04 February 2011

Caleta Olivia

It was supposed to be an easy day. I had 78 km down the coast to Caleta Olivia. I left the hostel before 10am, but a big head wind was waiting, punishing me as I rode in heavy morning traffic out of Comodoro up a long climb on Ruta 3. Then outside the city the little paved shoulder ended and I was fighting the wind uphill through a canyon, trying to hold the white line, trucks and cars passing me. When there were descents they were into the wind and I had to down shift to fight down them.

The wind gathered in strength at Rada Tilly where I began a long descent towards the sea. But there the wind became a huge gusting crosswind and I had to pull off the road into the gravel and take the descent almost walking the bike for fear of the back end being blown out from under me. This was the most dangerous and powerful wind I had experienced yet.

There was a police checkpoint where Chubut Province ended and Santa Cruz Province began and an officer waved me down and we talked and he warned me to be very careful with the wind. It was blowing even stronger along the water, he said. It is very dangerous.

Along the coast gusts of cross wind hit the bike and the strongest would check me 5 feet. It was now too dangerous to ride along the edge of the pavement. I pulled off and began to ride slowly upon the gravel and sand banquina. It was jarring riding--losing traction in the gravel, or sinking in it to a stop, but at least I would not be thrown in front of a truck.

Dense clouds of dust and sand blew across the road, stinging my face and legs and nearly blinding me in spite of my sunglasses. And though I was riding at the furthest edge of the gravel shoulder the wind gusts were still nearly pushing me back onto the road. When trucks passed the winds swirled wildly and many times I almost lost the bike or ended up in the scrub. You had to be ready to brake quickly, despite how slowly I was going, because of how far the wind could throw you.

And then the road ascended steeply and the gravel shoulder was half as wide. It was almost impossible to ride in these conditions, blinded by blowing sand, and being smashed about by the wind, and when the bike sunk into the sand I got off and pushed it up the climb. I accepted it. It felt shameful to push a fully loaded touring bike but this was Patagonia.

The temperature dropped further and the skies darkened and I saw storms ahead down the coast. There were black, barren mountains to my right and the sea was a dark green and there was the feeling of gloom and something sinister. It was not a place for a cyclist. And then the rains came, and I put on my rain gear, the wind pelting my face with the drops.

I stopped to rest and had an apple and some cookies under the awning of an estancia entrance. I was beginning to think I could not make Caleta Olivia, though there was nowhere to camp along the coast. I had to keep going. The wind blew the bike over. I picked it up. I got on and slowly began to turn it through the gravel. It was the only thing to do.

Roadside shrine outside Caleta Olivia
But the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds and the wind died down enough that I could again ride on the road. I had 30 km to the city now and I removed my rain pants and began to push it. It would rain again before I made the town, but the wind was not as it was before.

I stopped at the tourist office and got directions to a campground along the water. It was 15 pesos a night and a young French couple from Marseille was camping there. We talked in French and they told me that the day before had been warm and windless and they had gone to the beach. They asked where I was coming from and I told them. The Frenchman was astonished. You rode here by bicycle in this wind and cold and rain? We were the whole day inside the tent together to share the heat. And why did you do it? I thought about his question. I don’t know, I said. I guess I needed to go for a ride.

I cooked some rice for dinner and had a coffee and a dusty little cat purred and rubbed against me, hopeful for some food. The wind had picked up again and I finished eating inside my tent. The small poplars on the campground bent over in the wind and it would only strengthen after the sun went down. I lay inside my tent, warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, and fell asleep listening to it blow a gale.


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