We have arrived in El Calafate, a beautiful little tourist town of about 6000 people nestled in the Andes at about 50 degrees of latitude and situated on Lake Argentina – a smaller more remote version of Bariloche. It’s conveniently situated to Los Glaciares Nacional Park making it a busy jumping off point. It is also only 80K from the Perito Moreno Glacier with regular trips leaving from here several times a day. You can visit this huge glacier by boat, car, bus or van depending upon your situation. The trips usually include opportunities to walk fully equipped with crampons on the surface of the ice. Of course there are many other glaciers in the area but the Moreno glacier is huge and one can experience the power and roar when the ice calves in to the waters it meets if you are willing to spend the time waiting.
Our ride into this gorgeous setting was eventful. We had 109k to cover starting out moving southeast then swinging to the southwest during the first 73K before the paved road meets the Lago Argentina and finishing with 30k directly west. The reason the directions are important to us is the mainly westerly direction of the winds here. What that meant was that we would have a slight tailwind during the first portion of our ride then a strong sidewind as we moved southwest and ending directly into a headwind for the last 30K. This could be a difficult day. It proved true to form. A good day to ride in a peloton (group) so you could switch off from the hard work of leading to the easier going protection of riding behind in the group. I biked with the Norwegians during the morning – since it was a sidewind our foursome staggered across the lane with the inside person taking the brunt of the wind. There was another foursome just ahead of us and a couple of newcomers who hadn’t mastered the discipline of the peloton moving ahead and behind as their energy allowed. We made good time but I ended up spending almost all of the morning on the inside lane since the cyclists moving ahead and behind didn’t leave room for us to rotate as we normally did. There is not much traffic on this two-laned highway so vehicles behind us could easily pass when they approached our groups. The lunch truck was waiting at 67K and there were a half dozen cyclists there when we arrived. The race today was to the lunch truck and those here before us had been racing that morning. I was anxious to talk to Terry about the results since he had been hoping to help Barry get his first stage win here by working together with another racer to allow Barry to rest behind them until the opportunity to pull ahead might arise late in the event. Terry was quiet about it when I walked up to him now and said that it had been quite a morning – he would fill me in later. I noticed Barry wasn’t there and quizzed him. Terry replied that Barry had fallen from his bicycle and was taken by a car that they had flagged down to the hospital in El Calafate. Barry had appeared to have fainted and fell right in the lane of traffic though he didn’t seem to have sustained any physical injuries during the fall as he had slowed considerably prior to falling. No. What went through my brain as I sat through lunch – a stroke? A spastic fit of some type? A sudden drop in blood pressure? Why? Will he be alright somehow? We left lunch as one large group. A different strategy is followed in the peloton when going directly into the wind. We pair up and ride in as tight a group as we can trailing each pair behind the next and rotating with the leaders falling back to the end of the group and the ones previously just behind them now taking the lead. We had another near tragedy as James pulled out of his turn in the lead he drifted out into the lane of oncoming traffic without looking and came within inches of being struck by a fast moving car . He didn’t even notice it with the sound of the strong winds. I was shocked at the suddenness of this event and how close we all are to this kind of moment. Again, we had some new riders who didn’t fully comprehend the discipline and were a bit of distraction as they flitted in and out never realizing their role in the team effort and being very ineffectual throughout our 30K struggle against our common enemy the Patagonian wind. We were fortunate in that the wind velocity never did reach what we had been experiencing the previous couple of days – it was a force but not overwhelming and we came into El Calafate in under two hours from the lunch truck. Terry and I gathered our bags at the campsite, grabbed Barry’s as well and took a taxi to the hotel. After quick showers we headed for the hospital. As it turned out we had missed Barry by just minutes at the campsite – he had been checked out of the clinic and we ended up seeing him when we returned to the hotel. A CT scan and X-ray revealed no problems there. Of course we hit him up with the old joke that the brain scan had come up empty. Barry seemed his old self although tired. It was a big relief though we all wished that we knew why this had happened.
I had a very quiet rest day after nine full days riding. That is what “rest day” needs to be about now so we can be ready to get back on the bike and move on with new energy. This stop has only one day which means basic chores have to be done such as getting laundry cleaned and cleaning and tuning up our bikes as well as a myriad of other individual things that need to be cared for. I chose not to go to the glacier for these reasons. If I hadn’t experienced glaciers through climbing, hiking and kayaking many times in my life I would certainly have gone. Instead, Barry and I drifted slowly through town stopping for coffee, lunch and some small shopping then on for a siesta in the afternoon. Tonight we are going to La Tablita, the premier restaurant in a town of great restaurants. The currency rate here in Argentina makes great meals more affordable for us. I might have a glass of Malbec as well.