The anticipation was building as our odometers clicked through miles and we were nearing town. After a long, slow decent, we came around a corner to...
One would think finally arriving at the end of the road, on a journey of 20 months by bicycle, we would be jumping for joy and ready to throw our bikes out into the ocean and watch them float away. But, I have to be completely honest with you, it's a very mixed bag of emotions. Extremely happy to be lucky enough to combat injuries, sickness, fatigue, exhaustion, extreme weather conditions, and all that fun stuff to make it all the way to the end of the road. But the end of the road was very much like the beginning. We began this journey in June 2016, with no crowds, no cheers, no high-fives, just getting on our bikes and pedaling away heading south on the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. We had packed bikes into boxes and flown up to this tiny oil field town, where no one knew us and so the start was pretty uneventful. The end of the road was very much the same. Solidifying our belief that it is all about the journey, everything between the beginning and the end, that really matters.
Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail that we tackled in 5 months, hiking for one long summer with a vision of an end in sight, this ride would be our lives for nearly 2 years. I remember riding away from Prudhoe Bay and thinking, "OK, this is our lives now" with an excitement for all the people to meet, places to see, and experiences to be had. And at the end, it's just over. We arrived at our planned final destination, and with a happy heart, a full Rolodex, and a mind packed full of memories. Not the richest person in the world could buy all those experiences. And for that very reason, is why we did it. Life is short, so we gotta' pack it all in.
Our last week from Punta Arenas was rough, but our excitement was high. We took a day off in Punta Arenas, buying a ticket for the ferry to Porvenir the following morning. We arrived early at the docks, riding along the straight of Magellan north from town to the ferry, looking across at the land mass and island of Tierra del Fuego where we would be heading by boat. The ferry was beyond packed with people, including a bunch of cyclists and I had to stand out on the deck. One unplanned quirk from this ride we picked up, is both Ville and I have become way more claustrophobic around crowds, people, and crowded places. Too much time spent alone on a bike or with each other I guess. I would have thought seeing all these new cyclists (about 20 a day on the Carretera Austral and south to Ushuaia) would be fun to get to share stories and experiences, but all I can think is, "if you have only a short holiday, why in the hell would you spend it on a bike in pouring down rain in Chile and then being blown off the roads in southern Patagonia?" Argentina has been my least favorite country to bike through and I feel bad when cyclists ask us about it. We lie, say nothing at all, or the go-to is just "good luck on your journey."
The ferry ride was short, and when we went below to retrieve our bikes, I realized my underwear I tied to my bag to dry (it was laundry day and they were still wet) had disappeared. Now, the ferry was packed with lots of truckers, families and cyclists. I hope the families are not that hard up that they would be pantie snatchers. The cyclists are desperate people, but hopefully not that desperate, but truckers...well...yuck. My panties are probably hanging from some truckers rear-view mirror right now. And they were ready to retire by the end of the ride, so I'm not that sad, but, really? Geez. I guess they were just meant to be world travelers. Panties on a mission.
Once we docked, the massive heard of cyclists sprung from the ferry gate and pedaled furiously into the winds. We maintained our distance and stuck with our plan of NO PLAN. The first couple hours before lunch was on a dirt road straight into the wind until the road turned east and then we had excellent tailwinds on the hilly road that hugged the coastline of the Straight of Magellen. The weather is clear skies with freezing winds and so we are now wearing all our clothing, including rain gear and gloves, to bike. The landscape is wide open rolling hills of grasslands, and by day's end we were able to find a stand of a few lone trees to stick our tent behind, but still froze in the screaming winds. By early morning we had only 10 miles to the intersection where we turned off the main road to head south 10 miles on another even worse dirt road to go see the King Penguins. We were elated when we realized the herd of penguins were very close to the viewing area and with a bunch of molting babies. We were able to capture some great photos with our big lens and watch them waddle around. Pretty crazy to see bears, moose and now penguins in the same bike ride.
We rode the 10 miles back north up to the main road and at the intersection we continued east on pavement. Due to a massive road construction project, the cars were routed to the dirt and we had the whole road of pavement to ourselves. And with a massive tailwind to boot! It's what cyclists dreams are made of. We laughed, we cried, we hugged. It was beautiful. We stopped just 8 miles from the Argentinean Border and asked to camp at an Estancia (farm). The farmer was incredibly kind and gave us a small cabin with 2 beds, a wood-fired cookstove, and heaps of wood. Ville got that fire ripping, we cooked our pasta dinner on the stove with about 10 cats meowing outside to get fed, and we slept like babies with the temps dropping well below freezing in the night. The farmer carried a giant carcass past us in the morning and when we asked what it was, he replied, "horse." Guess the horse isn't the cowboy's best friend in these parts.
We rode out once the sun warmed things up a bit and the stamping out of Chile went well (we stocked up on Sahne-Nuss chocolate bars with all our remaining monies) and stamped, for the very last time, into Argentina. Right after the Argentinean Border, we stopped at a ACA Gas Station/Cafe to get some lunch (a pile of fried meat) and rode out. Here is where we finally reached the Atlantic Ocean! What a trip to be riding south with the ocean now on our left. From the time we landed in Porvenir, the landscape had been wide open space with hardly a tree in sight and extreme winds. Lucky for us the winds were still fairly at our back, as the road was now heading south. We stopped at another Estancia, Sara, and a drunk guy told us to camp in the yard near an office building. We met another Spaniard, traveling the world by bike, and slept late to wait for the sun to warm things up. Since we are very early still for our flight, slowing down hasn't happened, but beginning and ending the days early has been an attainable option. Unfortunately for us, the winds had shifted to being straight from the west and we now were weaving all over the road, fighting to keep pedaling in a straight line, as we pushed a long day into Rio Grande.
Rio Grande is a decent sized industrial town, nothing to write home about, but had a fairly inexpensive (for Argentina) hostel we got for a night since the lack of showering was weighing on our marriage. We ate cheaply from the grocery stores (as we have taken to doing for the last few months through Chile and Argentina because it's so damn expensive), and headed out with the skies looking ominously dark. We had a good few hours of decent riding with a smattering of trees beginning to appear hear and there and then the heavens opened up and man did it pour. The traffic all day was horrendous. Don't remember the last time we both were so infuriated by drivers that we screamed at them while flipping them the bird. Watching an oncoming car pass someone already driving at excessive speeds, in the pouring rain while risking everyone's lives, no shoulder, and heading right for you is absolutely nerve wracking. If it doesn't make a nun swear I'd be shocked. Damn Argentinean drivers!
We pedaled furiously into Tolhuin, famous for their excellent bakery, La Union. The owner is well known around these parts for his charity work, as well as being a damn fine baker, and hosts lots of cyclists. We arrived drenched, stripped off all our wet clothes and pretty much had not much else left to put on. Good thing we are almost done! We have taken to Duct Taping, zip-tying and tossing without replacement things that break so we are coasting into the end on fumes folks. Anyone wants to help us out, I could really use some new panties. Just kidding. We slept on bunk beds in a room in the back of the shop, and as per usual, an Argentinean cyclist showed up at about 10pm. Super nice guy, just on a slightly different schedule than us, and then woke us up puking into a mop bucket in the middle of the night. Sleep, who needs it? We asked if he was alright and he acted like that was just his normal every evening routine so, maybe he's just bulimic. We rode out in the morning with a plan to head only 35 miles to Lake Escondido where, word on the street, is there are abandoned cabins cyclists could stay in.
We arrived at the lake, stopped in at a cafe on the side of the road for cake, met a super nice family from Canada/Lebanon/USA/Brazil. They shared wine and food with us and we hope to see them in the world again. Thanks guys! We headed down a dirt road to nearly the end of the road and found three little painted vacant cabins on the shore of the lake. It was awesome! The little pink one had a bed, table, and even a working toilet (with a bucket of water to flush) and someone had obviously painted and kept it up really well. The next day we spent relaxing by the shore in the drizzling rain, reading, took an icy bath in the lake, cooked, and enjoyed processing through the end of the journey since the next day we would arrive at the end. Ushuaia. In the afternoon, a giant blue bus pulled up, a heard of kids piled out and then a bunch more cars and people showed up too. We played a game very similar to Boche Ball, but with wooden discs, with the kids and parents and in chatting with them realized they are the reason this place stayed so beautiful. They live in Ushuaia, and come there often to pick up trash, clean, and enjoy the place. So all you cyclists out there, please pack out your trash, and keep this place special for those coming after you!
That night we hardly slept. Not because the Argentineans were up all night partying til past 3am, but because we were so nervous and excited for the next day. We woke up really early, ate our typical oatmeal, and headed out into the crisp clear beautiful day. I believe it to be no accident that on the day we were to finish this journey, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining on us. We had a long slow climb over the pass and then spectacular views in the mountains which were very unexpected after so much grassland. The anticipation was building as our odometers clicked through miles and we were nearing town. After a long, slow decent, we came around a corner to towering "USHUAIA" pillars on either side of the road. My eyes just instantly began tearing up. I can't believe we actually made it. All those days of rain, sun, wind, climbs, pain, sweat, camping, laughing, growning, pushing, swearing, everything, all of it, all coming back to me at this moment. Ville rode up behind me and we hugged. He snapped a quick photo of me and we had about 4 more miles to the center of town where the "End of the World" sign was.
We pedaled up to the sign, this small wooden sign, and again the tears started flowing. We both climbed off our bikes and started hugging each other. We were laughing, hugging, and crying and it felt pretty damn good. And no one was there. No crowds. No applause. No high-fives. Just us. As we had started this ride so long ago in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, we were now finishing it, just the two of us. With only the two of us knowing what we had been through. We stopped a woman passing by with her kid to snap a pic, and she never said a word, just passed us back the camera and walked away. Surreal. We walked to the waterfront, cracked a small bottle of Champagne we had carried with us to celebrate. Ate crappy sandwich lunch, and found a cafe with spotty WiFi to call our families to tell them. There was lots of tears of joy to go around. We climbed back on our bikes and pushed on down the road. Ushuaia is the town at the end of the world, but the road does not end there. And because these two lunatics started this ride at the most northern point of the Americas with a road, then by golly we were going to finish this ride at the end of the road.
The road turned to dusty gravel, the tourist buses and vans were insane, but we pushed the 13 miles into the Tierra Del Fuego National Park (of course it costs $20US EACH to get into. Argentina sticking it to us to the bitter end) and enjoyed the last climb as the gravel wound past beautiful lakes and rivers and then, well, it ended. And it ended at a sign "Bahia Lapataia" and "Here ends Route 3" "Alaska 17,848 kilometers" (They are WAY off) and a couple American and German tourists were there and said, "Congratulations! You made it!" I got my high-five and they asked us where we started. "Alaska" "What?" Ya, it's kind of a long story. Some were professional photographers and we got some great pics. We walked our bikes out to the end of the pier and looked out to sea. What a ride!
While we stood there processing all these emotions, a Chinese woman was frantically trying to get something she had dropped between the planks of the pier. Her son told us she had dropped her glasses and couldn't see without them. I pulled out some string and Ville pulled out the Duct Tape and a carabiner. Ville taped the carabiner to the end of the string, said "MacGyver" to a chuckling audience and was able to fish out the glasses from below. They were on their way to an Antarctic Cruise the next day and she was thrilled to get her glasses back. Leave it to the touring cyclists who carry everything to come to the rescue! We walked down to the shore, and pulling small stones from our pocket that we had plucked from the Arctic Ocean 20 months ago, found a pair to go with them from the Beagle Channel or South Atlantic Ocean. End to end.
We rode a mile or so back and camped in the woods. Our last time setting up our home. We cooked celebratory pasta in our pot and enjoyed this last moment in this life. After this, life would look a lot different. The next morning, our last dang oatmeal breakfast, and we rode back to town in the rain. We were so dang excited to check into a hotel, out of the rain, take hot showers and cracked a bottle of Champagne in bed! And that is where we are, right as I type. Ville went to get some bike boxes in town to start packing our bikes and we have already begun the dump of trashed clothing. Guess we will be naked on the plane to Buenos Aires tomorrow because pretty much everything is sitting in the garbage.
We will be sightseeing and relaxing in Buenos Aires for about a week and then on Feb. 28th, you ready for this, drumroll please. Drumroll.........We are getting on a cruise ship for an entire month heading back to Los Angeles!! That's right! It took us 20 months to bike here and a month to sail back. We decided on a boat because a plane was WAY too fast, we need the time to slowly come back to real life. A massive thank you to Grandpa and Grandma B (watching out for us from above) for the funds to be able to do it. It's our 10 year anniversary together in March and we needed something out of the ordinary (because biking together for 2 years is just the norm). Can you believe what we have packed into 10 years? Am so grateful that I have someone I love in my life that I am able to share this crazy life with. An equal who is as nuts as I am. It is a very special thing to find. I know because I get asked all the time, "How do you spend so much time together? Don't they drive you crazy? I could never do that with my spouse." And I think, I wouldn't want to know this life without him. So thanks Ville, to being such a stupendous partner in crime. For backpacking, hiking, biking and seeing the world together. What's next babe? ;)
Well kids, thanks again for the journey. Thanks for following, reading, donating, helping, giving, cheering, praying, and everything in between. We are incredibly grateful for all of you and without you, we wouldn't have made it a mile. When we return to Bend, we will be signing up to do a lot of speaking presentations. We want to give back by inspiring others to get the travel bug. We will also have a party for all our friends, family, and followers so ALL of you better be there! We are writing a book. Please be patient, it's absolutely in the works, but it WILL BE DONE. We both plan to keep writing the blog. This was not our first rodeo and it definitely will not be the last (those of you that know us know this very much to be true!) And well, that's it for the ride. End of a chapter. So turn the page. Because there is always more...and until next time, keep on, keepin' on!!!
The Answer (AND Ville & Kristen) My Friend Is Blowin' In The Wind - Bob Dylan El Calafate to Punta Arenas, Chile
En route, we witnessed a car driving like an enraged maniac swerving and honking while plowing through a field heading straight for a herd of horses. The horses began running and the car followed chase...
I wasn't sure what the very south would have in store for WiFi, but we were in luck. Score. Some working WiFi. So I thought I would take a minute to sit down and write an update on the happenings of the last stretch. First, I wanted to take a minute to send out a massive Thank You to all of you who have reached out to us to congratulate us, praise us, and thank us for our work on the blog. Without all of you, there would be no journey nor a reason to write a blog. Because it gets read, we keep the need to write. It's a vicious cycle you see. So thank you all for reading. And looking at the pictures. All right, here's the show!
We left Robin, our friend from Bend, Oregon who met us for a week and a half of hiking, in El Calafate. She was heading out to the airport and we were riding west, with tailwind for a change! It was great to have a long break from our bike seats and to rest between hikes, but we felt recharged and ready to tackle this last big stretch of the journey. And after trying to push hard through the north of Argentina at break-neck speeds, we now needed to slow way down to meet our flight on Feb. 19th, and not sit in over-priced Ushuaia for a week. Good luck reining in these racehorses! Once we were back on Ruta 40, the road headed east and veered to the southeast up a giant canyon wall. Because of the tremendous tailwind push from behind, the long climb felt like a breeze. We made a fairly easy 60 miles and opted to camp in another road construction building with two other couples, a couple of kittens, and a wiener dog named Miguelito.
The next morning we pedaled south on gravel and luckily for us, the winds were mild and the chattering of the ripio was our only big challenges of the day. At days end, back on pavement, we scored a room in an abandoned hotel with the positives being it was out of the wind and the negatives being the howling wind blowing all the lead paint, asbestos, and threatening to rip the metal roof off while we slept. Might have to give it only 4 stars on Booking. By the next morning, the wind was howling. Of course in the wrong direction. Once we made it out to the highway, we were forced to walk the bikes for about 3 miles because the gusts were blowing us dangerously into traffic. Even walking the bikes was a challenge with the frame bags and all the panniers acting as sails. When we decided to give the pedaling a go, my gold-star husband offered to ride in front of the entire group of 6, breaking the wind for 20 miles. My husband: looks bangin' in tight shorts, sexy teased helmet hair, scores flat, free camping spots all over the Americas, speaks, like, a lot of languages, can ride a bike without hands for about 10 seconds, makes a mean oatmeal or sandwich and is the best wind breaker around!
When we arrived at the cross section heading west into Chile and the town of Cerro Castillo only 8 miles away on gravel, we opted for an end to the wind for the day. In the Argentinean Immigration stamping out, I leaned down to the glass to speak with the officer, and realized that it wreaked of cigarette on the other side. Only in Argentina would you get away with smoking INSIDE a government office while at work. Stamping into Chile went fine, other than Chile's insanely strict no fruit, vegetable, and animal product policy. Since it will be our last entry into Chile, we are both pretty pumped to be done with having all our bags scanned and then personally dug through. If I had a giant bag of cocaine, they probably wouldn't even bat an eye, but my God, you bring one orange into Chile and they will give you a full cavity search looking for the rest of the oranges!
Once in Chile, as per usual, the desert turned to a green mountainous scenic wonderland. In Cerro Castillo, Ville asked a local cowboy if we could camp on the stage of his rodeo arena. It was protected from the wind, with steps perfect to cook on. We watched the sun set, and enjoyed an exquisite pot of four-cheese, sausage pasta and talked about how these memories are what we love so much about this bike tour. The night was wrestles sleep because the wind howled so loud and shook the stage that it felt like we were in a haunted house. The next morning we had a late start, enjoying tea, coffee and oatmeal in our pot. The first 10 miles was a battle of the wind madness, but then the wind changed directions and we had a glorious tailwind the remaining 30 miles to Puerto Natales.
En route, we witnessed a car driving like an enraged maniac swerving and honking while plowing through a field heading straight for a herd of horses. The horses began running and the car followed chase. As the car roared by us, we realized these local urban auto cowboys were herding the horses, safe from exercise in a warm, dry car with coffees safely in cup holders. I can just see the next western movie like "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" where Clint Eastwood climbs into his Toyota Hilux and peels out after a heard of cattle. Now that's a REAL cowboy.
The road also passed right along the shores of a giant crystal clear lake and after 4 days on the road, we couldn't resist a dip. Stripped to skivies and dove straight in. Made it to Puerto Natales in good time and checked into a pricey (because EVERYTHING is overpriced in Chile and Argentina) Hostel. We opted for a day off here, since we are still too early for our end flight in Ushuaia, and walked around town checking out the sights. We really enjoyed Puerto Natales. Cute little port town with the very first bike lane we saw in all of South America (better late than never I guess), and met a super nice couple, Luciano and Mercedes, at the residencial (similar to a homestay) we stayed at. Thoroughly enjoyed our conversations of politics and history (both are college students from Bariloche and Buenos Aires, Argentina) and have found that we learn more from locals than only relying on news outlets as we travel. Mercedes' family lived at the residencial and her great grandma (in the pic below) is the youngest of 5 ladies, at 100 years old! And even better, she still lies about her age, telling everyone she is 84 (if I even make it close to 84 it will be a miracle). Thanks Luciano and Mercedes for hanging out, hope to see you in Buenos Aires or Oregon!
After riding out of Puerto Natales into the wind, the road headed east and south with mainly tailwind for 2 of the 3 days it took to Punta Arenas. It actually was difficult to slow down. Nearing the end of the first day, I turned around to discover a missing husband. After waiting for nearly an hour and not able to flag down any cars to ask if they had seen him, I began pedaling back into the headwind to search for him. Very soon after he rode up and had stopped a ways back to fix his break that decided to lock up and I had been in the Tailwind Zone and not noticed. Being that we are nearing the end, literally all our things are on their last legs of functioning, Duct tape and glue are keeping us moving forwards at this point. We both were panicked, but were happy to reunite and found an abandoned ranch house near Morro Chico that was actually clean and quiet to camp in.
The next day was rainy, and after battling swirling storm winds all day, we opted to call the day after just 30 miles in Villa Tehuelces. We had coffees at the one restaurant, chatted with bunches of nice motorcyclists heading north on tours, and met up with another cycling duo heading south. We all camped inside food stalls (we greatly lower our standards in the wind), and had a lazy start to what turned into a crappy day. We had thrilling tailwinds for the morning, then bad side-winds the remainder of the day into Punta Arenas. A few rainy storms hit, we struggled to find shelter and then it took hours riding all over town to find a hostel that wasn't booked. Not a fun unplanned 70 mile day, but at least the shower was hot!
And here we are, resting up, with tickets in hand to take the morning ferry to Porvenir tomorrow. For those interested, we have reached the last town in the continental Americas (Ushuaia and the next 260 miles or so are all on an island). We have only about a week left of our ride to Tierra del Fuego (Land of the Fire) and Ushuaia! We are planning to try and see the King Penguins, camp a lot, and are hoping to afford a hotel in Ushaia to get out of the rain and wind to celebrate and pack our bikes into boxes. We hear hotels are wildly expensive there, so we might have to be creative. Our flights are booked, we fly Feb. 19th to Buenos Aires and then we party it up hopefully with some friends and family! Huh, huh, anyone, anyone? I imagine last minute airfare to Buenos Aires as well as time off to do so is impossible for all, but if anyone wants to try and meet us for a celebration, we will be in Buenos Aires Feb. 19-March 1st. Would love to share in the revelry. Otherwise, Bend peeps, see you back home soon. Everyone else we know and love, connect with us. We are always looking for the next travel plan, you just might get a surprise visit ;) Thanks all for following this wild ride, until next time (and for real this time, the next time may just be the last post!), keep on, keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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