Never before have I felt winds like this. The route from Tolhuin to the border with Chile was almost straight North and the winds blew almost straight South leaving me with little option but to battle headwinds all the way to the border. Cycling into a headwind is the most frustrating cycling since there is nothing you can do but fight on as the wind stops you from making any forward momentum. Patagonia is known for strong winds and I have not encountered any like this since I cycled through the Hami Hurricane in China! My average speed dropped to around 7-8km/hour and if I stopped pedalling I would stop still even when going downhill. Uphill was a push only! It was taking me almost 8 hours of cycling to reach 40-50km and all the time I was seeing South bound cyclists flying past me with a knowing smile and wave!
On my first night out of Tolhuin I decided to pitch my tent by the sea, thinking that the wind would die down in the evening as it used to in Australia. Little did I know that Patagonia winds do not stop at all and I couldn’t sleep as my tent flapped around all night! Lesson one. Put up your tent where there is shelter!
Pushing on through the wind I made steady if slow progress with the key being long hours in the saddle and any worries about me losing my fitness whilst I worked in New Zealand soon disappeared. It is amazing that the body can take six months of any real exercise and then when asked can jump straight back into long days of cycling, without really missing a beat. Luckily for me!
I was soon approaching the border of Argentina and Chile and about to cross into my second South American country when the wind stopped along with the paved road. This was my first experience of ripio (unpaved roads) and as I bounced along the corrogated road I had a massive smile on my face as with my hidden cheese I was about to cross into Chile :) Border crossing beer time….
Unfortunately there was nowhere to have a beer for the next 150km since the border town acts only as border with no shops or restaurants it meant I had to save my celebrations for the town of Punta Arenas which was 150km and 2 hour ferry ride away. Long distances between towns are very common in Patagonia and this region is even more remote than Australia since in Australia you had a camping spot or petrol station about every 100km. In Chile you must ensure you have enough food to keep you going for about five days as if the wind hits you will make very slow progress. Water however is not much of a problem with glacial streams crossing the roads along with large farms and police stations where you can get water.
The road to Punta Arenas went due West and just I awoke from my night in an abandoned barn the winds also moved due east meaning I was back pedalling into a headwind. I think something was trying to send me back to New Zealand. With my head down I decided to press on and cycle and push as much as I could. With being so far South the sun would not set until 9:30pm so I decided to use all of the daylight available to get me to civilization as quickly as possible. At the half way point of the road there is a small hut covered in graffiti and it was here where the wind was at its worst. I took shelter for a few hours whilst chatting to two French cyclists going south before deciding to jump into my bike and head back into the winds. This was the hardest of all the cycling. Ever. I had to often get off and push even when on the flat ground I must have been blown off the road about 15 times. I was knackered. But with no shelter being available in any direction but backwards I press on and as I'm pushing my bike over this big hill two police officers stop me and ask me what I'm up to! I tell them I'm going to the ferry port which is about 80km away and they laugh and tell me they will take me. It is too dangerous they tell me in Spanish and I tell them I am gringo loco-meaning crazy white man! (thank you Eddie Guerrero for my Spanish)
The police insist and soon my bike is straped to the back of their pick up and I am sat in the police car with two officers both called Marcus! Both Marcus's are sporting aviator sunglasses and neat haircuts and look like they have both come straight out of Hollywood. One of the Marcus’s even turns around mid journey to let me know he is a sex machine-his words!!!
As we arrive at the ferry port I wave both Marcus’s goodbye and they tell me that the ferry will leave tomorrow afternoon so I find a sheltered spot to sleep only to find the ferry port also acts as a fishing port so all the fisherman and their friends are up and working around 3am so I didn’t get any sleep but was glad to be enroute to the town where I could find a campsite and grab a beer :)
Arriving into Ushuaia was like reaching the end of the Earth. As the plane swept down to land carefully avoiding the mountain peaks around it, it was clear this was a land which was tough, cold and desolate. Ushuaia sits only 4000km away from Antartica, and is called the end of the world due to it being the most southern city on the planet. Ushuaia felt cold, everyone instantly putting on their expensive down jackets the moment they touched down. This is a land of adventure. This is Patagonia.
My first job upon arriving apart from locating my not so expensive down jacket was to assemble the bike, and to my horror my bike box arrived open and upside. My fears began to spread through my body, what has happened, are my pedals still in the box, or my saddle or my down jacket! Who would do this to me….Luckily it seems the box had just been opened by security since everything was there and thankfully all in good order. It took me maybe an hour to put the bike back together then with a massive smile on my face I pedaled into the mountains and into the town of Ushuaia.
In Ushuaia, I took two days to get everything in order and to prepare myself for the upcoming 25000km cycle! It was great to explore the city where I was able to bike & hike up to Glacier Martial which sits above Ushuaia and also cycle to and spend the night in the national park which also acts as the end point of the Pan-American highway, the famous road which connects the tip of Alaska to the tip of Argentina. After two days of exploration it was time to go, and cycle my first kilometer north and my first kilometer towards home. Mama I’m coming home!!
My first night was spent in a free campsite just 50km out of Ushuaia. Here I set my new tent up for the first time and it was just like starting out all over again since I did not know how to put the new fly sheet on. I remember having the same problem when Finola and I first arrived in France! Preparation is obviously over-rated! Here at the camp site I tried in vain to make a camp fire but due to all the wood around me being too wet I had to give up and will therefore have to gain back some macho points down the road somewhere.
The second day saw me climb over my first South America Pass called Paso Garibaldi, which made me laugh as I was on route to stay the night in the famous bakery in Tolhuin, the first town after Ushuaia. Tolhuin is famous in cycling circles due to the town’s bakery, which not only offers delicious cakes and biscuits but also also free accommodation, wifi and showers for passing cyclists of all kinds. There were 8 people staying there from all over the world and it was great to chat and share stories from our trips.
Out of the 8 people there I was the only one going North, meaning I set off alone the following day bound for the town of Rio Grande. The reason everything is heading
south as this area is famously windy with 40-60mph winds common place and they all blow from the north to the south meaning I had at least 1000km of headwinds to come. Time to claw back those macho points!
Unfortunatly after leaving Tolhuin I broke my Iphone once again. After having lunch I left my phone on top of my front pannier and the wind decided to pick it up and throw it screen first against a rock, so that is why there are not too pioctures to accompnaiy this first blog post. I have a new camera now and although not as good quality as the Iphone I will put lots of new photos up on the next blog.
Time for me to tackle the headwinds as I leave Argentina and head into Chile where the paved road ends and turns into 500km of gravel unpaved road (known as ripio). Wish me luck
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.