Cycling South: Jurassic Park

Biking through the mountains of southern Chile, Ben Bateman starts to worry about the velociraptors.

jurassic

If I remember being dry, it’s abstract and distant. Water drops from the sky in sheets, rushes down the mountains from the shock-blue glaciers in countless waterfalls, and forms wide puddles across the dirt road. I pedal blindly, unwilling to lift my eyes into the stinging rain. I hear the birdcall slash out from the jungle and I pedal faster. It’s the shrill chirp of a dilophosaurus ready to spit its (fictional) venom and blind me.

At least that’s how I interpret it. Ever since I placed the eerily recognizable South American foliage as the backdrop for Jurassic Park, I’ve been unable to see this as modern wilderness. My route winds through the wild mountains of southern Chile, and the isolated territory, plagued by constant rainfall and inescapable mud, recalls (at least to my dinosaur-obsessed inner-child) the greatest film of our time.

The trees climb upward in prehistoric spindles, lush green shrubbery covers the ground, and there are creatures everywhere. Sure, these cows, horses, and eerily shrill birds aren’t the scaly beasts I loved and feared as a boy, but they’re daunting in their own right.

As I move from jungle to grazing land and back again, I spy a shifting patch of white on my left. I turn in time to see a 600-pound bull slowly turning his head to follow me — nothing else on his body moves. I want to stare back into his dull brown eyes, to show some sign of mammalian camaraderie, but I don’t trust myself on the bike enough to turn away from the muddy road. As I putz away, I can sense his interest wane, and I’m glad for it.

The night before my riding partner Sam and I camped in a cow pasture splashed with firs, the only semi-hidden camping spot on a long stretch of back road. We set up our tents in the rain, dodging piles of manure and glancing around furtively for any sign of nearing cattle.

We knew that cows were docile animals, unlikely to maim us and less likely to eat us, but we were also in their territory. Sure, they’re being raised to grace our dinner plates, but doesn’t this hubris echo John Hammond’s ironic certainty in his dinosaurs? “Nature finds a way,” Dr. Ian Malcolm reminds us, and that night I dreamed of the ways cows would find us, goring our bodies after eating through our tents. My nightmares that evening resembled a Gary Larson cartoon.

We’re 40 kilometers into the day, and I pause for a snack of cookies that the rain has already turned to mush. One hundred yards ahead of me, the road disappears into the fog. I squeeze the cookie paste from its tube as I move back and forth to shift the warming rain inside my jacket from left to right. Mid-slosh I hear a bleating to my side and turn to find a pair of goats standing behind a short barbed wire fence.

They look bored and not particularly cold, bothered more by this biker than the endless monsoon. I know that they aren’t bait for a tyrannosaurus, that they’re just another of the thousand farm animals that fill these scattered patches of grazing land , that the thirty feet of cool, reptilian hunger I expect to lunge out of the woods at any moment exists only in the fantasy I’ve reworked countless times since 1993. Nonetheless, I swallow my cookie mush a little hastily and bike on into the rain, head tilted down, watching the puddles for ripples.


If you want to catch more of Sam & Ben’s adventures, you can find out more at their website Again with the Biking.

Ben Bateman is an editor at The Bygone Bureau. He grew up on a mountain in the middle of Nowhere, CA, and his eerily encyclopedic knowledge of nowhere and mountains stultifies critics and other animals. You can email him, follow him on Twitter, and read the rest of his work here.