Just like any kind of homework, it seems like the hardest part was just getting started. Once I actually got on the road, all my nervousness and doubts went away pretty quick. That doesn’t mean that the trip has gone without a hitch and its share of frustrations, but I guess that’s part of the experience and fun.
The first day riding away from Ushuaia started as a comedy of errors. After the first 5kms, Nedo realized he left behind his bike lock and had to circle back. Laughing to myself because I had everything organized, I moved forward with the plans to wait for him at the top of the 1st mountain pass. Bonehead count for the trip = Nedo 1 – Justin 0.
However, it wasn’t even 2kms more down the road when I came across road construction and was diverted along with the cars on the same route. After riding the first hill of the detour, I quickly realized that this would probably add at least about 5 km of all steep hills to my trip. In a vain effort to take a shortcut, I rode through a small town where I was chased by 3 big dogs for blocks on end. They were persistent, I´ll give them that, but I´m from Pine Plains NY and eventually got away from the bloodthirsty bandits. While North American dogs seem to chase cars with bikes secondary when they get bored, it seems that South Amercian dogs go for the easy kill with their all energy pointed towards a heavily loaded bike – skipping the cars altogether.
Soon enough I was back on track and the crazy swiss guy caught up to me a lot quicker than I expected. It turns out that he barged straight through the roadblock and no one said anything since he was only on a bike. This saved himself the detour and of course the 101 Dalmatians. This was exactly what I should have done and was one of the first learning points for me on this trip. Bonehead count = Nedo 1 – Justin 1.
The rest of the day went as expected and we reached our destination with a good sampling of what lies ahead – mountain passes, rain and even a little bit of wind. We easily found a nice spot to camp not far from the road and, after a good night of sleep, we continued our trip further north.
Our travels so far has brought us to the end of pavement on to dirt roads and also across the border from Argentina into Chile. Due to geographical obstacles the route up Patagonia goes in and out of these two countries a few times, so my Argentinean pesos in my pocket aren´t useless yet.
To this point, I have been amazed by the warmth and the sharing nature of the local people. They all seem like happy camper amigos to me. Its very easy to start a conversation and they always want to take pictures with us and our bikes. Along with giving me a chance to practice my 5 year-old level Spanish, these people always demand that you eat whatever food they have with them (thoroughly refusing anything that is offered in return).
A lot of these people have very limited resources in life relative to the US and Western Europe, so its truly special that they are willing to share anything with total stranger gringos – there is a lot to learn from them.
An other amigo we have met during this trip is the infamous Patagonia wind from the north, who doesn’t seem so warm but always willing to share. While it always seems to be in my face, which makes riding 5x as hard both physically and mentally, the bigger gusts makes riding a fully loaded bike close to impossible. Not only is pedaling impossible but getting blown over is a serious risk.
We have come across massive headwinds at 60-70km an hour in the past few days. This has cut our day short twice so far, being forced to sleep where ever we could find shelter. To be honest, it can be quite frustrating at times and leads to an emotional rollercoaster. I am not sure if any pictures of bent over trees or blowing grass can properly describe the wind.
On the 4th day of riding, I met a geology professor from Buenos Aires doing field research in the area who gave me this advice: ´There is no Patagonia without wind, you must learn patience or you won´t survive´. I can understand this completely, if you aren´t mentally prepared for the wind – convincing yourself to quit would be very easily. But as my friends will tell you, I´m a stubborn bastard and I´m not going to buy a car. However after riding days through this beast, I have come to the conclusion that I will either come out of this very mentally strong or a complete utter nutjob.
The first time we had to stop riding because of 70km winds, we were lucky enough to be in front of a massive sheep farm. The farm was quite amazing with over 65,000 sheep and 30 employed Gauchos staying in a fraternity house-like-building complete with a dedicated cook. The Gauchos were nice enough to invite us inside for a full warm dinner and traditional tea. They also let us camp outside in a corner blocking the wind, which was perfect for me as spooning with cowboys isn’t on my list of things to do in South America.
The second time we had to call off the day was in the middle of Nebraska-style flats that had nowhere to hide from the wind. With 70km headwinds and not even a rock to sit behind, our only option was to walk 5km until finding a rather nice storm drain under the road to shelter from the storm. This provided a decent wind-block and our best option to cook and sleep. I´m starting to think I need to keep track of all the odd places I sleep in during this trip.
Since the winds are the highest when its warm during the day and are relatively calm during the night, we decided that a 3:30am start with headlamps was the only way to move forward in this evil Nebraska.
As you can expect, riding that night/morning was extremely cold but riding under the stars in the middle of nowhere southern Chile was quite an experience (I hope you can imagine because my fingers were too frozen to take a picture).
Being rewarded when the sun finally came up, we were not only warm once again but we made it into a more mountainous area protected a little from the wind along the coastline of the Strait of Magellan. The views during the next 50km were amazing and once again I´m not sure if the pictures I post can properly describe it.
This brought us into the current location of Porvenir, Chile which is a small town on the east side of the water. Because of the thoroughly mentioned wind, we´re delayed about two days from what we originally thought. This is also complicated by the ´daily´ ferry not running yesterday or today (typical South America I hear), forcing a rest day which is probably a good idea to start out with. That´s ok, because I hate time lines. But tomorrow we´re ensured that we´ll be heading to mainland South America and will resume cycling into the proper Patagonia you know and love.