Well somehow we actually made it to Ushuaia, Argentina, claimed to be the world’s most southerly settlement, pop. 60,000 (although Puerto Williams, Chile is technically more southerly, pop. 2,300.). The best thing is we made it here together. The second best thing is my bike is also here. There were some serious doubts. And even while we were making it here, we still thought we weren’t going to make it. Ever. Despite injuries, a 3 month delay, more than a few breakdowns (both mentally and mechanically), many, many bike wipeouts, over a dozen border crossings, harsh winds, rain, mud, snow and arriving at the farthest point south at the onset of winter, Ushuaia, located only 1,000 km (621 m) north of the first piece of land in Antarctica, welcomed us on April, 24 after a howling storm through the last mountain pass spit us into the city around 8:30 p.m.
It took Dave and I 128 days, with 85 days of actual riding to get here on motorcycles. From our second start date of Dec. 19, 2015 from Quartzite, Arizona, we have ridden 23,486 km (14,593 m). We have passed through 13 countries over the past four months and in order they were: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The last two we have travelled through their borders back and forth in order to maximize scenery through the Patagonia region and also to avoid bad weather. If you’d like to see our actual route, check out this cool feature.
Our day of riding into Ushuaia will be branded in my mind for ages to come. It wasn’t easy. Nor was it as hard as it could have been. The day started out with some pretty big concerns about my bike; more specifically the chain. The rear sprocket and chain itself are almost completely dissolved after over 25,000 km (15,540 m) of travelling over every kind of road surface you can imagine (Dave installed it well before the trip). While leaving Rio Gellagos, Argentina that morning, the chain began slipping on the sprocket, giving off disgruntled clanking and grinding sounds and lurching the bike. Dave had taken out a few links the previous day before leaving El Chalten, Argentina. Now it needed to be re-tensioned and lubed, which we did at a gas station. And off we went. What choice did we have? We knew no one in the city to ask if we could leave the bike there plus how could we travel with the gear needed for two people when we had to be prepared to camp if we didn’t make it the 574 km (356 m) to Ushuaia that day.
Chancing it, we rode south through some strong winds and cold temperatures (about 37 F or 3 C) before adding wind chill. Within about 40 km (24 m) we arrived at the Argentina/Chile border crossing where we had to receive our exit stamps for Argentina, cancel our temporary vehicle import for the bikes, ride about 5 minutes to the Chilean border, re-enter Chile and re-import our bikes. Sadly, we can’t just show them the paperwork from the last time we entered their country. We then rode 80 km (49 m) to a ferry crossing, which took us across Estrecho de Magallanes, a channel separating the mainland from Isla Grande de Terra del Fuego, for 20 vessel-rocking minutes in some exciting, large waves. Once that was over, Dave and I, both a little green from sea sickness, disembarked off a slippery ramp with crashing waves, rode approximately 150 km (93 m) through dirt and gravel from road construction with a perfectly good, bare paved highway running a few feet parallel that wasn’t yet open, to the Chile/Argentina border, where we yes again had to get our exit stamps from Chile, cancel our temporary vehicle import, ride another 10 minutes south and re-enter back into Argentina. This was our first experience travelling through two border crossings in one day. It’s how you get to Ushuaia overland. Suck it up.
It was here we could better talk with another couple from Chile, both on Honda bikes, whom we’d seen on the road. I was pretty excited to see another female rider, only the third I’ve met in four months of riding through the America’s. We hugged each other and talked about how cold and windy it was. They stopped in Rio Grandes, Argentina, a city 210 km (130 m) before Ushuaia, to avoid riding in the dark as they had no heated gear and were very cold. (Dave and I have heated jackets that sort of work and heated grips. It does make all the difference. Without these valuable items we never would have made it into Patagonia.)
As it was only 4:30 p.m. and Dave and I were really excited to reach our goal that day what with my bike now cooperating and the weather holding out (meaning it wasn’t yet pissing rain or snowing), we pressed on. How bad could it be after all? It was all paved to Ushuaia from here. We’d be there in two hours…
If either of us questioned our decision upon seeing the gathering navy blue and purple clouds bubbling up on the horizon, we never mentioned it to each other. Shortly after leaving Rio Grandes we were rewarded from over 2000 km (1242 m) of mind-numbingly boring prairies, (with the exception of our 200 km (124 m) side trip into Fitz Roy), with the onset of a stubby forest of trees permanently bent in direction of the winds that position them into place. This, we thought, would offer some reprieve from the winds. And maybe it would have had the winds stayed at 30-40 kmph (18-24 mph) per hour like we’d been experiencing. But they did not. As darkness fell we were still over 80 km (50 m) from Ushuaia and it was already 6:30 p.m. The slow going was accounted for by the scarily narrow main highway that was super busy for it being Fin del Mundo (the End of the World). So imagine passing oncoming traffic with no centre line while riding highway speeds. Then throw in darkness, a helmet visor spattered with rain. Not scary enough for you? What about adding a mountain pass with plenty of snow on the ground, and shiny roads you’re not sure are icy or just wet. Still able to tolerate it? Add winds gusts of about 60 kmph (37 mph) and sideways rain. At this point I’m riding in front with Dave behind me, his hazard lights on as mine don’t work anymore. We can both only go at most 40 kmph (24 mph). I’m getting pushed into the gravely shoulder from the winds and I can’t see how Dave’s managing. Cars are zipping past us on this mountain pass. We stare after their taillights with gathering jealousy as we shiver in the cold and, for me, maybe whimper a little. At those speeds, that last 60 km (37 m) took For. Ev. Ver. I couldn’t figure out why we were in the mountains for so long. Isn’t Ushuaia at sea level? Once the highway finally started to descend and the pavement got dry, I looked down at my odometer; 15 km (9 m) to go. Then and only then did I think, holy shit we’re going to make it to Ushuaia.