Table of Contents    |    Chapter Five    |  |    Chapter Seven

The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear"

Chapter Six

Tierra Del Fuego And The End Of The World

Click here for map

(and be sure to click your browser's 'back' button to return to this page!)

A feeling of euphoria engulfs us as we look down the Beagle Channel and think of the first sailing ships that arrived here. The history of their trip and all its uncertainty makes me appreciate how easy my trip is and how difficult and dangerous there's must have been. The road from the airport, which lies out on a peninsula, into Ushuaia is about 3 miles long and is freshly paved with concrete. As Stuart and I cycled down this road we look up and smile-there it is, the beginning of the Andes Mountain Range. I looked over at Stuart and told him this would be the most exciting 3 miles of the trip. With ice pellets bouncing off his face, he gave me a caustic incredulous look, zipped up his jacket to his nose and quickly cycled on ahead!

About half way into the town, I stopped, laid down my bike and ran over to edge of the Beagle channel. I took a deep breath to smell the sea air and put my hand into the icy cold water. I stood there on the beach for about half an hour, taking deep breaths and watching the sleet accumulate on the drift wood. My excitement meter has gone way off the scale. This is the most southerly city in the world, however it's only about 53 degrees south latitude. In the northern Hemisphere, this would be the equivalent of 60 miles north of London England, or a couple hundred miles north of Vancouver Canada.

The island of Tierra Del Fuego is divided east/west, where the west side belongs to Chile. Unfortunately there are very few roads or towns of any significance. The Eastern side belongs to Argentina and contains the big towns of Rio Grande and Ushuaia. Chile also owns the very southern part of the Island - south of the Beagle channel including the town of Puerto Williams, the official southern most town in the world but without any road access. There is a road that runs south-east from Ushuaia on the north side of the Beagle channel but it deteriorates rapidly after the very small settlement of Puerto Almanza. The road stops completely at an estancia which is officially the end of the road in Argentina. It's a rough 85 mile detour each way just to say that you did it. There's nothing to see there and it's extremely windy and cold, but if you do decide to go. Be sure when you get home, to go straight to a printing shop and have them print up a plaque that says "I made it to the end of the road on the Peninsula Mitre on Tierra Del Fuego" so at least you will have that along with the memory of four very beautiful days of cycling.

The official southern tip of South America, Cabo de Hornes (Cape Horn) lies at 56 degrees south latitude. I didn't go there, but I've seen pictures - it's a grassy rock with a small lighthouse that belongs to Chile. It's a long way to get there and you would have to travel by helicopter. There didn't seem to be any facilities for docking a boat either.

Later on in my trip I met some friends who had cycled Tierra Del Fuego in September, which would have been the equivalent of our March. They had temperatures between 10 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it was still windy with lots of snow. They said that the road was icy, snow covered and dangerous for they kept falling. I guess there is always someone more crazy than yourself although I usually have a hard time finding them!

I finally caught up to Stuart only about a mile down the road. He was sitting on the curb with his front tire off. I asked him if he had a flat. In his usual humorous way, he replied, no... actually I'm rotating my tires! I told him this was the perfect time and place for such a change. Actually he did have a puncture but was having a difficult time finding where it was in the tube so he decided to just replace the tube.

Soon we come to a T-intersection with no indications or signs of which way to go. You would think that a tourist area such as this would be well marked, but apparently the visitors depend on the taxi service. We took a wild guess and headed to the right. I asked a couple of people walking by who claimed to live there if this was the right way to the city center but they weren't sure. We continued on with uncertainty, hoping that it was the right way. Finally we were relieved to stumble upon the visitor center as we approached the town. The center was only about 12'x24' yet I was overwhelmed by the posters and maps that plastered every square inch of the walls. There were so many things to see and do here: Glacier hikes, national parks, all the fjord tours etc. When I finally settled down, I collected a city map and some information about the region and where a budget traveler might stay. I was only in there about two hours which is actually pretty quick for me. It's not uncommon for me to spend a whole day in a visitor's center. By the time I returned to my bike it had attracted a fair bit of attention - several people handed me a card and asked me if I needed a hotel. I was quite pleased because I'd heard a lot of horror stories of having to spend $20 a night and we found one for $7. Still over our budget but we took it. Cement floors, 5 people to a room, no heat, but at least it had a kitchen and fridge upstairs. For us, this was a luxurious palace. The first thing we did was to go shopping to stock up on groceries and cook up a big feed. Then came the challenge of unloading the 120 pounds of stuff from the bicycle. Even though it was starting to get dark and was rainy and cold, I set out to explore the town and surrounding area while Stuart decided to explore his bunk. This is a pattern that was to continue.

I feel like a kid lost in a candy store with a Visa Gold credit card with no limit. The first thing I did was to cycle up about 1000 vertical feet to the ski resort. The snow is all melted but it's the perfect the place to take in the panoramic view of the entire Beagle channel and the town of Ushuaia as it spreads out below. There is a light drizzle falling but to me it's liquid sunshine.

The moon made a couple of appearances between the rain showers. The first time I saw the moon as it peeked out between the clouds I knew something was wrong but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The second time it appeared it dawned on me that everything was reversed here, including the constellations. Everything is backwards to what I've been used to. It's the first quarter moon only it's low in the northern sky and the left side is illuminated. Naturally, January is the summer for the southern hemisphere and the moon rides very low in the summer months. Even the weather systems are reversed with the cold fronts coming up from the south and the warm fronts always coming down from the north. I was taught by the locals that North Wind means warmer air and rain and the south wind means cold but dry air.

It was starting to get dark out which means it must be close to 11:00 PM. Fortunately, I left my flashlight back at the hotel so it took me several hours to find my way back to the hotel in the dark. With some disorienteering and many wrong turns I finally found the hotel at about 1:00 in the morning. From outside I could hear the snores and snarls of Stuart who had to wake up to let me in. Much to my surprise he was not upset at the disturbance, but was angry that I didn't tell him I would be out so late. I told him Ranger Bob says when going out just before sunset in a city your unfamiliar with, never take a flashlight, because this will only make it easier for other cars to see your bike, and for you to find your way! This is another night time cycling tip from... Ranger Bob! He replied by saying "Assistant Ranger Stuart says when travelling with a nutcase, always expect the unexpected! Good night!"

My parents used to say to me why don't you get a "real job", that way you can take off to anywhere in the world and go first class for a couple of weeks each year. Of course when they said get a real job they were thinking doctor, lawyer, stock broker, accountant etc. I would always look at them and smile, because to me a real job is waiting tables, painting houses or a ski instructor - jobs that really count for something. This way I can work for a few months, then take off for a whole year and travel in coach.

Some times people ask me how it was I came to enjoy traveling by bicycle so much? Like all things its usually not just one specific thing. But it probably started when I was very young, I had the good fortune of growing up in an abusive home, which meant I had a tendency to run away a lot. One time when I was about 8 years old after a particularly unpleasant situation I jumped on my one speed coaster brake bike and rode 15 miles on the freeway across town to my grandmother's house. Most of the time I would ride an equal distance away from home into a park and hide in the woods near a river till I was cold and hungry and things had settled a bit at home before returning. Perhaps these early escapades were the seeds that germinated into discontent with a good successful office job. Then blossoming into the nerve to trade it all for a bicycle and finance my life by waiting tables, painting houses and living frugally and bartering. A good example was when I was living in Wyoming I met a dentist on the ski chair and we got to talking about my life choices and he agreed to accept 5 days of ski lessons for dental work! I often wish more of life could be this way. We both agreed that we felt better about our jobs that day.

Also I have been willing to swap going to the concert with the gang in order to get up early the next day to work an extra shift at the restaurant and put the money saved from the concert towards an air ticket somewhere. Everything comes at a price, the price being sacrifice. We can have anything we want but we cannot have everything that we want!

Sometimes I reflect back to my childhood and all those days spent cold and wet down by the river behind our house after a parental dispute. I often wonder if this upbringing helped make me as comfortable sleeping under a tent in a foreign land or crouched under an overpass as I would be at the Hilton on a business trip. A secret to being a happy traveler is to always feel at home and secure where you are. When I crawl into my tent or into the room of a strange hotel in a strange city, I feel the same as I do in my own bed in my own home. I'm quite certain that my past and the choices I've made have yielded the fruit that makes up the lifestyle I enjoy today. I've always been grateful to my parents for that.

Early in the morning on that first day in Ushuaia I set off to hike up the glacier, once again leaving The Assistant Ranger Stuart to hike around the hotel room. He said he needs to catch up on his beauty rest and I responded that it will be time well spent. I set out on the hike alone but about half way up I met Juan, a guy about my age on holiday from Buenos Aires. It was great to have company for the hike, which turned out to be a lot further than either of us expected. When we got to the top, it turned out to be a huge snowfield instead of a glacier but because of the incredible views of the beagle channel and surrounding area, no one is disappointed. Coming down was much easier for we skied down, or rather we slid down standing up which is much more difficult than actually skiing but still fun. We both took turns tumbling into the slushy snow soaking up as much water as possible. But I figure the burning ozoneless sun and the sizzling 45 degree air temperature will have us dry in 2 or 3 days. Swell! From the bottom of the snow field it was a long walk back down to the bus, actually the same distance as the walk up, just seemed longer because we were cold and wet. None the less it was all well worth it for the slide down the most southern snow field in South America.

Later that day we learned from a Canadian team doing research in the area that this is the first day in 28 that the sun came out. They said the weather has been consistently unsettled and foggy for the past 3 months and there is only 2 more months before the weather turns really bad for the winter. I can see how this would be frustrating for them, since most of their research has to be done from the air.

This being an El Nino year the weather everywhere has proved a bit odd. For me however its been lucky. With the exception of Tierra del Fuego and Brazil almost all of my trip will be unusually dry. Northern Peru and Ecuador had unheard of amounts of rain washing out most lowland roads and making a lake in the middle of a sandy desert. The Parana river valley in northern Argentina had flooding unparalleled since the time of Noah's ark, fortunately it was after I'd already passed through. Also the Southern Tip of South America had long periods of gray skies and drizzle during the dry season. But Western Chile and Chiloe isle had fires from drought. Some places went 6 weeks without rain, where 6 hours is normally newsworthy. Personally I think this is a global trend that will continue and gradually increase in severity.

That night I invited Juan back to my hotel for dinner. I cooked, as usual and tonight's menu of Fish and chips, veg, salad and of course Mate, pleased all the palettes of those who attended. Stuart, refreshed from his nap and looking as beautiful as ever, seem to have a bigger appetite that Juan and I who went on the hike. He said he really needed a days rest from the past month of travelling and the draining heat of Northern Argentina.

The next day Juan had other plans so he sent us to Sabeen, a Finnish women who owned a sailing Yacht docked down in the marina here in Ushuaia. She sailed down here from Europe alone and spent the last two winters living down here on her boat. I thought wow, this is someone I want to meet. When we got there, she quickly invited us down for mate, and stories of her life. She started 5 years ago and went through the Panama canal and down the west coast of South America. Most of the trip south was without wind, a motor boat trip, while the southern part of Chile was the reverse with too much wind. Never-the-less a fantastic place to sail. According to Sabeen this was about as unique and unspoiled a place you could find. She is especially fond of the winters here, the wind is actually lighter and the tourists are gone. She said she loves to just sit and watch the snow levels gradually lower down to the sea. As she spoke I could tell that she was very content with her life here. She is 61 years old, a widow, and says she misses her husband, but if she was to marry again she would miss her solitude even more. After tea we went for a little sail down the beagle channel. The wind didn't cooperate, (I think Mr. Wind is saving himself for when I get on the bike) but we put up the main sail and drifted down the channel for about an hour. The rain soon returned but no one was complaining, because the views of the mountains from the center of the channel more than compensated for the inclement weather. I'm on a sailboat in the beagle channel at the southern tip of South America, what could I possibly find to complain about?

That night we had Sabeen and Juan up to the hotel for lasagna salad and a bottle of cabernet. It was the least I could do in exchange for the sail and to celebrate our last night in Ushuaia and the beginning of a long bike trip. After the third bottle of wine was empty, Juan through lack of consciousness inadvertently volunteered to spend the night with us. Sabeen caught a taxi back to her boat. I looked at Stuart and said "JADATO". He looked at me rather strangely for its the first time I used the acronym, which is surprising considering how many times I use the expression to imply my happiness with my lifestyle choice and that life is good. It means of course, Just Another Day At The Office.

We spent a couple of days of hiking in the Tierra Del Fuego National park to stretch our legs. Finally, it was time to shake the mosquito carcasses out of the tents and embark on the long journey. North from here it will take 8 months to get to Quito Ecuador.

Stuart and I started out about noon on a cold and drizzly day. There were some tremendous winds coming off the channel, but only a small taste of things to come. As soon as we went around he bend and over the first ridge of hills we lost the wind. We figured it would be about 4 days to Rio Grande, the next town of any size, and about half way up the isle of Tierra Del Fuego. We stocked up with about 5 days of food plus a few extras that we'll keep just for emergencies or those unexpected delays that you can always rely on. While shopping I discovered a cake that you can only buy in Argentina and southern Chile. It weighs 1 kilo, just over 2 pounds, costs about 2 dollars, tastes great and is actually healthy. It consists of only whole wheat flour, eggs, baking powder, honey, dates, raisins and walnuts. Why can't we make products like this in the United States? It takes quite an effort to eat healthy in the States because almost everything processed, packaged or full of ingredients that I cant even pronounce. Having this cake for breakfast with a little mate and oatmeal equals a full tank of fuel. T

he road was paved for the first few hours then turned to hard mud with places of soft mud, and by the third day after going over the pass into the arid part of the island it was dusty gravel. Despite the light rain that was falling the weather was perfect. Believe it or not this is only the seventh day with rain, and throughout the whole nine months of travel only 12 days will shed any rain leaving 256 days with sunshine, a pretty good average, especially compared to my first trip to Europe where it was the reverse.

Tierra Del Fuego translates to land of fire. Much to my surprise this has nothing to do with volcanoes or forest fires. The original inhabitants here, despite the cold climate used to wear little or no clothing. To keep warm they constantly had a small campfire going. With all those individual fires going, from afar it looked like quite a blaze. When the first Europeans arrived by boat and saw all those flames, they decided to call the island the land of fire.

About 10 miles out of Ushuaia there was a hostel and restaurant on top of a hill offering a great view. We were both feeling a little chilled from the rain so we decided to stop for some tea. After we ordered the tea the owner came out and asked us how far we were going. I replied north, but only as far as Ecuador. Without saying anything he just got up and went into the kitchen, and 2 minutes later returned with two large pieces of cake, he set them in front of us and said with a big smile, Regalo!( Gift!) Then he returned to the kitchen to let us enjoy the atmosphere for the restaurant which was circular with panoramic windows all around the circumference. The cake was great but his support for our trip was far more memorable. His kindness gave us a real energy boost, a lot more than the cake did. It gave an extra spark to our already over-zealous enthusiasm about this place and the people who live here. After about an hour the rain stopped yet all the newly born water falls in the surrounding hills remained. Feeling a little drier, and a little warmer we set off again.

Shortly thereafter we came upon a police checkpoint but as we approached they just waved us on through. It really makes ya wonder about all those warnings about police in south America, Its the police in north America that you really have to watch out for.

That evening I came across an old trailer used by the road maintenance workers. They usually tuck in here for tea and shelter while on a break. I asked Stuart if we should make this home for the night? He questioned the legality of it, but I mentioned to him that in Ushuaia a road-worker had told me that any empty structure that is obviously not being lived in, could be used for shelter. Later I learned that even if someone was living in it they wouldn't mind that you stopped in to get out of the weather. 35 miles was enough for the first day so we unpacked the bikes and I cooked up pasta with vegetables and tea with cake for desert. After dinner we watched the first official sunset of the trip northward. This is day one of what life will be like for the next 8 months. We are still in the forest surrounded by mountains so there is no wind, just calm quiet serenity.

The mind is the athlete, the body is simply the means to cycle. Always think beyond the normal powers of concentration and dare your courage to follow your thoughts. Only your mind can detour you from your goal. Not the coming Patagonian winds, blistering sun or even the loneliness.

As I left that trailer I felt like I could do anything. Just go and deal with every situation as it comes. When something happens don't ask why me, but instead ask what can I do now? Never turn back or give up, instead think I shall overcome! After all that's why I'm here and if you think long enough on it, you'll understand that's what life's really all about This philosophy has kept me going for 7000 miles through sometimes rather desperate situations.

About an hour later we met Uve ( pronounced ooo-vay) from Germany who actually cycled all the way down from Buenos Aires. He said its was hellish, almost always into hurricane force winds, fences along the entire stretch of road making it difficult to camp and absolutely nothing but desert pampas. He confirmed that we made a wise choice to fly. The 3 of us cycled off together and within 20 minutes we ran into 2 guys coming from the other way. They were from Japan, and cycled down from Santiago. They gave us the scoop on what lies ahead, wind wind and more wind. They also had large amounts of rain that seemed to never stop. I'm happy to say when I get there that part of the country will be in the midst of a severe drought. They seemed rather in a hurry to finish their trip, which started in Santiago 3 months ago. We told them what to expect along their route and that they should be in Ushuaia by the next.

Now we start the climb over the pass. At 1600 feet, it's one of the lowest passes over the continental divide. Hard to believe that later in Bolivia I will be crossing over a 16,000 foot pass. Thankfully, that pass is in the tropics so it will only be about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, in the day time, if it's sunny. If it had been here, it would be more like -5 Fahrenheit, depending on the season. I'm glad mother nature planned the Andes to take the altitude and temperature into consideration.

The Girabaldi is the only pass that you cross over in a north south direction. It also seems to divide the forest and lush mountains of the coastal Andes with the desert pampas that makes up most of Patagonia. That night we camped in a trough by a river out of the wind and the next day we found ourselves on pavement again. This time with bright sunshine! The landscape looked like Nebraska, with gentle rolling hills. After about 5 hours of steady climbing, we crested a hill and the horizon opened up to the soft blue Atlantic Ocean! Only 3 days before we were almost at the Pacific ocean which means we crossed the continent in two and a half days on a bicycle, all 96 miles of it. The sight of waves crashing on the rocks and the smell of the sea in the air renewed my strength. Stuart, Uve and I all agreed that the top of the hill overlooking the sea would be a perfect camp site so we stopped for the night even though it was only 3 PM.

It was here that we saw our first Guanaco which is similar to a llama only with shorter hair and a more playful personality. There were a dozen or so around our campsite and probably more curious in us than we in them. Uve made his usual dinner of pasta, rice, veg, a tin of fish, bread and a large pot of coffee. Uve had his routine and religiously stuck to it. Each morning he would eat a pound of cake and a large pot of coffee for breakfast and somehow managed not to eat again until dinner. Personally, I need to eat every hour or so in addition to meals.

As we cycle toward Rio Grande the road turns west in an "o turn" which detours out and around the city for about 5 miles. No one in town could tell us why they would construct the road to circle around an open field. The only thing we could come up with is that it was some kind of sacred land. At least we get to experience a few miles of cycling in every direction. As the road turned westward into the wind our pace slowed to 5 mph even though it was a flat paved road. A few miles later the road turned north for a few miles, then east and eventually south-east at which point we were coasting at 15 miles per hour on flat ground without the assistance of any gravity or pedaling. It's amazing what a 50 MPH wind could do. To take full advantage I stood up on the pedals and opened my coat to resemble a sail in order to catch more of the wind which added 4 miles per hour to my speed.

During the last stretch of road a front must have come through because a light rain started to fall. At first this seemed exciting but once we turned in the wind again, it felt like some one was sticking a million needles into my face, one at one time, ouch! I thought to myself good thing it's not sleet.

When we got into town, we picked a hotel from the Lonely Planet guide book, only to find that the man who answered the door knew nothing about the hotel. Furthermore, he had lived there almost a year. It's important to note that although this was the most recent version of the guide book, the only thing you can count on is change and it's not possible for the guide books to keep track of every restaurant and hotel in each edition. We decided to check into the hotel across the street which was 10 dollars a night each, ouch! That hurts more than the rain but we all need a shower and have laundry to do, so why not splurge.

Over night I left some cheese and salami on the window ledge, so it would keep because we kept the room very hot to warm our bones. Unfortunately, it didn't keep as well as I'd hoped - the cat found it and had it for dinner. In south America you must always secure food, because all the dogs and cats are very hungry. They are not fed and cared for the way we do and they tend to be very adept at finding food. Chile and Argentina aren't too bad but further north, the dogs and cats are completely on their own, and very skinny.

At the hotel we each took turns doing laundry in a bucket in the washroom of the hotel. I used bar soap while Uve uses shampoo. We all have our ways. We sure get our money's worth out of a hotel room. I didn't sleep very well that night. Although I can sleep anywhere I prefer a tent, but I'm not sure whether it was the excitement of being here at the end of the world, Uve's snoring or Stuart's farting that kept me awake.

In the morning Stuart wasn't feeling all that well and asked if he could stay behind, so Uve and I started out together. He was a stronger cyclist than I so I spent most of the morning drafting him. I did this by cycling behind him as close as possible with my front wheel only about 1 inch from his rear wheel. This naturally blocks the wind so I have less resistance. One time I pulled left to pass him figuring I would block the wind for a while, but I didn't have a chance. It was like an invisible force, a ghost, wrapped itself around me. I felt like I was dragging a 100 pound bag of sand, this ghost was like a bully standing in front of the bike preventing me from moving forward. Without Uve blocking the wind I was blown to a standstill. I fell behind and had to fight to catch up. By the time I did, I was exhausted. It was at this point that I realized my trip was going to be more difficult than I expected. I told Uve to go on ahead so that I wouldn't hold him back. I was hoping to meet up with him in the next town, but sadly, not only did I not see Uve again but I never even met anyone who had seen him. Now I find myself all alone, with the prospect of cycling into this ghost that because of its meticulous persistent uncooperative pest-like behavior I will come to call the MONSTER. To all those who dare cycle Patagonia, you will come to know the MONSTER intimately.

This omnipresent WIND will torment and taunt the would be cyclist into a war of attrition. I expected wind but never anything of this intensity. Remembering my philosophy of the athlete is the mind, I set off alone into the flat featureless pampas(grasslands) of Tierra Del Fuego.

At one point I only covered 10 miles in 4 hours, but for the most part on the paved road I averaged 6 mph. This will drop to 3.5 mph average over the unpaved roads, starting tomorrow. After about 22 miles I was exhausted and just in time I saw a rather modern house. I was in need of water and even more so a break from the wind. I rode down the long gravel driveway and up to the wall built specifically as a barrier to the wind. I passed through a gate and into a new world. I entered a calm wonderworld of fresh flowers that smelt like springtime in Georgia. The landscape on the other side of the wall is brown windswept and almost tundra like yet now I'm looking at every color of the spectrum. The owners aren't at home, but I did meet two full time caretakers of the garden. At first I thought this might be the "green house" or the island flower shop, but turns out to be the house of a wealthy oil investor who just has a thing for flowers. In this land of colorless tundra if I lived here I would have a big thing for colorful flowers also. As I looked at all those colors I thought to myself that you never know where you'll find the face of god. I thanked the two gardeners whose efforts made this moment possible for me, and as they filled up my water bottles and handed me a glass of hot tea, I could hear the monster just above the wall roaring away, I thought to my self, no matter how deeply seeded the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, or how great the mistake with a sufficient realization and application of love it will all dissolve into the beautiful garden of life.

After I left the garden, my strength was renewed and I felt fresh and strong again. Shortly thereafter I met an Englishman who owned an estancia and he invited me to sleep on the floor of his office. WOW a dry place for the night and someone to speak English to. The best part was that he said that if I was interested, at 7 am tomorrow he would return and fetch me and we would go meet the others and spend the day shearing sheep. I always wondered where sweaters came from. Tomorrow I get to see the very first step.

I found it amazing how quickly and easily the fur was sheered off the sheep. Of course it took me about 10 times as long as it took everyone else but I did it - just zip zip zip. I think I was overly cautious about hurting the animal. But looking into their eyes, I think it was their pride that was hurt more than anything else. It also seemed to me that without any sunshine and these high winds and 50 degree air temperature that they would be cold. Dennis, the estancia owner assured me that they were not cold and that they would grow a sufficient coat of new fur by May in order to survive the long winter down here. I can't believe that I'm trudging through sheep shit under gray skies, battling icy winds, trying like mad to hold a very angry restless sheep down because he's not overwhelmed, not even whelmed with the idea of having his body sheared. I told the sheep it was the "in" thing to do and that everyone was having it done. He should look around. I told him that if he didn't have it done he would be SO out of place - but for once in the life of a sheep, he wasn't willing to follow the pack.

For lunch we had sandwiches out in the field rather than return to the office because there was a storm front coming. Sitting under a violently rattling tarp, trying to keep sandwiches from blowing out of your hand was a new experience for me. It's like trying to have lunch on top of your car as it goes down the interstate at 55 MPH! That night it felt rather strange to feast on a huge meal of... hmmm, could it be ... oh, you guessed it - LAMB with a huge pile of potatoes. We also had a bowl of soup which was mostly fat but I managed to detect a small piece of carrot floating in there. I think that's what they refer to as going overboard on the veggies. Afterwards, I just went back to the office and unrolled my sleeping gear onto the concrete floor and laid back in the lap of lady luxury. I couldn't have asked for a more comfy lodging. I drifted off to sleep that night thinking about my new life as a sheep sheerer. I don't think there's much future in it for me but at least I have something new to add to my resume.

I was up at 6:30 but the sun had beaten me to it. After a big (always a BIG) bowl of oatmeal, raisins, apple and a pot of coffee with powdered milk which I REALLY like, I did the daily clean up and packed up the bike. Boy is it EVER nice to have running water to do dishes. Nothing I like more than cleaning a pot with petrified oatmeal on it, already in an exhausted state, before I try to cook dinner in a wind tunnel. I velcro'd up the Dracula collar of my Foulies (Yatchy talk for rain gear) which provides ample protection against the monster and headed out onto the road. The air temperature is about 38 degrees but it sure feels like I'm in an airplane at 30,000ft going 600 mph with all the windows open. I have to say that I'm as happy as humanly possible as I set out for the Chilean border.

As the road turns westward, I leave the Atlantic ocean behind me, glancing back over my should for my last view of the Atlantic waters for this trip. I stopped in San Sebastion, the official border post, to get my exit stamp for Argentina, the first of 5. I advanced a little further through no-man's land to the San Sebastion border patrol of Chile to get my Chilean entrance stamp, the most colorful one in my passport. At the border I met a couple of people who were touring around in a motor home and like everyone else I meet, they can't understand why I am doing this. "Doing What?" I reply. "I'm just out for a bicycle ride". It's just like leaving from your house for a 30 miles bike ride on the weekend, only I keep going instead of returning home each night. It's really not that big a deal. Since there's only one road along the way, we will keep meeting each other along the way in the weeks to come.

The road turns west now, directly into the wind. Swell! This means it's time to face the Monster head-on. For the next few days, the going will be slow and difficult, averaging only about 2mph which is a little slower than a normal walking pace. Keep in mind that there are no hills either, so the speed is completely controlled by the Monster. Fortunately there are 17 hours of daylight and there is a bright blue sky with lots of sunshine. Even though the road is level, because of the wind I spent several days in my lowest gear. With luck, I should arrive at Porvenir, about 100 miles away in about 4 days. For the most part it was uneventful, sleeping one night under the road in a culvert and the other two nights, sleeping behind an old abandoned estancia just to be out of the wind.

Thankfully, the last 15 miles were northward and a bit hilly with a delightful crosswind. There's not much to do in Porvenir, but I arrived just in time to catch the ferry to Puente Arenas. This is the big city, about 100,000 people, where everyone comes to shop because things are a little cheaper here. The straight of Magallanes was about 20 miles wide at this point but considering the winds, the crossing was relatively smooth. It's been 315 miles since Ushuaia. As excited as I was to visit Tierra Del Fuego, I'm happy to be on the mainland now. The first major milestone of the trip. I highly recommend coming down here in the summer (Dec-Feb). My friends had to cycle on frozen mud, bitter cold wind, and when the sun came out they were pushing through ankle deep mud for hours. I never did ask them why they chose to be there at that time - something's are better left unsaid. Most of us have seen Tierra Del Fuego on a globe but few of us have any idea what's there or what it is really like, and that includes me before I came here. Though it sounds like a very difficult place to travel, I found the experience extremely rewarding.

Punta Arenas is the most southerly city in Chile and Puerto Williams is the most southerly village. The official end of the road on the mainland of Chile is 35 miles south of Punta Arenas at Fuerte Bulnes. Since I was getting a little bored with all these ends of the road, I chose to take a pass on going all the way down to Fuerte Bulnes. I figured I had enough bad wind-swept road ahead of me that I didn't need to add that extra 70 miles.

I settled into the Punta Arenas campground for the night. The winds had taken a lot out of me so I slept really late, until about noon. I needed a day to rest and this was a quiet reprieve from the wind. This was a transition point with Tierra Del Fuego behind me and mainland Chile ahead of me. About 2:00 PM I finished lunch and a family of 5 arrived and set up camp next to me. There were 2 teenage boys, a 13 year old girl and their Mom and Dad. They backed in their RV and set up tents for the kids. They invited me over for Mate and to share their fire. As I went over, I showed their father that I had a tea kettle, a Mate cup and a kilo of Yerba and that I was traveling by bicycle. He let out a big loud cheer like we were old friends being reunited after many years apart and I immediately felt like part of the family. They didn't speak any English but my Spanish was coming along slowly. I had been writing words down on the back of my hand an putting a list on the top of my handle-bar bag so I could study it while I rode. I was now at the point where I could actually put together a few sentences.

I am amazed at how close I feel so quickly to complete strangers. Within a half hour, I felt like I was with friends I had known for years. Sitting in a campground with these folks was no different than sitting in my living room at home with friends drinking tea. I think this ability is a big asset for the traveler. Unfortunately, the 13 year old girl started to express a romantic interest in me and I became uncomfortable. Since the winds are a little lighter at night anyway, I though it was best to pack up and move on. I wanted to get a few miles under my belt for the day. I thanked everyone for their kind friendship and said goodbye to my new-found friends. 25 miles down the wonderful paved road, I found a great comfy house to settle into for the night.

I find it amazing how strong and all-consuming the human reproductive drive can be. Discovering who we truly are, knowing ourselves and attracting someone who loves us for who we are is far more important for lasting happiness. The constant need for conquest is no different than a drug which can only leave us wanting or needing more. We fix our hair, wear the right clothes and try to look perfect all the time. If you do those things because you value it personally, that's one thing. If you're doing it to attract someone, then all it really does is cover up a poor self image. Be who you are when you think no-one is watching and that way you will draw to you people who appreciate your true inner self. This will plant the seed for lasting joy in relationships. If you construct and put forth a false persona, then you will attract someone who is drawn to your fabricated image and you will inevitably grow to resent them for not appreciating who you are. If she falls in love with the false you, when you finally relax and be yourself, the love will fade because she will not recognize the person she was originally drawn to. Trying to impress will only lead to depression.

From Punta Arenas, it's about 150 miles due North to Puerto Natalas and I estimated that this would take about 5 days. This stretch of road is in the process of being paved in both directions. The southbound lane is already paved all the way but during construction it is closed to traffic because all the heavy equipment is scattered about. The unpaved dusty road is open to traffic which consisted mostly of buses and trucks. Well, I guess I'll just have to enjoy having this fresh paved road all to myself! This made the high winds a little more tolerable.

Scattered about on this stretch of road were empty houses. No running water or furniture but they were permanent structures with four rooms, closets, a sink and wood stoves. They were completely empty and it's hard to tell whether they were built for temporary shelter or whether the occupants had all moved away. The road crew were using some of them for shelter. Every night, I had the good fortune of being able to stay in one of these houses on this stretch of road up to Puerto Natales. You can't imagine how nice it was to have your own house to sleep in each night. I asked the road crew where they were located so I could pace myself to make it to the next one. They always gave me water and a little fuel for my stove. There was always plenty of wood to be found so I was able to make fires in the wood stoves to keep the house warm and to be able to cook on the coals.

You can't imagine what a luxury it was to find these houses since the effort that would be required to pitch a tent in this howling wind is phenomenal, not to mention trying to cook and eat a meal in it. You can forget about trying to relax when you're exposed the wind. Could you sleep if someone strapped you to the top of their car and rode over very rough roads at over 60 MPH? That's what a night in the tent is like and it's something I would need to get used to later in the trip. One house was so comfortable with plenty of wood that it was awfully tempting to stay an extra day to relax, read and write. I continued onward because it was still early in my trip and I was harboring too much excitement to try and make myself sit still. In retrospect, my over-enthusiasm lead to over-exhaustion later in my trip and I would highly recommend resisting the urge to over achieve and to take the time to rest whenever there's a chance.

The last stretch of road into Puerto Natales turned west into the wind for about 10 miles. Running low on food provided the extra motivation I needed to slog out the last few miles. I finally made it into town after 5 delightful days cycling with the cross-wind. Puerto Natales is the jumping off point into the famous national park, Torres Del Paine as well as the next chapter.

Return to top of page.

Pictures  |  Quotes

(Photo scanning and manipulation, plus HTML layout, by Jeff Hudson)