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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 ground....tires 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.  




5 comments:

Anonymous said...

To go the distance, keeping up the blog with amazing photographs, all I can I can say is "WOW".

Aisling Pugsley Quito said...

All your family and friends must be so excited to the time when you are home again!! As for us blog followers, well, many of us would love to hear about how you both settle into 'normal' life, whatever that must be.

Thanks for letting us be a part of such an amazing adventure and an entertaining blog.

Belinda Hinmueller said...

You snapped some great photos there! So weird seeing the same places we passed. You even stayed in the same shack as us on your way to Rio Grande. Especially weird looking at that now we are back home. Makes me feel a little sad it's all over. Savour every moment guys!

RockCreekTroutBum said...

Hi Seth & Parker,
It is an amazing thing...this journey you have been on. With a willingness to give up everything, something most would be reluctant to do, and now a hesitancy in reacquiring what you left behind. Understandable...we know that in life we pursue possessions to own, and in turn those possessions actually possess us. But, your time away from it all came with lessons in the importance of faith...faith for survival, faith for strength to proceed, faith for provision. The important thing to consider as you prepare yourselves to return to civilization is, what will I do with these lessons I have learned, and how can I use them to impact the lives of others? This was MORE than an 18,000+ bike ride, and MORE than an attempt to raise awareness about the fishery...
Many prayers for your continued safety and the end of this leg of the journey of your life. We look forward to your return to the creek, and the conversations we will have. Until then...
Deb & Joe

Sean Doherty said...

Parker,
I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.. hope your friend's free hitch hiking ride was as painless as he said and not as crazy as you insinuated!
And you didn't mention the little figurines your buddy put on his hairy body for the German photographer.. LOL
Another great story, and even more great pictures, I'd watch you guys hosting a fishing show around the world any day... Congratulations on 18 thousand miles of an amazing life experience.

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