16 February 2011

Tierra del Fuego (10 km after San Sebastian, Argentina)

I crawled out of the tent and it was very cold and cloudy but it was windless. I packed and got on the bike to warm myself up. I wanted to get a good portion of the straight south stretch of Y-79 ridden before the winds picked up. I thought I might do the entire stretch of ripio, all the remaining 115km, and be back in Argentina by the evening. It was ambitious, and it would depend upon the quality of the ripio and if I had to walk the bike through stretches, but I would have the wind mostly as a crosswind and tailwind. Still, you cannot ride fast on ripio.

I stopped to eat a package of cookies for breakfast and noticed my rear left pannier was touching the rear wheel. I looked more closely and saw that the allen screw that attached the two rear rack arms to the eyelet on the axle had pulled out. The back rack on that side was swinging freely. I looked at the other screws and on the same side the eyelet that held top flat support piece of the rack had broken off part of the eyelet with the screw still inside it the threaded portion. Only the 2 screws on the right side of the rack were holding the rack onto the bike.

It was a disaster. I had at least 100km of ripio to go and the rear rack had failed. I turned the allen screw into the lower eyelet and it turned in difficultly and stopped. The eyelet was stripped. The screw was only partly in and I couldn’t get it out. I got out my tools, duct tape, twine and extra bungee cords and sat down to think about what I could do.

With duct tape I was able to wedge the two lower support rods of the rack between the frame, the protruding allen screw, and the quick release. The two extra bungee I used to lash the top of the rack to the frame around the axle. The bungee cords I hoped would provide enough vertical pressure to keep the rack from breaking the duct tape cast and swinging sideways. Then I duct taped the upper rack support to the eyelet it had broken from. It all seemed to hold firmly. There was no give to the rack. But the test would be on the next 100km of jarring ripio.

I passed Cullen by midmorning and saw the gas facility set in off the road. There was no chance I could have made it before nightfall yesterday. I checked the rack and it was still good. I was nearly out of duct tape and would have stopped in and seen Mauricio at the plant if the rack was getting worse and required a better fix.

The ripio was always rideable and I did not need to get off the bike to push it. Cars, camions and tour buses passed me kicking up rocks and dust. They were almost all from Argentina. I figured the road remained unpaved because the Chileans didn’t use it. It had been paved only as far as the last town at Cerro Sombrero.

An Argentine family stopped in a van ahead of me and waved me down. They gave me a sandwich and small box of chocolate milk. They would be in Ushuaia today and maybe I would see them in a few days and we said goodbye and good luck. I would take only one break to eat the sandwich over the last 65km of ripio.

It was 5pm when I made San Sebastian on the Chilean side and I stopped at the hosteria and had a hot sliced meat and melted cheese sandwich with everything on it and it was very large and very good. I drank a liter of sparkling water and had a coffee. The Chilean ladies were very nice to me until they hit me with the exchange rate they were using to convert Chilean pesos to Argentine. They calculated the bill at 76 Argentine pesos, or 19USD. It was outrageous. I was too exhausted to argue and the sandwich had been too good, with a special flat bread they baked freshly in the back and eggs that came from the chickens out front. I told the ladies they were thieves but I was smiling and I would probably have paid more for that sandwich too.

I crossed through the Chilean checkpoint and then rode the last 14km of ripio along the cliffs between the frontiers. At the Argentine checkpoint the pavement began again. I went through the passport control and received my stamps and rode up the hill and down below stretching out was the Bahia San Sebastian.

I ascended higher and looked for a place to camp. I rode 10km before I found a spot and put up the tent where it was partially hidden behind a ridge above a lower lying drainage area. Only truckers going to Chile could see me and only during daylight. At night the headlights of cars or trucks would be too high on the road to pick up the tent. There were sheep on the pasturelands and just over the last hills I could see the blue of the Bay of San Sebastian.

I made a coffee and finished a package of cookies and read about Rio Grande. My wrists hurt, my shoulders and elbows too, but my legs were alright. It wasn’t too cold but when the sun set the cold came on quickly and I put my sweater and headband back on, a second pair of socks, and wrapped a tshirt around my neck as a scarf. I got into my sleeping bag. I felt a little cold but I was dry and knew I would warm soon. It was too cold and I was too tired to go outside the tent and spend 30 minutes cooking pasta and I made myself a cup of soup and ate a package of crackers. I had eaten that big sandwich earlier. I had gone 125km, 115 of them on ripio. It was a brutal day, the sort you would not wish upon anyone. I lay in the tent listening to the trucks pass. Most of them were coming from the Chilean side. The moon was bright and there was almost enough light in the tent to see without my flashlight. Tomorrow would be an easy wind-assisted 70km to Rio Grande.


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