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Monday, February 21, 2011

Rio Grande, Argentina to Ushuaia, Argentina

The approach to Rio Grande, a mere 65km ride, proved to be one of the most difficult days of my trip. As Seth adequately explained in the previous blog, it is impossible to do justice in conveying the force of the winds in Tierra Del Fuego. After a frightening night of tent flattening weather we arose from our thoroughly saturated sleeping bags with a determination one can only achieve after 12 hours of sleepless misery. I packed up as fast as I could, layered on all the clothes I was carrying and was first to hit the road. The wind was still gusting cross-head at 100km+ with sleeting rain and the added treat of drenching showers caused by passing semi-trucks every few minutes. It was not long before Seth passed me due to the poor condition of my front tire. After blowing out one of my primary tires a few weeks back I was using a tire that Seth had discarded which he had started using back in Northern Mexico. For the past couple days a small lump which had become evident around Cerro Castillo, Chile had become a bulging tumor that caused the tire to ride more like an egg than a round sphere. Completely out of food, soaking wet, and painfully cold, we had no option but to get to Rio Grande as soon as possible.

After a grueling 6 hours of non-stop riding I could finally see the outskirts of town and right as I was thanking all the gods that my tire had held, I was startled by the gunshot bang common of a sidewall giving out to the compression of the inner tube. To my surprise it was my rear tire which had failed while the good ole egg from Mexico was holding strong. Nevertheless it meant I was push/carrying my bike for the last 5 miles into Rio Grande.

When I finally arrived downtown I found an internet cafe and opened an email from Seth informing me of his location and that he would be hitchhiking back to search for me if he did not hear from me in the next 15 minutes. I responded to him with 2 minutes to spare and once again hoofed it across town to the Club Nautico, an athletic club that allows travelers to lay their sleeping bags in the gym for a small fee. After allowing my hands to thaw out Justin came to the rescue with half a warm pizza and a hilarious story about how he had almost frozen to death because the guy he had hitched a ride from would not close the air vents in the front seat. He continued that when he had arrived he was so cold that he had dragged a mattress from the upstairs gym down into the steamy locker room where he planned to take a nap amongst the other showering patrons. He could not understand why the woman who lived in and managed the place almost exploded with rage when she found him sleeping on one of her mattresses in the shower room.

We spent the next few days waiting out the weather as we were in no rush to finish and did not want a repeat of the previous stretch. To our delight the club had a beautiful ping pong table in the boat shed so we took the time to polish up on our beer pong skills in preparation of our return to the US. As we were only 3 we had to recruit and English gentleman, Tim, who was eager to learn the American drinking game. It was not long before everyone in the gym, including the managers and owners, where crowding around the table, cheering us on and taking pictures of the heated matches. We had to shut it down after two epic battles as it was evident that nobody on the entire block would get any sleep as long as we continued to play.

With the weather much improved but still raining we set off for the final 200km of our international expedition. That day we knocked off 100 of those kms and arrived at the world famous bakery in Tolhuin. The owner, Emilio, an avid cyclist himself, has constructed a room in the back of the large multi-building structure for cyclists to sleep for free and escape the harsh elements of Tierra Del Fuego. Even better than the room were the empanadas and pastries and we can't thank Emilio enough for his generous hospitality.

Resisting the temptation and offer of a big BBQ the following night we said adios to Emilio and headed towards Laguna Bombilla. The only thing stronger than our appetite for a traditional Argentine parilla is our appetite to fish new water. In addition, it is also the only thing that would motivate us to take a 40km out and back detour down a dirt road in the rain when only 50km from Ushuaia and the end of the trip.


While the road was steep and a bit longer than we expected and the weather less than excellent, we were glad we made the trip to add yet another spot to our long list of beautiful fishing destinations.


The best part of this detour was reuniting with our good friend and fellow Panamerican traveler, Dan Grec. The last time we saw Dan was in Ecuador when he hosted us at the hostel he was managing in Parque Cotopaxi. Before Ecuador we had camped with him a night on highway 1 in Baja California, Mexico. After reminiscing on old times and realizing we were going to finish our respective trips, Danny by Jeep and us by bike, on the same day we also realized that we begun our trips at the same time. Not the same month or week, but the exact same day and Danny had passed us at the top of the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Now more than a year and a half later we meet again and arrive in Ushuaia no more than a few hours apart. Danny also came bearing the gift of yet another precious anecdote about Mr. Justin Dodd:

When Seth and I had left the bakery early that morning Justin was crawling back into his sleeping bag informing us that he would meet us at the Laguna later. Coincidentally Danny had rolled into the bakery as Justin was eating breakfast and Danny recognized him from our blog. Justin told Danny that he would be meeting us at a beautiful lagoon where we would be fishing and camping that night. Danny decided he would join us and Justin jumped at the opportunity to unload all of his bags in Danny's Jeep. Justin proceeded to give him directions to a completely different lake over 20kms away from where we would be. While somehow Danny eventually found us, Justin never did and we wondered how he would fare in the pouring rain of Tierra Del Fuego with no tent, sleeping bag, or extra clothes. Of course he would survive, and of course there would be another great story.

The next morning after determining that we would meet Danny at a campground in town, he took off and we began our final day of riding. Surly the last day would hold one final challenge which we soon found in the form of a 400 meter pass, but after the past few days of hellacious, this was but a hick-up in our short stroll to victory.  The weather had turned for the better and our final day of riding was filled with spectacular scenery and sunny skies.

Just a few kms short of town we found Justin walking his bike along the side of the road still without any of his bags. We approached him eager to hear the sure to be entertaining story. We were not let down.

After leaving the bakery it did not take long before Justin realized he had forgotten the directions we had given him to Laguna Bombilla. It was also not long before it started getting very cold and started raining very hard. He knew that without a tent or extra clothes he would not survive a Fuegian night alone. He conceded to hitching a ride into Ushuaia so as not to freeze to death and he soon found himself sitting shotgun next to a man who had seemed a little too excited to pick him up. After a little small talk in espanol, the man knew he had to make his move before they reached the city limits so he placed his hand on Justin's inner thigh, looked directly into Justin's big beautiful eyes and said, “Nos vamos amigo, nos vamos.” This best translates into, “Let's do this big boy, let's do this.” While most people would have jumped out of the truck and taken their chances with the cold night over roadside rape, Justin simply laughed it off, removed the man's hand from his thigh, and milked the ride all the way to the hostel of his choosing. The next morning he had ridden back out of town to meet us on our way in and join us for the last few kms into Ushuaia. We were very glad to have his company and were happy he had survived the previous night unharmed. Although I did find it a little weird that he was walking his bike instead of riding it and he mounted that saddle very gingerly as we departed.

After taking some mandatory photos at the “Ushuaia, End of the World” sign, we stormed into the campground to find Danny, Kevin, and Max (a French Canadian who also finished his trip from Canada by car that day) waiting for us with a round of cold beers. We all hugged it out, congratulated one another and began what turned out to be a big night of celebrating. In addition to finishing our trip it also happened to be my birthday so we decided we would splurge that evening and dine at one of the famous all-you-can-eat Argentine BBQ restaurants then hit up the Irish pub. In retrospect we probably should have split up the all-you-can-eat BBQ and the Irish pub into two separate nights.

I had intentionally not eaten since the meager bowl of oats that morning so I was ready to eat about 5 times the amount of the 80 peso fee. Since it was my birthday and my pride was at stake, I took the prize with 5 heaping plates of BBQ meats ranging from lamb to blood sausage. I was sure not waste any room with a single vegetable or piece of bread. Seth and Danny were close behind with a respectable 4 plates. After dinner none of us felt like doing anything but rolling our way back to the campground but we knew we must push on and celebrate our accomplishment. We approached the Irish pub with fear in our eyes but determination in our hearts and before we could protest Justin had arrived with a round of Tequila shots. Without getting into too much detail about the events that followed, let me say that it will be a night that some of us will never forget and others will never remember.

After two full days of recovery we all decided to gear up and ride the final 20kms of the road into the national park and touch the Antarctic Ocean.

This trip was amazing and we spent 3 days of spectacular weather camping in the park.

When we got back to town it was not more than a few hours before Justin blessed us with yet another anecdotal gem. This time he had gone into town on his own to get a blown out tire and broken spoke replaced at a local bike shop. On his way back he was stopped by a German tourist who was bubbling with excitement and spoke to him in heavily accented English. The German complimented him on his large manly physique and burly appearance. He said when he spotted Justin he could tell that he was a very hairy man and that he just HAD to photograph him. Justin, needless to say, was taken aback by this odd man and his request but was also strangely placated by the showering of compliments. The man pulled out a professional grade camera and lens and began taking shots of Justin's hairy arms. Within minutes Justin was posing shirtless in the middle of downtown Ushuaia as the man laid below him on the sidewalk snapping shots up at Justin's towering stature. He informed Justin that this was his favorite angle to shoot from and that these photos would appear in his upcoming exhibit. He actually gave Justin his website and just to prove that I am not making this story up please take a look for yourself. Viewer discretion is advised:  (Page 4 and 5 are my personal favorites)

The following day we met up with Mickey, owner and head guide of Wind Fly Ushuaia, who allowed us to tag along on a family and friend camping/fishing trip at one of his favorite and not so well known lakes. The trip was phenomenal and exactly what we wanted to finish our journey. The first day of fishing was a bit slow but as soon as dusk arrived, so did the fish.


The bite stayed hot through the following day and we were blessed with a consistent action of rainbow, brook, and brown trout.



The food wasn’t bad either.

We returned to Ushuaia to a beautiful Austral Sunset.

After getting back from fishing we only had 2 days left which we spent packing up and preparing ourselves for a full 3 days of flights and layovers back to the US.  Here was the final mileage before breaking down the and boxing them up for the long trip home.

When you have been camping for almost two years straight it is tough to kick the habit of rolling out a sleeping pad wherever to catch a few z's.  Like this spot in the Buenos Aires airport during a 24 hour layover.


And that is about all we got for ya. I hope you have all enjoyed following our trip as much as we have enjoyed sharing it. You will never know how much your support has meant to us and we look forward to returning a lot of favors to all of those that have assisted us along the way. A very special thanks to our Mother and Father for too many things to list, to our sponsors, and to the entire fishing community we met along the way that made the dreams of a couple of trout bums come true beyond anything we could have ever imagined.

As for the proposed Pebble Mine, it is still the proposed Pebble Mine and nothing more. They are still completing their environmental impact reports and still have not yet applied for mining permits. There is currently a large legal battle being fought to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Alaska against the possible atrocity of the largest open pit mine in North America being constructed in one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world. When we started our journey very few people were aware of this issue outside of Alaska but now it seems we receive alerts weekly about Pebble newspaper clips, Pebble magazine articles, Pebble TV programs and even Pebble SPAM emails. We can only hope that we played at least a small role in spreading the word.

With that said this will be our last blog... until of course, the next trip.


The Pebble Pedalers

Seth and Parker Berling

Saturday, January 22, 2011

El Chalten, Argentina to Rio Grande, Argentina

Leaving El Chalten represented a dramatic change in the scenery....

and the wild life...

Justin arrived by bus in Puerto Natales and his first day back on the road marked his longest day on the bicycle ever.

We clocked in over 65 miles in good time and were able to seek refuge from the wind in a small shack behind a rural police station. Hand it to Justin to celebrate his longest day on a bicycle with two Marlboros.  

That night the structural integrity of the shack was put to the test as the wind speed picked up to a consistent 100kms per hour. When we left the police station they told us that it was gusting at over 100kms per hour. 

Nothing could have readied us for what we experienced on the road that day. We later found out that the wind speeds rose to over 145kms per hour. 

 Rocks the size of golf balls were getting hurled across the roadway and we were constantly tossed all the way across thelanes onto the opposite shoulder. I was riding at nearly a 30% angle to fight back at the crosswind and the massive gusts would put me nearly parallel with the slipping across the asphalt. Just when I was sure it could not get any worse I was engulfed by a huge dust storm. When my eyes finally produced enough moisture to rid themselves of some of the sand I was able to make out a small shack in the distance.    

As I jumped off my bicycle to push it towards the shack the winds pulled it out of my hands and drop kicked it across the highway. Using all my strength I made it to the shack, threw open the door and landed inside in a cloud of dust and rocks.

Parker and Kevin were not far behind. We all hunkered down in the small shed, which turned out to be a makeshift workers shed for migrant sheep farmers.

Within an hour or so we were burning cow shit in the small stove. Just in case you thought I was joking... 

By the time Justin arrived (he was forced to resort to walking) we had the shed up to about 80 degrees. We rested the remainder of the afternoon and as the sun began to set we sensed a lull in the wind and jumped back on our bikes to push another 20kms to the next known shelter.

The shelter turned out to be a road workers house and when we stopped to ask the caretaker if we could fill up our water he offered us the entire house, including showers, beds and full kitchen. Once again, someone took it upon themselves to go out of their way to help us. He told us that the winds that day had been extreme even for one of the windiest places on earth and that a semi had blown over just a mile down the road from his home.

 In an effort to beat the winds we woke up the following morning at 5am and were on the road just after 6am. We only stopped for a quick lunch mid day and made it all the way to Punta Arenas with not much more than a strong breeze.

When we arrived in Punta Arenas all that separated us from Tierre Del Fuego was the Straight of Magellan and a gasoline strike that shut down Punta Arenas. To protest the reduction in gasoline subsidies the people of southern Argentina set up massive road blocks and burned furniture and tires in the middle of the thoroughfares. No one could leave or enter the city and all ferry services were shut down indefinitely. More than 500 tourists were trapped in the city. The strike was completely unorganized and without a leader or spokesperson. Their was no information available regarding the resumption of the ferry so we were forced to continually ride to the port to check in with the ferry employees about a possible departure. Our patience was further tested when the local government announced they did not intend to compromise and would be willing to wait out a 20 to 30 day strike if necessary.  

When we nearly gave up hope on getting to Tierre Del Fuego our friend Kevin showed up at our campsite and announced that a ferry was leaving in thirty minutes. With nothing packed we started the mad rush to get everything strapped to our bikes. We all took notice that Justin seemed particularly lackadaisical as he broke down camp. When I left for the docks I told Justin he had approximately 20 minutes to get his ass on that boat.

You will notice that there is a bicycle missing from this photo.  

Justin can thank his lucky stars that they decided to run the ferry again the next morning. We waited for him in Povernir and after our rendezvous a mere 300 miles of paved and dirt road lay between us and our final destination of Ushuaia, Argentina.

The road out of Povernir hugs the north western coast of Tierre Del Feugo before bending inland and crossing over to the Atlantic Ocean. This is sparsely inhabited, weather beaten pampa that offered us little to no shelter from the gale force winds that permanently sweep the land.  

We had to get creative to find makeshift shelters that would provide us with enough protection so that our tents would not get torn to shreds. We got separated from Justin on the first day out of Povernir and he ended up camping behind a semi truck while we were able to find a small metal shed.

That night we were treated to a particularly intense Austral Sunset.

When we approached the Argentinian border a huge line of trucks and cars materialized. The protesters were still at it and had effectively shut down the entire Chilean / Argentinian border crossing by dumping piles of dirt on the roadway. With less than 200 miles to Ushuaia there was no way we were going to let a road block get in our way. Without hesitation we rode past a mile of traffic and cruised through the road block like we owned the place. I even stopped to take a photo of Parker rolling through.

 That night we camped on the downwind side of a school house which sat adjacent to a huge sheep farm. It had been nearly eleven hours since we had seen Justin and around 10:30pm I gave up hope and began to get into my tent when I heard an unmistakable “heyyooo” from the roadway. Earlier that day Justin had completely lost track of time and fallen asleep at the border crossing and was treated to bad headwinds when he finally mounted his stead to catch back up with us.

Justin erected his supermarket purchased tent next to ours and immediately called it a night. I woke early to the sound of my tent getting ravaged by wind and rain. The wind had shifted directions during the middle of the night and had left us completely exposed. Around 5am I got out of my tent to adjust my stakes and looked over as Justin's makeshift tent was squashed like a bug under the force of a gust of wind. I stood there and laughed to myself as I watched the wind rip his rain fly away from his tent and leave him fully exposed to the sheets of rain. The rains and winds continued to increase in strength until we were forced to make a game time decision and abandon camp to make the 35 mile ride to Rio Grande. By the time we left there were inches of standing water in the bottom of Terremoto's tent. Justin made a sound decision and hitched a ride with a Nestle delivery driver. The bicycle ride took Parker and I over 5 hours to complete as we were blasted with head winds and monsoon rains. To add insult to injury Parkers rear tire decided to abandon its sidewall and he was forced to walk and carry his bicycle the last three miles.

We arrived in Rio Grande, battered and nearly frozen. We set up shop at a kayaking club called Club Nautico on the banks of the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande is perhaps the most famous body of water we have come across in South America and as so much the local government charges a day use fee of nearly a hundred dollars to fish the “public water” which happens to be the least desirable water on the river. The private estancias (farms) that own every other mile of river upstream of here start at about $1000 a day. Unfortunately, at this point we cannot justify spending our combined two month budget on one day of fishing. It is painful to know that we are no more than a hundred yards from 20lb plus browns. Fortunately, we found a few games to keep ourselves occupied and distracted.

After 18,000 miles on the bike my body and mind are overwhelmed with the understanding that this lifestyle is drawing to an end. It was over a year and a half ago that Parker and I abandoned everything we knew. We left behind the comforts of home for the simplicity and uncertainty of bicycle travel and life on the road. Since then our lives have been broken down into basic nomadic survival...eating, biking and sleeping. In a little more than two weeks we will leave behind the elementariness and hopefully return home as better people for having followed a dream.  

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