Tierra Del Fuego: a Baptism of Fire and a lesson in friendship
I should be raring to go, excited to get the bike fixed and packed ready to get on the road. Oddly I feel deflated, I’m privileged to have been to Antarctica by a strange twist of fate and an impetuous decision.
A fresh set of adventures await. The stuff of my own dreaming, a long bike ride through ever changing landscapes, of solitude and personal discovery. Paradoxically its these very things that concern me. The fear of the unknown, the solitude and the isolation.
I search for reasons not to start, I procrastinate and dawdle. I have been spoiled by good company and great experiences since arriving in South America. I know there are many more to come, but months of comfort and convienence have left me mentally and physically flabby unprepared for life on the road.
Once my possessions are paired down and bike packed there is no turning back. I feel far from prepared but it’s time to begin, the simple act of turning the pedals will bring familarity and renewed vigour.
Riding down to the harbour front I chat with other tourists, have my picture taken and on the 1st February I begin the start of a new adventure. My slow ride north.
There is no grand depart, no fan fares, no crowd to see me off and wish me well. I cycle off quietly in to the distance, an anonymous cyclist to many, but the weight of my dreams weigh heavily on my shoulders.
The fabled wind in this part of the world is kind to me and I make quick time to the famous Panaderia La Union in Tolhuin. Countless cyclist pass through this small town where Emilio the owner selflessly offers a free bed and shower to passing cyclists. I spend the night in his bakery store room amongst other cyclists making a similar journey south. Food and information is shared and in the morning I leave feeling more positive.
As the kilometres pass by the remoteness and isolation of Tierra Del Fuego envelopes me. The Patagonian steppe dull mundane and boring.
Endless arrow straight roads with no end on the horizon.
Occasional curves make for interest.
Entering Chile should bring renewed vigour.
Instead I find myself counting estancia fence post markers to relieve the tedium.
Wind, rain, sleet, hail buffet me and conspire against my planned progress. The wind progressively buiding reducing me to a crawl, as I creep slowly north.
Refilling my water bottles at an estancia a gaucho wisely tells me “Only a fool rushes in Tierra Del Fuego”. Unprepared for the lack of amenities I spend the next 4 days taking a dull and uninteresting route up Ruta 9 begging and buying food to keep me going day by day, little by little.
I sleep in a car park, a bus shelter and a fisherman’s hut in an attempt to take refuge from the wind.
The wind shouldn’t come as a surprise, everything I have read and everyone I have spoken to tells me about the fabled Patagonian wind but its only now I begin to understand. A rite of passage to be endured rather than savoured; hours hunched over the bike battling, a constant to daily life.
The ferocity of the wind sees me blown off the road many times, stopped dead in my tracks more times than I care to remember. My shoulders and wrists are tired and sore from the constant battle, my mind clouded from the constant white noise the wind provides as a backdrop to my thoughts.
I arrive in Porvenir without food or water. My spirits are low and I quietly question my motivation to continue this journey much further.
Arriving at the ferry terminal I meet Pawel a polish cyclist. With no ferry that day we join forces and enjoy the tail winds back in to Porvenir in search of accommodation.
As each hotel and hosteria refuses two smelly, bearded and bedraggled cyclists we eventually cross town to the hospadaeje where we find Beat and Lucia a couple of Swiss cyclists I met in Ushuaia.
Like old friends we are invited in for a cup of tea and end up sharing their cabina for the next 2 days chatting and cooking meals as we rest and relax and make plans for the road ahead.
Cyclists live here.
As we cross by ferry to Punta Arenas the weather forecast paints a glum tail of high winds. More mountaineering expedition than cycling trip we sit out the weekend waiting for better cycling conditions.
Nothing quite prepared me for how genuinely tough, wild and desolate Patagonia is. The friendship and solidarity I’ve met on the road astounds me on a daily basis.
A common respect amongst cyclists, an understanding of the battle endured each day by bike. An innate stubbornness to move forward no matter how slowly, and a mental toughness required to see each day through as the last.
Just looking through my pictures from my first week cycling tells me all I need to know. A set of unfulfiling snatched pictures taken without care or craft.
You’ve got to have dreams, big ones. But they don’t mean anything on their own. You’ve got to push, and struggle, fight, build, falter, regroup, press on until you reach them. And no one can do that for you
Ushuaia – Tolhuin – Rio Grande – San Sebastien – Porvenir