Ushuaia - The ends of the earth.

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March 26th 2011
Published: March 25th 2011
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Patagonia, Southern Chile.Patagonia, Southern Chile.Patagonia, Southern Chile.

Mr D.Good photography yet again.
Apologies, I know its been weeks but I hope whilst I've been enjoying the delights of Chile & Argentina you've been keeping well. Whilst you've all been busily going about your day to day I was as usual, clocking up & counting down the miles towards the southern most tip of the America's.

Prior to getting back on the road I had the small matter of a three week delay in Santiago, Chile to deal with whilst the bike recovered from the trauma of Bolivia combined with some amazingly fragile BMW engineering. I wasn't blessed with patience but luckily Santiago is a sweet city to get stuck in & the hostel we stayed at had a lot of interestingly entertaining people who kept me amused & smiling all the while.

The repairs cost a mere $1700, $560 of which was spent on a shiney new BMW water pump that after only three weeks of anticipation finally arrived but failed to do as it's name would suggest, it couldn't pump water. Arrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!

So to prevent a further three week delay & the possibility of me torching the local BMW dealership, parts from the old pump were bastardised to make a water pump that worked. A feat of engineering apparently beyond BMW. If you're thinking of doing this trip & I know a few of you are, have the benefit of my hindsight & buy something Japanese. Under no circumstances even consider a BMW. Damon's bike is the same as mine & has an equally impressive list of faults and insanely expensive ineffective repairs.

All number of other parts needed to be repaired or replaced which is why the bill cost about the same as a two week all inclusive holiday to the Caribbean, but what would you rather, new front fork seals, chain & sprockets etc. etc. or two weeks beachside sipping cocktails???

The mechanic who was carrying out the work was recommended by other bikers & Damon initially tried BMW with his but true to form they were woeful. Carlos the mechanic was excellent but his hands were tied awaiting parts from BMW. During week three his wife felt so sorry for me she gave me a shiney new front screen as the old one had not surprisingly, come off second best when I hit the bus in Bolivia.

Andy was on a different time frame & therefore headed south after a week in Santiago leaving Damon, Patrick & I to kick our heels about town. Andy was a superb riding partner for the thousands of miles we shared. I first met him last September in Oregon State, America & at that point neither of us knew we'd end up sharing so many miles down the road, or that Andy would be helping to pick my bike up quite so often. I really hope I learnt from his wealth of off-road experience & in return I hope my constant crashes in the Bolivian mud kept him entertained. Ride safe Andy.

Whilst we were in Santiago Patrick met a beautiful local girl called Carmen who was kind enough to introduce us to Santiago life proper. She even took the trouble to invite us to a friends birthday party at which we'd obviously only know Carmen. We were told to be there for 9pm & I was annoyed when we didn't get there until 9:30pm. I hate being late.

Damon has spent time in South America & moaned when they say 9pm they actually mean 12am but 9:30pm it was when we arrived at the roof top 30th birthday bash. As much as it hurts me to say this, Damon was right. There the three of us sat on a dark & windy rooftop, only each other for company yet again.

Luckily we'd bought two bottles of rum along & some beer & as no one was around Patrick & I got started. Damon was on antibiotics & so had to sit there sober. The party did get going at about 12am by which time I'd had quite a lot of rum & so naturally had a fabulous time.

Those on the roof decided to head out dancing come 2am & I thought better of it as co-ordinating my feet sufficiently to get me home was asking a lot & therefore heading to a dancefloor would just be dangerous. From the rooftop I could see the district the hostel was in & with a large amount of rum to aid my judgement I thought I'd walk it easily. Needless to say I did eventually make it back, but it wasn't the 10 minute stroll I had envisaged.

So my days were spent eating ice creams in the sunshine & watching the world
Alex & Damon cooking up.Alex & Damon cooking up.Alex & Damon cooking up.

Alex was our Guardian Angel whilst we were in Santiago.
go by whilst checking in with Carlos to see if the water pump had arrived.

Finally after 20 days of waiting I was ready to head south. Patrick & Damon had been kind enough to hang around town. Patrick was happy as he had Carmen & Damon was loving being back in civilisation. In comparison to Bolivia, Chile felt like another planet. So after saying goodbye to our Chilean, Danish, French & Colombian friends at the hostel it was at last time to head due south again. Yipee!

My standard day was usually spent cruising through the gorgeously green countryside in the sunshine, free camping in woods or beside crystal clear lakes where I could take a dip after a hard day on the bike before cooking up another sumptuous noodle feast, hitting the rum, star gazing then passing out.

Southern Chile & Argentina share some of the most scenic lands on the planet. Reminicent of Montana, Wyoming, eastern Canada, southern Alaska & NZ, some my favourite places on earth & therefore the muddy mess of Bolivia was a distant memory.

Soon it was time to cross into our fifthteenth & final country, Argentina. We caught a ferry across a lake (took 2 hours, it was a big lake) to a gravel road which brought us to a remote border post. On route south the border sways back & forth meaning we'd be crossing to & fro between Chile & Argentina up to 8 times over the next few weeks but after traveling so far we're hardened border pro's so crossing wouldn't be a big deal.

Getting out of Chile was a breeze but the two lads on duty at the Argentinian border post asked for bike insurance papers for Argentina which neither Patrick nor I had, but would get once we got to a town big enough. It was the same all the way south, if insurance is compulsory you bought it knowing it wasn't worth the paper it was written on but it kept the authorities happy.

None of the bikers we'd met along the way who'd ridden around Argentina had needed compulsory insurance which led me to believe the border staff were just having a bad day. They told us to turn around, go back & get it sorted in Chile.

Now the only problem I could see there was we were miles away from the nearest town including a 2 hour ferry ride on a once a day ferry & insurance companies in Chile sell insurance for... well... Chile.

The Chilean border staff were kind enough to let us use their computers to surf the net but once we entered a foreign plate the system jammed up & that was the end of that. To their credit, they suggested Damon ride into Argentina as he has motorcycle insurance for all of South America. He could then purchase insurance for Patrick & I come Monday morning as it was Saturday evening & all would be well. It was by no means ideal but it was the best we could do.

So we all rode back once more to the Argentinian border & when we arrived the two who were behind the desk originally weren't & so we crossed our fingers, handed our papers over & were stamped in without a word about 'compulsory insurance'.

Patrick has since had a friend back in Ireland falsify the necessary paperwork & email it across. So I'm actually more illegal now then I was but on the three occasions I've been stopped by the Police & four more border crossings since, bike insurance papers have never been requested.

In Argentina we headed towards a town called Barriloche which is famous for the mountains & lakes that surround or if your me, chocolate. It's only small but must of had the best part of 100 shops selling solely chocolate so I was a happy man. After a couple of days Patrick & Damon opted to head back over to the Atlantic coast in Chile but surprise, surprise I chose to stay on & catch them up down the road.

I kicked about town for a few more days and probably gained the best part of a stone. As I'd be missing Damon's birthday, in his absence I baked him a cake, only my third in 34 years. I did have more then a little assistance from Rana, a ridiculously smart & beautiful American girl who despite being only 21 years old seems to be on a par with Stephen Fry in the intelligence stakes. She even knew glacial ice enhances the flavour of good whisky, something I only learnt last year from watcing Professor Brian Cox on BBC1! How many 21 year olds know that? More importantly, that day, she knew when to add butter.

The last cake I made under the supervision of Elaine back home came second in a competition so I had a lot to live up to. (Islington - it's not classed as cheating as Elaine only made sure it wouldn't kill anyone - I did the rest singlehanded & therefore it was a worthy second). Anyway we persevered & came up trumps with not one but two chocolate wonders. The first lasted less then five minutes before being demolished by Rana & I (more Rana as she has an appetite to rival a rugby team) & the other guests in the hostel including American's, Israeli's & an English lad had the remaining slice or two between them. Happy Birthday Damon!

It was there the English lad, a fella called Dave from Bristol told me the very sad news of Phil Collin's retirement. A sad day the world over I'm sure but here in South America he is on the radio constantly so it came as a bit of a shock to Dave & I. I also met a fellow biker called Lenny who had also ridden from New York to Alaska & from Alaska south. We'd left a month apart and as I'm not on the biker forums we had no clue how close we'd been for the last 9 months.

Finally it was time to get moving as I could see from Damon's online GPS tracker that they were close to a ferry which would lead them to the Carretera Austral, a famous piece of gravel road which winds through some truly epic scenery & I wanted to meet them on it. I rode from 11am (early start) to 9pm including crossing back into Chile before finally camping beside a river with just a few cows for company & nearly 400 miles covered.

I knew Damon & Patrick would be coming along the gravel track at somepoint, I just didn't know when. There's only one ferry a week & they'd lucked in by getting tickets the day prior to departure, but for all I knew it could have been another week before our paths crossed.

I cruised happily along in the wilderness loving the freedom and the isolation of literally being in the middle of nowhere, until I started to feel the bike wobble as it does when you've got a rear puncture. Then the feeling of isolation and being out in the middle of nowhere isn't quite as attractive & becomes a little disconcerting.

Sure enough there was an enormous nail through the rear tyre, my second puncture of the trip so I couldn't bitch too much. Without going too much into the detail, the hardest part of repairing a puncture is breaking the bead of the tyre where its attached to the wheel rim so you can remove the tube. This is normally done with the side stand of another bike but as Patrick & Damon had yet to show up & might be several days I had to use mine which when the bike is without a rear wheel to steady itself, is so much easier said then done.

I tried to lift & tilt my enormously heavy motorcycle into position which took a huge amount of effort & an equal amount of sweating & swearing only for the weight of the bike not to be enough to get the job done. Without breaking the bead I wouldn't be able to fix the flat & therefore would be well & truly stuck in the wilderness. I pushed, pulled, heaved, screamed, gave up. Pushed, pulled, heaved, screamed, gave up over & over until eventually I just gave up & sat there thinking why can't Damon & Patrick HURRY UP!!!

After about 30 minutes I could hear two motorcycles coming from the opposite direction. I WAS SAVED! The first rule of this kind of biking is you stop & offer help. No exceptions, out in the arse end of nowhere it matters.

Less then a minute using their sidestand & all would be well. So there I was, on my knees in a big sweaty mess on a narrow gravel trail in the middle of nowhere with the rear wheel in my hands and as they approached I thought about what would have happened if they hadn't of showed up? I think you can guess where this is going.

Yes they slowed down but unbelievably they rode on. I couldn't help but laugh. BASTARDS!!! Both bikes were on German plates & I made a mental note to punch them hard in the face if I saw them at anypoint in the future.
Miss Rana Marks, cake maker extraordinaire.Miss Rana Marks, cake maker extraordinaire.Miss Rana Marks, cake maker extraordinaire.

& I'm not just saying that because she has a big knife.

Eventually a local man came passed in a pick up & he leaned his substanstial frame on top of the weight of the bike & finally the bead gave way & I could finally set about sorting the puncture. After three hours by the roadside I was rolling again. Told you before, I'm a pro at this now.

Less then eight miles later I got another puncture, or if you're splitting hairs my earlier repair was rubbish. Luckily the tyre popped as I was riding meaning the bead went with it. Unluckily, when that happens as you're riding on gravel on a very heavily laden motorbike it's not very easy to control.

So I set about getting the tyre sorted & putting in a spare tube which was actually more patch then tube when I heard the distinctive sound of Damon & Patrick's bikes in the distance. I can't begin to explain the look of glee on their faces when they came over the hill & saw me stranded fixing a flat tyre in the wilderness.

They said they would have been passed earlier but they stopped to help two Germans fix a puncture a few kilometres back down the road. They'd ignored me & got a puncture soon after. GOOD!!! Turns out Patrick did all the work & they weren't very grateful. I did wonder if the Germans had been heading in the same direction would I have stopped to help even when they'd left me behind? Sadly I think I would have, & no NOT SOLELY TO PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE.

So Patrick & Damon looked on with a smirk as I set about fixing my second puncture of the day (yes, technically it was the same one but I'm counting it as two) and about 45 minutes later we set off as a three again.

Even after the $1700 spent in Santiago my bike is still more then a little fragile and so after a couple of days I opted to leave the back country gravel roads to Patrick & Damon & take what transpired to be an 850 mile two day tarmac detour south.

I was a little concerned the bike would let me down which on my own would not be fun but I put that to the back of my mind & headed off towards the tarmac.

My route involved another ferry ride for which I had to wait for 7 hours in the freezing cold & only just squeezed on and then to possibly one of the most remote roads of the trip where... take a guess...

Yes the bike had a tantrum. When the rear wheel bearings disintergrated last time the speedo stopped working as the wheel was jammed out of line. So the bike squirms badly and the speedo goes dead which invariably means I'll soon be hitting the bike with a large rock, more out of frustration then in any real attempt to fix it.

As I was riding the speedo died but the bike didn't squirm. I immediately slammed on the brakes, my heart sank & I felt a bit sick. There's no such thing as an opportune place to break down but on the scale of inopportune places this one was up there. Literally nothing for hundreds of miles. No cars, no buildings, not even any rocks.

The rear wheel looked & spun okay but I took it off all the time thinking 'I am truly fucked'. Apologies for the swearing but trust me, in this case it's very appropriate. All looked okay so I tentatively put it back together & rode on very slowly with my heart in my mouth.

Half a mile up the road the speedo went again & after a minute or two of swearing, cursing & shouting I checked and rechecked the bike. All seemed okay so I opted for the 'ride it regardless, until something falls off' approach. Eventually I covered over 500 miles that day, each mile thinking what was that noise? What's that vibration? And going slowly mad.

I covered so much distance I bumped into two Brazilian bikers who said they'd be at the southern most tip of the America's the following day & I could ride with them if I wanted. I sent a message to Patrick & Damon saying I was just going to go for it & push to the bottom hoping the bike would hold together.

Whilst I was online I checked Damon's spot tracker which hadn't moved from the night before. The next time I fueled up I checked again and still it hadn't moved which I thought was odd. So I had the choice, south to the bottom or north & see what they were playing at & why they weren't moving. I decided to turn around & head 350 miles north west away from my goal as in the back of my mind I was a little worried. Turns out I had no need to worry they were just being bone idle.

On route towards the lads I met an Australian BMW tour group and cunningly rode just in front of them (which wasn't hard, they rode like a bunch of old dears) the rest of the way as they had a chase truck loaded with spares. I'm getting better at this adventure biking, I did tell you.

When I arrived in town I checked the spot tracker could see the lads had moved on & were actually on their way into town so I sat on the lawn in the middle of El Calafate & waved hello as they rolled in. The wonders of modern technology. They had covered 450 miles to get there, I'd covered over 900.

We visited the Moreno Glacier, kicked about town and then pushed south knowing we were within a few days of the end of the road. We
Home is where you park it. No.347Home is where you park it. No.347Home is where you park it. No.347

Carretera Austral, Chile.
crossed back into Chile & looped around Torres del Paine National Park which is where the first picture from this entry was taken. It's as beautiful as it looks. Awe inspiring views as we cruised around.

From there it was another couple of days due south to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world & my goal for the best part of nearly 10 months. We did intend to ride to the Fin del Mundo, end of the world sign that afternoon but Damon's bike being a BMW threw up an oil pressure warning light which I knew from experience has nothing to do with the oil pressure but is in fact the radiator fan. After tinkering with that we chose to find a place to stay & a pub. The sign could wait one more day.

That night in the pub we met a group of 21 motorcyclists mainly from the UK who intended to cover the same route that had taken me nigh on 10 months in 10 weeks. We did tell them about all they'd be missing but wished them luck.

The following morning, Thursday 24 March 2011 we made it to the
If you're going to get a puncture...If you're going to get a puncture...If you're going to get a puncture...

might as well make it a good one somewhere nice & remote.
end of the road 30511 miles or 49103KM after I left New York. I'd accomplished what I'd set out to achieve and seen a large chunk of the planet & most importantly met some amazing people on route.

Damon told me about three bikers who were sadly killed recently in accidents on route, one of which still has posts on a biker website that people are responding too not realising he is no longer with us so I do truly realise how lucky I am & I'm thankful for your wishes & your prayers (mum) of which there were many.

All I have to do now is find my way home.

I'll sign off properly when I make it to Buenas Aires in a week & a thousand or so miles time.

I'll leave you with a quote from J.R.R Tolkein that sums the trip up for me.

'Not all who wander are lost'.



Additional photos below
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26th March 2011

Brilliant mate, well done! So chuffed that you've finished safely. Am really going to miss reading your blogs but it'll be nice to see you again. C x
27th March 2011
We could be heroes - just for one day.

Smudge, Brilliant blog mate. By the time you get this note you'll probably be in B.A. Stay safe. What are you & Patrick's plans now? Kindest and most impressed regards Nevil (did the bear talk in Nakusp BC last year).

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