We set out from Ushuaia full of hope, energy, and maybe even a little big for our boots. However, it’s fair to say that we were quickly put in our place by the superior Tierra del Fuego. A good first two days included our first satisfying climb, some spectacular views and top-quality roads.
Day four and 25 kilometres from Rio Grande however saw the winds rise-up and turn to face us. Similarly the landscape began to reflect the same harsh elemental forces that considerably slowed our progress. The mountains and forests between Ushuaia and Lago Fagnano were replaced by barren rolling estancia and flat straight roads that seemed to never end. Battling into gale-force headwinds on roads that were screaming out for some serious mileage, was dispiriting to say the least.
After passing through Rio Grande we reached the Argentine-Chilean border at San Sebastian feeling tired but thinking that the worst was behind us. If anything, it was to be the next two and a half days that really put our naivety into perspective. The 14 kilometre road in the no-mans-land between the countries seemed truly neglected by both parties, leaving a gravel track apparently only fit for 4X4’s. Stocked up on burger patties, chips and eggs (a staple it seems!) and after being branded as ‘those crazy English cyclists heading into the wind’ by the Argentinian border police, we attacked it. This was only the beginning of our hard fought battle with Tierra del Fuego. As we struggled to maintain any momentum and stability on uncompact gravel surfaces we watched one another be engulfed by clouds of dust kicked up by passing lorries. All this with a relentless headwind that even cars seemed to be fighting against, forever painfully slowing our progress. The Chilean border post, marking 50 kilometres for the day was all we could manage leaving a 140 kilometre leg to Porvenir.
Continuing onwards we arrived at the first group of trees we had seen for days and were grateful for some small defence from the unforgiving battering of the wind. Still 80km from Porvenir and with morale low we made the decision to eat our last bits of food, set up camp for a few hours sleep, and cycle the last 80km overnight through lighter winds. On waking up in the early hours however, the wind had only increased in ferocity. With our food and water rations nearly exhausted we resigned ourselves to facing the morning gale. Although Porvenir is not what you would call a good looking town, isolated along the bleak western coastline of Tierra del Fuego, the very sight of civilisation in the late afternoon of Day 6 enveloped us with a relief as big as Kim Kardashian’s bottom.
After a good meal and the prospect of warm beds for the first time in a week the struggle of the previous days slowly faded away. With no ferries on Monday it meant that we caught the lunch-time crossing the next day to Punta Arenas, for a re-group, admin and recovery day.
So, we arrived in South America planning to ease ourselves
into the cycle-touring life, but after what can only be described as a baptism of fire, I think our mind-sets have changed somewhat. We made it – but with some cost to our bikes and bodies. We’ve learnt some valuable lessons early on which can only be a good thing. We’ve been busy culling our baggage to make more room for food and water which has involved some hard decisions – and a commitment to being slightly smellier than we originally planned. We are setting off from Punta Arenas today, much more the wiser of what lies ahead, hoping to reach Puerto Natales in three days time and then Calafate 3 days later.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us pass the £10,000 mark it was a great milestone to reach after a tough week!