Pedaling South

L'expédition en vélo de l'Alaska à l'Argentine de Lucie et Torrey

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Border of Horrors Breaks our Spirits
(and Lucie’s Wheel)

March 25th, 2011 · 16 Comments

Team Pedaling South is broken down in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina.

Just north of town, the hub of Lucie’s back wheel barfed aluminum shrapnel all over the highway and then sounded a lot like a popcorn maker. My mechanical instincts told me it was something serious. Luckily, Calafate has the region’s only bike shop. Things could have been worse.

In fact, it probably would have been worse if Lucie’s wheel hadn’t exploded. This mechanical mishap has given us a much-needed forced rest, which is the only kind of rest we’re allowed until we reach Ushuaia. We have little time left until our flight home in April, and the shrinking daylight hours along with our blown-to-bits budget mean it’s “go go go” till the end of the world. We’re just hoping the rest of our parts and gear (and our bodies) don’t fall apart before we get there.

We’re really worn out. Our default mode, of course, is “darn tired”, because we pedal big metal pack donkeys all day, every day. But now we’re totally wasted.

How did we get so weary? The Carretera Austral definitely helped.

The Austral is a beautiful, tough and hilly 1200-kilometer gravel road in southwestern Chile that gets a lot of rain. It wouldn’t have been that bad, except that we needed to catch a ferry out of its southernmost town, Villa O’Higgins, and the ship only sails once a week this time of year. We also needed to catch two other short ferries, one before and one after the Villa O’Higgins sailing. Having all these boats to catch meant that for the first time since the beginning of the trip, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting out the rain. We pitched the tent at night and packed up in the morning under a non-stop downpour, and we rode through weather from which we normally would have stayed hidden.

We had a bright moment of warmth and mirth, however, in Rio Tranquilo, somewhere around about the Carretera’s half-way point. We met our friend Nina coming the other way just after we’d rolled out of town in late afternoon. We first met this fit German schoolteacher in Trujillo in northern Peru, then again in Cusco, and ended up crossing Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni together. She managed to convince us to turn around and head back to the village with her. Just as we re-entered the little Patagonian pueblo, we ran into Margo and Chris, a retired couple from Vancouver who we’d met a couple of days earlier. Naturally, it was pouring rain. Chris and Margo invited the three of us to stay in the cabin they’d rented. Lucie and I made a big supper, Nina went out and bought a jug of wine, and the five of us sat around the table talking, laughing, eating and sipping wine by a piping hot wood stove until well past midnight while the unbroken rainfall pelted the cabin’s tin roof.

During the next 400-odd kilometers of the Austral, we saw about six or seven vehicles on the road per day. On the final 100-kilometer stretch, this number dropped to about three.

We made it to Villa O’Higgins with one night to spare. One really has the sense that this cute yet gritty town is the ass-end of nowhere. It obstinately squats at the end the Carretera Austral, hemmed in by frosted mountains, accessible only by boat, plane and fools with bicycles. What it’s doing there at all seems something of a mystery.

Our campground in town was fantastic. The kind owner let us sleep in the dining hall, and we had the whole place to ourselves. She started the fire for us in the wood stove and we set up some lines to dry our sopping gear. We made a gallon of chicken stew and quickly made it disappear.

The next morning we were up before sunrise to catch our big boat across O’Higgins Lake. We saw the sun for what seemed like the first time in a week, and the views from the ship were magnificent. I bounced in my seat (while Lucie napped), excited about the adventures ahead, feeling that we’d just finished an important chapter of our trip.

The boat dropped us off near the Chilean customs outpost at the south end of the lake. We had a challenging 16-kilometer ride on a crude road that led to a “Welcome to Argentina” sign in the middle of the woods.

Then things fell apart.

The road turned into an unmaintained trail that quickly turned into a badly eroded and narrow muddy ditch sealed off by thick thorn bushes on both sides. It was so narrow that my overloaded front panniers didn’t fit; luckily Lucie’s bags did. Since there was a ferry waiting for us at the other end, we were forced to hustle. I had to jog through thick mud hoisting my front wheel several feet off the ground. The three river crossings and knee-deep bog sections were especially memorable.

It was possibly the most harrowing stretch of the entire trip. It might have been fun with a lighter load and without the time constraint. It would have been a lot of fun on a horse. With my ride, it was like entering Paris-Dakar driving a motorhome. Absurd. I growled with the effort. I cursed. I yelled. We reached the Argentine customs shack and made our ferry with seconds to spare. We disembarked shaken and broken on the south bank of Lago del Desierto. The next morning we slept in, made a big fire and started at noon, but still weren’t fully recovered.

Since then we’ve riding over wide open plains, bucking against the Patagonian wind whose power must be experienced first hand to be believed. To give some idea, the other night we slept in a concrete culvert after sealing off the windy end with a ton of rocks. There was nowhere else to hide, and pitching the tent just wasn’t an option.

Now that we’ve had the chance to put our feet up, sleep in and get out of the wind for a couple of nights, we’ll be in far better shape to appreciate our journey from here down to Tierra del Fuego. We become increasingly aware each day that we’re nearing the end of the road, and the taste is bittersweet. We’re looking forward to sharing the final miles of our adventure with you.

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Tags: Argentine · Chili · Countries

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 isabelle arsenault // Mar 25, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Vous êtes incroyables!!!!
    Courrage pour les derniers miles.
    Sending you good vibes.
    isa xx

  • 2 Guillaume // Mar 25, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Wow amazing!!!

    Après cela les routes asphaltés sont plus que les bienvenues…
    Au Québec nous ne sommes pas si mal en fin de compte? haha!

    Bon courage pour le dernier “sprint”

  • 3 Dave Wall // Mar 25, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Amazing…. Good luck the rest of the way.

  • 4 Bonnie // Mar 25, 2011 at 7:13 am

    OMG I couldn’t believe all that mud! Are you sure that was actually the road – after those shots, the picture of the highway was just beautiful. Savor and enjoy the end of your fantastic journey.

  • 5 Rémi // Mar 25, 2011 at 7:43 am


    Que son maravillosos !!!

  • 6 Ariel // Mar 25, 2011 at 7:51 am

    you rock my world

    amazing amazing adventures
    keep on keepin on!

  • 7 Ron // Mar 25, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Never again will I grouse about our crappy spring weather – you have true grit.
    What a story to tell your kids one day!

  • 8 Joanie // Mar 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

    ce qui compte c’est l’amour hein !!!!
    Bravo à vous deux, vous êtes incroyables et une grande source d’inspiration !!!
    Les courses débutent aujourd’hui pour nous en californie. Je vous envoie aussi plein d’énergie !!!!
    Rock on !!!

  • 9 OLIVIER // Mar 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Ça me rappel des souvenirs! La fameuse traversé de Villa O’Higgins la carratera austral, les vents de 60-100 Km de la pampa Argentine… et le découragement et la fatigue que ça implique! J’ai moi CASSÉ dans ce coin là mais lâcher pas vous êtes presque rendu au bout du monde (a ce qu’on dit!). Et en cas d’urgence… le sorbet au Calafate (baie de la région) qui peut vous CHEERER UP!

  • 10 Laura // Mar 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I can’t believe you slept in a culvert! Keep smiling you guys:) I cannot wait to see you on the other side!!

  • 11 Genevieve Ddf // Mar 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Ha ahhahahaa… Now you understand what I meant by rainy season. Turns everything to hell.

    You seem happy and well wich is what counts.

    I cried climbing Cabot Trails Makenzie fucking hill because it was reining, then snowing then it turned to ice and I was wet and it was november so I knew there was nothing else then mooses or more snow at the top.

    Heureusement il y avait un chalet avec du bois. Je me suis sechee et jai retrouve mon sourire.

    Finalement jaurais pas du chialer, jetais meme pas proche des souffrances extremes que vous vivez.


    Je rentre du Salvador bientot. On se voit a MTL!!!

  • 12 Alexi // Mar 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    WOW! ça écrase toutes les routes de guerriers que j’ai empruntées durant mon demi-siècle en bike. Lâchez-pas!
    On a bien hâte de vous revoir.

  • 13 Art // Mar 25, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Amazing! That’s quite a story you tell. Sure glad you had the photos, too. I couldn’t imagine doing what you’ve been doing.

  • 14 Margo // Mar 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Lucie & Torrey,
    Your story confirms that we did the right thing to bail out. After a week getting to Buenos Aires and a week of rest here, we did a gentle test ride yesterday. Chris redid his arm injury just be braking suddenly on an unloaded bike, so we’re off to the hospital clinic tomorrow to get more info and decide what our next steps will be.
    Keep pedalling! We’ll keep following in spirit!!
    Margo & one-armed Chris

  • 15 Pam and Rich // Mar 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I just love the rainbow welcomes you receive throughout your trip. I am thinking of you as you finish this cycle! and what a transition coming your way. Lots of Love and Light,

  • 16 Sylvia Hallgen // Apr 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Dear Torrey & Lucie,

    Your endurance makes my challenges seem trivial. Wishing you continued strength to see this through. I know you can do it, almost there.

    Much love,


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