What´s Left? Some stats and factoids.
Sunday, April 29, 2007

What´s left of my adventure?

I´m currently in Punta Arenas, the furthest southern city in Chile waiting to catch a ferry to La Isla Grande de Tiera Del Fuego. On the Island, I will cross the border back into Argentina and finish my trip in the city of Ushuaia. At just 80 miles from Antarctica, it´s commonly thought of as the furthest southern city in the world. With the wind in my favor, I´m probably 5 cycling days away from Ushuaia. Down here, it´s late fall/early winter--today it´s 30 degrees and snowing. National Geographic Magazine called this area the windiest place on the planet. The other day, the wind lifted a full sized, parked tour bus off the ground and flipped it upside down.

What´s left of me psychologically?

- I´ve been on the road for 624 days. During this journey, I´ve slept in well over 500 different beds, camps, ditches etc. A few days ago, the police told me not to pitch my tent in an open field because, at night, the wind could lift my tent off the ground and blow me away with it. They offered an abandoned barn as an alternative. I slept on a dirt floor mixed with charcoal fire chips and broken glass. The wind shook the barn like twin-bladed Chinook helicopter hovering over a match box. The barn had an outhouse--it felt like a 5 star hotel.

- Last week, Don Thomas and I trekked through Torres De Paine National Park. It was miserably cold, windy, with slushy snowfall. Mice invaded our tent. Throughout the night we took turns flicking the mice off of our sleeping bags and foreheads. We stayed up laughing in the darkness at the repetitive sound trio; swoosh went a hand against a sleeping bag, thump went the mouse against the tent rain fly, squeak the creature yelped as it fled the inner tarp. This seemed like a pretty normal sleeping situation, in fact, it was quite entertaining.

- About 100 days into the trip I started to forget what day of the week it was. Around day 400, I started to forget what month it was. Last week, I forgot what year it was.

Oddly, I consider myself to be in the best mental condition of my life; this should probably scare me more than it does.

What´s left of me physically?

On trip day 1, I tipped the the scales at 215 lbs. Last week, I weighed in at 172 lbs. My brother nick-named me ¨fat ass¨ at his wedding two weeks before I started the trip. When getting my tuxedo measurements before his wedding, my waist size was 37. Before my friend Dougolay´s wedding (when I was in Peru), my tuxedo waist size measurement was 31. Staying ¨well fed¨ has been a challenge for me on this trip, I just can´t seem to consume enough calories.

What´s left of my gear?

Recently, while doing my laundry, I realized that EVERY article of clothing I carry has a hole in it. This includes my shoes, hat, raingear, and bicycle tights (in a very unsightly location).

Nearly every piece of gear that started the trip with me in Prudhoe Bay Alaska 624 days ago has been lost, stolen, broken or replaced.

Examples of lost/replaced stuff:

Tent - Original tent replaced by Outdoor Research with a new sponsor tent in Seattle, which was stolen in Mexico, which was replaced in Guatemala, which was exchanged with a new, ultra-light model in Argentina. Thank you Outdoor Research!

Rear Rim - Cracked the first time in British Columbia, replaced in Seattle, cracked again in Mexico, replaced in Guatemala. Cracked again in the Bolivian desert, replaced in Argentina. Current status of rim 4 - cracked on the Carretera Austral in Chile, glued and duct-taped together. Keepin´ my fingers crossed! Thank you Co-Motion Cycles for sending replacements!

Bike Bags - Stolen or damaged in Mexico. Front bags replaced in Guatemala (thank you Mom and Dad), full set replaced again in Panama by sponsor. Thank you Ortlieb!

Utility Knives - During this trip I´ve discovered that I really like utility knives. Unfortunately, I struggle to keep them around for more than a few weeks. Leatherman # 1 - purchased in Seattle, lost in the Andes. Swiss Army # 2 - bought in Cusco, Peru, lost 1st time in Bolivia, second time somewhere in Argentina. Swiss Army # 3 - purchased in southern Chile - lost 7 days later in southern Argentina. Current, Swiss Army Knife # 4 - found in Torres National Park, Chile, still got it but highly doubt that it will make it to the end, in fact I don´t think that I know where it is right now.

Notable items that have made the distance (items usually get nicknames if they stand the test of time):

The Geoduck - My bicycle, takes a lickin´ and keeps on tickin´. I´ve beat the crap out of my bike and have no clue how it is still in one piece.

Mean Green - My coffee drinking cup with a metal ring that scorches my hands and burns my lip every morning. I kinda´ wish that I lost this one but have an emotional attachment to it now.

Camera Tripod - Has saved my life. This item will never be lost and was granted nickname immunity in Guatemala.

Tighty Blackies - My black wool underwear that look, well, just like tighty whities but less flattering. I´ve worn the same two pair and ONLY two pair of underwear for the past two years. They are the ONLY original clothing items that I still own. Like a boomerang, even if I lose them, somehow they find their way back to me, which makes perfect sense. Thank you IBEX!

Gregorio or Craigorio - Me. ¨It´s not the years, it´s the mileage¨ My common reply to people when they first meet me and question my appearance. My cranium has held up though I do get pretty sick of myself at times. Mysterious bumps, scars, bruises--numerous stomach ailments, bugs, infections, and aches and pains. My body has somehow managed to stay injury free and in one piece. Thank you cranium, thank you body!!!

Hasta El Fin!!!


Stage 3, Part 7 - Puerto Montt, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina
Monday, April 23, 2007

In Stage 3, Part 7, Gregg cycled the length of Chile´s Carretera Austral or Southern Highway. For 800 miles, he bounced along it´s rough dirt surface, passing through pristine national parks, remote villages, fishing ports, and castle-shaped mountain ranges. He navigated across the region´s fjords, islands and lakes through a series of six public and private boats. After reaching the end of the road in Villa O´Higgin´s, Chile, he pushed his bike into Argentina over a mountain pass on a horse trail. The stage ended in El Chalten, Argentina, a frothy micro-brew slurping haven and base camp for trekking in Glaciers National Park, the icon of Patagonia.

From Puerto Montt there are two possible southbound routes for a cyclist to consider. The first crosses the island of Chiloe, a historic community known for it´s multi-colored stilt beach houses. The second, all unpaved, hugs the Seno de Reloncavi, Chile´s northernmost glacial inlet, to the start of the Carretara Austral in Pumalin National Park. Pumalin National Park is a controversial nature sanctuary and the brainchild of US billionaire Douglas Tompkins. In 1991, Tompkins bought a ranch in the area and has, since then, been quietly gobbling up millions of acres of land for conservation throughout Patagonia and donating it to the country for protection. Pumalin is unique because it is open to the public. I decided to see what this eccentric fat cat was up to first hand--I also heard that they sling tasty ice cream brownies at the Pumalin park cafe.

Leaving Puerto Montt, the cycling along the glacial inlet to the first ferry port at La Arena was superb. With locals firing up smoked mussel samples along the beach and crystal clear views of the coastline, I felt like I was back home on Bainbridge Island, where I grew up in the middle of Seattle´s Puget Sound. The great ferry boat debacle began when I arrived at the dock in La Arena. ¨Pumalin National Park...you´re 10 months too early for that boat¨ announced the resident rubberneck. My heart sank, with the ferry out of service, the only other option was to backtrack some 250 miles--to Puerto Montt, cross Chiloe Island and take the next ferry from there, which left 7 days later. I dug my two-year old guidebook out of the bottom of my rear pannier; ¨Ferries crossing to Pumalin National Park only run in January and February, it is imperative to check if they are running before arrival¨. Don Thomas got some mileage of my blunder. ¨Dude, tell me again why you tote a 5 pound South American guidebook with you when you never use it?¨.

I decided to do some more digging. ¨I can get you as far south as Port Puelche where you can cycle two days across the peninsula to Puerto Hornopiren...but from there it is IMPOSSIBLE to reach Pumalin Park¨ exclaimed the public ferry captain; ¨Pumalin...you´re loco, come back next year!¨ said the empenada bakery cook; ¨No, no, no...Pumalin, no. Tiene whiskey?¨ replied the wharf drunk.

So in a patented move that has proven to drive my family crazy over the years, I decided to go with my gut and do exactly the opposite of what everyone was telling me to do. I waved down the captain, ¨Take me to Puelch. I will ride to Hornopiren and from there I´m makin` my own damn boat to Pumalin!¨. Ruth and Horst, my Swiss/German friends decided to join me in blind faith. Don Thomas was already on the ferry with his new video camera rolling, ¨Dude, what are you waiting for? That Hornypenis place sounds cool!¨.

Upon our arrival to Hornopiren, Ruth and I cycled down to work the wharf scene for potential rides further south. After being sent to 5 different houses and businesses throughout the village, I stumbled into Raul, who was wrenching away on a beached fishing boat. It was Raul´s day off, he had access to another fishing boat and could motor us through Canau Fjord to the small port of Leptepu, on the fringe of Pumalin National Park! Heavy negotiations ensued and we cut a deal for the 5-hour passage and suddenly the impossible had become possible. There was, however, a hitch in the plan. Leptepu was on another peninsula which we could cross by bicycle to the port of Fiordo Largo. From Fiordo Largo, we would have to find another boat to get us across Fiordo Renihue to the main port of entry into Pumalin Park or risk being stuck in a very remote and roadless place.

The boat ride was fantastic, dolphins leapt across the stern and Sea Lions acrobatically flung themselves 6 feet out of the water. When sheets of rain and cold wind killed our field of view, the party moved into Raul´s cozy captain´s cabin where we shared a few rounds of beersks with the salty sea dog. We unloaded our bikes at Leptepu and cycled across the peninsula on a dirt road to Port Fiordo Largo. En route, I had a close encounter with a very large, shiny green John Deer tractor. I stopped the driver and asked curiously what he was doing out here. ¨I work for the big boss¨ he said. ¨Tompkins, the casa of Tompkins is just down this road¨. I had no idea that Tompkins actually lived in Pumalin. Through our somewhat unusual method of entry into the park, we had stumbled into his private playground. We rounded the corner and saw his airport, fleet of planes, tractors, organic gardens, and huge spread of incredible guest houses and gathering facilities. Back home, the average rich dude buys a yacht, mansion, or blows his cash on a fancy airplane. I can understand why the Chilean Government gets a bit uncomfortable when a guy sets up shop in their backyard with enough cash to buy swath of land the size of a small US state that lines the southern border region of their country with Argentina.

When we arrived to Port Fjordo Largo I was a bit surprised to discover that there were no boats there. In fact, there weren´t even docks, just a few salmon rearing pens 100 meters offshore. We waited around for a few hours and talked through our options when a small boat stamped with the logo of the local fish hatchery pulled up to the boat ramp to drop off some workers. I sprinted down the ramp to chat them up. ¨No, this assistance is impossible because it is illegal to give non-workers rides in our boats for insurance reasons. We are sorry, you will have to wait for one of Tompkins´ boats to show up. We think that one will arrive in two days¨. Some Chilean cash flashin´ changed their minds. A few minutes later we piled our bikes and bodies onto the tiny launcha and powered our way across Fiordo Renihue to Caleta Gonzalo, the northern entrance to Pumalin and home of the famed chocolate ice cream brownies which were quite sublime indeed!

While Ruth and Horst moved ahead, Don Thomas and I spent several days exploring the lush temperate rainforest, glacial tracts, hot springs, and camping in the Park´s 5 star facilities. It didn´t take long for me to be converted from a sceptic to a believer. Though initially the place had undertones of a wacky Jurassic Park project, it was first class all the way--the best managed and most spectacular natural environment of the trip.

After re-energizing our legs in Amarillo hot springs, Don Thomas and I ripped the road without rest for the next week. As we traveled further south, the services and villages became few and far between. The only other tourists we encountered were a handful Israeli hitchikers and high-end North American package tour fisherman racing along the road in plush expedition grade SUVS to be the first to the hot fishing hole. We slept without tents under the stars and made huge campfires while herds of horses looked on. My state of travel-bliss was broken by the loud snap, crackle and pop of Don Thomas´ rear wheel. The hub had exploded making his bike useless and he hitched a ride back to the major town of Coyhaique to look for replacement parts with a tour leader for Patagonia Clothing Company. The driver had just dropped several of their employees off for a week of volunteer work at a new national park site. Not surprisingly, Tompkins´ put up the bulk of the cash to buy the land in a joint venture with Patagonia´s founder, Yvonne Chouinard. Don Thomas picked a great time to break his bike because the following day, I racked up a new trip record for elevation gain and four letter word cursing in a single day (9,000 feet in 58 miles) as the terribly rough road wound it´s way up and down along the translucent blue Rio Baker,

Ruth, Horst, Don Thomas and I came together again at the end of the road in Villa O´Higgins. We waited a few days for the next ferry to arrive which would bring us across Lago O´Higgins to a little used Chilean border post. From there we would ¨hike a bike¨ along an old gaucho horse trail some 20 miles to the border of Argentina. A big night was had as the four of us turned our pension into a makeshift steak house and BBQ´d up several kilos of carne. While discussing the finer points of sleeping mats with some fisherman guests from Colorado, I went to fetch my oh-so-plush, sponsor-provided, duck feather air mattress for show and tell. When sleeping on poor beds, I usually inflate my mattress and plop it on top of the hostel bed. As I yanked the mat off my bed, I heard the thump of the scrappy house cat flip off the mat and onto my sleeping bag. I then heard the voices of several other, much smaller cats. Hmmmm. Was it the wine or were those kittens? Evidently, the house cat liked my mattress too because it decided to give birth on it. Don Thomas, now one bottle of wine deep, ridiculed me over the fact that it was the first sign of fornication he´d witnessed in my bed since joining me in Peru, nearly 10 months ago. I did my best to ignore him and cleaned the birthing slime off my prized mattress in the bathroom shower.

We arrived a the Argentine border two days later, completely exhausted from literally carrying our bikes over a mountain pass. At the border post, we were slated to take the last ferry of the stage across Lago Dessierto to a road that would eventually lead us to civilization again in Argentina. The officials told us that the last public ferry of the year left the day before. Again, as luck would have it, we managed to talk our way onto a private boat that was transporting the region´s top military official back home from a fishing trip.

Don Thomas, Ruth, Horst and I rolled into El Chalten and beelined to the coffee shop, then pizzeria, and then micro-brewery where we celebrated our sucessful and lucky travels along the Carretera Austral. I hammered a few extra beersks and pizza that night as my arrival into El Chalten marked the completion of the second to last stage of my journey and kicked off the final chapter of Ribbon of Road. For the first time in nearly two years, I could smell the finish line ahead!

Stage 3, Part 7 Stats
Miles: 822.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 57,764 ft.

Overall Expedition Stats
Miles: 16,878.3 miles
Flat Tires: Gregg 16

Sponsored by: Co-Motion Cycles, Outdoor Research, Ortlieb, Rudy Project, ThinkHost, eRoi, Schwalbe North America, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt

The Final Stage Of Ribbon Of Road
Monday, April 02, 2007

Gregg has just arrived in El Chaltan, Argentina, completing some 1,110 K of rough dirt roads through southern Chile and the second to last stage of his journey to the bottom of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina. To cross the border into Argentina, he hitched a ride on a boat with an Argentinian military captain and then pushed his bike for 28 kilometers on a rutted-out horse trail.

Tomorrow, he will set out on the LAST stage of Ribbon Of Road. He claims to still have a few tricks up his sleave for the final few hundred miles across Patagonia to Ushuaia...so stay tuned for a new trip report and conclusion of this, now, 22 month long expedition through the Americas on 2 wheels.

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