01.26.2004-02.15.2004       El Calafate, Argentina to Ushuaia, Argentina
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One more chance encounter with the Swiss seemed inevitable and it occurred at the campground in El Calafate. After not seeing them on the boat from Villa O’Higgins I hadn’t expected to see them again but on my second day in El Calafate I returned from an excursion to find them encamped just a few sites down from me. They had arrived with another Swiss cyclist couple so there were seven of us in all. The following day everyone except for me went to visit the glacier. After Ushuaia I planned to meet up with some family members for a non-bike tour. This tour included a visit to the glacier so I didn’t join the others but instead spent the day completing a pleasant day ride to Lake Roca. My post-Ushuaia plans also included Torres del Paine National Park in Chile so after Calafate I took the most direct route to Ushuaia, heading towards the Atlantic with the wind. It wasn’t the prettiest riding and it certainly wasn’t the hardest. The morning after departing Calafate I just lay in my tent, waiting for the wind to howl. Two more days of tailwinds and featureless landscapes brought me to perhaps the most unsightly Argentinean town I’d encountered to date, Rio Gallegos. After a day off I continued the march to Tierra del Fuego.

Just before the frontier my luck with the winds ended along with the pavement. All afternoon it seemed like someone was throwing sand in my face. I crossed into Chile the following morning and while I was entertaining myself herding an ostrich down the road the Straits of Magellan came into view. Beyond lay the mythical island Tierra del Fuego(Land of Fire) . I boarded a ferry to cross the Straits at their most narrow point, the First Narrows. The northern part of the island was not so different from the mainland--featureless. Finding campsites with the requisite wind protection was difficult but not impossible. I gladly left the main route to pass through Cerro Sombrero and enjoy a beautiful stretch of island riding--rolling hills, no traffic and plenty of guanacos. After one final border crossing I arrived in the Argentinean town of Rio Grande. I was greeted by a sign which said, “Welcome to Rio Grande--where the wind sings.” I didn’t find the sound of the wind so melodic. Rio Grande is the last proper town before Ushuaia and therefore really the last place to linger. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t warrant a lengthy stay yet for the Pan-American cyclist it’s a hard place to leave. I stayed at a hostel and the proprietress told me of stories of cyclists who, unwilling to finish their trips, turned one night stays into stays of a week or more. I spent three nights there before embarking on the last stretch of this long journey.

I left amidst a heat wave, the island enjoying its warmest temperatures in years. The strange weather had effectively shut down the wind machine. The fierce westerly winds were gone and a slight breeze blew in from the Atlantic, filling my nostrils with the smell of the sea. Mid-day trees began to appear and with each mile they grew every so slightly larger. By the time I reached Tolhuin I was surrounded by forest for the first time since leaving El Chalten. I camped at Lake Fagnano and there encountered an Argentinean family (Cristobel, Adriana and their son Mateo) I first met in Rio Grande. They refused to let me dine alone and insisted I abandon my pasta dinner for a proper dinner of roasted Patagonian lamb. We feasted on the lamb and drank several bottles of wine. We watched the full moon rise as their car stereo treated us to some relaxing Argentinean sounds. It was the kind of night I will sorely miss after this trip. The next day was a bit of a struggle. I was suffering the effects of having drunk too much wine the night before and the road was one big cloud of dust. I summited the final pass of the trip, Paso Garibaldi, and shortly after regained pavement. I pulled up roughly twenty miles short of Ushuaia, wishing to have a leisurely day to end the trip. It was another hot day so I did something after the ride I would have never expected to do in Tierra del Fuego--I bathed refreshingly in a stream.

On Day 605 of the trip I woke to clear skies. After the usual breakfast of oat meal and Nescafe I packed up camp and set off. Through the morning I was distracted with my cyclocomputer, waiting for the stubborn thing to finally cross the 20,000 mile threshold. It was a pleasant ride, both for scenery and for weather. My arrival in Ushuaia was not terribly emotional. If anything I felt a bit melancholy. This did not surprise me for I suspect it will be some time before the full weight of the journey comes to bear upon me. Ushuaia enjoys a beautiful setting but it is a sprawling town, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to its North American counterpart. After a miserable night spent in the center at a packed backpacker’s hostel I relocated to higher ground, a campground above the city. I didn’t want to have a miserable time at the end of the world so I was grateful for that campground and the pleasant feeling it instilled in me. There I encountered Cristobel, Adriana and Mateo once again. Cristobel again impressed with his talents at the grill, cooking up a hearty portion of Patagonian lamb. I had to spend a week in Ushuaia and so had ample time to see the surroundings. A walk up to the Martial glacier provided nice views of the town and the Beagle Channel. I visited Tierra del Fuego National Park and summited Mount Guanuco. While in the park I also made the obligatory trip to the official end of the Pan-Am route at Lapataia Bay.

Before leaving Ushuaia I had to perform one final task. Since July 6, 2002 I had been carrying a postcard from Deadhorse, Alaska. I had received it along with the certificate stating that I had begun my journey in Deadhorse and intended to finish it in Tierra del Fuego. In exchange for the certificate I had to promise to send the postcard back after reaching my destination. I recalled the worker who had issued me the certificate. While I cycled off into the tundra I could hear him yelling “Tierra del Fuegoooo!!!” How far away, how impossible it had seemed then. But I had been fortunate and had gone on to reach my destination. And so to seal the accomplishment I dropped the scruffy postcard in the mail. Mission completed.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg634 mi/1020 km20340 ft/6673 m
Trip20008 mi/32199 km220 mi/354 km23
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