Saturday morning

Coffee and steak and the prospect of an easy day and a glacier — these make for a good morning. Today we plan to drive just to Calafate, where I expect to get in by 3 p.m., and then drive on to Perito Moreno glacier. Today is going to be a good day. It already is.

North

23 February, 2018 – Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos via motorcycle, 580 km / 360 miles, plus two border crossings and a ferry ride – 1-minute read

I’m pushing myself to extra caution this morning, reminding myself to go slowly, double check every move. I’m elated – and I know now would be the easiest time for a careless accident. After perceiving victory is the time to avoid a true defeat. Sun tzu? I don’t know where it came from. But I’ll use it today.

That was this morning; I’m happy to say that today was without accident. We traveled all the way back to Rio Gallegos, where were greeted and embraced by Victor, the apartment renter cum friend. It was like coming home.

Today was amazing; I felt light, with the weight of my 2.5 year journey at rest. Today was just a ride. If something happens and we have to haul the bike, it’s okay; leave it, heartbreaking, but okay, too. I can let this demon – the panamerican -rest.

Beyond the End of the World

I have some big decisions coming up over the next few months, but for today, I’m glad to be taking a break from traveling. We were lucky enough to book a Piratour penguin watching trip, the only one in Ushuaia that allows you to walk on the island with the birds. Well worth spending an extra day in town, and the $160 each for the afternoon – where else could I walk within a few feet of a thousand laughing penguins?

And tomorrow we plan to ride all the way back to Rio Gallegos, 8 hours of riding, two border crossings and a ferry ride. But if we can make it, then the day after we’ll get to visit the Perito Moreno glacier outside of El Calafate; the journey continues. And so I must sleep now.

The End of the World

We made it. We made it. We made it. Somehow I don’t feel the reality of it. We had to go back to the sign twice; the first time we forgot to get a picture of us together. The second time at the “end of the road” sign felt more real, yet… the trip isn’t over yet. But now we’ll be heading north.

In the morning we road through the last of the Tierra del Fuego road, up into the mountains with excitement building. At the signposts entering Ushuaia we stopped for a victory moment, then realized we still weren’t quite through.

Later, in the park, we visited the last post office, a tiny shop run by an aging old man who was carefully sweeping the floors when I entered. Out of the wind, the small stove warmed the wooden building, which jutted out over the bay. A placard inside with the distance to Alaska and a motorcycle silhouette seemed to perfect, and is now one of the few souvenirs of our PanAmerican Highway journey.

On the way back we stopped at a lake, looking out and eating a small picnic, our celebration. The past three years have been focused on this trip, and now, except for a small ride back up to Santiago for us to fly out, the trip is done.

Three years; in a way, almost six years have been focused on this, ever since my friend planted the seed of this crazy adventure. I’m grateful, and a little apprehensive. What’s next?

Last night

20 February, 2018 – Rio Gallegos to Rio Grande via motorcycle, 376 km / 234 miles, two border crossings and a ferry ride – 3-minute read

I can’t believe we’re in Tierra del Fuego. Some part of me felt like I’d never finish this crazy trip, like maybe it wasn’t worth it, or that something would come up to prevent it. Of course, I’m not in Ushuaia yet.

We made good time today, considering we crossed two borders, the Strait of Magellan (via Ferry), and about 30 miles of unpaved road. Our time was definitely helped by the fact that we didn’t stop for lunch, due solely to the fact that there was nowhere to stop for lunch.

At the first border we met a Brazilian woman traveling solo on a Yamaha Tenere, a bike just a little smaller than mine. Impressive. She and we met up a few other places throughout the day: at a fuel station, the ferry, and, through chance, at the diner where we had dinner. We could communicate little in the overlap of our Spanish, but it’s great to talk to someone on the same leg of a pilgrimage.

The newly-washed air filter is functioning beautifully, and I was back up to 13 miles per liter on today’s second tank of gas. (Miles per liter is an economy measurement specific to those traveling with American analog bikes in foreign countries, I suspect.) And I had some company installing the filter this morning; the owner of last night’s “apart-hotel” came out to chat.

Victor is a deeply genuine man, older, living in Rio Grande. The wifi password to our internet last night was his granddaughter’s name and birthday, and his eyes gleamed brightly as he told me. This morning, saying goodbye, was tearing, somehow, the way it is when you find someone who really cares about you, just because you’re human. He told us unequivocally to call him if we had any trouble here, and he would drive his pickup out to find us.

And that’s it for today. I’m in a comfortable hotel room this evening, looking forward to a short 160 miles tomorrow to arrive at Ushuaia, southernmost city in the world.

Almost Here

19 February, 2018 – Puerto San Julian to Rio Gallegos via motorcycle, 360 km / 224 miles – 3-minute read

I’d wondered if we would have a perfect day between the insufferable heat of Buenos Aires’ summer and the bitterness of Ushuaia’s perpetual cold. Yesterday morning was it – that beautiful balance of heat and cold with no rain. Amazing blue sky littered with woolen clouds, desert air around us and the many guanacos. In the afternoon, it rained. Today, we wore our rain gear, braced against both rain and cold; tomorrow we’ll be adding our insulated vests, too. Transitions are quick heading on longitudes.

After finishing up my work Saturday evening, I’ve begun to settle into this section of travel as a mini vacation, not feeling the pressure of client expectations, and allowing myself to drift into daydreams as the miles go by.

In Puerto San Julian is a replica of the Nao Victoria, Magellan’s ship, and the first to travel all the way around the world. I’ve read about the ship since I was a child with single-digit birthdays; my sister’s and I would pretend we followed the same explorations while “sailing” cardboard boxes around the living room.

The boat was small – about 65 feet long – and boarding it, walking around, picturing the 40+ person crew going about their dailly business, was amazing. I forget that most of what I know of old sailing ships comes from later voyages, British sailing culture from the early 1800s, more than 200 years after the Victoria‘s voyage took place. Seeing what the men on board went through, pre-steering wheel, and in such tight quarters, really makes me feel like all my trips are essentially like riding around on cotton candy.

Even besides the amazing replica tour, yesterday was spectacular. As we rode along the seaside, we came across a beach packed with Patagonian sea lions all laid out on top of one another, with the occasional bark of scratching males and the young swimming playfully through the coastal waters. A bit further along was a pond off to the right, where wild pink flamingos stood lazily, and occasionally flew low over the water flashing their brighter shades. And near our hotel was a water lowland filled with gulls, sandpipers and terns. Beautiful.

Today was less filled with wildlife, though we did come across many, many, many guanacos. They seem less smart today, not moving as large trucks went by, and occasionally even springing across, panicked, before them. I’ll definitely be watching for them.

The road was desolate today, and when the gas station we stopped at late this morning only took cash, I decided to wait for the next, because, hey, I’d only used 80 miles off the new tank. That wasn’t my best decision of the day, and when I switched to reserve at 185 miles, knowing we still had 40 to go, my nerves definitely began to fray.  We didn’t see another gas station – or anything else – till our destination town. I don’t know how many more kilometers we would have had on the tank, but I was immensely relieved to see a YPF when we arrived in Rio Gallegos.

I finally pulled the air filter off for cleaning this evening, which was surprisingly easy, and shockingly dirty, with flakes oily black dirt coming off the surface like scales. Before I began this trip I really should have learned about the basic maintenance required for the bike to run well; but then again, I do most things this way, leaping and trying to find a landing place while in the air, and so far my life has been more interesting for it.

Tomorrow and the day after will be wrapping up our southern trip. With a ferry and two border crossings, tomorrow will be intense and long, but I’m hoping for an easy day on Wednesday with a mid-day arrival into Ushuaia. I’ve bought a large bottle of Patagonia Kulnes ale in anticipation of a celebration there.

Ostriches and Llamas and Worry! But not.

17 February, 2018 – Trelew to Comodoro Rivadavia via motorcycle, 373 km / 232 miles – 2-minute read

I’m up past my bedtime, so I’ll keep this short. Most exciting thing today? Our travel turned into a safari! A little outside of town we spotted our first guanacos (camelids related to llamas, alpacas, vicunyas and camels), and shortly thereafter spotted a group of rhea (small ostrich-like birds). The rest of the day we kept an eye peeled for the animals – really cool.

Another thing: the bike is running better. I still need to clean the air filter, because mileage is a little low, but it’s a 10% bump from yesterday at the same speeds, so I’m much happier.

Speaking of happiness, a random musing. On the first morning after Buenos Aires, the B&B owner warned me of high winds and crossing guanacos. Seeing them today made me really happy, but also brought the thought, Well, I guess I should worry about that, too, now.

And then I realized, no, I really shouldn’t. I need to be aware of the animals, look out for them, and take precautions to avoid being on the road in the dark when they may run out without me being able to react in time to avoid them, but none of that means I need to worry about them. It was an amazingly freeing thought.

And after we arrived today, we walked along the beach, listening to the waves and the chatter of families enjoying the weekend.

Southern Argentina Runs Out of Gas

16 February, 2018 – Las Grutas to Trelew via motorcycle, 333 km / 207 miles – 4-minute read

We ran out of gas yesterday – almost. The motor began to stall, with just enough to get us into the gas station. Where there was an orange cone in front of the pump. And an attendant who tried to wave us away, then flipped over the sign saying “No Hay Nafta” – there is no gas.

Suddenly we understood the 10-car line at the gas station we’d passed earlier; the attendant told us that was the only place to fill up near the town, 15 km back along a road when we had already used the reserve. But I was lucky, and begged him to try for just two liters, which he was able to get the pump to cough up. We were able to drive back to the station this morning, waited our turn in the long line, and got the gas we needed.

I spent the morning puzzling on it. When I flipped over to my gas reserve I was at 214.8 miles, which is within 0.2 miles of exactly what I expected. But then I ran out within 50 miles, when I should have had another hundred miles of fuel. I couldn’t figure it out, and that worried me.

Today we ran at 75 mph for the first couple hours, catching perfect road through the desert. Traffic was sparse, and the few big trucks we encountered were easy to pass.

Was it the gas tank and reserve being swapped? After the carburetor work in Colombia it felt like I had a smaller main tank, and more in the reserve. Or was it the choke? It’s been sticking since Bolivia, and I have a spare because of that, but I thought I’d broken it free in Buenos Aires. Maybe it’s something else? Air filter? Clog in the tank?

I spent the hours puzzling, then felt the engine sputter – at only 155 miles from our morning fill up. Getting worse, not better, then.

A YPF appeared in less than two miles, and I pulled us in with relief. At least we wouldn’t run out this time. But our day was supposed to be 8 hours today covering more than 425 miles — it was going to be long if I had to stop three times for gas, especially if we hit lines every time.

We talked over lunch, deciding eventually to stop off in Trelew, splitting our 8-hour day into two shorter ones, so that I could try to fix the bike. I thought about trying to find a local garage, but I knew what I needed to do, and had no confidence in either my ability to explain it nor in a guarantee of things working well for the next few weeks — and we need the bike to work well for this stretch through Patagonia. It will be cold, and rainy, and desolate.

I drove around Trelew, and was happy to find a motorcycle shop that Google said would be open. It wasn’t; everything here seemed to be closed from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the world’s longest lunch hour. After checking a couple shops, a gas station attendant referred me to the client he was pumping for, who recommended Carrefour, where I found car batteries (in the second, larger Carrefour), but no motorcycle batteries, but did find a nice guard who recommended a battery shop that would be open during the afternoon if I drove that way for a few blocks, then turned left on Colombia street and drove for a few blocks till something something words I didn’t understand in Spanish.

Surprisingly, it worked. I drove along Colombia looking for a battery shop, and it was open in the afternoon, and had the battery I needed. I had to take off two body panels and unbolt the saddle to figure that out, but by the time I drove away, my motor was starting better than it had in… ever. One item of the prep-for-freaking-cold-riding down on the fix-it list.

The second was bigger, changing out the choke on the bike from the standard wire-and-lever system to an after market push-pull mod. I’d been avoiding it because I dreaded taking the tank off the bike. It seemed like a big task. It wasn’t. Removing four body panels, the saddle (again), the tank, replacing the choke, putting everything back on – one hour.

And tomorrow we try again. I may need to wash the air filter, but I feel more confident to do that now. I’ve made two changes to the bike today, and she runs better than before. As important, I feel substantially better about fixing the bike myself. It’s a bit late for preparation, at the end of this trip, but maybe there will be another grand ride in my future…

PS – There was a dinosaur statue on the way into town. Apparently, I’m Owen Grady.