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Familiar Roads

Hard to believe we’re home.  After nine months and 15,000 miles between Alaska and Argentina, the three of us have reunited with family and friends in North Dakota.  Daily showers, home-cooked food, fast cars, and comfy clothes are just a few of the wonders of life that we are growing re-accustomed to.  Meanwhile, the inevitable question lingers over us: “What’s next?”  We have been sharing our story with local media and we are so thankful for the outpouring of support that we have received since stepping off the airplane from Buenos Aires.  To be honest, we’re all a little worn out and looking for a few days of time off with family.  Our sister’s graduation day was a special time for us to be home.

In time, we’ll announce our plans to tour the state of North Dakota and Minnesota by bicycle.  We have many speeches and presentations about our 15,000 mile journey to deliver this summer.  David will look forward to college this fall.  Nathan is hopeful for employment in music teaching.  I am preparing for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.  Somehow all this bicycling doesn’t help with pull-ups.

After months of life by bicycle, perhaps the hardest thing about coming home is the speed of an airplane.  We saw landscapes drift by at the steady, measured pace of our Surly Trolls.  We crossed international borders and mountain ranges and deserts in a manner that allowed us to acclimate to the steady changes and regional differences of the Americas.  Our airplane brought us across the same distance in one redeye flight from Buenos Aires to Atlanta, and beyond to North Dakota.  Stepping off the plane in Fargo, ND, we couldn’t help but feel like we’d been hastily transported to a foreign country.  We noticed especially the new cars filling the streets and the enormous homes that were so unremarkable to us before traveling abroad.  There is much we’ll never take for granted again, now that we are finished.  We’ve been changed in profound ways by what we have experienced, and we look forward to sharing that with local communities in the months ahead.

Bicycles being packed; the process took us all day in Ushuaia.

New and old friends in Buenos Aires.

Our sister’s pickup came in handy to get Angus, Sam, and Goliath home safely.

Family photo; at this point we still hadn’t showered or changed in days.

The Berg family farm has produced some unbearably cute kittens since we left.

Marta is all grown up now.

Since leaving, our parents have erected what I call “the Marta shrine”.

After graduation day, tragically, Marta’s face is permanently frozen in this posture.

We really, really missed being home.

Kids love the old trampoline in the backyard.

The famous “toppling cake”; a group of men were so busy loading up on pulled pork they didn’t even notice when it fell over.

Vegetables!  Real, fresh, delicious vegetables!

Note the stares of incredulity; this was pulled-pork-sandwich-#5.

Fruit!  Real, fresh, delicious fruit salad!

Did we mention how much we like food?  These are called oreo balls.

We love you Mom.

Flower for Marta.

The Berg family does its part to sustain the greeting card industry.

Rain and cars make for a muddy, messy farmyard.

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The End of the World

“We_saw_a_vision of the entire Western Hemisphere rockribbing clear down to Tierra del Fuego and us flying down the curve of the world into other tropics and other worlds. “Man, this will finally take us to IT!” said Dean with definite faith. He tapped my arm. “Just wait and see.” 

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Tierra del Fuego

The_road_signs keep telling us that Ushuaia is just a few kilometers away.  What does it mean to be this close to where the road ends, where we can go no further south?  The closeness of Ushuaia hasn’t made Tierra del Fuego’s famous winds any easier to combat on bicycle.  For reference, when the wind isn’t in your favor, it is quite easy for a strong cyclist to be humbled by the pace of a gaucho herding some sheep at a horse’s walking pace.  The rough, washboard gravel road that we took more than 100k from Porvenir to our final crossing into Argentina wasn’t made any smoother.  Our excitement and simultaneous bewilderment at how close we are to the end of this long road hasn’t kept our feet and hands warm while riding through wintry mornings.  Ushuaia is where we pack up our bicycles and fly home and say good-bye to this life of tent-camping and stove-cooking and unknown miles by bicycle.  Yet these last days with my brothers and Joe aren’t any more special or significant than the hundreds that came before them.  That first comical day out of Anchorage, struggling to get 100k finished as complete rookies in abundant Alaskan daylight, was no less crucial than the 100k that we covered yesterday and the 100k we’ll ride tomorrow to finish Bound South.  These last days on Tierra del Fuego aren’t special or different, and for that we are thankful.  These last miles are simply more sustenance for this moveable feast we will always know as Bound South.

Boarding the ferry to Tierra del Fuego.

Skewed horizons on the Strait of Magellan 

Our first day on Tierra del Fuego brought us to Concordia, a sheep farm of 7000, where we were welcomed by two gauchos.

They had four extra beds, a roaring stove, coffee and mate, bread and homemade “ruibarbo” jam. We were ecstatic and so thankful to be out of the elements.

We were told the gaucho on the far right is the oldest shepherd in all of Patagonia, having worked for over 80 years!

Patagonian wind.

Three days.

The Atlantic.

Life in the Vast Lane.

To celebrate Joe’s birthday, we biked 110 kilometers through the wind and rain. This is Joe 60 kilometers in.

Our destination that day: La Unión, a bakery in Tolhuin. We sang for our keep here. They housed us, fed us, and treated Joe to this much-deserved slab of cake.

Buen Provecho!

Las Torres

The_wonders_of the world are only made more magnificent when you approach them from the humble perch of a bicycle.  We woke that cold, blustery morning in the horse stable we camped in for the night.  We were surprisingly feted with free breakfast by an amazing luxury hotel with giant portions of succulent lamb, eggs, and bread.  Riding west to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine we encountered the best weather we’ve seen yet in Patagonia.  We did not deserve it and will never forget it.

Nathan, Joe, and Isaiah rolling fast towards the park. That night we camped in a horse barn to escape the rain and cold. No mice this time.

The next day revealed stellar views of Torres del Paine.

And a chance encounter with the staff of the luxury hotel, Tierra Patagonia, and their chef, David.  He hooked us up.

Coffee and tea, scrambled eggs, toast, and these slabs of lamb were his gift to us. We had just had oatmeal, but we couldn’t say no. Our rationale: something we call preventative eating. It was outrageous.

Javier, local rancher and owner of the barn we slept in.

Joe being Joe.

More crisp views of Torres del Paine. 

Laguna Amarga

Thanks for the great photo, Joe.

We came across a group of eagles and an Andean condor feeding on this guanaco.

Sweeping descents and steep climbs matched the sheer nature of the landscape.

It was otherworldly.

And painful at times for Joe, shown here massaging his legs.

An unforgettable day.

A Friend to the End

When_I_decided to hop on my bicycle after high school, I knew that I wasn’t alone.  My best friend, Joe Burgum, also chose what is unconventional and created an experience.  He lived and worked in Australia, traveled to New Zealand, and made a difference.  Now, I am glad to say that his experience has led him here to Patagonia (with warm socks, snacks, and lots of peanut butter), where he will join us for the final leg of our journey.

Joe and I share a lot.  We enjoy playing croquet and cards, organizing and leading events, taking risks, and serving.  We did everything together in high school.  We rallied a community to Fill the Dome, volunteered across the United States with Students Today Leaders Forever, constructed an ice tree for our school, and so much more.  He’s well-spoken, intellectual, courageous, and witty.  He has been someone I have missed dearly on this trip, and someone I am now ecstatic to share it with.  It brings a smile to my face to know that I will be among both brothers and best friend as I ride to the end of the world on Tierra del Fuego.

Joe, writing a few postcards home before riding with us to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Miracle on Highway #40

When_we_aren’t riding, eating, or sleeping, chances are that we are planning.  The exercise of planning anything with my brothers will be one of the things I will miss dearly when we leave Bound South behind.  Countless times between Alaska and Argentina, I have found the three of us standing in a circle near our bicycles, bantering at lightspeed in barely intelligible English as we weigh the most efficient, adventurous, and fulfilling means to ride across Colombia, navigate a grocery store, or decide who has to do dishes and who will pack up the tent.  There is an loving contentiousness between brothers where the volume and intensity of argument can escalate to near-blows when everyone is tired and hungry and I want to stop for food before camping and Nathan wants to stop to camp before we get food.  Frequently, the best-laid plans go awry; the important thing is that everyone is heard and contributes to our course of action.

Sometimes, failure isn’t an option.  Bound South made some bold plans to ride across the Austral and Highway 40 in time to meet David’s best friend, Joe Burgum, in El Calafate.  Three would become four for the final leg to Ushuaia.  Yet stiff winds and washboards and cold conspired to put us 200k behind schedule.  After pushing our bodies to the limit, we rolled into a dead-end town on Argentina’s Highway 40 with no way to reach El Calafate on time.  We had not seen internet for a week.  We had no food. The town had neither, only a gas station with a few overpriced ham sandwiches.  And the last bus to El Calafate?  It left an hour before we arrived.  And due to the Argentine equivalent of Labor Day Weekend, no more buses would run for days.  So we were stuck, unable to ride the deficit in time to meet our friend, unable to notify him, and fearing that he would arrive to a strange town with no Spanish skills and no idea if we were dead or gone.  We stood in a circle, hungry, despairing, and had few ideas other than   dressing in all of our winter gear and waiting on the side of Highway #40 to pray for a truck to hitch with.

We ate some overpriced ham sandwiches sullenly.  The owner of the gas station explained that he had a friend who would be happy to drive us for the low, low price of $540 USD.  I politely thanked him for the offer, neglecting to tell him that this sum would pay for nearly two months of bicycle adventure.  We drifted around the parking lot aimlessly, feeling in our gut that we were in trouble but that somehow things would work out.  Three brand new Toyota pickup trucks rolled into the gas station.  Loaded to the brim with coolers of food, fishing rods, clothing, Argentine wine, and some of the most gregarious Argentine family that you could possibly imagine.  The details run long, but before we knew it we were hurtling across the empty, cold pampas in the back of a pickup truck, camping out at the ranch of an Argentine business mogul, and enjoying Argentine steak and wine and company in front of a fireplace.

The most indelible experiences of a bicycle expedition, just like the most unpleasant, can never be planned or counted upon.  We sat in a circle that night as a family, after being filled with steak dinner and a tired by a rugged moonlight hike.  Wine flowed and dessert of cheese and jam was served.  We sang for our hosts as is our brotherly tradition; a Lutheran hymn and a negro spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  In a uniquely South American way, the men drank and smoked and held court with some of the most contentious, high-volume, and dramatic conversation that I have ever seen.  The topics of conversation were also among the most mundane and entertaining that I have ever seen; why the Argentine Patagonians don’t sing like these fine North Dakotan men, why gas prices are so high, why we don’t ride our bicycles during the night, and what handsome eyelashes David has.  The women, young and old, tended to sit to the side and laugh at the spectacle of Bruno, the patriarch of the ranch, shout “Lies!  Lies!  Lies!” during an absurd conversation about mothers’ insistence on musical lessons for their children, or fall asleep as the conversation thundered into the early morning.  North Dakota Lutherans don’t stay up this late, and perhaps we don’t always have as much fun, either.  And like a dream it was over too soon, with our bodies and bicycles dropped into the frigid air of El Calafate the next morning.

One of the family men, Jorge, refused to accept our offer to help pay for their generosity.  The women had left to use the restroom and do some quick shopping.  With the wisdom that can probably only be accrued through years and years of loving a wife and raising daughters, he said, “I don’t want you to give us anything, you have given us so much.”  With a wink, he said, “I don’t need anything, but perhaps the women might appreciate something…” and he gestured to the chocolate shop down the street.  He was a wise man, indeed.  We snuck off to the chocolate shop and purchased some of the most expensive and delicious chocolate that I have ever seen in my entire life.  We returned moments later, and as the women returned we presented our gift.  In twenty-four hours, we went from hapless gringos to pitied American bicycle vagabonds to charming, courageous adventurer-singers to golden-boys bearing gifts of fine chocolate.  The looks and kisses on the cheek good-bye said it all.  For a short time, we were a part of their family, and they were a part of our story.  The memories of our time with them and that unique, unplanned miracle on Highway #40 stays with us forever.

These delicious gifts gave us full tummies and big smiles.

Inside our shack at the ranch.

Dinner’s ready!

The shack.

“Whiskey!”

Bruno

Mt. Fitz Roy on the road to El Calafate

Austral Diaries IV: Billion Dollar Wilderness

The_most_important commodity for Bound South is not food, clothing, shelter, or even paved roads; it is information.  And unfortunately, when we go off the grid we can’t Google for every contingency.  We found ourselves amongst the  most spectacular portions of the Carretera Austral; glacial peaks and turquoise rivers, all connected by a wicked, washboard road with no respect for the tired legs of three hungry cyclists.  Since winter is here, the ferries across the southern lakes of the Austral don’t run and the only way to leave the Austral was for us to press east of Cochrane for a little known road and crossing known as Paso Roballo.  Empty dirt passed through a mountain valley for hours and hours of riding, and for a second time on the Austral, we unexpectedly ran out of food and supplies.  Perhaps it was hubris about our riding abilities or confidence in the size of the small-named-pueblos on the map of Patagonia, but either way we found ourselves riding alone in the mountains with nonexistent road traffic and no supplies for hundreds of kilometers in any direction.

Suddenly a new Jeep SUV pulled up behind us and without hesitation we flagged them down for some information.  After initiating the conversation in Spanish, the man in the driver’s seat responded to me in a thick British accent, “Would you prefer to proceed in English?”  I flagged Nathan and David over, explaining that my dirt-encrusted, haggard-looking brothers were even more charming when they could join in the conversation.  The driver asked, “Do you know who Douglas Tompkins is?”  Admittedly we had no idea.  “Well, you happen to be on his property.”  There are few fences, signs, or man-made demarcations of any kind in Patagonia, and it wasn’t as if Mr. Tompkins had acquired a small plot in southern Chile for a vacation cottage.  Tompkins owned everything as far as the eye could see; over 2 million acres of Patagonian wilderness, purchased from families and sheep farmers and businesses with the goal of creating some of the largest natural reserves in the world.

Just a few kilometers later we stumbled on his village.  In a place with no electricity, no plumbing, and only one very bad single lane dirt road, we found beautiful stone chateaus and lodges being raised up out of the Earth.  We were hopeful that they would have some food and water.  After striking up a conversation with a construction foreman and office lady, we suddenly had new friends.  Within moments they had showered us with bread, jam, tuna cans, cookies, and a bag of instant chicken-flavored-rice.  Manna descended from Patagonian heaven.

And so we pressed on, only to find more washboards and hard riding, and soon out of food once more on the Argentine border.  And again, the border guards had mercy on us, taking us in out of the cold, putting us at a kitchen table in front of a wood stove, and giving us all of the hot coffee and tea that we could drink.  They also gave us a tip that a lady and her son lived fourteen kilometers down the road in Argentina, and that she could sell us a few pieces of fried bread, potatoes and onions.  We had no spare food to speak of, with our only goal being survival of the 125-kilometer-dirt-road to Bajo Caracoles, a small town in the pampas of Argentina.  We found still more washboards to accompany the famously brutal winds in this part of the world.  We found more difficulties and miracles to answer them; just wait for the wonders that come after the Austral Diaries.

We don’t always get what we want, but we get what we need.  So now we ride together, with the Austral behind us, brimming with the inevitable confidence that infects us as we approach the end and new beginnings.

Lago General Carrera

Confluence of Rio Baker and Rio Neff

Riding til last light.

Evening reflections at Puerto Bertrand.

“My rights are my freedom”

On the road to Paso Roballo.

Weaving our way across the billion-dollar wilderness.

Stiff climbs are the rule, not the exception.

One of Tompkins’ lodges overlooking the valley.  Construction foreman said, “That’s where rich people will stay.” in typically blunt fashion.

Sun rings and silhouettes

Riding up to our campsite for the night.

Looking back at Chilean Patagonia before crossing into Argentina.

We crossed into a new world at Paso Roballo.

Fact: in Patagonia, there are way more sheep than people.

“Last one there is a rotten egg!”

Big skies

Our new friend, Kent, has been with us since the Carretera Austral.  Sadly, he lost his right arm on the road shortly after this photo was taken.

More brief divergences in the lonely road to Highway 40 in the pampas.

Snowy Chile still behind us, stiff headwinds in front of us.

We encountered Chilean Flamingos, Black-necked Swans, and ostrich-like Rheas upon crossing back into Argentine Patagonia.

Argentine Sunset.

Cold camping at night has been a constant.

First light on the Argentine Pampas

Pampas and accompanying headwinds made for a brutal first-full-day in Argentina