Posted on February 4, 2015
Nearly nine months have passed since Alex and I rode through the gates of Ushuaia realizing our goal of riding from San Francisco to the end of the world. When we got back people wanted to know what our favorite country was or the best experience of the trip and what I found was that it was hard to put this trip into the mini sound-bites people wanted to hear. Yes I have a favorite country from the trip, I have places I would like to go back and places I don’t ever want to go back, but they are all a part of one massive undertaking Alex and I completed.
Another thing that I think people want to hear is that you had a life altering spiritual experience that has moved the clouds of doubt from your life and everything is clear now. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. I’m not saying that this trip hasn’t changed me, it most certainly has, but in small ways I see in my every day life.
On the adventure to getting our bikes back from the shipping container (story to follow) a fellow biker and I found ourselves on the long road to LA talking about our trips and the experiences. One comment that he had was that he could remember every day of his trip distinctly for one reason or another, but since being back the weeks blended together and he could hardly remember what happened last week let alone a couple weeks ago. I find the same occurrence in my own life. I can run through almost every day of the trip in my head, but often forget what I did last week. It’s because during “Autopista End” every day was a new experience or a new place. I need that in my life now because at the end of it all, I won’t remember any given weekend I spent watching Netflix but I will remember crashing in Cusco.
The other thing I learned was that I needed to stop procrastinating with the goals in my life and need to take steps, even little ones, every day in achieving what I want. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now saying that the best thing I did in my life was the Autopista End trip. I need something more than that.
Alex and I have talked about the phenomenon of the “Bucket List” in recent years and how you will overhear people saying, quite literally on a daily basis, “oh I am putting that on my bucket list”. I don’t have a bucket list anymore, if there is something I really want to do, I am going to find a way of doing it, of taking some step toward accomplishing it. It doesn’t mean it will happen this month or this year even, but if I keep taking steps toward it I will eventually succeed or realize it wasn’t what I really wanted. I would rather die in the process of achieving a goal than with a list of a bunch of dreams I never even attempted to realize.
This trip has changed me in ways I can’t really put into words and there are still some days where I think it was all a dream, that Alex and I are still planning this crazy idea we had so many months ago.
I would like to thank everyone that followed our blog, left us comments or helped us along the way. I would like to thank my Mom, for teaching me that “I can do anything, it may take me longer, but I will get there” and my Dad for keeping my imagination alive and young. But most all I want to thank Alex Washburn for without which this trip wouldn’t have happened. She is an amazing person that I have been fortunate enough to share my life with.
Posted on April 16, 2014
As it had taken us the better part of a day to actually get to the gates of Ushuaia, the celebrating didn’t last long as the sun was setting in a darkening grey sky. One point of note that I noticed in our ride to the end of the world is that though the sky was dark, and rain threatened us more than a couple of times from Rio Grande to Ushuaia, there was a constant sun shinning toward the end of the road, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, that I thought was so befitting the circumstances.
As we high-fived on the side of the road, three motorcyclists pulled up next to us and Juan Pablo (Argentinian) introduced himself and his two fellow riders who were from Scotland. We explained that we were from California and that this was the last stop on our six month trek. Juan Pablo asked us if we had a place to stay, and seeing as we had not planned more than one day ahead, the answer was no. Originally we had thought to get a nicer hotel to celebrate the end of the trip, but Juan said his find owned the cheapest hostel in town and it had motorcycle parking.
Tired from the drive, and seeing the sun sinking in the sky, we thought it would be a good idea to follow our new friends to this biker hostel and see what it was all about. Less than ten minutes later we were parked at Momo’s and being given a tour by Lisa (one of the two Scotish riders), who had been there for eight days already and knew the lay of the land.
Momo’s is an oasis at the end of the world, where things can, and do, get a little pricey because of the unique local and the amount of tourists. There is a big yard that can accommodate many bikes (this morning there were four BMWs and our two KLRs with room to spare) and the entire hostel has heated floors so being cold is never a problem. Being in the right place at the right time landed us here, and we are grateful that we continue to have good luck finding great places and friendly people as we ended up being in Ushuaia longer than we thought.
After throwing our bags into our room we headed out for a celebratory bite to eat and then promptly passed out once we got back to the room. The next day we explored the downtown of Ushuaia and booked a tour to see the penguins (one of the main attractions I wanted to do when we got here!).
Downtown Ushuaia is half Swiss mountain village and half industrial shipping port, mixing tourism and functionality into one small town. To the north it is bordered by mountains that house a glacier and were just starting to be frosted with snow in anticipation of the coming winter. To the south is Beagle Bay (named for Darwin’s famed H.M.S. Beagle) that plays host to the port and the cruise ships that pass through from time-to-time.
The tours to the penguin island aren’t until later in the day as that is when they are the most active and the light is the best for taking pictures, so Alex and I decided to head up to Glacier Martial, where there is a chairlift that I read will take you to the top. After being dropped off by a taxi in the parking lot of the entrance to the mountain we were to find out two crucial facts: one, the chairlift does not go all the way to the top, it actually only goes up about 500 meters, and two, it is now closed for the season as winter is coming.
Finding out this information too late, we enjoyed the views for a bit and then decided to walk back into town before we left for the tour (I ended up going back and hiking up the mountain a couple days later). The tour starts with a bus ride out to the only farm in Ushuaia, where you then take a boat out onto the bay.
Before we knew it, the moment I had been waiting for six months for was upon us and we were face-to-face with wild penguins! There were two types of penguins on the island when we were visiting, the purely black-and-white ones are Magellanic penguins, and they migrate from northern Argentina to Ushuaia every year to have babies, and then swim north again once the summer is over. An interesting fact we learned about this species of penguin is that other than breeding season, they live completely in the water, floating on their backs at night as they sleep and rest.
The other species of penguin, Gentoo, just recently moved to the area from Antarctica about ten years ago and now live on the island year-round (much warmer than Antarctica, I would say these are the smartest penguins in the world). Notice they have orange beaks and feet, and are what I would call a stereotypical penguin.
We got to hangout on the beach with them (3 meters back at all times) and they just waddle around, preening themselves and jumping in and out of the water looking for fish. It was amazing to see this little animal in its natural habitat, just doing what it wanted to do.After seeing the penguins there was only one other goal we had to accomplish in Ushuaia, and that was officially reaching the end of Ruta-3, which is the literal fin del mundo. Ruta-3 runs through Ushuaia and into Tierra Del Fuego National Park finally ending at Bahia Lapataia. There is a famous sign at the end that declares the official end to Ruta-3, and all bikers joke that you haven’t truly made it to the fin del mundo, until you take a picture of your bike in front of the sign.
Of course the morning we chose to ride into the park it started snowing and even doing twenty-miles an hour in the park our hands were frozen by the time we made it to the end of Ruta-3. Ignoring the group of tourists that had arrived in a bus, I pulled right past them and parked my bike next to the sign. After six months of riding, I wasn’t going to wait for any entire bus load of people to take their pictures, this was our time.
While we were snapping pictures and rejoicing at the official end of the autopista, another tourist strolling by told us we shouldn’t leave our bikes their as we might get a ticket. Not that we were planning on doing this, but it spurred in us a desire to take the no motorcycles sign that adorned the pillars in front of the Ruta-3 sign. We had been joking about taking a Ruta-40 sign, but they were too big, this was the perfect size and was held on by two flimsy looking screws. Out came the tool kit, and in less than a minute the sign was safely tucked away in our panniers, motorcycles once again free to bask in the glory of their accomplishment.
One of the other features of this national park are the foxes. When we entered the park the attendant we purchased our tickets from told us that “foxes will ask for food, but don’t give them any”. Low and behold, as we moved the motorcycles, the fatest fox I have ever seen came wondering out of the underbrush and started looking for food from all of the tourists that were gathered around. It acted more like a a dog than a fox, and it would go running up to any new vehicle that pulled into the parking lot.
It started snowing again as we packed the camera away, and we figured it was time to get back to the warmth of the hostel rather than freezing our tails off out on the road. It was a bittersweet moment riding out of the park, we were officially headed north, we had made it to where the autopista ends.
P.S. We will be posting a couple more blogs about how we got the bikes and ourselves home and reflections on the trip. We hope you will stick around for a little while longer and enjoy.
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 10, 2014
After our adventures with Alex’s radiator, we were both eager to finally get on the road and ride every day till we made it to Ushuaia. We got up the next day and headed off on Ruta-40, after having breakfast at the gas station we filled up at (Note: Argentina has some pretty awesome gas stations with meals, that sometimes, are better than you would find in a restaurant). The sky was looking dark, and we wanted to get on the road to hopefully avoid any more rain, as the temperature was likely to continue to drop as we moved south, and riding in wet gear does nothing but slow you down.About 50 miles down the road it curved and within the next five minutes we were facing bright blue skies, it was one of the few times on the trip we were able to out run the rain (the next time being the following day).
Ruta-40 is famous in Argentina, and in all of South America, with many tourists viewing it as akin to Route-66 in the US. It runs all the way from La Quiaca, in Jujuy Province, in the North to Punta Loyola, near Rio Gallegos, in the south a total of 3,107 miles.
While the Argentinean government made a resolution in 2006 to pave the entire length of Ruta-40, Alex and I experienced first hand that this is still a work in progress. Talking to locals, mechanics, hostel owners, I had even bought a map that listed what routes were paved and not paved in Southern Argentina, to try and give us a shot at not doing anymore 120-mile dirt/gravel roads, to help speed us along.
All of this planning was for not when we reached Alto Río Senguer, filled up with gas and had a cup of coffee, all with the plan to ride to Perito Moreno along the 40, since we had already done 120 miles that day with no issues. Leaving the gas station we followed signs toward Rio Mayo (along the way to Perito Moreno) and stopped just shy of the edge of town as the road became, what the locals call, “ripple” or gravel.
We double checked the map to make sure we were going the right direction (we were) and agreed that this must just be a section of gravel that lead back to the great asphalt of Ruta-40 we had been riding on all day (pipe dream). About five miles into the ripple road, a truck came cruising by and we flagged him down so Alex could ask if we were in fact on the 40 and how long the ripple continued. His response was that yes we were on the 40 and that it was ripple the whole way to Rio Mayo, about 60 miles.
There was no way we were going to make it to Perito Moreno, and I had doubts on how long it would take us to reach Rio Mayo as it was already two in the afternoon. I also wished I could go back and yell at the gas station owner, who we asked about Perito Moreno and he never mentioned once that the road there was all ripple. We continued down the road at a snails pace, only reaching second gear once, and barely cresting 15 miles an hour on the good stretches.
Concerned about the integrity of my gas tank (it had been welded in two places) Alex took the lead and soon disappeared around the corner. I continued at my ten miles an hour pace, going to the happy place in my mind and trying to ignore the otherwise complete lack of scenery. Cruising around the corner I soon saw Alex’s motorcycle, on its side, Alex standing next to it. The gravel had gotten big and deep, and she lost control and had to let it fall. Nothing the KLR can’t handle, and we both lifted it back onto two wheels and noticed that the radiator was leaking again.
Not having the time, we had only done 30 miles at this point, or the tools to fix it we decided all we could do is continue on and get desalinated water and coolant further on down the road. Another 30 miles of bland scenery, gravel, and ten miles an hour landed us on the door step of Rio Mayo, just as the last rays of sun light faded from the sky.
The next morning, we asked the hotel owner and the gas station attendant about the road to Perito Moreno, with the hotel owner being less than helpful, but the gas station attendant confirming it was about ten miles of ripple, and then asphalt all the way to Perito Moreno.
The ripple for that ten miles was the worst of the trip, by far. Large stones that move when you hit them and then the monster truck tire marks of road that combine for slow painful driving. (I try to not exaggerate, and am sure some riders would call us wussies for complaining, but when you’re close to the end of a 15,500 mile ride you really don’t want anything to happen to your bike, and riding on these roads is hard on both rider and bike). We finally reached where the asphalt began, and enjoyed the freedom of being able to do 70mph again, all the way to Perito Moreno.
In Perito Moreno we filled up with gas and asked the attendants about the conditions of the road to Tres Lagos (our intended stop for the night, and original stopping point after Perito Moreno, trying to get back on track). He confirmed it was all paved for about 500km, which would get us to Tres Lagos at least.
Riding from gas station to gas station, we made our way toward Tres Lagos, on amazing asphalt through dry plains. 100 miles, 200 miles, we pulled into Gobernador Gregones as the sun was setting, though with the goal in mind that we were going to make the push to Tres Lagos to stop from falling behind. I suggested to Alex that we should ask some locals about the road, just to make sure we didn’t get stuck on another ripple road, at night time.
After talking with a truck driver (they always know the best roads, and have really great concepts of distance) we learned that the road would be about 40 miles of asphalt and than would turn to ripple for another 80 miles till Tres Lagos. We were staying in Gobernador Gregones for the night, but good thing we asked.
It wouldn’t be till the next morning that we would find out that we somehow got off the 40, to get to Gobernador Gregones, but the 40 turned to ripple anyway, and wouldn’t have saved us anytime. It was off to another long day of gravel.
The truck driver was right on and after 40 miles, the road suddenly ended into a dirt road. It bears mentioning that the first 40 miles of this road was some of the best ripple road of the whole trip. Compacted dirt with little to no rocks that allowed us, at some points, to make it up to 40mph. At some point this ended, and was replaced with the larger rock ripple, that only allows 10mph and fatigues body and mind.
The detour to Gobernador Gregones ended up being a blessing in disguise as it not only prevented us from trying to get to Tres Lagos in one day, but also from having to stay in Tres Lagos, which didn’t have any real roads leading to it and in general looked less than welcoming (though I don’t actually know as we never made it into that town, but simply skirted it).
It took us four hours to go 80 miles and make it to Tres Lagos, however once we made it there we were hell bent on making it the rest of the way to Rio Gallegous, our original plan for those three days of riding. It would be another 200 plus miles of riding, ending the day at 360 miles, to get us into Rio Gallegos after the sun set.