26 February 2011

Back to Tolhuin

The morning I left Ushuaia it was cloudy and cold, very cold. I had arrived on a beautiful sunny day but then the summer seemed to have ended suddenly a few days later. I rode slowly along the port and started back up into the mountains. My legs were heavy and I had no proper warm-up as the climbing began immediately outside the city. I began to get loose at the Paso Garibaldi and climbing the cutbacks up the forested mountain a headwind started to blow and I crawled up the pass, head down, making myself small to the wind. Then at the top I stopped, and looked down across Lago Escondido and beyond Lago Fagnano, and the range of smaller mountains beyond it. Even on a dark, cloudy day it is a beautiful ride from Ushuaia to Tolhuin and I was happy to do it again.

It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at the panaderia La Union in Tolhuin. At the bakery storage warehouse in the room for touring cyclists I met Edgar from Colombia. We talked and he affirmed with great certainty that Colombians were the finest people in South America and that Colombia was the continent’s most beautiful country. It was good to talk to a Colombian and of Colombia, a place that right now was very warm, and it made me start wishing to get back there sooner. It was becoming too cold for me in Patagonia.

Later two other touring cyclists arrived, one from Lithuania, the other northern England. We each examined each other’s bikes and setups and talked about the roads and places we had ridden. I asked Edgar where his panniers were. He had none. The Colombian carried only a single water bottle, a sleeping bag, and a small bag containing a pair of shorts, his tools and a spare tube. He had ridden from Colombia down the Atlantic coast and was now riding back along the Pacific. The Colombian made the three of us with our panniers and tents and other baggage seem ridiculous.

The Lithuanian and Englishman had been riding together and had come through Punta Arenas and across the Chilean ripio to Rio Grande using a different provincial route than the one I was planning to ride. They encouraged me to go this longer route. The ripio was very good on the Chilean side, they said, and there was a colony of King Penguins along the Bahia Inutil you could reach by leaving your bike at the roadside and crossing a stream and a long field. The problems with the route would be the additional 150km I would need to ride (bringing the total to over 300km), the absence of towns between Rio Grande and Punta Arenas, and that I would be riding into the wind the entire way. The Lithuanian and Englishman had had the wind at their backs blowing them across the ripio. The weather forecasts for the coming week indicated rain and heavy winds across Tierra del Fuego. I would need to make a decision when I arrived at Rio Grande.


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