Tierra del Fuego, Segunda Parte.

It’s with sadness that I’m dedicating this post to Steve Worland; friend, doyen of singletrack, and journalistic inspiration. 

Primera Parte can be found here.

So… finally… here I am in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the Americas; at 54°48′S, it’s closer to the South Pole than to Argentina’s northern border with Bolivia.

This is the end of the road for most Panamerican riders – purists may point out that Chile’s Puerto Williams is a touch further south, but it’s an expensive boat ride away with just a scratch of road to ride on. In any case, Ushuaia’s a name that’s been rattling around my head since the start of the trip. And although I had no official fixed destination, (secretly) Ushuaia was the place I always hoped to reach.

Thankfully, even after seeing it printed on my map for so long, and chewing it over for so many months in my mind, getting here hasn’t proved to be an anticlimax at allThese last few days on the island of Tierra del Fuego have been wonderful. A little on the damp side, perhaps, but I wouldn’t exchange them for anything: sticky mud, frigid river crossings, soaking rain, blustery winds and all. Finishing up with a like-minded cycling band of brothers (and sisters) has helped galvanize this energy of arrival even more. The memory of reaching the outskirts of Ushuaia, hugging and high-fiving, will remain vivid in my mind and stir my heart for years to come. I’m sure more riders will be trickling in this afternoon and over the next couple of days, extending the celebrations yet further.

And if I find myself slipping into complacency, I need only to step out of the hostel, hunch my shoulders and feel the biting cold of the Antarctic wind, or look up at the rugged backdrop of peaks that cradle the town, to remind myself of exactly where I am. For while the name of this industrial port city definitely evokes more romance than its appearance, Ushuaia certainly boasts a prime location and an undeniable sense of place, hemmed in as it is between the Beagle Channel and the snow covered Martial Mountains. Teetering on the edge of winter serves only to add to this mood; both time, and the road, have finally run out.

Already there are over a dozen bicycles parked in the yard; personalised, battle-scarred chariots that have carried their owners through plains and desert, through jungle, mountains and more. A handful of others flew the coop just yesterday, migrating to warmer climes along with the rest of the wildlife here. Most cyclists are headed home, scouring town in search of bike boxes to sadly dismember faithful steeds, for flights to Europe and North America. 

Luckily for me, I still have riding to do. Once I’ve navigated a course through the Patagonian logistics of getting back to Puerto Montt – boat, bus or plane, or a combination of the three – I’ll be cycling up to Cuzco once more, placing the last piece of this American jigsaw in place. Somewhere up north, the altiplano lies head… 

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding Facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here

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Tierra del Fuego, this time from the Argentinian side.

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A little lonely at this time of year. Or perhaps any time of the year.

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Cold and wet, we duck into an estancia to dry off, gratefully sipping on the piping hot tea to which we’re invited; resisting hard the kind offer to bed down for the night.

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A slice of sunlight permeates the heavy cloud. This is good news.

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We’re not the only ones hoping the weather will change.

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Then, as Skyler repairs a puncture, the skies finally clear…

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And the road takes on a whole new character.

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We choose to eschew the possibility of estancia lodgings…

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… for this cuboid dwelling on the outskirts of Rio Grande.

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Dry shoes, dry…

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A paved road leads directly south. But instead, we exit the town via this potholed and run down barrio…

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… linking up with some muddy trails…

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… and a little singletrack…

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… to the beach once more!

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We dip our tyres in the Atlantic…

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… and slalom between ghostly jellyfish.

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Here, fatbikes rule supreme…

... while Panthea's skinnier 26in rubber struggles...

… and ‘skinny’ tyres struggle.

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So instead, we follow a tufty trail across the pampa.

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It spits us out on pavement, which we count down impatiently. Eventually, Skyler’s GPS presents us with another dirt road opportunity…

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Much better.

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Destination for the day is Tolhuin. It’s a name that’s long been highlighted on my map, home as it is to Panadería La Union. But this is not just any bakery – its generous owner has been offering free accommodation to cyclists for years. Does it get any better than that?

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Many have pedalled here before me. I duly sign the visitor’s book.

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By now, we’re a posse of nine, all converging for the same point. A day of rain provides a perfect excuse for grazing at the bakery, before we’re blessed with a bluebird day. Time to make the last 104km dash to Ushuaia…

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… and counting…

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Skyler, Panthea and I are keen to avoid at least a little pavement on the last day’s ride. A sign to Laguna Kosovo, named no doubt by early immigrants to the area, leads us to this small estancia…

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… and along a fantastic trail, resplendent in autumnal colours…

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… to the shores of Lago Fagnano itself.

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Completely car free, thanks to bridges like this.

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The good stuff.

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Just a two track.

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Skirting the lake.

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To a backdrop of unexpected Andean mountain views: Sierra de Inju Gooyin O Beauvoir, apparently.

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Squeezed between bodies of water.

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The occasional semi-abandoned estancia.

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And echoes of Alaska.

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Back on pavement, just one last pass lies ahead; Paso Garibaldi, at 410m. It may be low in altitude, but so far south, there’s still snow on the ground.

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Ushuaia – there it is. My well thumbed map, patterned with scribbles gleaned from passing cyclists over the last couple of months.

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On the other side of the pass, the mountains seem sharper and more rugged.

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The snowline, lower.

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A strong headwind brews. But there’s no stopping us now.

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And then, suddenly it seems, we’re in Ushuaia. Posing before the city gates, as so many have done before us. Connected by a rush of similar feelings. We high five. We hug. We look around in slight disbelief. Yes, we’ve arrived…

Steve Worland:

You can read an old interview with Steve here, published in Singletrack in 2003. It was Steve that got me into ‘weird’ wheelsizes and ‘strange’ handlebars. And as the zen master of singletrack in our local Bristolian trails, I delighted in chasing him round the woods, learning a little each time we rode, as I bounced around inelegantly in his dust…

My favourite quote:

“The next big development surge in bike use will have to be political: any rational person realises that car culture is shutting out human culture.”

17 thoughts on “Tierra del Fuego, Segunda Parte.

  1. Anna

    So, I’m going to be asking for some route notes again… that off pavement looks pretty good.

    Congrats on getting to the end. Now you just have a bit more middle to do.

    Reply
  2. Cass Gilbert Post author

    Pretty good? It was bliss! And, you’ll be pleased to hear it doesn’t have any locked gates (-; (though in all honesty, it’s relatively short distance wise)

    In terms of navigation, just look out for the sign to Laguna Kosovo, maybe 25-30kms out of Tolhuin. Great camping potential down there, though a bit early in the day. A few sloppy sections where shoes need to be removed. We noticed the road marked on a map in La Union bakery. Only spotted it after, but there’s also dirt road up to the pass – looked steep and loose, but very rideable.

    Although I know you’re always up for a challenge, I’m not sure I’d recommend the first beachy bit out of Rio Grande though – not nearly as hardpack at the one to Punta Arenas. Very nice to get away from the main road, but could be slow going. Myles did it a day or two before us on his fully laden bike; he cussed his way through for 5 hours.

    Reply
  3. Cass Gilbert Post author

    If you do go that way, hop the gate at the police intersection on the paved Tolhuin/Rio Grande Road (they don’t mind). Follow farming dirt road towards coast (one fence to hop), past good supermarket at intersection. Follow the coast round, through various little barrios. It eventually connects with a dirt road, that can be muddy as there’d been a lot of rain; at which point we cut across the pampa towards the beach. Down in the seaweedy bit seemed to be the best surface for riding. We followed that round for a while, until we cut back up again as Panthea found the riding a little awkward, given the soft sand. Nice, very rideable trails further up – you’ll see the main road in the distance, and can work your way towards it. Probably cuts 25km off the pavement.

    Lots of jellyfish!

    Reply
  4. Brummie

    A fascinating journey Cass, superbly documented. Look forward to seeing many more of your adventures. Keep them pedals turning !

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Cheers Logan. To be fair, the Aescents haven’t been too bad in the drying department (compared to the Freeriders), but no match for multiple river crossings and rainfall. Soggy prunefeet…

      Reply
  5. Mark_BC

    Thanks for all the inspiration Cass. I think you will need another planet to explore soon.

    I’m just in Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja, Mexico. I managed to get down that palm canyon. Bliss for fat biking, amazing. I had to packraft some coast and desalinate seawater to get back. I was in the wilderness for 2 weeks. Unfortunately I only have my iPhone so can’t post photos for a few weeks but I’m writing up the trip report. I need to be more vigilant at writing up reports afterwards, even just posting photos. I have 10 days till my friends come down, I’m sure I’ll use it well.

    Still hoping to build up that symmetrical 135 mm fatbike in June, maybe if it turns out I’ll build you one too lol

    Reply
  6. Jaran

    A truly inspiring journey…reading this makes it hard to wait until our own dirt roads and mountain trails comes out of the snow. Thanks for every post so far…and welcome to the rest!

    Reply

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