A Trip South: The final pass

I’m in my tent on the last night of A Trip South, camped out front of the base of Cerro Castor Ski Center, the place that looks like it’s going to bring me lots of smiles this winter. That is, as long as it snows. Luckily I avoided riding through the snow today, but it felt like a narrow escape through the timing window.


This second to last day of travelling summarized the past two years of my trip. I encountered some of each of the common themes that developed on our journey down the west side of the Americas. The day started off early in the free cyclists refugio, a gift to travelers from the good people at the Panadería La Union in Tolhuin. Cooked my oats on the propane space heater, burnt my hand, and stuffed my belly beyond comfort. Classic.

Three weather checks reported the same. Cloudy, cold, calm. No good reasons not to go on this most important of weather days. The potential of snowfall could be a total game changer. But it wasn’t snowing yet and the ridgelines and mountain tops were all visible, below the cloud ceiling. So it was a go.

One thing I love about life on the bicycle is the dependency I have on the weather. This was probably the single biggest attraction for me to go on this trip in the first place, the opportunity to live outside for two years and let the conditions be my master, my teacher, my guide. This last push to the final destination, Ushuaia, was no exception.

The second I got my feet on the pedals I was off, pushing hard to beat what looked like a certain and imminent snow storm. The sky was dull, a monotonous grey, just shy of one single cloud covering the whole sky. The wind hadn’t started yet so I knew I had a window to chase, but in the back of my mind I was planning a surrender at the police station 50 km away that Andy noticed when he was here in April. So I booked it hard in the cold leaden air, loving the scenery of the introduction to Tierra del Fuego’s southern cordillera mountain range. I did my best to appreciate the views but never stopped longer than a moment or two to enjoy it while either emptying or filling my bladder.

When I arrived at Lago Escondido 50 km later, I was dripping with sweat and feeling the effects of allowing myself to get wet in May in Tierra del Fuego. The chill was hitting hard in the hands and the belly was ready for reinforcements. I pulled into the police parking lot and was pleased to see that there was a defensa civil station next door.

From my experience throughout South America, the civil defense corps people are almost always friendlier and easier to talk to than the police. I rang the bell. A pleasant smiling face answered and let me in to warm the bones. The place was exactly what I hoped it would be, a lounge area with couches and a heater, and of course, she brought me coffee and crackers.

Here was another thing I love about long-term bike touring: the pleasure of depending on other people. It was not something I expected, nor originally sought out with this trip, but it is something I have learned. This is how bike touring is different from other types of expeditions. When you go trekking or rafting or kayaking you have to be completely self-sufficient, taking everything you need and knowing that no one is going to come help you if you don’t have it together.

But with bike touring, you know there are people in that next town down the road, and that you can count on them to supply what you need, if you need it. I would never have let myself get sweaty and cold if I wasn’t confident that I could go into a heated room and drink coffee 50 km down the road. I depended on Andy to give me solid information and I depended on the defensa civil to be friendly enough to accept my request to come in and warm up. It’s nice to travel around, knowing that good people will help me meet my needs and desires.

I half expected the snow to come during lunch, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t. As I slammed a pack of my favorite Argentinean cookies, Fruttigrans, and dried my shirt and gloves, the sky opened up. The sun poked through, quickly tearing open the sky like a hyperactive kid on Christmas presents.

The journey through Garibaldi Pass was one of those rides that make bike touring worth it; mellow smooth uphill grade with incredible views of the lakes and snowy mountains glowing in the warm sun. True laughs and praises of gratitude spilled out of my mouth as my eyes jumped from mountain to mountain, studying the lines that I will surely be shredding this winter. There is nothing better than discovery, especially when you know that it will lead to future feel good. The cameras were at work through the pass, and I confidently took plenty of time to pedal those nine kilometers to the top, snapping photos non-stop and searching for two good video shots.

The descent was decent, stoke from the climb still pumping hard in my veins. But climate control became paramount as the downhill breeze cooled my jacket-less body rapidly. Now on the shady south face of the cordillera, I had to watch my temperature and moisture levels carefully.

Here was another valuable lesson from the road, how to pay attention to the body. It’s something that comes from intention and experience. It requires focus and time. Learning to constantly be “in check” with the body, asking how and where it feels certain sensations is not easy, but can be achieved with a bit of intuition. It’s remarkable how easy it can be to forget the body while focusing on other thoughts or tasks. It has been a real gift to have the huge amount of free time that comes with long-term traveling, and I hope I can maintain the practices that have become habits with this lifestyle.

In the last hour of the day I was still 30 km from my final destination of Ushuaia, but not concerned in the least. The evening light gave me just enough time to find my future happy place, Cerro Castor Ski Center, and to explore the base area a bit. I can confidently say that this is home for a few months. I already missed two winters back home to complete this mission at a comfortable pace. It would be a shame to leave the southern hemisphere now, just as another winter is starting up. What spectacular timing to arrive here just after a recent snowstorm, with just enough coverage to show what it’s supposed to look like for skiing while still not too much snow for the bicycle.

Timing seems to be the theme of all themes of this trip, and for this I am eternally thankful. I’ve gone from an endlessly sunny summer in Southeast Alaska, to tail-riding the dry season through the western states, then comforting rain showers in Central America, calming cloud coverage in the Andes, tailwinds on the Altiplano and a dry, warm autumn on the Carretera Austral. Southern Patagonia hasn’t been too cold, and was miraculously windless for nearly all of Tierra del Fuego. I made it through Garibaldi Pass on a perfectly calm day that became sunny when it really counted. And now it’s starting to snow again.

I feel relaxed into a faith in the future, like I am somehow always in the right place at the right time. There were of course many lessons learned from two years of southern movement, but the one that counts the most I have known all along. My life is what it is supposed to be.

• Kanaan Bausler is a member of A Trip South. Read more about the trip at http://atripsouth.com.

Nowhere left but North
By paddle and pedal, an adventure south


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