Coasting the Atlantic

Lago Escondido from Paso Garibaldi

The wind had somewhat lessened at the San Sebastian border post by morning, and had shifted to the northwest, promising another day of sweet sailing. This would be along a well-traveled highway instead of a quiet dirt road, but I was in the mood to make miles. I soon left Robert with his low top gear, and enjoyed spinning along with the wind, flying through barren plains and rarely in sight of the ocean. I was glad not to have continued the day before, as there was almost nothing high enough to shelter a tent near the road before Rio Grande, and it had rained in the night.

Coastal road

I skipped the town of Rio Grande entirely, stopping at the YPF on its other side for some quality internet time. The road briefly turned west into the wind, and the weather looked unsettled, so I wanted to take some time to psych myself up. The café patrons were a generally depressing lot, mostly motorcycle tourists, including a bunch of middle-aged Asian men on an organized tour with their wives following them in a van. Moto- and bike-tourists seem on average very different, with the former tending toward comfortable, paunchy, clubby, middle-aged machismo, the latter toward introverted youth or early retirement. I nave respected and enjoyed talking to some of the longer-distance moto-tourists, especially the ones from South America, but these were the opposite.

Rolling valleys and trees

I timed my exit exactly wrong, getting punished by a rain squall for the first twenty minutes, but the weather then settled into more typical overcast with mostly favorable driving wind. I flew past an estancia where iOverlander claimed cyclists could stay, enjoying my solitude and looking forward to a quiet evening in my tent. Just past this stop I met a Frenchman going the other way, pushing his skinny-tire bike up a slight hill directly into the wind. I offered him some cheer and encouragement, then rode on as the road left the coast and entered rolling terrain with intermittent forest, promising easy wind protection for camping. I paused at a shelter that would have been a good stop, but unfortunately it was locked, and the nearby picnic area looked both rundown and insufficiently sheltered, so I continued a few miles to a spot just past a police post where a faint track led to some flat, sheltered grass behind trees. It was close to the road and not entirely clean, but still fine by me. I enjoyed my usual nutrient paste of tuna and noodles, then spent a relaxing evening reading.

Panaderia la Union

The next morning I found an improved spring only a couple miles past camp, and filled my bottles. This part of Patagonia seems to be made of limestone, so as it became more mountainous I noticed numerous seeps in the hillsides, promising beaver-free water. It was cool enough that I could have ridden to Tolhuin to refill, but I enjoy using these little roadside shrines. Tolhuin is the last town before Ushuaia, and “famous” among bike tourists for Panaderia la Union, a bakery that offers free shelter. The Panaderia itself is huge and incongruously modern, with a large seating area, a huge selection of breads and pastries, sandwiches to-go, and windows through which you can watch the bakers at work. It would not look out of place in a slightly upscale American city, and while the prices were high by Argentine standards, I thought they were quite reasonable. I bought a ham sandwich and four empanadas, and ate three of them with a thermos of instant coffee while I hung out and caught up with the outside world.

Paso Garibaldi

Had I spent less time at La Union, I probably could have made Ushuaia that evening, but I lingered until the wind kicked up, so I would need another half-day. The road also heads mostly west beyond Tolhuin, putting my against the prevailing winds. After two days of riding with the wind, grinding directly against it along the enormous Lago Fagnano was a rude shock, but fortunately southern Tierra del Fuego has more trees and hills than the pampas farther north, offering small- and large-scale windbreaks. Once the road turned south and began climbing toward Paso Garibaldi, the wind became almost benign. Garibaldi is a low pass, but still impressive, crossing a narrow saddle between moderately steep peaks. I paused at a natural seep to top up my water, then cruised comfortably up the climb, stopping at a sheer road cut to take in the view.

Old Paso Garibaldi

I had two potential peaks to break up the ride to Ushuaia, Cerro Cornu and Monte Olivia. I knew from Peakbagger that other people had climbed Olivia, and from SummitPost that Cornu is the highest peak in Argentine Tierra del Fuego (the Chilean part is much more mountainous). Climbing Cornu would be a bigger unknown, with a guaranteed river ford and bushwhack, but it was the closer of the two, and located off what I thought would be a quiet side-road down the Rio Lasifahaj. (Apparently the cartographer got bored naming things, and just used one of his home-row typing exercises; the correct name should probably be “Laskfahaj.”)

Riding toward Cornu

I got somewhat chilled going down the south side of Paso Garibaldi, and was at first grateful to turn with the wind onto the flatter dirt road. Unfortunately some rain caught up with me, and in addition to getting a fresh coating of mud, I began worrying about the frigid, drenched camping situation. Both Peakbagger and Organic Maps showed scraps of trail or road on the north side of the Rio Lasifahaj, but it was unclear how best to reach them. The connecting trail/road a few miles west of the peak was gated and long abandoned, and completely unrideable, so I decided instead to continue on the main road until I was closer to due south of the summit. I eventually found a likely crossing spot at a gravel pit, and a perfect campsite on an abandoned road spur just to its west. The clouds had cleared somewhat by then, and I could see Cornu’s south and west sides through breaks in the trees. The south ridge, which looked fine on the topo, looked much less so in reality, as the horn for which the peak is named is separated from the summit by a sheer-looking notch. The west slope looked like it might be reasonable, but would involve more bushwhacking. But how to actually get up the thing was a problem for another day. I quickly set up my tent before more rain arrived, then enjoyed another pleasant night of solitude and salty tuna noodles.

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