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South America with Compass Expeditions

Compass Expeditions

Bruce Graydon is a big guy who loves riding big adventure  bikes. But he’s got a big heart, too, as this story about his ride with Compass Expeditions through South America shows.

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The beginnings…

It’s my wife’s fault really.  She has an old school friend who we have become close to who indulges me with lovely presents at Christmas time.  In 2009, my gift was a book – “The World’s Greatest Adventure Motorcycle Routes”.

Compass expeditions
Bruce Graydon

When I say it is my wife’s fault, it is probable (on reflection) that my parents are to blame as well.  When it comes to motorcycles and great roads, I suffer from an affliction that is manifested by a mental obsession on a road or motorcycle that I become fixated with.  Obviously genetic, and now that I think about it, most definitely my father’s side.

So in the Christmas of 2009, through absolutely no fault of my own I became obsessed with riding to the southern most city in the world, and then riding to the southern most point on the planet that is accessible by road.

Back to my wife.  Over the coming weeks, I (apparently) kept talking about this particular journey, from Santiago Chile, to Ushuaia Argentina, through Patagonia and some of the most remote and breathtaking landscapes on the planet.  “How good would it be to do something like that?”, “Geez some blokes are lucky, check out these photos, Love”, and so on.  After several weeks of this, my wife insisted I make arrangements to do the trip, as long as I “stopped talking about it so her ears would stop bleeding”.  I was shocked (and maybe a little hurt).  But, then I realized (as I stared at the space in the lounge room where my wife had stood not 10 seconds before), that I had the ‘green light’ to do something I thought I would only ever dream about.  Later she would point out to me that I was 45, and if not now, when?  Damn straight!

So I started the relentless research that some find boring (but I thrive on) and found an Australian company – Compass Expeditions, who provided an 18-day riding adventure aptly named “Patagonia Explorer”, which won the National Geographic Traveler ‘Tours of a Lifetime’ award in 2011.  Yeah baby!

Gathering a posse…

Compass expeditions“Who’ll join me?” I asked, “For the ride of our lives.”
“Phone your accountant and talk to your wives;
Patagonia awaits for our own Long Way Down;
From Pucon in Chile, to Ushuaia town”.

At one point I had six mates convinced to join me, but as is often the case with these things, a few dropped out along the way.  In the end, it would be Matt, Andy and I who would brave the South American terrain and we were as excited as a cashed-up fat kid in a candy store.

Doing this ride with friends made the experience extra special, and despite the fact that I made other friends as the trip progressed, I will always share a bond with the two mates that joined me on an adventure of a lifetime.

Broken friends…

As we were in the midst of organising our trip, close friends of mine experienced a horrific tragedy, suffering the heartbreak of losing their baby.  Sam and Emma had the horrendous experience of having to go through the pain of giving birth to their daughter – Hannah Fewings without any hope that she would draw breath.

Compass expeditionsSam later embarked on training for a ‘Swim for Hannah’, a 10km swim in open waters off Sydney Heads and it occurred to me that maybe we could contribute in our own small way as well.  A quick chat to Andy and Matt and a serious discussion with Sam and Emma and it was settled, and the Ride for Hannah was on in earnest.

We decided we wanted to raise funds for a charity called ‘Bears of Hope’, the organization that had been so kind and supportive to Sam and Emma in the wake of their heartbreak.

Now, none of us three are what you would call ‘tin rattlers’.  In fact, we are decidedly uncomfortable seeking financial contributions from others, but with social media these days and great sites like ‘Everyday Hero’ it was a breeze, and the support rolled in.  We are very grateful that we were able to raise the money we raised, but it was a story that obviously touched the hearts of many and people simply pledged money and we passed it on to a wonderful organization.

The journey begins…

After taking in the sites of Cusco, Muchu Picchu, Buenos Aires and Santiago (hey, we were in the neighbourhood) our riding adventure starting from the beautiful tourist town of Pucon, Chile.  Thirteen bikes in total, three with pillions headed out full of excitement at what the 3000 odd kilometers had in store for us.  I think it is fair to say that at least some of us were nervous about the infamous Ruta 40, which would be the main challenge of our ride.  I had read of riders being literally blown off their bike because of the notoriously strong winds, and others who had battled mud for long, slow stretches of madness.

We would crisscross between Chile and Argentina numerous times and the Compass staff warned us we may experience long waits at border crossings, but honestly, it went smoothly.  The beautiful Sylvana (the spitting image of Sandra Bullock) was a rock star, using her charm with the guards to get us through quickly.

Every day was an adventure.  We traversed just about every road surface you could imagine, from highway quality to, well, no road at all.  We visited great towns along the way, with Bariloche, El Chalten and El Calefate favorites.  We would visit glaciers that were growing at such an incredible rate that you could literally watch huge 60 meter sections crash into the ridiculously blue water.  We rode the most scenic roads I have ever seen in my life, and we tasted the culture (literally) with feeds of Ginnea Pig, Alpacca, and King Crab.

Ruta 40…

Six rims and three falls.  That was the total damage of Ruta 40.  It was at times brutal, but it was also exhilarating.  I remember having a moment when I thought I had never seen a bigger sky.  It seemed endless and you could see the curve of the earth.

It was not unusual to be riding on what you thought was the road, only to discover you were not on a road at all.  It was also common for a road to simply end, because the winter thaw had washed roads away completely, leaving only a cliff.  Roadwork was evident in many places, and I feel sad that one day this will be all bitumen.  I am glad I got to ride it when it was uncompromising and unforgiving.

The night at the Estancia was nice.  Staying on a working farm, with working people eating their unbelievable cooking was a treat, especially for Matt who has an obsession with the Argentinian Asado – their method of barbecuing.

The poverty…

One of my fondest memories happened by mistake.  We had just enjoyed lunch in Rio Grande when our tour guide got us slightly lost.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but he had lost his bearings and we found ourselves winding our way through the tough side of town.  Mud streets, tin houses (if you could call them that), dirty kids, structures crafted from what others had discarded.  It was edgy, and it was real.  No stopping for photos here.

Tour highlights…

El Chalten and the ride into the town.  Breathtaking.  Without a doubt the most scenic ride I have ever done.
Moreno Glacier
Ruta 40
Getting lost near Tres Lagos, and having a local Gringo jump on as a pillion to show me the way into town, and the lady who had keys to the town fuel!
Torres Del Pain and the day I spent on my own exploring the National Park.
Del Fin Del Mundo.  Translation: The end of the world.  Actually reaching the dead end of the southern most road in the world was a great feeling.  3,000 kilometers of adventure behind us, I honestly wanted to turn around and do it all again.

The poem…

On our last night of our tour, the Compass Expeditions crew took us to a great restaurant in Ushuaia for a feed of King Crab (truly delicious).  I had over several days been formulating a poem in my head (Ruta 40 will do that to you).  I had nothing written down, but I had it all retained in my fat head.  This would never had happened if I had a blue tooth set up on my helmet, and the ability to listen to music.  But I didn’t, so the poem was my entertainment.  On the last night of our adventure, I recited this poem in the restaurant to all of my new friends.

A bit wanky maybe, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

The common denominator is a small country town;
Near Brisbane, Australia, 200 k’s down;
We grew up together, and shared the same trade;
We’re a patchwork of traits of which Australians are made.

We’re fiercely protective of our kin and our mates;
We’ll stand by our Brothers and share the same fate;
We love a good time but we won’t suffer fools;
We’re respectful of laws, yet we bend most the rules.

And as we got older, we went separate ways;
With catch ups to remember the halcyon days;
We trudged our own pathways and forged our own lives;
And were lucky enough to marry beautiful wives.

“Who’ll join me?” I asked, “For the ride of our lives.”
“Phone your accountant and talk to your wives;
Patagonia awaits for our own Long Way Down;
From Pucon in Chile, to Ushuaia town”.

Then tragedy struck some friends close to us;
And we decided to jump on the fundraising bus;
To raise a few dollars to help others cope;
And donate the proceeds to the group – Bears of Hope.

So we dedicate our ride to a dear little girl;
Who’ll never witness a sunrise or travel the world;
But she’ll live on regardless in our menories shared;
And we give hope to others because we collectively care.

So we flew out together to meet you all here;
Three Aussie Amigos, tasting culture and beer;
And we feel that we’ve formed new friendships with all;
Even those of you who teased me after my unfortunate fall.

From the volcanos in Pucon to rain in Esquel;
To ripia roads seemingly crafted in hell;
We’ve touched heavenly mountains and breathed the fresh air;
And we rode Ruta 40 with the wind in our hair.

From Tiera Del Fuego to Torres Del Paine;
Bariloche, El Chalten, and the drizzling rain;
Bumble bees in the flowers, the incredible food;
And the tasty cervasa that is locally brewed.

We think you’re fantastic, you’re bloody top shelf;
Which brings me to business and a toast to your health;
So join with me now as we toast one another;
Be they spouse, or amigo or perhaps a secret lover?

Uncle Darren and Tyson from our own southern state;
You’re champion blokes and we consider you mates;
Same goes for Gordon, and Steve, and Walter and Pam;
And Townsend and John and Martin and Jan.

And then there’s Michel our French Canadian Pal;
Who endlessly wrestles with the enunciation of vowels;
You’re all welcome Down Under; we’re fond of you all;
So if you’re planning a trip please, give us a call.

And we owe all of our memories to the astute Compass crew;
Logistical geniuses and personable too;
So to Sylvana and Thomas, we all raise a glass;
And to Hans we say thank you for a very sore arse!