The Journey Back

Ruta 3 is the only road to Ushuaia and out of it. The ride in is wonderful through the big mountains and everything is new and you have come so far on brittle knees and a broken bike and that last 105km from Tolhuin is truly joyful. The road has ended at the last city on earth.

But that is also a problem and you think about it in your tent the next morning. In what way do I leave Ushuaia? How does one leave the end of the world? Do I pack the bike into a box and leave on a airplane or a bus or a ferry with all others--all the others that the bicycle was used to avoid?

The idea was given to me by a Dutchman to ship out on a freighter which had some extra shipping space. But there are no freighters at this port. I would need to go to Puerto Williams or to Punta Arenas. At Puerto Williams if it was not possible I would have to return to Ushuaia and it would be an expensive trip there and back if there was no freighter and it would also involve a ferry and a bus. Puerto Williams is on an island of protected land across the Beagle Channel and cannot be ridden.

To get to Punta Arenas and ship out on a freighter I could take a bus, a plane, or a boat to the port, but I could also ride there. This would mean riding Ruta 3 the way I had come. At least three days of riding would be back along the way I had come to Ushuaia--back over the mountains outside the city, back through the hills and smaller mountains covered with twisted trees and past Tolhuin, back across the windblown sea-side at Rio Grande, and back up onto the higher plain along the Bay of San Sebastian and to the frontier with Chile. From there I would ride straight into the wind west across 150km of Chilean ripio to Porvenir where the ferry runs to Punta Arenas. That part of the riding would be new but would be of the highest difficulty on bad ripio and into the strongest wind.

It is a journey that could be done in 5 days but could take 7. The weather is supposed to deteriorate badly in a few days time, right when I would begin riding. I could stay a few days at the bakery in Tolhuin and wait out the big storms, or even stay an extra day in Rio Grande at the Club Nautico and drink “Fernandos” with Claudio. The woman who runs that place was awfully nice to me. There were so many good people along the way that I could see again. And at the border crossing with Chile I could sleep inside the customs house. Both the Italians and the Canadians had done it while I had camped wild on the Bahia San Sebastian.

The wind would be completely against me, and maybe I would pass Matthias who was pushing his bike into it. Maybe I would see the Dutch couple who were no doubt riding into it. Maybe they were on the ripio today. They were going to Punta Arenas and even the woman did not fear the wind. They were good people. The best sort. I have always liked Dutch people. Ian rode Ruta 3 back the way he had come. Ian did it and he was already destroyed. His knee had made him nearly a cripple. Of course it could be done. Going back was possible. Maybe going back in Tierra del Fuego was the challenge? Maybe that was the journey? To see it all again a few days later from the other side of the road, with the wind blowing harder, with worse weather?

The vendimia of Mendoza would begin on the 25th of February and go into March. Maybe I would get there but probably not if I took the freighter from Punta Arenas to Valparaiso. Marco the Italian said the high Andes crossing from Santiago was very high and very hard but very beautiful. The wind that blows on the Argentine side is a hot, dry wind that will blow with you as you descend and they call it the Zonda. It is also a little of a cross-wind but the Zonda will greet you and guide you down from the high mountains and into Mendoza.

I am too weak to come to a decision. It is sunny and clear today in Ushuaia and I have food and water and I look at the snow-capped mountains behind the city and the still waters of the harbor and the dark mountains that shield it and I feel very good here. It feels very good at the end of the world and today was so pleasant I do not really believe the talk of the coming bad weather. Maybe in another day I will have the courage and the strength to ride the way back but I do not have it today. I may not have it the next day either. And when I do have it I will also need more courage and strength for the wind and the rain and the cold. But I have had that strength before and I will summon it again. I will take a long, hot shower before I leave. I will shave. I will even wash my hair. I will leave fresh upon a new journey. The journey back.

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