31 January 2011

Garayalde

I needed a rest day or at least a day without a headwind, but I would not get it. The tent had held during the night and it was very cold and dark when I awoke. The wind had not stopped blowing and now it blew cold and gusty it was a challenge packing the tent.

Because of the cold I wore my leg warmers, booties and fleece headband, along with my thermal layer and wool sweater. I found my bright yellow rain jacket worked well as a windbreaker. The wind was strong and cold and I needed to make the petrol station at Garayalde.


The battery in my camera went dead after a single picture. I had not had a power source to recharge my electronics since Trelew. I also realized I had only 10 pesos left after paying Guido 100 pesos for the asado at his estancia. I figured I could pay with my Visa card at Garayalde. I put my head down and rode and counted off 10 kilometers at a time and took short breaks and ate a few cookies and drank water. There was nowhere to stop across the rolling Patagonian steppe.

Where Ruta 30 heads east to Camarones there was a service station and I stopped in and asked if they took credit cards. They did not, but said at Garayalde they would. 15 kilometers ahead I saw the white and blue sign of the YPF on the other side of a deep gorge. I rode down fighting the wind and then fought the wind up the ascent and parked the bike against the window and went in.

I ordered a large café con leche and filled my tray with juice and chips and sweets and handed the cashier my card. They did not accept credit cards. The people in line around me stared as I put the items back onto the shelves and into the refrigerator. The cashier took my last 10 pesos for the café and I sat down.

A woman sitting with her husband and children walked over to my table and gave me two packages of cookies to eat with my café. I told her I had money, I really did, but could access none of it and she smiled. I did not want to accept the cookies but I was too hungry not to. It is a gift, she said, and left with her family. The coffee and cookies tasted wonderful to me and I recharged my camera battery as I sat in the service station and rested.

I set up my tent behind the building and tried to ignore the odor of feces and urine blowing from across the fields. The truckers parked at the station used that area to go to the bathroom during the night. I cooked a pasta dinner with a cup of coffee and pulled the rain fly over my tent to keep the smell out and give me more security. I had two days of riding and 185 kilometers to Comodoro Rivadavia, a large city on the coast. I planned to take a rest day there.

30 January 2011

Back on Ruta 3

In the morning I left the estancia and had a choice to make. I could backtrack northwest along the paved Ruta 75 to Ruta 3, or follow the winding, but unpaved, Ruta 1 to pick up Ruta 3 further south. It would be probably 60 or 70 km of uncertain ripio. I was concerned not just about having to push the bike but how a day of pushing could slow me down and affect the supplies of water and food I needed to make the service station at Garayalde. I also feared a rack failure from all the water weight I would be carrying across the jarring roads, as well as the potential for a sidewall blowout in my tires.

I said goodbye to Guido and Andrea and headed back along Ruta 75. The wind was blowing hard and it was a long difficult ride in the wrong direction of where I wanted to go. I hated to ride back a road I had already ridden, but it was not ripio.

It was a cold wind but the day was hot and when at last I made Ruta 3 and turned south I saw storm clouds on the horizon. The wind was really blowing and it was all head-down-gut-it-out riding into a part head-wind and cross-wind from the southwest. I figured with my supply levels I needed to put in at least 80 km to comfortably make Garayalde in a couple days if this wind continued.


By late day I was destroyed, my butt hurt from the ripio riding of the previous day, and my legs were heavy and hardly turned the pedals. The skies had darkened and the storms were not far off and I pulled off on the roadside behind a thorn bush and put up the tent and pulled over the rain fly. I got inside and ate a package of cookies and quickly fell asleep. I had gone about 80 km.

The wind awoke me, massive gusts of cold wind slamming into the tent and bending it over. I frantically got up and tried to buttress the tent walls with my body. Then the rain pounded the tent and the gusts increased in strength, smashing the tent walls around me and I was certain it would not hold. The tent poles would bend and break, or the plastic hooks that attached the tent to the poles would be torn from from the tent seams. I took at look at the time. It was dark outside but only 8pm. The sun had yet to go down. Usually when the sun went down after 9pm the winds died down. I planned to hold the tent up until then.

But it was after 10pm and the wind had not lessened. The temperature had dropped and it was cold and I put on my thermal layer and wool sweater. I was too tired to hold the tent up through the night and zipped up my sleeping bag around me and hoped it would withstand the battering. I packed my gear into my panniers so that if the tent was destroyed the rains would not soak my things. I had my rain suit ready beside me and fell asleep. The rain and winds would beat on the tent throughout the night, but the tent held.

29 January 2011

Pingüinos!

It was only 35 km to the penguins and I was excited to see them and road hard across the rolling country. After a climb I looked down a steep winding descent into a valley, and beyond on the horizon I could see the ocean, the water blinding with the sun coming up. The wind was only a breeze and I dropped down fast into the valley and after a small ascent turned through a gate where the pavement ended and it was gravel and sand. There was 22 km of riding on the ripio to reach the penguin colony.




It was bumpy, dangerous riding, the bike slipping on the large rocks and sand and I tried to follow the most-used tire tracks. But I was descending mostly and braking and I did not want to think about the ride I was going to have back. I saw guanaco and rhea and even a group of Patagonian hares, with the black patch on their rumps. But it was hard going on the ripio and I had to push the bike in places and it was midday when I arrived at the visitor center. It had taken more than 2 hours.

video



I bought a ticket (foreigners pay 35 pesos; Argentines pay 10) and started down the path to the penguins. The penguins dot the hills and are walking everywhere and are unafraid of humans and will stop to stare at you curiously, then trot across the pathway and stop to pose for pictures. The gray, fuzzy-feathered new-borns stay close to their mothers and fathers near the nests beneath the jume bushes. Many of the penguins stood looking out to sea, heads held high and making a sort of call. They are funny little creatures but you must not get too close or they will peck at you viciously.




As I left the penguins I stopped and talked to a couple from La Plata, near Buenos Aires. They had been touring by car all through Patagonia and confirmed for me that a service station existed at Garayalde. I had lunch at the visitor center and refilled my water bladders for the 240 km of riding, and with a full load of water in my front panniers started back onto the ripio in the heat of the afternoon.

The wind had picked up blowing from the west, and the sun beat down upon me, and I did not realize how hot and windy and slow-going it would be to ascend hills of ripio. I was finally pushing the bike, monstrously heavy with water and sinking easily into the sand and stones. I was paying a high price for wanting to see penguins.

More than 4 hours later I was back onto the asphalt of Ruta 75. But the wind was blowing a gale. I did not have the energy for it and fighting the wind down the descent into the valley I had coasted through easily that morning, I saw a sign for “agro tourism” and a farmhouse and I walked the bike up a gravel path to where a man was sitting at a table.

His name was Guido and the farm was a working sheep farm which he was also developing for tourism. He offered me a spot to pitch my tent for the night and to have an asado with them and breakfast the next morning for 100 pesos. I did not want to go back into the wind and fight it up out of the valley and agreed to stay. His girlfriend Andrea sat down with us and we shared a mate. After we drank a beer and I cleaned up for dinner.

They keep a pet guanaco on the property named Samantha and Guido called her over to meet me, but warned me not to look at her directly. If you looked directly into her eyes she would put a spell on you, Guido said. I am not a superstitious man but I watched Guido call the animal over to him and quickly turn his back to her. I saw the guanaco's large black eyes and, whether or not I respected the dark power of certain animals to cast spells, I did not want to risk it and turned my back to her as she came to me.


I could feel her head against my back and then her breath upon my neck. I reached and touched her. Then she pulled out a mouthful of hair from the back of my head and I jumped forward. It was then I realized Guido had been trying to say that Samantha would spit on you if you looked directly into her eyes. He had confused the English words for “spell” and “spit”. Though the guanaco was not capable of spell-casting, her spit was a putrid, vile stinking spit the smell of which could only be taken away from a long shower.

I still had work to do getting the tent up and Samantha followed me and you had to constantly be aware of where she was so that you did not turn and be spit upon. She was curious about the bike and then came up behind me and over my shoulder began to bite at the tent poles.


We had an asado of mutton, potatoes and a salad of greens and tomatoes. The mutton came from the estancia and the taste of meat from an animal that ranges freely for its food and has just been slaughtered is a very different one--fatless and tender and tasty. There is no comparison to the artificially fattened and sedentary animals from which most meat is harvested and packaged in the United States.

After the sun set it was windless and we sat under the stars drinking vodka tonics and talking. Argentina was a fine country but the government was completely corrupt and taxes and inflation were making it hard for the productive class. Because Patagonia is a wealthier region than the north an additional tax applies to businesses in the south. It would be hard to start up a new business under the circumstances but Guido was trying and was looking into working with a mining company to quarry stone from various parts of the property. But with the new asphalt road to Punta Tombo that ran by his property the tourism side of his business was certain to pick up and I wished him luck. With an eye out for the spitting guanaco I walked to my tent and went to sleep.

28 January 2011

On Ruta 75 (35 km to Punta Tombo)

I left the campground at Rawson early and went to the Oficina de Tourismo along the beach and received directions for how to get back onto Ruta 3. It satisfied me that I would not need to go back the way I had come, but I would need to fight a strong headwind. Before crossing the bridge over the Rio Chubut I stopped at a service station and the attendant told me the next stop before Comodoro Rivadavia would be a petrol station at Garaylde. It was at the half way point of the 390 kms between Comodoro Rivadavia and Trelew and there was nothing else.

Beach at Rawson

I had the water and food to make it but I also wanted to stop at the Punta Tombo preserve of 500,000 migrating penguins. My map indicated a long, winding provincial road back to the park east of Ruta 3. I had believed these roads were gravel and sand (ripio) but was told by the gas station attendant the way to Punta Tombo was now paved.

First sign for Ushuaia

I rode back into Trelew from the south to get to Ruta 3 and then beyond the city into a series of tough climbs through a bright, white sand gorge. It was rugged and the wind fought against me on the ascents and descents and then, up a final climb, pushing it hard in my lowest gear, it was flat again at the top for as long as I could see and the wind blew from across the plains even harder. My legs were still heavy from the day before and the riding was very difficult despite the road being well-shouldered and flat. The wind could crush your spirit when you were not at full strength and I was really suffering and grinding forward. The distances between kilometer markers felt longer than they had ever been.


I stopped at a large sign of a penguin and an arrow for Punta Tombo and a newly asphalted road to the east. The road did not appear on my map. I had planned to take a road much further ahead. A sign indicated it was just 60 km to the penguin colony.  A new road must have been put down and I turned onto it, grateful that the wind now a cross wind and somewhat behind me and with the sun going down I was now riding easier.

Sad Mountain

A car pulled up alongside me and a woman held out a glass to me. It was 7Up and we stopped in the middle of the road and she poured me cup after cup asking if I wanted more. The cold beverage tasted delicious and I could feel the sugar entering my bloodstream and she poured until the 2 liter bottle was finished and I thanked her.


The road descended slowly to the southeast past a lone mountain on the plains called Montaña Triste ("Sad Mountain") and the wind beat me back whenever the road turned south. I thought I might try for Punta Tombo but I did not know if there was a place for camping there. I pulled off at a sandy spot behind a ridge of trees at the base of a hill and set up camp. I figured I was 35 km from the penguins. I had a bag of cereal and a liter of milk and watched the sheep grazing on the hills behind me. By the time the sun was down I was asleep.

27 January 2011

Rawson

On this day there would be no magic in the saddle. I rode back up to Ruta 3 from Puerto Madryn into a steady wind from the southwest, part headwind, part crosswind. It was blowing hard and gusting and I knew that it would be a difficult day.

South of the port was more rolling country and an extended shoulder on the road, but it was rocky and there were many potholes and much loose gravel. It was slow going because of the poor surface and then the wind gathered in strength with huge gusts that blew me back onto the road and into traffic. I was leaning into the wind and waiting for the gusts and it was a challenge to maintain balance on the bike.

After some kilometers I looked to my right and saw another road, newly surfaced, running parallel to Ruta 3. I figured they were preparing to open the road as a newly asphalted Ruta 3. I pushed the bike down and up the gravel embankment separating the roads and now I was fighting the wind on my own 2 lane highway. There were signs saying work was being done and that the road was closed and traffic prohibited, but the trucks of workers only waved me on in encouragement.


The wind strengthened with devastating gusts, and I was riding on my smallest chain ring, dust blowing across the road from the scrub and nearly blinding me. Harder still were the ascents of the hills. I was taking those in my granny gear and barely getting up them. A wind gust would nearly blow the backend out from under you, and near the crests of the hills the wind slammed into you and gusted even harder as you slowly fought your way down the descent. There was no respite from the wind.

I was 35 km out of Trelew when the asphalt of the road running parallel to Ruta 3 ended. It was a gravel now and I pushed the bike back across the embankment to Ruta 3. There was no shoulder now and with the many camions and tour buses I would need to carefully hold the white line on the edge of the asphalt. The gusting crosswind was the wind I feared most and now I would have to ride in it or stop and camp for the night.

A constant wind you can simply lean into, but a gusting crosswind you must lean into in anticipation of the gusts. This leaning poses a real problem for balance, particularly when you are trying to ride a sliver of pavement to the right of the white line marking the side of the highway. Because too much leaning can also cause your tires to slip off the pavement into the gravel, wedge against the side of the pavement in the stones, and topple the rider from his bicycle, potentially back onto the road into traffic.

The best way to ride into this wind was to get as low as possible on the bike, riding in the drops, head near the handlebars, and to peddle a larger gear slowly to minimize movement and maintain balance. Then, when I saw oncoming traffic, and recognized there would be little room for a camion or tour bus coming up from behind to pass, I would dive off the road onto the gravel banquina. You could not risk a big gust sending you into the side of a truck or tour bus as it passed. The wind streams of the passing large vehicles also pulled you towards them before propelling you forward.


I rode carefully with much driving off into the gravel and then at the top of a group of hills I could see Trelew in the valley, and behind it white cliffs. I would have a long descent through the wind to get there and I started down, grinding it out in my smallest chain ring and holding the white line, and listening for trucks and buses behind me. My wrists and elbows ached from the extended period in the drops but it was the safest way to ride and I did not stop until the petrol station outside the city.


I had a 1.5 liter bottle of sparkling water and checked my notes on Trelew. There was a campground 7 km out of town on RN 7. I rode into the center of town and bought cheese, pasta sauce, apples, milk and cookies at a supermercado. It was a tired, beat up town and not attractive in any way and when I walked out the super market it was dark, and huge gusts of wind blew dust and debris through the streets. I hung the sacks of food over the handlebars and started slowly through the wind and out of city.

At the rotunda on the edge of town I turned onto RN 7 and had the wind at my back, blowing a gale and blasting me down the road. I was being carried along and did not need to peddle and looked left and right for the campground. I saw nothing and exhausted and I had no idea how far I had gone, and then I saw signs indicating I was almost to Rawson, a small town on the coast. I had missed the campground. But to turn back into the wind would be a disaster. I could not do it. I let the wind carry me into Rawson thinking I would find a campground or balneario there.

A man told me there was a campground another 8 km from the centro. I had the wind as a crosswind and rode on a bike path along a larger road towards the sea. I entered a grittier area of partially built homes and windswept scrub and open dirt spaces. There was a girl on a bicycle in a bright pink shirt and listening to music on earphones and I stopped her asked her where I could find the campground. She smiled and told me to follow her.

She road off the paved bike path and down the dirt and large stone side streets back into a housing development and I followed. But my bike began to sink down into the large stones and I would need to push it out. The girl in pink was getting further ahead of me. She rode slowly on a commuter bike with large tires that kept her from sinking into the stones and sand. I would try to catch up to her but would hit a patch of large stones and nearly fall off the bike. She was too far ahead now to hear her singing and I called out to her but she did not turn back. I just caught a glimpse of her as she made a turn a few blocks ahead of me and then I sunk again into the stones and when I pushed the bike out I had lost her. I was lost in some partially built subdivision on roads that were hardly passable. I cursed my bad luck.

But the girl in pink rode back for me. She had a big smile on her face and pointed to a white gateway on the next block. It was the campground. I thanked her and pulled in and met an old man named Mario who ran the place and he spoke to me a long time, mostly about American politics, and then I put my tent up. I cooked up the pasta I had purchased and drank the beer that was still cold and I felt very tired. I had no idea where I was and I would figure it out tomorrow.

26 January 2011

Puerto Madryn

During the night the temperature dropped and I had to put on my wool sweater. It was cloudy and dark and cold when I awoke. But it was windless. I hurriedly packed and started south on Ruta 3. I wanted to make Sierra Grande before the wind picked up and I rode hard.


My legs felt good despite the tough day in the saddle yesterday and I was turning a high gear on my second chain ring. It was chilly and I wore my rain jacket for warmth and to make me more visible to traffic. I had been in the saddle an hour when the sun burned through the cloud cover and it warmed and I took off the jacket.




It was rolling country through the scrub and I came up the to the top of a hill and beyond I saw mountains, gray in the distance. There was a range of smoothly shaped mountains and then a series of jagged, irregular peaks, as if a child had torn them from a piece of cardboard. I knew I would find Sierra Grande near these mountains and I descended and ascended the hills toward them.

The wind was just a breeze when I made Sierra Grande. The town was five tree-lined blocks of shops along Ruta 3 and I stopped at a mercado and bought some pastries and juice, and some apples and cookies to replace the ones I had eaten.


The mountains began beyond the town and the wind began to blow. The gradual climbs and long descents, the road stretching out below, inspired me and I rode to see the next view of the valleys and the mountains at the top of the next climb. I felt excellent in the saddle and powered through the wind and then Ruta 3 shifted and it was now a cross wind and I was crushing it, attacking the ascents and driving down the descents and catching some of the cross wind to power me. My spirit was light and I was dancing in the pedals. It was as if someone had affixed steroid patches to my legs during the night, or transfused my blood as I slept.

I hit a zooification checkpoint at the border of the Chubut Province and from here the road was resurfaced and fast with wide shoulders like a bike lane, and I started to push the pace anew. There were no kilometer markers and I was unaware of how far I had gone or where I was. It was just me and the landscape and the rhythm of the pedals.

Bike lanes of Chubut

I saw a hospedaje and restaurant called El Emplanade and stopped. There was a town indicated on my map with that name and the lodging and restaurant was in fact the town. I had a meat plate with bread and then a soup of vegetables and beef and a café solo. It was 2pm and I had gone 120 km. I had 81 km to Puerto Madryn and started to think I might try for it. What I had planned to do in two days I was now considering doing in one. I could always camp if I got tired or the wind changed.

The mountains ended and it was rolling country again and I was taking it as aggressively as before. A flatbed truck carrying a car pulled over ahead of me and a man in a red and blue jumpsuit waved me down. You are tired, he said. You may put your bike here and I may drive you to Puerto Madryn. I wanted to tell him that I had been dancing in the pedals prior to his disturbing my rhythm and that I had often a tired look about me, but I simply said that I cannot accept rides in vehicles. This trip is to be made only by bicycle. He smiled and I thanked him for his offer and he wished me luck.

50 km out of Puerto Madryn the wind became a headwind and I could feel I was becoming depleted and did not know if I would be able to fight through it. But then it changed and was a pure crosswind and I was tired but felt good to ride through it. I was too close to the city to camp and wanted only to complete the 200km day. The resurfaced road ended and I was back riding on the edge of the blacktop on the white line, the trucks blowing by me or honking to tell me to get off the road and onto the shoulder as they passed.

The headwind returned and smelled of the sea and I knew I was close and slowly rode into it. I saw a petrol station which meant I was very close and pulled in and had a Coca-Cola and a 1.5 liter bottle of water with gas. A homeless guy I had seen in Sierra Grande was at the petrol station and could not believe I had ridden so far. He must have hitched a ride but he had only one tooth and was difficult to understand and I could not speak with him for long.

A man and his wife and son approached my table and asked me about the bike and where I was going. They were from Buenos Aires and the man gave me the address of his website and we talked about Patagonia. The sun was going down and I had 10 km to the port and we said goodbye. The woman gave me a handful of pamphlets of prayers and religious instruction and I thanked her and told her it would make for good reading in my tent that night.


Puerto Madryn was a ride into the wind east and a descent to the water, the city built up south of the port. There was a campground on the edge of town and I pulled in and put my tent up. I cooked a pasta dinner and had coffee and dried apricots and cookies. I went to sleep and wondered what my legs would have in them tomorrow. I had done 200 km today. If I needed I could make it a short day to Trelew, another city 55 km to the south.

25 January 2011

On Ruta 3 (65 km to Sierra Grande)

It was cold at dawn. It was sunny and the wind was blowing a gale out of the southeast. To the south there were dark clouds. The storms from the night before had remained in the area. I packed up and paid for the two nights and rode out of town.

It was like riding into a dust storm with the wind and I wore sunglasses to protect me eyes but I could barely control the bike. On Ruta 3 the wind was blowing part head wind and cross wind. Huge gusts would catch the bike and throw me off the road down the gravel embankment, or catch the backend and begin to push the bike out from under me. I rode slowly but the wind was devastating.


It was difficult dangerous riding with just the wind, but then the trucks would pass and whip up huge streams of swirling air that would pull you towards them and then push you away. I was trying to ride a narrow sliver of pavement along the white line of the roadside, but I couldn’t hold it. At least the wind was blowing me down the embankment instead of into traffic, but the trucks made it too dangerous and I pulled off and rode on the gravel shoulder. It was harder riding but I had more room to fight the wind on the gravel and I did not have to worry about the trucks. Now the wind gusts pushed down the embankment and into the scrub.


Then I hit the storms. A few drops were quickly a driving rain and with nothing to prop the bike up against while I dug out my rain gear the wind knocked the bike over and down the embankment into the sand. The rear panniers fell off and I was covered in mud by the time I got my full rain suit on and got the bike loaded. Any part of the bike that wasn’t muddy soon was when I got back on the road and the trucks began to pass and blast me with muddy water.

It was very challenging riding but I was warm and dry inside my rain gear and after I had slowly gone 15 km the wind blew the storm north and the sun came out and it was warmer. The wind died down some. It was still tough riding but I felt more comfortable and was able to pick up the pace. But I was exhausted.


I saw a good camping spot off behind some thicker scrub and thorn bushes where my tent would not be visible from the road. I pulled off and put up the tent and cooked a soup for dinner and ate a peach and some cookies. I had gone 70 km. I figured I had another 60 km to Sierra Grande which I planned to do in the morning before lunch. I would get on the road early and ahead of the wind.

24 January 2011

San Antonio Oeste 2

I had a lot to do on my rest day in San Antonio Oeste. I needed to mend two flat tires, clean the drive train, and make adjustments to the front derailleur, brakes, and headset, as well as buy another tube so that if the tire fixes did not hold I would have a fresh tube in case of a flat. I wanted a second fuel cell for the camp stove as well as a metal bowl that I could eat from and use as a lid for the pot. I also needed sunscreen and to recharge the Movistar balance on my cell phone and purchase enough food supplies to last me at least three days. After the uncertainty over food and water on the way to San Antonio Oeste I did not want to go to sleep again worried about how I would survive the next day if the wind was wrong.


I stopped at the café on Belgrano and had a desayuno; a café con leche and three media lunas. I began walking through the town and bought the things I needed and asked where I could find others. It was always a good way to see a town when you were walking through it with purpose.



San Antonio Oeste was a narrow, bright town built around two one-way streets with a plaza and a couple of statues. The town was full of young couples on holiday and there were many young children and teenagers walking with their parents.



At 1pm most of the shops shuttered because of the heat. It was well over 40 degrees with the sun beating down and all the townspeople went to the small beach on the bay. I fixed both of my flat tires and joined the town for a swim. The beach was a few blocks from my hotel and the water was cold and refreshing. I saw the hotel owner there and the girls who had served me at the café and the man from farmacia. There was nothing else to do in the heat but go swimming. The shops would begin to reopen at 5pm.



For dinner I ate a pizza at the café and watched the storm clouds begin to roll in from the west. The wind picked up and it was chilly and blew the dust down the streets and then the rains came and pounded the town. I hurried back to my hotel room and went to sleep. I had 268 km to Puerto Madryn with a pueblo called Sierra Grande about 120 km into the ride.

23 January 2011

San Antonio Oeste

At first light I awoke and packed quickly and got on the road. The sun was just coming up behind me and the wind had not yet begun to blow and I rode hard, turning a big gear furiously, hoping to put up as many kilometers as I could before the wind. I was again riding with water rationing, drinking two long pulls from my bottle for every 10 km.

But the bike felt heavy. And then the rear tire slipped and shimmied and I looked down and the tire was nearly flat. I pulled over and examined the tire, looking for a thorn I had picked up from pushing the bike back through the grass onto the road. I saw nothing and did not want to waste valuable time changing the tire and I pumped it back up. The air did not come out quickly and I hoped it would hold. I started back westward towards San Antonio Oeste.

The air let out slowly and I did not go 10 km before I had to stop and pump up the tire. I laid the bike on its side and pumped the tire quickly and rode on hoping the puncture did not expand. The country was still scrub and thorn bushes but more rolling than before and up every hill I hoped to see the ocean on the other side.


And then I saw it. At the crest of a long hill I looked down across the flat to the water and I could see the Port of San Antonio Oeste. The city I did not see but I knew was another 30 km past the port. I was riding now for something I could see and it gave me confidence. The wind started to blow soon after, but it was a cross wind coming off the ocean and it was then, coming down from the rolling hills into the flats and knowing the direction of the wind, with civilization and food and water on the horizon, that I knew I would make it.

I still rode hard for the city because the wind could change. I pumped up the rear tire every 7 km and drank two pulls from the water bottle every 10. I did this until the petrol station outside the city where I stopped and had a desayuno of a cafe con leche and three media lunas. I ate hungrily and sat awhile after finishing. I had made it. I did not need to worry about water and food any longer.

There were no hostels in San Antonio Oeste and the hotels were booked up. There was a campground, but I would be unable to explore the city on my rest day because of my bike and gear. The cheapest hotel in town had a double room and paid the 80 pesos for two beds.


I took a shower and laid in bed awhile. Down the street a restaurant was offering a "tenedor libre" (trans: free fork), or an all-you-can-eat buffet. For 40 pesos I had charcuterie and cheeses and salad and empanadas and other sorts of dishes, and then I sat and digested and ate it all over again. It felt good to be somewhere. I had a beer later and went to bed. I would explore the city tomorrow.

22 January 2011

On Ruta 3 (70km to San Antonio Oeste)

The birds woke me at first light. Hundreds of birds had massed in the poplars near my tent and were squawking and flying over. It was loud and impossible to sleep so I packed up my gear and got on the road. I ate a pear and brushed my teeth some ways down Ruta 3 before the wind had shown its direction for the day.


An hour later it was blowing hard into my face and it was tough riding. The country was empty and flat with rocky soil and scrub brush, and it was too hard for pasture or farming and the wind blew across it powerfully. As the sun rose the day became hotter and hotter and then it was midday and cloudless and I was slowly moving forward against the wind, my head down, crushing a low gear on my second chain ring, sweat pouring off me in the heat. I had planned to stop at a town indicated on the map but there was only a battered sign and a boarded up road back into the scrub.


It was brutal riding in the wind and heat, with the wind seeming to hold me in place so that the sun could beat down on me. I came to a sign for the second town and it too marked a boarded up dirt access road. Both towns no longer existed. It was then that I began to worry about my water supply. I was drinking a lot of water because of the heat and the wind and I realized there might not be enough water if the third town did not exist and I was forced to ride into this wind the following day to San Antonio Oeste.

I began a system to ration my water consumption. I would only drink two long swigs of water from my bottle every 10 km. Because of the wind I was already taking a short break every 10 km and whether or not there were any climbs I held myself rigorously to this 10 km break-and-2-swigs-of-water plan. Because of the lack of any shade there was no reason to take long breaks and I figured I was making myself more thirsty to stand in the sun on the roadside.

Some ways ahead a car had pulled onto the shoulder and a man and woman were standing outside and waved me to stop as I approached. They asked me where I was going and the man told me that third town I was counting on no longer existed either. There was nothing on the entire 180 km stretch of road between Viedma and San Antonio Oeste. Not even a service station? No hay nada.

The man offered me a liter of some fruit punch. I drank a long pull from it, held it a second, and then without asking finished the rest of the bottle. His wife and two daughters got out of the car and wanted to have their picture with me and the bike and I posed for a picture with each member of the family. Then they gave me a small bottle of frozen water that would slowly melt as I rode. I thanked them and started back westward on Ruta 3.

I saw a thorn bush that had grown large enough to cast a small patch of shade and I pulled off the road and unrolled my ground pad and lay down under it. It was the middle of the day now, the sun overhead and this was the first shade I had seen in 50 km. Thorns pierced the pad and it would not have been possible to lay there without it. It was not a complete shade and I had to move to stay out of the rays of sunlight that passed through the branches.


I drank from the cold water melting in the bottle of ice and ate an apple and some cookies and looked at the map. I still had 130 km to San Antonio Oeste. I wanted to cut that number down to 70 km by the end of the day. I had some very difficult riding in the heat and into the wind ahead of me. I had now eaten the last of my fruit but still had a bag of cookies, a half bag of cereal, and some pasta. I got back on the road.

Further ahead a car pulled over. It was one of my 10 km break points and I stopped before passing it. The car backed up on the shoulder and a shirtless man got out and ran with a bottle towards me. He handed me a 2 liter bottle of frozen ice and wished me luck and ran back to his car and drove away. The people could see my suffering in the heat and wind and they were encouraging me forward. With this new water I started to feel better about my water supplies, though I did not know what the wind would be tomorrow.

I rode through four more 10 km breaks and swigs of water from my bottle. I had finished one water bladder and had a second one that was half full (about 3 liters) as well as the 2 liter bottle of ice (less than a liter of drinkable water) and a small water bottle. That small water bottle would be for boiling my pasta and making coffee and the bottle of ice would be for the night. The 3 liters remaining in the water bladder would be for the ride tomorrow.

At kilometer marker 1080 I saw an even larger thorn bush than the one I had napped under earlier and I stopped. Along the fence there was a sandy area that would be perfect for putting up my tent. The wind was really blowing now and the sun had begun to go down in the west so that it was in my eyes as I rode. I was too tired to go on.

I lay on my ground pad in the shade of the thorn bush drinking the ice water as it melted, the wind blowing harder now as the sun went down. I crushed the ants that crawled onto me and then put up the tent along the fence and crawled inside. I made pasta and used all the boiled water for a large cup of coffee as I did not want to waste any of it. There would be no showering tonight.

I remembered that long water bladder shower I had taken the night before and cursed myself for all the water I had stupidly wasted. But I could not have known that the three towns along this stretch of Ruta 3 would no longer exist. It was something to remember for the future: I must consume water and food as though nothing existed between the larger towns on my map.

I had 3 liters of water for tomorrow and was 70 km from San Antonio Oeste. I would awaken early before the wind and ride hard, and as I had done today I would ration myself to two swigs of water for every 10 km. If the wind was right, it would be easy. If not, a great challenge lay ahead.

21 January 2011

Near San Javier

I awoke and left the camper and went inside the house. Elbio was awake and we quietly shared a mate as the others slept. We whispered about where I would go to next and how far it was and the direction of the wind, and Elbio warned me of thieves in Carmen de Patagones. I told him I would stay in Viedma, across the river from Carmen de Patagones, if I stayed in that area tonight. But there were thieves there too, he said. The cities were not safe.


Gauchito Gil Shrine

I pushed the bike out to leave and the older son and his wife came out and I kissed them and Elbio goodbye and thanked them for their kindness (Argentines kiss once on the right cheek, both men and women). The wind was blowing from the west and but not so hard a cross wind that it was difficult riding. It was an empty stretch of land between Stroeder and the cities of Carmen de Patagones and Viedma, fenced in ranges of pasture and few trees and sometimes rolling country and even an area of windblown sand dunes.

Carmen de Patagones


In the afternoon I passed Carmen de Patagones and crossed the bridge over the Rio Negro into Viedma and stopped for a rest at a service station outside the city. There was a campground in Viedma that I could stay at but there was still light and, although it would be into the wind, I wanted to cut into the mileage westward towards San Antonio Oeste. I finished a sandwich, 2 bags of crackers and a 2 liter bottle of water and got back on the road.


The wind was blowing and gaining in strength and it was painfully slow riding west into it. I was more tired than I had thought and stopped at a fruit stand and bought some a peach, a pears and some apples. The woman said there would be great places to camp along the road ahead. I rode towards a small town called San Javier and found a spot on an access road back into the pasture where I could put up my tent behind the trees. I took a long shower with a water bladder, cleaning myself entirely, the water inside the bladder having been heated during the day to a perfect temperature for showering. I boiled pasta on my stove and lay in my tent drinking coffee and reading as the sun went down. The map indicated 180 km to San Antonio Oeste with 3 towns along the way. I figured I could stop at any one of them for supplies

20 January 2011

Stroeder

It was an easier day in the saddle with the wind blowing from the east across the fields. After Pedro Luro I was stopped at a zooification checkpoint and my bags were checked for meats. It was not far from there to the Rio Colorado and the sign marking the official start of Patagonia. There were a number of small towns along the road but past Stroeder it was an empty stretch where there was nothing for 80km until Carmen de Patagones. I had ridden about 90km and turned off for Stroeder, thinking I might camp the night there or pick up supplies to camp further along down Ruta 3.




I fought the wind down a long boulevard lined with poplars and streetlamps towards the church spire I could see above the trees. I passed empty dirt side streets and the town seemed empty. On the corner a man was hosing down a horse tethered to a tree. A boy stood watching.

I pulled up and asked where I could find a supermercado. He told me where the cooperitivo was and asked if I wanted water. I would take some and he sent the boy to bring water. The man’s name was Elbio and the boy was his son. Elbio was my age and had six children and farmed the land beyond the town and he was also was a horse trader. This horse tethered to the tree he had purchased today in a town not far from Stroeder and he believed he could sell it in less than 6 months time for a good profit. The horse was called ‘Pensar de Ti’ and I could see she was blind in one eye but she was well-mannered and in otherwise good condition.

Elbio’s son returned with water, a bowl of fruit and a chair for me to sit on. I sat down in the shade of the tree and watched Elbio shampoo the horse’s mane. I drank from the bottle of cold water and ate a peach. I talked to his son about the folding bicycle and he told me about his bicycle. It was good to be out of the sun and out of the saddle. A dog lay down in the shade next to my chair and went to sleep.

When Elbio had finished with the horse he walked over and punched the sleeping dog in the head. The dog yelped and got up and slowly walked away and Elbio sat down next to me. We talked about where I was from and things I had done and the places I had lived in and how I was going to Ushuaia and why I was going there. We talked about children and he was surprised that I had been married and had not had any and then we also asked about religion.

It would give him pleasure if I would stay the night in the camper parked in front of his home and to have dinner with his family. His son was listening and was happy that I accepted. I could see that he wanted to know an American he could call his friend. An older daughter of Elbio’s introduced herself and stared quietly at me. Then Elbio got up and un-tethered the horse and pulled it across the road to a small corral where a black horse and brown horse were standing.

In front of the camper

“Pedro,” he waved me over. “Help me with this horse.” He was trying to pull the horse into the corral.

“What must I do?”

“Do this, Pedro,” he whipped a short length of rope in the air and handed it to me. He wanted me to scare the horse forward into the corral.

Elbio opened the door of the corral and tugged at the horse. She saw the two other horses and did not want to go in. I stood behind her, out of kicking distance, and swung the rope and made a clicking sound and the horse turned her head to see what was behind and the rope frightened her but she did not move forward.

“Hit upon her with the rope,” Elbio said.

I whipped her hindquarters gently with the rope and she shuddered. Elbio pulled the rope tether but she would not move. 

“Hit upon her with strength, Pedro.”

I whipped her harder and she jumped and pulled Elbio forward out of the corral and he almost lost her but held on.

He motioned for me to stop and we waited for her to calm down. Elbio approached her slowly and patted her head and carefully wrapped the rope tether around the back of her hind legs and slowly he was able to pull her forward into the corral. He closed the door and we stood against the corral watching the two other horses smelling out the new one.

But the black horse did not take to the new horse and there was some kicking and violence between them and Elbio went into the corral and roped up the black horse and took her to the larger corral. The black horse was a great horse, he said, and he would be able to sell her for much silver.

I put my bike inside the house and met his wife and two other daughters and the smaller boy. I sat down at the dinner table with the children and Elbio cut pieces of bread and cheese and handed the sandwiches to each of us. I was hungry and the bread and cheese tasted delicious. The youngest son would giggle and repeat the things I said in Spanish to one of the sisters. He was wall-eyed and wore thick glasses and found my accent and poor grammar very humorous. We finished eating and Elbio showed me the inside of the camper and the bed I would sleep on and then we got into his truck and went on a tour of the town.

The empanadas were ready when we returned and Elbio’s wife served them on large metal trays as they came out of the oven. There were pieces of green olive mixed in with the meat and sometimes boiled egg and they were very good. Elbio and I drank red wine from a box and he told me about his grandmother who had owned the final hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was at Rio Pico in the Chubut Province of Patagonia, near the Chilean border, and there are tombs there that some believe belong to the outlaws after they were killed in a shootout at a nearby bar. When his parents died Elbio inherited the Butch Cassidy pistol his grandmother had received long ago as payment.

I could see that Elbio and his family was very proud of this history and I told him that I would try to get to Rio Pico despite the distance. Maybe on my return from Ushuaia I could stop there. Elbio noticed that the wine had made me tired and my Spanish abilities had deteriorated. The little boy with glasses was now giggling at whatever I said. Though it was early I excused myself and went out to the camper and fell asleep.
 
 
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