17 February 2011

Rio Grande

The wind was blowing southeasterly like I expected. I felt good on the bike, my arms did not ache from yesterday’s ripio, and the wind pushed me down the road out of the small mountains and onto the plain. After a day on the ripio the feeling of riding on the pavement was wonderful. It was early and there were few cars and camions.

I was within 30km of Rio Grande when around a bend in the road I saw a figure. I thought it was a stopped motorcyclist and slowed to ask him if everything was alright. But as I got closer I saw the bulging front panniers and it was another touring cyclist heading north. I pulled off on my side of the road and laid my bike on the shoulder and crossed the road to him. His name was Matthias, part Swiss and Argentine, and he had just begun a 3 year tour from Ushuaia that would take him to Alaska and then across Canada. He was young and this was his first bicycle tour.

He had a beautiful new carbon fiber touring bike. He was wearing fine new synthetic clothing and special sunglasses and the bike was loaded as a motorcycle was loaded. His front panniers were larger than my rear ones. I imagined he had inside them a special piece of clothing for every type of weather condition. There were bright logos on everything and you could see he had put a lot of money into his gear.

But he did not have the legs yet or the will for the wind. Matthias rode during the night when it was windless and walked the bike into the wind during the day. He had been on the road a week and had not gotten far. He wanted to know about the ripio through Chile. Were there towns? What was Cerro Sombrero like? Did San Sebastian have lodging? Was there anything in between? What was ripio exactly? He was very worried about the ripio.

I did not want to tell him that riding the ripio at night would be too dangerous, and that pushing his bike across the 125km stretch would only be possible if he were carrying more than a week’s worth of food and water. There was nothing there and he would need to begin riding into the wind during the day if he was to get anywhere. A bicycle when ridden in its lowest gear was still faster than a man walking it. And the Chilean ripio could be ridden unlike some of the other ripio I had been on.

It takes a different type of conditioning to ride into the wind and when I started at Buenos Aires I did not have it either. The winds are strongest in Tierra del Fuego and Matthias was starting into them and I did not envy him for that. But the only way to develop the legs and the will for the wind is to ride into it. Matthias would learn that and he would have to when his supplies of food and water forced him to get on the bike and to ride it. The ripio in Chile would be the first of a number of stretches which you rode hard across before the water ran out. It sure was a beautiful bike he had though.

Salesian Monastery

I made Rio Grande before noon. It is a dull, industrial town along the Argentine Sea but is well-known for having some of the world’s best trout fishing in the streams and rivers around it. It rained a little as I rode towards the center of town and I stopped at a service station and ate a sandwich.

Two days earlier Ian had told me about a campground at the Club Nautico at the furthest part of town along the bay and I rode to it. I had not even gotten off the bike when a smiling woman pulled back the curtain inside a building and came out the door to greet me. I could put up my tent outside for 26 pesos or inside for 36 pesos. My bike would go inside, of course. Either way I could come inside the building and use the kitchen and internet and there were hot showers. I needed to dry my tent and decided to put it up inside.

The building was an old boat hanger and there were kayaks and small boats hanging inside it and a kitchen was set up in one end overlooking the water. I talked with Claudio who was from Cordoba and looking for mechanical work in Rio Grande. There was also a Dutch couple who were just beginning a bicycle tour from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. They had toured in many places around the world and recommended Vietnam and Cambodia as countries I should ride in next. The Dutchman also said I should go down to the port at Ushuaia and see if I couldn’t pay to board a cargo ship bound for Valparaiso, Chile. From there I could ride west through Santiago and cross the Andes to get to Mendoza. It seemed a very good idea to me, but I would first need to fix the back rack. I made some pasta and had a beer and it felt very good at the Club Nautico and I was looking forward to staying another day and resting and repairing the bike.


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