, and all seven horses still love backcountry adventures in the mountains that surround us. These days we’re keeping busy setting multi-day horse trekking journeys to volcanoes, finding local conservation projects to support, and loosely planning the next horse-inspired adventure across wild landscapes.