January 29, 2004

The long road home

When I last wrote it was midday through the first day of riding and everything was going relatively well. Hmmm.... a couple hours later, the aluminium trailer hitches decided to give up and break. So, the rest of the afternoon was spent eating empanadas and devising a plan to rescue the situation. We eventually figured that it would be possible to drill two holes in a piece of steel and have a solution (see pictures) that would no longer have the convenient quick release but would be solid. With all this commotion I barely had a few minutes to talk to Dave German who was off to Antartica with his company that evening and we found our first campsite arrival in the dark, 8km northwest of Ushuaia.
The second day was much nicer with nice climbs and descents among the beautiful mountains of the south of Tierra Del Fuego before crossing the last pass into the flat north of the island. This was the beginning of the dreaded gravel road. We were not totally prepared for the impact this would have on us.
(read very dusty). Let me quote Ryan Parton for the next paragraph: "We climbed our first pass just after lunch, a series of rocky switchbacks that climbed to about 400 metres, although it seemed much higher, and afforded a beautiful view of Lago Fagnano, in the midle of Tierra del Fuego. It was supposed to be a short ride thatday, but we had some trouble finding a spot to camp. By the time we found a campsite we were hungry and out fo water, and completely knackered form cycling nearly twice as far as we'd planned.
The next day was mostly on the same damned rocky road, but this time we were cycling into a steady breeze under a steady drizzle. That drizzle became a torrential downpour by the time we rounded the lake, and we were soaked and cold when we arrived in the town of Tolhuin. At least we found the panaderia (bakery) which seemed to be the favourite hangout for youn and old where we had some amazing empanadas (fried pastries with chicken, meat, or ham and cheese), and where we met some youths who shared with us their mate (like a strong, bitter tea that tastes like hay but surprisingly grows on you)."

That evening we arrived in the Estancia Tepi where we were greeted by a 1 1/2 month old guanaco and some very nice hosts. It was 4km off the road in a very nice and quiet valley. It did not take long to convince ourselves to rest my aching knee and stay an extra day.

The picture says it all! When we set back on the road, we were finally met by the famous winds. They were relentless and sometimes reduced us to a crawl.
Let me quote Damien my tandem partner: "...We have begun to (jokingly)
refer to this as The god Forsaken Island... stupendous winds (on flat paved
road our speed was as low as 5.3km/h)... We arrived at Punta Maria (the closed estancia) totally knackered. There was a
caretaker there who baked us four loafs of bread for 8pesos. MMMMMmmmmm fresh bread. We ate a late lunch of pesto and pasta and bread and dulce de leche (a carmalized condensed milk product which is like the equivalent to peanut butter in Canada) and napped. For dinner we ate almost plain pasta and another loaf of bread. We camped huckfinn style in the barn and left in the mornign after an unsatisfying breakfast of plain bread. We left at 6am to beat the wind and it worked, we got to Rio Grande in no time at all. Early mornings will likely be our savior.

Rio Grande is a funny little flat town. Which on first impression is a little on the ugly flat side of things. But as we rode around looking for the bicicleteria we saw lots of city workers in big insulated coveralls. I want to call it the coverall capital of South America. I'll get a picture soon (mental note)
But they are doing alot of landscaping to try to beautify the town... although maybe a little misguided. The main avenues have some really rough post modern multicoloured roof shapes made of metal tubing. (think expo 86 style gone wrong). The people are however incredibly welcoming and super warm.
We had the three spokes on the back wheel replaced in no time. We also have been having dinner with the family that runs the Club Nautico on the river where we are able to sleep in the loft. You can always count on the sailing or in this case the canoe/kayak community to be friendly. The Paloma fish was excellent.
Today another day of rest, internet and lunch with the bike mechanic Jose Torranza, whom we met at the T del F national Park on the first day. He was great, showing us videos of past mountain bike races and winter triathlons (kayak, bike, run). It is truely a pleasure to share stories with people who are keen to tell you about their little corner of the world. My spanish is improving but my stories are still accompanied by a lot of humms and ahhhh and commo dice?
My comprehension is getting quite good with most people.

So tomorrow we vamos to San Sebastian 80km away to the border and the end of the paved road. Then we are off westward along 150km of unpaved, wind on the nose and very little in between road to Porvernir. Where we will catch the ferry to Puntas Arenas. So you can probably expect another posting in 6-7 days.

Things can only get easier right? Our spirits are up and we are getting along well. FUBAR has for some odd reason been quoted frequently so far "Turn down the suck and turn up the rock" Yo no se porque!

Posted by gwendal at 04:02 PM | Comments (7)

January 23, 2004

The beginning of a great adventure

Today with a lot of trepidation and excitment we dipped the wheels of the bicycle in the Southern Ocean. The next time these wheels will touch the ocean should be in the Bearing Sea at the mouth of the Mackenzie Delta close to Inuvik. Having a starting ceremony was important to me because it really marks the point at which I am committed to this adventure.
We were then assaulted by three tour buses full of very curious tourists with many questions and who all wanted to have their pictures taken with us. After the 12th group picture I was starting to think that we should charge tourists for the service.

With huge butterflies in my stomach we left Tierra del Fuego National Park and cycled the 30 kilometres that have brought us back through Ushuaia for the last time. Tonight we will be north west of here. After having corked the bottle of champagne, so many little things were floating through my head: will the trailer hitch work out? will my knees give out? does it get any more beautiful than here?
Why are there so many burrs in this park and how did they manage to get stuck on the flags? etc.... But my main thought was that although I worked really hard to get myself here, the real challenge lies ahead. But at the same time the only reason I am here is because of a wonderful circle of support and encouragement that comes from all my friends and family. So, although you are not down here please be sure to know that a little part of you is with me on this adventure. Thank you, thank you, thank you.... ok I promise this is the last time I thank you.

Let me describe Tierra del Fuego National park. Our campsite was on a small island with both arms of the river passing on either side before ending up in the ocean 500m away. It is also right next to the border with the Chilean side of the Island of Tierra del Fego. All of the mountains are spectacular with small glaciers and nieves giving shape and texture to the dark rock of the mountains. For any naturalists interested in visiting, there is a wealth of birds everywhere with all sorts of colours taking advantage of all the wildflowers. I also noticed my first edible plant... the lowly dandylion with nice broad leaves that can make an excellent bitter salad and I also noticed a few honeysuckles. These familiar plants take on a different character in this setting. For example, we have seen very few evergreen trees which was quite a surprise because before coming, my minds eye really anticipated that there would be something resembling Northern BC evergreen trees.

My next email may be several days away! So this is a good time to say "en route moussaillon"

Posted by gwendal at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

January 17, 2004

Long flight will quickly feel short

After 48 hours of jumping from airport to airport (Toronto, Santiago and Buenos Aires) we are now in the "farthest city in the world". Ushuaia is truly spectacular and the arrival by plane was amazing. We landed on a tiny runway that juts out into the Beagle Canal.

check out the pictures

As luck would have it my cycling teammate for the Argentinian portion of the trip Damien happend to share a seat on his flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires with another Canuck that is cycling from Ushuaia to Venezuela whom I had been corresponding with. So for the moment there are three canucks cycling together.

Ushuaia is fantastic but you certainly get the sense that it is changing fast. The growth in the Antarctic cruise tourism industry is leaving its mark. There is a fair amount fo new construction and there are quite a few stores in town that obviously cater to the odd and tacky tastes of cruise ship passengers.
I am really excited and apprehencive about being here. On the one hand we are already planning to scramble up a local mountain for an overnight hiking trip, but at the same time I am slowly coming to terms witht the end of easy jet-set travelling. From here on I will have to earn every kilometer of the way back to Vancouver and onward to Inuvik.

But it will be great. I would like to take this chance to thank all of you who supported me during the preparation for this expedition. I had a dream, but it would never have evolved this far without all the support and enthusiastic responce you have given me. I hope that I will be able to entertain you with the regular updating of this website with entries and new photographs.

Posted by gwendal at 02:23 PM | Comments (4)

January 12, 2004

Finding our way in Cuba


After much anticipation, the country that really started me off on the idea of cycling through Latin America finally appeared through the window in the plane. As usual the most challenging of taxi rides in any country is the one from the airport to the city. This was no exception and we had the extra element of having to find someone who would put the tandem bike box on the roof. For a few extra Dollars people get really creative and the biggest challenge was only trying to understand the driver's spanish. At first the spanish lessons felt really distant and I was quit rusty. Luckly Tania is really talented with language and seemed to put a sentance together with relative ease.

The purpose of this trip was to test all the equipment in a place that would simulate the rest of the expedition. It was a real good exercise to tour for several days in a row and remember that 4-5 hours on the saddle is pretty tireing. Very quickly our main focus shifted to finding food and eating as much of it as possible. It is nice to be able to eat to your hearts content and know that you are going to burn every last calorie, but at the same time I felt haunted by a constant desire to secure enough calories for the next 2 hours. After a few days we were more in tune with our needs and were able to stock up on snacks throughout the day.

Cuba is very beautiful, the people that I met were all very friendly, engaging and increadibly generous with their patience letting me stumble my way through broken spanish sentances.

My only complaint is that the few trucks that there are. And there are not many, can belch out a pretty knarly plume of smoke from the exhaust. When the muffler is pointed to the right it feels like you are getting fumigated.

Posted by gwendal at 12:56 AM | Comments (1)