I am, for better or worse, done with this trip. But not done, because my odometer says 2950km, so agonizingly close to 3000km, and with plenty of excess energy to finish it off sometime this week. I want to go to the end of Ruta 3, which is basically the end of a string of roads that starts in Alaska.
Tierra del Fuego is not for camping. It is flat, windy, freezing cold and devoid of protected areas. There are no trees, save for a few that have been mistakenly transplanted and are in the process of getting uprooted by the aforementioned wind. My host one night told me that it is impossible to generate wind power down here because the largest of windmills just aren’t strong enough to withstand the onslaught. I have made it to Rio Grande Argentina, on the Atlantic coast of South America, after pushing myself to my physical limits for one last time yesterday and limping here on sore knees today. I’m in the final stretch, with only about 230km left to Ushuaia.
Short update today, before I take off for the last leg of my trip. After 250km in two days riding mostly with the wind, I was delayed in Punta Arenas by ferry schedules and weather. The ferry company that crosses the Magellan Strait to Tierra del Fuego doesn’t operate unless the seas are in good condition, and didn’t run on Monday, so I spent a few days enjoying Punta Arenas. This was the biggest city I’d been in in two months, and the activity of a “big” city was sort of overwhelming. Finally having made the crossing this morning, I’m now in Porvenir, the capital of Tierra del Fuego.
The fact is that although it’s not particularly interesting to look at, Tierra del Fuego is one of those goals that I’ve been waiting to make it to for awhile. I grew up reading books by Brian Jacques. He wrote the childrens’ series Redwall, but also a lesser-known series called Castaways of The Flying Dutchman. In the first book of this series, the main character and his dog are washed up on the shores of Tierra del Fuego after a failed rounding of Cape Horn. This land and its cool name stuck in my head, and I immediately looked on a map to see where it was. I distinctly remember for that for months, whenever I looked at a map (which was a lot. I liked maps.) I would look for “Tierra del Fuego” to see if it was labeled on it.
So I’m finally here. And for personal reasons, that’s pretty cool.
This blog post brought to you in three parts, as it’s apparently been almost two weeks since I updated. These were composed on three separate occasions in my tent. I figure this is the best way to try to show you how my trip to Torres del Paine went. It’s hard to really do a “Torres del Paine” blog post when you’re on bike, because the approach, trek, and exit are all 3-4 day experiences in themselves.
Quick post today. I wasn’t going to head to El Calafate originally, but I was drawn to the mountains across Lago Argentino, and needed a reprieve from the sudden change in direction of the wind. So, to make this post somewhat useful, I’m going to give a short update and then throw up some resources that might be of interest to future travelers along this route.
Out of Tres Lagos, I understood that there would be one pretty bad day, going almost directly west to Lago Viedma. And it was. 70km, about 2/3 of it mostly of it straight into a headwind to what most cyclists refer to as “The Pink Hotel.” The Pink Hotel is an abandoned restaurant where many travelers stay on their Ruta 40 journey. On one wall is a “cyclist register,” and on the other a “motorcyclist register.” Fun to look through past occupants, and a must stop if you see it along your journey.
I’m have made it safely to Tres Lagos, a colorful town in the middle of nowhere in Argentinian Patagonia. I survived the border crossing at Mayer, and about 350km out of the 388km of Argentinian road that I could have traveled so far. Bear with me, because this is going to be a bear of a post. Let’s start with me searching for information about the entry.
From the municipal office in Villa O’Higgins at the end of the Carretera Austral, I was directed to find a guy who operates a tourist lodge in Villa O’Higgins, who could tell me more about the crossing. After finding the guy, here’s how our conversation basically went:
“Hi! My name is Bryan, and I’m traveling down the Carretera Austral on my bike. I heard that you could tell me more about the pass into Argentina at the Entrada Mayer.”
“The Mayer pass?”
(with confusion) “…Why?”
Not a good start. After explaining that it was my only way into Argentina in this season, he said he understood, and that although possible, the pass would be very difficult with a loaded bike. The only saving grace, he said, was that the Carrera River (one of the larger rivers I would need to cross) may be low enough that I could just cross it on foot rather than searching for the tiny bridge (basically a sheep bridge) further upstream. He said that he couldn’t really guide me further, and that I should go talk to the border and talk to the police officers there to get more detailed information about which path (this whole “right path” thing sounds hilarious to me in retrospect…) to take. I thanked him, and went on my way.
I vaguely remember one of my last updates being two days before I had spent one month on the road, so I’ll start where I left off and give a rather dry progress update. I’ve reached Villa O’Higgins at the end of the Carretera Austral, 230km from Cochrane and 1193km from my start in Puerto Montt. Time-wise, I arrived in Puerto Montt on the 17th of September, and left on the 20th. That means the entirety of the Carretera took me almost a month to the day (October 18) to complete, with plenty of rest days. As I’ve gotten further into the trip, I’ve started to take more of these rest days, as the ripio has generally been tougher down here on me and my back/rear end. But as my body has gone, my bike has not. My noble steed has officially made it through the entirety of the Carretera Austral, a road known as a bike-eater, with no problems save for two small patchable punctures on the front tube. Racks are intact, rims are true, and I haven’t even needed to pump up the back tire once in a month of riding. My most heartfelt shoutout to Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life on Alder St. in Eugene for building me one hell of a durable ride.
Well, my camera and its three spare batteries ran out two days ago. I forgot to recharge fully in Puerto Tranquilo, and I always forget to turn it off as I put it away. So, shucks. I ripped a big hole in my tent window last night, my tire tubes are patched in multiple places, and I need to replace both sets of brake pads. This should give you some indication of how tough going the last 120km were. Up (walking a lot), down (carefully) , sideways (blown off the road), stop (in rainstorms), go (with a tail wind), laugh (at swanky resorts), curse (all of the above). Nonetheless, I’ve reached Cochrane, the capital of the General Prat region and the “final frontier” of the Carretera. The road did not extend to Villa O’Higgins until 20 years ago.
Kind of in a sour mood today, in spite of the awesome scenery of Lago General Carerra. My achilles tendon is flaring up after 4 days of continuous riding, and the ripio was washboarded and/or gravelly for about half of the last 100km. This makes for rough riding, where when my bike isn’t jostling up and down nastily (washboard), its rear wheel is skidding out and forcing me to walk up hills (gravel). Sometimes a grader will come along and rip it all up again, leaving small patches of smoothness in between pits of sand and gravel. This would be great if I could tell the smooth parts from the sand, but I can’t, and I’ve almost skidded out and fallen several times in the last few days. I should have gotten a set of mountain bike tires in Coyhaique, but it didn’t cross my mind since the road had been paved for awhile. I had two of my bungee cords stolen off my bike from a shed at the hotel in Coyhaique. Who the hell steals two bungee cords from a bike? I made sure the owner knew, and she gave me a discount off my last night.
Enough fun. Back to the grind tomorrow. After consulting with a few people in town, one of whom was kind enough to call a friend in Villa O’Higgins, I’ve decided to go for the pass into Argentina at Rio Mayer, about 550km away. Good beer, good company, and wonderful times in this gorgeous city in paradise. There will be less updates from here on out as I get further south.