TDF

We are back in Punta Natales after a 1600km round trip to the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, and the end of the road. We removed all the camping gear and left it with Mike’s broken bike. With what we thought we needed and with  limited supplies we rode south to Punta Arenas to confirm a shipping address for the parts being flown in by Fedx for Mike’s bike. Here, we also managed to find some new shoes for Nick’s and my bikes.

Two hours of riding later, we were at the docks of the ‘quick ferry’ en route to the land of fire (Tierra del Fuego). The weather was fine at this point but the day was not without its dramas. Once on the infamous island, Nick’s bike carrying himself and Mike ran out of fuel 20km earlier than expected. I rode solo onwards hoping  that I too  wouldn’t experience the same fate. Fortunately, and probably with little spare I was able to refill the canisters and return to the roadside where the boys were occupying themselves throwing rocks at a sign. The person in charge of siphoning was naturally determined in a game of “Scissor, Paper, Rockâ€�. I escaped this duty this time round, deservedlyI thought.

Later that same day a strap  used to hold the groups’ luggage on the back of my bike came loose and caught in the rear wheel. The feeling was similar to hitting  a pothole the size of a wheelbarrow as the rear suspension bottomed out in an instant. This time the bike and I were fine, however, the force on the strap before it snapped was enough to squash my metal top box. It was left as a mangled mess and the set of hinges were destroyed.  I’ did keep it attached hoping that it could be beaten back into shape but to be honest, this might be the perfect excuse to rethink the luggage system!

That night we needed to find refuge in Rio Grande. We first inspected a roadside hotel that was well lit up with an array of fluorescent lights. The driveway led us around to a boom gate and a box that you would expect to order a burger and chips through at a generic drive through. The menu was stuck up on the wall behind, but on closer inspection it listed bed prices by the hour. Even the ‘standard’ was well beyond our budget,  let alone the VIP.  Being dark and finding ourselves on what we thought to be a brothel, there was almost an element of fear amongst us. As quickly as we could  all three bikes managed a three to five point turn and throttled out of there.

We stayed the night elsewhere and woke the following morning early enough to scrape the ice from the seats of our bikes. We had only 200km to the southern most city in the world, not the southern most bar as apparently Vernadsky Polar Base in Antarctica takes this prize. Our hope was to ride straight through and be there for lunch. But it became impossible for me to ride more than about 40km before I had to stop proceedings. My fingere, seemed  to be dead, aI would attemptto  ridefor as long as possible fighting through the pain barrier that stemmed from my finger nails before there was no choice but to quickly dismount and warm them slowly on the exhaust.

Riding through the flat grassy plains  eventually ran into the side of a mountain range. Here we began to wind up with the stunning view of the Lago Fignano to the right.   Crossing  the pass at the top of the range we found that snow from the previous night had left an inch of slush on the road. I’ll be the first to admit I was just a ‘little bit’ scared,  my riding abilities weren’t prepared for surfaces so slippery. I cant even imagine how vulnerable Mike felt on the back of Nick’s bike, completely out of his control.  He later explained how he was thinking and preparing how he would jump when the situation arose.

We did make it through easily and without misshap, feasting  that night on an overestimated  supermarket shop , including a bottle of wine each!  We drank to the success in conquering the trials and tribulations  recently conquered and discarding the fact that we had arrived one bike down and a month late.

Not allowing any time to rest, we hit the next day hard, against and across the wind. There was a fundamental difference in our attitude now, our bearings were set northward, and it was only going to get warmer. We crossed back across our sixth border crossing of the trip and rode into the night to Porvenir. Porvenir offers a three hour ferry back to Punta Arenas where Mike’s bike parts were waiting, next morning this awaited us.  Uncomfortably  pushing through icy winds and battlling with the rain, the final 250km back to Punta Natales was covered, and there awaited Mike’s bike.

The rest of the day was spent sitting and waiting,  the following morning off to wake the mechanic!  All were very eager to clock up some kilometers, and being mindfall to kill some of the costs by getting back in the tents for the warmer weeks ahead.

Southern Cone

In my humble opinion there is far too much emphasis on my mishaps on the journey southward, they seem to come up in conversation with everyone we meet. While I am not ashamed of these incidents, well partly, I think at times the story becomes inflated enough that I should be proud of these misdemeanors. I take these constant reminders with a grain of salt and I certainly don’t recommend them,  I just hope I’ve had my full share!

We weren’t to know what would happen on our quick venture south. There have certainly been some tough and testing times but this has been contrasted by some magnificent moments.  Bike issues have certainly plagued us constantly and seem to be escalating in significance;  it is like a dark cloud that is consuming our valuable time. My bike has certainly spread this curse. It was the first to catch it and when it seems cured it has another cough. This has caused the majority of our human contact to be with a multitude of mechanics. Fortunately, they are relatively consistent with their friendly demeanor and tolerance for our lack of the language.

Early on when it was my bike  was responsible for consuming all the time. There was a constant dreaded feeling that you get when you hinder everyone in a close collective. This feeling sat stagnant in the bottom of my belly as I was forced to ignore the other persisting aches and pains and ask again if the boys would push start me in the wet.

While it is not helping the cause, it is a relief now that Nick’s and Mike’s bike have caught this curse. Not only balancing the brakes on our momentum but also allowing some time to catch up with the surroundings. With this chance to reflect, I find myself reminded why motorcyclists from around the world go through heartache and the hip-pocket to ride these ridiculous roads!

There have been mornings on the Carretera Austral between Chaiten and Cochrane when we would weave our way along a windy potholed track, cliff rising to the right and crystal clear lake to the left. The road is home to hundreds of ferns and moss like plants. When the sun is right, there is enough moisture in the air from the patchy rain and frequent waterfalls to create a constant rainbow to be riding through.

One day later, and we would be up on the Argentinean flat, rain pelting frozen darts piercing our armour, winds so strong that  stomach muscles would then ache for three days.

One memorable section was following the  crossing into Argentina for the first time, the headwind was so strong we would trail each other in an unsuccessful attempt to slip stream.  With  heads leant so far forward, the chin of my helmet would occasionally brush the top of my handlebars. The force of the head wind was strong enough to part the foam in my helmet, so my lips ended up pressed against the inside plastic of the mouthpiece.

During this experience I was counting down the kilometers by singing songs that inevitably turned solemn. Glancing to the upper right, the peaks of the Andes caught my attention. As I watched, they seemed to menacingly tear open the dark gray sky to reveal a forgotten shade of blue. While roadside the weather wasn’t changing, this blue patch offered hope to the end of  what honestly were horrific conditions!

Then, as if my deepest requests had been answered, the road that hadn’t had a turn since Christmas displayed a yellow diamond taking a form of a road sign. It would usually just send a subconscious signal that prompted a lean in the direction indicated but on this occasion it pointed to a perceived paradise of clear skies and sunlight.

Pushing forward with the power down the eventual sunlight, while not that warm, was the perfect excuse to dismount and hold frozen  hands millimeters from the steaming exhaust for a ten minute re-thaw process.

It is now two days ride from Ushuaia, our southern goal. We ride now as three amigos on two motorbikes, meanwhile hopefully bike  parts are express posted  from the US for the third bike to be repaired on our return north. In the meantime my hope it to obtain a new rear tire for my bike as I can almost see the air through its thin walls.

The learning curve of adventure motorcycling has steepened with the longitude degrees south!