The ride from Rio Grande to a campground in Tolhuin started out with everyone in high spirits. We had finished our last ride two days before traveling fast with favorable winds, today seemed to have that same promise. However, as we moved through town and settled back on the main road we were met by a nasty headwind that forced everyone to plow forward at a mere 9 or 10K/hr working hard. Visions of a very difficult 10 hour day ran through our minds. Damn. Thankfully, after 9K of struggle, the road swung to the left and heaven returned to earth. Now the speedometer jumped to over thirty and the legs were required to do very little. Yeah, this is more like it. The K’s started to fly by. Our road was narrow with no shoulders – there was a lot of traffic by Patagonian standards. I was riding with Barry, Yurg, Brian and Deb in single file since there was no room to do anything else and little room for the cars and trucks either. At a police checkpoint they stopped us to ask that we stay in single file due to traffic and it being a weekend. No problemo. We were following the seacoast on our left and mountains had started to appear ahead of us, the sun was out. Life was feeling very light. It was a happy group at lunch but as we studied the map we saw that we would have some more headwind for a couple of sections ahead. OK, let’s get at it. We still had 65K to do to reach our camp with a stop at a panaderia (bakery) about 5K’s from the end. Traffic here zoomed pretty close to our bikes and a couple of times vehicles flashed their IQ’s at us despite our efforts to stay on the right hand white line. We pulled down into the pastry shop relieved to get off the road and ready for a cold drink and some treats. It was only after we left the shop that Yoost caught up to us with the frightening news that Michelle had been struck by a car and was being brought to a hospital in town. Initially this type of news is a shock. No. It can’t be. Then it starts to sink in and your stomach tightens and your mind moves through all types of scenarios. We moved as rapidly as we could to the campsite for news. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask right away – wasn’t ready to hear really bad news. Went through my routine, found a spot and set up my tent. Grabbed my bags and got them situated creating my little home. Didn’t want to hear any rumors or speculation so I skipped by my mates and headed over to Robert. “Did you hear? “ he asked, “Michelle was hit by a car. She’s at the hospital with Annelot. Nothing seems to be broken is all I know.” I settled down inside. Nothing broken and seems to be all right sounded almost too good to be true. I laid in my tent and listened to music. There had been some close calls on the roads since we started this trip in Quito. Patrick was clipped by a car and knocked down somewhere near Cusco. Most of us have had narrow misses. You wonder if they just don’t see you. Michelle had had close calls before. Today someone gave me the finger as they zoomed by. I was riding on the right hand white line. I couldn’t possibly get over any further. We have been treated with such respect most all the way here. Why does this happen now with only 110K left to Ushuaia? Rob brought us updated news after dinner. Michelle has no broken bones or internal injuries but is really banged up, particularly one leg which will be quite
black and blue. She was very lucky. The car struck her in the left side of the rear bike wheel. She was thrown forward and to the ditch side away from the car. There are other bruises of course. We walked out to look at her bike. Totaled.
This is a dangerous sport.
We rode to Ushuaia on a bluebird day in Patagonia. It was warm enough to wear just your cycling jersey and a light windbreaker or an under layer. Speaking of wind, there was very little of that either. We all left together with a plan of two groups and a police escort for the 100K’s of travel. That didn’t materialize. Although I saw some police parked and others driving at different points during the morning, an escort was not organized and we fell into cycling in small groups as usual. We had moved from the Patagonian Steppes back into forests and mountains. It was simply beautiful. Of course mountains meant more climbing for us cyclists but we never had any seriously steep grades – maybe 3 percent – no problem for bikers who had conquered the Andes throughout this 11,000K journey. I rode with Brian and Deb much of the way, then stopped for photos. Barry caught up and I rode with him to lunch at 80K’s. We waited there for all to arrive so we could bike together the rest of the way. The police had gathered us into groups just past a construction area before lunch and now were ready to bring us into Ushuaia. We waited some time as it turned out that Knut had a flat and perhaps a slight hangover from a pre celebration the night before. All was good when he rolled into our stop – a little time for his lunch and off our group went to end a four and a half month adventure at 55 degrees latitude South. The police stopped all traffic so we could gather at a welcome kiosk for Ushuaia and take celebratory photos. I know we were all experiencing mixed feelings of joy, relief and a touch of sadness somewhere inside now that it was almost over. We got back on the bikes and rolled into town to a waterfront park where we were met with champagne, food, a blown up Finish marker and an Ushuaian cycling group who welcomed us to the party. It was time for hugs, handshakes, sharing memories and, of course, a few beers and champagne. We also had trophies for the three top male and female racers. In amongst all of this wobbled Michelle on her bruised legs and body – what a blessing to see her, as exuberant as ever even after her near tragedy with a car the previous day. Michelle was the ladies race winner. She promptly sprayed the two Norwegian sister runners-up with champagne and received the same back. James was the men’s winner along with Alfred and Joost on the podium. After an afternoon in the unexpected sun, I started to feel the heat on my face. Time to get to the hotel. We were right at sea level and had a little alcohol in our bloodstream when we discovered that the hotel was quite a ways up a steep hill. I asked Barry, “What sadistic bastard planned this?” as we struggled up this steep grade. “Rob,” was his simple answer, and then we both laughed. The same guy who led us to the miserable cold Cerro de Pasco, who put us on that horrible sandy rocky washboard ride up into Tacota, and who routed us west into the gale-force winds of Patagonia. Would we expect anything else? Hell no.
We have a group dinner tonight.
The end of a great journey for me but the beginning of a new one as well.