12 February 2011

On Ruta 3 (40 km to Rio Gallegos)

The cold wind that was blowing when I went to sleep must have blown itself out overnight and it was calm and peaceful when I awoke. It was cool and the clouds above the hills in the east were bright pink and purple as the sun came up behind them. I made a coffee and then packed and got on the road.

When it is windless Patagonia comes to life. Birds and insects come out from their hiding places and it is no longer a silent, empty place where only the wind blows. The birds darted low across the road feeding and there were also many guanaco and rhea and for the first time I saw a Patagonian fox. The grasses and scrub along the road is a feeding area for the wild animals as they do not compete here for food with the sheep and cattle that graze within the fenced in estancia lands.

I saw another sign for Lemarchand and then I saw the red building on the plain that was the restaurant, hotel and gas station. I stopped and had four sandwiches and a coffee and recharged my computer battery. The day was still windless and I did not want to stop for too long.

I was riding hard and felt good in the saddle and to ride without the wind was easy. There were no longer any kilometer markers and I dropped into and out of smaller riverbeds and I forgot about the distance and and even where I was going. I saw the land and the road and there was only the motion of the pedals. If it were not for water, food, sleep and darkness there would be no reason to stop riding.

By afternoon the sun had burned off the cloud cover and it was hot and I stopped to remove my sweater and leggings. There had been a squeaking sound coming from somewhere on the bike and I saw one of the rear fender stays was rubbing against the wheel. I readjusted it but now the fender was touching the wheel. Since the day on the ripio that I had lost the plastic nut that held the stay to the fender, I had not been able to get it re-mounted right.

I rode further but the fender again began to touch the wheel and made a rumbling sound. I stopped and this time pulled a plastic nut off the front fender and moved it to the back, now duct taping the front fender stay in place. But this failed too and I soon pulled off again. All this stopping was ruining my rhythm and it made me furious and I removed the fender from the bike and lashed it to the back rack. Had it been biodegradable I would have tossed it on the roadside.

Now I was riding without any noise and I got back into rhythm and began to push it. I saw a sign indicating 80km to Rio Gallegos and I began to think I might do the whole 170 in a day. But a slight breeze soon began from the east and it quickly developed into a gusting headwind and crosswind. I felt strong and rode through it but it worsened. I knew that Ruta 3 would soon turn directly eastward towards Rio Gallegos, and the last 33km would be directly into this terrific wind. It was almost 5pm now, and I decided I would ride until I saw a good place to camp. The wind would probably be from the west tomorrow and that last 33km would be easy. 

There was a bend in the road through the hills and a steep drop off and I stopped to inspect it and saw that I could camp below and be unseen from the road. I pushed the bike down the embankment and pitched the tent and lay inside and watched the sheep grazing on the hills.

The wind died down and I went out and started to cook some rice. The skies had gone grey and there were dark, nasty clouds moving in quickly from the west. The wind picked up and I put on the rain fly. It had become a race between the cooking rice and the rain.

The rice finished cooking just as the first drops fell and I got back into my tent and began to eat. The sky went black and the wind and rain battered the tent, bending it severely when it gusted. I finished eating and lay in my sleeping bag watching the tent bend and shake and wondering if it would hold. The storm only worsened and rain began to leak through the rain fly and when it gusted water hit me. I packed up the panniers and readied my rain gear beside me. If the tent went down I could evacuate it quickly. I fell asleep with my rain jacket over my face. It was easier to sleep when you had a plan for when it all went wrong.


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