Tuesday, March 8, 2016

From the End of the Earth!

After our big move to Puerto Natales, we were thrilled to start the final leg of our adventure. Officially no more busses or hitches unless we had a serious malfunction. Only, us, the road, and the end of the earth. Riding out of town, the excitement began immediately. The weather going south was undoubtedly the most sporatic and confusing I´ve ever encountered.
Literally, every five minutes it would change from a nice sunny day into a dark, windy, rain. The temperature variation made riding with layers confusing and we quickly learned to strap a few different options to the outside of the bike. Eventually, the rain stayed more consistant and with 42 degrees and wind we were very chilled. To warm up a bit, we piled in a one room bus station and read aloud a few more chapters of Treasure Island, happy to be out of the wind.

Before long, we braved the cold and the rain once more but got stopped by a bike malfunction. Simply by shifting, one of my cables snapped (the end had become frayed and unwound) making for a very chilly roadside fix. Luckily, in the visible distance was a little restaurant set up to give bus tours a nice break. We bought more coffee and hot chocolate than I care to admit and sat around a wood burning stove until all fingers and toes had full feeling and were dried out. One of the most fun parts was having elderly travelers from different tours come and stare at our bikes and grimey faces, in awe of the trip. It had been a while since people were amazed with what we were doing since there are so many tourers down here, but it was a blast chatting with and even taking some pictures with old couples going around their Smithsonian sight seeing tours.

Once we finally left the warmth of the restaurant, we realized that a good shelter in this weather was critical so we ended up at an estancia. At first, they graciously offered us their open front wood shed and an area for tents. We gratefully set up camp as Kai cooked dinner in the hut. However, just as we finished, insane winds came out of no where and were nearly flatening our tents. Pulling them as quickly as possible to prevent damage, we huddled in the shack and ate our pasta while a storm blew through. Realizing that the instant flip from a sunny afternon to winds so strong a tree was blown over next to our camp might be dangerous, we decided to relocate into a more secure area and found a big metal storage crate to call home.


The next morning, we woke up to a nicer day but still fairly windy. The riding was nice and easy, bringing us to the next town before a long stretch of nothingness. Without any real press of time, we decided to stay for the night. They even had a rodeo pit we could camp at but found a small barren room with a door under the bleacher seating. All five of us fit inside on the floor, but it was side by side, helping to warm up a cold night.

Passing a long stretch of country side, we eventually came to the next area with civilization and looked for a hostal. It was late in the day so picking was a bit tougher than usual, but settled on one run by a guy from Florida. Although it was a Monday, he made it clear that this was a PARTY hostal so if we were looking for a very relaxing place, it may not be a great fit. I think most of the people there had gotten most of their party out the night before, but even in their recovering state the festivities continued well into the night. Although we had a great time, we decided to find a new hostal in the morning to have a little more space that was quiet and secure.

Taking the day off, we decided it was worth getting back on the bikes to check out a museum on the outside of town. The place we found had four replica ships you could physically climb on and even armour to dress up in. Pretending to be Magellan, Darwin, and Shackleton on their respective ships, we had way too much fun. Highly recommended and an absolute blast. To finish up the day, we came back to town for a quiet bar that we could play a few rounds of cards and really relax.


With our day of rest complete, we woke up the next morning to take the ferry across the Magellan Strait, leaving the continental Americas in Punta Arenas and arriving officially on the island known as Tierra del Fuego. Our boat ride was accompanied by small whales and dolphins as we left and arrived in the next port. We even met 4 other tourers all going towards Ushuaia. One girl in particular had just bought her bike, so we were excited to use our 6 months of knowledge to fix her set up, give some pointers, and answer any questions.

The rest of the day, we rode closer to our final destination. When we finally decided to quit riding, we were near an old house by the water. It turns out that a man there named Don Carlos has been allowing people to stay for decades, and has a journal full of thank yous to prove it. We cooked in the bed of an old pickup truck and cozied up in a tin fishing shack for the night. Carlos was incredibly generous, providing constant coffee, tea, bread, and a homemade jam. Incredibly hospitable and kind, he kept showing us his different interests in books and different posters, making us feel right at home.


The rest of the ride down the island was annoyingly amazing. Throughout all of our travels, and especially in Argentina, we heard caution after caution of how terrible the weather is down south. The wind. The cold. The scenery isn´t even that good. For us, it ended up being a week of bliss. For all the cold, wind, and rain we put up with before, every day was so nice we ended up using sunscreen and putting away some of our warm layers. Our breaks were spent looking over the coasts and the wind was hardly a factor. Rather than land of fire, for us they might as well have called it the land of rainbows and summer breezes. We even found out along the way that we had an opportunity to see a penguin colony. Feeling that a bonus 20 km was well within our riding ability, we headed a bit off course and were fascinated by a large group of the funniest looking, sounding, and acting creatures. All four of us were completely entertained for nearly an hour just watching them waddle around and keep their young warm, out of the wind.


Our one rough day of riding hit us hard. After a bit of rain, the dirt road turned more into mud than gravel and slowed our progress. By far the worst part of the process was our Russian friend Timor got something caught in his deraileir and it exploded, meaning he could no longer shift his bike. Luckily there was a refugio hut 2 km down the road he could walk to. Unfortunately it was full of trash and poop. Taking a trip mentality of "if not us then who will" we opted to clean it up. By the time we left, it was clean enough we enjoyed sitting around the little stove in the corner and it actually was a nice area again. The next morning, we left Timor not knowing if we would ever see him again. His plan was to hitch to Ushuaia and hopefully meet up there. It was rather sad to say potentially goodbye to someone we were so accustomed to, especially so close to the end.


Later that day, all of our gloom was ended when Timor got out of a truck, proud to show us his new "single speed" bike. He took links out of the chain to make it the right size for one speed, and decided to ride out the last couple hundred kilometers with us. Pushing on past Rio Grande after another rest day, we only had the final stretch left. Our final stop with civilization was at a bakery known for giving bikers free housing. A brilliant move because we easily compensated our stay with pastery purchases. It was awesome to stay in a room covered with trip graffiti and add our names to the list. Counting down the last campsite, last meal on the road, and last everything was a little unsettling since no one wanted the adventure to end.


Our last full day of riding was falling into a bit of a funk until Jon noticed a 4 wheeler trail on the side of the road. Like all good tourers who only need their gear to last another day, we decided to go off roading. Essentially, we were mountain biking with fully weighted bikes. Super fun, but equally exhausting. The drops, bumps, hills, curves, and disappearance from traffic took our minds off the end and made the day exhillerating once again. 


On our last official day of riding, we finally found the end of the earth. Riding into Ushuaia, known as the southernmost city in the world, our trip rolled to an end. Seeing the mountains over a beautiful harbor town was a memorable sight I hope to never forget. After getting a great little hostal with a room to ourselves, we settled in and began to take in the last bit of the trip. In true lucky fashion that we seem to be so good at finding, our first night in town happened to be a free museum night so we got to learn all about the island history and other history. All that is left now is to explore the town, pack up our bikes, and return home.


It is hard to think about life beyond the trip. In some ways, I think we are so ready for home and additional comforts, but at the same time it is an intimidating transition. We have been in a 3 to 5 man bliss for the past 6 months with so much stimulous, variety, and positivity. Entering the unknown with no direct Ushuaia to shoot for is a new frontier, and one we have been successfully putting off. Nevertheless, with the beginning of home life, I have no doubt that this trip will have a direct and lasting impact.

Looking back at the starting stages of this trip, I am amazingly proud of what we have accomplished. We raised nearly $10,000, convinced our family and friends to show up in the same place to see us off and hang out, rode over 5,000 miles, somehow got 1,000 people to follow along with our random postings on facebook, and most importantly executed an idea from start to finish, all because we thought it sounded fun. Even if we all leave here broke and unemployed, it is comforting to know it has been without a doubt worth the experience. We may forever be unsatisfied with complacency and scoff at excuses preventing personal action, but I believe both are attributes that will benefit our futures.

I hope the upcoming days are as engaging and exciting as the last 6 months, no matter where I happen to be or end up. We have such a variety of memories to learn from and so many kind people who have shown us hospitality along the way. It seems a trip and experience like ours lives in three stages: the anticipation, the action, and the recollection. It is time to begin the final stage of our journey - a part that never truly is completed.


Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who have followed along. A support base from back home is more important and helpful than I can describe and has made the entire process more meaningful and fun for us. On day one we set out to "discover and humanize the unknown, connect with and bridge communites across borders, learn about other cultures and places, and act upon a dream while remaining rooted and caring in community." I feel we thoroughly met our goal, and it is my sincere hope that you have had a sense throughout our travels as well. Until the next adventure, thank you!

Officially from "the end of the earth,"

-Ben

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