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.


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