BICYCLING TO TIERRA DEL FUEGO
By Peter Fredson
On my way to Yellowstone National Park, from Cody, Wyoming, I was beset by a snow storm, but the next day snow plows opened the road early, so I proceeded down Sylvan Pass. The farther down the mountain I descended the warmer it became. When I reached Fishing Lake about 25 miles farther I was tired and camped on the lake shore overnight.
The next day I went to the Geyser area around Old Faithful and camped there for several days until my biking companion, Clifford Campbell joined me. He did not really care for the biking part of the trip and thought he had made a mistake in agreeing to the adventure. At any rate we biked around the park
I’m not sure at what point Clifford decided biking was not his game. He hitched a ride on a truck, with his bike, but I forget where we were going to meet, somewhere in Texas I think. The details are very hazy. I wished he had been able to communicate with me, to tell me that he would stay home. So far, I had negotiated everything fairly well. But the thought of going through foreign territory without a companion was daunting, and sapped my resolve.
I continued at Yellowstone for several days. I went with the rangers to an enclosed area to watch the grizzlies being fed. I did successful fishing with a stick, hook and line. The tourists were intrigued with my bike, gave me food, canned goods, and some money.
Camping in Yellowstone meant locking up all my edibles in a concrete safe with a heavy steel door to keep out the black bears. But one day, while having lunch at a picnic table, a large black bear came to visit my lunch. I clapped my hands and shouted at the bear, which only annoyed it and he made a short charge at me. I jumped on the table and from there onto the roof of a car and out the other side. The rangers later came with a cylindrical iron contraption and hauled the bear away to some remote area.
At any rate, I continued alone. I went out of the park into Jackson Hole territory. As I passed a small herd of buffalo, one of the animals took a dislike to my biking movements so he chased me down the highway for about a quarter mile. I went to Jenny Lake, lovely landscape, and camped overnight. The next day I drove close to Grand Teton National Park, marveled at the scenery, and continued south. I saw a rancher on horseback near his house and asked if I could spend the night in his barn. He said that his cowhands had all gone to town, so he would let me sleep in the bunkhouse, but would have to leave early in the morning. He gave me a meal, fed me breakfast, and I continued southeastward.
The details of going through Colorado, New Mexico, and into Texas escape me. The mountains of Colorado were very tiring, the heat of New Mexico was enervating, and most of Texas was boring…sand, sagebrush, cactus and hot. Shortly past Amarillo I visited a truck stop, got some spicy chili, and struck up an acquaintance with a trucker going to Laredo… my immediate destination. I was indeed glad to put my bike on his truck and escape the very hot and monotonous ride to Laredo. This made me uneasy about “biking to Tierra del Fuego” because by this time I must have ridden about 500 miles on various trucks and station wagons. I am still sorry to this day that I did not go every mile by bike, regardless of rain, snow, hail, heat, wind, dust and bad road surfaces.
At any rate, I got to Laredo, and met up with Clifford. He had connected with a traveling salesman of ladies clothing, including nylon stockings and underclothing. The salesman wanted to take Clifford to Monterrey, Mexico, to help him sell his merchandise. So they left without me.
I changed my few dollars into Mexican pesos, and then crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico. A customs guard was curious about my appearance, bike, and possession and called the Area General to look at the unusual traveler. The General was very inquisitive, interrogating me minutely as to my travel plans and tactics. He seemed incredulous that I intended to travel all the way through Mexico, down through Guatemala, through the swamps of Central America, down the West Coast of South America and end up at the tip of Tierra del Fuego.
He then said he would not let me go through Mexico because of safety precautions. He mentioned that Mexico had some very poor and desperate people, some of whom would not hesitate to kill me for my bike or possessions. He said bandits were still around the entire country, just waiting for some incautious traveler, and that recently his troops had shot several who tried to hold up some tourists.
We held a long conversation, after which he sighed and said, “Look, I can’t let you go unless you get a gun.” He advised me to go back across the bridge and buy a pistol. So I went to the Laredo Sears Roebuck store and bought a .22 caliber pistol, and a leather holster. I returned to the General and he made out a special pistol permit for me, which I still have somewhere in my files, a “Salvo Conducto” giving me permission to transit Mexico and asking other officers to give me safe passage. He said that I should never camp where people could see me. The customs officers looked after me leaving their area, and they all were shaking their heads incredulously at the mad young gringo.
By this time it was late afternoon, so I headed south rapidly, passing an abandoned radio station, then found a hollow off the road where I put up my tent.
I awoke with a start, about midnight, at the crack of some vegetation. I grabbed my pistol, peered sleepily out of the tent, and saw a tall figure, over 6 foot, with outstretched arm, coming toward me. I shot twice at the figure, grabbed my flashlight, and had a thousand thoughts flash through my head. What terrible thing had I done? Was I a murderer? What international incident might this trigger? Would I be sent to jail, or perhaps be shot by nervous police? My whole world came crashing down around me, as I nervously got out of my tent.
It was then that I saw the terrible deed I had indeed done. I had put a small hole in a 6-foot tall organ cactus, with a projecting branch, which the moon going in and out of the fast-drifting clouds made it look like it was moving.
TO BE CONTINUED