Nick Sanders has been travelling down through the heart of Patagonia, which crosses Argentina and Chile in the beautiful South Americas, as part of his latest expedition – Destination Adventure. Now in Ushuaia and with time to collect his thoughts on the trip so far, Nick has once again had time to get his thoughts down into words.
“Where do you begin with a diary (although I use it I hate the word “Blog” and think of it in the way an ‘inkspot’ is to ‘writing’ so a “Blog” is to a “Diary Insert.” Maybe it should start, “Memorandum to Crew,” or more simply, “Memo to Self, “that’ll do. Point being, as soon as you publish the daily blog it’s already out of date. With internet publishing being so immediate as soon as I start writing about that new road in Chile, I’m already down and up it, had a few meals, ridden a thousand miles and put my tent up here and there between the Pampas and Cape Horn.
The immediacy of the Internet of course is lost in a field, rather more so in one at the entrance of an Estancia, where they are bigger. But there is a new road being built in Chile. Not so dramatic when you think of the construction that has been going on Ruta 5 crossing the Atacama, but here down in the 8th Region the significance for transport is impossible to overstate. Ever since I first rode down here by bicycle in 1988, and obviously forever before that, the road from the Fuegan town of Cerro Sombrero to the Argentine frontier has been rocky piste. A short distance from the Magellan Strait this small town serves expensive fuel, decent accommodation and in mid winter radically freezes over until the spring. Three years ago during my “Incredible Ride” double transit record, I passed through on the edge of winter where lakes and water filled peat bogs were thick with ice and frost. The wind rattled corrugated roofs down which slid crenellated shadows from bristling trees, and desiccated fences had long been sucked dry of their natural colour. In the way winter cloud merges with a murky sea, everything here was brown and green and grey. It was all a bit sullen. I remember failing by a few hours to break a record for becoming the fastest rider to journey from Prudhoe Bay to here, to the uttermost end of the earth, to this “land of fire” glazed in hoarfrost and rime.
The road with its sharp stones was harsh on the tyres. I had Continental TKC 70’s and so far the tread was holding well. Only recently released this new style of grip had never seen such action until now. It had a deep profile, chunks of tyre that were not casually cut. The profile of this tyre was established by engineers who would take pride if I didn’t slip on the piste. The parameters of a tyre that can do this have to be exact and that gave me confidence because with the vicious tail wind I was flying. At 73mph the bike was sipping fuel at a mere 63mpg. A spill at this speed on this surface would be the end of a lot of things but still the peat fields and scrub, grey fencing and big shadows suddenly loomed large then spilled out somewhere else over the plain.
Nearby, at this southern part of Tierra del Fuego there is a cafe called “Hosteria La Frontera.” It is 7 kilometres from the border with Argentina and is actually at the bottom of a road called the Route at the End of the World. Now, this cafe is the kind of place I like to ride to and I always call in when passing. Instead of putting up my tent I booked into one of their rooms – plywood dressed with 1950’s floral wallpaper, and well peel. I was soon to be tucked up in a bunk dressed with heavy blankets and an old quilt but before this, whilst the South Atlantic wind howled, it’s cold chilling anyone out there to the bone, I had my customary steak and chips and thought myself damned lucky to be on the bike out here, and to have my chips served hot.
I knew this cafe well. I had passed it perhaps 18 times and always called in for food and in time they had got to know me and I them. The old man who started the cafe after the war was called Ernesto and once, having fallen asleep on the road to Porvenir he rolled his car and was brought back to the restaurant his face cut, blood pouring from his wounds. My expedition doctor, Caroline cleaned him up and in time he recovered only to die two years last November of cancer. He was 80, a pilot and a frontiersman like his wife who I spoke to through the serving catch of her kitchen. “I live ‘ere in such a re-mote location,” she said in the way the Spanish drop their ‘aitch’s,’ “because it suits me character. It ees like a mediceene fora me to be ‘ere, it is calming and away from the fast pace of the life.” Madame Ernesto was planning to visit London for 5 days in July, she said after all the nature all year she needed to see things not made of wood with temporary roofing.”
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Find out more about the TKC 70 here.