Monday, March 20, 2006

The Last Rites

How times change. Six months ago we were wet behind the ears and gagging to jump on the bikes to tackle the adventure of a lifetime. Convinced we were untouchable we charged through some of the most incredible settings anyone could imagine, barely taking breath as we lived on our wits to brush aside anything that stood in our way.

Now, with the deed done and the harshest of lessons learnt, we are yearning for the chance for another experience that could even nearly compare to what we put ourselves through in South America. However, as we each look to tackle the next challenge life holds for us with the same endeavour that we applied to life on the road, those halcyon days could not feel further away - but there is hope in sight.

Jonny is now getting back on his feet with the use of crutches, having finally had the pins that have been holding his pelvis together for the past 2 months removed. After 3 weeks under the wing of the family, Owen has returned to the daily grind of working life, but although the farmers tans are fading fast the memories of our days on the road remain as strong as ever - both good and bad.

The one final task that remains of this trip (we will be back on the bikes in the summer), is to put the finishing touches to our fundraising campaign. The response we have had both during our trip and since has been phenomenal, and the time to finally hand over our hard earned funds to Cancer Research UK is nigh. A massive thank you to all of you who have already pledged funds as we have raised over £8,000 of our now £10,054 target (being a pound per kilometre).

If there is anyone who still wants to sponsor us please do so as soon as possible to help us to reach our target and to ensure any funds are passed on to Cancer Research UK as soon as possible. To do so please either click on the 'Sponsor Us' link to the right of this page or send a cheque to either Jonny (33 Low Road, Hellesdon, Norwich, Norfolk, NR6 5AE) or Owen (80 Bracondale, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1 2BE). Many thanks once again for your support.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The End of the Road: Ushuaia (6,284 miles)

Having been so close for so long the finish line has finally been crossed. 147 days (84 on the bike) after arriving in Quito the traveling circus that has been our quest to reach Ushuaia rolled into town - 6,284 miles / 10,054km later. With the euphoria of having done the deed thoughts naturally turned to home, and within an hour of finishing I was able to speak to Jonny and bask in our shared glory. Wish you were here old boy.

Fittingly I was living on my wits until the very end. With the bike being held together by shreds in places I could never be sure that I would avoid the inignomony of having to hitch into town and return the next day to finish the job. Shorn of my front brakes, 2/3 of my gears, the front rack and panniers and mud guards, and with a chain and cassette that creaked and groaned at every turn the poor old bike barely resembled the gleaming beauty that had left London what feels like a lifetime ago.

The elements also had their say, as the wind that had blown me through Patagonia and into stunning Tierra del Fuego was well and truly into my face as the road turned west, ensuring the near blizzard conditions of the final 100km were all the more endearing. Combined with a final mountain ascent (nobody told me Ushuaia is a ski resort) it truely was a brutal end to a grueling final week in which a daily average of 100 miles was maintained with the help of a German cyclist - Winny.

Kicking back in Ushuaia the time for celebrations is upon us, and with a flight booked to Buenos Aires for Saturday there can be no better place. Alas, it seems Cape Horn will remain unconquered as the intricacies of Argentinean-Chilean relations and inordinate time and cost of any such venture mean it is beyond me.

Instead, with Jonny continuing his rehabilitation in Parkside Hospital, London our focus is now on raising as much money as possible for Cancer Research UK and, of course, reveling in the freedom of life away from the bike.

Finally, I must just say thank you, on behalf of both Jonny and I, to you all for your support throughout our trip. Receiving all your e-mails and comments on the website, encouraging us when times were hard and keeping us in check when we got carried away, truely has been awesome. Thank you.

Now then, where´s that tall blond I spotted in the hostel?

The Tourist and the Patient: Rio Gallegos (5,925 miles)

As the dust settled on the fateful events at Puerto Yungay the enormity of what we had been through began to sink in. We truely were lucky boys. Leaving Jonny to soak up the attentions of the bevy of beauties that were the nurses in the palatial surroundings of Clinica Las Condes, Owen was dispatched south to retrieve what remained of our kit.

Strongly aware of Jonny´s plight rumors of a holiday have been vociferously denied, however, when questioned Owen still fails to account fully for his actions in the two weeks that followed. Finally, with Jonny on the verge of being flown home for a second round of surgery (ultimately a great success), Owen returned to the road having overcome the intricacies of Chilean public transport in deepest Patagonia to return Jonny´s kit to Santiago and the care of PwC.

However, he was soon to find that going solo was no easy ride, as the excesses of the previous 3 weeks and scars of seeing his stricken friend meant heavy work was made of the final 100km of the Carretera Austral. Help was never far away, however, as aided by his now cult hero status among the bikers passing through southern Chile (who had all heard of Jonny´s misfortune) he was never short of someone to share a beer or, more to the point, help keep his ailing bike on the road.

The first real challenge came in the form of the crossing from Villa O´Higgins (Chile) to Lago Desierto (Argentina). On paper a 3 hour ferry ride followed by a 26km stroll. Easy I hear you cry. Well, the ferry crossing was a rare treat and while treacherous in parts the first 20km of the walk was also a pleasure. But the last 6km was like nothing I have ever had the misfortune to encounter (at least with a bike in tow), as the so called path wound up and down through valley after valley. One minute you were heaving the bike over fallen trees, the next wading knee deep through a river.

Having rubbished suggestions that most bikers choose to wait for a horse to carry their kit I was obliged to finish. However, it was at a cost as I ripped both of my remaining panniers from their perch on the bike in making the crossing by the skin of my teeth. A fitting end to our time in Chile.

Once back in Argentina the face of the trip changed completely. Gone were the brutal terrain and treacherous roads of the Austral - it was time for some flat track bullying of the highest order. Within 60km we were back on tarmac and with the promise of a strong easterly wind hopes were high for a quick finish. However, the challenge had now become keeping the bike in one piece. 4 months on the road and, probably more importantly, under my care were beginning to take their toll - the poor thing was falling apart before my very eyes.

As other pitiful bikers surveyed the wreckage I could see the indignity in their eyes, and most simply laughed when I nonchalantly told them I would be in Ushuaia within the week. But slowly and surely we kept moving, and within 3 wind assisted days we had crossed Patagonia to arrive in Rio Gallegos on Argentina´s east coast - leaving a trail of nuts, bolts and what ever else fell from the sinking ship.

In those 3 days I past a total of just four shops, nothing more, nothing less. With only the guanaco for company I biked from dawn to dusk through the incredible wilderness that is Patagonia, camping by the side of the road each night. Focused solely on finishing what Jonny and I had started and getting to Ushuaia and wondering which of my bodged fixes would come unstuck next I doubt I would have been much company anyway!!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Last Man Standing: Puerto Yungay (5,490 miles)

Back in Coyhaique after our holiday in Santiago with passports, bikes and bodies intact, it was time to return to the Austral. Despite our recent woes we were raring to go on the final leg of the road that had become our nemesis. A mere 600km of dirt track (with 3 lake crossings at specific times due to limited ferry activity) lay between us and a stroll back over to Argentina.

If it were a task set by the bald chap on the Crystal Maze, it would have been both a ´physical´ and ´mental´ challenge. It wasn´t, but as our cycling guide recommended 10 days and we had allocated only 5 (to ensure we made the most efficient ferry crossings) we knew it would be reasonably tough - but still totally realistic. As we all know, cycling guides are written by old men with beards, for old men with beards. We don't even have moustaches now.

We set off through the stunning array of lakes, mountains and glaciers to which we have become accustomed, making good progress. Even the weather had begun to brighten up. This was fun. By the end of day 3 we had reached Cochrane, where Owen spent part of his time with Raleigh International.

Day 4 was even better, as we made light work of the initial stages of the 120km to Puerto Yungay, through some of the most beautiful wilderness imaginable. 110km soon passed by and by 6pm we were feeling totally content, sitting by the side of the road having a drink and congratulating one another on a fine day´s work.

And then it turned.......

Within a kilometre, the heavens had opened, a humongous climb appeared before us and a signpost added another 20km to Yungay. Moral dropped but we soldiered on up the mountain, traversing the many switch backs to the top.

Keen to push on, Jonny led the descent down the other side. As the winds continued to increase, so did the gradient and the instability of the terrain. He was soon in trouble, struggling to keep control of his bike and it was not long before the road turned left and he didn't. Jonny flew off the edge of the mountain which revealed a 10 metre drop off a cliff.

The impact was huge. He knew at once he was in trouble, unable to move his legs. With the light fading we needed to get help. Having done all he could to make Jonny as comfortable and warm as possible, Owen cycled off towards Yungay - a couple of hours further south. Fortunately, within 10 minutes he met a couple of campers who were able to drive him into town. On arrival, his heart sank as Yungay was nothing more than a ferry terminal and military outpost.

There wasn't even a pub open to have a few ¨looseners¨ before he launched the rescue operation. So, the military were alerted and with uncontrollable whooping, high fives and air punches they were delighted to finally have something to do. This truly must be one of the most remote military postings globally. None the less, they radioed the nearest hospital back in Cochrane (130km up the road) who immediately dispatched the ambulance / van down the dirt track to our rescue.

Meanwhile, the half cut military debarcle had arrived to assess the damage as Jonny slipped in and out of consciousness. He soon awoke though as they ruthlessly manhandled his feared broken back onto a metal board and up to the roadside. Having handed him a paracetamol to cope with his broken body, he knew that pain would no longer be a concern. It was now just a matter of sitting and waiting (and screaming
and passing out). Tick followed tock. The military entertained themselves with their rather boy scoutish antics. Tents were erected and fires built to keep us warm as they continued to get more boozed.

At 1 a.m., six hours later, the ambulance arrived. The previous treat of a paracetemol was soon overshadowed by two shots of morphine. The thought of becoming a heroine addict instantly appealed. Still unaware of the extent of the damage, we bumped and jolted back up to Cochrane arriving at the hospital three hours later. The hospital may as well have been someone's house, but x-rays were taken and the news told.

Jonny´s thighbone had smashed through his pelvis, which had also been fractured in nine places. His pubis bone had split into two halves, two vertebrae were fractured and half of his blood had been lost through internal bleeding. Oh my God, this doctors last patient had a cough. It was going to take more than a lap of the pitch to jog this one off.

Three hours later we were in the air flying by private jet to Coyhaique, where we had been four days earlier. Here, the hospital at least looked like a hospital. Some people even wore white coats. A thousand dollars upfront and he was in the operating theatre. An hour later, he was out again with the news that his condition was too severe for them to cope with.

Back on another plane, we were heading to Santiago. 48 hours after the accident had occurred we arrived at Clinica Las Condes (Tel 0056 22104000 room 461). The leg was still dislocated and as time passed by, the risk of the bone dying increased - meaning a hip replacement. We await that news.

Jonny is now lying in bed looking and feeling like half man, half machine with 6 metal pins protruding from his pelvis. Truth be told, it has been a bad week but things are definitely looking up. The main operation has been done successfully and so Owen has flown back down to Yungay to complete his now solo journey to Cape Horn in true Corinthian spirit.

I have been lucky and it has opened my eyes to the fragility of life. I nearly died, and would have done if it wasn't for the people who were around me, especially Owen, who sorted me out. I´ll buy you a pint when we get home, then we are quits. Thank you. I also want to thank the numerous people here and at home - especially the hospitals and PwC - who are helping me get back on my feet.

Here´s to the next few months ...... And good luck Owen in getting to Cape Horn.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Going North to get South: Santiago (5,215 miles)

Post Christmas blues are one thing, but three weeks on ours are only just showing signs of beginning to pass. Such is the haste that things can unravel before your very eyes, we were literally being reduced from the proverbial kings of the road to mere pretenders on the long road to Cape Horn before the Christmas decorations were being pulled down at home.

Our post Christmas campaign began in fine style, as after pitting our wits against one of the finest golf courses South America has to offer (honours are now even in our best of 3 series - see we left the bright lights of Bariloche behind to return to the road, with our sights firmly set on a new years rendez-vous with the Dutch and beyond that the much coveted Carretera Austral.

Having drunk and eaten our way through Christmas, it came as no surprise that kilometres felt like miles as we toiled towards the Chilean border, reluctantly leaving the stunning Lake District in our wake. After indulging in our last taste of Argentinean hospitality in the Andean ski resort of Esquel, the day soon arrived when we were compelled to leave behind our now beloved Argentina and head over to ´rough it´ in Chile.

Our initiation to the longest country in the world came as no indication of the trials that awaited us. Arriving in Futaleufu (12km over the border) just after lunch on New Year`s Eve, we promptly procured ourselves a log cabin just off the main square and set about celebrating new years the world over. Starting with Tokyo and heading west, our task was to raise a toast on the hour, every hour in honour of a country in each time zone (for instance with the UK being a mere 3 hours ahead of local time we toasted in its honour at 9pm).

Naturally there were holes to fill for the remainder of the hour, so by the time New Year came in Chile we were reaching our limit. After an hour or so parading around town ingratiating the locals with the now famous "Easy" chant from the cult series ´Soccer AM´, we were spent. Thankfully, neither of us were tempted into following Jurgen´s lead in removing our short back and sides. A ´tache is quite enough for now old boy.

Within a days cycling from Futaleufu we were finally on the Carretera Austral, and no sooner were we making our not so merry way along this world renound mountain biking trail, were our bikes and bodies being pushed to their limit. Although the roads cannot quite compare with those back in Bolivia, the incessant rain and ever changing wind make any stretch of this "road" a challenge.

In our usual overly aggressive target setting, we had planned to put the 1,000km to Villa O´Higgins away in only 10 days. 10 days on we are sat in sunny Santiago, 1,600 km further north than the start of the Austral, licking our wounds after the first 2 big falls of the trip (Owen eating mac on both occasions), a passport lost and a casualty list on the bikes longer than the bus trip up here.

As incredible a place as Chile clearly is, being locked in is always far from ideal. However, the end is in sight and if the Embassy are good for their promise of a new passport on Friday, we will be back on the bikes on Sunday (having left them in the custody of an appearingly nice old lady in Coyhaique). Hopefully they will still be there on our return and the next installment of this dismally rainy stretch can commence. At this rate we will be doing well to get home in 2006.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Chile: The Carretera Austral

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The long road to Christmas: El Bolson (4,760 miles)

While Christmas at home is a time of celebration, particularly the month long, intensive build up, our stint from Mendoza to our Christmas base in Bariloche could barely have been more miserable. Many a time our minds wandered to friends and family alike, up to no good at Christmas parties and indulging in their umpteenth ´working´ lunch, as we kept the pedal to the metal (cleats) and made our way through the most monotonous scenery imaginable.

It may sound a bit much moaning on when we´re out here on the trip of a lifetime, but when you´re on the bike for 12 hours a day, covering half the distances of our hay day as you try to make an impression into winds stronger than those of Jaguar´s new wind tunnel, things start to get a little bleak. Our plight was compounded by our arrival at a series of phantom towns, consisting of no more than road signs announcing your arrival and departure. Day after day ended with our arrival at these signposts, leaving us unable to feed our penchant for 7* hotels and forcing us to camp - or more accurately ´tramp´ as the tents stayed well and truly in their bags and we slept under the stars.

Thankfully we were able to drink from nearby lakes and rivers, but before long rations (consisting solely of cans of fruit and a few packs of biscuits) began to run low. Having been reduced to just 4 packets of biscuits for the final day and a half into Bariloche, our Christmas came early when we met David, a half British, half Argentinean farmer. After chatting for a couple of minutes, he offered to put us up for the night. Before we knew it, we were at his palatial farm, watching an entire lamb being lowered into the fire in our honor and enjoying our first taste of civilisation for days. We could not have eaten or drunk more as we put the world to rights with our impeccable host. Thank you.

Finally our luck had changed, and with only 100km until our Christmas holidays we were back in the game. As soon as we set eyes on the lakeside town of Bariloche, set beneath the snow capped Andean mountains, we knew the good times were set to roll once again.

Having met up with the Christmas team (obviously the Dutch - Jergen and Anke - and the unwitting Sonya and Louise) we set about trying to recreate the Christmas we were missing at home (i.e. sit back and watch the slick, food producing machines in action). After a raucous Christmas Eve, a champagne breakfast, a boozy roast dinner and presents we barely knew if we were at home or not.

Without doubt our most touching present was a donation to Cancer Research UK from Jergen and Anke, along with their family and friends. It was most unexpected and enormously appreciated. Thank you.

With massive first day back blues, we have today progressed down to El Bolson. All that remains of a sensational Christmas are our festive moustaches, the result of a Christmas Eve party bet whereby the first man to shave, shaves fifty pounds from their bank balance in honor of Cancer Research UK.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. All being well we will be in Chile beginning our assault of the last 2000km and the Carretera Austral whilst singing Auld Lang Syne. Enjoy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bikes are better than horses: Mendoza, Argentina (3,840 miles)

After a couple of months of your own company, sitting on a bike with plenty of time to think, it´s not surprising that your mind starts to work overtime and begins to play tricks on you. Having seen the film 'The Truman Show', where Jim Carey discovers his entire life is actually a reality TV show in which everyone else is an actor put there to play a role in his life, we´re beginning to think that perhaps this is what is happening to us.

Having looked at the map, Salta to Mendoza seemed like a straightforward 1,200 km stretch of Route 40. Straightforward that is, before you factor in the all star cast working together to slow down our progress! Having left Herbie (the inaugural cast member) in Salta, we were set upon by a lovely dutch couple, Jergen and Anka (or Anchor - not sure, but still appropriate), a Canadian couple and an Irish couple, all of whom are ´cycling´ through the continent.

The Canadians and Irish soon fell by the wayside. The Canadians going their own way and the Irish, having repeatedly told us that they average an outrageous 30 km/h and that they were appreciating the country far more than us, also departed. It´s not surprising that they averaged that speed in their bus.

The Dutch, however, had more longevity, although they too, being part of 'The Show', were set on slowing us down. Their first attempt was transparent, luring us into an evening of wine tasting capped off with the now nightly one kilogram of ice cream eating competition - which we duly lost.

Their next attempts were more subtle. Each day they would set off at the crack of dawn and lie in wait by the side of the road, a huge picnic at the ready to tempt us into stopping. We fell for it every time, despite repeatedly telling them that we only eat biscuits and drink water.

They are so friendly that even we like them, even though our days spent cycling as a four meant we stopped more times than a South American bus. We finally shook them off when we decided to up the pace on a dirt track to Belen, resulting in poor old Anka taking a tumble and leaving us with 80km to do in the 3 remaining hours of light. To our surprise we didn't make it and ended up in the tiny, hot-bed of incest of San Fernando.

Obviously they had no hotels, and even more obviously we didn't want to camp. So we took the step that all intrepid explorers would in that situation and went for a beer. Being the sociable and fluent spanish speaking boys that we are, we were soon enjoying a drink or two with the locals.

One thing lead to another and soon the money was on the table and the now to be annual Anglo-Argie Games was born. After Owen romped to victory in the twenty metre dash but almost got his arm ripped off in the arm wrestle against 'Blue' (the drunkest yet strongest man in the free-world who had visibly weed himself) it was down to Jonny to bring the title home for Team GB.

The choice of event was unusual to the layman. It involved the local Don on his stallion, Sombre, racing Jonny on his bike. 200 metres from the pub to the school. The bookies odds swung massively in Jonny's favor when Don Manuel took five attempts to get onto his horse without falling off the other side.

The start line was drawn in the dirt and the crowd were on their feet as the starters flag went down. Unfortunately, within 10 metres it was clear that the Anglo-Argie Cup was going to be theirs. However, the drama did not stop there as Don Manuel had clearly already drunk the local wine region dry and was struggling to maintain control of Sombre. Upon crossing the finish line Don Manuel hit the track and Sombre bolted into the distance, never to be seen again.

Needless to say, our popularity immediately slumped to an all time low. Having clearly been deemed responsible for the near death of the Don and the loss of his prize horse we took refuge in the local church having pretended we were leaving town. We escaped at first light. Sorry Don Manuel.

This form of extreme hotelling continued later in the week in another dead-end town called Pituil, where after another night on the beers we ended up spending the night (voluntarily) on the floor of the local police station.

As we managed to avoid the cast of 'The Show' for a few days, the producer turned to the special effects team to slow us down through extreme head winds and monotonous stretches of Pampa to Mendoza. However, we were not to be denied and are now well into a week of kicking back in Mendoza where we have well and truely refound our taste for the local wines. On Sunday we will push on with the intention of spending Christmas in Bariloche with the Dutch members of the cast. Can't wait.