Eating dirt in the land of fire

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Eating dirt in the land of fire
January 17, 1997

Taking a break on the road from Ushuaia to Rio Grande
I remember once hearing that each human consumes 4 pounds of dirt a year on average. That being the case, in the last week Nancy and I have fulfilled the dietary allowance for a family of 10.

On our map of Tierra del Fuego, a single line connects the towns of Ushuaia and Rio Grande. Total distance: 219 kilometers. That half of this line is colored red; the other half, which is green, meant little to us. We thought that two days, possibly three, would get us from one point to the other. We learned quickly to never consider a green line lightly.

We rolled out of Ushuaia at 6 p.m. January 13, figuring to get in some miles before dark. "Some" turned out to be wishful thinking. Immediately outside Ushuaia the road became a nightmare of loose dirt and gravel, ribbed washboard ruts, and liberally strewn rocks. What's more, it was all uphill. The final complement was an armada of semis, each barrelling down on us with unstoppable inertia and engulfing us in a sea of choking dust. Three hours was all we could stand of this torture before we called it off.

Ushuaia, Argentina
We left our roadside encampment early the next morning and thankfully beat the trucks — although they and four buses eventually caught up. The better part of the day was spent pedaling through the amazing vistas of Tierra del Fuego National Park, which was much like the North Cascades to our eyes. The day ended with a 5-mile climb to Paso Garibaldi, of course through the full array of loose dirt, gravel, and choking dust clouds.

Day three and we were learning just how slow you can go on a bike. We've long since switched our odometers from miles to kilometers in an attempt to buoy our spirits. The terrain was merciless, with cobblestone rocks and bone-jarring washboards, except we no longer had the mountains to assuage us. The day ended with Nancy proclaiming in frustration, "I'm sorry, Bill, but this is the last gravel road I'm riding on this trip." Oh, if only she knew.

Day four and we press on, each pedal stroke filled with anticipation for ... what's this? could it be? ... ASPHALT! We have finally arrived and we rejoice with hoots and hollers like we've come to the Promised Land.

Our hearts soar and we reach cruising speed beaming with new-found excitement. But there's a strange sound in the air. We recognize it just before it hits us — the wind!

But that's another story.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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