After a whopping sixty four hours of travel to reach the most southernly town in the world, my plane descends with my face stuck to the window. It’s impossible to open my eyes wide enough to take in the incredible uninterrupted snow capped peaks that make up the worlds longest mountain range; the Andes. Stretching 7,242 km, this mass of land seems stuck in an ice age more suited for giant dinosaurs than a Scottish girl and her bicycle. I gulp hard knowing I will pedal through this seemingly impossible territory. For the first time in 2 years of cycling the world a thought of acquiring a map enters my mind. Perhaps a compass too. But I’ve never used a compass before and it’s highly conceivable I could get this so wrong. But I want to get it so right. I don’t want to die.
There it is.
My first step on a new continent. South America. Far away from home and 7000 km of pedalling ahead of me into the unknown. Excitement is buzzing through every atom of my body and even though I’m on my own I can’t stop smiling.
I pick up my luggage trying hard not to laugh as customs arrive. Young dudes wearing jeans and baseball caps slouching to attention at their make shift table.
Into the arrivals lounge I unpack my wordly belongings and set about building my bicycle.
It’s a long slow process.
The pedals are making fun of me. Each time I think I have them on they fall off when I stand back. The people waiting in arrivals lounge have nothing else to do but watch me. I begin praying; to no God in particular; to help me get my pedals on. My face is shining brilliant red when they finally do stay put. I manage everything else with lots of fumbling and repeated attempts. Apart from the cantilever brakes. I can’t work out how to connect the brakes. So they remain unconnected. I load up the bicycle with my gear and as I do the crowd of watching people laugh. I do have a lot of stuff. After two years on the road I’m now equiped for hiking and my 65 litre back pack is strapped in place. My set up resembles tank rather than bicycle.
I wheel my tank out the airports exit and hop on to pedal my first wheel lengths of South America. How exciting!
The wind hits me not with a slap but rather a punch to the face. Then the cold. The cold drop kicks me all over repeatedly. I realise I have mistakenly read the weather forecast as 30 degrees celsius not the 30 degress fahrenheit that it actually is. Instantly I crouch as small as I can on my bicycle, head down, muscles tense, pedalling with all my might, taking my beating and trying hard not to be pushed into the middle of the road. After 10 metres of cycling South America I turn around and pedal straight back into the airports arrivals lounge. I pull all my clothes out a pannier bag and put them on. Okay. Ready. I exit the airport once more, pedalling into the strongest wind I have ever known.
I cycle 3 km to Ushuaia and I’m done. In shock I pedal to a hostel needing time to get my head together. I look a mess as I pull my bicycle through the hostel doors and feel a fake as I’m offered my first night free. I have only cycled 3 km, not the usual 14,914 km as the rest of the cycle tourers have done upon arriving to Ushuaia.
What have I begun? There is no way I can cycle in such wind. What am I doing? Have I thought this though? I don’t want to cycle here. This is not the South America experience I imagined!
And now I know why they call this place The End of the World.
World BIke Girl x
Ishbel, creator of World Bike Girl, has spent her life on bicycles, from road racing, to velodrome sprinting to cycling the world. She has pedalled across 20 countries solo and promotes commuting by bicycle. Much to the dismay of her friends, she is an avid wearer of socks and sandals.