Villa Union and the New Road

near Villa Union

near Villa Union

Barry, Terry and Jurg

Barry, Terry and Jurg

along new road

along new road

riding through new construction

riding through new construction

Today was the first in six days of riding before Mendoza and two days of rest. Each morning at breakfast Bike Dreams co-owner Rob passes out the days profile, map and instructions for our ride. Then he goes over it with us to be sure everyone understands and adds any additional information he may have for us. This morning we were surprised when he gave us two possible routes, then mentioned that there may or may not be a lunch truck so bring your own food and extra water. It turned out that our original route is on a road that is not opened yet. It is brand new and still under construction. We are riding today and it is not scheduled to be open until tomorrow. Rob thinks that our bicycles will be allowed to be on the road but our Bike Dreams trucks may not be allowed to travel on it until later in the afternoon. So, our lead driver Rob will take the long 300K round about way to Villa Union from Chilecito with all our cyclists camping equipment and Walter, our lunch truck driver, will proceed to the new road and see what the construction people allow him to do. We can either take the new road the whole way or bike off pavement on a road which leads into the new road about 35K further on. About half of us take the new pavement and the others follow Rob on the gravel road that will merge with the new. I hook up with Barry, Terry, Jurg, Hardy and several others on Ruta 40 to a cutoff that leads to our route. Several other riders had left earlier and we met at the junction. We were sailing along. We have to climb across the mountains during this ride – it is our first real climb for some time as we have been on the altiplano for six weeks and then the flat plains and canyon lands. Pavement is easier climbing as the percentage of grade allowed is lower. It was still a good long climb though of about 15K before we found ourselves at the lunch truck and the start of the continuing construction on our road. Our truck will have to wait until the road construction is over for the day before they can proceed on the new road. We could see snow falling on these mountains while we were having breakfast – by the time we cycled there the snow had passed as had the rain in the lower elevations. The workers were letting us cycle through. It’s rough, rugged mountainous terrain and a real challenge to those designing and building a road winding around, cutting through and forcing its way up and over this land. We find our way past caterpillars, loaders, big trucks, and hard hatted Argentines all raising dust, rumbling and roaring their way through the solid rock. These machines require temporary side roads to get the rock moved and allow themselves to work at the same time. Some of these sections are what we are cycling on – the grade for these byways was steep. It was challenging for my level of aerobic capacity following those days of inactivity after my cycling accident. Huffing and puffing my way along, I followed up and down the rugged tracks with my three fellow cyclists. We all agreed that there was no way that this road should be, or could be, opened for traffic the next day. Sometime during this portion of the climb, the rough surface caused the extra water bottle I was carrying in my cycle jersey to start leaking. I had filled it with Coke for energy in case the lunch truck had not arrived. Barry informed me that the back of my jersey was staining brown. Stopping for a minute, I also found that the emerging sun had melted the three various chocolate bars in another pocket – fortunately that mess stayed in their wrappers. I emptied half of the bottle and got back on the bike. The mountains we were moving through slowly evolved into beautiful eroded canyons much like the country we had cycled earlier in Argentina. At one point in the canyons the sky was full of vultures. Circling, swooping and soaring, their presence indicated a fairly large dead animal about a half K away. Some looked much larger than others and also had some white on their bodies. I thought maybe Condors? Since I only had my I phone I couldn’t get a photo at this distance. Later, I got a look at a photo that Jan Willem had taken – they were Condors! I took photos when I could but the four of us (Terry, Barry, Jurg and I) felt we should keep moving as we had no idea about the coming road surface or the possible head winds as we came out of the mountains. We also didn’t know if the days ride would be 118K or 143K since Rob wasn’t sure about where we would be camping. Those were the two possibilities Rob had listed on our info sheet. When we finally crested over the top of the pass the view was all downhill. A big relief to tired legs. A long, long downhill and the winds were negligible. I moved out of the front and asked Barry and Terry to take over – I’m much slower on the descents. Off we went. Following the long descent we came to the gas station at a junction where our info had indicated would be our destination for the night. I hollered at Terry and Barry to stop, knowing that we were the first cyclists to arrive, I slid past them and into the station. Yay!!! My first stage win! Of course it really wasn’t since we weren’t racing and half of the riders had taken a different route earlier. But I had my fun, and Terry took an arm raised photo of me celebrating. Why not!

I’ve regained the weight I lost when I was sick in Peru. I’m thinking I have to slow down on the ice cream. We burn a lot of calories while on the bike but the lower altitude and fewer climbs make riding easier than it had been. Our breakfasts consist of a lot of bread, jam and granola. We have four meals a day. I did slow down on the chocolate I’d been eating. Back to some balance now.

While I try not to look ahead – to stay in the moment, in the present – I’m excited to reach Mendoza in less than a week. This city was where John Wood and I celebrated for a wonderful week following our summit of Aconcagua ten years ago.This mountain is the highest in the western hemisphere. Our other partner in the climb, Gary Tabor, returned home right after our climb so he missed that week. Mendoza is also where our climbing friend Lucas Dauria lives.
I will meet with him and his family while we are there. Also, my close friends, Deb and Brian Bennett will be joining our Bike Dreams group to cycle from there to Ushuaia with us. We still have five good long days of cycling before our arrival but my mind wanders.

I’ll try to post some photos if internet here allows.

11 thoughts on “Villa Union and the New Road

  1. Wow, Buck, I didn’t know you had been to Argentina before and had climbed Aconcagua! I worked a couple of seasons on the Chilean side of Llullaillaco, but never tried to get to the top. Nice pictures and it looks like it will be a grand new road. Keep your neat descriptions coming.

  2. Buck, As a climber, you may know Joe (Johan) Reinhard, originally from Wisconsin, who has climbed all the notable Andean peaks. Joe also has a PhD in anthropology and was investigating the Incaic ritual child sacrifices on top of Llullaillaco, while we were searching around the Salar de Punta Negra for early sites and later Inca roads. I got to know Joe pretty well, and later his friend Bambi who worked in the US embassies in Lima and Bolivia, who you may also have run into. Tom

    1. Hi Tom, I’m in Mendoza tonight. I don’t know Joe but I’m a very limited climber compared to your description of him. I saw the mountain on the way into town today – looking forward to a steak with fellow climber Luca and his family.

  3. Buck, I love to hear about the long downhill rides! That’s the right kind of riding. Love your posts and hope you can send some pictures soon. Keep eating that ice cream and chocolate–you deserve it!

    1. Hi Helen, in Mendoza – staying at the same hotel tonight that I did 10 years ago when I was climbing Aconcagua!
      Hope you’re still having good fall weather and getting out to play.

  4. Hi Buck, I’m glad you have regained your weight, am pumped that you will soon be joined by GM friends and elated to tell you that Siri’s scans were clear! Phew……keep peddling friend!

  5. Buck, I’m following your trip with one tab on your blog & another on the map. Back & forth, taking it all in! Really glad your shoulder is mended & you didn’t break anything. However, too bad you are so poor with words, we are so treated with your insights & observations. Looking forward to southern part of your trip: send details! Hi to Brian & Deb!

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