Storming Natales

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Storming Natales
January 28, 1997

No matter which way the road turns, the wind is always there
They were waiting for us just outside Ushuaia, and ever since, the headwinds have been our constant companion. Through Rio Grande and the Land of Fire, from Punta Arenas and beyond — no matter which way the road turns, the wind is there, ever in our faces.

We talk constantly of our erstwhile companion, secretly discussing ways we can lose him and his annoying whistle. But it is no use. We have arisen early today hoping to beat the wind out of bed, but he is there at the edge of the highway and greets us with a gust that pushes our bikes out from under us.

We press on for 15 kilometers of agony at a walking pace. Finally it is too much. We concur with Maarten, Etienne, and Steve — our new travel companions — that we will wait for nightfall and sneak out through the cover of darkness. The wind will never see us leaving.

We pull over amid a grove of low pines and spend the day lounging and brewing tea like we are on the Mediterranean Coast. Above us the wind howls in anger, searching. Finally it is time, and as dusk settles we quietly push the bikes up the embankment to the road's edge. The wind is nowhere to be found and we pedal off in the silence with watchful eyes.

Two hours later we have gone 45 kilometers, more than tripling our best speeds of the day. The darkness is consuming and the road is a barely visible strip reaching into nothingness. The full moon hides behind clouds, denying us the promise of light, but we press on, fully aware of how remarkable it is to have no wind. Every half hour or so a truck passes, amazed to see us, our motley band of five at the edge of the road in the middle of nowhere.

We stop at 2 a.m. for a nourishing stew of lamb and more tea and are off again before the wind can catch us. At 4 a.m., the rain has soaked us through and the glistening one-lane road has become a virtual-reality machine — the unchanging panorama of blackness and the unerring straightness of our path have numbed our minds. I am sure we are pedaling in place as the movie rolls before my eyes. Clearly it is time to stop.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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