Punta Arenas

Torres del Paine with iconic towers on right

Torres del Paine with iconic towers on right

We left Torres de Paine after a night of fierce winds and sideways rain. Tents were flapping incessantly all night long which left some sleepy eyes at the breakfast table. Forecasts for this day were for winds reaching 99K/hr but we were all assuming that the winds had come early during the night and this mornings quiet conditions showed real promise for a beautiful day. The sun felt great on the tents early – it’s light here now before five am and stays that way till well after ten at night. The route to Puerto Natales takes us back to salt water along Chile’s inland passage. It was almost all gravel through the rest of the Park – we retraced our route in but then turned right when we reached the main road. It was when cyclists reached the top of a long climb that the winds hit with full force. It soon became unridable. Everyone had to get off the bikes and walk as best they could into this gale all while trying to hold onto the bike and keep both from being blown off the road. Alfred had his bike pulled out of his hands, then the wind switched suddenly, and the bike was now chasing him. Hardy has that on video. Brian’s bike flew out of his hands and into the ditch along the road. Deb was blown off of her bike as was James. Joost and Michelle both caught tailwinds during the day that pushed them up to uncontrollable speeds. The lunch truck was at 48K – the earliest riders to reach that mark took five hours. Most riders didn’t get past the 23K mark and ended up laying in a group in the grassy ditch along the roadway waiting for Walter and the truck to come and get them. Brian and Deb had to get off and push their bikes. They, too, gave it up at 23K. They could make no headway against such a force. Only six riders completed the trip today – they all had several scares and a very long day. There were more riders needing a truck to pick them up than Walter’s truck could carry. Our lead driver, Robert,had to go back to the 23K mark to get the rest of the cyclists. A crazy day. The last cyclists came into camp just before 8pm. We started at 8am. Dinner was a very late affair, especially after such a demanding day. Bike Dreams Rob was asked if this wind was typical for previous trips. He laughed and said, “No. This was truly extreme. We have not had such a wind before.” Extreme, even in Patagonia.

That night the wind continued along with intermittent rain and became quite cold. I awoke early but was reluctant to leave my cozy little tent. We were camping in the yard of a hostel/restaurant and had the use of the kitchen and dining room for cooking and dining. I dressed in my sleeping bag but waited until the hostel doors were open to get outside. It was really necessary to have indoor facilities in this kind of weather. Plates fly, full cups skitter across tables, milk pours sideways into someone else if you give it any chance. Too much. We had a big day with 148K to travel and are leaving an hour late to give everyone a little extra rest after yesterday. The first hundred K’s we traveled east and southeast. It was really delightful to have a big tailwind to push you along. Big, but very controllable. I rode with Deb and Brian. Often we didn’t have to peddle at all. The wind just moved us along freely. Brian and I tested the strength of this force by seeing how fast we could go without pedaling at all. I hit 53K/hr and Brian was close to that as well. Very little energy was spent getting to the lunch truck. We knew, however, that once the road turned southwest at around 100K we would have problems. At best it would be a sidewind that we could control – however, turning that corner it hit us with an alarming force. The blow came directly across us from the west and wanted to throw us over into the other lane. It took tremendous effort to keep the bike under any kind of control. We were actually leaning sideways at about a 45 degree angle against the wind just to keep the bike under us. We came across a field where the soil was being lifted and which engulfed us with dust and dirt so we couldn’t see anything. Very frightening. My eyes were choked with dirt. I couldn’t clear my right eye and had to stop temporarily to try to improve my situation. The wind blew my bike shoe cleats along on the pavement and it was all I could do to bring me and the bike in my hands to a halt. After getting through that section we had no more dust storms but the sidewind made for a trying afternoon of riding. Brian was blown right across the road in front of the Bike Dreams truck as it approached him. We all struggled to keep our bikes in some kind of a straight line. Eventually the road turned slightly and we found ourselves with somewhat of a headwind. We were now moving quite slowly into it but more safely. Our destination, Villa Telhualches, was a welcome sight. It was really nice to get off he bike and into a bowl of hot soup. We celebrated a Dutch tradition after dinner. Everyone had earlier picked a name out of a hat – they then bought a gift for that person (limit of 100 Argentinian pesos) and wrote a poem about the person. These gifts were pulled out of a gunneysack one by one last night with the recipient reading the poem about them out loud. It was a lot of fun, some great limericks, and cute gifts. I received a Perito Moreno glacier shirt and a very cute poem which contains language not appropriate to include in this blog. This Dutch tradition takes place on December 6th and celebrates Santa Claus.

The winds subsided today and allowed us to have a pleasant ride to Punta Arenas. We all got in early for a change, I have checked in to a hotel in town as we were booked into a hostel with three and four to a room by Bike Dreams. I just wanted wi-fi that works and a little quiet to get a few things done. Including writing this blog. I’m meeting some of the gang for dinner this evening. I’m going to go to see the replica of the iconic James Cairn – the lifeboat that Shackleton sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia in his epic journey to save the rest of his men left on Elephant Island. If I have time tomorrow I would like to take a boat out to see penguins and sea lions at one of the outer islands from this city. An indication of how far south we have come now – penguins! We have only 4 more riding days until we arrive in Ushuaia, the end of our biking adventure,

18 thoughts on “Punta Arenas

  1. A lot like those stinky little fish you brought home from Greenland, Lon. Only 4 days of biking but don’t leave Ushuaia till the 16th and home on the 18th. You’ll be in beautiful downtown Talkeetna or maybe on the mountain already. We’ll celebrate your summit later in January!

  2. Best post yet!! Damn wind! I’m very sorry that your trip is ending. I want to keep hanging on to this wonderful adventure! Thru all the crap . . . I’d have loved to be along . . . . Bad days . . . Good days . . .thats what happens when you take chances. As long as the bad days don’t kill ya . . . . I’m so jealous!!!

    1. Hi Robin, It is difficult after these past few months to imagine getting up without this great group of people around me – it will be great to see family and friends but bittersweet to let go of the life I’ve been living.

  3. Hi Buck,
    Maybe you’ll get blown back to Quito and have to do it all over again. Stay safe on this last windy stretch. As you said in one of your first posts; ‘It’s going to be a hell of a ride’. Well it was. Looking forward to seeing you, but sad that this adventure is ending. John

  4. Hi Buck,
    An absolutely incredible journey, and now you are almost finished! Have you chosen your celebration wine yet? Good riddance (soon) to the ferocious winds. Have skied a couple of times with Tracy and Tony – Tony is wondering when you start biking back….
    Be safe,
    Becky

    1. Hey Becky, I show off some of our hut trip photos whenever I can here – these winds here have given us all stories to tell too. Tell Tony I’m looking forward to the celebration wine he’ll be carrying up the mountain!

  5. You’re the only person I know who rides his bike all the way to see the penguins! You are something. 🙂 Thinking of you and cheering you on! Ann

  6. Hi Buck
    Its been great to follow along on your ride, you describe events so well i get winded reading about them.
    Be safe the rest of the way, we will try to make it up north for a visit and see what tough as nails looks like.
    Dave

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