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January 23rd, 2012 | Argentina

Ride to Rio Gallegos…

Northbound…!!

I left Ushuaia early this morning, and started out on the long road to the town of Dead Horse, Prudoe Bay, Alaska….!! The route that I had planned would cover almost 40 000 km and would hopefully see me up there towards the end of July…

Carl and I say our final goodbyes on the front porch of our hostel in Ushuaia...

I had packed most of my gear the previous evening, and after a quick cup of coffee with Carl, was ready to leave just after 7.00 am… Corina was not in yet, so I was unable to say goodbye to her and thank her for all the help and advice she had given me over the past week… Her continued concern for my well being was touching, and did not end with me leaving Ushuaia…

When I reached Buenos Aires a few days later, there was messages from her, left with my Argentine friends, asking if I had arrived safely and if all was well with me…!! If ever you are looking for a quite place to stay in Ushuaia, where you will always be made to feel welcome, then Hostal de la Lagunas is the place to stay… If you have the latest GPS maps of South America, just plug in “1247, Las Lajas”, and you will find yourself outside Corina’s door…!!

I bid Carl a fond farewell, hoping that he would find his passport, or a way to get off Tierra del Fuego and back into Argentina without being incarcerated in a jail somewhere…!! I had thoroughly enjoyed out time together, and promised to look him up if and when I passed through Virginia…

It had rained heavily the previous evening, and a freezing cold wind was blowing as I made my way out of town and headed north for Rio Grande, where I planned to refuel…

Once we had cleared the mountains surrounding Ushuaia, and began the long run up the coast to the Chilean border at San Sebastian, the wind came at us with a vengeance… I thought briefly of the “deal” I had made to let the wind have it’s wicked way with me on Ruta 3, in return for as easy a ride as was possible down Ruta 40, and wondered if the forces of nature had taken me seriously…!!

It was a cold, wet and uncomfortable ride to Rio Grande, and with the wind doing everything to make matters even worse, I cam close to running out of fuel, and only just managed to sneak into town without running dry completely… Considering the fact that in high wind, your fuel consumption can increase by as much as 10 to 15 %, I filled all four of my spare fuel bottles, but still hoped to reach Rio Gallegos without having to refuel again…

The Chilean couple whom I met at the border... Seeing this tiny woman, made me stop my muttering, and gave me renewed confidence for the battle ahead...!!

Over the next 90 km to the Argentine border, just east of San Sebastian, I had to ride by looking between my windscreen and my right hand side mirror… This was the angle I was forced to hold the bike at in order to lean into the wind, which was not coming off the cold Atlantic as I had assumed it would, but rather from the interior of the island…

When I finally turned due east and rode towards the 1st of the four border posts I would have to stop at for the day, we rode into the teeth of a wind so strong, that when I closed the throttle, the Big Fella actually shuddered, and would come to a full stop within less than a hundred metres, and this after riding at about 90 km/h…!!

I began to have serious misgiving about the 160 km of gravel road that I would have to tackle to get to the ferry at Cerro Sombrero…!!

By the time I reached the border, which signified the end of the tarred surface and the beginning of 150 km of gravel, I had given myself a bad case of the “mutters”…!! Phrases such as “F**k this for a joke…!!” came readily to my lips…!!

I noticed two bikes were already parked outside the Customs shed… I rode over and parked next to them, thinking that at least I would have someone to ride with in the event of an untimely and unscheduled fall or two…!! The leading bike was an orange 800 GS, and other was a black, low-slung Suzuki…

One look at the way the Suzuki was set-up, told me that this bike was being ridden by a girl… This was confirmed when the couple came out of the Immigration Hall and moseyed up to chat to me…

They had ridden through the centre of Argentina, avoiding Ruta 40 and the ripio, and were heading back in the same direction, bound for Chile… She was barely five foot tall, and her husband towered over her… There was hardly a trace of concern in her voice as we compared routes and discussed the conditions ahead… As for the wind, she just shrugged her shoulders and said,

“It has to be done…. We have no other choice…!!”

Half an hour on the gravel, and there was still 120 km to go...!!

I watched them mount up and leave, heading for the Chilean border post which was about 15 km away… I wanted to see how they were riding before I suggested we ride together… Once you make the offer, and it is accepted, there is no turning back… You stick together through thick and thin… I wanted to be sure that we would not hold each other up on the gravel roads that lay ahead…

After the Argentine formalities were over, I rode out onto the gravel, and made the mistake of taking up my usual off-road position on the bike, namely standing up on the pegs… Within a 100 metres I had to sit my backside down again, as the wind gleefully pushed our now much bigger target, all over the dirt road… Trying to stay in the tracks of previous vehicles while standing up, was impossible…!!

I caught up with the couple at the Chilean border, and it looked as if they had only just arrived…!! I figured they must be crawling along at very low speeds, and this over the section, which if anything, was in far better condition than what lay ahead…!! I was glad that I had not made the offer to ride with them, and hoped that they in turn would not ask me to…!!

They left the border ahead of me, as I wanted to have a quick cup of coffee, and check to see if the BMW shock was not leaking any oil… I gave them a 20 minute head start and then set out to see how long it would take to catch up to them… I had them in sight barely ten minutes later, and a few minutes after that, overtook them, giving them the thumbs up sign as I passed them… They were traveling at no more than 30 km/h, and neither of them looked very comfortable…

Tierra del Fuego... Nowhere to hide from the battering wind...!!

The road ran due east into the wind, then turned north and howled across the road, even blowing small pebbles ahead of it…!! At one point I parked to take a photo, and was almost blown over… While I sat there, the constant sound of small stones “pinging” off the metal surfaces of the bike reached my ears…!! This was crazy, but I knew that with every mile I covered, I would come that much closer to bidding the ripio goodbye until I reached Bolivia…!!

The surface of this small lake was being whipped up by the strong wind...

This spurred me on, and I began to ignore the wind altogether… I even began standing up on the pegs again, ostensibly to take the pressure off the back shock, rather than allow it to be hammered with the full weight on the back end… The ride was uncomfortable to say the least…

I felt every stone we rode over, every corrugation in the road (and there were many…!!) and soon my back began to ache with the unaccustomed discomfort of having no shock absorber on a very uneven surface…!!

I urged us both forward, knowing that the machine under me “wasn’t quite right”, yet was responding well to every little adjustment I made, whether it was on the throttle to get out of thick gravel I was blown into, or, whenever I tweaked the steering to avoid bigger rocks or potholes ahead of us…

After two hours on the ripio, I pulled over to take a break... I had covered about 120 km at that stage, and was not far south of Cerro Sombrero...

I passed a small lake which had waves at least two foot high on it’s surface…!! It looked like the sea, so hard was the wind blowing across it…!!

This stretch of road was frequented by many large trucks, that carried goods from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, and I often had to pull over to allow them to pass… The dust thrown up made it impossible to see ahead, and they all seemed to ride in the very centre of the track, forcing me to leave the harder packed surface and stray into the thicker gravel on the verges…

Low cloud had cloaked the sky since my departure earlier that morning, but the sun did break through now and again, and when it did, the temperature rose appreciably… But for the most part, it was cold enough to ensure I kept my neck warmer on all the time…

I was delighted to see that there were roadworks in progress, the closer I got to the ferry landing… I guess the Chileans must have bowed to pressure from Argentina to have this section of road tarred, as it was the only overland supply route to Ushuaia…

Oncoming trucks forced us onto the verge...

The roadworks heralded an improvement in the conditions, and before long I was clipping along at a steady 70 km/h on the dirt, before reaching the last few kilometres to Cerro Sombrero, which was all concreted…!! I briefly considered hopping off the bike to kiss the concrete, but the Big Fella had beaten me to it…!!

A happy roar came from the engine as I pinned the throttle back and zoomed towards where I hoped the ferry port was…

I arrived there a few minuted later, and joined the long queue of cars and trucks that were already waiting patiently… I saw no ticket office, was never asked to pay for the ferry ride, and obviously never asked if I could pay either…!!

It would seem that this crossing is subsidized in some way, because none of the vehicles I saw were issued with tickets, or asked to pay for the crossing…

The barge that would take us across from the island of Tierra del Fuego to the Chilean mainland...

The 20 minute crossing was as bumpy as the 160 km of gravel had been… High winds buffeted the vessel, and the load-master instructed me to stay with the bike and hang onto it in case it fell over…!! I raised my eyebrows high enough for him to say,

“Si Senhor… It is very rough today…!! You will soon see…!!”

And indeed it was…!! The barge pitched and yawed in the heavy seas, the bow being pushed first one way, then the other… The deck beneath my feet tilted at such an alarming angle at times, that the side stand came up off the deck, and I had to haul on the handlebars to get it back down again…!!

I tried using my camera to film the motion of the barge, but quickly dropped it back into the tank-bag, when I realised I needed to hold the bike with both hands…!!

There was no escaping the wind once we were back on the Chilean mainland… At one point, when I turned my head to look off to the side, a strong gust tore my visor open and jerked my head back, sending a sharp pain down between my shoulder blades…

I hunkered down as low as I could without affecting the handling of the bike, wanting to keep as tight a grip on the handlebars as I was able… I noticed that my windscreen was hanging at a strange angle, and looked down to see the adjustment knob rattling in it’s housing… The windscreen had been shaken loose and was down a notch or two on one side…

I had to pull over, and tighten the knob again, as there was no way I could do it and hold the bike at the angle I was being forced to ride at…

The Hotel Sehuen, which offers reasonably priced rooms, and secure parking in a enclosed courtyard at the back...

I stopped at San Gregorio, the Chilean border post, which is about 25 km from the point at where the ferry landed, and a further 25 km from the Argentine border itself… I was blown into Immigration by the high wind, and once inside the closed doors, felt as though I had entered another world… Compared to the noise of the wind tearing through the gaps in my helmet, and drowning out the music coming from my earphones, inside the office, it was almost as silent as a tomb…!!

When a new arrival did not shut the door carefully behind him, it blew shut with such force, that it rattled the window panes and gave everybody inside a huge fright…!! It was as if a bomb had exploded…!! People began looking over at me in my full riding kit and shaking their heads in sympathy…!!

I rode the last 70 km to Rio Gallegos without taking a single photograph… It was not that there was nothing to see, it was just that I was now too tired to pull over and take any pics…

Trying to take them on the fly was also out of the question, because as soon as I lifted my left hand off the handlebars to reach for my camera, the wind would howl in delight and push me all over the road again… I gave up the struggle and hung on grimly until I reached town…

Once among the buildings and trees that lined the avenues, We received a small amount of protection from the forces of nature we had battled all day… I tried three different hotels before I found one that had Wi-fi and was reasonably priced…

Heading North.. The Uphill battle to Buenos Aires had begun...!!

The ladies in reception were very helpful, and guided me to a small restaurant down the road, which was prepared to make me a meal that I could take back to my room and enjoy there…

Even though I had parked right in front of the main doors, it was suggested that I move the bike to the back of the hotel, where cars are parked under the watchful gaze of a CCTV camera, constantly kept an eye on by the reception staff…

It had taken ten hours, with four border crossings, and a ferry ride, to ride the 585 km to Rio Gallegos on the Atlantic coast of Argentina…

After working my way through dinner, I took a quick shower then consulted my maps and Mapsource program to work out the distances to the next string of major towns, and make educated guesses as to where I was likely to find fuel…

I had emptied my tank on the 370 km ride from Rio Grande to Rio Galegos, and had refuled as soon as I reached town…

I wanted to reach Commodoro Rivadavia with just one stop the following day, which would no doubt test my reserve fuel, as the town was almost 800 km due north of Rio Gallegos…

None of the locals I spoke to had any idea where I might find fuel…

“Eet is very bad, Senhor…!!” they had said, “We have gasoline only when we are lucky…!!”

Down the corridor from my room, the wind rattled a window or door all through the night, making deep sleep impossible… I woke often, cursing the wind, and finally, just before dawn, lay awake trying to will the stiffness and tension out of my back and shoulders…

I mentally prepared myself for yet another day of “side-on” riding…!!

©GBWT 2012

 

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