In the cold, biting night air at the southernmost tip of South America, I ran through the damp dark in flip flops and a t-shirt, shivering, afraid, and worst of all, pantsless. “So this is why people insist on wearing proper pajamas”, I thought as I lamented my choice of bedtime attire, or lack thereof. I edged nearer the bushes, hearing the sounds of something tearing…
Earlier in the day, a cunning fox came waddling into our camp, sniffing and looking around with a nonchalant air. I had seen other foxes all along the route down to Tierra del Fuego, but this particular fox was by far the biggest and fattest I had ever seen. All the other foxes had a feline look and grace, whereas Fat Fox, four times bigger than his kinsmen, swaggered and sauntered about, knowing his own superiority. There was no doubt about it: Fat Fox was the king of these woods.
In the middle of our first night camping in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, I woke up to a tearing, ripping sound from somewhere behind the tent. Groggy, I turned my headlamp on to check on my bags, which were a mere 6 inches away, separated by only the thin mesh of my tent. My drybag containing gear and food was missing. I untangled myself from my sleeping bag and liner, waded through helmets, boots and bags to stumble out of the tent, and search for the bag in the dying light of my headlamp. The tearing sound grew louder as I raced, bare legged, to the tangle of thorny bushes behind the tent. In the darkness I couldn’t see anything, but knew Fat Fox was making quick work of my precious motorcycle luggage. At the edge of the sticker-bushes, shivering in flip flops and a tshirt, I shouted incoherently for Tom to come save my bag. “He has my bag!! Fat Fox is EATING MY BAG!” Tom, in striped black and grey long johns (the ones he insists he must always wear in case of a burglary, bear attack, or in this case, feast of a Fat Fox), came running to the bushes, weapons in hand. Crashing through the shrubs (as I stood, scared, shivering, on the edge), he shouted at the fearless fox, who was not giving up his loot. Tom, wielding sneakers in hand, hurled one and then the other at Fat Fox, sending him retreating a couple meters into the bushes. Climbing through the thorns I found myself in a garbage pit of ripped up camping food packages, containers, scraps of plastic- everything Fat Fox had stolen from previous campers. I felt like the woman in the movie “The Descent”, who finds herself in a cavern amidst the bones of previous hikers, with the stealthy monsters lurking nearby. My bag was torn and punctured all over with tiny little tooth marks. My scarf, which had been hanging innocently on a line amidst two trees, was torn to the ground, dragged around, pawed on, and lay crumpled in the dirt. Tom’s Man Bag, containing toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, had been pulled from its nail high up on the tree and discarded in the grass.
The rest of the night was spent in a fitful sleep as we listened to Fat Fox jump on our tarp like a trampoline, drag a plastic bag with oil and chain lube into the night (which I retrieved), clatter amongst the pots and pants, and wreak general havoc.
On a walk the next day, we found Fat Fox promenading down the lane, regal bushy tail following like an entourage. Throwing rocks at him to try and instill a fear of people (for his own good, and ours), he joyfully bounded up to each bouncing rock, excited at the prospect of new gifts. It was hard to remain mad at him after that…
In February, Tom decided to re-learn how to ride a motorcycle and spent a couple of weeks riding in New South Wales, Australia. After an (in)sufficient time practicing, he packed his bags and hopped on a plane for Punta Arenas, Chile, where a shiny new 125cc Honda Storm awaited. He’ll accompany me to Peru, and then some other friends will join for the next section. I said goodbye to my friends in The Gang of ’84, whom I had planned on being with only from Santiago to southern Chilean Patagonia. While I made for Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world and renowned for its beauty, they took a four day boat back north to Puerto Montt.
Heading for Ushuaia in the cold wind and low clouds was a dream. Like my feelings towards Iceland or Mongolia, it felt like a far off and remote place buried in a corner of the world, although in reality it’s just as accessible as anywhere else these days. Still, the beauty of the area, the nature and the harsh landscape, the thought of those first explorers and settlers to the region, sent a literal and figurative chill as I made my way through the mountains and scraggly forests, the coldest riding I’ve experienced so far.*
Although the town of Ushuaia was nothing special in itself, leaving the desert-like tundra and suddenly entering a lush mountainous region through high winding roads was spectacular. Snowcapped peaks dotted the skyline as the Beagle Channel and penguin colonies lay far below. Beaver dams marred the landscape, red oxidized soil amongst wild ponds and tangled bushes made me wonder if that’s how this land, Tierra del Fuego, got its name.
It was a turning point in the trip. Turning north signified heading for home, even if home was still 20,000 miles away…
*Bundled up in a tank top, merino wool long sleeve shirt, Tom’s thick fleece sweatshirt, down coat, motorcycle jacket, rain jacket, scarf, balaclava face mask and scarf, merino gloves, winter motorcycle gloves, yoga pants, armored motorcycle pants, rain pants, two pairs woolen socks, sturdy leather backpacking boots = still absolutely freezing.