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Posts from the ‘Argentina’ Category

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

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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!

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

Last Lands

Patagonia._This is the place that has occupied our imaginations since leaving Alaska; not only for what it is, being one of the last wild places left in the world; but also what we would be on arrival.  Sometimes we think about what it would have been like to meet a parallel universe’s version of us, traveling from south to north, from Ushuaia to Alaska.  Had we met our counterparts as they entered Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, many months since they had left Ushuaia, and so close to their destination…I reckon we might have regarded them as some kind of otherworldly being, almost as if the Fellowship of the Ring had met Tom Bombadil while he was casually riding his bicycle through Mordor to Mount Doom.

A day’s ride through this country can bring you through the diversity of an entire continent’s ecology.  Just the other morning we passed by Chilean mountain lakes and snow-capped volcanoes, in the afternoon we battled the unrelenting winds of the arid Argentine Pampas, and by evening we were surrounded by lush, autumnal timber forests that echoed Canada and Alaska in September.  For the rest of our lives, the memories of riding through so many diverse landscapes in a single day will never fade.

Patagonia evokes other memories as well.  Freezing in our tent at night, we are reminded of the bright, warm days and cold nights in Oregon and Alberta.  The long, empty, and windy stretches between places equate to those many kilometers we rode the Cassiar without grocery stores and gas stations to refuel.  It’s funny, but we miss Mexico with its air-conditioned Oxxo convenience stores on every corner, and Peru’s impossibly delicious, simple, and dirt-cheap restaurant meals.  We got two-course feasts in Peruvian cocinas for as little as $2.  Here in the beautiful, sylvan mountains and windswept valleys of Patagonia, you can’t get a restaurant meal for less than $8.  On $10 a day, our options are somewhat more restricted; and so our MSR stove has returned to its prominence in our lives in a manner unseen since North America.    The echoes of those first hilarious days of novice bicycle touring in Alaska will prove to be perfect closure for this last chapter of Bound South.

Echoes of western North Dakota in the Pampas.

The beginning of the "Seven Lakes Road" from San Martin de los Andes

Cooking before the cold

Early morning visitor

Lakeside.

Apples and berries have returned; Isaiah climbed 20 feet up for the upper branches.

The Gang - These gregarious Argentinians stopped to chat with us multiple times.

A cold and wet morning after a rainy night - We cooked dinner in the bed of this old Ford the night before.

Living and Leaping

Borders_are_a_big deal.  Crossing them is one of Bound South’s biggest thrills.  Between Anchorage and Ushuaia we’ve got fourteen international border crossings, each of them their own kind of victory, greeting, leave-taking.  Objectively, borders are probably the least romantic places we’ll visit on this journey southwards, full as they are of people who invariably want to be somewhere else.  Yet there is a romance in the way the stamps accumulate and the old roads move behind us with a new country ahead of us.  So it was that we crossed the border from Peru to Chile in the coastal Atacama desert, full of great hope and excitement for the final two countries of our long journey.

Yet this crossing in particular was tinged with a little bit of anxiety.  We treasure the privilege of bicycle travel while we can enjoy it; and for us, that privilege must end with our return home in May.  And so we looked at the 5000+ kilometers separating us from Ushuaia and figured out that we weren’t able to make it on our own.

We begrudgingly hopped a bus to central Chile and since then we’ve been riding like the wind.  I have always relished the consistent pace of bicycle travel, the way we can enjoy every mile and see the gradual progression of the landscape under our own power.  This time, the window of an overnight bus transformed the endless earthen tones of the Atacama desert into the Mediterranean green of pastoral Chile.  Now we ride through pine forests, ranch lands, dairy farms, and apple orchards.  It almost feels like we got here too quickly; the changing landscape is an uncomfortable reminder that the end in Ushuaia is so close.

We have no regrets.  No adventure is perfect.  Riding into Ushuaia in May and coming home will be close enough to perfect, as far as I am concerned.  If anything, our recent weeks have reminded us once again what a privilege it is to travel by bicycle, and to treasure this last chapter of our long journey from Alaska.

New favorite food recipe: Oatmeal, dulce de leche, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, granola, honey, powdered milk.

David disrespects his elders and their loss of a real hat.

Argentine-Chilean volcano serves as a border marker.

Granite cliffs herald the beginning of Patagonia

Just another passerby on a long and empty road.

Nathan trades his North America "bear-stick" for a new Patagonian bamboo model.

Brushing teeth on a frozen early morning.

Climbing some rough dirt near the border.

New volcano for a new country.

Argentina! Not the last time we'll see this sign.

Argentina

Autumn blooms in Argentina.