Tailwinds and trespassing: Puerto Natales to Ushuaia

I pity those folk who forgot to check the prevailing wind direction when they booked their tickets to the bottom of the world to start pedalling north. Our encounters with northbound cyclists go along the lines of ‘is it this bad further north?’ wincing at the mere thought of it, and, ‘But I just didn’t know‘ with faces of helpless resignation squinting into the icy barrage. But more so I envy them immensely, being at the beginning of so many epic adventures while we run out of land. Not for the first time I wonder if we should have done the same, if only to have the beautiful prospect of rolling on to the north until the far reaches of Alaska. For now, in consolation, I squeal gleefully at the roaring tailwind that propels us across the steppe.

We started this trip with the least committed attitude of almost any cyclists we’ve encountered. While others declare they’re embarking on multi-year, multi-continent journeys and no, they haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids and have barely spent time in the outdoors – as though these things were barely of relevance – we were the opposite. We loved mountain biking, the outdoors and travel, but still somehow thought maybe this wouldn’t be for us… let’s wait and see, let’s start in the middle where we know it’ll be good. I wasn’t interested in persevering just because I said I would.

I often tell people who eye me up suspiciously when I say this type of trip is fun/amazing/the best thing ever that I have never met an unhappy cycle tourer. It’s almost true. There was that one time in Bolivia we met a couple who seemed to be having a less than ideal time. Likely to do with the fact one of them wanted a European-cycle-path-with-lots-of-wine-and-nice-food sort of experience, but instead found themselves in a freezing high altitude desert with unrideable ‘roads’ and barely enough food, let alone anything tasty. Don’t drag an unwilling partner through a high altitude desert against their will is the moral, I suppose.

By the time we arrive in Ushuaia a part of me just wants to go back to Bolivia or Peru and keep pedalling in the other direction, but as of a few weeks prior we have flights to Europe. People often assume this lifestyle gets harder over time rather than easier. That after nearly two years of a fairly nomadic existence the desire to have more comfort and more stuff must get stronger. It’s an understandable perspective, but once you have descended into full dirtbag mode you might just find you have everything you need.

Our last weeks of riding take us back off the main drag, and even to the beach. We sneak through a mine, some estancias, and a military base, and jump countless gates and fences in the process. By jumping I obviously mean manoeuvring loaded bikes awkwardly and with difficulty. A perfect adventure to end on.

Tierra del Fuego is a wonderful surprise. The scenery is not overly dramatic, with the sort of simple landscapes that leave room for your thoughts and grow on you over time. The trees are turning red and gold and dripping with furry lichen and Guanacos roam around casually. Frosty nights spent camped in the golden grasses of some unsuspecting farmers land have a fitting symmetry with the beginning of our ride in the Peruvian Andes. On our way down a road that can only lead to trespassing a passing farmer reverses and pulls up in his Hilux. ‘Are you planning on cutting through the estancias?’ He asks. A quick assessment and a delayed, tentative but honest answer: ‘Yeaaahhh… is that ok?’ We ask. He proceeds to give us detailed instructions on the best way to trespass: ‘When you get to the big gate with the padlock, jump that, and you’ll get to a few more fences – just jump those too…’. If only everyone was so open to sharing land access.

We share some final nights and days of riding with new friends, pushing on past Ushuaia to the end of the road and Tierra del Fuego National Park. The snow is falling, the nights are crisp, the campsite is almost deserted in early April. We stay three nights and quietly potter about trails and lakes, wallowing in the strange feeling that there is no next section of the route to plan and prepare for.

Hello Ocean, it’s been a while. Hitting the coast and its sprinkling of fisherman’s shacks.

Winning accommodation for the night. These shelters are run by the local municipality and are free to use. The catch is there are four spread out over 45km and one is supposed to collect the key from the municipal office somewhere in the middle. Not ideal for anyone not in a car, and if you’re in a car, why would you be sleeping here? Luckily some persistence and extra pedalling brought us to an unlocked one.

Backroads to Punta Arenas

Arriving by ferry in Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego

Moody coastlines

The only shelter for many miles, this place has housed many a touring cyclist.

Pingüinos! A small colony of King Penguins, second only to Antarctica’s Emperor Penguins in size.

Cold nights drive us indoors for shelter where we can find it. This one was spent in the backroom of a church. Kind of like our own little apartment but without power or running water, despite appearances.

Estancia country

Another day of minimal mileage, but how could we pass up this spot?

The legendary Panaderia La Union – a bakery in Tolhuin that hosts touring cyclists in a back room. Has there ever been a more perfect combination?! Bit by bit this crew rolled in on a motley collection of recumbent bikes, a tandem, and a couple of mountain bikes. Debbie and Lothar, and Helene and Normand were on the long journey from Canada.

Quiet trails on Lago Fagnano

Our candle/headtorch lit dinner party the following night, on the balcony of an abandoned lakefront cabin. We used every plate and utensil available and had the most amazing feast.

A soggy day down to the coast and a soggy night of camping with Ella and Emily from Yukon, Canada

Amazing day of riding along the Beagle Channel with Ella and Emily which involved sneaking through a military base. Friends were unfortunately caught a few weeks earlier, so we were on high alert but fortunately didn’t see anyone. On leaving the restricted zone a bunch of military helicopters flew low overhead, leaving us sort of freezing still in a field, blatantly visible in our brightly coloured jackets.

Tierra del Fuego national park and hiking up Cerro Guanaco

One last day hike up behind Ushuaia

Route notes

Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas: 4 days

Porvenir to Ushuaia: 8 days

Cycled in late March 2018

We’re indebted to a few folks for these great routes. Thanks for sharing the love.

Thanks to Skyler for scouting out the fun beach route and trails to Punta Arenas. Check out his write up and directions

Thanks to Taneli and bikepacking.com for the Tierra del Fuego route, which you can check out on Bikepacking.com

Download our GPX file

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