Since our border crossing back into Argentina we have left the lakes, pines and rain and are back to the pampas. That has meant wind. Real wind. Patagonia wind. The predominating wind direction is from the west so for the first day or so that we were going mostly east the wind was our friend but today our course took us southwest. Right into the teeth of the western gales and we felt it big time on the bikes. We were heading to a campsite in the little town of Bajo Caracoles from our last nights stay in Perito Moreno. The trip is 131K with about 1300 meters of climbing. It started out well for the first 40K despite a few good climbs, then we crested a big hill and were hit like a ton of bricks by the western blow. The serenity was gone – replaced by the relentless fury of mother nature. Wind is probably the most unforgiving element in the natural world. It pities no one. All you can do is shift down a few speeds in a lower gear and keep your legs pumping those pedals. Stopping is not a solution – the wind is not going away in this part of the world. In fact it usually gets stronger as the day gets longer. On this day it often stopped us in our tracks. It also pushed us crazily from one side of our lane to the other without warning. One had to lean into it sideways to keep from being blown over. Pelotons were difficult with these unpredictable sideways swings. I don’t know the velocity of the wind but I do know that you couldn’t hear the person next to you and we could pedal as hard as we could and often be going only 6K/hr. That’s less than 4 MPH. You can walk faster than that. But not into this wind. The hours went by – at about 95K I stopped to raise my bike seat – it has been slipping despite my efforts to get the clamp as tight as possible. The cyclists I was pedaling with continued on. After that adjustment and another to put on more sun screen I came around a big corner into a straight section where I saw Brian and Deb about a half K ahead. They didn’t seem to be moving but with closer inspection it appeared that they were pushing their bikes. I pedaled crazily forward as the wind was still pushing me around in the lane. When I finally reached them they had stopped so I just pulled up and got off the bike. “I think we should catch the truck,” Brian said, “at this speed it’ll be another two and a half hours of this crazy shit.” I looked back. The lunch truck was approaching at about a K away. “Yes, why not.” was my quick reply. So we joined eight other cyclists plus our team doctor Annelot in the truck with Walter. Hardly room to take a deep breath. But we were very happy to be out of that wind. We had cycled 106K and were damn tired.
Our next stop is Las Horquetas 109K away. There is only about 600 meters of climbing but we awaken to the wind blowing just as hard as when we went to bed. Our campsite had ended up in somebody’s backyard since the people at the little hostel/campground were closed and out of town. One might say what town? There were just a smattering of dilapidated houses and a small hotel/gas station besides the little campground. It was the neighbor of the closed hostel who let us use his backyard and also one of his little houses so we could cook indoors. I used our shovel to move some dog poop and a duck’s head out of the way to put up my tent. It was blowing pretty good but the tent was secure. Wine at dinner helped. I had to put on my down jacket to stay warm enough to get through dinner then retreated to my little house (tent) to do some writing and a little reading then on to bed. It’s light here till about 930 and I know that I was asleep before the sun disappeared. The morning brought a decision for many of us with the wind blowing another gale. I put my cycling clothes on in the sleeping bag since it was cold, already having made my decision to cycle. A number of others opted for the truck. After an initial tough 5 K’s in the wind we turned southeast – the wind was no longer in our faces and most of the rest of the morning went well. I wanted to get as many K’s in as possible before we turned southwest directly into our nemesis. Lunch was at 50K – I didn’t dawdle. The winds typically get much worse after about 2pm. I didn’t want to be still cycling at that point. After lunch I cycled with one of the new guys who started in Bariloche. We took turns in the wind until I took over on a hill – when I looked back after few K’s he was no longer there. There was a group of four about a K ahead of me but otherwise no one so I just pedaled on by myself. The winds became more and more of a factor as I pushed along. In places they stopped me in my tracks. Other times they threatened to blow me over. JR had been blown off his bike two days before and Michelle was blown into a guard rail yesterday. Deb had fallen on the gravel two days before – her arm and hand were very swollen and painful. JR’s left side was too painful to sleep on. I didn’t want to join them so was careful on the corners where sudden big gusts can catch you. At the 100K mark our route turned to the east and I was sailing on into our new camp amazingly quickly. What a relief – the absence of wind. Actually it was still there but just no longer into our faces. We have ended up in a building in Las Horquetas that was only two rock walls in 2012 when Bike Dreams was last here. Now it is a future restaurant and hotel with seven rooms – there still is no running water, working kitchen or heat and electricity in the room I am sharing with Alfred but it has been a real blessing for Bike Dreams since we are not cooking and dining outdoors in this cold wind. As far as I can see this town has no other buildings.
Today we had a 48K time trial to start the day. The road was paved, slightly downhill and perfectly straight. If you’re going to hold this type of race this is the place for it. Add to that a big tailwind and we’re looking at flying down this road. Rob asked Bike Dream cyclists to each find a partner, we would take off in intervals and Lucho would be waiting with a chart and a timing watch. About half of the bikers were excited for a little competition, most of the others took it as just a fun ride and a few of us had no interest in timing. I rode with Kristin and Hilde just for fun. I also didn’t take part in the single 7K time trial when we were in Salar Uyuni (salt lake). The races and timing just don’t fit in to why I am here though I certainly respect those who are enjoying these competitions. I’ve done a lot of racing in other sports. Terry and Joost won the overall competition with an average speed of 51.5K/hr. Deb and Brian came in second in the mixed doubles division with 42K/hr. Kristin, Hilde and I won the mixed triples. Following this fun little affair we headed onto the gravel to complete our ride to La Angostura where we found a nice campsite in a small but very well done resort with motel units. The family had located their livelihood with wetlands in front and a vast tract of open rangeland beyond all surrounded by sweeping hills. This is not a landscape dominated by trees. There was a large variety of birds including wild geese and pink flamingoes. Horses roamed on the wetland edges and beyond. It is very different from the pampas which have been desertlike with swtchgrass, bushes, cacti and assorted succulents low to the ground. What we have here is a natural prairie. We have also seen some flightless birds which we have been confused about – we have now identified them as Patagonian Rheas, a much smaller version of the emu o Australia or the ostrich of Africa. There is nothing else for many kilometers around. We all wonder why this business is here and how it can be successful. It can’t be seen from the little traveled “main” gravel road and has just a small hand painted sign on the little side road which will take you 5K down to the site. However, other guests showed up while we were here and the proprietors are busy completing five more units. More power to them. We are enjoying our stay here. This afternoon the wind died for the first time since we left the lake district, We basked in the sunlight and wondered what tomorrow may bring.
Our last three stages have been relatively uneventful from a biking standpoint. Each day the wind blows hard out of the west – since we are traveling primarily south and west we get strong sidewinds or strong headwinds. The biking can be very taxing because of this. With Ushuaia only two weeks ahead many of the cyclists are now starting to look that direction and thinking more of home. Many are running out of gas as far as biking goes – it is becoming more of a chore rather than the joy it has been for most of this trip. The pampas, the wind, bikes starting to break down in various ways and the remoteness of this last section have all played a part in the current state of affairs. A very few individuals are also wearing on the rest of the group. We are running out of patience with the behavior of a couple of people – it’s getting harder not to react. I think that getting into El Calafate tomorrow, enjoying getting caught up on laundry, internet, a chance to visit the famous Mereno Glacier and the prospect of seeing the Torres Paine Nacional Parque in Chile soon should put a little more life back into everybody’s worn out little bodies. Southern Patagonia is not a place without its trials but it also has great rewards for those who are looking.