The Birth of The Civil Union
It started when I asked a good friend to join me on a bike ride across South America. A month, year. Time limit, relatively unknown. Clayton Hanlon, had never been on a bike ride longer than a day before. The rough idea was to start in Ushuaia, Patagonia in September, zig-zagging a way north linking gravel roads, horse tracks and hiking trails, as long as the money or fun lasted.
We’d been good friend for many years. In our day, we would string road trips from thin air, existing on rations of lentils and peanut butter sandwiches. With that guy, things were always unpredictable, stupidly hilarious, and full of stories. The memorable ones that defined an era of our youth.
I called him up and jokingly invited him for the ride. Dumbfounded by his reply. “Yeah for sure, it’d be the trip of a lifetime! When are we leaving? How much money do I need?” Despite the intimidating start up costs of a bike, gear, and flights he pulled something together on five months of savings.
Remarkably, never riding over 50km before, he had agreed and was somewhat excited, to haul gear for four seasons, eight days food, and 4L water through Patagonia’s deepest south.
Our painted visions were iconic peaks, sunsets and glaciers. The reality far from the fairytale. Wind swept pampas of a notoriously brutal south. Winds, that blew over busses during our stay. An experience no image or story could accurately convey.
Flights booked, the civil union was born. We cancelled any sort of monetary contract we had connecting us to our old lives minutes before the flight. On the cold shores of Chile, our morale destroyed quickly being chased by scary dogs. What had we gotten ourselves into? Juggling the confusion of a new language and confusing “suffermarkets”. That first day felt like a lifetime.
We would follow the Fin Del Mundo bikepacking route (twice). Weaving gravel roads under snow capped mountains, exposed pampas, forests of ancient antarctic fagus, snowy passes, beaches and even following cattle tracks, inching our way towards Ushuaia, the end/start of the road, Fin Del Mundo National Park. We were tail ending winter. Being so far south, it meant that most days our water would freeze. We would see rain, side winds, headwinds and lots of snow, even at sea level.
Given the forecasts and infamous Patagonian weather, it’d be character building. A litmus test of comparability, but the trade off for solitude and refugio laden gravel roads pulled love strings of allure.
Finding solitude on the long dusty roads of Tierra Del Fuego, the ship of anxiousness had sailed (into day three). Clayton was in a food coma, so I decided to push on. Hours later, everything went white and our gravel road 200m altitude lead us straight into the grey depths of a snowstorm. Visibility a generous 10 metres. Deep snow, quickly covering my tracks, reduced to walking my bike.
A refugio appeared behind a locked gate. Desperately wrestling the fence it gave way after twenty minutes. Genuinely a bit worried of our crisis management plan in such a situation, my instincts said to leave something bright on the fence. I ran outside with a rain jacket. As if qued perfectly, from behind a wall of snow a 4wd erupted. Headlights beaming, Claytons bike in the back. Crisis averted.
Clayton made a habit of sporadically turning up in utes. Some of the most memorable events of our time down south. I genuinely felt jealous of this guys ability to summon such rich, genuine cultural experience, all with hardly 10 words of español.
It seems that an open mind and riding against the wind seem to run parallel to good times and culturally rich experience, seemingly more so, than knowing the language. People are good, genuinely wanting to help us experience the best of their country. The universal language of the smile, ever present.
Lifts in utes made for great stories, but were hardly the arduous events of the trip so far. Riding the bikes, the easiest part. However, for every brutal day, the perfect refugio, every bike mishap, mesmerising double track, every headwind, an Andean Condor soared high above. Harder times will come, but Clayton reassures me It’s all relative to perspective. The landscape, seemingly more overwhelming on the senses, than taxing on our bodies. Every experience valuable, no complaints, just the desires to carry more food, to cherish such wonderful places longer.
The Civil Union seems to reveal the best of each other, even during challenging times. Always there for eachother, somewhat complimenting each others highs and lows with the best and worst of our own personalities. Always relative to perspective, understanding.
I confessed to Clayton, that this trip is like an endless school holiday sleepover. No parents or rules, heaps of food, and ultimate freedom. He couldn’t agree more. For that, is exactly what our journey is. The endless sleepover, except now we are adults, forging memories, spinning stories and living whilst we are alive.
Forever Riding the Rainbow