06 March 2011

Paso Los Libertadores (near Rio Colorado)

The carretera ended soon after Colina and I was forced onto the auto pista heading north towards Los Andes. There was a good shoulder and it was not difficult riding, but I could see the mountains in the distance and beyond them were higher mountains and beyond those, almost too faint to make out, were the outlines of even higher mountains.

It was before Los Andes that the difficult ascending began. The sun was out and it was hot and I rode up the long ascent in my lowest gear, past a stone statue of a man holding a sword and higher still. At the top the road flattened and ahead was a tunnel. I stopped at the fire station beside the tunnel and asked about passage through and a man came out to drive me through in a camionetta. I took off the front panniers and we lifted the bike into the back of the pickup truck and he drove me through the tunnel.  

On the other side was a furious dropping descent into Los Andes and I took it hard and fast and down into the valley it was lush and green and there were vineyards and long lines of poplar trees. I passed horses and cattle grazing and fields of corn and the descent ended and the climbing into the next range began following  the Rio Colorado up into the higher mountains. I stopped at a house serving drinks and had a coffee and a juice and took a nap.

Then it was back to climbing along the river. My legs felt good and my knees did not bother me. This day and the day before I had focused on riding more slowly and in a lower gear. After passing a sign that indicated steeper climbing ahead I met two Japanese cyclists who were coming down from the pass. They had camped the night before near the Aconcagua and the temperatures had fallen below freezing, but there was no snow. I asked if they had seen somewhere to camp up the road ahead but they had not.

I passed through the pueblo of Rio Colorado and beyond it saw an area between the rocks that would shield me from both sides from being seen by traffic. The area had been burned, probably as the result of a camp stove fire, which was good because good roadside campsites were also good places for truckers to go to the bathroom. The ground was ash and it smelled faintly of burnt cinders but it did not smell of human feces and I put the tent up. Laying inside I could hear the river and I thought of the difficult climbing ahead. I was still tired from the sleepless trip from Punta Arenas and I went to sleep easily.


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