Puerto Natales, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina (2-05-09 to 2-11-09)February 19, 2009
WE’VE DONE IT!!!!!!!!!!!! WE MADE IT – to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the WORLD!!! And Pat held true to her promise made way back in Creel, Mexico – she truly did follow Ralph to the “end of the earth”!!!
And now for “The rest of the story”!
We left Puerto Natales after 2 days of rest and socializing with the many other bikers riding this part of our trip. We have met so many bikers in the last month of this trip and have yet another “small world” biking story for you. While biking from El Chalten to El Calfate (last blog – sorry, forgot to tell this one then), we met a Swiss lady biking north. She asked us where we had started our trip. When we told her “Alaska”, she said, “My boyfriend also started in Alaska and I am biking to Bolivia to met him“. Turns out it is our friend Damian who we met in Canada the first time and have run into 2 other times on this trip! (Crazy all the connections with other bikers in a distance of ONLY 18,000 miles, across 2 continents and half way around the world!)
From Puerto Natales it is was a paved road going east across the pampa, the dry, barren, boring grasslands of Argentina. We were fully expecting to be blown to our next destination by the Patagonian wind we had heard so much about from bikers who had traveled this section already. Well, the wind decided to take a day off, in fact, several days off, while we pedaled toward Punta Arenas. The locals all said it was very unusual to have a day without wind in Patagonia which is known for being one of the windiest areas in the world! So we used our own power and pedaled on! We rode one side road to get off the boring pampa and went along the Skyring and Otway Sounds. It was great to hear and smell the sea again! On this section we were joined by a very strong Brazilian rider, Andre. He was interesting to talk with and he was amazed we were as old as his Mom and had biked so far! Just before reaching Punta Arenas, we camped along the rocky beach of the Straight of Magellan. It was amazing to think, we were camped on the waterway that nearly 500 years ago was the route Magellan took to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific on his voyage around the world. We remembered way back to 5th grade history class, how back then when we imaged what the area must look like, and now – Here We Are!
Once in Punta Arenas, we took a combi and visited a penguin colony at Seco Otway, where we got to observe over 1000 penguins waddle around on the rocky beach and the adjacent pampa. It was surprising to learn that they dig burrows in the ground beneath the low bushes to get shelter and raise their young, then by the end of March they swim all the way along the southern part of the continent to Brazil for the winter months and in the spring arrive back to the same spot they were born to start the cycle all over again by hatching their own eggs and start a family. We also found out there are many, many species of penguins and some are small, some tall and some in-between! This colony was some of the small ones known as the Humbolt penguin.
The next morning we caught the ferry across the Straight of Magellan and landed near Porvenier on that little “whoop-de-doo” at the southern tip of Argentina you see on maps of South America. We had finally made it to the last land mass on our trip – the island of “Tierra del Fuego”! Suddenly it seemed we knew everyone on the boat, we were joined by bikers we had been with off and on for the last couple of weeks – Carlos (from Spain), Emily (from France), Rike & Malte (from Germany) and Andre (from Brazil), and all with Ushuaia as our final destination! We all stocked up on supplies for the 3 day desolate ride across the windy pampa of Argentina and once again had hardly any tailwind to help us along. By the end of the day the wind did pick up and we had to ride until we finally found a small gully to camp in, down out of the wind, complete with green grass and a puddle of water. Shelter from the wind is a precious commodity, so we considered ourselves lucky to find this spot. Water is also scarce, evident by the fact that we actually used the murky water in the puddle (which we filtered first and then boiled and used only for cooking and coffee). Carlos did mention, after taste-testing his meal as it was cooking, that he was having “mud chicken”.
The next morning, shortly after we had woken, Emily and Bernard (from Germany), came blowing by (they had camped 20 km back). Surf was up!!! We finally have the great Patagonia tailwind!!! Yahoo! After a quick breakfast of oatmeal (yes, again!), we nearly effortlessly pedaled east to the border and entered Argentina at San Sabastian. To give you an idea of how strong the wind was blowing, Ralph decided not to pedal starting from a standstill and got blown 3 miles over gently rolling terrain without a single pedal stroke!
We followed the Atlantic coastline down to Rio Grande and the next day on to Toluain. We stopped there for some empanadas, and of course some great sweets too, at the famous “La Union” bakery. At this point it was beginning to get dark and 5 of us bikers had to find a place to camp. We ended up having to bike out of town about 3 miles, but found a “Wizard of Oz “ type meadow of 1′ to 2′ tall flowers with trees all around to protect us from the wind! Emily pitched her tent in the “hobbit-type” forest, Rike, Malte and us chose the flower meadow. It made for a soft bed!
We started out our final day of riding (can you believe it? The FINAL DAY of riding!!!) pedaling along the beautiful and long Lago Fagnano with absolutely no wind – a blessing, since we were headed straight west, the direction the wind usually blows from. This day found us biking in forested country and surrounded by low mountains – beautiful! As the day progressed so did the clouds and the rain. Biking up Paso Gribaldi we were greeted by the rain and chilly wind, had a bone-chilling very long descent down the other side and rolled into Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world, fittingly cold, wet and tired! Fortunately, Ralph had the luck of finding a tiny bottle of Champagne (the size of a beer bottle) at a store several days ago. At the welcome sign we popped the cork and toasted to the end of the longest ride of our lives! It was a great mooment – we had finally made it to the destination we had been focusing on for over 1 ½ years. It actually didn’t seem real – didn’t seem possible! We were finally here!!!!!
Once in Ushuaia, we met up with 3 other biker friends we had met along the way that actually did the whole trip from Alaska too and 2 of them, Matt and Jamie finished the morning of the same day as us! David finished the second part of his trip on his BMW motorcycle and had started the trip with Matt and Jamie in June 2007. Along with a few other biker and backpacker friends we celebrated our accomplishment into the wee hours of the morning!
We are spending this week here in Ushuaia, cleaning and packing gear, resting, eating good food, but mainly decompressing from the trip and getting prepared for the shock of the real world again! We chose to put the bikes in a box, instead of ride them back, and fly into a world that we have not been in for 1 2/3 years. We are very excited to see our children, sleep in the same place for more than 3 nights, do our laundry in a machine, not have to dry our laundry on our bikes, throw our dishes in a machine, buy more than 1 roll of toilet paper at a time, have a wardrobe bigger than 1 pair of pants, 2 shirts, 1 pair of socks and 2 sets of biking clothes, have something other than oatmeal for breakfast, be able to park our butts on something other than a bike seat – preferably much more comfortable (a chairlift bench will do just fine for Ralph and a sofa for Pat), do something other than go south every morning, toss our bikes in the garage, take time to read our journals about the trip, look at more than 6000 photos of this awesome journey, reflect on the sheer magnitude of what we have done, and maybe, just maybe, start writing a book about our Epic Ride!!!
Here are some statistics from our trip:
It took us 20 months and 4 days (613 days) to ride 17,794 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina! How much vertical? LOTS! We had 35 flats – that’s 1 flat/1000 miles/rider. (Not Bad!) We got about 5,000 miles out of each tire and drive-train. Our gear, especially our bikes, held up wonderfully. Moots, DT Swiss, Mavic, Patagonia, Northface, Stevenson Warmlite, Schwalbe, Granite Gear, Trico, Thermorest, OR, MSR, Pearl Izumi, Zoic, Hind, Sock Guy and Shimano make wonderfully durable gear – without them it would have been a much more difficult trip.
We will most likely do an after-trip follow-up blog after the dust settles, for we are sure to have some reflections on the trip as a whole which we would like to share with you. Thanks for being part of our journey, your interest and input made it all that much more exciting!
Bikin’ On (not in the near future tho!)
Ralph & Pat