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Day 46: First Destination, Arrival!

In which Pete enjoys a relatively relaxed final day through snow, rain, cold, and intermittent mechanical problems to arrive at his first ultimate destination, the southernmost city in the world – 9,000+ km after leaving Lima, Peru.

Day 46
Tolhuin (butchered this yesterday, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina @ 9:30AM
End: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina @ 3:00PM
Distance: approx. 125km (~78mi) in ~6.5 hours (~19KMH / ~12MPH average)

Knowing I faced the possibility of severe mechanical issues as I pushed the last 100km to Ushuaia, I woke early this morning to maximize the amount of time on the road. It was strange once again to awaken in a pitch black room, packing all of my gear and brewing coffee in the bathroom on my stove while light slowly began to seep into the world.

Going outside to begin loading Red, I was greeted with a shock – the snow and ice was melting! Yes, it was raining mildly, and yes the air temperature was just barely above freezing, but something got warmer in the night and all indications were that I’d have a clear road to Ushuaia. I tightened up my rear chain and decided to head the couple kilometers back into town to find some diet Coke and a sandwich at the gas station, much less concerned about how much time it would take to get to Ushuaia.

Concerned about traveling in the rain and fog without properly functioning lights, I asked at the gas station and found there was a parts store nearby. In the store I made a very bad decision – the only replacement fuses they had were 25A, with a single 20A hiding in the packet. The stock fuses were 15A and the paperwork indicates the wiring is 10A (not sure why the fuse was 15A), but I figured I could make it to Ushuaia without mucking around and shouldn’t have any problems – I’d have to cause a short, and I didn’t plan on it.

Within two minutes of throwing the 20A fuse in, it blew. This is where I made my second bad fuse decision – since it was cold and raining, instead of trying to find out where the short was I just made the assumption that it had been a faulty fuse and threw in the 25A to replace it. Until this point, I had a low level functioning electrical system – when the engine was under load, I had enough electricity to dimly run my headlights (for being seen, if not for seeing), though not enough for the tach to work consistently unless I turned them off.

Only moments after getting moving again with the 25A fuse, the system blew spectacularly – all of my lights went off super bright and my horn came on full tilt without stopping. After I cut the ignition my electrical system was completely fried. It was not until much later that I found at least one wire melted into oblivion from the overload and expect there may be much more havoc wreaked on the system and I still don’t know where the short is.

I continued onward in the rain, always aware that I had no lights and must be extra careful of passing vehicles on corners. The temperature shifts, the humidity, and the constant rain peppering me under the covering made my goggles unusable and I had to take them off. I arrived at the mountains and began to slowly climb into a heavy fog, catching glimpses of amazing views off to the side of the road in brief gaps. I pulled off to the side in the mud to take a few photos, happy that I had plenty of time and that everything was holding together.

I should know better than to think such thoughts – as I pulled back onto the highway, my front chain came off. A quick inspection showed that it was still bent slightly from previous issues, but seemed to fit well and the tension looked okay. I assumed the heavy bump of transitioning onto the roadway combined with the slippery mud must’ve caused a lucky dismount and decided to continue on.

Fifty or so feet up the road, in a thin steep section with a huge drop (thankfully with a guardrail) and no shoulder, it came off again. This time it came off on the wrong side and got wedged. I frantically laid down on the wet and icy road and shimmied under Red to unwedge it, worried about my legs hanging out in the roadway with all of the fog. I was able to get the chain back on but it was now bent even further and was obviously too loose (even though it seemed within spec).

I rolled Red down the hill, back to the mud on the size, and once again slid under him to tighten up the front chain as much as it would go. It was a grueling, exhausting process and by the time I was done I was covered in wet, cold, mud. My liner gloves were effectively ruined for the day, completely soaked through, and in spite of all my attempts to keep my head up I had rested my head in the mud multiple times and my hat and hair were wet and muddy as well.

The chain was now as tight as I could possibly get it without removing a link, and both chains are visibly damaged to the point where I honestly am amazed they stay on at all.  I have this overwhelming but illogical desire to make it all the way to Ushuaia on these chains, and in any case – which one would I replace? I only have one spare, never imagining both would fail in the same stretch between repair shops (I also did not expect it would be so hard to find a 150 link replacement).

I crawled slowly up the mountain in the fog, being incredibly careful with throttle application to avoid any spinning of my tires on the slick mud and rain covered surface. It’s clear that this is the trigger for my problems – uphill tire spinning almost inevitably pops a chain.

Approaching the pass through the mountains, the fog thickened and without lights I found myself concerned again about a possible collision. With visibility only a few feet, I pulled over near the top and waited until I could not hear any cars or trucks in any direction, then carefully went over the pass and began the descent – thankfully the fog quickly dissipated on the other side, and the drive down the mountain was uneventful.

My body and mind started to relax, no longer keyed up by the tension of waiting to throw a chain on the mountain. The road descended into a valley and the temperature dropped, snow becoming visible all around me again. For the first time, I began to truly process the cold – it had been there all along, but with so much else on my mind I hadn’t paid it any attention. The air temperature and the road maintained at just above freezing, but with wind chill at speed I was well below it and needing to watch my hand temperature carefully.

Knowing I had plenty of time, I was leisurely about the rest of the trip. The last 30km or so to Ushuaia would be simple from here, so I stopped frequently to rest and warm my hands. All around me were beautiful snow covered trees and fields, dotted with slightly frozen lakes and surrounded by snow covered mountains; views worth enjoying.

Even closer to Ushuaia, the road turned into a new valley and I noticed something very, very strange. At first I thought something was wrong, something was either short circuiting in my senses or worse, something was on fire with my moto somewhere… because the wind felt warm! Within moments there was no longer any snow around me and my watch confirmed it – just turning into this valley, the temperature had shot through the roof, from the low 30’s into the mid 40’s.

The wind coming at me was now warming than the outer layers of my clothing (and my face), and as a result this 40 degree wind was, bizarrely, a warm one. After a few minutes everything stabilized and this was no longer the case, but even as that was happening I found myself entering the town of Ushuaia.

Still raining, still cold, unsure of how long my chains would hold, I found myself excited but tempered. I didn’t take a photo by the huge sign because I didn’t want to get out my good camera and my waterproof one was fogging up instantly if I tried to take photos. I hadn’t done much research on the town itself and had no idea where anything was, where to stay, or how much things would cost. I just knew I wanted to start my journey north from here, if that makes any sense.

I drove around the town for a couple hours, miserably cold and dealing with the absolutely frustrating water being kicked up by everyone that drove past me. I finally stopped to put my glasses on after picking dirt out of my eyes, these at least providing a small measure of protection in exchange for blurring everything.

I asked a few people about a motorcycle shop with no luck and came to the conclusion that I needed to stop for the day, hole up, and do some research. I found the downtown area with lots of shops, restaurants, and hotels, and decided to end things in a fancy hotel – in general, I’ve been pretty reasonable about places to stay on this trip, so this time I’d pay a bit more.

I picked a nice hotel covered in marble and glass and went inside to find out how much it cost. I’m covered in mud still (it’s just all on my back, with all the mud on the front washed off by the rain) and quite literally dripping water everywhere, with especially black nastiness running off my boot covers. My face is striped with oil and dirt, my beard is unkempt and also dripping water, and I generally look like a hobo; though I was wearing a bunch of high end North Face gear, a brand which has much more cachet down here as a luxury brand (personally, I love their gear, but only the quality stuff).

Whatever the case, I stood in the doorway and basically shouted at the receptionist, trying not to trail mud and dirt across the lobby, but she didn’t care. She asked me to come in, told me not to worry about the mess and that it’d be easy to clean up. For a moment I fell in love, and that simple courtesy, wherever it came from, overwhelmed me. When she quoted me the price it was outrageous, far more than I’ve paid on this trip, but a good price for a walk-in at a fancy hotel back home… plus, heck, I was in Ushuaia, and she was so nice to me!

Done and done. I booked for two nights, expecting to be here longer but deciding if I needed to stay for a week for repairs or the like I would move to somewhere cheaper. I pulled Red into their cozy parking garage and unloaded only my main duffel, leaving the soaking wet and muddy drybags to dry out before bringing them up to the room. It wasn’t until I walked into the room and stood in front of the floor to ceiling mirror that I realized how amazingly covered in mud I was in back, literally from head to toe.

Regardless, all was well with the world. I don’t feel a major sense of triumph – as discussed earlier, I think beating that crushing week on Ruta 40 was the major triumph of this trip. I do, however, feel a small glow of satisfaction. It’s nice to know I accomplished something interesting, something unique.

I mean, realistically, I’m about as certain as it’s possible to be that I’m the first person in the history of the world to ride into Tierra del Fuego on a mototaxi – and I don’t see it being likely that anyone else is going to give it a try anytime soon. How often do you get to say you’ve done something so utterly unique?



tonyguy said…
Your electrical system is literally toast.... hard to believe you did the unthinkable with the 25 amp fuse....
As if things weren't interesting enough....
Jeremy said…
Glad you finally make it. And if you're continuing on with the mototaxi (aren't you ready to pack it up on a truck or something and fly to your next destination!), I hope you are able to get everything repaired expeditiously...

Are you going to take a cruise out the Antarctic while you are at Ushuaia? Not sure if that would be prohibitively expensive...and perhaps impossible this time of year?

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