Within a week we will be flipping over to the final page of our map. We have had hundreds of maps leading us to this point, from military topographical maps to cartoon-like tourist maps and often enough rough sketches scribbled on a loose sheet of paper with arrows and obscure pictographs. These maps have all been traded, gifted or reduced to a pulpy mash at the bottom of our bags. And now, having the rest of our journey so neatly displayed on a foldout just 11×15 inches, seems impossible.
I wonÂ´t lie; more than once I have peeked at this page, tracing my finger along the few roads crossing Tierra del Fuego, counting off the final kilometers to Ushuaia. A wild patch of land sliced off South America by the Strait of Magellan – this Land of Fire, where early explorers saw the indigenous clothed merely in decorative paint and women breast feeding under sleet. This is where the Americas run out of land, and where a southern compass bearing no longer offers us the simple navigational wisdom it has for the past 30 thousand odd kilometers.
Reflecting on the journey, I am tempted to expect some clarity as we near the end. If somebody in Ushuaia asks me why I pedaled all that way to arrive in their city, could I say anything that will help them understand? Or rather anything that can even help me understand?
Our trip has been about making a lifestyle out of something you love. It has been about taking that tiny dirt road you may pass by everyday and wonder where it goes. Sometimes it is about ridding yourself of a routine, and discovering where chance may take you – into the lives of new friends and hospitality or into dangerous and challenging circumstances. And yet, every time I think I grasp the purpose of our journey, as if it materializes in the reflection of still water, when I reach down to grab ahold, the object suddenly vanishes.
The key has been to appreciate the moment, whether it is enduring physical/mental challenges, enjoying the company of new friends, or becoming immersed in other cultures. Whenever we have tried to constrain the experience: to cover a certain amount of kilometers per day, or to stay only x amount of days in a city, the beauty of our experience starts fading away.
I canÂ´t say that it feels like just yesterday we began our trip at the northernmost reaches of Alaska. After three and a half years, I sometimes find it difficult to imagine, let alone remember what it was like in the beginning. However, getting into Patagonia proper has been one of the most exciting sections of our trip, because it DOES feel like we have traveled from the ends of the earth. Much like our time in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, we can ride until 11 at night because the days are so long. The temperate climate reminds us of home, a world away from the sticky tropics that reach from Mexico until just after Bolivia. The winding stretches of dirt roads through Patagonia offer flashes of deja-vu, reminding us of sections in Montana, Canada and Alaska, and ultimately, just how far we have come.
Starting the trip seemed so simple, as if we were just going on another bike ride, only without having to make a loop or turn around to finish where we started. At the end of each day, there are no cars waiting for us, apartments to come back to, jobs to prepare for – only what is revealed by the curve in the dirt road at the end of a long day. The result has been an epic era in our lives, defined by freedom, adventure, and friendship. Thanks to the support and encouragement of our family and friends, we have had the privilege to chase this dream from the top of Alaska down the continental divide until this Spine along the Earth disappears into the sea.
We wanted to take the opportunity to thank everybody for your support over the years and hope that your holidays are filled with friends, family, warmth and festivities.
This was just too priceless not to share. It is possible that the people behind the identity of this product were true meat connoisseurs and ashamed that Argentines could ever settle for something like frozen “meat medallions”? Puzzling.
Today is our first day in Chile. Not much to say just yet, but did want to share a few pics from our recent travels:
Patagonia is getting better and better. Snowy mountains tower over us and we continue to find amazingly hospitable folks wherever we wind up. We are headed towards El Parque Nacional Los Alcernes promising to be a beautiful route winding along lakes and traversing epic mountains. Even the satellite images of the area are impressive. Photos will be posted soon.
Thanks to everybody for the encouraging emails we have received lately. There seems to be a lot more people following our trip than we had ever imagined. And yes, some of the posts recently have been rather melancholy, but after a few weeks in the mountains of Patagonia, all your worries cease, and – life is good. Morale is very high right now. Sometimes, travelers just need to take a moment and reflect on their experiences, so they donÂ´t wind up taking their journey for granted. And sometimes, they just need a little change in scenery!
By the 7th, we have to be in Chile as our tourist VISA expires for Argentina. We will be heading to Futalafu and trying to get on a river trip down the “Fu”, and then riding down the Carretera Austral, possibly one of the world`s most beautiful bike touring routes. Will keep you posted. Lots to look forward to.
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I just had to share a few photos from our latest section. We are still trying to adjust to the remarkable scenery after months on end of altiplano, desert, and pampas. Within an hour of pedaling AND without any elevation change, we literally left the desert and entered a region with snowcapped peaks, humungous trees, crystal clear creeks, waterfalls, etc. Yesterday we even jumped off a bridge into a creek and took an icy swim.
We are stoked to have Antonio (dude on the short bike in the photos)…a rider from Spain joining us for a bit. Thanks to a bit of oversight on our part, we managed to celebrate Thanksgiving a day earlier, then met a great couple from South Dakota on a tandem the following day – and they asked us what we were doing for Thanksgiving… hmm… another feast!!!!
Sometimes it seems like there is not much to say. After three years on this bike tour, weÂ´re short on superlatives and there are only so many times we can write about the food we eat or offer details about the kilometers covered. WeÂ´ve already seen the steepest hills, the longest downhills, the muddiest trails, and yet we will be daily battling one last extreme obstacle on our way to Ushuaia.
The wind here in Pataogina- possibly a cyclist`s greatest nemesis, makes the daily ride, more of a daily grind. It is one of nature`s more violent features, pushing us from one side of the road to the other, sometimes into oncoming traffic. Other times, it feels like it actually grabs ahold of me and just shakes me while it screeches and howls in my ears. Under rain and sleet and heat, there always seems to be some solution. But wind is relentless, like a battlefield. To rest, or eat snacks we have to find some kind of windshield. Somtimes an abandoned building, other times we are crawling into culverts underneath the road, anything to escape the wind for a moment.
Sometimes invisible, other times so very tangible. Whether it takes form in a dust cloud, with stinging bits of rocks blowing against our faces and arms or renders the low brush and grass as fluid as abody of water, rippling with the gusts. Sometimes it feels like we are almost swimming in the wind, subjected to such powerful currents. When riding close together we simultaneously get blown into another lane, or when spread out further there can be a delay of a few moments, but inevitably the gust finds you. Somehow, we have rarely encountered much wind, until Argentina that is, and apparently, we are making up for lost time.
Lately, it has become more difficult to offer updates on our blog. Maybe it is inevitable for every bike tourist, or maybe it takes a few years, but there are some days when you really have no desire to ride your bike, and less desire to spend your day camped out in the middle of nowhere. Riding the bike starts to feel like work. Anything worthwhile to converse with your fellow riders has most likely been said, and the result is conversations of nonsensensical banter or like people stranded on a deserted island discussing dreams of hamburgers, dark beer, and other luxuries are shared.
Something feels wrong sharing an update with low morale. How could we not enjoy this; we are living our dreams, and yet some days, I just want to get on a bus lift my feet up, close my eyes as, and drool on myself as we blast across the countryside. Sean and I joke about taking a bus, sometimes seriously. It seems lately, I donÂ´t understand why I continue to pedal to Ushuaia, we have gone plenty far, had plenty of adventures. But lately there have been many days I just have not enjoyed another day on the bike.
It is partially the timing and partially the countryside. In these flat sections we can see beyond the horizon and the pampas seem to tilt towards the end of the world, offering the illusion that in another 50 kilometers or so, South America runs out of land. From Mexico on, we have always faced a wall of mountains and jungle, and progress wasnÂ´t so visible; it never seemed to matter how far you went in a day, and dragging the bike through mudslides and jungle vines oddly enough, seemed to make sense. Now we are haunted by the open skies and kilometer markers, which update us each and every kilometer we have left. At the border of Argentina the first one marked five thousand and some odd kilometers, and we are now reaching two thousand kilometers to go. Just about every kilometer is marked, apart from the signs whose numbers appeare to have been blown off by the wind. Just 2,349 to go, 2,348, 2,347 and when the wind stretches the distance between the signs, you can easily see how it could get to you.
AND we have been on paved roads more than we would prefer through Argentina, something we have patently avoided since the beginning. Being so close to the end, and so low on funds, we donÂ´t have the luxury to veer onto those tiny dirt roads and find out where they go. For the first time in the trip, it hasnÂ´t felt like we were just headed south as much as headed to Tierra del Fuego. Yes. Now it feels like we have a destination and that has been a challenge for morale. It is complicated. Why would we ever wish to finish this trip, it has been such a wild adventure. Why not delay it as much as possible?
Bike tourists sacrifice a tremendous amount to make their trip a reality…the dream come true. They have to leave behind friends and family, and live off of very little money, with little opportunity to gain any kind of income. It can become a stressful lifestyle, when you get up and itÂ´s cold and raining or sleeting and you have to put on wet clothes ride all day, wake up and repeat, or when you check your email and your bank says you have insufficient funds, or when you see videos of your brothers new child saying their ABC`s, or be unable to return for a funeral when a family member dies. Have I really been gone that long, you think yourself?
We have taken a break here in San Martin de Los Andes, a moment to forget about finishing the trip, about our finances and the challenges we have ahead. Maxi, who owns the Bike Hostel here has put us up for free for as long as we want, and although hospitality has been common and generous en route, it is easy for three guys on huge bikes to wear out their welcome, rather quickly. Maxi has also been on bike tours and understands the level of hospitality that is needed. He doesnÂ´t ask us when we plan to leave each day, and encourages us to stay longer; doesnÂ´t force us to entertain him with stories about our travels, but freely shares stories of his own. Within the community there are an impressive amount of cyclists. Each day new bike tourists arrive, and for the first time in a long time we have been part of a community, gone to ‘Asados’, drank wine and beer and enjoyed socializing with like minded folks. We have had the opportunity to check out the epic singeltrack in the area with the locals. We have ultimately, thanks to Maxi, had a place to simply BE for a while.
You can never underestimate the importance of rest days on a lengthy bike tour, when you are constantly moving. There has to be periods where you can feel like you have a home other than the bike, where you can spend time with new friends for more than a night or two. Or mabye not, but in my experience, there comes a point when I don`t want to feel like a wandering gypsy, with no clear destination, without ever having a place to rest, to come back to at night.
Thanks in part to a lengthy rest at the bike hostel and the location, our path ahead is once again new and exciting – novel. Severe snowy mountains surround us on all sides, and a dirt road that traverses seven lakes awaits us. We have already seen new types of trees and exotic looking birds. A rider from Spain traveling from Bolivia is going to be joining us and hopefully another pair also traveling from Alaska. Traveling with other riders is going to be exciting, as there will be more strength, and greater morale with a larger group. After traveling so long with out encountering any other bike tourists, the opportunity to share the experience with others seems priceless, really and weÂ´re looking forward to it.
If you have been watching our Spot Messenger, you will have noticed that we have not moved for a while.Â We would like to dedicate this period of idleness to Wells Fargo Bank who managed to deactivate all my debit/credit cards leaving us without access to our communal funds.Â They have “rush” shipped a new card and apologized for accidentally deleting access to 3 of my cards.
What does RTS do when not on our bikes.Â A fair amount of nothing, usually, but we were lucky enough to meet another epic bike tourist named El Turco, taking a hiatus in his hometown here in San Juan and his friend Niko living at the Casa Loca.Â El Turco is a bike tourist/climber/human extroardinaire, and when he saw our Xtracycles he knew his lifestyle required one…and so he and Goat rounded up some scrap metal and welded one together.Â Â If you get the time, you gotta check out his blog, currently featuring a great climbing video he put together:
Here a few of the pictures of the birth of an Argentine Xtracycle:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Arriving like a rogue wave, a giant dust storm enveloped our campsite during the middle of the night en route to San Juan – a 160 kilometer stretch of desert in a region somehow described without irony as â€œthe fertile valley.â€�Â Â True, mountains rise up on both sides making it a valley, but exactly what is considered fertile in this windswept scrub covered region has been lost on us.Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Disaster seemed to blow in with the dust, knocking all three bikes to the ground and scattering our stuff across the desert.Â Â Everything coated with a fine layer of sand to be dusted off before a daylong struggle against the headwind.
Morale seems to take the brunt of the wind, which seems to offer very little in favor of the bike tourist.Â Â At the end of a long hour against the wind, there is no vista, other than the dusty, almost apocalyptic horizon, that you have seen throughout the day.Â Â Time slows, and kilometers grow longer.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Though we have largely passed the most brutal aspects (high elevation, and epic 4,000m ascents) of the Andes, our path brings us new challenges we have not had to consider for years.Â Â Since southern Mexico, we have had very few nights where we could sleep out under the stars without expecting a rain shower.Â Â Somewhere in Bolivia, I remember looking up the night sky, strange and unfamiliar, no big dipper, no orionÂ´s belt. Though I had been in the southern hemisphere for months, it seems that not until we reached the arid altiplano, did the cloud cover vanish and the sky opened up.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Bolivia was a lonely country, outside the few big cities.Â Â Every town we passed through seemed like a ghost town, doors of vacant houses in their town squares flapping in the wind.Â Â If a tienda existed, we almost certainly had to track down the owner so we could buy what little provisions they could offer, from canned peaches to llama jerky.Â Â Continue reading
Check out an audio story from our travels in Guatemala when we cycled down Tajumulco Volcano, Central AmericaÂ´s Tallest Peak.[podcast]http://www.ridingthespine.com/tajpodcast/tajvolcano.mp3[/podcast]