The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear"
Tierra Del Fuego And The End Of The World
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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.