Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Time and the hour..

Perhaps it all started with the blizzard.

It was, after all, a fairly Shakespearean moment. There we were biking through the beginnings of the Argentine summer, heading for the sea and sand of the East coast, and being bombarded on the sides of our faces by vicious needles of ice. All around us was excrutiating emptiness. It was Macbeth´s `blasted heath´ writ large. If three broomstick waving witches had hoved into view, chucking frogs into cauldrons and chanting in rhyme I don´t think it could have been any more surreal.

I have often thought of Macbeth on this trip. Not because I feel a particular affinity with the regicidal monarch of Shakespeare´s imagination, but because his character says some pretty useful things.

My favourite, when the going was particularly tough, was ´Come what may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day´. Not perhaps something you want to churn out cheerily to your biking companion (who may hit you for your pompous literary mumblings as they push their bike up the day´s ninth gravel slope) but a quiet internal comfort that, however horrible the conditions, at some point the day would stop and presumably so would we!

I called upon that comfort again as the snow bore down on us, and cackled with Lady M-like demonism at the sheer hilarity of it all.

But, maybe I should have seen it as the first sign.

The first sign that things were not going to go according to our best laid plans. Again.
Throughout this trip we have adjusted, adapted, arranged differently. We have scoured maps, websites and guidebooks and we have become the scourge of the locals trying to look ahead, and work out what will be achievable, what route we should take. Those of you who have followed our unconventional journey have seen the fruit of those labours.

In coming back to Patagonia to try and join up our biking line we worked harder at trying to predict our best option than ever. We knew our biggest enemy was the climate and we turned into mini-Macbeths, obsessively seeking advice on what we should do, albeit from sources more conventional than three `wise´women. Just as he and his cronies wanted them to `look into the seeds of time´, so we tried to.

We thought about the Argentine eastern coastal route first, then ruled it out as too lonely and empty. We thought about the western ripio route next, then ruled it out as too windy and bumpy. We chose the Chilean ripio route at one point, heading for rain and climbs, but then ruled that out when trying to make it west to begin it became impossible in the furious storms of Rio Mayo.

So, we returned again to the options and churned them over and over and over reading the runes, stirring the tea leaves and trying to calculate the lesser of evils, until finally going back to plan A and heading East thinking that at least loneliness was doable with better wind.

And then there was the overbearing tailwind to Sarmiento that taught us that even a wind in your favour can be your foe. Time was starting to tick. `Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow´ kept bounding by rather than creeping and we were running out of room for manoeuvre.

So it was back to the drawing board again. Finally after another great load of belly-aching we decided to continue the journey East, go as far as Peurto San Julian, take a bus West to the equivalent latitude and cycle East again to the end. All this cycling East was to try and outwit the prevailing West wind. It just blows and blows and blows across the steppe. We knew that it wouldn´t be a continuous red line of biking but we would at least cover the southern part of Argentina by hook or by crook. We could wait for days of lesser wind, we could bike long days when we got that chance.

We felt satisfied with our plan. We were both very keen to honour our promise to ourselves made back in February at an empty kilometre post. We knew we were capable of the distances, we knew we could stand the privations of wilderness with no habitations, but we knew that we could only manage any of this if the wind let up enough to allow us to do it. We hoped that with patience this plan would finally be the one.

And then came all the other signs.

After a day's rest from our 150km ride to Comodoro Rivadavia we set out for Caleta Olivia. A journey of 'only' 80 kilometres. The wind was blowing from the side but it did not seem too bad and the weather forcast told us it would calm down as the day progressed. 20 kilometres in to the ride it brought us to a standstill. Having gusted so hard from our right, through a gulley in the coastal hills that it had almost blown us into the traffic, we had to stop.

We hid out at a shrine to the virgin.

From this holy vantage point bedecked with icons and flowers we watched as the wind attacked the landscape around us. We also watched the horrendously busy Ruta 3, a single lane road with no hard shoulder heaving with traffic into which we had been fighting not to be blown.

Two hours went by and neither force showed any inclination to lighten up a bit.

We chatted to the plaster cast figurines around us. There were three wise looking ones who I consulted particularly intently. With my Macbethesque desperation I pleaded with the nun, the shepherd and the odd looking Jesus...what should we do? If either of these influences was going to continue how could we comtemplate setting off on 300 kilometre stretches with no habitations? We would need to be able to complete these challenges in no more than four days since we wouldn´t have many hiding out spots or access to water. At this rate the journeys would take us ten days!

As we sat there watching the displays of force, a great deal of the fight to take Ruta 3 on was draining out of us. Perhaps it was the zen like influence of the shrine but we were starting to give in to the wind. We decided to push on to Caleta and reassess.

But we still weren´t quite getting the message obviously!

We set off again since we were risking not making Caleta before dark. The wind seemed marginally better and we pushed on for another painfully slow 20 kilometres, saved from being crushed by the strategy of cycling through the construction site of the new road being built alongside the 3.

Eventually however that treat disappeared and we were back on the main highway where divine providence sent us yet another message.

It didn´t arrive in a bolt of lightening, it wasn´t carried by pigeon and dropped at our feet, it wasn´t plasetered on a huge advertising hoarding in flashing came in a white mini bus.

This white mini bus was either not concentrating, or was in such a hurry that braking wasn´t an option, or was driven by someone who hates cyclists. Whichever way, it came so close to both of us that it drove us off the road and left us breathless staring in its wake.

We were properly scared.

I have had a pretty pathological fear of traffic throughout this trip. Before we left people kept talking about the dangers of poisonous creatures, of odd diseases that I´d never heard of, of stories of theft and kidnapping. They were all legitimate fears, but in the end the greatest danger to our safety has always been other road users. We have by and large, however, had great experiences. Trucks have pulled out for us with lots of time, their drivers have hooted and cheered and waved, most car drivers have done the same. We have taken very quiet routes in general and we have worn our yellow jackets, flashed our jolly red lights and used our wing mirrors to maximise our visibility and our ways of seeing. In one manoeuvre however, this driver cancelled out all that and left us shaking. With the added factor of the side wind, we simply couldn´t continue that day on the road.

We stood lost for a moment.

On this trip, we have found that when one of us is down the other always rises to the occasion and pulls us through. At this moment we were both briefly a bit thrown. We were trying so hard to find a way to complete this journey and yet repeatedly we were being stopped in our tracks. We were fit enough to do the distance, we were robust enough to push hard through long days but we were too human to risk our lives for the prize.

However, we took stock and decided that we should continue to Caleta on the ripio edge that had recently appeared by the road and at the moment that that ran out, hitch into town. We agreed that we would go no further on Ruta 3 by bike but take a bus from Caleta and head west again to cycle some more.

Luckily the edge stayed and although it was super slow going we were able to dig in and churn out the remaining 40 kilometres. The wind eased a bit and the coast was so beautiful that we had a satisfying end to the day. It was crowned with the most glorious sunset as we rolled into town at 10pm. We grabbed the first hotel going, inhaled some food and collapsed.

We arose the next day with renewed vigour. We now had plan number 950!! We were going to take a bus South and West to El Calafate, visit some wonderful mountains and glaciers and then cycle to Rio Gallegos on the east coast as a biking finale. Hurrah!! We were a bit sad that our little red line wouldn´t be continuous but we knew why. So that was the plan. That was what we were going to do. we weren´t. First there was a bus that would take our bikes. We turned up for the service at 10.30 pm that day and then were told that they wouldn´t take them. ´Come back tomorrow´. So we checked back into our hotel. One day down.

The next day we established that no bus would take our bikes again. Oh, and anyway, all buses had been cancelled because the wind down the road was too strong. Day two was disappearing.

Ok. Car hire. Let´s drive to El Calafate. ´There are no car hire companies in Caleta Olivia´. Oh really? Ok. Let´s call some in Comodoro Rivadavia. Erm....´Well most have no cars for hire until February and if they do it will cost you about $5000 to have one large enough to take your bikes´. Ah... ok. So, there is no way to get our bikes to El Calafate. No.




Again and again. At last we´d got the message.

We can´t get to El Calafate, we can´t cycle south because of the conditions and we can´t get out of town anyway because there is a bus ban and we are seriously running out of time.
We took a deep breath.
We are not going to finish our red line are we?

No, not in the way we had hoped.

And suddenly that was it. It was so calming and relaxing to finally admit it. Like Macbeth who, towards the end of the play, finally lets the fates decide and gives up trying to interpret the future, we had to too.
We had gone so far and seen so much that was amazing. We had crossed the Andes, we had cycled a great long chunk of South America and North America, we had met such brilliant people that to battle on and end miserably hitching out of the middle of nowhere was not the answer.

And so we had to think again.

We looked at the map. We now had fresh eyes. A new priority presented itself. We really wanted to finish our cycling on a high. We hated the idea that we would have already ended having limped into Caleta Olivia with no real fanfare or sense of closure. We needed to go some more.
How were we going to do that?

As we stared at the map, and poured over the options a place presented itself. Puerto Deseado. The Port of Desire. Now that sounded fun! It was 225 kilometres East of where we were after a shortish day south to a place called Fitzroy. Once we had got there we would turn East and with the wind behind us head down this peninsula to the coast. We would finish at the sea on the East coast of Argentina nearly 7000 kilometres from Lima on the West of Peru. We would have a lovely joined up red line and we would feel like we had ended somewhere great. Magellan and Darwin had been there surely this was good enough for us!

And so that become our desired finishing port. That would be our grand finale.
We thought we´d do it just before new year and hire a car in the meantime to visit the mountains and glaciers west. As it happened we had to get on with it immediately since a fuel crisis (of course!!) meant that hiring a little car was inadvisible until later.

So, we prepared to set off as soon as we could.

And if we had ever needed confirmation that we had made the right decision it came with the two further days we had to sit and wait in Caleta because of the wind before we were able to go. Twiddling our thumbs again. Every time we looked out of the window and saw the wind barracking another bush or tree we breathed an internal sigh of relief, everytime it slammed a door inside our hotel we knew we´d done the right thing.

Seven days after the blizzard had blown us into Comodoro we had travelled just 80 kilometres up the road. All the signs had aligned, and we had been bowed into submission, and at last we had a probably doable journey ahead. A lot of time and hours and gnashing of teeth had passed but we were able to go on.

The finish line awaited.


  1. Hope you have arrived now Liz - well done. Well done, well done, well done! xx

  2. Please please please - give me the finish! Where is the final blog entry?
    Can't wait to congratulate you both in person.
    Andy and Tracy