A slippery route 40.
The bull on the road was bigger than it looks on video. Sorry about the typo… it’s El Chalten.
A slippery route 40.
The bull on the road was bigger than it looks on video. Sorry about the typo… it’s El Chalten.
(Warning: this and the last few entries are written quickly and not very poetic in the prose…)
Magical and social are the adjectives that come to mind. El Chalten and it’s famous mount Fitzroy were a great break from the simple towns coming south. The off road sections that took me around to see the beautiful massif was spectacular. Later we rode 300km on tarmac to El Calafate and the famous Porito Moreno glacier. Sitting quietly waiting for chunks of ice to fall away into the ice water lake. Sure enough two pieces the size of houses broke away and fell with thunderous crashes. To watch how slowly they seemed to fall gave the best indications of the scale of this monstrous ice field. The glacier is well over 140 feet (60 meters) tall at the waters edge. The whole structure is constantly groaning and snapping under the incredible pressures of the uphill ice pushing forward. Sitting and waiting for the next chunk to break off is very addictive.
Finally back to town to camp and meet fellow travelers. One of which was the world famous Alicia Sornosa. She has been traveling the world for 4 years now. A real powerhouse. The other Kurt Van Tessel, a cyclist from Germany.
Carlos’ bike is developing multiple problems so we need to get to a Bmw mechanic in Puento Arenes soon.
It’s hard to describe the feelings I’m having in the last three days of this journey. With a more experienced rider to give encouragement and some basic guidance I have pushed to limits of my motorcycling to strange new levels. Southwestern Argentina’s road systems are mainly long stretches of rough gravel tracks. Ruta 40, famous for its exposed, windy, lonely expanses of terrain does not disappoint. In fact I am so thrilled to have a chance to really be in one of the last remote places in the world. Several sections require bringing two extra containers of gasoline to make the 450 kms to the next town with a small gas pump. It is a wild feeling to ride until the engine sputters and quits in the middle of nowhere. Then to get off the bike and fill the tanks from plastic containers, all the while the wind and rain is beating against me and the machine. A haunting quiet in the vast landscape. Strange the relationship with this combustible liquid and it’s lifeline to more chances for warmth and safety.
Carlos and I push off again into the off road portion of Ruta 40 in the pouring rain. This rain has been going on for several days. The result is that the deep loose gravel road in now slippery stones with bone rattling ruts interrupted by deep puddles 30 feet across and some as deep as 2 feet.
(Sorry about not using metric… Canada switched to the metric system when I was in grade 5 so for I am a mix of the usages.)
The funniest part about crossing these large slippery mud puddles was for my first one, Carlos was already quite a distance ahead of me and I did not have an example of how to do it. So as I approached to monster puddle I just gunned the throttle and sprayed my way through… covering my bike and body with cold muddy water. The machine is slipping and sliding on the large pebbles and muddy bottom, always on the edge of wanting to topple… the front wheel trying to wash out and dump me.
Over and over, without exaggeration, hundreds of small muddy patches and some 30 huge puddles. Then between the puddle the loose wet gravel was a constant struggle to maintain control. Most of the time I am standing on the foot pegs for it is easier to let the bike bounce around underneath me with small corrections on my part but otherwise just let the machine do it’s thing. The last puddle before high ground was more than 100 feet (30 metres) across with a 4×4 already stuck in the middle of it. Carlos, on the other side of it, smoking a cigarette showing me with hand signals that I should chose the center line. Like all the others in nervousness and excitement I gunned it across. So much water covered me and the machine that I was completely covered in the brown gooo, head to toe. Laughing at the other side he finally tells me how to properly approach water.
I am crossing them all wrong… Tranquilo senor. His boots are barely wet.
What I did not learn till that moment was that I was supposed to do the water crossings very slowly… first gear second gear at the most.
After that stretch we were back on a portion of paved highway. Now my problem was wind chill from moving at 120 kms an hour in the freezing air. Water in my boots and my arms soaked from the overzealous puddle jumps the highway speeds were sending me hypothermic. The rain had stopped and the wind was minimal but the air was so very cold at speed I was not having a good time… There was no choice but to press on… still very far from the next town with gasoline and a hostel. The hot shower at the hostel that evening was critical.
Next morning, another 180 kms of off road were on the menu. I spent the night feeling nervous out this section.
Reports from other travelers described the next section of Ruta 40 as literally impassible. Apparently the water was as deep as 4 feet and even 4×4 vehicles were unable to cross. Also the mud as relentless. So a detour would put us on a different road but push the limits of how much gasoline were would have.
The “good” road was reported to have terra cotta mud, much softer and very very slippery in the mix.
After some 100 kms of paved highway we came to the off road portion. When I hit the first patch it was with deep water as well. I slipped and weaved to the left and right so much that at one point the bike was certain to topple… with no other choice I just gunned the throttle and ended up on the embankment to the side in super soft sand. At the point I knew that if I stopped I would be stuck for a long time so I just kept the throttle high and tried to make my way back to the gravel road. I made it, I did not fall, to find Carlos smiling and telling me to stop panicking and take these mud patches very very slowly as well. After taking his advice I found I have much more control. The bike still slides around but small inputs of power keep it more or less on track. I applied this advice and did much better. After a while the sun came out and the road got dry. Dust dirt and gravel seemed so easy after the wet stuff.. The only other challenge was the need to stand on the pegs for over hundreds of kms. So physically demanding. With dryer roads the speeds increase and the bone rattling begins in earnest. Yet somehow I started to understand how and why off road riding is joyfull. Much more remote areas of the world…
Wild llames and ostridges cross the road in the blue sky and sunshine.
Eventually we find a town and some much needed gasoline. Back on to another paved section of highway leading to El Chalten and the famous mount Fitzroy.
The final stretch of road with huge Patagonian mountains next to a glacial lake fed my the largest glacier I’ve ever seen seems to take forever… the scale of everything being so large now.
Fitzroy, with it’s sharp steep granite thrusting skyward like a spire, straight ahead leads to the town and a tranquil feeling of peace washes over my body and soul.
I worked very hard to get this far.
The mountains and lakes of Argentina’s “Lake District” starts to fade away. Interesting because the mountains don’t so much stop as literally… fade away. What ever parts of the south that resemble Canada cease and the pampas arrive with the glorious splendor of magic hour, late evening.
The pampas vegetation of short dry shrubs dominate the last of the daylight. I imagine that it will only get more intense as the remaining 5 or 6 days to Ushuaia (the most southerly city in the world). Reports by other motorcyclists describe the weather as.”Windy, Cold, Raining” in that order.
My travels with Carlos continue to be pleasant and warm. We seem to be very compatible riding partners. We do tend to encourage each other to smoke more that we might alone…
He is a good teacher of adventure riding. Little details about saving money and camping is the way to go. I even slept in a dorm style hostel, a first for spoiled Mikey. Also I have been doing much more off road riding with his encouragement. Standing on the footpegs for hours in the soft gravel and dust. The back wheel weaving and bouncing around. It is a little nerve racking sometimes but very rewarding.
I’m getting better at it everytime we hit a patch.
I like it.
My dark moods have lifted and I am very happy to be doing this last push to Tierra del Fuego with experienced company. Not to mention that we are becoming fast friends.
I know in my heart that I would have bailed from this last portion otherwise. I think that I just had had my fill of my own company.
The landscapes in both Chile and Argentina are wonderful. The night sky continues to delight me as well.
Drove through an extended section of forest that had been devastated by volcanic ash. Apparently the eruption was only a year ago. 20 kms of ghostly dead trees. The sides of the road piled high with the tiniest white pebbles. Reminding me of snow banks in Canadian winters. The density of the stones is so low that they felt like pieces of balsa wood. The owner of a camp site gave me one as a gift. I have footage from my helmet camera. Perhaps I can post that tonight.
I have been in Argentina one day.
Camping and riding. Enjoying a new friendship.
I promise I will blog in detail soon but this is just a simple update.
A note to family and friends.
I am entering a section of deep southern Argentina where there may not be cell phone or Internet coverage.
Please don’t be concerned if you don’t hear from me for a few nights.
When I do find a town I’ll text John or Nikola.
The final push to Tierra del Fuego would not be happening if I had not stumbled upon Carlos as a travel partner. The fact that he is a motorcycle guide is even more ironic.
In the days leading up to our chance encounter I was feeling a little lost and unsure about the remaining journey. To travel the 1400 km gravel road, with it’s strong winds and great distances between towns solo was feeling like folly, especially with my experience level riding off road. To travel together is wiser.
Not to get to mystical about these things… A guide appeared at the crux of my efforts. A gift perhaps?
We cross the Argentine border today and into Patagonia.
3 nights camping. Doing more off road riding to see Austral penguins.
Riding on beaches and generally pushing my riding skills. All good on preparing me for Ruta 40 in Argentina.
Carlos’ experience is invaluable to me to make the final push to Ushuaia.
In Puerto Montt. Will have to purchase extra fuel cans for the long stretches between gas stations in Patagonia.
It continues to be great to have some to both talk to and to listen…
I believe we will make the Argentine border tomorrow.
My last morning in Santiago.
As I am standing in front of my fully loaded motorcycle, chatting with bicyclist Johnann from Europe when another fully loaded adventure motorcycle passed by and stopped up the street for a moment. I thought he wanted to say hello but I could not break from my current conversation. The motorcycle then moved on without any exchange between us.
Later as I was heading well south of Santiago I saw a McDonalds and thought an old school coffee would be just the thing. As I rolled into the parking lot I noticed the same rider from earlier in the having a cigarette. Carlos, a Columbian born, Panamanean citizen was also heading to Tierre del Fuego. We chatted for a while and I learned he left his life in advertizing in Panama City to start a guided motorcycle touring company in greater Panama. As it turns out he is also a drummer. We decided to travel together for a while… perhaps all the way to Ushuaia.
We hit the highway and for the first time since leaving Central America was riding with some company.
We made some 700 kms that day on roads that allowed for 120 km/h.
Southern Chile continues to resemble Canada more and more. I found myself having flashbacks to my rural childhood in southern Ontario. Pine and birch trees, corn and grapes. The only difference were the existence of volcano’s that appear majestic on the horizon. Classic snow peaked monsters resembling Mount Fuji in Japan. We left the Panamerican highway for some secondary roads.
Later that night we found some area for free camping and came across three weekend fishermen who where catching salmon that were spawning in the river. As I approached them, a skinned carcus of freshly killed rabbit was dangled in front of me, all bloody and pathetic, with toothless smiles from the already drunk fisherfolk. Over the course of several hours the rabbit was cooked over an open fire while they skillfully pulled several fish from the water. It was my first wild rabbit meal and I quite enjoyed it. With Carlos occasionally interpreting for me I exchanged my stories with theirs. They turned out to be gentlemen and very friendly, in their boisterous drunken way.
Next morning more long kms were dispensed with and Carlos and me did in two days what I was sure sould have taken three. I am quite far south in Chile now. The temperature is dropping and nights and mornings are quite cold.
This evening we happened upon a private campground run my a Christian family that spoke to us about god and such. Also the mother made su fresh bread and the father brought us a chord of wood for a fire. All of this for $5.00 each. Carlos has been playing me some fantastic music on his ipad. Recordings I am going to enjoy listening to once I’m back in Toronto.
Another amazing night sky as well and a chance to share my astronomy knowledge with someone in english.