25 November 2009
Sometimes it seems like there is not much to say. After three years on this bike tour, we´re short on superlatives and there are only so many times we can write about the food we eat or offer details about the kilometers covered. We´ve already seen the steepest hills, the longest downhills, the muddiest trails, and yet we will be daily battling one last extreme obstacle on our way to Ushuaia.
The wind here in Pataogina- possibly a cyclist`s greatest nemesis, makes the daily ride, more of a daily grind. It is one of nature`s more violent features, pushing us from one side of the road to the other, sometimes into oncoming traffic. Other times, it feels like it actually grabs ahold of me and just shakes me while it screeches and howls in my ears. Under rain and sleet and heat, there always seems to be some solution. But wind is relentless, like a battlefield. To rest, or eat snacks we have to find some kind of windshield. Somtimes an abandoned building, other times we are crawling into culverts underneath the road, anything to escape the wind for a moment.
Sometimes invisible, other times so very tangible. Whether it takes form in a dust cloud, with stinging bits of rocks blowing against our faces and arms or renders the low brush and grass as fluid as abody of water, rippling with the gusts. Sometimes it feels like we are almost swimming in the wind, subjected to such powerful currents. When riding close together we simultaneously get blown into another lane, or when spread out further there can be a delay of a few moments, but inevitably the gust finds you. Somehow, we have rarely encountered much wind, until Argentina that is, and apparently, we are making up for lost time.
Lately, it has become more difficult to offer updates on our blog. Maybe it is inevitable for every bike tourist, or maybe it takes a few years, but there are some days when you really have no desire to ride your bike, and less desire to spend your day camped out in the middle of nowhere. Riding the bike starts to feel like work. Anything worthwhile to converse with your fellow riders has most likely been said, and the result is conversations of nonsensensical banter or like people stranded on a deserted island discussing dreams of hamburgers, dark beer, and other luxuries are shared.
Something feels wrong sharing an update with low morale. How could we not enjoy this; we are living our dreams, and yet some days, I just want to get on a bus lift my feet up, close my eyes as, and drool on myself as we blast across the countryside. Sean and I joke about taking a bus, sometimes seriously. It seems lately, I don´t understand why I continue to pedal to Ushuaia, we have gone plenty far, had plenty of adventures. But lately there have been many days I just have not enjoyed another day on the bike.
It is partially the timing and partially the countryside. In these flat sections we can see beyond the horizon and the pampas seem to tilt towards the end of the world, offering the illusion that in another 50 kilometers or so, South America runs out of land. From Mexico on, we have always faced a wall of mountains and jungle, and progress wasn´t so visible; it never seemed to matter how far you went in a day, and dragging the bike through mudslides and jungle vines oddly enough, seemed to make sense. Now we are haunted by the open skies and kilometer markers, which update us each and every kilometer we have left. At the border of Argentina the first one marked five thousand and some odd kilometers, and we are now reaching two thousand kilometers to go. Just about every kilometer is marked, apart from the signs whose numbers appeare to have been blown off by the wind. Just 2,349 to go, 2,348, 2,347 and when the wind stretches the distance between the signs, you can easily see how it could get to you.
AND we have been on paved roads more than we would prefer through Argentina, something we have patently avoided since the beginning. Being so close to the end, and so low on funds, we don´t have the luxury to veer onto those tiny dirt roads and find out where they go. For the first time in the trip, it hasn´t felt like we were just headed south as much as headed to Tierra del Fuego. Yes. Now it feels like we have a destination and that has been a challenge for morale. It is complicated. Why would we ever wish to finish this trip, it has been such a wild adventure. Why not delay it as much as possible?
Bike tourists sacrifice a tremendous amount to make their trip a reality…the dream come true. They have to leave behind friends and family, and live off of very little money, with little opportunity to gain any kind of income. It can become a stressful lifestyle, when you get up and it´s cold and raining or sleeting and you have to put on wet clothes ride all day, wake up and repeat, or when you check your email and your bank says you have insufficient funds, or when you see videos of your brothers new child saying their ABC`s, or be unable to return for a funeral when a family member dies. Have I really been gone that long, you think yourself?
We have taken a break here in San Martin de Los Andes, a moment to forget about finishing the trip, about our finances and the challenges we have ahead. Maxi, who owns the Bike Hostel here has put us up for free for as long as we want, and although hospitality has been common and generous en route, it is easy for three guys on huge bikes to wear out their welcome, rather quickly. Maxi has also been on bike tours and understands the level of hospitality that is needed. He doesn´t ask us when we plan to leave each day, and encourages us to stay longer; doesn´t force us to entertain him with stories about our travels, but freely shares stories of his own. Within the community there are an impressive amount of cyclists. Each day new bike tourists arrive, and for the first time in a long time we have been part of a community, gone to ‘Asados’, drank wine and beer and enjoyed socializing with like minded folks. We have had the opportunity to check out the epic singeltrack in the area with the locals. We have ultimately, thanks to Maxi, had a place to simply BE for a while.
You can never underestimate the importance of rest days on a lengthy bike tour, when you are constantly moving. There has to be periods where you can feel like you have a home other than the bike, where you can spend time with new friends for more than a night or two. Or mabye not, but in my experience, there comes a point when I don`t want to feel like a wandering gypsy, with no clear destination, without ever having a place to rest, to come back to at night.
Thanks in part to a lengthy rest at the bike hostel and the location, our path ahead is once again new and exciting – novel. Severe snowy mountains surround us on all sides, and a dirt road that traverses seven lakes awaits us. We have already seen new types of trees and exotic looking birds. A rider from Spain traveling from Bolivia is going to be joining us and hopefully another pair also traveling from Alaska. Traveling with other riders is going to be exciting, as there will be more strength, and greater morale with a larger group. After traveling so long with out encountering any other bike tourists, the opportunity to share the experience with others seems priceless, really and we´re looking forward to it.
The life of my tire is quickly coming to an end: