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

Location: London. Back.

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

Saturday 29 January 2011

The End of the Line

What had begun with a wine fuelled idea in a bar in Hong Kong, grown over a more sober cup of tea with the inspiring Tracy and Andy, been planned in a cyclone of lycra purchasing, bike part assembly and internal panicking and then executed through months of leg spinning and general all round japery, was coming to an end.

We were about to head for the finish and conclude our thin red cycling line.

After several weeks of battling (again) with the Patagonian winds and trying to push our way south back to Tierra del Fuego we had decided to choose a different end point and finish in style.

Having come to our decision, however, we realised that our new final destination was likely to take us only two more days of cycling.

And it was an odd feeling, that. Suddenly after all those months of journeying the end was upon us. It felt a bit abrupt now the moment had arrived.

All that lay between us and laying down the bikes for the last time on this trip were two days and two hundred and twenty seven kilometres.

It was weird.

I had imagined the end so many times. I knew, of course, that it wouldn't be the way I imagined but I had imagined it none the less. But everytime I had thought about it I had not really known how we would mark it, how we would feel. I had sometimes imagined the sun shining, othertimes speeding to the some finish point and lying triumphant in the road, still more jumping and skipping and hugging Phil and perhaps running into some imaginary sea! But I knew I had no idea what it would really be like.

I did not know as I mounted my bike on that penultimate morning that it was going to be all that and more and that the last two days were going to be a sort of homage to all the experiences we had had over the previous ten months.

We set off on December the 17th for the minute hamlet of Fitzroy. I was so excited to be finally going to it. We had so often talked of it, a place that we had whizzed through by bus months before as we fled the Patagonian steppe. We had marked it down on our mental maps as the only thing for a hundred kilometres around and as a place that would mark a last gasp of civilisation when we imagined heading back South.

We had eighty kilometres to travel to get there. Not a lot for us by now, but far enough if the wind did not play ball.

The first few kilometres out of Caleta Olivia were OK. We got almost blown over by an evil little dust devil, a tiny intense tornadoey type affair that blasts you with muck and sand before spinning on its way, but were able to make reasonable progress and start tucking the distance away under our belts. The wind wasn't fun, but it was reasonably under control.

So it wasn't heady progress but it was steady progress and as lunchtime approached we had broken the back of the day. We saw ahead a fairly decent climb and Phil calculated that it might be the last major climb of our trip.


As he said those words I started to feel very strange. We saw the tell tale yellow sign with it's wiggly black arrowy line and I looked at it with completely different eyes. Was this the last time I was going to stare into the eyes of one of those lines? Was this really, REALLY it?

Day after day after day I had faced that kind of sign and girded my loins both physically and mentally to grind out what was required to get to the top. I went into a sort of shock at the prospect that that kind of hutzpah might be over at the summit ahead.

We decided in celebration that we might push to the top of the climb and then have our lunch. We sailed up the ascent and just before it peaked spotted the perfect place.

A storm drain.

Ahhhhhh.... a storm drain. Storm drains are the touring cyclist's best friend. A place often out of wind and sight where you can hunker down for a time. We had had so many lunches in them that in honour of all those stops we knew we couldn't resist.

We laid down the now quite worn groundsheet, pulled out our panier packed lunch and tucked in.

It was the usual scene of isolation. The road stretched back down the hill we had come up and sneaked up through the final few yards ahead. And all the rest was nothingness.

I realised that we had seen so much emptiness over the year. In the beginning it had frightened me to see so far and see so little but we had become completely atuned to it and totally at ease with it. It was just us and some tiny lumps of vegetation, a lot of stones and a huge sky.

So often over these lunches we had found some small thing that fascinated us. Many times the sheer desire for food rather limited chat and allowed us to stare into the middle distance and notice what might otherwise pass us by. One lunch two beetles completely absorbed our attention. One was chasing the other with amorous intent and we watched them for ages as their little drama unfolded. We discussed them this lunchtime as we started to reflect, something that became quite a theme over the next twenty four hours.

Because with the end coming we began immediately to look back. We had done so much living in the present over the few months we'd been away, but the deadline allowed us to start drawing things to a close, to start making conclusions. So just as we had seen the last climb so we ate our last storm drain lunch, the final dulce de leche and biscuits, later that day we faced the last stretch with the wind against us and as we pulled into Fitzroy after a harder afternoon than we'd imagined we saw our last petrol station haven and our final random small town.

Fitzroy was the perfect spot for us to spend our final night on the road. It fitted the bill of art house movie location perfectly. It had an YPF, a few short roads that led to nowhere, a random memorial or two and literally one horse!

We found a surprisingly delightful place to stay for the night with a kitchen and satellite TV, set up by an enterprising local who had seen the potential for good accomodation in the last place for miles, and then we set about the rituals that had become our habits for months and months and months.

We sorted out our belongings, we had a shower and then we took our cameras and as the sun set took photos of this tiny place.

I loved our photo sessions on this trip. Phil and I would wander around a place, armed with our little digital cameras and take snaps that tried to sum the spirit of it up. It would look at things really closely in ways that we might not at home and sear them onto our memories forever.

We had so much fun that evening and went to our cosy bed very satisified with the world indeed.

The final morning dawned sunny and clear just as it had in my imagination. We had our breakfast, packed our paniers for the final time and headed to the local cafe for a fortifying coffee. We had one hundred and forty seven kilometres to do until we reached the coast at Peurto Deseado. We knew it was a tall order but we thought that since the wind would be behind us once we turned East towards the sea it should all work perfectly.

And work perfectly it did.

We could not have asked for a more perfect day of cycling than the last day of this trip.

We trundled off with a pretty healthy sidewind as our companion for the first hour. The road was wide and fairly flat and all around us was a huge open plain. Signs for Peurto Deseado started to appear and I got a feeling that we were beginning a build up to the end.

Then ahead I saw our turn and I realised that we were about to make the last turn of our trip. Once we took the road to the coast we were going to go essentially straight until we got to the sea.

It was brilliant.

We stopped at the turn to register the moment and the side wind was by now becoming extremely strong. This meant that once faced East it was going to be the most almighty direct tailwind, one of the best we would have had. I got my camera out and filmed the wind so that I could always remember what it was like, the ferocious sound that had been so exhausting to us at so many moments.

And then we turned and everything went quiet. And in the most blissful peace we cycled at an average of almost thirty kilometres an hour, down a beautifully smooth, deliriously straight, fractionally downhill, newly tarmaced road, with wide open space all around us, for four stupidly easy hours. It was perfect. Literally perfect. Perhaps the most brilliant day of cycling of the whole trip. All for our last day.

And to make it even better we realised that the kilometre posts were counting us down to the end. We were gradually heading for number 1. We were whizzing to the end in real style.

We had lunch at a disused railway station, positively giddy at the speed of our progress and then we flew on to the end.

For the last couple of hours we listened to our ipods. We used them very selectively on the trip having to judge when the road allowed us to do so safely. But when we did use them they were always so helpful. Music, BBC podcasts, comedy had all lifted us at times when we had needed it. I owe Eddie Izzard, and the recordings of his stage shows, so much for getting me up some of the worst parts of mountainous Peru. The four hour climbs were significiantly less awful as I giggled away to his hilarious rantings.

In the spirit of the end I used this journey to listen to all my favourite tunes from the trip, to the playlists that had got me through. The mood of the afternoon was becoming well and truly sentimental!

I spent two hours musing on the highs and lows of the whole experience often making myself well up recollecting particularly special times, or grimace in amusement at some of the less edifying moments. It had been such an extraordinary adventure, I wanted to relive it in these final moments.

With ten kilometres to go we turned the music off. We retreated from our private worlds to share the last bit together.

Puerto Deseado greeted us from a good way out, heralding its imminence with huge white Hollywood style letters announcing its name. Its proximity also brought a last hurrah from the wind who, anxious that we should not arrive in too much glory, sought to make us walk the last kilometre or two as it whipped freezingly round the cliffs of the town, funnelling down roads and lashing us this way and that.

But we stuck it out on the bikes and were greeted by the sight of the emerald green waters of the Atlantic and the quite fantastic inlets and coves of the river that flowed inland.

We cycled into the town and realised we needed to chose a place to stop. A place to finish. We had made amazing progress and had got there in just over five hours, completing our third longest day with remarkable ease.

We wove our way round town slightly anti-climatically before suddenly spotting a memorial on the shore. This spot looked straight out to sea and had a little amphitheatre down to the water. We had found our place.

And so we pulled up and got off the bikes and stood there.

This was it. We had done it. We had finished our biking trip.

It was a funny sensation.

All the things I'd thought we might do and here I was and in truth I didn't really know what I should do.

We had a hug. We said 'We've done it', we jumped about a bit and then we looked at one another.

Here we were. That was that.

The place was amazing, the sea was dramatically glowering all around us, the wind was whistling hard and the sky was looming dark.

I texted my parents. I texted my brother. I texted my freinds. Phil did the same.

And then we had an idea. We would mark the end ourselves. We would make our own little monument.

And we did.

In stones on the ground we laid our the numbers......10,325 kms. That was how far we had gone. In one hundred and forty days of cycling we had travelled further than I had ever thought imaginable. We had had experiences that will stay with us forever and we had done the whole thing together every inch of the way.

It was a giggle making our mark. So much so that we made a second one that said 'The End'. We vowed to come back the following morning to pay homage to them.

And then.....

And then....

Well....then we got BACK ON OUR BIKES!!! and cycled off to find a place to stay!

And that was when I realised something.

The biking wasn't over at all.

We had reached the end, but just for now. We had reached the end but only for this trip. Because as we discussed that evening over the champagne we drank watching the perfect sunset, and through our delicious dinner at the great local eaterie, and as we wandered the streets after dark under the light of a near full moon we had only really just begun....

One adventure was done...

But lots more were waiting to begin.

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