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The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Negative thoughts use more energy than physical movement" - Paavo Airola

Chapter Eight

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 away.

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 "The Monster".

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 distance.

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 snowcones!

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 sink.

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 monster.

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 the discipline".

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 advice.

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 Mate.

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 years.

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.

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(Photo scanning and manipulation, plus HTML layout, by Jeff Hudson)