The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"Negative thoughts use more energy than physical movement" - Paavo Airola
Patagonia And The Monster
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Its important to relax more and allow life to happen instead of forcing life
to our will. Stress is usually caused by being self-centered or allowing the
ego to rule us. In Patagonia the monster rules and like life it doesn't care
how we feel or what we think, it just is. To fight it or force it to blow
in our desired direction is not only futile but unhealthy.
The first 35 miles into Argentina went rather quickly for the monstrous
winds are working in my favor. According to the map there appears to be a
fork in the road and at the fork is the town of Fuentes del Coyle. Looks
like a good spot to stop for the night. But as I expected there was no town,
only a private house and a trailer. I chose to knock on the door of the
trailer which turned out to be the temporary home of two road maintenance
workers. They live in the trailer during the week, and on the weekends they
go home to Rio Gallagoes, 200 miles south-east of here. They told me that
they drive graders all day. The road is so infrequently used, I think their
main function is to make tracks, so the would-be traveler can FIND the road.
Then I think to myself - road? What road? It's a crooked line of rocks and
stones and sand. It's often in worse condition than the terrain off the road.
I guess someone has to drive the graders around all day and push the bigger
stones off to the side and at least maintain where the road is. On average
only about 10 cars a day passed me.
The graders actually do manage to improve the road conditions somewhat. At
one point on the trip, I was cycling behind one of the graders for a while,
and was impressed by how much easier it was after they cleared all the
loose stones off to the side. Cycling behind it however was similar to
following a snow-plow on the freeway and I couldn't follow it for long. As
I was passing it, the blade must of struck something immovable in the road
for the whole thing lunged sideways, the front tire stopping only inches from
me. We just looked at each other with a sigh of relief and I waved and cycled
Neither of these guys spoke any English so I struggled to put sentences
together and with the help of a dictionary we covered the basics. I can
speak much more than I can understand. A lot of people down here speak
very quickly and often slur their words together. They also toss in a lot
of slang just to really spice up the confusion. I must learn more of the
language so I can learn more about the people and share more of who I am.
I think for me, learning a foreign language is the most difficult undertaking
of my life. Cycling across continents or sailing across an ocean, learning to
play golf or down hill ski is nothing. It all just seems to come naturally.
However, before this trip, I studied Spanish for two years at university,
traveled for 4 months in Mexico and still only managed to learn the basics:
numbers, days the week etc... My survival depends on being able to
communicate yet I'm still learning at the rate of a moron.
I asked the two guys if I could camp behind their trailer because there
were some trees and it was out of the wind. They indicated that I should
go out now and set up camp because it will be dark soon and by the time I
finished, dinner would be ready. Of course this conversation was more like
a game of charades, making gestures of the sun going down and turning out
the light to show darkness. This worked well, combined with looking up
words in my dictionary which was becoming increasingly tattered. Throughout
the evening I was quite impressed with the patience of these two guys, who
were about my age, when it came to overcoming our conversation barriers.
It was at this point that I decided to commit to writing two words a day on
the back of my hand, which means I would have about five hundred words
inscribed on my arm for quick reference by the end of the trip! It should
not be too difficult because I only get a chance to wash my hands about once
a week and I'd have plenty of time to try to memorize something.
When I went out to set up camp there was a 5 foot fence to negotiate. I'm
always amazed how they manage to put a fence along both sides of the road
when there's miles of nothing in either direction. Climbing the fence
required a lot more effort than usual because I had to take everything OFF
the bike and lift the bike and the gear over the fence separately. Towards
the end of the trip, I had developed enough strength to lift the bike and
gear together. Before I set up the tent, I was careful to feel around in
the grass for sharp objects, snakes, badger holes, dismembered body parts
or any other assortment of obscure obstructions. I also make a point of
checking to make sure that the tree branches won't brush against the tent
in the wind. After I was set up, I rushed over to the trailer and was
delighted to find a huge pot of cooked meat and potatoes waiting for me.
Of course, no meal would be complete without a huge carton of Chilean wine
(it's not common to drink wine in bottles). The kind generosity of Chileans
never ceases to stagger my imagination. We stayed up half the night playing
cards and drinking Chilean wine and trying to understand each other. The
next day they invited me in for breakfast and after I mentioned that I had
learned to operate heavy equipment in the military, they let me drive the
grader for about a mile and play with, or rather operate all the controls.
It was a great opportunity to experience what their life must be like.
Driving this machine year round, clearing the road from snow in the winter
and rocks in the summer. It was nice to be away from the litigious United
States where people are constantly paranoid about insurance and license
problems. For the most part, it went smoothly, but there are still things
that you need to watch out for since the distribution of rocks can pull the
machine to one side. There are 100 hundred miles of road within their
territory. I believe that with so few people living down here, there is
almost no chance of the government paving this road in the near future,
which means great job security. Fernando and Philipe assured me that this
solitary, meditative life, is ideal for them. To work anyplace else would
bring stress and frustration. I looked at them smiled and told them what we
do everyday makes up our life. Woe is he who hates his daily existence.
After my debut in Argentine Construction and a bit of lunch, I was ready
to face the monster again. The Patagonian wind is so strong and overwhelming,
it takes on a life all of it's own and becomes a monster that taunts you as
you try to push through it's force. It's an entity with it's own will that
often alters my direction against my will. When there's a cross-wind, it's
like the school bully pushing you sideways as you're trying to move forward,
forever picking on you forcing you into an unprovoked war of attrition.
The next 500 miles would become a battle of wills between myself and
Not too long after I left my friends, the road split. The right branch went
up to Esperanza and then south to Rio Gallagos. Every sign I saw seemed
to be pointing to Rio Gallagos! There were no signs whatsoever pointing
to the left fork, which was more of a wide footpath than a road with no
distinguishable marks yet this was in fact the main road to one of the
largest tourist attractions (Pierito Moreno Glacier) in South America.
Often because of the lack of signs I was never really sure where I was or
which direction to go. Luckily, I trusted my instinct and followed the
left branch which swung northward. Shortly thereafter I crested the hill
and the Monster came at me from the North-west. My favorite! That has
all the benefits of BOTH the headwind and the cross-wind but fortunately
for me, I like a good taunting. I also like being forced to grip the
handlebars tightly concentrating on every stone in the road and hope the
monster doesn't catch me off guard.
On this stretch of road there were some ups and downs which broke the
monotony of the flat open roads. The most exciting thing was finding a SIGN
with and arrow on it which indicated that the road bent to the left or right.
Now you may think that coming up on a curve in the road may not be a big
deal, but when you consider that the bend in the road might put the Monster
slightly behind you and give you a break from the constant battle, it becomes
a welcome sight.
It was interesting to notice that I'd spent the past month cycling in the
Granny gear (the smallest chain ring on the front) normally used only to
climb steep hills. Despite the terrain being predominantly flat, the bags,
gear and the monster together create and extra challenging drag force often
times exceeding that of a steep hill. At one point the Monster caught
me off-guard with a left upper-cut, whipping the front wheel to the right.
A quick follow-up punch grabbed hold of the whole bike and I found myself
quickly accelerating towards the side of the road, up over the small
ridge of stones and down a delightful 20 foot embankment. This was an
added thrill because I was hoping to get a little off-road biking in on
this trip and this seemed like a great spot. The front wheel dug into
the sand and loose rocks and the bike and I did cartwheels down the hill.
Lying at the bottom of the hill with a sufficient amount of sand in my
eyes and mouth, I found myself with a few bruises and slightly twisted
handle bars, but otherwise everything was in tact. I was certain that when
I looked up the hill I would see a video camera focused on me and the person
behind the camera grinning in gleeful anticipation of winning "America's
Funniest Home Video". After the extraordinary effort of carrying all my
stuff, one item at a time back up the steep hill, consisting mostly of loose
sand and rocks, I was back up on the road again. Here I listened with
apprehension to the hysterical laughter of the Monster roaring behind me.
Howling through my hair I could hear his voice saying "If you think you've
had a nasty taunting this time, just wait until you get further north into
the more open Pampas!"
Later that day a vehicle came from behind and passed me. A rare sight in these
parts. After he passed, I just put my head down to keep the dust from going
in my eyes and suddenly I heard a loud crashing sound. I looked up to see
the car that had just passed come to an abrupt stop. The wind had been so
strong that the hood of their car flew upwards and cracked the windshield.
The Monster strikes again, indiscriminately, not just picking on us cyclists.
I cycled up to them and helped tie down the hood so this doesn't happen again.
We shared a Mate and they asked me why I was trying to battle this on a
bicycle. I just smiled and said its all part of the daily grind. They told
me that in five miles I would be happy to find myself at the intersection of
Route 5 (which is a main paved road between El Calafate and Rio Gallagos).
It feels so good to have that to look forward to. I thanked them for the mate
and they drove off leaving me in a cloud of dust.
My map indicates that there's a village called Hotel El Cerrito at the
intersection. In reality all that's there is the end of this really bad
stone road and a couple of tumble weeds. Not even a foundation of a hotel.
I wonder what the map makers based their information on?
It sure is good to be on the pavement again with nothing but pampas and
desert as far as the eye could see. The only downfall is that now I'm
cycling directly into the wind and the road is as straight as an arrow.
There will be no reprieve from the Monster battering my face for quite a
At the beginning of each day as I start cycling, I often feel as though
I'm stepping into the ring for 15 rounds with the Monster. By the
end of each day, I really feel like I had endured the entire 15 rounds
against him. The only difference is that the Monster never tires.
After several hours of duking it out I find myself looking out over a huge
valley about 1500 feet below. The road descends down to the lake with several
switchbacks. On a calm day, I'd be flying down this hill, having to break
only at the switchbacks. Today that won't be the case. Because of the force
of the Monster I had to peddle down-hill all the way.
I finally arrived in El Calafate Argentina - undoubtedly the most touristy
town I've seen so far. There were people from all over: Europe, Australia,
New Zealand and Canada. Interestingly enough, there are hardly any Americans.
I was very impressed by this young 18 year old named Riccardo who had just
cycled the entire length of Route 40. 3000 miles of bad road, the entire
length of Argentina from Bolivia to here. When I was 18, I hadn't even left
Ohio yet and was intimidated about doing so. After a long conversation about
our journeys and a resupply of food from the market, we went to his friend's
house. His friend owned a small snackshop up in the national park. We spent
several hours loading up a truck from their own self-built storage house to
take supplies up to the restaurant. After about 10 hours of going toe to toe
with the monster, a little extra exercise was just what I needed.
Actually, I had a good time trying to talk to them and understand a little
bit about their business and how difficult it was to make a living out of a
four month tourist season. The whole town is geared towards the tourist
industry and is only really active during the short summer season (Dec- Mar).
After the truck was loaded up, they gave me an entire box filled with juice,
coffee, bread, rice, wine, canned foods, cakes, cookies and a whole bunch
of yummy treats - and all this was for only an hour's worth of work. I was
overwhelmed by their generosity, and as if that wasn't enough, they invited
me in for dinner as well. Meat, rice and fatty soup - I don't think any
other type of meal exists here, but boy was it ever good. Later that night,
Riccardo led me up to a great camping place - flat with real grass, no wind
and it overlooked the lake - Lago Argentino. This was another one of those
serendipitous luxuries. I didn't wake up until about noon the next day
and then I started to chip into the assortment of food given to me by my
employer. It was time to pack up my gear and get back onto the road again.
I've been told that the road up to the glacier was soft with loose stones,
and was filled with millions of buses and cars all day. My idea of a busy
road is one car per hour, not one per minute. Wisely I left my bike at a
nice hotel at the bottom of the access road up to the glacier. The owner of
the hotel spoke a little English and was very happy to store my bike and
gear in their storage room. I packed the tent, camping gear, change of
clothes and rain gear into my back pack and headed out to the road to hitch
a ride. I couldn't believe that the first two cars that passed didn't stop
and I had to wait a whole 8 MINUTES until the third car finally stopped and
picked me up. I had the fortune of riding in a nice new car, listening to
classical music all the way up to the park. The couple was from Argentina
and they were aghast at the idea that I was cycling down here. It would
have taken a day to cycle up, but I'm really glad I hitched a ride because
there was a lot of traffic going dangerously fast with drivers looking at
the scenery and not the road. At one point, a bus passed us and I could
see many small rocks flying out in all directions like projected missiles.
This was definitely a good section of road not to be cycling on.
I think I was as amazed when I first saw the glacier as I was when I first
saw Iguasu falls. If you were to travel half way across the world to do
nothing but see this glacier, it would be well worth the time and money to
do so. The first view is from high up near the parking lot. You can see
the entire glacier and then descend down to the front near water level on
a well-constructed board walk where you can stand as close as possible to
the glacier without being endangered by falling ice less than 200 feet away.
The front of the glacier is an Azure blue and is an impressive 3 miles
across, 200 feet high and about 15 miles long. It's a river of pyramids of
ice - jagged spires glistening white against the back drop of coal-black
mountains and blue sky. There's a large rock emerging from the center of
the glacier that looks no more than a half mile away when it's actually over
9 miles away.
This is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, advancing at the
rate of almost 3 feet per day. Perhaps that's another reason for its
popularity. It seemed like every few minutes a piece of ice would break
off and fall into the lake, eventually melt and start the process all over
again. Every day or two a huge chunk the size of a city skyscraper would
fall off but only when you're not watching. The glacier always in motion
would create sounds similar to that of distant thunder. Ice bergs are amazing
pieces of art, forever changing in size, shape and color. The sun and the
wind are the artists continuously working on it until it completely merges
with the sea. When I was on a cycle trip in Newfoundland, eastern Canada,
I saw an iceberg almost as big as the city center. Now that's a lot of
That evening an approaching weather system said no to the much anticipated
sunset behind the glacier so I decided to walk the three miles back to the
campground. On the way back I met two girls from Australia who were
traveling for about 8 months in South America. One was being sponsored by
a magazine and had about 20 pounds of camera gear, lenses, film and a tripod.
She seemed to always be stopping to set up for a photo or analyze whether
something would make a good picture. I guess that's part of the reason I
don't even carry one. As we walked back to the campground, it started to
rain. Rachel, who had forgotten her rainjacket got to experience the
rain more intimately than Julia and I. We both gave her a hard time about
it and she argued that it had been sunny that morning when they'd left.
I said sarcastically "how strange, the weather doesn't usually change",
because of course the weather there changes extremely rapidly. As the
cold rain continued to fall, it seemed as though the campground was much
further away than it was in the morning. After about an hour and 20 minutes
we finally made it. We gathered some semi-dry wood, lit a fire than
walked down to the lake to fill the kettle and put it into the flames
for Mate Time. I invited a few non-gringos over from the neighboring
tent site, cooked up the usual pasta-veg surprise followed by the usual
bag of cookies and kettle of Mate. Afterwards, we moved closer to the
fire and our new-found friends pulled out a guitar, violin, small drum
and a gallon of home-made peach wine. We stayed up half the night singing
songs in English and Spanish. Everyone seemed to know at least one.
Even though it was a very late night, we were all up before the sun and
despite a painful cerebral reminder of the good-time the night before, we
all had enough energy to drag ourselves up to the road and hitchhike to the
glacier to catch the sunrise. It's amazing how easy it is to wake yourself
up and drag yourself out of bed to see a huge piece of ice and how difficult
it would be to do the same thing for work or school. I guess the difference
is that one is the boring routine while the other is a spontaneous adventure.
That's why I decided to make my office outside and always in a different
place. We arrived just in time to see the glacier become electrified by
the rising sun.
It seemed to shout to the world to get up and see the beauty in all things
life has to offer. It was definitely well worth the sacrifice of some sleep.
18 hours later we were still at the same glacier as the moon rose in about
the same place that the sun did earlier. This just added another perspective
to this natural wonder. Each hour of the day, the sun had hit the glacier at
a different angle casting different reflections. It's rather unfortunate that
the average visitor spends less than two hours here. It's just a piece of
ice, but even after two days, I still want to come back tomorrow.
On the third day there, I was quite surprised to meet some friends that I had
met in Torres Del Paine. I was sitting on the boardwalk looking out at the ice
and for some reason, I turned around. Much to my surprise, I saw Rick and his
wife, the Dutch couple, coming towards me. I turned around, pretending not to
notice them and just as they were about to pass by, I reached out with a wild
lunge and grabbed both of his legs. Also, by pure coincidence, at exactly
the same time, a huge piece of ice broke off and its usual thunderous roar
echoed across the area. He said his heart stopped for about two beats.
Then they both looked down and their faces burst into huge smiles and we
shared big hugs. They were contemplating whether to come or not and were
really glad that they did even though it was $25 each for the 20 hour round
trip bus ride from Puerto Natales, all to see the glacier for two hours.
I guess that sums up how impressive this place is. It was really good to
see them again and they said that they couldn't believe that I had cycled
what they had just ridden in the bus because that stretch of road was purely
awful. I commented that it was probably easier to do on a bike than it
is on a bus and sitting on a bus all day is lot more monotonous.
We did the usual photo thing, having someone take our photo with the glacier
behind us. Unfortunately, they had to hurry off to see the rest of the
glacier in the limited time they had left for it usually takes the full
two hours to walk the whole boardwalk. After the third day at the glacier,
I hitched a ride in a van with a group of Argentineans. We stopped at the
campsite to drop off my stuff and then we continued on into El Calafate.
The driver, Donald, had white hair and white beard - reminiscent of Santa
Clause only without the big belly for you rarely find an overweight person
in South America. We drank Mate and ate two whole bags of cookies on the
way down. They drove me right into the center of town and after a parting
handshake, my Santa-friend looked at me and said "I think we will meet again".
I thought that a rather interesting thing to say to someone traveling by
bicycle so far from anywhere. Besides they lived in Buenos Aires, 2000 miles
away. I wouldn't be heading back there and I didn't even have their address.
But I just smiled anyway and said that I hoped so too, for they were very fun
people. I thanked them again as they drove off.
By this time, I was famished and in no mood for another Pasta Surprise dish.
I wandered the streets like a hungry bear foraging in the woods in early
spring after a long winter. I knew that all the places that tourists
frequent wouldn't be my style so I hit the back streets. I know that the
best berries always lie deep in the thick of the forest. After about an
hour of walking, I passed a hotel without an entrance. I walked the length
of two sides of the hotel - there were lots of windows but I still couldn't
find the door. Finally around the back, I found an entrance that didn't look
like an official entrance, but it actually opened into a gold mine - the
biggest berry bush in all the forest - a grand all-you-can-eat buffet! They
had everything - lamb, shrimp, salmon, vegetables, dessert - but it was a
whole $10. I noticed that the plates were quite large so I asked them if
I could take only one plate for $5. They foolishly agreed to the deal. So
I built a towering volcano of food which reminded me of John Belushi in
Animal house. It turned out to be just enough. And BOY was it ever good!
Of all the people I met in El Calafate, none of them had ever heard of this
hotel with the all-you-can-eat buffet. This is probably why I meet so few
other travelers for I rarely go where they go - I'm not in hotels, not in
restaurants and I'm not on a bus.
After the huge feast, I wandered up to the casino where the rich corporations
take money from the poor people. I couldn't believe this place! They actually
wanted $4 for a glass of Orange Juice!, almost a whole Day's travel budget.
I must say this is the last place I ever expected to find a casino. There
were only about 6 tables of blackjack, one craps table, a roulette wheel and
a few slot machines but it was a taste of lights and civilization in the
middle of a desert outpost. Sound familiar? I understand that some people
actually fly into El Calafate only to visit the casino and take no interest
in the natural wonder at all. I guess each of us must dance to our own tune.
I don't remember seeing any other casino on my entire trip in South America
although that certainly doesn't mean that they don't exist.
Its about 11:30 PM, 55 degrees under clear skies. Not quite ready for bed
yet I wondered over to the campground which was packed full of campers,
trailers, hikers and travelers. I doubt that there was even room for one
more tent. It's not a campground, it's a sardine city. The only light is
coming from the banos (washroom) and as I was walking a woman handed me a
huge bar of soap and bottle of shampoo and asked me to give it to John
inside. I go in and ask around for John but there was no response. I figure
he is probably already in one of the stalls, but I'm not about to go knocking
on all 12 doors. People might get the wrong idea. I figure as long as I'm in
here why not take a shower. It's been about a week. I pop into the first
available stall and decided that borrowing the soap and shampoo would be a
delivery tax. There is always a tax. Boy did I feel great and on the way out
I finally found John who already had some soap and told me to keep it since
they were going home the next day anyway. I left the shampoo behind but I
kept the soap because it came in a great soap dish. Gee, I'm going to miss
the messy sticky plastic bag I used to store my soaps in.
It was a long walk back across town and up the hill to where I was camped.
It took about an hour to walk the 2 miles but I'm clean, happy and fully
refreshed! I slept till noon the following day and it took me a while to
get going. Fortunately the days are still long so even with a late 3 o'clock
start I can still cycle 7 hours. I pack up and say goodbye to my million
dollar home overlooking one of the most beautiful lakes in Argentina and
stroll across the street to collect my bicycle and stuff. Thinking back,
it was a great idea to hitch-hike up to the glacier. The 3 days down from
the bike has done me good.
It turned out that the owner of the hotel was a woman from the States who
had been here for 15 years. She said she really enjoyed living down here
but it was really difficult to get people to do any work. The North American
work ethic hasn't made it this far south. People are absolutely fantastic,
it just takes a long time to get things done. She also said that even after
15 years she still doesn't quite fit in and she always feels like an
outsider. She said it's a tough doing business down there but she likes the
challenge and the cultural diversity. She goes back to the states for a
break every for 3 or 4 months. There's something about being around the
familiar with the same humor and interests, even if it's just American
football, the world series or just a busy, modern, fast paced highway. She
offered me a breakfast of cake, eggs and coffee and had the kitchen help
cook it up. She stocked me up with fruit (oranges and apples) and a couple
packages of cake. The phone rang and she quickly had to leave. Seems
like the business pace from home. It was nice to have a little insight
into the local business scene from an American. She said even down here
everybody has their hand out and you need really deep pockets because you
have to pay off everyone. All these bribes and kick-backs are kinda like
holes in a boat, if you don't patch them all, eventually, your ship will
After three days it's great to be back on the bike - I really missed it and
I'm really looking forward to the monster again, knowing that in a few weeks
even he will become just a memory. I cycled back through town and picked
up a few last minutes groceries at the market. The next leg of the trip will
be 20 miles with the wind, 60 miles with a cross wind then 50 miles with a
head wind along a dead end road to El Cheltin. Just before leaving town I
stopped at the hostel to check out how the other half lives. Actually,
it was only $12 a night and very nice. I left a note for my friend Stuart
who, traveling on a slightly higher budget would most likely stay here.
I later found out that this was the only message that he actually got from
me. I popped into the washroom to wash a few things, then went out to my
bike, and as always, laid all the wet stuff on top of my luggage and strapped
it down with bungy chords. The sun and the dry wind would suck out all the
moisture faster than a whore at a republican convention.
The first 32 miles from El Calafate were absolutely beautiful with a Utah-like
landscape. I owned the whole world - or at least it felt like I did. It
was smooth, flat paved road and a 40 mph wind directly from behind.
I guess this was the Monster in one of his kinder, gentler moods. I was
easily able to coast at the rate of 20mph on level ground and it felt like
I was flying only along the ground. With all the weight of the gear on the
bike, it was like I was on a silent motorbike and I coasted the 32 miles
in just under an hour and a half. Then the road turned about 70 degrees to
the left into the wind. The next TWO miles took over an hour. Quite the
contrast with the various Monster moods.
After 2 hours of fighting the monster I passed over a culvert, a place
where water passes under the road, when and if it rains. I crawled into
the pipe under the road, spread out a towel and set up for lunch. This was
the only opportunity for the past 5 miles to get out of the wind. At times
like this I feel like a homeless person - crouched under a dusty road eating
fish out of a tin, and struggling to soak up all the fish oil with bread. I
even drink all the liquid from the tin of peas. I remember Stuart and I
arguing over who drank more of juice from the tin of peas. Yet I feel like
the richest man in the world and I couldn't be happier.
After a feast fit for a king I found myself back up fighting the monster
again, winds sustained at about 50 mph. Before I started out, I looked up
into the blue sky and saw two of the most beautiful clouds imaginable.
They don't look like real clouds, they look like someone took a 2 inch
paint brush dipped it in white and made a foot long stroke on a blue canvas.
With all this wind down here I can only imagine how strong the wind is up
there. Despite incessant torment by the monster, I remain blissfully happy
and content with the beauty of this place as can only be appreciated by
someone traveling by bicycle.
After another 5 hours of duking it out with the monster I came to another
culvert, only this one was to become home for the night. This steel pipe
under the road stood about 30 inches in height, just a little too short
to sit upright, but perfect for sleeping. I cleared out some rocks and debris,
spread out my tarp and thermarest, set up my kitchen then unpacked a couple
of books. I was at home for the evening. I use the lid from my pot as a
cutting board, slice up a few veggies, cook up some rice, add a little curry
a little salt and it's dinner time. After dinner, if I can spare the water,
I wash the dishes, if not, they stay dirty until I come to a pond or stream.
Finally I put the kettle on for tea to have with a piece of chocolate cake
for dessert. The monster is still howling up above, so much so that wind is
blowing through my home. I stack all my bags up against the windward side,
and fill in all the open cracks with pieces of clothing. With all the basic
human needs met, I light a candle, Pick up Darwin's "In Patagonia", lay down
and read my self to sleep.
It might sound comfy and cozy but its still a pipe, under the road, in the
middle of a barren wasteland. It all comes down to the way we look at things.
Life is only our own individual sensory perception of our environment.
In the morning after a steamy bowl of cinnamon oatmeal with apple and banana,
cookies and tea, I took down my little barricade and packed it all back on to
the bike. Then I pushed it through the soft sand and rock back up to the
road. Actually, its not a road, its a 500 mile long boxing ring, and to get
to the other end, I must endure incessant jabs and upper cuts from the
Next time you're traveling down the freeway in your car at 55 miles per hour
stick your head out the window and keep it there for a month. Imagine eating,
sleeping, reading, trying to relax and just living in these conditions for
an extended period of time not to mention trying to ride a bicycle. Then
you'd have an idea of what it's like cycling in Patagonia.
Like anything we set out to accomplish in life, there is usually a lot more
to it than what's on the surface. The unseen aspect is the hours and hours
of pushing the bike because the sand is too soft to cycle through. The miles
and miles of constantly looking for a better spot in the road to aim your
wheel. Most of the time, my mind is trying to convince my body to cross over
to the other side of the road, for it always looks better over there.
Naturally as soon as the mind wins and I make the change, the road suddenly
looks better where I was. This cycle never ends. But my favorite thing of all
is washboard. I love washboard! A washboard road is covered in ripples,
similar to an old fashioned washboard, making for aggravating cycling that's
tough on the arms and hands, gear, bike and sanity.
I also love being shrouded in dust every time a vehicle passes. It's great
the way the dust clings to your sweaty body and face making you look
like a coal miner from West Virginia only you won't get a chance to shower
for at least a week! At least I'm not alone. I have the company of
the monster who constantly blows me off the road, requiring about
500 dismounts of the bike per day. It seems like I'm forever being blown off
the road. When this happens, I have to get off the bike, pull it out of the
soft sand, walk it back on to the road, get back on the bike, and try to
get rolling again. Sometimes the wind blows me to a standstill and actually
knocks me over.
The monster shows no mercy and is in no way affected by my complaints and
frustrations. If you think its tough to get up and go to work on Monday
morning, try waking up in a culvert under the road and loading your bicycle
up with 143 pounds of gear. Then start cycling down the beach in a hurricane
for 8 hours with the prospect of crawling into another culvert at the end of
the day. As for cycling on washboard, it makes horseback riding seem like
floating on a cloud. Fortunately for me I like washboard. They say you
measure the size of the accomplishment by the number of obstacles you must
overcome in your endeavor. Actually it's the adversity that makes for the
fondest memories. Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay football coach once
said "I never knew a winner who deep down didn't appreciate the grind and
About 9:30 PM a pick up truck passed me and stopped about 50 feet beyond
where I was. As I cycled up to his window, he said Buenos Tardes (good
afternoon). The he bombarded me with the usual questions: where are you
from, where are you going and why? Then He asked where I was going to sleep
tonight? Donde tu dormir esta noche? I said with your wife of course!
Actually I didn't think he would appreciate that kind of humor. I wanted to
say I hadn't thought about it yet, but since I didn't know how to say that in
Spanish, I just shrugged my shoulders.
He told me the monster was not very kind to campers and invited me to pitch
a tent behind his house. I was welcome to sleep inside on the floor, but
he said they had a 3 year old who, as you might guess, sleeps like a baby. I
love children but also love sleep, and not wanting to intrude, I took his
Unfortunately, I was unable to lighten any of my load any by eating some of
my food because his wife cooked up a meal fit for, well, a cyclist. Lots of
freshly killed lamb (the head of which was still in the yard), very fatty
soup (with noodles and potatoes) and bread. Of course, as expected, no
vegetables. For dessert, I offered one of my one kilo Argentine cakes and
We talked well into the night, or at least tried to. I did the best I could
with gestures and my dictionary to explain how I slept in a culvert the
previous night, and how difficult it can be to cook or just relax in such
wind. The look of "loco gringo" (crazy white person) swept over their faces.
They can't understand why a rich person (all white people are rich) would
want to travel by such primitive means. I tried to convey the idea that
sometimes affluence creates more discontent than poverty. I also expressed
how much I liked exploring their part of the world, and how rich I felt
that I had the opportunity to do so. I said how sad I was the people of the
United States know so little about the rest of the world. We have stereotypes
of each country created through television which are so often contrary to
reality. They asked me questions about the US and I told them that it's not
like it is in the movies. Not everyone carries a gun, you never see car
chases or gun fights with the police and not everyone is rich. However, most
people do have a car, watch a lot of television, raise families and work hard
and usually long hours, much longer than they do here. In suburbia
America, we do two really strange activities that are rarely seen down here:
we wash our car and cut the grass. He seemed very puzzled by this for they
would never do either of those things. The sheep and cows keep the grass
pretty low and they see washing the car the same way we would view washing
a tree. Down there they have their cars 30 years or more and they still
look great yet the roads aren't paved and they have snow 6 months of the
year. They drive on the snow, not the salt. We have paved roads, and even
in the places where there is no salt, people still buy new cars every 5-10
After a hardy breakfast of eggs, bread, coffee and jam. Just before I left
I gave their young daughter a stuffed bear that I had been carrying around.
I thought nothing of it for all they had offered me, especially shelter
from the wind, which is invaluable. But I could tell from their facial
expressions and their smiles as big as the grand canyon that this was a
monumental offer. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing anything that
resembled a toy around the house. Besides, it would cost the equivalent of a
whole day's wages to them, where for me it costs next to nothing. Seeing
the joy the gift brought them gave me more strength and energy than I could
ever have conjured up on my own. The rewards of giving certainly exceed the
rewards of receiving. From now on I will try to carry more of these small
stuffed animals when I travel to these third world countries. Throughout
almost the whole trip I carried a medium sized Minnie Mouse and used it
as a hood ornament strapped to the front of the handlebar bag. It always
seemed to bring a smile to the drivers of oncoming vehicles. Unfortunately,
as of yet, no sponsorship from Disney.
With my renewed energy I figured the monster didn't stand a chance, but
after a record 28 miles in just over 10 hours I was exhausted. The monster
on the other hand was showing no signs of fatigue. I wish I had his stamina
but I don't. On the verge of exhaustion I arrive at the intersection of
Route 23 which runs northwest/southeast. Now the trip up to the National
park will be directly into the wind, oh joy. Surprisingly, all or most of
the roads off the main highway seem to be in better condition than the main
Route 40 highway itself. From the turn off, it's 54 miles to El Cheltin.