I’ve ridden an adventure motorcycle for tens of thousands of miles, with over a third of that off pavement, and a good portion of that on terrain above my skill level and not necessarily suited for a heavy adv bike loaded with gear. I enjoy challenges and choose to put myself in those situations. Somehow on a guided trip, on a middle-weight adv moto, and on a long, completely paved day of riding, I experienced one of the single toughest days I’ve had on two wheels.
The day started early in Ushuaia, Argentina, — the town at the end of the road — with chilly temps, fog, and torrential downpours. That transitioned into a big, steep mountain pass (Garibaldi Pass) that had snow on the shoulders and sleet falling from the sky. A few hours into the ride, on the other side of the mountain, we found refuge in a COPEC gas station coffee shop to warm up and shake out the tense muscles.
Back on the road, we found more hard rain and wind for hours. We laid on the throttle heavily during a break in the weather, enjoying about 45 minutes of glorious sunshine and light winds. Dark angry skies on the horizon foretold what we were about to face, however.
Sun turned to darkness. Dry roads turned to standing waterways. To make matters worse, for a good 15 miles, there was lots of oil on the roadway. The rainbow streaks on the dark black asphalt were hypnotizing, but bends in the road and sideways gusts of wind were terrifying.
All six bikes in our small group made it to the border stations unscathed. We waddled through the building in soaking-wet gear, laughing at each other and the conditions we had just endured. We checked out of Argentina for the last time and then checked back into Chile a few miles down the road. Little did we know that the really challenging riding was still to come.
As we rolled into Chile we were confronted with more torrential rains and strong consistent side winds. Then, the rain backed off, turning to a constant drizzle that allowed none of our gear to dry, even with the intense winds and highway riding speeds.
“Massive wind gusts seemed to punch us from all angles, pushing the loaded motorcycles all over the road for hours.”
Massive wind gusts seemed to punch us from all angles, pushing the loaded motorcycles all over the road for hours. Big trucks heading south would throw out a bow wave of water that hit us in the face and blinded us, then we’d have a fleeting moment of calm in the wind shadow before being smacked by the turbulent wind off the back of the trailer, sending the bike sideways as we leaned in and grabbed a handful of throttle to counter.
Then, the skies started to clear and sunshine poked through. The rain turned to an intermittent drizzle, but the winds intensified, blowing consistently over 32 mph, with gusts well over 55. This lasted for hours.
Our group soldiered on through this chaos, but at a fork in the road we had to make a decision. We rolled up to a small roadside wooden shelter/tiny house that is primarily used by cyclists. It had a horribly smelly pit toilet, but was an oasis from the unrelenting gusty winds. While we took refuge in the shelter as it shuddered in the wind our bikes swayed outside. One bike got pushed all the way over its kickstand and crashed to the ground. Even standing was difficult, so picking the bike up took three people. The group decided that 30 extra miles of loose gravel roads in this wind was a bad idea, so we had to skip seeing the king penguin colony.
After another hour or so battling these winds, but with progressively clearing sunny skies, we turned one final bend in the road before our hotel for the night. A many miles long straightaway stretched out before us, but something was different. There was way less noise, speed came easy, the bike rolled effortlessly completely upright, and muscles relaxed. The wind was directly at our backs and it felt like we were floating on a cloud. Pure heaven!
We fueled up, as our bikes were very thirsty from battling all the wind, and rolled into a very busy hotel. Two other motorcycle tour groups were already there, with well over 30 bikes parked out front. It was a bit of a circus with all the people, and I was reminded how nice it was traveling in a small group and staying at small lodging facilities most of the trip.
“With 16-days of travel across Patagonia on a Tenere 700 outfitted for adventure, I would have never guessed a long day on pavement would be one of my most vivid, and cherished memories.”
This was the only lodging for hundreds of miles, so was the only choice. The other riders had all battled similar conditions as we did, and were already deep into many a cold beer and sharing stories of the day when we arrived. After some cold beers, a hot shower, and a solid hot meal, our long day traversing Tierra del Fuego from South to North came to a close.
With 16-days of travel across Patagonia on a Tenere 700 outfitted for adventure, I would have never guessed a long day on pavement would be one of my most vivid, and cherished memories. It was one of the longest riding days of the trip, both in terms of hours and distance, and was all kinds of type 2 fun, which I admit I enjoy. One of my main mottos in life is: “The adventure only truly begins when…”
This March day crossing Tierra Del Fuego was not the norm on the late season North to South tour through Patagonia our group was on. Sure there was plenty of windy and wet days, but none that were as intense, long, and trying as this one. Most days offered up mostly sunny skies, puffy white clouds, and mild temperatures. From guanaco to condors and glaciers to mountain peaks there was never a shortage of interesting sights to see.
Of the 2,900 miles covered on the trip, about 900 were off-pavement, mostly on gravel and dirt roads. Besides loose gravel and some extreme weather events there wasn’t really any technical riding, but there sure was plenty of motorcycle riding adventure to be had.
From the Chilean Lakes District in the north, along the Chilean Patagonia fjords, through the small towns in the Andes, across the Argentine Pampas, and finally to wilds of Tierra del Fuego and “the end of the world,” this epic adventure motorcycle tour did not disappoint.
There were three rest days on the trip, where we stayed in the same lodging for two nights each. Motorcycle riding wasn’t required on any of these days, but on every one I couldn’t help suiting up, throwing a leg over my bike, and exploring. There is just too much in Patagonia to experience to sit idle. The short voluntary time on the motos on these days was welcomed, however, as long days in the saddle can be exhausting on body and mind.
One of my favorite rest days was the day before the windy epic. A day spent exploring Ushuaia and riding a short distance to the very end of the Pan American Highway. Not only was the quick ride on a curvy dirt road through the Tierra del Fuego National Park a ton of fun, but the town itself was a surprise.
I envisioned a sleepy tiny port town at the end of the road surrounded by nothingness. Instead, I experienced a vibrant tourist port city of considerable size built into a hillside and shadowed by mountain peaks. The food was tasty, and every souvenir you could ever want was up for grabs, if you’re in need of such things.
Huge thanks to founder and lead guide Daniel Palazzolo and the entire professional staff at Moto Patagonia for an experience of a lifetime. The quality, new, and well maintained motorcycles made the curated route, tasty meals, and world-class lodging all that much more enjoyable. The small intimate group — five guests and two guides — allowed for a nimble, flexible trip colored with authentic flavor.
“One of my favorite rest days was … A day spent exploring Ushuaia and riding a short distance to the very end of the Pan American Highway.”
From guided day tours to 16-day epics like ours, to private custom tours, and motorcycle rentals, Moto Patagonia is your source for adventure motorcycling experiences in southern South America.
Visit MotoPatagonia.com and get in touch yourself to create your own Patagonian adv moto memories.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in TREAD July/August 2023.