[Yes, that is me, holding up the cast iron skillet I've been hauling along the whole way]
At around 3:00pm local time I got to Ushuaia, after almost 21 months since departing from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Right now the fact that I’m done with this trip is only starting to sink in. As far as I’m concerned, tomorrow is just another day, in that I’ll be drinking coffee when I get up. But of course it will be unusual in that I won’t be getting on my bike, I’ll be giving it and I a rest for at least little while.
I’ve already received dozens of messages from folks congratulating me. Thank you so much for joining me on this journey! I can’t wait to see you in person. Stay tuned to the blog, I still have tons of pictures and stories that I’ll be posting. But for now, I’m going to go curl up in my sleeping bag, I didn’t sleep much last night!
17000 from Matt Kelly on Vimeo.
Made it to 17,000 miles (27,400 km) on the odometer yesterday. Why am I shouting? It was so windy and I wanted to make sure I could be heard. And it really was that difficult to hold the camera still.
“Hello, welcome to 17,000 miles. It is windy out here. This is the second to last 500 mile update. In 500 more miles I will be on the Tierra del Fuego island. I’m in the middle of the Patagonian pampa. That is all, goodbye.”
“Patagonian pampa” might be a contradiction; in Argentina, the pampa are the lowlands further north in the country. But I recall the word being used in countries like Ecuador and Peru to describe treeless plains, after all, the word comes from Quechua.
At any rate, the winds prevail from the west from the Andes, and since I have been travelling mostly southwest for the past week, I’ve had some nice assistance. But it isn’t always easy! The first 20 miles from Gobernador Gregores yesterday were mostly south (click here to see my route mapped out), with the wind to my side, which meant leaning into the wind and riding the bike at the same time. During the odd lull in the wind, I’d find it hard to steer, as if my handlebars were crooked; after a while I had gotten used to using my body weight to lean and balance the bike. I actually found it easiest to keep the bike moving, once you stop, trying to stand up was difficult.
The wind was easily as strong as when I decided I had to hitch in Tehuantepec, Mexico, after my bike and I tumbled into a ditch. But yesterday the wind was steady and from my right, in Tehuantepec it came in gusts from the left, and the heavy truck traffic meant I couldn’t balance.
Finally I reached a left turn in the highway, and was pushed along at speeds of up to 30mph (50kmph). I had been on the road for 2 hours already, and the prospect of 100 more miles was rather daunting, but I didn’t have much of an option, there is really very little out here and finding shelter would have been difficult. I was swept along (save for the few times when the road turned back into the wind) and got to Comandante Piedrabuena just before dusk. I fell asleep and could feel my body swaying back and forth as if I had just gotten off a boat.
This town is on a river, just a couple miles away is the Atlantic ocean, which I haven’t seen in over 9 months since Turbo, Colombia. I think I’ll take another day off here, after all, I’ve got about 2 weeks to do just 500 miles, NBD (no big deal).
Surprise, greetings from Perito Moreno, Argentina (see map to the right)! A not so slight change in course. How did I end up here? By bike of course (and a ferry ride across Lago, South America’s second largest lake). But what made me decide to come this way?
On my way out of Coyhaique, I was feeling less and less OK with my decision to catch the earlier ferry at the end of the Careterra Austral, which would involve hitching. I toyed with the idea of taking the one a week later and hitching afterward if I had to. But I didn’t like that option either. When I got to the junction on the Careterra for Puerto Ibañez, it was raining, and I sat under a bus stop, and thought about my options. The decision to head down to Puerto Ibañez wasn’t easy, but in the end, I think it was the right one.
In short, I think my body, mind and bike are much more weary than I realize (for what it is worth, the French tourists at the campsite here said I look tired, but that was before my morning coffee). Despite plenty of sleep lately, I wake up and my legs feel rather sluggish. There is a season for everything, and at the moment the route I was planning to do was looking more and more daunting, and far too rushed. I’ve had stretches of grueling and challenging (and rewarding) routes on this trip, but perhaps now is not the time for more of that.
Taking the Easy Way Out? Perhaps, but the weeks of biking ahead will have their challenges, so maybe more like Picking My Battles. Quitting (the Careterra Austral) While I’m Ahead? Most likely; I had a stupendous week of great weather and serene camping, and am glad to remember my time in Chile like that.
I do think about what I’ll be missing (and travelers who have been to or want to go to the places I am missing out on may think I made the wrong choice, but too bad): Riding on the Ruta 40 again (but this time triple digits instead of kilometer markers 4,300-3200 like I did back in January). Seeing the Rio Baker, one of the biggest and prettiest of Chile, before it is dammed (damned). The Villa O’Higgins crossing and the bike/hike into Argentina described by some cyclists as “a must do” and “epic”. The hikes and scenery around El Chalten and Calafate; Mt. Fitzroy and Torres del Paine. But if I start to think about all the things I didn’t do, or detours I didn’t take on this trip (or in life!), then I’d loose sight of the things I have experienced and cherish. I’ve made a decision, and I have no option but to stick to it and make the most of it. Yes, you only live once, but in this once lifetime, I do plan on travelling more than once!
The ferry ride across to Chile Chico was only a couple hours, as the Lake Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires on the Argentine side) is rather narrow at this point. My ride into Argentina and to Perito Moreno was great, with constant tailwind from the west. And of course, a much more noticeable display of Catholic fervor than in Chile, with a Stations of the Cross that spread out over a mile or two (albeit backwards for me), and huge roadside shrines. And, aside from the huge blue lake, the scenery is quite similar to what I experienced in northwestern Argentina, wide open spaces, and not much out there except short scrub, permanently bent sideways due to the wind. And behind me, rain clouds that seemed to stop right along the mountain chain along the Chilean border. But it is much cooler than when I was biking between Salta and Mendoza. The days are shorter (just around 13 hours from dawn till dusk), and the noontime sun much lower on the horizon. (Through the wonder of hemispheres and airplane travel, I’ll be back north just after the equinox, in time to start enjoying longer and longer days into the northern summer.)
So where to from here? My most likely route is to head straight east (with a nice tailwind) on Ruta 43 until I hit Ruta 3 on the Atlantic side of Argentina. From there I’ll continue south to Rio Gallegos, then cross into Chile and take a ferry to the Tierra Del Fuego island, and back into Argentina to Ushuaia. Aside from the wind, which can be quite a curse when not a blessing, I’m looking forward to some long stretches to just bike and let my mind wander.
For now, I’m enjoying a day off in Perito Moreno, doing not much. The only thing I have to do here is buy groceries and exchange the boatload (pun intended) of Chilean cash I took out to pay for the ferry. But the value it will loose in Argentine pesos is just a sunk cost (no pun intended, I have friends on that boat!).
Time is flying! February is almost done. So what happened the last 2 weeks? I rode from Bariloche to El Bolson and met Greg there. We took a day off to get our bikes tuned up, and I packed a box with 5 kilos of junk I didn’t need and sent it on to Buenos Aires. From El Bolson we headed into Alerces National Park, the first time I’ve paid for a national park since Peru maybe (what I mean by that is there just haven’t been a lot of national parks along the way). But it was worth it, the park was a lot less busy than the Siete Lagos area, and not so commercialized (I’m looking at you, Villa Angostura).
I lost Greg for a day while he tried his luck at fishing, but met an Argentine cyclist Santiago enjoying his vacation days by bike. I was on the road in the morning before him (not before sharing some coffee that Greg’s sister brought down), I don’t often find cyclists that can take longer to get going in the morning than me. At the end of the day, Santiago, Greg, and I all ran into each other again in Trevelin, where we found a campsite that 3 more cyclists ended up at, Evan from Washington, Peter from Utah and Robin from Scotland (with moustache handlebars and handlebar moustache).
Having not really partaken in an asado, the Argentine meat grill, despite being in the country for 2 months already, it was a good time to do this, considering we were in the company of a skilled grillmaster, Santiago. And aside from the meat (which I can take or leave, maybe I should just become a vegetarian for once and for all), we also cooked up veggies right in the coals. But surely you must wrap everything in wasteful aluminum foil, right? This isn’t the case, the potatoes, onion and garlic all came out just fine.
Chile was just down the road! After enjoying another dozen pastries, we set off under a cloudless sky and up to the border. This marked the last country to cross into by bike, bringing the total to 15. (However, I will be crossing the Chile/Argentina border 3 more times.) We got to Futaleufu, just over the border and found a campsite. After a really slow start the next day, it was now the afternoon when Greg and I were about set to pedal out of town when Robin and Evan ran into us. They had just convinced each other to go rafting, and hoped we’d be in as well to maybe get a discount. I flat out told Greg I had no interest, but he should do it if he wanted, and that I’d keep on cycling, but part of me said I should go for it. Through persuasive arguments, Rob and Evan convinced us that an afternoon of rafting was in store. After all, when else would we be in one of the top rafting rivers in the world? So I used my birthday money from Grandma Kelly (thanks Grams!) for an early birthday treat.
It was indeed worth it, and am glad to have done it. I had been rafting in Tennessee a decade ago, but I think this was much wilder of a ride. We had a great guide from Peru (and another kayaker and catamaran ahead of us for safety), and the river was crystal clear (as they all seem to be around here). Probably not something I’ll go try again soon, but it was quite a thrill and an incredible location.
Greg had to head back to Argentina for bike parts, so I kept going on my own. A day’s ride west gets you to the junction with the Careterra Austral, the highway that runs 1,200 km from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, and only in the past decade has the road been connected the whole way. What followed was an amazing week, I’d like to think my birthday week, only a couple cloudy days with a little drizzle. Everynight I camped, and not once in a pay campsite. So no hot showers but plenty of rivers and lakes to bathe in. I spent my birthday morning reading the cards that were sent down with Hawk back in November. I’d really love to show you some pictures highlighting the week, but the internet connection is too miserably slow, you’ll have to take my word for it that it is beautiful around here.
Many thanks for all the birthday wishes and contributions via my ‘Fly Matt Home’ page (I’m still working through my list of thank you notes). Some exciting news is that I’ve bought my Buenos Aires – Mexico City leg of my journey, I’ll be flying the 31st of March. So that gives me around four weeks to get to Ushuaia, despite being glad to have that ticket and have found a good deal, I am running into the fact that I have to face that this trip is quickly coming to an end. I’m trying not to get stressed thinking about my return back to the US, and things like finding a job (hopefully one with health insurance!).
The route I plan takes me all the way to the end of the Careterra Austral, where there is a ferry that takes you across a lake and close to the Argentine border. From here there is a trail that is about 20km to the nearest road, and involves carrying your bike in parts at times. The problem is that since it is the end of the season, the ferry only leaves every Saturday, and is 350 miles of mostly dirt road away. To do this in a week would be tough, and I can’t really slow down to do it in two weeks, as I won’t have much time on the other end to get to Ushuaia.
So my plan for the next week is to just keep biking at an enjoyable pace, and at some point hitch to make enough time to get to Villa O’Higgins by Friday evening. Now, up until this point I’ve only hitched twice, but I think I’m at the point in my trip, especially after a great time last week, where I really am realizing the journey isn’t about the destination, or being a purist and not taking a ride when weather or logistics necessitate it. Sometimes I wonder why I should try and get to Ushuaia at all, maybe I’d be quite content sitting by a lake for the next month. But part of me does recognize completing the task I set out to achieve 20 months ago.
Keep tuned with my twitter posts on the right hand side of my page for the most up to date information and locations! The countdown starts! I have about 10 degrees of latitude further south to go, and around 1,000 miles left. ¡Si se puede!
16000 from Matt Kelly on Vimeo.
Don’t eat cookies right before you shoot a video! I got hooked on the Frutigran brand in Argentina. The ones with flax and chia seed were great.
16500 from Matt Kelly on Vimeo.
Sporting my Fine Italian Merino sweater bought at Village Discount for a few dollars.