07 February 2011

On Ruta 3 (95 km to Puerto San Julian)

I packed up the tent and left my campsite looking out across the plain to the mountain. The mountain was a dark shadow with the sun coming up behind it. It was a cold morning, the wind blowing as a light crosswind, and I wore my sweater and leggings along with my booties to keep my feet warm. I had 50km to the petrol station at Tres Cerros and from there it would be at least another day and 150km to Puerto San Julian, a larger town on the coast where I planned to take a rest day and purchase supplies.

I rode out of the range of burnt red mountains and back up onto the plain and it was flat for as far as I could see. There was only scrubby dark brush growing in the dusty fields. But like the previous day the road would drop suddenly from the plain and into a basin cut by a lake or small river that no longer existed, and in this one there were daisies growing on the roadside and it was green and fertile and sheep were grazing. The smell of the daisies was like a wonderful honey as I rode and then I was climbing back out of the basin, head down, turning a low gear slowly, riding along a cliff of exposed rock.


The town of Tres Cerros is simply a YPF petrol station with a hotel attached to it, but it was busy with tour buses headed to and from the south stopping to let out their passengers to eat and refill their mate thermoses. I ate a plate of delicious empanadas made with spicy cheese and ham, two packages of cookies and a bag of chips, and I drank a liter of peach juice and 1 liter of water. The service station had a slow wifi connection and I was able to learn, after some anxious moments as the sports pages loaded, that my team had won the biggest game.

On the TV they were now talking about ‘la fiesta de Super Bowl’, but the presenters were only interested in how the national hymn of the Americans had been botched, though they themselves weren’t sure what the mistake had been or where it had happened. The only highlights being replayed from the game were those of the blond girl singing and the halftime performance of a pop band. But it didn’t matter, and I was smiling and very happy and I knew in a small city far away, where it was very cold and the snow was very high, that the people were wearing green and gold and they were celebrating the great victory.

I bought a load of cookies and crackers and water for the ride to Puerto San Julian and outside I spoke with a mother sitting at a table near my bike. It is always shocking to an Argentine mother that a young man would ride alone over such a distance but she was shocked too that I still had so far to go. It is 1000 kilometers, she said, and she had a look of disbelief. And the wind, she added, shaking her head. The wind I thought I knew about now, and I figured being more than halfway to Ushuaia that I would stop getting such reactions from people.

It is not far, I assured her. If the wind is not strong and from the front, and the road is paved, I can arrive in Ushuaia in two weeks only. But this shocked her further, and she told me that Rio Gallegos, the city south of Puerto San Julian, was a 6 hour car trip. It was very far. For me, I said, it will be five days. I did not think this was very far, I said. Again the look of disbelief. She covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head.

I have become accustomed to calculating cycling distances and the days needed to ride between places and I no longer think in terms of automobile time. A town a couple days ride away begins to seem very close in a country where the distances are so long. But I could not explain this to her and I did not try to. I did not want to begin thinking like her that everything was so far away and unreachable. That was how I had thought in my first weeks outside Buenos Aires, when I was still looking on the front side of my two-sided map and needed a large table to unfold it and to look at all the land on the back. Ushuaia almost did not seem possible then.

But my fitness was not the best then, and the wind bothered me and effected my spirits and I feared it even. Now that I have ridden through very bad days and still put up the kilometers, and my body and legs are very strong, I only consider the wind a part of the day, like whether there are clouds or if it is warm or cold, or the condition of the asphalt.

The big map is no longer daunting and the distances break down into a few days here or a week to there. I ride from one folded section of map to another in about four days and it always excites me to begin looking at a new section of roads and to read aloud the names of the towns between the creases. When I hear 1000 kilometers I immediately think 12 days--10 days of riding and 2 days of rest-- if the wind and weather are good and the roads well-surfaced. I did not think it was very far at all now to Ushuaia but I would not be able to make it clear to this woman. I said goodbye to her and she wished me much luck and left with her family in their car for Rio Gallegos.

After lunch the wind had strengthened into a tough headwind. I had already ridden 50 km and wanted to do another 60 km, which would leave me less than 100 km the following day to make Puerto San Julian. I rode out of the service station and it was slow going into the wind. I crossed a range of small mountains. Then into another range I saw a large ridge along the road. It was similar to the one I had camped behind the night before and I put the bike down and took a look behind it. There was a newly smoothed dirt path along the fence line though the direction of the wind did not allow for the ridge to act as a windbreak. I was 10 kilometers from my goal, but this campsite was good enough not to pass up. There might be nothing so well-hidden further ahead.

I pushed the bike back behind the ridge and pitched the tent and began boiling water for a coffee. With the wind blowing it took a long time to heat the water and I realized I could not cook pasta until the sun went down and the wind stopped. I tried to block the wind but could find no way to do it. I ate some crackers and drank the coffee inside my tent. The sun went down but the wind still blew. Now it was dark and I ate another package of cookies and drank the 1 liter bottle of milk I had been carrying. That would be my dinner. I zipped into my sleeping bag and was soon asleep.


Riley said...

I'll imagine that if any Packer were asked, he would say that you are playing a bigger game than he is.

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