Exhausted after a day and night of socialising our socks off in Puerto Madryn and a long ride on top, I got my first taste of South America’s ‘ripio’. This is essentially loose gravel. There can also be sand and dirt present, not always compacted as well as big and small stones scattered all over an off-road track. I could feel red mist descend but what I needed was clarity. I had to stiffen my resolve somehow if I was going to plough through seventeen miles of this stuff.
Bizarrely, letting go, losing myself to the looser gravel and toppling over achieved this. I lost control, comfortably going down with Pearl and spun 180 degrees spectacularly in the gravel. My half moon shaped tyre marks were Dakar-racer-esque. I rolled over fully appreciating in the moment that fear can fever a mind but laughter is poison to fear. So I laughed. And laughed again! I heartily mocked my own fear to bring it down to size, winding its neck in so I could keep going. After a prolonged moment, I exhaled not realising I’d been holding my breath and mustered enough confidence to bristle at my own fear. I looked down on it with haughty distain.
I’d emotionally invested in this journey long ago; something beyond my mind’s consciousness told me to let go or this immobilising fear would lead me somewhere I didn’t want to be. Namely hampered by the prospect of hurting myself. A bone jarring realization told me to stop gripping so damn hard. Now I had fallen off my bike, I could finally relax; ease myself into riding a motorcycle that skates around a little while counter-balancing in a ballerina-like way stood up on the foot pegs. Despite a tension sliding along each nerve of my body, Jason’s staunch support and apt advice through our helmets’ intercom system resonated with me. It was times like these that I was grateful for that all knowing, familiar voice of reason in my ears, which was often taken for granted. Falling off brought me and my dogged determination back. The effort of the off road ride was more than worth it. Hardly noticing where I pushed my side stand down at dusk, Jason chose a wild camping spot for us to bed down inside Cabo Dos Bahias Nature Reserve, just off the town Camarones in Argentina.
Like a winch pulling a diver up to the surface, my conscious brain dredged me up and out of a healing night’s sleep. A stomach full on sustenance, it was a bright new morning. We’d pitched our tent in a stunning place full of guanacos, birdlife and rheas. It was also home to a large colony of Megellanic penguins. We stopped to soak up the scene; it was like walking into the aftermath of a pillow fight. There were hundreds of penguins, all unperturbed by us sauntering by as they shed their plumage. We joined them basking in the hot sun near the water’s edge. This place was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The penguins were utterly unfazed by our intimate presence; we could have touched the penguins if we had wanted. It felt like our first mini excursion of the trip, quite a special feeling after all the long distance riding.
The seventeen miles on ripio back to the tarmac were inconceivably undemanding by the previous day’s standard. My confidence had soared, I got past a snail’s pace up into the mid-thirties and I was away. It was exhilarating instead of frightening. I felt happy rather than hostile towards the return journey and what was excruciatingly too long in second gear the afternoon before, flew by in third back to the main road. Wow, my improved off-road riding coupled with the adorable penguins put me on a high for the rest of the day. And it reinforced that Pearl was not only comfortable on the long rides but could hold her own on the slidy around stuff too. The day drew warmer as it wore on, where was the cold we were told we’d be in the thick of down here? I kept everything crossed for Mother Nature to stay in a mild mood.
I raised my game somewhat to complete the last leg down to Tierra del Fuego. The wind obviously fancied testing my resolve to another notch. When it comes to the latitude of where we were headed, they don’t call it the ‘Roaring forties, raging fifties and screaming sixties’ for nothing. Mother Nature’s latest mood swing left me reeling as the blustery wind blew; I’ve come to think that she likes playing with Pearl and me. Cheeky minx! On one particular day down to Rio Gallegos, about 360 miles north of Ushuaia, my body wasn’t running on natural energy fuelled by food and sleep but on some nervous chemical supplied from an unknown gland. For good or bad, and unknowing of the outcome, I took my chances and coaxed myself through the 250 miles of furious wind blasting me on both sides. I could feel my face contort with the effort I was exerting. After an ordeal in these conditions, I saw the first road sign for Ushuaia. Warm joy oozed through me, which overrode being wracked with fatigue, battered by the wind and haggard from strain. The final stretch of journey down to the free ferry, waiting to take us across to the island of Tierra del Fuego was another slog.
The wind picked up like never before and all we could do was push solidly against it. Leaning our full body weight into the force trying to blow us off the road was taxing for me, manageable for Jason. I had honed my technique somewhat, although having a smaller, lighter bike would always get blown around more. We made a quick rest stop on a bridge in what felt like a gale, overlooking some glacial water and pretty pink flamingoes huddled together nearby. I looked at Jase and thought I’d better laugh because otherwise, I would’ve cried in passive panic. Riding in these winds seemed to hit a new level of crazy, for me anyway.
We made the twenty minutes crossing over to Tierra del Fuego. The entrance road on the island looked anything but difficult on the map over to the nearest town, San Sebastian, that is until we quickly realized that we had ran out of tarmac. The day was wearing thin, we had limited daylight to play with – I had no option but to dig a little deeper and plough right through, eking out that extra stamina. All 75 miles on a dirt track – was about the same distance from Nottingham to Skegness. I cracked on and opened up the throttle; not quite quick enough to satisfy Jason’s sense of urgency even if it was just outside of my comfort zone.
The one thing that stirred me out of my torpor was the ever-nagging voice in my ear describing what the ride would be like in deepening darkness. Nightmarish! Jason’s unwavering patience pulled me through. I became exasperated on more than one occasion but had enough miles left in me to make it. My longest off-roading to date, it was mission accomplished when we pulled into San Sebastian with minutes of fading light remaining. Jason found it straightforward although I sensed his relief that we’d both made it before nightfall.
Having arrived saddlesore and sour, our first conversation was spent persuading the owner of a ‘hosteria’ to feed us alongside his full complement of paying patrons, workers from another town. And the second dialogue saw me pleading with a military man in uniform for us to seek shelter in one of the town’s abandoned worker’s huts. No electricity, this hut was simply a shell of a half-finished build left to mothball. As it was close to freezing with the wind chill and down pouring hard with rain, the last thing we felt like doing was pitching the tent. We won the military man over on the strict proviso that we wouldn’t “have party” or be rowdy like the last set of visitors.
Come on chappy, there are only two of us, that would make the worst party ever! We looked like authentic squatters inside this derelict dump, complete without door but with a bucket at our disposal in the corner. It would do, just for the night. I had bags like pouches under my eyes. Feeling pretty broken, I ate in a blurry state still wearing the dirt from the day’s trails and tribulations. My nerves were in tatters but were eventually stilled in the sensuous repletion of the moment that precluded thought. Sleep came to me like an unseen assailant.
Since reaching the island of Tierra del Fuego, we’d left Argentina, entered Chile, ridden through a few kilometres of ‘no man’s land’ and re-entered Argentina. Now there was a backward logic if I ever saw one. No matter, we were efficiently processed through each of the borders. Travelling for a few hours from San Sebastian, we cut the day short and took refuge from the biting rain at Rio Grande. We were cream crackered and our spirits dampened. Where the previous night saw us tramping it down, the following afternoon saw us paying a hotelier to provide us with all the facilities we could have wished for.
In two weeks we have: ridden just shy of 3,000 miles, travelled through three countries in temperatures reaching 30 plummeting to 2 degrees Celsius, endured winds that have been roaring to raging through to screaming, purged our way through tidal waves of rain upon passing the heavies and jarred every bone in our body over coarse corrugations, irksomely loose gravel and pannier-detaching terrain. We’ve practically traversed through a third of South America.
We were rewarded on the lest leg into Ushuaia by a sun kissed sublimity. The growing normality of cold, wind and rain vanished for us to savour the moment of riding over the high mountain pass and just marvel at this other worldly sight. A perfect biking day in uncharacteristically perfect conditions. I felt as though we were riding into a Go Pro promotional video, it was so spectacular, and Jason thought he was entering the scene found on an Alpen breakfast box. We passed many bikers leaving Ushuaia and overtook plenty of cyclists en route into the southern most city of the world. We had reached our first epic destination – the end of the world! We had literally run of out road going south. Having missed the last boat to the Antarctic by a hair’s breadth, we had no choice but to simply enjoy where we were, Ushuaia. The bottom of the earth by motor vehicle standards, this place did not disappoint. And what a backdrop – almighty snow-capped mountains, dramatic in every possible way. This was PATA-God-of-Peaks-GONIA!