I could see it in my mind’s eye – a wooden sign in front of the Beagle Channel at the very southern edge of Tierra del Fuego way down at the pointy tip of South America. USHUAIA El Fin del Mundo it would say. I knew, because I had seen pictures. Lots of pictures. And that sign was engraved on my mind – a permanent fixture, it seemed.
And yet, I had no idea what it would be like to finally reach that sign after nearly three years of trying to get there. 1018 days, 17,300 miles, 15 countries We had cycled over passes higher than the highest peaks in Colorado and battled headwinds straight from the depths of hell. Our legs had endured the painful onslaught of grains of sand blasted by ferocious winds, and our skin the effects of way too many hours in the blazing sun. And through it all, it was visions of that sign that had kept me going.
Ours was a fantastic journey, and I spent many hours pondering what my thoughts would be when we finally reached the end of the world. As my legs turned in circles beneath me, I thought about that sign; about what it would mean. About how it would change my life. How would I feel to actually get there? To pedal that final mile and know that we had accomplished what we set out to do so long ago. To know that we – our ragtag bunch of cyclists – had met our goal. Our meta, as they say in Spanish.
Would I be excited beyond comprehension? Would I race toward the sign and throw my arms in the air and scream and shout and whoop to the gods?
Or would I be too exhausted to even care? Would I pull up to the sign and wearily lean my bike beside it as I’ve leant it against so many other signs. Would it be just another day among 1018 of them?
Honestly, I had no idea.
I wanted that final day to be special. I wanted crystal clear skies and magic. So when we awoke to rain, I curled up and went back to sleep – I wasn’t about to ride my final miles in rain. But people were waiting for us, so we crawled out of the tent and packed up anyway.
It’s almost as though the good Lord above knew how badly I wanted good weather. By the time we got on the road, the rain had passed; a short while later the sun came out. It was turning out to be the magnificent day I had hoped for – what more could I want?
Under glorious rays of a brightly shining sun, we cranked to the top of our final pass, then headed down into one of the most majestic valleys we’ve seen. Craggy mountains surrounded us and we knew were in the middle of magic. We could see it all around.
We raced on – determined to reach that sign I knew was up there. The sign! It was so close! Adrenaline coursed through our veins as we drew nearer to Ushuaia.
We rounded a corner… and there it was – the first sign! The one on the outskirts of Ushuaia. Bienvenidos a Ushuaia We didn’t even stop – raced past at high speed.
And then around another bend and the entire city of Ushuaia lay before us – a sprawling city lining the banks of the Beagle Channel. We were there – Ushuaia! But still – we hadn’t reached the sign.
Accompanied by a few local cyclists, we made our way through town, pumping wildly to reach our final destination. My thoughts were all over the map, but every one of them focused on that sign. We followed the main road paralleling the Channel for a few miles, then turned left and started down. I could see tourists wandering about, but my eyes didn’t stray from the road ahead – we couldn’t risk an accident after all we had been through.
Weaving through traffic, we made our way to the port and suddenly our guides stopped. “There it is,” Roberto said as he pointed toward the water.
The sign! USHUAIA El Fin del Mundo!! The only thing separating us from the sign was one lane of traffic and a few curbs. Daryl hopped off the back of the tandem and started running. The rest of us pushed our bikes those last few meters.
I wearily leaned my bike against the sign, then stood back to look at it. We were there. We had made it. We – me and my little family– were there. At the southern tip of the world. We had dreamed the impossible dream and reached the unreachable star. We were there – and it felt oh-so-sweet.
How did I feel? Elated, deflated, and everything in between. I was ecstatic and euphoric and walking on clouds. I was sad and gloomy and down in the dumps at the thought that our adventure was over. I was prouder than I’ve ever been in my life and more humbled than I thought possible. And it was all jumbled together into one big emotion-fest that no words can describe.
We did it. We – the Vogel family from Boise, Idaho – did it. We did the impossible, and I couldn’t be happier that we did.