I awoke early to leave Punta Arenas, reaching the boat at a chilly 8 AM. The crossing took a couple hours for the ferry to rock and roll across the Strait of Magellan. I disembarked and was immediately met with possibly the strongest winds I have ever felt while not flying my hand out of a moving vehicle. I rolled out of the town of Porvenir onto the dirt track that would take me across the Island of Tierra del Fuego and back into Argentina. The route traced the west coast of this rock, rolling up and down and bringing back memories of Big Sur and Michoacan. Heading inland, I rode through the nicest pampa I have ever seen, golden hills covered with stiff windswept grasses glowing in the bright sun. Clouds blazed overhead at breakneck speeds, their shadows slinking around hills and ducking into small valleys.
I flew down these good but sometimes treacherous roads, spinning between 35-42 kph with a well deserved tailwind. Around each bend the wind might change, and could easily blow me over or into a passing car. I managed to keep the rig upright, although I had several near misses, one of which left me fishtailing wildly down the road and dabbing one foot several times to avoid disaster. After 161 km (~100 miles) of dirt, I reached the border station, and said goodbye to Chile for the last time. I made a quick stop for an early dinner and eagerly headed off onto smooth pavement. The winds picked up, sometimes constant at 60 kph, and gusting to what a weather report would later tell me was 79 kph (49 mph). I rode along the Atlantic shore until the sun went down, with just enough light left to throw myself and my gear over a barbed wire fence and pitch my tent behind a very small dirt pile, the only shelter in sight. Having waited out the winter in the North, I enjoyed 17 hours of sunlight a day and warm mornings inside the tent. The day had been productive, if not also the most dangerous cycling I have ever enjoyed. I crushed my previous fully-loaded one-day record of 164 km (102 miles) with a new one of 220 km (137 miles). Had I been headed in the opposite direction, it might have taken me four days to cover the same distance.
It may seem as though I was in a hurry to finish, but in fact I was savoring the moments. There is a satisfaction of riding until the sun, pain, hunger, or exhaustion does not allow you to continue. I savored my last days, wringing out every last drop of energy and time that I could.
The next day, I continued South, and unfortunately wasn’t quite as lucky with the winds. As I was blown about the road, heavy traffic had me worried about being run over so I spent some time walking. On one gusty, unrideable stretch into the wind, I walked for two hours, making only six kilometers. At times I staggered about like a drunken sailor, buffeted by the gale. When I was able to get on again, winds came at me on a 45 from behind and I turned my back to meet them, a Biker Bernoulli. I watched the oil wells pumping along the pampa, sucking petrol from the ground for my flight home. Distance signs cruised by, stating unbelievably short distances until the end. Bright green trees appeared, and snowy mountains slowly walked over the horizon, meeting me at the end of the day. I resupplied at a gas station and camped on a ledge just off the road.
The next day, I turned to the West, partially protected from the wind by the mountains. The land was littered with lakes, big and small, gawking tourists, and cyclists just starting their own expeditions, my replacements. I looked forward to climbing over the last pass, to breathing hard, and busting out a performance I would be proud of. Paso Garabaldi, unfortunately, was much smaller than I had imagined, and by the time I thought I had just started it was over. The precipitation alternated between pouring rain and blowing snow on the descent into the valley on the other side. I thought about taking it easy; I didn’t want to crash so close to the end, but then again, I didn’t want to waste the last good descent. I cut all the corners, pedaled to the end of my gears, and played my favorite downhill game, called Brakes are for Babies, grinning like a mental patient in some sort of manic episode.
The surroundings were strikingly similar to those around El Chalten, which I had passed through just some weeks back. Equally stunning, huge snow-topped titans stood guard, rivers meandered down from the glaciers, and plants sucked up what life they could from the ground while bracing from the wind and cold. I followed the river, passing under towers of rock high above, until water appeared on the horizon, the Beagle Channel. Entering Ushuaia was a momentous event for me. The name Ushuaia (ooo-shwhy-yuh) I had spoken so many times when asked where I was going. I could scarcely believe I had arrived. I spent a sleepless night in town, then rode off at 7 AM towards the end of the highway. Despite my reluctant pedaling the short 26 km began ticking by and I feared for the moment that was approaching. My legs continued despite my thoughts. The pavement ended and I began the last dirt stretch, the occasional tourist vehicle passed, the passengers gawking at the cyclist in the rain. Some 10 km from the end of this dirt track, snow began to fall through the gaps in the trees, forming white columns in my route.
As the tears streamed down my cheeks I thought of what I would do without my trusty steed, The Trucker, under me to carry me onward, and what I would do without El Carnicero at my side to protect me. What would I be without this life, living under bridges, going showerless and smelly for too long, riding on top of vehicles to avoid checkpoint fees, and surfing dumptrucks up hills? My mind wandered through the immense concentration of events in these last two years and 13 days. Such beautiful memories of people, places, accomplishments, and hardships. It has been so much more than I could ever have imagined it would be. Often, I was asked what I thought it would be like when I was preparing to leave Seattle. I always answered that I envisioned a great and terrible expedition. I have found that both of these states are largely subjective, and as such it was almost always great. I feel that I have lived so much in this short time. The 18,766km I rode over 743 days flew by, but my head is filled with memories worth so much more. I lived five years of making new friends and overindulging, ten years of sorrow, tears, happiness, and laughter, 20 years of sunsets, landscapes, exhaustion, and endorphins, 30 years of daydreams and adventure, and a lifetime of freedom and bliss so light and ethereal that superlatives fail to describe the true joy it brought. It was an amazing way to live, to pass some of the time I have, and it was beautiful.
Suddenly, that sign I have seen on so many cyclist blogs came into view, the moment arrived, and my heart panged for more road. I rode on the boardwalk to the end, still amazed at the view of the clouds whipping by, and snow blowing sideways. Tears sopped up, I took my photos and lingered for a while despite the cold. Luckily, I had arrived before the crush of tourists that soon pulled up to check the “end of the world” off their list of two-week vacation to-dos. I slowly rode back to town in the falling snow, feeling elated for completing my goal, a project that consumed more than four years of my life with preparation and pedaling. It had become my identity: I gave up almost everything material I owned and chose this difficult existence. In some ways it was one of the easiest things I have ever done. Looking back at the same forests and mountains I passed on the way in, I marveled at their beauty from this strange new direction. I looked North, and seemed to see through the mountains, to the road my tires had buzzed along, and the people, places, and things that had crossed my path. I remembered so many stories, some funny, some epic, some sad, and smiled at them all. Some time ago, I was bidding farewell to some friends I had made and one of them told me, “never look back,” as I crossed the threshold. For me, I now see that looking back is sometimes where the best views are, and that, in the end, was what this was really all about.
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