Posted on April 14, 2014
As we rode the final days into Ushuaia the road to the city at the end of the world never let up on us- not once.
We had adventures and missteps up until the very last day when all we wanted was to ARRIVE.
Pretty mountains and fuzzy foxes are much less impressive when you have been working towards one goal for half a year and you are so close, so close!
Rio Gallegos was a bigger town than we expected and you can see it coming from a long ways off. The ride that day was long and ugly with over 80 miles of unforgiving dirt that Nathaniel already talked about.
As we got closer it felt like Rio Gallegos kept getting farther and farther away. The only food we’d had all day was some potato chips and chocolate at a gas station so as the cold started creeping into our jackets we were two miserable human beings.
We kept coming up short on finding a hotel, but after I asked for help from a local motorcycle cop we quickly found a warm dry place with wifi and parking which is about as much as you can ask from a cheap hotel most days.
Nathaniel watched TV at the hotel while I went out to eat dinner, but we were both asleep pretty soon after we arrived. I can’t even begin to guess what time that was.
We had heard that our more experienced Canadian friends had done the ride from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia in one day and it took them 11 hours. We were already half decided when we got up the next morning to leave Rio Gallegos that we would stop somewhere in the middle and not even attempt to compete with them. 11 hour days suck and we didn’t want to arrive to Ushuaia after dark.After packing up the bikes Nathaniel and I rode to the gas station and as I balanced the bike Nathaniel checked to see if my radiator fluid was still at an acceptable level. He thought the reserve was empty when a few days later it had been almost totally full (my radiator still has a bit of a drip) so I pulled the bike into a parking spot and we began to dismantle the bike to get access to my radiator.
Doing this wouldn’t usually be a big deal but the crash bars on my bike block the cap on the radiator so I have to take those off first. It was then that we realized my Happy Trails Nerf Bars (crash bars) had rusted and broke!
As we took apart the bike Nathaniel dropped the nut that holds the top of my crash bars onto the bike (never to be seen again) and we quickly realized that my bike had more than enough radiator fluid and would probably be fine to ride all the way back to California if necessary.
Nathaniel started putting my bike back together while I went off in search of a hardware store that would have extra nuts to put my crash bars back on. I was back in about 20 or 30 minutes, but by the time we gassed up and were actually ready to leave Rio Gallegos is was already 1pm and we had TWO border crossings ahead of us and would need to use a ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan!
The Island of Tierra Del Fuego is split in ownership by Chile and Argentina. After crossing back into Chile you soon arrive to the Strait of Magellan, cross on a ferry and then continue on to the border to cross back into Argentina after 80 miles of Chilean dirt/gravel road.
Just typing that makes me tired.
We arrived to the Straight of Magellan and joined a short line of cars waiting at the edge of the water. As we waited we started to get worried about how far we would have to ride on the the other side of the water to find a hotel. Getting caught out on a shit road in the middle of nowhere at night is one thing we had so far managed to avoid so I talked to some locals and other people waiting in line for the ferry and we were promised a town (very generously titled) named Cerro Sombrero on the other side of the water would definitely have hotels.
Cerro Sombrero ended up being an industrial collection of houses, three hotels and one mini-mercado stuck up on top of a little hill in the absolute middle of nowhere. The cheapest hotel was full of oil workers and had no open rooms, the second cheapest hotel had a room for us, but wouldn’t accept our Argentinian money! (we hadn’t planned on staying in Chile and didn’t bother changing money at the border)
This completely blew me away because this town is surrounded by Argentina! To go anywhere they need to drive through Argentina and Buenos Aries is way closer to this town than Santiago.
I promised the woman at the hotel we would come back (my bad) and told her we had to go to the ATM to get Chilean money. Of course the “bank” was closed and the mini-mercado people informed me that the town didn’t have an ATM machine at all.
As I talked to the people about the lack of ATMs and money changers in their town and kept translating things for Nathaniel one of the other customers in the mini-mercado chimed in and said there was one Hotel that WOULD take Argentinian money or Euros or US Dollars etc.
My plan of swapping bottles of liquor for a hotel room (the mercado took credit cards) went out the window as the other customer explained to us how to get there and although it was on the way into town I hadn’t realized it was a hotel.
This hotel was the only place we could sleep in between the Strait of Magellan and the Argentinean border – which was of course on the wrong side of 80 miles of dirt road.
I keep using ‘of course’ because the things stacking against us on this particular day were pretty hefty. We walked into the hotel and asked about a room, and you know what? It was OF COURSE the most expensive hotel of our entire trip at $162 USD.
That makes my soul hurt. Most of the time we keep our hotels at or under $40 when we are really hurting for options. I will not compromise on food quality, but when it comes to budgeting I am all about $10 a night hostels when possible.
We paid for our room in Argentinian money which took a huge chunk of our cash and went to our room where we proceeded to dig bills out of forgotten pockets, journals and plastic bags to see if we had enough money for dinner and gas the next morning (Chilean gas is REALLY expensive).
We decided we had enough money to eat dinner and the Hotel’s menu of the day ended up being a lovely dinner of soup, roast chicken, potatoes and flan (our only meal that day besides a sandwich at the border crossing).
The electricity went on and off for most of the time we were in the snazzy hotel, though we weren’t too worried about it till the next morning when the town’s only gas station attendant told us he couldn’t give us gas because the pumps wouldn’t work without electricity.
He told us the restaurant on the crossroads just outside of town would be able to sell us some gas, which was echoed by a local construction worker but OF COURSE the restaurant owner had no idea why they would think he might have gas for sale. After talking to him we realized the next town (San Sebastian) was going to be our only hope unless we wanted to wait around for the electricity to come back on.
We decided to roll the dice and go for San Sebastian knowing that we’d probably have to use the little cans of gas we were carrying on the backs of our motorcycles before we reached the next station. Turning south out of the restaurant parking lot we had about 300 meters till the pavement disappeared and we were on dirt road all the way to San Sebastian- which we reached on fumes.San Sebastian ended up being even smaller than Cerro Sombrero and didn’t have a gas station! We pulled over a few hundred yards short of the border crossing to curse our bad luck and the entire country of Chile when an entirely too stylishly dressed young man sauntered down the long dirt driveway we had parked in front- eyes glued to his iPhone.
This guy (lets call him Watson) ended up being a doctor employed by the Chilean army as an emergency medic out in the sticks of Tierra Del Fuego. He is living at the army outpost while they attempt to clear land mines that were laid out during a conflict with Argentina several decades ago. His job is essentially to save peoples lives if a land mine is accidentally detonated.
Dr. Watson told us the army brought in a gas truck once a week, however he wasn’t sure if they could share any. He made a phone call to a superior before regretfully informing us they needed to keep the ambulances and trucks full although we should be able to get to the gas station on the Argentinian side of the border with the little bit of petrol we had in our emergency gas cans.
We gave him an Autopista End sticker and he sauntered away looking exactly like any well educated young person might in the United States. It was a very bizarre experience and his English was probably better than ours.
We poured our little cans of gas into our bikes and parked under the overhang of the Chilean border crossing, ate a few ham sandwiches and climbed back onto the bikes hoping the gas station was as close as Watson told us it was.
Less than a hundred yards past the Chilean border office we bumped back up onto silky smooth pavement and blasted through the next 10k to the Argentinian office and a glorious little gas station with a super friendly attendant. Hallelujah!
After filling our tanks we were on a total high. Just a few hours from Ushuaia I got this insane adrenaline rush and I just felt like I was floating in my seat. We filled up again in Rio Grande to make the last push to Ushuaia and we were just so happy and excited.
I think that I had the equivalent of a caffeine crash with my adrenaline because about an hour outside of Ushuaia I just had to tuck in behind a slow moving Fiat and zone out. The mountains were freaking gorgeous, the lakes were perfect and the asphalt was a dream, but I was just too cold, too sore, too tired and too road worn to care very much.
I dully acknowledged that is was some of the most magnificent scenery we had ridden through in WEEKS, however I just couldn’t get excited enough to ignore the cold. I practiced answering job interview questions in my head and stayed behind that little fiat all the way into USHUAIA.
We rounded one last turn and so unexpectedly the giant USHUAIA welcoming posts appeared in front of us. We took pictures with other Ushuaia signs later, but at that moment we just needed a hotel.
Like tired marathoners we passed a group of motorcyclists collected at the signs, rolled through the posts and slowly pulled over to congratulate ourselves and indulge in some celebratory high-fives!
After 6 months, 16 countries and 15,500 miles we had reached our epic destination- THE END OF THE WORLD.
Posted on April 3, 2014
From Mendoza we were on a mission to get to Santiago so that we could make the push down south. Ariel the mechanic (along with others) had told us we could make it to Santiago in about five hours, though the big question mark was how long the border crossing was going to take, as our last experience had scared us in terms of waiting time.
We got up and headed toward the border, along with tons of Harleys, BMWs, and KTMs among other motorcycles. It was Sunday, and on top of that there had been a giant Harley-Davidson rally in Mendoza that weekend, putting tons of motorcycles on the road heading back to Santiago. It felt good to be surrounded by motorcyclists who were out enjoying the weather, the weekend, and just riding.
The border to Chile is through a half mile long tunnel and on the other side you are in Chile. We didn’t see any signs for where to get stamped out of Argentina, and went through the tunnel three times before finding out that it was all done in one location, about five miles into Chile.
While waiting at the border, we got to talk to several bikers and pick their brains about the route we were taking to Ushuaia and rumors we had heard about Southern Argentina. One Harley rider said that we should prepare for wind and to make sure we had a gas can with us (this was echoed by friends who had already rode through southern Argentina) as many of the gas stations are closed or simply don’t have any gas.
The border involved the usual inefficiency and the second searching of the bikes we have had on the entire trip. Finally done and processed we got to ride the snail’s pass on our way down the mountains. As you can see from the picture, it is s-curves all day long and quit fun to ride down, though I was glad that the on coming traffic was stopped for road repairs or it might have been a scary ride.
We made it to Santiago just as the sun was setting and it was long after dark by the time we made it to our hostel. We decided to take one day in the city to enjoy the sites and rest up before we made the big push down the 5. Santiago has a European feel with both the atmosphere and the architecture of the city and we enjoyed just walking around and exploring.The next day, once again, we packed and moved on. About ten miles outside of Santiago, Alex killed her bike as a truck passed her and as we coasted to a stop on the side of the freeway (thankful for a wide shoulder) she found that she couldn’t start her bike again. With the sounds it was making we could tell it wasn’t getting enough fuel to keep it idling. Long story short, we played around with the fuel lines and finally were able to suck whatever was blocking the tube out. Something similar happened in Peru, and the same fix worked. We won’t question it for now, we are just thankful that we could fix it and move on.
We were able to make it to Chillán (past where we thought we would make it due to the US quality road that is the 5) and found a cheap hostel with parking and a place to clean our chains, that badly needed some attention. It was in the last minutes of twilight that Alex was close to finishing cleaning her chain as Tobee (from Germany) came walking up the driveway of the hostel.
Tobee has been experiencing some extreme bad luck with his KTM and delighted us with his stories from the road, a portion of which involved him removing the air filter of his motorcycle and using, in his words, panties to cover the intake. It was nice having someone to talk to and we spent the night swapping stories from the road and talking about the journey to Ushuaia. (The last we heard, Tobbe is still stuck in Chillán trying to get his carburetor repaired with the most patient of mechanics).
The next day, after a comment from Tobee, we stopped by a motorcycle shop to pick up an extra chain as Alex’s appeared to be on its last leg. It was here where I made a grievous error. It was close to when we were going to have to get the last oil filter change of the trip (we should have done this in Santiago). The “mechanic” at the shop said he didn’t know if he had the right size of oil filter and asked if he could just open up my bike and check to see.
After spilling oil all over my bike (should have been the first clue) he determined he didn’t have the right size oil filter, which if you looked at the size of the oil filter housing it was clear he didn’t have the right size. He put the oil filter back in and we purchased a chain and went to go fill up before heading out-of-town. It was at the gas station that I noticed the oil filter cap was not flush and decided we needed someone else to look at it before we hopped on the freeway. It was on the two block drive to the Yamaha dealership that my bike started hemorrhaging oil as if from a gunshot wound.To the “mechanic” at that other shop: YOU NEED TO GET ANOTHER JOB BECAUSE YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!!! Though I would tell Alex later that I should have known that was a horrible idea. Yamaha didn’t have an oil filter that fit, but their mechanic was able to take it out and get it installed again without any issues.
Alex and I found out that there was a Kawasaki authorized dealership in Temuco, which just happened to be on our way along the 5. Having wasted half a day with the oil disaster, we hightailed it to Temuco and got an appointment for the following morning. We used this as an opportunity to change the chains and spokes, as well as, the oil to get the bikes ready for the last leg of the trip. Though this ended up sucking up one more day than we thought it would.
Fresh chains and riding like new we headed for the border to cross back to Argentina. Everyone had told us it was going to be cold in the south, we just didn’t know that the cold was going to come this soon. We stocked up on new winter gloves (that still wouldn’t be warm enough for snow) and gas cans for Southern Argentina.
After the best border crossing of the trip, we made it to San Carlos de Barlioche (the lake Tahoe of Argentina) and this is where things got interesting. It was cold on the ride along the lake, but we didn’t know we were going to wake up and see snow falling outside the window.
We took showers, got packed, and the snow had stopped, to be replaced with a light rain. We ate breakfast and got the bikes packed to try to make it out-of-town before the real rain started. We didn’t succeed.
Ten miles down the road it started pouring, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. Our new gloves and five layers of clothing wasn’t enough to keep the cold out and on top of that, we got our first snow ride. Not little flakes, but literally snow that falls, hits your helmet visor, and sticks.
We could only make it about 30 miles at a time before we had to pull over and warm up our hands as they were turning numb with cold. Making it to El Bolsón (only 80 miles past Bariloche) we had to give up for the day as we were numb in both fingers and toes and were soaked to the bone. The best part of being in a part of the country that is cold for a large portion of the year, they have heaters.Getting a hostel with a heater was clutch and Alex fashioned a drying rack out of the curtain rod that we hung in front of the heater. The hostel owner said that it would stop raining the next day, but it continued to rain all day and didn’t break until the morning of the next day.
Not knowing what the day would bring at 7am, the sun started to peak out around 9 and we were off. Riding through snow-capped mountains and frosty fields we made our way south, 36 miles at a time while we let our hands warm up. It wouldn’t be till after Esquel that we started dropping down in elevation and the ambient temperature rose, at least enough so that we could start putting some miles down without stopping.
The excitement of the day was that Alex’s bike was going to turn 30,000 miles. After lunch, ten miles outside of Tecka her bike hit the 30,000 mile mark and we pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures and I did a little dance in celebration. It was during this dance I noticed the massive amount of liquid coming out of the bottom of Alex’s bike…
To be Continued…