09 November 2012

In the Desert

Los Organos was a bright and dusty little beach town. I had a room at a hospedaje for $7 a night and there were a couple of good restaurants in the town square. The malecon and beach were deserted and in the evenings the setting sun turned the high cliffs behind the town a deep pink. I would have stayed longer but I had to start making my way down the coast and to Piura, where I planned to pack up the bike and travel to Lima by bus.
I said goodbye to Mariela and turned in my key and started the climb out of town. There was a headwind blowing up the coast and it was hot, steep climbing up to the height of the sandy cliffs. The country was all dusty scrub now. I rode at the height of the land for awhile and then the road dropped back down to sea level and as it dropped the cliffs ahead of me grew larger and larger.
This was more climbing than I expected. The headwind didn’t help either. My expectation had been for a short, easy day of no more than 20km to Cabo Blanco. Instead I was climbing over ranges of cliffs along the coast.
I reached the turn off for El Alto and started back along the road the map indicated would lead to Cabo Blanco. A couple of dogs escorted me loudly into a town made wealthy because of the oil production in the region. The streets were newly paved and there were numerous traffic lights and new, modern looking buildings.
After El Alto the road turned to dirt and led up to a lookout over the coast. I had expected to see Cabo Blanco but there was nothing. Off shore oil rigs dotted the horizon on the water. A sign indicated a steep descent to the water and I considered it a moment. I was going to have to climb this back tomorrow and I wasn’t even sure where Cabo Blanco was. It was then I made the decision to turn back to El Alto and ride back to the Pan American and continue on for the city of Talara and the beach town of Negritos. It was at least 60km to Negritos. I had planned to arrive there the next day, but I felt I could do it.
The Pan American turned inland after El Alto and there was no more climbing. It was a long, flat, sun-baked stretch of scrub and sand and all of it into a headwind that was gathering in strength. I put my head down and turned the pedals. It was a tough wind but it was not devastating. The devastating winds were further south in the Patagone. There you considered it a fast day to get out of your lowest gear. I was riding on the second lowest gear on my middle chain ring. It was a tough wind, but I had known far worse.
Still the wind was making it slow going. I rested under the shade of a thorn tree and ate some cookies and a banana. I wished I had more water. I should have bought another bottle in El Alto. I could feel myself wearing down in the wind and heat and there wasn’t anything out there in the desert.
I got back on the bike and pushed ahead. Suddenly the flat desert scrub ended and I was at the lip of a steep gorge. The road dropped down it into a long flood plain where the wind was particularly strong. I saw a sign for Talara and followed a road back to an oil facility. The men there said the sign was wrong and sent me back. Around a small hill I saw a wooden shack and saw there were drinks for sale. I bought the last 2 bottles of water the young couple had.
Far ahead the road went up out of the gorge and I felt a reaction against making that climb. I was tired and now I had water for the night. I could camp. A dirt road went off the Pan American, following an oil pipeline back into the hills and I got off and followed it. I found a denser section of thorn bushes that would make me unseen from the highway and pushed the bike back behind it. I unloaded the bike, cleared and area in the sand and put up the tent and got inside with my gear and went to sleep.

When I awoke I ate a banana and a package of peanuts and made myself a cup of coffee. The sun was nearly down behind the hills. I stepped out of the tent to brush my teeth and felt a sharp pain in my foot. A long thorn had gone through my flip flop. Hidden in the sand were numerous thorns. Instantly, I thought to check the bike. The front wheel had a few small thorns in it which I removed. Only one seemed deep enough to have gotten to the tube. But in the rear wheel there was a big thorn and when I removed it the air quickly went out of the tire.
Then I remembered I had only a single spare tube. Perhaps the front tire would deflate over night too and I would need two spares tomorrow. And the spare tube, which I had patched a week ago, what if the patch had not fixed on it? If that were the case I would be stuck out in the desert waiting for rubber cement to dry. Even if the spare worked, I would be riding tomorrow through thorn country without a spare. I had to take the rear tire off tonight and patch it tonight.
The sun was now almost behind the hills and I was running out of light. I quickly flipped the bike over and got the rear wheel off but had trouble getting the tire off the rim. My hands were bloody by the time I got it off. As I expected the puncture was large enough to be obvious and I didn’t need to put the tire underwater, which would have been a waste of my water. I patched the hole and found a large rock and inside my tent laid it on the patch to set. A few minutes later the sun dropped below the hills. I hoped the patch took during the night and I hoped there wasn’t another puncture in the tire.


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