Tierra del Fuego; Bikepacking to the End of the World

A bumper edition as my southerly ramblings finally draw to a close. Tierra del Fuego, land of fire, ‘end of the world’ and a fittingly wild place for the final scene of this odyssey to play out. Or so I thought.

As seems to often be the case, the final leg was one of those ‘tale of two halves’ affairs. Leaving mainland Patagonia and rolling onto Tierra del Fuego’s Isla Grande (that’s ‘Large Island’ for those not versed in the subtleties of the spanish language) things got off to a somewhat anticlimactic start. Heavy fog/rain, surprise head wind and endless pampa made for a less than triumphant first few days of riding. Occasional glimpses of the ocean served to remind us where we actually were and provided short bursts of motivation, but for the large part, these were just cold, dreary days on the bike set to a soundtrack of Steve Jobs’ biography (for a second time).

Tierra del Fuego, and the final chapter of the trip, will instead be remembered for the subsequent few days into Ushuaia; the crossing of paths with a fellow ‘dirt road adventurer’ and bikepacking along the coast to the finish line. From bull testicals served up by a one eyed fisherman in his tumbledown shack, to glorious singletrack set against the backdrop of the Beagle Channel and snowy peaks, to starry nights camped by the beach, the last stretch felt like the culmination of everything I love about this wild lifestyle. This post therefore, mostly focuses on this latter part…

Thanks once again to Sam for letting me use his camera, which, in all honesty, isn’t that bad.

Tierra del Fuego; The Dull Part

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Far from triumphant fist pumps and self-congratulatory back patting, things were looking pretty miserable for a while… That said, it wasn’t completely without its charms:

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Tierra del Fuego. Finally here…

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Fishing boats a plenty.

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Beach resort.

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Buildings take a bit of a battering down here.

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Las Malvinas (or what we call ‘The Falklands’) are Argentina’s. Still very much a sore point down here, launch point for the boats during the campaign, with a many a veteran still kicking around. Often best not to admit you’re English…

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A night at Panaderia La Union in Tolhuin, the last in a long string of ‘casa de ciclistas’. Locations past down from one rider to the next, these humble little rest stops for cyclists are part of the very essence of bike travel in the Americas.

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And all the better that this one happens to also be a bakery.

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No shortage of empanadas here…

Enter Nathan

Within the already small bike traveller community, there’s a motley bunch who shun the standard routes and take it upon themselves to scour maps and satellite imagery for the next dirt road adventure. A strange little clique connected in cyberspace by the blogosphere, each feeding off the adventures of the others; gpx files passed around, route tid bits handed down, water sources, killer campspots, a juxtaposition of ‘adventure geekery’. Fellow brit Nathan (Mr Velofreedom) has been a key player in this little band of route pioneers during his 5 year epic down the Americas and, having been tailing him for some time, we finally made the catch in Tierra del Fuego. Much like a weird online date, we already knew a bizarre amount about each other, which meant small talk could be skipped, moving straight into a steady stream of sarcasm fuelled banter and dubious Yorkshire accents.

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Adopting the ‘hairy adventurer’ look, to “keep the girls off ‘im” as he’d claim, this is a chap who’s passion for riding off route knows no bounds. An all round great guy, just make sure you bury your poo the full 6 inches, or he’ll come and find you…

Bikepacking to Ushuaia

After a day or so riding as trio we parted ways with Nathan, with plans to reunite at the “end”, and headed off to explore an intriguing little trail along the Beagle Channel (something his heavier load would’ve made a nightmare). Originally conceived as a bikepacking side trip from Ushuaia by Cass and Skyler last year, this looked to be the perfect grande finale to round off the Americas. Adventuring to the very end and arriving to Ushuaia not by road, but by beach…

It was nothing short of epic. Having now reached the far south of Tierra del Fuego, snow capped mountains dominated the views in every direction, with the lapping waves of the Beagle and occasional fisherman’s hut, providing a unique maritime slant to proceedings. Even the sun made an appearance and, putting aside a somewhat hellish bushwhack/hike a bike session, this was as fitting a climax to the whole ‘Ride South’ endeavour as I could have hoped for. The icing on an already very tasty cake.

The route kicked off from the small fishing community of Puerto Almanza. A tiny, ‘back and beyond’ stronghold of burly men, barking dogs and ‘scrapheap challenge’ style accommodation…

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Half beast, half man, a giant of a fishman, devoid of one eye, kindly let us camp behind his shack, sharing a small enclosure with the hanging carcass of a skinned cow. Whilst unlikely to receive any Tripadvisor awards, this turned into a brilliant evening. Invited in for a starter of bull testicals, followed by a main of other assorted internal organs (with the brain saved for the breakfast sitting!), it was a fascinating, if not slightly disturbing, encounter. This mate cup made from testical skin being a prime example…

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No shortage of seafood either, with mussels picked straight from the beach outside.

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The long awaited arrival of a clear day.

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Looking across the Beagle into Chilean territory

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Soon we’re cruising down the coast on this traffic free ribbon of dirt

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Then into the… erm… Restricted Military Area

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Past a particularly evocative shipwreck.

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Yep, I’ve definitely ridden worse.

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Pick your tractor trail and ride it.

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Or just sit down and have lunch on it. Traffic isn’t much of a problem on this route…

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We call it an early day so as to take advantage of this little shack for night. Room with a view…

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Things don’t look too bad from the door either…. (A rare landscape from someone who seems strangely drawn to portrait mode these days…)

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The shack.

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One last breakfast as hobos

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Muesli and raisins no less…

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More of the same cracking coastal riding the next day.

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Then a short blast along the beach…

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Before long we catch our first views of Ushaia, the finish line now very much in sight…

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So close yet so far. A knarly section of hike a bike combined with a lazy morning, finds us riding into dusk after fording the final river crossing

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Something that proved a little too much for the trio of puppies that had been following us all day from a small estancia, calling for an emergency rescue and a bit of a soaking…. Not ideal given the chilly temperatures.

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In classic fashion we finally roll into Ushuaia under the cover of darkness, exhaustion and cold prevailing over the triumph of finally reaching our goal. Time to rest up and let it slowly sink in, celebrating with Nathan in the only way cyclists know how; cheap wine and a large pot of pasta. A job well done lads! The ‘Yesteryear’ filter seemed appropriate here; the end of a trip which will no doubt prove to be a life defining endeavour for all of us.

Fin del Mundo, Fin del Viaje:

They said it would never happen, they said I’d die of boredom, bears or bandits;

Prudhoe Bay 05.08.2013 to Ushuaia 16.05.2015 (….and not the way Google Maps would take you)

A big thanks to all those, of which there are literally hundreds, who’ve helped me out along the way. Muchas gracias a todo por su ayuda. 99% of humans are nice people, we live on a seriously cool planet and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to explore this great swathe of it. Thanks for following along, it’s been fun to share. ‘The Ride South’ may be over, but the Americas adventure isn’t done just yet, more on that soon…

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

11 responses to “Tierra del Fuego; Bikepacking to the End of the World

  1. Congratulations on reaching the end safely. I loved following your exploits (remember when you got kidnapped? Of course you do!) and think your photographs are amazing. I will look forward to the book once you write it, and the movie starring Martin Freeman as Paul _. Drop me a line at any time: maxclemens2@gmail.com
    Cheers from Oz (& Orbita before that)

      • Beaut’, Paul! I’ve been so psyched to watch the persistence of your bikepacking “detours” these last months. I hope my murmurings to Logan about Chile might lure him down when Panthea and I return next (northern) winter. Congrats on hitting the bottom! But what about Puerto Williams? 😛

      • Cheers Skyler, I’ll leave it to guys to plant the flag in Puerto Williams, it was tantalisingly close though! Great to hear you’re planning a Chilean sequel.

  2. Congratulations Paul, it’s been a very fascinating journey. Your pics and narrative truly amazing, one admires your endurance. Looking forward to seeing a movie of this one day. I hope you have a relaxing trip home. Good luck for the future. Your parents and Grandfather will be very proud of you. Sheila Marshall

  3. Awesome, awesome trip – and a real pleasure to have been able to follow your updates and look at your cracking photos. Well done!!

  4. Pingback: Argentine Tierra del Fuego: Lightly bumping the buffers | Velo Freedom·

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