It’s great to see that people out there in the blogosphere still appear interested enough in the daring exploits of Buff3y The Hardcore Adventure Cyclist to be clicking on the blog despite it now having been three whole months since he concluded his conquering of The Americas. I would stress here that I remain completely unwilling to concede that the recent blog hit statistics might be due to people searching for ‘pants’ or ‘mariachi’ and being misdirected to the blog of a touring cyclist. That just does not happen.
Buff3y the Hard Core Adventure Cycling rolled into Ushuaia yesterday, thus completing the bicycle trip through the Americas.
Now as I stand by the water of the Strait of Magellan and turn my gaze to the north, there is not one latitude between this point (54 degrees 48′ 47″ South) and Dead Horse Alaska (70 degrees 12′ 20″ North) that has not been troubled by the pedaling fury that is Buff3y atop his trusty bicycle.
Every ocean to ocean, every sea to sea has been 100% Buff3y-Powered; no dotted lines; no motorized land transport: Pure Buff3y.
It has (just today) become something of a truism that there are essentially only two types of people in this world; those who have bicycled the Pan-American Highway, and the rest.
I’m elated to finish. This is a destination that I have earned! By the Great Lord Harry I have! In coming days it might sink in that it’s actually all over and there is no more pedaling to be done but am not quite there yet. People say you have mixed feelings when you finish a big trip and its true. I’ve been scared to think too much about the last days of riding for fear that ‘the last mile could be the hardest mile’. Right now I don’t want to jump up and down and say things like ‘Woo!’ or ‘Yeah!’ or even ‘Right On’. I’m just completely chuffed (dare I say, to the very core).
There is, however, a certain troubling feeling that this body may never again be the lean, mile-devouring, buffaldium-infused strike weapon that it is this day. I certainly intend to work on reinstating the flab over Christmas in Australia, preferably to the accompaniment of the gentle tonk of willow on leather that signals the time-honoured Australian ceremony of the Boxing-Day test match (that’s cricket for the heathens out there).
I’ll miss the rhythm of riding eight, ten sometimes twelve hours a day just chuggin’ down the road. I’ll miss imbibing (and exuding) X litres of water every day, all of the body operating at a level that is difficult if not impossible to replicate elsewhere. In time I might even miss my own pasta concoctions but that’s a way off yet. Perhaps most of all I’ll miss the purity of the task of riding down the road, experiencing this wondrous planet and seeing what comes next.
Am loath to take the bike apart and pack it up for the plane but sadly it must be done tomorrow.
OK, admittedly the solo cyclist can go a little bit nuts out there on the long road but I think I’ve managed to bring myself back from the brink a few times and stay at least partially sane.
So what have we learned out there kids? These Americas are amazingly beautiful and biking is a beautiful way to see them. The world is also a far safer place than many would have you believe (unless you pass through Colon in Panama [refer song]). Biking is hard, some days so hard but ultimately a hugely rewarding way to see the world and even learn something of yourself along the way.
On traveling methodology, I had one of those ‘moments’ in Mexico when I turned left off the main southern highway and headed up the ‘Devil’s Spine’, a road into the hills towards Durango. In doing so, I (re)learned the importance of an oft-quoted cliché about traveling; that its not about the destination but the getting there. At that point I stopped just trying to pedal south to get to Ushuaia and started to take some interesting options, spending time and enjoy a more circuitous road. Without this turn I don’t think I would have then taken the mountain route through Peru, never ridden the Valley of Instant Death near Celendin or conquered the River of Instant Death with Eric and Lydie in Peru. I would definitely never have done the ride from Sajama to San Pedro de Atacama in South West Bolivia, an experience that will stay with me till I shuffle off this particular mortal coil.
To all of the bikers I’ve shared the road with, my heartfelt thanks. Touring cyclists are a great bunch of people and those I met on the road south have repeatedly bolstered my sometimes wavering faith in humanity. I have huge respect for those who have the fortitude and imagination to ride out onto the long road and endure all of the hardships to see what the world has to offer from this unique perspective. Special thanks to Rob the mystical Spider Whisperer and Ian The Scruffy who both showed me that it is possible to tour on a bike when at least a few cards have slipped between the cushions of the couch.
There are some awards to give out:
‘Most Useless’ award goes to the steam-roller driver in Honduras who tried to kill me by reversing over the bike (and almost me).
‘Biggest Gormless Twits’ (team award) goes to the big-hats of Celendin, Peru who chased me thinking I was a US gold mining spy.
‘Most Nauseating Twats’ (team award) is shared by the drivers and the “Eerr ggringo ggringo” repeating road side morons of Peru.
‘Nicest People’ award is shared by the Colombians and Argentinians. It was a pleasure to bike through and be greeted with nothing but kindness and respect.
‘Coolest People’ Award goes to the bicycle and craft-beer loving people of North West USA, thanks for showing me a truly groovy part of the USA.
‘Greatest Natural Beauty’ award goes to Bolivia (salt lakes and volcanoes) and Peru (for the high Andes).
‘Best Road Users’ award goes to all of the truck drivers of North and South America. They get a big thank you for being so considerate when passing by leaving loads of space. (The drivers of cars, RVs and the bus drivers of Canada get the raspberry here).
‘Best Song’ goes to ‘Bag-Stuffin’ Woman’ (Buff3aldo Records)
‘Most Beautiful Athletic Achievement’ goes to Buff3y for his non-synchronised swimming in Sajama, Bolivia.
‘Worst Pun’ goes to “We don’t need no stinkin’ bad cheese” (Mexico)
“Most popular blog entry’ award goes to ‘In defense of the Pant‘ (Vancouver, Canada)
My sincere thanks go to the guys at Co-Motion bikes in Eugene Oregon who put together a truly fantastic bike for me. I also thank http://www.ribbonofroad.com; two guys whose trip blog inspired me to head for Dead Horse with a bike.
Today I do feel a certain sense of responsibility to my army of readers who, in the absence of regular tales of daring-do from Buff3ysbicyclingblog will not have anything to liven up their drab wretched lives. Stay strong during the withdrawal period and talk out any issues you might have with friends and family. Don’t contact me unless it is to praise me as brilliant.
It’s been a lot of fun writing this blog over the last year and a half. I hope that you have enjoyed it. It’s been very therapeutic. Not sure who all of the 50 to 100 clickers per day have been but there is quite obviously something wrong with you all so seek help, now.
After the obligatory book, DVD and movie discussions, I’m off to the UK next year to study Shakespeare and early modern literature. Please don’t ask why. It just came to me as I pedaled through Ecuador that this was something important and would be enjoyable in my post-pedaling period.
If there are any bikers or prospective bikers out there who need the wise counsel or mentoring from Buff3y then email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a challenge, a joy, but perhaps over and above anything else it has been … well…..….hardcore.
Buff3y The Hard Core Solo Adventure Cyclist
[Buff3y will return in 'Buff3y in the land of Instant Death']
Buff3y The Hardcore Adventure Cyclist, having just conquered all of the South American mainland is now forging his way across Tierra Del Fuego towards this ride’s end point; the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia.
With now only a few days until I arrive in Ushuaia it is curious how the notion that the ride will very shortly be over is just not really computing right now. Two days and then no more riding!? How can this be? I’ve been packing pannier bags in the morning and heading out onto the road for so long that it just seems silly that this will soon end.
What does one do when there is no more road south? How do you wake up and then go about a beige life without the wind blasting in your face? Without the need to curse Stribog with all manner of florid language? Well I suppose I’m about the find out.
Two days from now I will go from being the hardcore adventure cyclist to merely being just another passenger.
I will be (reluctantly) transformed from one who has enjoyed all the freedom to go and stop when I felt like it; someone who has suffered every mood of the weather and enjoyed all of the road’s joys to one who sees the world flash past a window frame, ignorant of gradient, wind, rain, surface, aching muscles etc etc.
I won’t be earning destinations – I’ll just arrive. I’ll be informed when I’m allowed to board. I’ll be offered tea or coffee. I’ll be told when I can and cannot use the toilet. When all I wish to do is ‘disembark’ like a civilised human being some idiot will no doubt gratingly inform me to “deplane”, as if one can seriously “de-car” or “de-bike”. Great galloping gods! In essence, I will go from being free to not being so. Bugger it.
Somewhat incongruously set against that sobering thought, I’m really looking forward to finishing. I’ve cycled every kilometre of land between Deadhorse Alaska to this point and, quite frankly, I’m a bit tired. Theatrical writing theory tells us that you need to tell the audience anything that really matters at least three times …so let me reiterate: I have cycled every kilometre south from Deadhorse Alaska to this point that is about 220km from the southern most point of the Pan-American Highway. So, just to be clear, I have cycled every kilometre south from Deadhorse Alaska through Canada, USA, Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Haven’t added all of those kilometres up as yet but will do so soon. Suffice to say here that its a lot!
Anyway. On-on and twice more onto the bike I go dear friends to reach the end point. Will communicate again from Ushuaia in a few days.
Just south of the tiny hamlet of Bajo Caracoles in central Patagonia there is a 50km stretch of road, that, for want of a better name, we will here call, ‘That-stinking-bastard-piece-of-frickin-crap’ road. It’s paved and runs straight as the proverbial arrow and flat as the equally proverbial pancake in a west-sou-westerly direction.
If you should find yourself on a bicycle and on this road (and not the lovely curly one opposite), on an afternoon when the prevailing wind is doing its thing and raging away from the West, then please ensure that you have come equipped. That means 1 x core made from Diamond and Kryptonite infused Einsteinium, Nobelium and Buffaldium. If not, you are far better off just sitting at home, having a scone with marmalade, some tea and a nice lie down.
Your long suffering (and ever-humble) correspondent spent six hours chugging away into this bastard wind and I am not ashamed to admit that on more than a few occasions I felt the above-constituted core softening a tad.
Late in the afternoon I made the blissful turn sweeping gloriously away to the southeast and could then blast over the next 60km in less than two hours chasing down the startled road-runners until, squawking out a defeated ‘beep-beep’ they opt for jamming their crest-fallen selves through a fence to escape rather than get rounded up by an elated bicyclist.
Such is an average day riding Patagonia. Distances start to diminish in importance where 1km can take anything between two or 10 minutes depending on the wind.
Bajo Caracoles had been the venue for the consumption of much cheap red wine just two nights before. My Spanglish becoming oddly fluent as the night progressed.
I now find myself being blown across to the Atlantic coast where I give another prayer to Stribog then turn south for the last couple of day’s ride to Tierra Del Fuego.
The Carretera Austral or Route 7 [formerly Carretera General Augusto Pinochet], is the road/highway running north/south through Chilean Patagonia. It is part dirt and part sealed but all beauty. Being the well-traveled and weller-experienced adventure cyclist that I am, of course, I have always considered the Karakorum Highway running from far western China south into northern Pakistan as the ultimate bicycle touring road. After a few more days on the Austral I may have to reassess this.
I made the left turn onto the Carratera Austral at Villa St Lucia having crossed from Argentina near Esquela/Trevelin. Still holding tight to the notion of pedaling every kilometre southwards from the top of Alaska to bottom of Argentina had declined the opportunity to cross to Chile further north and endure a ferry ride for part of the way where Route 7 is cut for a while.
As it turned out, staying in Argentina and cycling through the southern Lakes District was a bonus as just north of Travelin, the National Park was a very pretty couple of days of winding dirt road surrounded by a lovely collection of lakes and snow-peaks. The road across the border laid on the alpine vistas as well. Getting difficult to find an ugly spot in this part of the world.
Today finds your correspondent in Coihaique a mostly unpronounceable and unspellable provincial town full of gauchos. There were echoes of Australia this morning as I was awakened to the dulcet groans of a lawn mower churning through a ‘nature-strip’ outside the tired but comfy Hotel Austral (the owner of which turned out to be a prize-prick!). The women are intent on sporting the latest butt-lift jeans which cause all manner of odd contortions to the buttocks and abdomen.
The ride just north of here turned into a bit of a chore in that the derailleur decided to fall off and had to be wired into place and therefore I had one gear with which to ride the last 75km. Quite hard-core I have to say.
Am a little bit concerned at the lack of feedback at the moment and more specifically, the lack of gushing praise for my blog and bicycling. I can see that many many people are looking at the blog. You are not, however, adequately sharing the joy of the experience with the buff3ysbicyclingblog community. Therefore to assist in rectifying this short-coming, I have below provided some pointers on the type of comment that is required to help you along:
- “Buff3y, you are truly remarkable! It is difficult to imagine how a human can ride a bicycle for such a vast distance and also produce such an entertaining blog at the same time.”
- “Buff3y, we love you!”
- “Buff3y, look so trim and fit and could be 25 years old”
Know that your long-suffering correspondent is still on the long road heading south and has made it to the charming provincial city of San Carlos de Bariloche in Patagonia. Nestled on the banks of the Lago de something-or-other this is a heavily touristed resting spot before heading towards the Chilean border to ride some of the Carratera Austral in a few days. Its now about a month before I will be in Ushuaia and I can now feel the end of the journey approaching. Only a couple of thousand kilometres to go between now and then.
The country has been just beautiful coming through the Lakes District of Patagonia with clear water streams, lush green fields, forests surrounded by snow peaks and clear skies. The ski-lodge towns have lashings of chocolate shops and over-priced accommodation which is lovely.
The Argentinians continue to make it a pleasure to pedal through this part of the world and thankfully I have only hit the much anticipated and dreaded winds on a couple of days so far. Grasping for loads of wood right now as I still expect to have some hard days in the weeks ahead.
I was ever so thankful to the Gods of bicycle touring providence when I saw the little shed photographed as the winds were just howling across the barren slopes and the tent would not have held at all that night.
Well it’s certainly an interesting sensation to finally be pedaling through Patagonia. The land is flattening out towards the pampas as I have left the last of the high mountains behind me. Am tempted to think of this as the final leg of the journey but even a cursory glance at the map reveals that there is still quite a way to go before I find myself in Ushuaia (about 3,000km). Still best therefore to keep the minor destinations ‘chunked’ so I don’t get overwhelmed by the distances. A troubling lyric that comes frequently to mind is, ‘the last mile is the hardest mile’ (Smiths).
Yet the country to come will be interesting. From the city of Zapala, from where I write to you tonight, I will now cruise down through the Lake District of Argentina before crossing back into Chile for a bit of pedaling along the Caraterra Austral and then I cross back into Argentina to continue down towards Tierra Del Fuego. In theory this will take about another five or six weeks.
For some odd reason I decided that it would be a good idea to study early modern literature while I traveled. This was a moment of inspiration that struck, somewhere in Ecuador I think. This now means that I spend a good slice of each day while pedaling through the Argentinian countryside thinking of weird and wonderful new ways to reinterpret the witches in Macbeth. Quite an interesting departure. If all goes according to plan I will qualify for a University of Oxford T-Shirt sometime next year. All very exciting.
With each day on the road south I am adding to the huge database of fascinating insights and accumulated knowledge from this trip. For example:
- Steven Seagal movies are much better in Spanish
- Never ride through South America with a Rohloff Hub as if they stuff up (eg. a bearing wears out), you are a long way from help. Refer the photo of the bike with its Shimano XT drive train.
- Never attempt to study from distance while you are bicycle traveling. You find yourself in an endless state of worry as to whether you will find a viable internet connection in the towns down the road.
- SPAM and other related meat products are just not very good and over consumption can make you feel quite ill. (definitely not the quality of the Buffy Burger)
- It takes about a year on the road to perfect your camp pasta and sauce. Mine is now verging on the edible.
- The average touring cyclist swerves around approximately 100 cow, horse, yak, llama or bear turds on the side of the road every day. That means that on this trip I have swerved around about 30,000 turds.
‘Part Fifty’ eh?! I must really be doin’ some hard travelin’. Either that or I just keep on writing. When the copy is just this good it is very difficult to stop!
Am in the lovely lovely city of Mendoza. Tree lined wide avenues, coffee shops a-plenty (with delicious mini-chocolate-cakes), top quality BBQ grills and lashing upon lashing of tasty red wine. Couldn’t really ask for more. I’m no wine expert but a few months here and you couldn’t help but develop an educated taste (and associated nauseating vocabulary) for the stuff. My own four days here is merely enough time to quaff some “very passable” Malbec to wash down the grilled cow innards and then fall about the place a bit – but there it is.
The Argentinians themselves continue to delight with their cool calm friendly demeanors and sophistication. (Not as sophisticated as your humble bicycle touring correspondent of course but getting right up there).
It is raining. This would not, in and of itself, seem that strange. It is just that there have been so few rainy days on this trip that seeing the rain fall is indeed most strange. I have passed some sort of climactic divide between the arid north and the not-so arid central part of Argentina, and I’m pretty happy about that. I might now be able to somehow rid myself of all of the desert sand and dust from the altiplato of Bolivia and desert of northern Chile that has engrained itself so in my very being and infused itself in every orifice to such an extent that it is difficult to know where it stops and I start.
Being in this part of Argentina affords one the opportunity to engage in one of the great pleasures of traveling. That is, checking out the wondrous beauties of the local cities. I refer, here, of course, to the vast numbers of majestic Renault 12s that populate the streets here.
The Argentinians in this part of the country have a great love for aging European cars (something to do with wanting to be European according to the guide book). The rare and wondrous Fiat 1500 (late 1960s) wagon even made a fleeting appearance. I was not quick enough to get a snap shot of this illusive beastie. The Hillman Imp even made a showing in Mendoza (a car for which only my elder brother could ever have any love or see the scantest slither of merit in). So what of all of the car critics who wrote the hapless Renault 12 off? Well they are now dribbling their yogurt down their bibs or were a chilled worm meal long ago. All the while the mighty Renault 12 powers on to ever more miraculous feats of person transport and mediocre performance. “Has the power to weight ratio of a schlummocking elephant seal” was most unkind. “Is really shit” seemed a bit harsh. Regardless, I am unreliably informed that Argentina has one of the largest Renault 12 car clubs in the world.
I have been sampling a good few of the Parrillas (BBQ grills) from Salta through San Juan and now here in Mendoza and I am rapidly coming to a conscious conclusion that I have somehow understood innately for some time but have just never formulated into a clear succinct academic thesis, but here goes: ‘Vegetarians are idiots’.
Why would anyone willingly go through life without experiencing the absolute pleasure of eating a really good English pork pie (with loads of jelly). How could you forgo the joys of being served up a sizzling grill of various bit of cow (some usually hidden away in sausages). They can have their mung bean munching for many thousands of years of omnivoric behaviour can’t be wrong. While I’ve got the teeth in my head, (teeth that have been painstakingly developed over the millennia specifically to gnaw away on a tasty parrilla and such tasty morsels as cow intestine) I’ll be doing just that.
[Any veggies reading this who are now taking umbrage can gum me].
In Mendoza however, the gastronomic delight continues well beyond the BBQ grill. In honour of my bicycle trip the local owners of Kingo Burgers have in-launched The ‘Buffy’ Burger. It has all the flavour that people the world over have come to expect of the original Buffy Burger. Now, however, it’s ‘New’ and has an extra layer of Grade E – ‘fit for human consumption’ meat and a bigger egg! Lovely!
Fired up on Buffy Burgers, I now head towards Patagonia and the last stages of the Pan-American ride.
Have finally made it to Argentina, 14 months after setting out for Alaska.
I travel South East from San Pedro de Atacama into the Atacama Desert and cruise along the edge of the salt plain. The road then peels Eastwards up from the desert floor into the Andes again.
The pass from Chile to Argentina (‘Paso Sico’) took me up and over the spine of the Andes once more and down through a very long valley towards the city of Salta. There awaits the most succulent cuts of steak and Syd-Harbs of red wine to revitalise a weary peddler. The pass became a bit of an adventure in itself. After promising myself that I would stick to the asphalt roads, I found myself doing it tough yet again and also making life even more difficult for myself.
Surprisingly the places close to the Chilean border do not have the slightest knowledge of or interest in changing Chilean pesos into Argentine Pesos. Was therefore again out of money. Having made it over the pass and through the remote customs port, I head for the closest little town of Catua only to find that my money is no good here. Damn it! Will have to get to Salta to have any worthwhile currency again.
Just before the last Chilean military check point a guy at a mining settlement gives me some water, a cup of coffee and some biscuits with caramel stuff on them. He has little idea just how important this infusion of calories is as I was starting to wane a bit and could see no real way to recharge in the immediately foreseeable future.
A local restauranteur takes pity on the plight of the poor traveling bicyclist and offers up a plate of empanadas which are dispatched post-haste.
A few miles further south Aussie guy passing in a car who gives water. I have been a true charity case this day
The next day out of Catua is one of the more incredible day’s riding of the trip. All is well until hitting the salt plain and then the wind takes over and turns toe day into a sand storm.
Having the wind in my favour should have been a good thing and it mostly was. I would have hated to be traveling in the other direction. However, especially over the top of the pass, the wind is literally propelling bike and me along and off the road. I kid you not, dear reader, that it is blowing 50 knots at least along this road. I screw u pa front brake trying to stop being propelled into the abyss beyond more than a few
In San Antonio de los Cobres thank The Great Lord Harry that a guy is willing to change $50 to Argentinian pesos otherwise I was on for another few days of deprivation, most unwelcome.
The next day I anticipate a nice trundle down the hill into Salta. I keep that thought as I enter a frickin’ wind tunnel with strong wind blowing up the valley for 100km into the face of your long-suffering correspondent.
At last in Salta and it is a great pleasure to be amongst people who appreciate the value of a good chunk of cow flesh and eat copious quantities of it while quaffing down Syd-Harbs of local red wine. Salta in northern Argentina has class and style and a population which seems to prize eating and living well. No longer surrounded by chicken & Chip outlets of their north-western almost-neighbours, these guys know how to cook a chip!
The trick here is to find the busy restaurants that have old guys serving on tables; the kind of people who have been munching exclusively on tenderloins all of their lives. This is the perfect place to celebrate my birthday.