Date: 11/24/2014 Monday
Starting Location: Torres del Paine, Chile
Ending Location: Cerro Sombrero, Chile
Mileage Today: 275.6 Miles
Mileage Total: 2000.3 miles
Breakfast – Torres del Paine
On this day, we were able to negotiate with the staff to have a special breakfast setup for us, available for us to enjoy at 6:00 AM. The breakfast was simple, and included the ever-present corn flakes & bread, along with coffee, a few pastries and the also traditional and ever-present Jamon y queso, known to us gringos as Ham and Cheese.
Not a bad breakfast, but I still miss those eggs, although the issues with coffee are almost completely gone (more on that later).
Leaving Torres del Paine
Because we were fearful that the road would be closed, and we would need to travel an additional 70 – 120Km in order to deal with the new route, we got up early, and were on the road by 6:45 AM. Remember that when I say that we’re on the road by 6:45, that means that we needed to be up, showered, packed, dressed in our snappy bike attire, and have the truck loaded by 6:30, in order to load our personal gear onto the bikes, clean our glasses and windscreens (although it appears that I’m the only one that actually cleans anything), warm up the bikes and be ready to drive away at 6:45. It’s quite an undertaking, but we’ve all gotten quite good at it.
The trip is almost exclusively dirt, hard pack, and gravel road from the Park, to the main road, which is just 3 miles from Porto Natales. And so, we got on the bikes, rode 4 km to the junction at the first road block (which was not yet closed, due to the early hour of the day) which we roared through, and continued riding.
I’m usually able to get into a groove pretty quickly, but on this morning, I was having a little trouble feeling the road. You have to be able to judge the road, and then find that optimal speed so that you can make good time, while being safe. Ultimately, that results in finding the balance point between ripping along at 100Kph on these dirt roads (where you’re skimming over the obstacles, letting the bike move quite a bit beneath you) and making sure that you’re going slow enough to avoid having the front wheel slide out from underneath you as you come into a turn, or simply over-cooking it as you enter a turn, causing a panic stop as you try to get the damn thing slowed down in time.
Like I said, on this day, I had a little trouble getting everything sorted out, and about 15 minutes into the ride, Peter came up from behind me and passed me. I had been following the ride leader, in position #2, and I did my best to stay close to Peter and Eduardo, but they were simply too fast, and I could not keep up, and maintain the margin of safety that I needed.
That said, I was moving along on dirt roads, at speeds of up to 107kph, at 7:00 AM, in Patagonia, leaving Torres del Paine, and making my way past some of the most stunning countryside and lakes that you can imagine. So, it’s not like I was asleep at the wheel (er, actually handlebars) but on this day, I was not the fastest.
After almost two hours of riding, with a few stops to regroup and wait for the “safer riders”, we made it into Porto Natales, and that’s where the most recent coffee problems started.
The trip from Porto Natales to San Gregorio
Because we had an abbreviated breakfast, we really needed a cup of coffee,and we had 2 chices. We could have a nice coffee a the hostel that we discovered yesterday, or we could have a coffee in the gas station. Now, before you laugh too hard, almost all of our coffee breaks have been at gas stations, that’s just how this place is setup. These gas stations are remote, and are only the only store for miles, so they also sell coffee.
In Porto Natales, it was a larger station, with a few incompetent sales clerks and barristas that were going to help us get our coffee. It took over 25 minutes to purchase the coffee, and then Jim stood in line for another 10 minutes waiting for them to make our coffees, at which time they announced that they had run out of coffee and we would all need to get our money back. Sorry, manana for y cafe senor.
Now, it seemed that our only choice was to visit the hostel, (with all of the dogs outside) and get some coffee there. Well, it seems that they are not well suited to sell coffee to 10 people at once, so we had to negotiate to see if they could help us. As is almost always the case, they were able to help us, but it took another 10 minutes or so.
Well, we got our coffee, got on the bikes and headed out of town, and that’s about where the wind started…
The wind, oh the wind
Now, I know that this is going to be hard to explain, and until now, I’ve mentioned the wind a few times before, but today’s wind made all of the previous bits of wind feel like no more that a little bluster. This was Armageddon inducing, blood curdling, mentally exhausting wind.
The wind was so bad that we were often leaning at about 20 degrees to the right, as the wind came in from our right (the West) and pushed the bike all over the road. Imagine that you’re riding along at this 20 degree angle, and you’re still getting hit with gusts of another 20 – 30 kph. And then, you find that you need to turn into a left turn.
When you turn into a left turn, you have to lean the bike to the left. But, because of the wine, we’re leaning hard to the right. So, when you change from riding the straight road, to the left turn, it is a delicate and comlex dance of weight changes, entry point, entry speed, and entry angle. To put it another way, every left hand turn is a chance to be murdered by the Patagonian winds.
Now, try to imagine riding in this type of conditions for hours on end. It’s relentless, and exhausting, but that’s not the worst part. The job is made even tougher because, at seemingly random intervals, there are cars approaching you, and as is obvious, you must avoid hitting these cars head on.
Now, with all this said, try to imagine that sometimes, the oncoming traffic is not a car, but a semi-truck. Because of the wind, these beasts are especially diabolical. As they approach, you try to avoid getting too close or letting the wind pitch you into their land. Then, as they come to the exact point on the road where their grill, meets the front of the bike, you’re hit with a blast of wind that can only be described as getting hit by a baseball bat, while riding the bike at 80 miles per hour.
The first time this happened, I was not prepared, and I remember thinking that I should just pull off the road and compose myself. It was a very hard physical blow to be hit by such a big wind, with such surprise.
Ok, Ok, if all of this isn’t bad enough, due to the fact that my 800 is the tallest of the bikes, and that I’m the tallest rider, the physics of the equation means that the wind will spend extra care to seek me out, and multiply the forces on me, making it that much more difficult.
There were times where a gust of wind would move the bike to the left as much as 4 or 5 feet. Can you imagine riding along at those speeds and then receiving this type of surprise? What a bitch!
All that said, in order to perform all of these Herculean tasks, your neck was constantly fighting the wind, just trying to keep your head in a vertical state. So, by the end of the day, I could barely move my neck. I was exhausted and ready for bed.
Instead, I opted for a glass of wine…
San Gregorio – Somewhere I’ve never traveled
After a few hours of riding in the wind, and a gas stop, we needed to find a place to have lunch. And, as fate and logistics would have it, that’s where San Gregorio came in. San Gregorio is a little village, abandoned some years ago, but built in 1876 or so. This little village is actually quite large and quite impressive.
At one point it was a fully functional farm, and processing plant, but today, it’s just a bunch of old buildings, with a smattering of shipwrecks off of the coast.
The ferry ride
Ahhh, crossing the straits of Magellan on a ferry boat is the type of thing that you might seek out, if you’ve got that adventurous spirit. I’ve had the dream of doing this since I decided to ride Patagonia in June, 2013. And so, now I’m able to say that I’m at the Ferry, and we’re all ready to make the crossing.
Arrival at the dock
We arrived at the dock, and got in line at about 2:00 PM. There is a bit of confusion as you sit in aline of cars, trucks and motorcycles, waiting to see what happens next. By about 2:12, it looked like cars, bikes and trucks were departing the incoming ferry, and our time was near.
At 2:15, we boarded the ferry, and tried like hell to figure out what happens next.
Load time – loading the bikes
By 2:18, we were riding up the ramp into the ship. I had hoped to capture some video of this, but it looks as though the video was lost. I’m really disappointed in this, as I had hoped to capture the process of driving onto the ramps, and up onto the deck of ship. It can be quite intimidating and it’s not the kind of thing that is for everyone…
Placing the bike on the ramp
All of the bikes that were ahead of me rode up the ramp, and were directed to park on the left side. They directed me to ride to the right, and to park separately. It looked to me like I had been given Rock-star parking.
I parked the bike on a bit of a hill, because I was actually on the ramp that leads up to the deck. I put the bike in gear, turned off the engine, and went above to capture the view from the upper deck.
I’ll get to my walk in a minute, but while I was away from the bike, apparently it seemed to a stranger that my bike was going to fall over, due to the pitching of the sea, and this stranger rescued my bike until Dennis and Tom, who were nearby, could safely hold it until I arrived a few minutes later. Catastrophe averted…
The view East/West on the straits
As you leave Punta Delgado, if you look to the left, you see the Atlantic Ocean, and if you look to the right, you see the channels that lead to the Pacific Ocean. This is one of those places on Earth that we all read about, but becasue we live thousands of miles away, and unless you’re a history buff, you’ve probably forgotten about the straits.
Here, in Patagonia, this is a very important place, and in my vision of this trip, this place is equally important.
I’ve put together a number of shots from the boat, and of course, here they are…
Leaving the ship
Leaving the ship proved to be an uneventful, yet rewarding experience. Since I was on the Right hand side of the boat, I was the only bike to leave after these trucks, so the video footage is clear and unobstructed.
Waiting for the next boat
As noted, the truck did not arrive on the first ferry, and as a result, we had to wait another 90 minutes for the round trip of the ferry, and for the truck, and the two women to arrive in Tierra del Fuego.
On to the hotel
From the boat dock, it was a short 22 miles to the hotel, where we had a “home cooked meal”. If you’ve got an ounce of curiosity in your bones, you’re trying to figure out what a home cooked meal will look like in Patagonia, at a remote hotel. Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and the meal was great.
At this point in time, given that I’m actually writing this post 2 days later, I’ve forgotten all of the details, which might be due to the passing of time, or the consumption of wine. In either case, if you want to know, you’ll just have to take a trip to Patagonia to find out.
Tomorrow we’ll make the 440 Km trip to Ushuaia. We expect a good amount of dirt roads, but also I assume that the wind will, once again be my unwanted passenger. Oh, the wind…