Posts By Country




January 15th, 2012 | Argentina

The Ride to Ushuaia…

Our ferry was due to leave Punta Arenas at 9.30am, and we still had to buy our tickets…!!

Roberto and Carl join me for breakfast...

Carl seems well pleased that we got onto the ferry without slipping on the deck plates...

If we missed this ferry, the next one was due two days later, and spending another a few days in Punta Arenas was not an option we were willing to consider…!!

Our bikes were ready and loaded before breakfast, and after wolfing down the usual coffee and “sweetbreads” we left the Hostal Ainil, and refueled at the service station around the corner… The next fuel station was on the Atlantic coast, over 225 km away, at Rio Grande…

We bought our tickets while the cars and trucks who were already lined up on the dockside when we got there, began driving onto the ferry…

We rode our bikes up onto the slippery deck and were instructed to park them at the very back of the barge… It was going to be a case of last on, last off for us…!!

We hoped our ferry, would not end up in the same position as this fishing vessel...!!

By a quirk of fate, I would be making my last ride to Ushuaia in the company of Roberto from Mexico, and Carl from the United States... We lined up on the upper deck of the ferry for a quick photo-shoot... Roberto was feeling the cold more than most...!!

Carolina Guzman and her daughters kept us company on the ferry ride to Porvenir...

We were joined on the upper deck by Carolina and her daughters, and we chatted amongst ourselves for the duration of the two hour voyage across the Straits of Magellan, to Porvenir…

The first part of the crossing was made on flat seas, and then things got a bit more interesting… The ferry plowed into rougher waters in the middle of the channel and began heaving it’s way over the swells…

It had been cold to begin with, and we were all wrapped up against the elements… Then as we neared Terra del Fuego, the island that is shared by both Chile and Argentina, it began to snow…!! The flakes drifted down around us, melting as soon as they landed on the deck….

The little flurry did not last long, but certainly had us wondering exactly what lay ahead of us on the ride across to the Atlantic Coast…

A large contingent of Chilean soldiers had made the trip over with us, and when we landed, they gathered their kit and set off into the hinterland… I think they were out on some kind of military exercise….or planning to take back the part of the island that had been given to Argentina by the Pope, many hundreds of years ago…!!

We rode into Porvenir, a run down little fishing village, with old buildings and very little to recommend it by… We found the correct road that would lead us directly east across Terra del Fuego, and set out to do battle with the ripio… We had 160 km of dirt road to cover, across one of the most inhospitable parts of the southern tip of the continent…

Windswept, cold and bleak... And to make things worse, it began to rain...!!

The first half hour, was probably the most uncomfortable part of the ride across to the Chilean border… It drizzled for awhile, and I was sure it was going to snow at some point… It was quite cold too, and a strong wind was blowing off the sea and across the road…

Once we had cleared the narrow coast road that afforded some spectacular views, and began inching our way inland, the weather improved dramatically… No more rain, and just a light wind that blew off the sea… The sun even came out at times to help us choose the right lines on the gravel roads…

The clouds begin rolling back as we negotiate the gravel roads to San Sebastian and the Chilean border with Argentina...

Roberto's Dakar had carried him all the way from the Mexican coastal town of Carmen del Playa to Terra del Fuego, but there was trouble brewing...!!

This Guanaco galloped along the fence at a pretty good clip, keeping up with us for a while before stopping to catch it's breath...

I had been taking the lead, with Carl in very close attendance, and Roberto usually nowhere in sight… He rode very carefully on the gravel, and his Dakar looked to be heavily loaded…

Carl, who had ridden dirt bikes since he was two bricks and a pee-pot high, was more than comfortable on the ripio, and he and I tore along at about 75 km/h for most of the ride…

We stopped at a cross road to wait for Roberto, who duly arrived, sporting his usual grin…!! He is a fun guy, and cracks almost as many jokes as that other rider… You know….what-his-name….!!

We stood chatting about the little fox we had all seen a few hundred metres back, the first bit of wild-life we had encountered so far that morning… There were many small herds of Guanaco roaming about, and naturally, thousands of sheep…!!

We set off again, this time Carl leading… We saw an ambulance trundling towards us, and slowed down to let it pass us by without mishap… I stole a quick glance at the driver, and saw that he was clutching the steering, grim-faced and tight-jawed… I figured he did not enjoy riding the big ambulance on gravels roads and then went back to concentrating on finding the right lines to ride in…

A short distance later, another ambulance came over a rise and headed towards us… This time the driver waved to show us to slow down… His light were off and he was clearly in no hurry to get wherever it was he was heading… The area we were riding through was bleak and barren… We had not seen any other vehicles for some time, and certainly no form of habitation at all…

We came over a steep rise, and in the valley ahead of us, the road stretched out dead straight… I could see what I thought was a red car parked on the side of the road, far ahead, and when we drew closer, saw that the car had actually rolled, and come to a stop back on it’s wheels…  Carl stopped to take a closer look… I stopped too, about fifty yards short of the red pick-up truck… I recalled the two ambulances we had passed, and instinctively knew the reason they were traveling so slowly with their sirens and flashing lights off…

The ripio had claimed the lives of two more travelers, who had tempted fate by driving too fast on a treacherous surface...

The occupants had very little chance of survival... We could see where one body had been dragged clear of the wreckage, and came to rest in the middle of the road...

We got off our bikes to take a closer look at the wreckage… I am not sure why we did this, because both of us later confessed to never stopping to look at car crashes, preferring to look the other way rather than be reminded of what could happen out on the roads…

Maybe it was the large pool of blood in the middle of the road, or the rain water puddle now running red with blood and brain matter that shocked us into stopping…

It was one of the most sobering sights I have seen on my journey thus far… At first we didn’t say a word to each other, although I muttered a few “Oh my God’s”, while I walked around the wreckage…

When the vehicle had rolled, it had flipped onto it’s roof, which had then caved in, crushing the skulls of the two occupants, and strewing their contents over the back seats…

No other vehicle was involved… It seemed that the driver was going far too fast and lost control… The road was covered in marble-sized gravel, which shot out from under your tyres when you rode over it…

“This happened a very short while ago,” I said to Carl, who just nodded, the shock of what we were looking at still written on his face…

“If we hadn’t stopped to take a break earlier on, this guy might have hit us…!!” he later said… And he was probably right…

“Ok, Carl, we’ve seen enough, let’s get away from here…!!” I said, walking over to the Big Fella… We mounted up and rode slowly away… I let Carl ease out ahead of me, waiting for the wind to blow his dust away so that I could see the road ahead as clearly as possible…

I muttered a brief prayer for the people who had been in the red pick-up, crossing myself as I did so, and asking the Powers that be to keep watching over me…

High adventure junkie, Ruth, who had just ski-ed to the South Pole...!!

We were both riding slower now, careful to stick to our side of the road, rather than riding down the centre as we had been earlier… The steep rises now held a danger that we had barely considered before, the corners seemed littered with more stones than I had noticed before, the wind seemed to be blowing harder, making it difficult to stand up on the pegs…

Maybe all these things were just in my imagination, but the whole ride changed from that moment on… The sight of the accident seemed to have knocked our confidence and cockiness back a peg, and we took the next section to the crossroads leading to Cerro Sombrero, more carefully…

I took a long look up the road that led north, imagining my three friends from Buenos Aires riding down towards me on their way to Ushuaia… They had come down this road just a few days before, and were now no doubt celebrating their arrival at Fin Del Mundo…

Ruth Storm reaches the South Pole....on ski's...!! Muchos respect, Girl...!!

We arrived at the Chilean Border post about three hours after setting out from Porvenir… The last 60 km had been rocky and dust-filled… There was much more traffic on this section of road, as many vehicles, including large trucks and tourist coaches used this stretch before turning north for Cerro Sombrero and the Argentine border…

While we waited for Roberto, we met Ruth, an unassuming American girl, who had just returned from the South Pole…!! She nonchalantly informed us that she had taken 38 days to ski to the pole, and while she was there, scaled four, as yet unnamed peaks…!! She went on to say that she had now achieved “the double”, having made it to the North Pole the year before…!!

Carl and I looked at each other in silence for a while, before I said,

“Ok, that’s it…!! I’m packing up and going home…!! Thank you very much Ruth…!! You’ve ruined our day…!!”

We laughed and joked about her achievements, and she very graciously told us that she wished she could do what we were doing…!! She promised to send me details of her blog so that I could post them on my own website… I felt that her story was one that would inspire people around the world, and she deserved as much recognition as possible for the amazing feats that she had achieved…

“I’d rather be with you guys than stuck on this bus for the next few days…!!” she said, pointing to the huge luxury bus which she was heading to Buenos Aires on…

Carl stands in front of "Roberto's Puddle"... He used the dirty water from this to wash the battery acid off his engine...!! Carl and I were dumbfounded...!!

Roberto duly arrived, complaining that his bike was cutting out on him… He peered under his petrol tank and discovered that his battery had burst…!! The acid was running over the electrical wiring that hung down below the battery, and before Carl and I could stop him, he proceeded to scoop up rain water from a large puddle we were parked next to, and throw it all over the battery and the engine…!!

“That should sort it out…!!” he said with conviction… Carl and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing…!!

“That’s how they do it in Mexico, man…!!” Carl spluttered…

Dream in sight...!! The sign at the Argentine border told us all we needed to know... We were only hours away from our destination...!!

I took off in the lead, telling Carl and Roberto that I would meet them at the Argentine Border, about 15 km away… In my side mirrors, I saw them get onto their bikes and make to follow me… I stood up on the pegs to negotiate the gravel, and did not look back again until I reached the border… Neither Carl nor Roberto were in sight…!!

I waited awhile and then went into the immigration office to avoid the huge busload of folk who were just pulling up… Half an hour later, while I was still standing in the queue, Carl came bustling through the doorway to the immigration hall…

“Dude…!!” he shouted over the heads of the many people there, “Roberto’s bike won’t start…!! He is stuck where you left us…!! I am going back to look for a truck to take his bike back to Punta Arenas…!! You go ahead and we’ll see you in Ushuaia…!!”

The Province of Terra Del Fuego... And the End of the World...!!

I stood dumbstruck by the news….!! We were so close to realizing our individual dreams and now this…!! I wasn’t sure what I should do…

I was really stoked at the thought of getting to Ushuaia… This was the day I had been palnning and waiting for, for what seemed like months…!! There were basically only two options available to me right then…

Go back with Carl and help Roberto; or push on alone…

We were riding together after all, even though it had been for just a few hours… We had teamed up that morning, and despite the fact that we hardly knew each other, we were already firm friends… The unwritten “Biker’s Code” said “Stick Together, No Matter What !!…

My Argentine buddies were waiting for me in Ushuaia, and had arranged a room for the night for me… I wanted to enjoy their last day in Ushuaia with them, which would be the following day… The day after that, they would fly back to Buenos Aires after putting their bikes on a truck bound for home…

If I went back and helped Roberto, I might not reach Ushuaia for a few days yet… Not seeing Los Machos again would be a bitter pill to swallow…!! We had ridden Ruta 40 together, and forged a strong bond that only a tough ride like that could make in such a short space of time…

Carl sensed my indecision, and told me not to worry, that he and Roberto would get it all sorted out somehow…

I smiled ruefully across to him and said,

“Thanks Buddy….!! I really need to get there today…!!”

I was grateful that he had ridden all the way across to the border post to let me know what the situation was… He would now have to ride the 15 km back to the Chilean side, on a road that was covered in gravel and in a wind that was beginning to pick up and blow strongly across the open plains of Terra del Fuego…

When I went back to the Big Fella, I noticed that my rear shock had finally burst it’s seals, and oil was leaking all over the damper control knob… The last few coils of the spring were covered in oil too… I now knew why the bike had been handling so differently over the last fifty or sixty kilometres…!!

I left the border and rode directly onto the tarred surface of Ruta 3, bound for the town of Rio Grande… The wind tore at me all the way there, pushing us all over the road… Powerful gusts plucked at the Big Fella, who without any shock absorption to speak of, felt almost twice as heavy…

I took a short break at this roadsign, to consider and savour the moment I had been waiting for...!!

I hung on grimly, determined to get through the final 300 km to Ushuaia despite the conditions and the fact that it was now already 5.00 pm… The road ran south, hugging the cold Atlantic Ocean, passing a few Estancias or farms, where large flocks of sheep grazed, their heads tucked down to avoid the wind…

"C'mon GB...!! Stop fooling around, I'm as keen as you are to get this over with...!!"

It felt as though the Big Fella was dragging his rear end, and I began wondering if there was more to this than just a broken shock… When I got to Rio Grande, I wondered no more…!! My rear tyre was almost flat…!! The plug that Pablo and I had repaired the puncture in Rio Mayo with, had been battered by the ripio, and was leaking…!!

I refueled, pumped the rear tyre as hard as I dared, and then made a dash for Ushuaia, now 215 km away…

I made it as far as Tolhuin, on the western edge of Lago Fagnano, and had to pull into a service station to pump the tyre again…The bike was wallowing through the corners, the back end feeling as though it was “skipping”…

I was torn between riding slowly and carefully, and running the risk of the tyre deflating completely before I reached Ushuaia, or, riding as quickly as possible in the hope of reaching town with some air left to find a service station…

Riding the Big Fella without a rear shock and a fast deflating rear tyre, was like trying to fly a a brick out-house in a gale…!! (which I am reliably told, is a difficult thing to do…!!)

The closer I got to Ushuaia, the less I thought about the problems I was having, and the more I began to consider what I was about to achieve… I even stopped to take a photo of the “102 km to go” sign, smiling to myself as I walked around the bike…

The final stretch ran through a mountain range, that had the road twisting and turning, climbing high and then dropping down again… The surface was smooth for the most part, ripped up and crumbling in others, and non-existent where road crews were laying down new asphalt… These un-tarred sections, mostly only a few hundred metres long, had me standing up on the pegs to take the strain off the rear end of the bike…

The two massive portals that welcome visitors to the town of Ushuaia, came into view as we rode down a long, steep and curving part of Ruta 3… I whooped with joy as I slowed down at the police checkpoint just inside the city limits…

The policeman on duty had probably seen it all before…hundreds of times in fact, and with a wide smile, waved me through without asking to see my documentation…!!

"Did you miss me, Guys...??" The Big Fella is reunited with his mates from Ruta 40... The leaking plug on the rear tyre, would need fixing in a hurry...!!

I made my way across town, to the address that I had plugged into the GPS while waiting for Roberto and Carl at the Border…

Ushuaia is wedged between the very southern limits of the Andes Mountain range and the Beagle Channel… Snow covers the mountain tops all year round, and even in Summer, large patches of it cling to the steep folds and upper valleys of these mountains… There is almost always a cold wind blowing, and it is more often cloudy than not… Hardly the place you’d want to spend a vacation…!!

Satellite image of Ushuaia... The point to where you can ride your bike is up against the Chilean border, past the little hamlet of Lapataia...

With four guys sharing a room, packing space was always going to be at a premium...!!

That said however, thousands of tourists visit here every year… The lure of being able to journey to The End of the World is a strong one, and for many Argentinians, it is almost like a rite of passage…

It was after 8.00 pm as I rode through the quiet streets, which in the area furthest away from the sea, are made from rough concrete slabs… With a fast deflating rear tyre, it felt as though I was back on a ripio, and I gritted my teeth at the noise coming up from the back of the bike…

I finally located the Hostal de la Laguna, and found my friends waiting for me outside… It was a joyful reunion, made more so by the bottle of red wine I produced from one of my bags to celebrate with…

The landlady produced a few glasses, and we toasted each other as we stood in the public dining area…

Augustin then informed me that there was a small problem with the accommodation…!! The room they were in only had three beds in it, and there was no other rooms available until a few days later…!!

“Corina,” he said, indicating the smiling landlady behind us, “says she is willing to allow us to put a mattress down on the floor in the room if that is O.K. with you…!!”

“No problemo, mi Amigo,” I replied, “Let’s go see the room…!!”

The room was a lot smaller than I thought it would be…!! There was a double bunk in one corner and another single bed adjacent to it…

A gap on the far side of the single bed, and under the window sill, allowed just about enough space for a single mattress to be put down… Once this was in place, there was hardly any floor space left in the room, and for the next few days, we would stumble over each other and kit strewn all over the place, just to get to our beds…

But I didn’t give a hoot right then…! I had made it to Ushuaia, and that’s all that counted…!!

A bed on the floor is better than no bed at all...!!

I sent a text message to Patricia who was waiting in New Jersey with a bottle of champagne on ice… When she heard that I had made it safely to Fin del Mundo, the cork was popped and together with her family, they drank a toast to me, and to the New York Giants who had just made it into the playoffs for this year’s Superbowl…!!

Later that evening, the four of us walked up to a nearby restaurant, and celebrated with a few bottles of beer… The Philistines, Pablo and Agustine, still mixing theirs with Fanta Orange…!!

I looked around at my friends as we ate and drank… We were all smiling broadly, and even though they had reached Ushuaia a day before me, they were still just as excited as I was, perhaps feeding off my own emotions…

We all seemed to sit and walk taller, talk a little louder…

I remembered then how I had celebrated reaching Nordkapp in August 2010, alone in a little wooden cabin in a small town called Skipsfjord…The wind had been howling there too, and it was even colder than it it was here in Ushuaia…!!

This celebration was a very different experience, shared with a special band of fellow bikers, who with me, had battled down Ruta 40 to get here… We had all proved something to ourselves and each other…

Our bond was set in stone…

I felt a great deal of satisfaction as I sat there… I had ridden my bike to both the “Top” and the “Bottom of the World”…

I felt as though I had turned the last corner of my ride around it…

It was all UP from here…!!

©GBWT 2012

2 comments to The Ride to Ushuaia…

  • Mark Behr

    I enjoyed this post – great riding and emotional times. I agree, it feels like your ride has “met its purpose” and the rest is a wrap up. Enjoy!

  • Charmz

    What a great post – you have met amazing friends on your journey so far and I am sure they will remain your friends forever….your email list must have grown substantially!!

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>