It was weeks away. Mean spirited weeks. Time was two steps forward and one step back. The wind made the remaining distance elastic. One instant it was within reach and in the next the wind would turn and strengthen and push the finish out of sight. And I never knew. I was so powerless. Everything depended entirely on the whims of the wind. That demon. That terrible demon that is never fair. It never gives, but sometimes it doesn't take. That morning it wasn't taking.
It was cold, before sunrise and the side of the tent that had been bulging in under the pressure of the wind during the night now hung limp and damp in the pre-dawn dew. 'It's stopped!' I thought, 'Go! Now! Go go go!' I had to go. I covered double the distance in the same amount of time when there was no wind so every second counted double. I threw my campsite back into my bags, shoved my feet into shoes and set off without so much as changing into riding clothes.
I was pushing hard, 'double, every second counts double.' I knew the wind would pick up soon; mercies like this never lasted long. The sun rose, orange and pink in a pure blue sky over the plateau. The low grass and shrubs glowed yellow in the light, reaching unbroken across the flat plain and meeting with the warming sky in the distance. 'Go go go. It won't last. Go go go.'
The sun rose higher and I began to sweat, still wearing my warm layers for sleeping. 'Don't Stop. The wind will change any minute and then you can stop and change clothes.'
I was paranoid about the slightest flicker of a blade of grass, sensitive to the most subtle draft that could be the first sign of the days wind. Time passed. Hours passed.
I dropped into a shallow canyon and began to head up the far side. At the point where my speed dropped to its lowest I slammed on the brakes and pulled over. With the practice and speed of a race car pit crew I whipped off my warm thermal layers and squirmed into my light dirty riding clothes. I jumped back on the bike and sprinted off.
It was mid day, 'Thank you! 'thank you! Even if the wind changes now I've saved myself an entire day of riding. But what if the wind stayed calm! Oh what if! But no, that's impossible. The sun doesn't rise in the west after all.'
I was looking at the next city on my map, Güer Aike. I set out from Piedra Buena expecting that it could take three days to cross the vast uninhabited plain and reach the city to re- supply, but at this rate I could reach it tomorrow? Today? 'No, don't hope. It's going to change now. Soon. Oh but what if it didn't! I could get to Rio Gallegos! Impossible.'
Hours passed. I didn't stop. Güer Aike was 50 Kilometers away. There was still time enough. The light lasted till nearly nine. Even if the wind changed I was guaranteed the city.
I continued. The wind began to threaten, only gently. It was a warning. 'In a half hour it's gonna make me pay for my fun,' I thought. The wind did get stronger, but it was not fierce. It was rude but not cruel. It was like riding on flat tires rather than riding on square ones. Güer Aike came and I sat up and clapped my gloved hands and rode straight through without stopping.
'Rio Gallegos? I'm going to reach Rio Gallegos today! Even with this wind!' a mere hour and a half later I reached the city.
Ushuaia 578 K
The sign above the road declared it as though it were nothing important. 'No. It's impossible! Not possible! That's days not weeks away! No. Don't hope. The wind will return and will get worse steadily from here to Ushuaia. And there are two border crossings, the Strait of Magellan and I've heard a stretch of unpaved road. No, it will be less than two weeks. Maybe a week.... But maybe not! 575k that's like three really big days! The wind might not pick up and I could be there in three days!'
YPF. God bless the YPF service stations. I pulled in and dashed into the cafe. I grabbed some sandwiches from the fridge, filled my water bottles and set out again. I still had light.
Out of Rio Gallegos it began to get dark. But it also calmed down. The breeze died and the sun began to sink and the high clouds turned a pastel pink and orange. When it began to get too dark to see I pulled over to a flat spot along the road and set up my tent in the grass. I gathered some of the sparse twigs on the ground and lit a fire around my steel thermos. I splashed some cold water over my body and blotted off with the rank chamois towel I carried. As soon as I had dried, changed into warm clothes and prepared my sleeping bag the water began to boil. I took the bottle from the small fire and sat in the tent sipping tea.
'What a day,' I thought, 'I'm gonna pay for it tomorrow. I just know it. The winds gonna realize I've been having it too easy.'
When my alarm went off in the morning it was not yet light. I could hear the wind. 'Yeah' I thought in my half sleep, 'that's more like it. I was beginning to think I had it too easy.' I rolled over and tore a small bit of tissue from the roll and held it out the tent flap. I let it go and watched as it was carried down the road in the wind.
'Well it's not too strong yet, but a morning like this means it's only gonna get worse. Oh well, at least now I have an excuse to sleep in.' and I curled deeper into the bag. 'What if that wind actually blew the way I was going. Wouldn't that be amazing. Imagine what I could do. But of course it's blowing... wait... It's blowing on the foot of my tent... And I'm on the... On the... West side of the road and... No! Oh! It IS blowing from the north! Impossible!'
I sat up and looked. It was true. I'd somehow gotten disoriented in my sleep and thought that I was facing the other way. 'It’s a tail wind! A tail wind! It's not possible!' A tailwind is like a Unicorn, yeah it's a nice idea but we all know they don't really exist, but here one was! 'Go go go!' I went.
It carried me the short distance to the Chilean border where I crossed without incident. From there it turned and blew from both ways and both helped and hurt me, but it was fair. I arrived at the Magellan Straight a few hours later and was relieved to wait an hour for the ferry. I could rest and eat.
The ferry came slowly across the water, lowered its steel ramp onto the concrete launch and unloaded the dozen cars and half dozen buses and trucks heading north. I walked my bike down the launch and waited to be signaled aboard by the dock worker. I was told to wait until the cars loaded. I watched nervously as the engines strained to keep the ship stationary in the visibly strong current and the waves. At one point the boat was pushed far to the side and had to struggle back into position before the waiting semi could board. At last the attendant stooped the last car and I noticed with some horror that the ramp was already being raised and the ship pulling out. I looked at the attendant; he looked back at the ship, shouted and then talked into his walkie-talkie. The ship began to reverse and lower its ramp back onto the launch.
'Go! Go!' the attendant shouted.
The steel ramp had two small extensions where vehicles tires line up before connecting with the bulk of the ramp. These extensions crashed into the water and onto the submerged concrete. I ran several paces down the launch as the ship drifted at an angle. It pushed a bit closer, the water drew back and I charged ahead, pushing the bike and bouncing onto the boat as the waves surged forward again. The attendant laughed, and gave a small cheer as he waved and the ramp rose blocking the shore from view. I shoved my bike further onto the deck, trying to find a place between the tightly packed cars and trucks.