We have just one more in a string of six cycling days before our next rest day in Chilecito which will also be our last hotel until December 8th in Chile. Most of the time we’ll be staying in campgrounds such as where we find ourselves this evening. Other nights will be in bush camps. We started with a 96K ride into a bush camp and then two campgrounds after rides of 94K and 78K to great little Argentinian towns of Cafayate and Santa Maria respectively. Traveling through some beautiful canyon lands on those rides and very little climbing, pleasant days and nice pavement we found ourselves getting a little spoiled. Getting into camp early everyday left us time to relax, get our chores done and added a calm to our time off the bikes. Our 122K ride into a bush camp at Hualfin brought reality back quite unexpectantly. Our day’s profile looked great – no real climb at all. However, we are now in Northern Argentina traveling south. Headwinds. We had a real headwind on this day that wanted to chase us back north. Enough to drive a lone cyclist off the bike. It was back to the peloton for us. For those of you who haven’t read my earlier post about pelotons I’ll just give a brief idea of how we deal with this wind. We had the same type of headwind in the Peruvian desert country on our way to the coast. As we head out from camp, riders informally group up generally according to abilities. In our pelotons we ride two abreast in close quarters with the riders just ahead. The lead cyclists bear the brunt of the wind with those behind finding themselves free from most of the force. Rotating cyclists keeps everyone fairly fresh during the day. However, the headwind on this day was so strong that even this strategy left us all exhausted by the end of the day. “There are no easy days on the Andes Trail,” Bike Dreams co-owner Rob likes to tell us. It was certainly true on this day. There are several major disadvantages in riding in the peloton. If you like to stop to take photos you just can’t do it in a group. You’ll be left behind – for the most part you are busy watching the wheel of the cyclist ahead of you. Most of the time your front tire is just inches from the back tire of the rider ahead of you. If you hit that tire you’ll find yourself on the pavement and so will several of the cyclists behind you. A mistake in a peloton can end the trip for riders caught in the pile-up. Trust is a big part of taking part in this strategy – it’s good to get to know how different cyclists ride so you’re comfortable behind them. In our group we have a policy of stopping when someone has to empty their bladder – if we didn’t then whoever had to answer the call would be left behind. A single rider has a hard time catching up to the energy of the peloton.
We left camp early next morning anticipating a long day with 160K’s to ride and thoughts of yesterday’s headwind very fresh in our minds. We had camped in a little run down resort located in a beautiful box-canyon. It was a difficult place to find; a little maze of single track dirt lanes left several cyclists trying one and then the other before finding their fellow bikers putting up tents wherever we could find shade. The claim to fame here was a hot springs and sure enough there were a passel of youngsters splashing, screaming. jumping and undoubtedly peeing in the pool. Fortunately they had four small rooms a little higher up where pipes brought hot water into individual shower liker facilities. After my quarters were situated I climbed up with shorts, soap and a towel to wait my turn. Kristin was just a head of me so I parked outside and listened to the mother and youngsters who were in the adjoining room just having a ball. Kristen came out looking like she was just back from heaven – I got my turn next. A single pipe poured 37 C water out from six feet above a split level concrete enclosure. That water felt so good I didn’t want to leave. I’m not sure if 37 C just a perfect temp for our bodies or if at this point at the end of a huge day anything would have felt great. I really believe in the 37 C. Nothing else worked including the banos, but that perfectly tempered water put smiles on all of our faces. The ride itself called for a peloton. Even if we don’t get the headwind, the distance alone will go much faster in a group and the scenery has not been inspirational. We were tired and nervous about how we were going to get through the big K day if the wind is like yesterday. Well, the gods were good to us – very little headwind, a beautiful day, very little climbing and a group that worked very well together. It was a very relieved gathering of cyclists relaxing rather early in a little campground that afternoon. Relaxed and relieved. Music playing. Computers out on tables in the shade. A few beers cracked. It’s so nice when it is nice.
With any group of people living side by side for several months there are bumps in the road, personalities that don’t always fit, stresses that are difficult to manage. We have become a large family. The focus of cycling and working together relieves most of these pressures. What was a problem in the morning is dissolved by evening. We have to work together to get our equipment loaded and unloaded each day. Bags come off the truck on arrival and back on in the morning. Dishes to wash and tables to set. Tables and benches to unload, set up and reload. Dinners to serve, tables to clear. All of these things have to be done as a team and efficiently. Teamwork keeps conflicts to a minimum. Of course now that we are camping every night we also have our own tents to set up and take down and our bags to settle inside. Our little homes. A bit of a challenge to keep things clean in this dusty deserty part of Argentina.
The last day in a string of 6 cycling days – we have 120K’s to ride and we are all tired from the previous five. It was hard for me to shake the cobwebs off this morning. Usually I’m awake by five am at the latest, up and organizing my stuff in the tent but this time the sandman didn’t let go until of me until six thirty. Had to hustle to get the tent down by breakfast and bags packed over to the truck. Breakfast down. Teeth brushed, a little water across my face, grab the helmut, get on the bike and fall into my group. A few K’s in I notice I didn’t refill my water bottles before I left. Damn. Luckily it isn’t hot yet and I can get some at lunch. We change the lead every fifteen minutes and the wind lets us alone till about eleven. We do have hills and tired legs though. By early afternoon I’m struggling. Most of the rest of the group is too. As we approach Chilecito and our last hotel until Chile, Michelle is repeating her day’s mantra – Cold cervesas, cold cervesas – to keep her moving forward. Kristin has a chain problem, we all stop and it feels so good. Back on the bikes after a few minutes we finally roll into Chilecito and find we’re staying a little beyond town in some apartments. We like to be right in town so it will be taxi time tonight for dinner.
Tonight Barry, Terry, JR and I are heading into town for a well deserved steak. I’m tired. We want to take a look at the statue of Che Guevarra (sp). I hope to get a photo of him on this blog.