Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Adv #7 Continued: Thru Patagonia to the "End of the World" in Ushuaia...FINALLY!

(Above: Paso Vergara from Argentina to Chile. Up and over the Andes Mountains for about 320 kilometers, 7 hours of incredible scenery, and about 40 small river crossings the day I did it. What a way it was to finish this trip. A completely remote setting, and I didn´t see a single car or person the whole ride...except for those poor lonely border officials.)

Like it was yesterday, I remember writing the note to my family announcing the plans to ride my motorcycle to South America.

It was only back in September of 2008, but I remember just beaming with excitement over the fact that I was about to embark on what could truly be considered a "trip of a lifetime." (The moments I spent writing that note will also never be forgotten, as my buddy Dame sat beside me absolutely roaring over this video more than a couple of times with that great laugh of his: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4gK3RRtCHw)

At that time, I already had it in my mind that just riding to South America alone wouldn't be enough, since I'd read so many examples of other riders making it to this mysterious city of "Ushuaia, Argentina" at what is commonly referred to as "The End of the World." I know I've mentioned it plenty previously in this blog, and you can Google about it. In terms of latitude, it's basically as close as you can get to Antarctica on land before the Antarctic Ocean. (The southernmost tip of South America.)

Since arriving here in Chile though, my plans to "finish the ride" to Ushuaia have been postponed for a handful of reasons. When I first arrived February 1st of 2009, I honestly needed a break from constantly traveling so much, and wanted to spend some time in Valparaiso with Carlos and Michelle. Shortly after that, winter sets in in the deep south, and traveling by motorcycle through all the rain and snow just isn't reasonable. Then as summer of '09 arrived, I of course found myself entrenched in this work with Moto Rider, so breaking away for a 1-month motorcycle trip to Ushuaia just wasn't possible.

Or was it?

In late December of 2009 (middle of summer here) Daniel, the owner of Moto Rider suggested it would be a good idea for me to know the southern parts of Chile and Argentina, and ride all the way to Ushuaia. The idea being that, if Moto Rider is going to continue offering motorcycle rentals and eventually lead tours to Ushuaia, I should spend some time planning tour routes and getting to know the southern portion of the continent.

Naturally, I couldn't have agreed more with this idea (make your jokes, but it does make sense!) and the planning for my trip to Ushuaia began. What did I see along the way? Let's let some pictures explain below. I took about 800 of them on what turned out to be a 6-week, 10,800 kilometer journey through late February and March, riding another one of our BMW R1200GS´s. Chiseling the list of photos down to these few pictures was not easy, as what you see in southern Chile and Patagonia is...

A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-YxxS-T-U-N-N-I-N-G !!!

Let's start though with some of the people I met and rode with along the way.

First: Jan Verzijl from Holland. Funny thing is, Jan and I had met in Santiago traffic about 3 weeks before this picture was below was taken in Argentina, and what a ride he is on. For almost 2 years at this point, he's been riding his 1943 Harley-Davidson (named "Betsy") from Alaska to South America! Betsy is one of the old bikes that the Canadian Army left behind in Holland after World War II, and she´s still running strong just by replacing a few routine parts here and there. With a suicide shifter, left grip-controlled ignition timing, and oil leaks everywhere, it seems Betsy is going to run forever. Jan and I just met by chance again at this gas station in Argentina, both headed toward Bariloche after we'd said goodbye after a coffee a few weeks earlier. This gave us the chance to ride a couple of days together through some of the sites you'll see in the following photos.


Next up: Sungdo! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
I met Sungdo Mun as we were about to jump on the ferry from Quellon to Chaiten, Chile. (For this blog post, I should explain that this trip to Ushuaia would involve crossing the border between Argentina and Chile 5 times.) Great timing this day though, as I met Sungdo in his 4th year of riding around the world! See Sungdo and his KTM above, and then below a map that he has stuck on the side of his luggage box showing the routes he's ridden since 2007. When he left his home in Korea, his initial plan was just to ride across Asia and Europe. As he describes it though, a much larger "mission" developed in his mind that first year, so Africa and The Americas were added to his schedule for 2008-2010.


Last, but certainly not least, Julio Carrillo (from Chile) joined up with Sungdo and me one morning as we embarked on a fairly famous and grueling stretch of Ruta 40 in Argentina. Excellent at photography, riding, and meeting European women, (had to buddy: ) it was great to ride with Julio. We spent a couple of days together riding down toward Torres del Paine, but then split up, as he was short on time and had to get back to Santiago. Update: As I type this right now, I just received confirmation on email from Julio. He´s officially resigned from his job, moved out of his apartment, and has the first few flights confirmed for his 1-year, around the world tour. Exciting plans coming together, I know he´s been dreaming of such an adventure for a long time. (Start that blog Julio!) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Of course I met other riders along the way, but these 3 guys were my main buddies on this journey, and really made it a better experience for me. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
So what is it like in terretories like Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Southern Chile, and Argentina? Neither words, or pictures can describe, but I'm going to give it a shot:

(Above, just a typical crisp and clean bit of road-side scenery. -- Below, looking up at Argentina's famous Llao Llao Resort and Hotel near the famous ski-resort town of Bariloche.)

(Above, a shot across the Gulf of Corcovado at the tip of the Corcovado Volcano. - Below, trying to capture how thick, beautiful, and green the vegetation and plant life is as I was just starting to sink into the forests in Patagonia.)

Everywhere you look, beautiful rivers, rock formations, mosses, colors....and very, VERY few signs, cars, or anything reminding you of the normal world so many of us live in. The famous Carretera Austral (Highway to the South) is a ride you simply have to make at some point in life! No iPod is needed, the music will automatically play in your heart and mind as you enjoy some of the most precious nature on the planet.

(Above: The house of somebody that clearly has their head on straight in life. Wish I could show you better the entire surrounding area and remoteness of it on the way to Futaleufu, Chile. -- Below: Struggling to remember the name, it's some form of Devil's Cane, and this is one of the average-sized leaves I'd come across. In a few spots less reachable, I saw some easily 50% larger, about 7 feet in diameter.)

Important to note is that I truly was searching, planning, and taking notes for what would be the best possible tour route on the way to Ushuaia. For much of the journey, there's really only 1 reasonable option of a route from point A to point B. But what do you find when you go out of the way, and take the not-so-obvious routes? Just write me a note if you're seriously planning to visit Patagonia, and I'll make sure you don't miss what must be the most stunning, heart-breaking, and precious area of the world I have ever been to .... shown in the next pics. (And "thank you again," to my buddy Peter Fischer for pointing this area out to me and making sure I didn´t miss it!)

(Above, trying to point to where Sundgo and I were headed to, and -- Below, zoomed in a bit more...you still have to look very closely to the winding path on this incredible portion of the ride! The water in the area is so blue because it's all glacier-fed lakes and rivers. The glaciers shave particles of rock off the mountains, and those particles in the water give the blue reflection with sunlight. Breathtaking! There were seriously portions of this ride where I would stop, take a few pictures, and put the camera away. Then drive 30 seconds more, stop, take the camera out again..and take more pictures....and repeat this whole thing 4 or 5 times over the span of 1 kilometer.)



(Above, a wild little chute of rapids along Rio Baker, and Below......just to help us get our bearing straight : )

Above: Sungdo and I arrived in El Chalten, Argentina fairly late in the day, and didn't get enough hiking time to get better pictures of the famous Mt. Fitz Roy peaks. Still impressive. -- Below: Finally, I got to see the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, just west of El Calafate in Argentina. WOW.....this is a site to see in person! About 1 kilometer wide here at the water, look closely at the tiny people you see on the walkway in front of the 60 meter tall glacier before them. Gazing out over the glacier, about every 30 seconds or so, you'll hear what sounds like a deep thunder. It's actually the ice constantly cracking and shifting, which leads to amazing break-offs of ice splashing down into the water.


Living in Chile, I can't tell you how many times I've seen pictures of the famous peaks & horns of Torres del Paine. This actually is not the "Torres" (Towers), but instead Los Cuernos (The Horns) found just on the other side. Truly a unique mountain formation, I'd say. I woke up before sunrise to hopefully catch the light just right....turned out pretty good, and what a beautiful National Park.


Sungdo and I had split apart in El Calafate, but by coincidence, rejoined in Punta Arenas just before crossing into Tierra del Fuego. And what does it mean when you see the sign above? It means "get ready," cause the sign below is VERY appropriate.

I've felt some pretty amazing wind gusts in all this travel since 2008, but absolutely NOTHING compares to what I dealt with in Tierra del Fuego. It's just a huge, flat, open landscape where no trees or anything live because the wind is so constantly wild. Barely inhabited by people either, it makes for an amazing final stretch before arriving in Ushuaia. Not in terms of "beauty." It's just amazing in terms of "what it takes" to cross this land by motorcycle.

On the morning we would enter Tierra del Fuego, Sungdo and I got a late start due to some mis-information we were given, and really had to hustle as it became clear we were going to miss the 8:00a.m. ferry to take us across the Strait of Magellan at Punta Delgada. Part of why we were so late were the extremely powerful crosswinds making it tough to ride faster than 45mph even on a straight stretch of road. It's absolutely some of the most grueling riding I've ever done, having that wind pound and press against the side of me and my helmet....and it basically was that way for the entire 400+ miles of the ride that day. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Througout the day, that crosswind did eventually turn out for our benefit when we finally turned east a little bit and rode downwind for a change. Trying to catch the ferry, we ignored the ridiculous 50mph speed limit posted, and going about as fast as we could most of the way. It´s an amazing sensation riding a motorcycle so fast speed, and not feel any wind. How is that possible? Think about it for a second: If you're riding at 80 mph and don't feel wind, that's because the wind is coming from your back at 80 mph! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
I was able to roll the throttle a bit between 75 and about 80mph quite a few times that day when the road briefly headed the direction of the wind. (The wind was basically blowing the same the entire day.) What an amazing sensation that is, riding so fast, being able to stick your head out from behind the windshield, and still feel nothing. Just hearing the silence.....the sound of that beautiful BMW boxer engine powering away....the tires on the ground.....and nothing else. And what a nice break it is from dealing with the pounding of the crosswinds. I didn't take many pics of this because it's hard to even stop and keep the bike from falling over, but one picture below shows a few remaining flags that happened to be out in the middle of that treacherous wind. If you take your helmet or gloves off, and they get sucked away by the wind? Forget it. You'd never see them again. While fighting the crosswind througout the day, holding my helmet against the wind, my otherwise perfectly-fitting helmet was actually twisting on my head so much that it was pressing my nose up against my cheek on the other side. Seriously.

So as I said, Tierra del Fuego really isn't much to look at. The landscape sure does improve quite a bit about the time you reach this sign above, as you've been counting down the kilometers of the ride. For me, that's about 15,000 in the U.S. Another 12,000 or so getting through Mexico and Central America. And then another 40,000 +/- since I've been here in South America. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Until eventually, absolutely exhausted from all the wind and bad weather, you arrive at this sign.......at the END OF THE WORLD!
I didn't get a real great picture of it, as was really cold, riding through rain and light snow the last hour before arriving. But there it is, the entrance to the City of Ushuaia.....as the next picture reminds us: "The Southernmost City in the World."

Quite a feeling, I must admit. Looking back for a moment on all the things that have happened to me, and continue to happen since I started on my motorcycle almost 2 years ago, I must admit, life has been pretty amazing to me. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sungdo and I were actually separated earlier that day trying to get on the ferry (he seriously missed the boat by just a few seconds!) but we met up a couple of days later there in Ushuaia to snap a few photos together.
I guess I should explain: On the last stretch of road before the ferry that morning, I kicked the BMW up a notch, riding around 120mph because I knew I was going to be really close to missing the boat. Sure enough, when I pulled up, they had already closed the rope that stops more cars & trucks from driving onto the boat. I asked the worker "por favor amigo, hay espacio para 2 motos mas?!!?" to see if we could still let 2 more motorcycles on. The guy got permission, opened the rope for me, and I rode my bike 5 meters more to get up the ramp and on the boat. I KID YOU NOT, the second I put the kickstand down, I felt the whole boat shake a bit, and they were already pulling away from the dock. As I turned around.....there was Sungdo....parked there on the pavement behind us, seriously having "missed the boat" by just a few seconds! In more misfortune, they cancelled all other ferry crossings for 10 hours because the wind in the Magellan Straight was too dangerous. So Sungdo sat there waiting all that time, and we had no way of communicating to see how he was going to get across, and I went ahead without my buddy.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
So again, we were able to meet up in Ushuaia a couple of days later and snap this shot below with the indicators on the wall in the city reminding us that we're only about 1000 kilometers from Antarctica! And yes, it was cold there in the middle of summer......
How's this for a coincidence? Driving around the Port of Ushuaia, checking things out, I had a few flashbacks to another "moment" I've had discovering the names of boats in the past 2 years. (Click back to the final remarks in my February 5th, 2009 blogpost. Still one of the most fun and amazing coincidences I can remember in my life!)
How about the name of this ship, eh? Is that a sign or something that I was meant to ride to Ushuaia? Just sitting there, attached to the dock...........I think if this ship has both first and middle names, they would be "His" and "Royal," right?
I spent 3 nights there in Ushuaia, trying to find new tires for the motorcycle and catching up on some work email and such. But before leaving, I made sure to ride down the road about 20km further to the definite end of Ruta 3, and this sign below. Whether it's the city of Ushuaia, or this actual marker in the National Park that signifies the final point before Antarctica, is not important to me. The fact is, this is a LONG WAY FROM HOME!

And with better weather as I was finally leaving Ushuaia, I did stop to grab a fun moment, celebrating on top of the bike my arrival.

Sungdo and I had said goodbye, as he was headed up the east coast to Buenos Aires, and I would hear from him by email about a week later that he had accidentally hit a car on his motorcycle and broke his leg just 3 months before he was set to finish his round-the-world travel. I went north and west, still wanting to back-track and confirm the more westerly routes on my way back to Santiago. (That's right, I had to ride all the way back still!) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
But you know what Forrest Lange says at moments like this: (Switching to my best Forrest voice:) ".....I rode clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, and keep on going....."

5 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you finally made Eric. Sounds like a fantastic journey to make. Stay safe.

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  2. E, keep on going! Love that freedome!
    P.C.

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  3. Hey Buddy, i'm proud of you, finally you made it and more than you were suppose to.
    I would like to do the same. maybe some day.

    Good luck on your way back.

    Take care

    Dame

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  4. Your Royal Langeness,

    Congratulations! When are you going to get started on Europe, Africa, and Asia? Oh, and don't forget Australia.

    Jason

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