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January 14th, 2012 | Argentina

Almost Blown Away on the Ride to Punta Arenas…

“Fin del Mundo”, is just one ride away…!!

But it could have been a world away if the wind that tormented me for most of the ride had got it’s wicked way…!!

As we cleared El Calafate, Gi-Gi gleefully advised that we had a mere 1000 km to go before reaching Ushuaia... As if that was something to celebrate...!!

We had hardly cleared the outskirts of El Calafate, when a seriously strong wind got up to greet us…!! This was the part I had been dreading all along… I had heard hundreds of horror stories about bikes being blown off the road; gear that had not been tied on properly, ripped from its moorings; and bikers that had been turned back by winds they were no longer prepared to face…

The first 95 km to the little estancia of El Cerrito on Ruta 5 were tough, strong winds blew in from the foothills of the Andes to the west of us, whistling over my right shoulder and pushing the bike off line from time to time…

At El Cerrito, I took the turnoff onto the ripio shortcut, that would save me about 80 km, but might cost me far more than that in stress and heartache… Or so Pablo had warned me…!!

I sat the bike for awhile, feeling the wind trying to push the bike over… I carefully dismounted, all the while holding onto the left grip to make sure it did not fall over…

When I was satisfied that it would not be blown arse over kettle, over, I quickly walked a few metres away to take a photo of the sign that showed I had but 70 km of ripio to deal with before we tasted tar again… The surface ahead looked pretty much the same that we had dealt with on the road from Gregores to Tres Lagos…

Loose gravel scattered across from side to side, with a little extra piles here and there to keep you focused… With a muttered “nothing from nothing, leaves nothing…” I let the clutch out and began the ride…

We stopped to access the conditions... I had been warned to take great care on this "shortcut"...

The first 20 km to Rio Pelque, which is nothing but a police outpost, went well enough… The wind was steady, and I was able to ride standing up on the pegs… The last 50 km were something else…!!

With no place to hide, the wind had it's merry way with us...

Not only was I pushed around by strong gusts of wind, but I also had to contend with small flocks of sheep, that ran panicking across the road in front of me, sometimes missing my front wheel by only a few feet… When you are doing 65 km/h on loose gravel, this is not something you will find pleasant to deal with… Much profanity made no difference to them at all… I took to blowing long blasts on my hooter from as far away as possible, to clear the roadside out in front of us…

I stopped twice to take a breather, enjoying the scenery of rolling hills and neat little valleys…It was at these times that I was very conscious of how alone I was out there… I had not passed a single car in the first 60 km of this section of road… It was bleak and desolate…

It's a long and dusty road... The wind howled across the plains, plucking at my jacket and constsntly upsetting my balance...

The last 10 km of gravel were probably the worst… The surface was far rockier, and I could feel my rear shock taking a pounding… In some places, the wind was too strong to allow me to stand up on the pegs, and as a result, I often strayed offline and into the loose gravel, or over rocks that I ordinarily would have avoided…

The little store at Tapi Aike... They sell a few basic commodities, and dispense assistance to travelers...!!

I brightened up what would otherwise have been a boring day for these two guys...!!

By the time I finally reached the tar again at the little hamlet of Tapi Aike, I was just about done in…!! The place consisted of a large police outpost, and a few houses… Across the road from this was a small store that also served as a petrol station…

I parked the bike, and then staggered through the door with a loud cry of “Mierde…!!”

This got the two guys inside laughing, and for the next few minutes I pantomimed what a hard time I had just had…

This had me smiling...!! A chocolate with a name like "Rhodesia"...!! I haven't seen it anywhere else, but here in the little outpost of Tapi Aike...

This practically had them rolling on the floor…Which I found rather disconcerting, considering the effort I was making to describe the gravity of the situation…!!

My performance did however get me two cups of coffee for free…!! They refused to accept payment when I turned to leave…!! Clearly they had not had any form of entertainment for some time…!!

Just as I was about to leave, one of them hurried outside and indicated to me that my rear tyre was flat… The jolting that the bike had taken on the ripio, must have either loosened the plug that we had inserted a few days before, or I had damaged the rim somehow which allowed air to escape…

They brought out a portable compressor and we re-inflated the tyre… There was no more gravel roads to deal with all the way to Punta Arenas, so I had it pumped to it’s maximum… Which was not a very clever move as I was to find out a few minutes later…

And I had to cope with sections of road that were potholed and broken up in places...!!

The last section of Ruta 40, leading to the Chilean border was one of the scariest rides I have ever made…!! The wind blew so hard, that on a number of occasions I was pushed to the far shoulder of the road, and had to come to a dead stop to prevent myself and the bike from going over the edge and into the scrub on the shoulders…!!

This meant that I stopped in the face of oncoming traffic, and had to hold up mu hand to show them I was in trouble, and pray that they would see me in time to slow down and allow me to get back onto the right side of the road again…!!

My arms ached from holding the bike up, and my back was going to spasm… I had pumped my tyres too hard for these conditions, and there was too little rubber making contact with the road surface… The wind made riding more like skating…!!

Two bikers that I would meet later that same evening, and who had ridden the same road just an hour or so before me, suggested that the wind had been gusting at between 100 and 120 km/h…!!

I stopped at the head of a valley that gave us a little protection from the wind, and got off the bike to stretch my back and massage my arms… I had covered barely 200 km, and was already knackered… It took me over four hours to get to the Chilean border…

At this point, I was considering stopping in Puerto Natales, rather than continue riding all the way to Punta Arenas...

How I made it to the border at Rio Turbio without mishap is beyond me… My jaw ached so badly from the clenching it had done since Tapi Aike, that when I got off the bike, I found it difficult to speak…!!

The Argentine border post at Rio Turbio... The wind was blowing papers all over the place, sending folks scrambling for their immigration forms....

I did not need this wind sock to tell me which direction the wind was blowing...!!

I groaned aloud when I saw this sign as I entered Chile... Punta Arenas seemed a very long way away...!!

I got through the Argentine side relatively quickly, and then rode the few kilometres to the Chilean Immigration control post, where I spent a long time chatting to the gate guards and taking a breather…

The wind in Chile, once we crossed the low range of mountains that run down to the Pacific Ocean, blew with less velocity than it had on the Argentine side of the border…

This was scant relief, as it still blew too strong for my liking…!!

I rode to Puerto Natales, about 15 km off my route, ostensibly to refuel, but also to consider whether or not I should ride on to Punta Arenas…

Then I remembered that there was no ferry on Monday to take us across to Terra del Fuego, and I had no option but to ride to Punta Arenas if I was to get the Sunday morning ferry…

"Never mind that...!! How about "Fin Wind", dammit...!!"

"No worries, Amigo...!! In this wind I would not consider passing a horse-drawn cart...!!"

With that little decision made for me, I booted the Big Fella into gear and set out to battle the wind again…

The road in Chile was concreted, rather than tarred, and perhaps I imagined that I had more grip, because I rode much faster, despite the strong winds, and made good time, Nickelback blasting through my speakers, and a determined set to my body language…

I was not about to let the wind get the better of me… Not with my destination so close at hand… I kept reminding myself and the Big Fella that there was just one more ride after this to get to Fin del Mundo, and this seemed to spur us both on…

I had to stop when a large flock of sheep, herded by two gauchos on horseback, wandered too close to the edge of the road for comfort…

The dogs assisting them sensed that the sheep were in danger, and ran out onto the road in front of me to shivvy them back onto the verge… I sat watching them for a few minutes, marveling at the control the dogs and the gauchos exercised over the hundreds of sheep in their care…

Gauchos and their dogs at work... Great to watch...!!

Later that evening, I would meet Roberto from Mexico, but for the time being, I was intent on getting to Punta in one piece...

A brief rain shower drove me off the road and into the relative comfort of a small roadside shop that sold coffee to passing travelers… I waited until the clouds laden with rain had passed over, before venturing out again…

Back on the road, I passed a biker in a cut-off leather jacket, riding a battered BMW 650 GS, and waved as I thundered past him…

Just as I entered Puerto Arenas, I passed another biker on a KLR 650, which looked in even worse condition…!! One look told me that they had been riding ripio, and probably down Ruta 40 at that…

The ferry that crosses the Strait of Magellan to Terra del Fuego... I would be on it the next morning....

I wanted to be sure of getting a ticket for the ferry that crossed to Porvenir the following morning, and went down to the terminal to see if I could pre-book a space… I was told that tickets were only sold an hour or so before the ferry left, and then made my way into town to look for a place to stay…

After cruising around for some time, and finding most of the places I tried full, I finally discovered the Hostal Ainil, which was as comfortable as any I had stayed in before… Although my room was ultra small, it was just outside a large lounge area, where I ended up storing most of my stuff…

The Hostal Ainil, tucked away in a quiet side street in Punta Arenas...

There was only one other couple staying in the annex that I was in, which was on the property next to the main house…

While I was updating my blog, I met Carolina Guzman, a lady from Santiago in Chile, who was visiting Punta Arenas with her daughters… She was an architect and artist, who worked in a wide range of mediums…

We sat chatting for hours, and she later went out and bought the makings of great dinner which we shared in the common dining area… The salad that Carolina made was washed down with a fine bottle of Gracia de Chile Reserva, a great Cabernet Sauvignon…

When I went out earlier, while Carolina was out shopping, I saw two bikes parked next to the Big Fella, and saw that it was the same two guys I had passed earlier… Roberto was a Mexican who lived near Cancun, and had ridden all the way from there on his way to Ushuaia. Carl, an American from Virginia, had taken a year off college and decided to ride his bike down the length of Central and South America…

They had first met in Peru and then again in Santiago, and since then had ridden together…

And then there were three...

The dinner Carolina prepared for us went down a treat... The bottle of great red wine added to the enjoyment...!!

We were all headed for Ushuaia, and would be together on the only ferry the following morning… It made perfect sense to ride together and after arranging to meet for breakfast at 8 am the following morning, we retired for the night…

We had little information about the condition of the ripio on the Chilean side of Terra del Fuego, but knew that it was about 160 km from Porvenir where the ferry landed, to San Sebastion where we would hook up with Ruta 3 for the final 300 km dash to Fin del Mundo…

Carolina and her daughters were going to be on the same ferry, and would be doing a little sight-seeing in Porvenir… I wondered what they would find to do there, and they seemed to have little idea themselves, but staying around in Punta Arenas for another day did not seem a great option to them…

The place couldn’t be all bad, because earlier in the afternoon, I had seen posters advertising the imminent arrival of “Sting”, who was due to perform two concerts at the local Casino…!! It was hard to believe that an international act would come all the way down here to perform…!!

Nearly there...!!

I fell asleep thinking about the next day’s ride… I remembered the excitement I had felt before the final ride up to Nordkapp in August 2010, and now I was almost at the other end of the world, as far south as the Big Fella could go…

It had been a long hard dash from Santiago, and now I was finally in touching distance…

I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise…!!

©GBWT 2012

 

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