Changing Planet

Bikepacking The Abandoned

Bikepacking Patagonia’s abandoned tracks in search of insects. (R. Isaí Madriz)

My bicycle is knee deep in mud. The snowline on the nearby mountains is closer than the previous day. The abandoned track has been softened by the stomping of cattle. After an hour of pushing my loaded bike half a mile through the mud, I begin the task of setting up camp. The only suitable configuration in which to pitch my tree tent is over a swamp.

Balancing over several logs, my tent is finally set. It is almost midnight and just as I am nestled in my bag falling asleep, my boots, which were hanging from my tent by rope, splash into the muck below. As I get down to retrieve them, freezing rain begins to fall. Thus far, the carefully planned expedition seems to be hampered by fluctuating weather.

Swamp Camp. (R. Isaí Madriz)

After a few frigid hours of intermittent sleep, I pack up my camp and take off before sunrise. I am trying to reach the final waterfall of this expedition in search for morning-emerging insects.

The dense fog is overwhelming. My headlamp’s light clouds the way ever further.

As I slowly pedal up a steep hill, posed on a fence post, a Magellanic horned owl twists its neck around to stare at me with curiosity.

Dark shapes appear above. Adult Andean condors glide effortlessly through the air looking for their next meal. Close by, near the waterfall, a young sheep died overnight. In nature, nothing goes to waste as condors will soon discover its remains and feast from it.

I finally reach the waterfall only to find that the Torrent Midge I am looking for are still in their early stages of development. In order to identify the species, I must find adults. Thus, I leave the site without what I have been pedaling for days in search of.

Filling up my water reservoir from glacial melts after searching for Torrent Midges. (R. Isaí Madriz)

As I continue to ride back to headquarters, I travel along a roadside permanent seepage and stop to take a closer look. There, a male crane fly is hanging from the wet moss. Close inspection reveals a surprise: it is a flightless species. Through time, the species lost the ability to fly and its wings, although present, have deteriorated to small nobs. As I look around I find a female, a remarkable find as this is one of the few known species of flightless crane flies in the country.

Flightless crane fly silhouette. (R. Isaí Madriz)

At that moment, it is raining again. My bicycle is sideways in a ditch, I am hunched over behind a large ditch weed, my hands are full of mushy moss dripping mud onto my pant legs, and my face is inches away from the seepage.

Suddenly, a vehicle appears and slows down. The driver lowers his window and asks if I need assistance. I turn around and reply euphorically, “I found a strange fly!”

With a furrowed brow he asks, “Flies? Like… maggots?”

“YES, like maggots!” I replied.

The driver’s eyes open wide as his chin touches his neck. “Ok?..”

He slowly begins to drive away from the grinning man in bright clothes stomping in a watery ditch looking for “maggots”.

New discoveries happen in unexpected places and with an open mind, every expedition is a success.

 

R. Isaí Madriz PhD. Photo Credit: Randall Scott/National Geographic

Dr. R. Isaí Madriz is an entomologist and zoologist with expertise in freshwater aquatic insects of Patagonia. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, he is telling the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science and human connections. He combines combine hiking, bikepacking and packrafting to transect unexplored areas and secluded fjords in search of some of the rarest insects on the planet. This low-carbon footprint approach utilizes renewable energy sources to capture never-before-seen footage of remote glacial outlets and hidden valleys of wild Patagonia. Madriz wis documenting the largely unknown endemic aquatic insect fauna of this vital region before Chile’s Aysén region’s biodiversity is transformed forever.

Follow Isaí Madriz on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

 

Equipment used for this expedition is courtesy of Fulbright, National Geographic, Iridium, Boo Bicycles, Kokatat, Seal Line, Osprey,TentsilePatagonia, Voltaic & Jax Outdoor Gear.

Dr. R. Isaí Madriz is an entomologist and zoologist with expertise in freshwater aquatic insects of Patagonia. As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, he is telling the story of deglaciation of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, focusing on its vanishing aquatic insect diversity through images and stories of exploration, science and human connections. He combines hiking, bikepacking and packrafting to transect unexplored areas and secluded fjords in search of some of the rarest insects on the planet. This low-carbon footprint approach utilizes renewable energy sources to capture never-before-seen footage of remote glacial outlets and hidden valleys of wild Patagonia. Madriz is documenting the largely unknown endemic aquatic insect fauna of this vital region before Chile’s Aysén region’s biodiversity is transformed forever.
  • Fernanda

    El principio de grande aventuras.
    Me encanta leerte, aunque sea tan cortita la historia.
    Se ve hermoso el lugar en el video que tomaste.
    Good job!!

  • David Jones

    Wow these pictures bring back memories!! Best of luck this month! In your Spring.

  • Richard Tate

    Really cool stuff!! Recent findings of declines in insect populations make this kind of exploratory work very important

  • Alex

    Another great story Isai! Didn’t know there were flightless crane flies, how do they keep from getting flushed away by the seepage?

    • Thank you Alex. How do they keep from getting flushed away by the seepage? My Next story on Monday October 30th will provide you with the answer. It is all about this bizarre and rare flightless fly. Stay tuned!

  • Ursula

    Great story! Can’t wait for the next one

  • Cindy Wackerbarth

    Excellent ! This is beyond fascinating! Stay well, and keep up the great exploring.

    Do you keep up with others in the National Geographic group?

    Kudos

    • Thank you Cindy. Yes the five of us keep in touch regularly.

  • LORENA LARA

    Felicitaciones!!!!Muy interesante

  • Lupita

    Pequeña e Interesante historia, tienes una manera de narrar que transportas .Hermosos paisajes y fotografías.

  • Marshal

    Amazing story and great photos!

  • Destry

    SUCH a great shot at the end!

  • Targe Lindsay

    How far and how many days are you out from home base?

    • It depends on the expedition. The longest ones are yet to come 😉

  • joanne lindsay

    Enjoy reading about your adventures, dear grandson.

  • Karen Lemcke

    What a beautiful picture you paint with your writing this story, Mr. Madriz. I’ll follow you more @National Geographic. Great stuff!

  • ROSY

    I really enjoy reading your avanture ! Is a asome feeling to see how dreams come true ! Am really happy and excited to see where you are just because you follow your dreams !

  • Ulysses

    What an incredible space to call your office. Safe travels and keep sharing your amazing experiences!

  • Carlos

    What a place to explore, Great potential. Love the video footage. Keep going!!

  • Odila Davila

    Amazing! photos congratulations! I know about all your adventures and success thanks to your proud Mom!
    you are such a lucky person, to have an opportunity like this! I can’t wait to read the rest of your expedition.
    good luck.

  • Nora

    Saludos Isai mucha suerte

  • Karina

    Me quedé re atrapada con la historia!!! Hay muy poca info sobre insectos en Patagonia. Gracias Isai por llevarnos al fascinante mundo de los insectos

  • Anand Varma

    whoa, that landscape is amazing!!!!

  • Jeff Carter

    Great story telling. Loved the part about the owl. There was a lot of frustrating things happening there but glad it ended with a discovery!!.

  • Barbara

    My 4th graders are captivated by your stories, adventures, and photos and videos. We eagerly await what’s to come. You are inspiring future scientists!

    • Thank you Barbara. Perhaps we could set up a video call with your class to show them some of the wonders of exploration Entomology.

  • Shawna

    That last bit, “with an open mind, every expedition is a success”, is such a great piece of advice. I love your enthusiasm and determination to explore beyond the typical limits of human comfort. Keep searching!! Your camp has a stellar view.

  • Brittany Clark

    Excellent find! I’m looking forward to seeing the unique microhabitats that you encounter on your journey. Very inspired by the low carbon footprint approach for your expeditions. Safe travels!

  • Daniel

    I’m feeling inspired by your passion for learning and exploring. Thank you!

  • Targe

    I wonder how many eons that critter, and yet undiscovered critters made that tree cavity their universe?? Keep up the discoveries, the sesquipedalian writing, and lyrical photography.
    You make us feel like we are there with you.

  • Feby Atee

    You have begun to ignite the spark that remains within me for entomology ,Dr. R. Isaí Madriz..Love your work..lively explanation….hope to see more inspiring works from you..

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