Waiting in Ushuaia
We’ve been stuck in Ushuaia 5 days, already 2 days down on the original schedule. A bit annoying because the containers holding the bikes had been loaded onto the boat in January and the shipping schedule across the South Atlantic allowed for 65 days when we only needed 42. If I were ever 30% out on any of my business estimates I’d be out of a job, but my agents in Buenos Aires and Southampton tell me how often sailing times are widely off the mark.
Jim Wolfe, my driver and mechanic has been down to the port with guide Erik Thomsen and the customs procedure looks quick and straightforward. Slow shipping; quick exit from the port will give us a net time loss of 4 days. Inconvenient, not a disaster. In fact, by re-aligning the start of the project by this amount of time means the new start creates a new schedule, a time frame that we can be in control of and certainly maintain. The first Pan American Expedition started 5 days late but thereafter we kept to the schedule precisely. In 2002 I led 22 riders around the world. 33 000 miles across 17 countries and 4 continents scheduled for 96 days, and with every rider completing the journey, we finished on day 96.
It’s a bit like I am definitely going to take a course on time management but only as soon as I can work it into my schedule…yea right! Last year I rode from Prudhoe Bay and was bang on schedule to break the 21-day record down to Ushuaia but abandoned the ride in Chile, three days from the end. I failed the journey, bottom-line, because of poor preparation. My lack of heated clothing whilst riding in the south gave my exhausted body no time to recover. Paperwork and a camera were stolen and my incentive to complete was taken away.
In my own record-breaking life I do not feel different but am strangely urbane. Instead of being part of some different life I have to engage with the business world as anyone might and likewise adhere to rules and behaviour of an understandable system. In the lounge of my hotel, here in Ushuaia, I look down on corrugated roofs and breezeblock walls, but in the distance across the Beagle Channel there you see the beginnings of the cordillera. The start of the length of the Americas is in our sights. Jagged peaks slice into an intensely blue sky and you imagine on the tops how Dante thought how earthly paradise lies atop such ‘Mounts of Purgatory’. Compared to up there you can feel trapped in our lower down world, with its living room-style sensibility and the comforting places where we can hide. Today is a calm day, a day that stretches summer into autumn but further north, the Andes will become more terrible with their disappearing horizons and clinging dark mists. As we all sit drinking our coffee before the journey starts, you imagine that from the air, high up and wave-like corrugations of the mountains would look like a ‘rough sea turned to stone’.
Across such a sea our motorcycles would be like small ships transforming our adventure into a voyage.
Monday 28th March 2011
The Journey Starts - Ushuaia to San Sebastian
Customs released us uncharacteristically quickly – the mediation between the riders and the chief of staff being through a small white haired old man, but also through our shipping agent from Buenos Aires, Carlos from Blue Star Cargo and his mate Hector and Alberto. It was all very Tolkienian, here, at the very end of the world. The peak of Mordur continued to strike a hold over the town and the main street. The jewellery stores and camera shops, the casino and countless small restaurants were all subject to the same law that required them to sell to tourists or die. Small cruise ships came and went, disgorging mostly old women cashing in their insurance policies. Tough sailors from container ships bound for Panama idled there free time before continuing on through the Canal Desperado and the western seaboard of Chile. From their portholes they would see the wine harvests of the south, Valparaiso, Santiago and the arid sands of the Atacama. They would smell distantly the vapours of the land but mostly they would know only the sea.
We rode out of the port and turned east out of the town and then northwest to wards the Magellan Strait. Before that the Paso de Garibaldi, a small cleft through the mountains that took us over to the plains. A cool sun shone bravely through a blustery sky and as our engines made our journey easy we rode on towards the sea. Either side of us, small areas of flatland and marsh fell away from a forest to a faraway staccato of jagged peaks. Dead trees are prefaced by wind blasted bark made silver by erosion. If there is a dramatic conclusion to the life of a tree, it is to be reminded where we are so far south. There are Triumphs and KTM’s and BMW’s, an Africa Twin, Yamaha XT’s and Tenere’s and my own big new Super Tenere all zooming past near-distance damp and decay. You could set off in a straight line and slip on death around these parts, rotting stumps sticking out of the ground like the broken teeth of an old man.
By Rio Grande, with its noisy cars loaded with holed exhausts, we rode onto the border with Chile at San Sebastian. 7 kms further on, deep into the night on piste and in the cold, we camped by the Cafe Frontera, one of the greatest small cafes and at the bottom of the world.