Alastair Humphreys took four years to cycle around the world, he wanted to take things in, see everything and meet people along the way. This extract from his book Thunder and Sunshine sees him on the journey through Patagonia
Patagonia spans both Argentina and Chile. Mountains plateau and plains taper down to the rocky southern tip. South across the Straits of Magellan is the island of Tierra del Fuego, and at the far tip of that island, Ushuaia, the most southern town on the planet. The names, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, had thrilled and lured me for years. As I stepped off the bus in Ushuaia, I discovered that my yearning for el fin del mundo was not particularly original. A six-foot tall fluffy penguin demanded two pesos to pose for a picture with me to celebrate my arrival among the tourists at the remote end of the world. Ushuaia is a colourful hotchpotch of pink, blue, green and orange corrugated metal buildings in the lee of dark mountains on the tranquil shore of the Beagle Channel.
Tourism flourishes in Ushuaia, but probably not for the guided city tour, highlights of which included the old house of Mr Pastoriza’s, who worked in a sardine canning company. The project failed because the sardines never appeared. Or Mr Solomon’s General Goods store which became famous for the variety of its products, and which closed in 1970. No. People went to enjoy the beautiful ruggedness of Patagonia, to look out to sea, knowing that only Antarctica lay beyond the horizon. I looked in the opposite direction. I looked north, up the road I meant to follow to its very end, in Alaska.
The morning I began riding, I found it even harder than usual to get up. How do you persuade yourself to leave a nice warm sleeping bag and begin cycling, with 17,848 kilometres between you and your destination. All the riding I had done counted for nothing now. I was back at the beginning, a brand new start at the bottom of a continental landmass, whose top was one third of the circumference of the globe away.
I pedalled south out of town, and down to the seashore where the road to Alaska truly began. I looked across the slate-coloured Lapataia Bay. Patches of white snow were on the upper scree slopes of the sharp grey mountains behind me. To welcome me back onto the road, a headwind was brewing. A clean green stream wound through the boggy fields and blended into the clean, pebbly shallows of the bay. My ears were cold and a light mist pearled tiny droplets over my fleece jacket and eyelashes. I stood still and felt small in the silence, and in awe of the phenomenal distance ahead of me. Far away, a chainsaw started up and amplified how quiet the little cove was. The old self-doubt rose through me, but I was determined not to cry. This runaway expedition had dragged me along and stampeded me. I was just managing to cling on. I was going to enjoy this ride up the Americas. I was determined. Come on, Al, let’s go have some fun.
Thunder and Sunshine by Alastair Humphreys is available from www.alastairhumphreys.com