After 478 days and 24139 km we have arrived at our final destination of Ushuaia!
It was only one day from our last stop at the bakery in Tolhuin. And as before, we rode as part of a group of six cyclists. The road was very pretty and the riding easy.
Since our arrival we’ve had a bit of time to reflect, and also to ride out to the real “end of the road” in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
The end of the furthest road South in the world at Bahia Lapataia.
And now the big question, how do we feel? Surprisingly we each feel quite differently. So here are both of our accounts.
It starts just like any other day with a few exceptions. For one we are now travelling in a pack of six and, it is one of our companion’s birthday. Also, we are fortunate to be staying in a bakery.
The riding starts and I feel a little sluggish, full of cake and empanadas, but after 24000km of riding through all sorts conditions today is relatively easy. So we ride more or less together. Like any other day there are honks of encouragement, and also those of frustration as impatient drivers must wait to pass our “six pack peloton”.
Regardless, spirits are high on account of the relatively good weather and the landscape that has changed back from “pampa pampa pampa” to something more lush, with lakes and rivers and mountains. Could this really be the beginning of the end?
I feel like I finally have my groove. Like I could ride forever and not be phased. I can hold my own in a group. Keep up with the boys on the hills and even lead the peloton when it’s my turn. Being on the bike is natural, I feel like a fish in water. I can’t imagine a day passing without pedaling. But my mind is turned away from the sadness of this thought as someone tells a funny story, and things are back to normal.
Today there are two passes to ascend. A year ago these would have been a serious consideration and required a great deal of thought and planning to complete, but now they are just part of the routine. As we start to climb a natural separation occurs as each person finds his/her own rhythm and my thoughts turn inwards again.
I re-live nearly the entire trip on that climb, like it’s my life flashing before my eyes, and I realize I don’t remember anything bad. I know there were bad moments. Moments when I thought I would have given anything to be back in the comforts of home, doing anything but pedaling up another hill, but now those feelings seem so distant. It makes me realize human beings have an incredible capacity for suffering and an immense ability to deal with it and move on. Sure, sometimes life is going to suck, but don’t dwell on it because in the end it’s wasted time. Time that could otherwise be spent enjoying the good parts; the parts worth remembering.
Like free-wheeling down the other side of a pass. Wind in the face; the feeling of flying. That is how I feel as I start the descent. I am overcome by incredible happiness and sadness at the same time. It is too bittersweet. A sense of accomplishment combined with a sense of loss. I am wearing a huge smile, as tears also stream down my face. I am marvelled by my own capacity for emotion. Suddenly I am brought abruptly out of my “moment” as Fritz, pedalling like a madman, catches up and starts screaming/singing “Jenn give me more, give me only ten(km) more”! We are so close.
I am motivated by the group energy and amazed at how six people from different countries and circumstances can come together and in such a short time form a very tight knit sort of family. Despite varying abilities we all wait a couple hundred meters from the entrance to Ushuaia and cross the line together; like a team sharing a victory. A moment that will join us forever.
Two days later Dave and I ride out another 25km to the literal end of the road in Tierra del Fuego National Park. It is pretty and enjoyable, but not too much of an emotional experience for me. I don’t have the same sense of loss anymore. I feel like I have gained. Gained more than a husband, but a partner in life and now that we have shared the most extraordinary experiences of our lives together I feel like we are ready for anything.
Today we will pack up the bikes to get them ready for the plane ride home. I wish I could be packed up in the same sense. Protected from the shock of re-entering a “normal” life; re-learning what “normal” is. I am worried about re-integrating in to the pace of 21st century living. I know that as much as I want to take with me my current ideals of living in the moment and always having time for what really matters, the distractions of our technological world, where despite all the modern conveniences we are busier and more stressed than ever, will make it difficult to keep things in perspective. However, I also know that, as with anything worth doing, the first step is always the hardest. Just like starting this adventure, except now the hard part is ending it.
So this is it, the last day. At times I ride together with others, at times I ride separate to give myself time to reflect. It’s amazing to be arriving at our destination. But there isn’t a great relief. We haven’t just scraped by. We’ve known that there wasn’t anything that could stop us. And we’ve had this date scheduled since we booked our flight home months ago.
Countless emotions should be running through my head. But I don’t feel anything. I’m still waiting for my “moment”. The signs count down; Ushuaia: 104km, 72, 50, 20 … but still I feel nothing special; it just feels like another day. The scenery is beautiful, the drivers are aggressive, I’m hungry, a hill to climb, a little rain, it’s nice to be riding with friends, hungry again. Compared to many powerful emotional experiences during the trip, this feels pretty tame. But that’s this trip; it’s in the journey and not the destination. The only emotion that I do feel is sadness. I can’t believe that this adventure is coming to an end.
Several days later we ride out to Bahia Lapataia. Here is the famous sign which says 17800km to Alaska. We’ve ridden over 24000km. Wow. What a life changing experience … in fact there have been hundreds of life changing experiences! And the best part is that we’ve shared them together.
Surprisingly my “moment” comes later, at the strangest of times. Standing at the urinal in the bathroom I see an advertisement which says “End of the World, Beginning of Everything”. And that sums up how I feel exactly. This dream is over. And it’s time to find a new one. Truly we can accomplish anything that we set our mind to. And now we have the freedom to choose whatever we want. The world is our oyster. I wash my hands, eyes full of tears, and head out for a walk.
24km from Ushuaia we stopped to talk with some cyclists headed in the other direction. They’ve taken 4.5 hours to ride that far; the same time that our 100km ride from Tolhuin will take. They are headed to Alaska, but our unanimous opinion was that they’d be lucky if they reached Tolhuin. Could this really have been us 16 months ago? Surely not.
We stared longingly at their shiny bikes and bags. Ours are dirty, scratched, and covered with duct tape and zap straps and we have strange sounds, broken racks, and a cracked hub. We have received a few bumps and bruises as well, but we have grown so much and learned so much: new cultures, a new language, and new ways of living.
Thank you for sharing it with us.