The Ultimate Ride south. To the bottom. To Ushuaia!
We spent the night at Mario’s sheep farm in the garage. Concrete floor, but walls around and a roof over us and we didn’t have to set up the tents. By 2am the wind had picked up. The wind continued to ramp up in strength all night. By daylight I was relieved to be inside, but grew concerned about the bikes blowing over. The tales are all true folks: the wind down in Tierra del Fuego can be ferocious! This windy day would be a special one, our Ultimate ride south on the Ultimateride. Destination: Ushuaia! But first: dunking sheep and eating meat.
Mario runs a sheep farm on a large parcel of land in Southern Chile. He spends part time at the farm and part time at his home in Punta Arenas several hours away. The farm house is right off the main gravel road (though pavement is under construction along side). Mario and his family watch the moto’s roll by on the daily. In the summer he says there are upwards of 150 motos a DAY at the peak. Of course we’re “late in the season”, so notably fewer at the moment. After we had cruised up late the last evening and he invited us to stay, Mario then invited us to help with the sheep in the morning should we want to. Since I was already awake from the wind, I decided to take Mario up on his offer.
First was the scrotal exam, where the men lifted the sheep into a “sitting” position and checked “the boys”. Problem with your testicles? You get a blue chalk stripe down your back. The good news is that a chalk stripe means you avoid the tick bath. The bad news… well it’s all bad news for the chalk stripes after that really.
The tick bath was pretty neat to watch. The bath is a channel 3 meters deep that the sheep swim through to soak in anti-tick agent… Yes that’s right: Sheep can swim! Such good swimmers that they can keep their heads well above water, thus not tick bathing their heads, so our job was to dunk them for total coverage. Without the tick bath the sheep can acquire so many ticks that they get sick (and ruin your wool sweater), so it’s a necessary task. How do you get sheep to take a bath? With difficulty and magic. Literally. They use a trap door. It works every time. Except for the time I filmed it:
Tough work that sheep rearing. Glad I got to experience it. Aside from sheep there are few cow’s in Tierra del Fuego, but in the past some folks raised Beavers! Mario taught us about the beavers of Tierra del Fuego. Notably, that there are some. Imported from Canada in the 40’s to farm and sell pelts to the Russians until the 60’s, the fur trade failed and the beavers were released. With no predators, the beavers thrived, estimates at over 100 000 in Patagonia now. When every wind block counts, having a pest cut down your trees can be a real pain.
The wind seemed to get stronger all morning. It was time for coffee. Then it was time to go. Sadly the wind got worse while we drank coffee, but today was still the day we’d ride to Ushuaia!
Regardless of the strength, the direction of the wind was quite fortunate. For the most part it blew from pretty well behind us. When we did take it from the side, we found ourselves on paved sections of road. A crosswind on the gravel might have been devastating. We did take note that we’d be riding into one heck of a headwind on the way back.
Crossed the border again into Argentina. We were all pretty low on gas but knowing it sold at almost half the price as in Chile, we had been waiting for the cheap Argentinian fuel.
In Rio Grande, Jayne got in touch with Ricardo and Fabiana, amigos from the facebook KLR groups. They met up with us to go for lunch, but then invited us over to eat at their house instead.
An amazing spread of delicious food for lunch. We sat in the dining room talking bikes and weather. Ricardo doesn’t even ride in Tierra del Fuego much, he trucks his BMW up to Comodoro Rividavia and rides from there to avoid the wind. It’s just not pleasant. Great folks, we would have loved to stay longer but really wanted to take advantage of the blue skies, windy or not. Rain, and the resulting wet roads would be un-rideable in the crosswind. We promised to stop back in on our way back north.
From Rio Grande south the wind hit us side-on, but soon we found ourselves in some more treed terrain. This made for some exciting gusts, blowing you clear across the road. It became a game as to where to position yourself in the road. Jayne found it less fun than the boys.
Stopped in Tolhuin for gas and to check out the famous bakery. Ian ended up chatting to the owner who offered us a free place to stay there too. They have a set of bunk beds they often offer to cyclists. Alas, we all had our sights set on Ushuaia this day.
As the sun fell lower in the sky, the mountains began to rise up around us. With a lake to one side and snow capped peaks all around, it really felt like we were back up north in Alaska. The earth repeats itself. The air grew colder as we wound through what would have been a really fun road on a sunny day. The dim light, cold, and random wet patches had us crawling along, fearing that any wet patch might turn to ice. Fortunately none did. Around the last corner we rode, then through the tall wooden signs proclaiming “Ushuaia”. I wonder if the people living near those signs grow weary of the scores of motorcyclists riding past blaring their horns all the time?
I found myself with mixed feelings all of a sudden. A year and a half on the road, so many places travelled, and in an instant it felt like it was over. Questions of “What comes next? ” crept into mind before I’d even celebrated what had just come. The previous week was a blur. 700km days back to back to back, blasting through Argentina like it was going out of style. A portion of the trip I almost never got to make after crashing in Peru… These thoughts passed as quickly as they’d come, as we pulled up to our hostel for the night “Momo’s”. We honked, we high fived, we hugged. It felt great to have been able to catch up with Jayne and finish what we started together. Having good friends Ian and Joe along side just made it that much sweeter.
Just as described by “late-in-the-season” AJ, “Momo’s” has no signs at all. Here we would meet Dan, whom Ian had actually ridden with briefly before. Dan Ford introduced us to his steed; a “650 Crosstour… by BMW”. He said it like the voice over on a commercial. We liked Dan right away. He escorted us down to the shops for food and celebratory drinks.
We bought 24L of beer, some wine and some whiskey. That way we’d have plenty for tomorrow post tonight’s celebration. Or not. Jayne drank the wine while Ian, Joe and I drank through 16L of Quilmes, then hit the club for some celebratory dancing.
It was a fantastic night. We’d made it to the bottom!
Almost. The true “end of the road” lay 30km further, where there was a sign informing that you had indeed now reached the end of the road, at “the end of the world”. This was our goal photo op for the day, a sign that our parents had gleefully taken a photo with and emailed it to us, gloating, many months before we got there.
It snowed in the morning, so we delayed our ride to “the sign” until the afternoon, instead walking around town taking in the sights.
Tired from the night before, and not enthused about suiting up to ride again, Joe declined the journey to “the sign”. Dan joined Ian, Jayne and I as far as the park boundary since he had already been, and us three remaining amigos paid our 10$ and rode to the true end of the road. Photo party!
We would spend a few days relaxing in Ushuaia before heading back north. While this may be the literal “end of the road”, Jayne and I still had a lot of riding left ahead of us. I planned to head up the famed Ruta 40, a road I had missed rushing south, while Jayne set sights on Buenos Aires. First, we had to battle back against the Tierra del Fuego winds.
We made it to the end of the road, but not yet to the end of the trip.