About 3 months into my cycle trip in 2017, while listening to a Modest Mouse song in Peru, my stupid brain remembered my camera actually had the capacity to film things and I was inspired to create a video montage of my travels. My filming was sporadic and wild – sometimes I filmed a lot over a couple of days then barely filmed a thing for weeks on end – but eventually I gathered together enough footage to make a video. Then, after 18 months of procrastination, that same Modest Mouse song came on shuffle and I was once again inspired to drag myself to my computer to edit the thing. While making this video brought me immense joy, a part of me laments the countless moments, places and people that I failed to capture. Either way, I hope it gives you a window into what was, without a doubt, the best year of my life, and inspires someone somewhere to load up their bike and do what I did. They won’t regret it.
Well this has been a long time coming. Back in Bogota on around the 2nd of February 2017 I dyed my hair peroxide blonde in a kind of third-life crisis/stunted act of rebellion and started taking a selfie every day to chart both my bicycle trip through South America and the growth of the blinding white mop.
Back home at my parents’ house in sunny Kingston Upon Thames I hear a shrill cry in the distance. What could it be? The collective shout of a thousand frustrated blog readers shouting “BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT LANKY CYCLE MAN?” as they frantically smash F5 on their sweat dripped keyboards?
No. It’s foxes having sex.
But the question stands. What did happen next? So to distract myself from the conjugal grunts of these vulpine hellbeasts I’ll regale you with the details of my final weeks in South America.
11 months in and I finally made the ferry crossing from Buenos Aires to my last stop on two wheels: Uruguay. But alas it didn’t feel like a triumphant final voyage I’d hoped but rather a pleasant footnote to my journey through South America. The Italians have an phrase cavioli riscaldati (reheated cabbage) for when you try to reignite a romance with a former flame. Suffice to say the cabbage never tastes quite as good after a minute in the microwave. When I put foot to pedal in Colonia – the appropriately named colonial port town across from Buenos Aires – I felt contented and happy, but after the emotional arrival to Ushuaia and the sense of urgency of my hitchhiking trip, I found it impossible to get excited about cycling again. It was one ending too many; the cycling equivalent of that hobbit orgy at the end of Return of the King. Hard to believe but it turns out that after 10 1/2 months cycling the length of a continent, the prospect of a leisurely cycling holiday through swelteringly hot flatlands isn’t so inticing. That’s not to say that I had a bad time in Uruguay. Far from it. But all the best times were off the bike.
So, you’ve reached the end of the world! What next? How about a relaxed week visiting national parks, museums and penguin colonies?
But everything is absurdly expensive…
Well why not catch a cheap pre-booked flight up to Buenos Aires and enjoy Christmas in the sun?
How about hitchhiking with a fully loaded touring bike over 3000km and risk spending Christmas drinking box wine alone in a barn?
We have a winner!
Months ago, long before the reality of the situation had set in, I decided upon hitchhiking my way north from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. It would be fun, I thought. I’d meet some characters, see a whole other side of Argentina and save myself a lot of money in the process. I’d heard tales of other cyclists doing this so knew it was possible. All I needed was a bit of luck and plenty of patience.
However, as I sat in the snug confines of Refugio de los Mochileros in Ushuaia surrounded by cyclists preparing to fly home for Christmas my plan didn’t seem so alluring. Staring at the map the distance seemed greater than ever. What had my stupid past self got my present self into? As I wheeled my way to the entrance of Ushuaia, a mere 2 days after arriving, I can’t say I was brimming with wanderlust and enthusiasm. I just wanted to go home. Weighed down by the steel grey skies I stuck out my thumb and hoped for the best.
Punta Arenas marks the end of continental South America. Beyond it lies the island of Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire – so named for the rising smoke that the settlers spotted upon arrival. By this point all of Patagonia’s greatest hits are behind you. Beyond lies only pampa, bone shaking wind and sadness. Excusing penguin enthusiasts and masochists, to brave this island and continue to Ushuaia is an act of ego (“I cycled to the end of the world”), lack of independent thought (“everyone else goes to Ushuaia…”) or something done simply because it’s there, like eating that final slice of pizza against your better judgement when you’re already stuffed. As an egotistical, penguin loving conformist who always drinks one too many, how could I say no?
Everything is falling apart. My dry bag is ripped, my spork melted then snapped, my Kindle broke, both my phone and laptop screens are cracked while the ‘a’ key doesn’t work on the latter, my jeans and one pair of underwear have holes in the crotch – if inadvertently worn in tandem old ladies scream in terror when I cross my legs – my one good shirt is torn, one of my tent poles snapped and is held together with duct tape, my tent pegs are bent or lost, my air mattress is riddled with holes, my cooking gear is covered in a permanent patina of filth, I look like a homeless disco pirate and every morning I’m smacked with the stench of dried sweat and wet socks.