Table of Contents    |    Chapter Eight    |  |    Chapter Ten

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

"Reality is only our interpretation of our own sensory perception" - Depak Chopra

Chapter Nine

El Cheltin, Fitz Roy And The End Of The Monster

This is not a stretch of road I care to cycle twice and since coming back would be much easier than going there, I decide that if a vehicle ever happens to pass by, I might try hitch hiking. But first I'll have to pass the night here for it's starting to get late. I bring my bike up to the sign at the intersection of the two roads. I make a point of this for an intersection is excitement, a deviation from the monotony, and a sign too, oh boy! I go for days with nothing but now I have a point of reference on the map. It's actually possible to determine exactly where I am. At this point I'm standing behind the sign (my dearest friend) who is temporarily protecting me from the monster. He must have been working out and eating better than me, for he is bigger and stronger than at any point on the trip so far. I estimate the wind to be a steady 50 mph. Not gusty, just a steady blow. Later I learned that this is about as bad as it gets, normal wind here is a sustained 40 MPH.

It's getting late in the day - 8 PM, about 2 hours of daylight left, with 28 very hard earned miles behind me. I feel like I'm lying on the canvas of a boxing ring with my opponent the monster standing over me fresh as at the opening bell. What a taunting fiend he is! I crouch behind the sign, eating a tin of fish, hoping it doesn't blow right out of the can, trying to summon the energy to complete the daily grind: find a place to sleep, cook dinner, clean up afterward, seal and pack food to prevent the danger of animal discovery, unpack bags, lay out tarp, set up the tent, unpack-unroll-inflate thermarest, un-stuff and spread out sleeping bag, unpack sweater and jacket for pillow, secure bike, tend to evening bathroom duties, crawl into tent, take a few deep breaths, then toss and turn for 1, maybe 2 seconds before drifting off to never-never land. I'm tired just thinking about it. I'm not looking forward to this. I feel like it could be the toughest night so far yet I summon the courage to slip out from behind my protector, cross the road and look for a good spot - out of sight from the road, preferably in a valley or trough in the terrain.

While standing in the road, off in the distance I see a rare sight. A vehicle approaching from the direction I came. Well low and behold, Donald was right! How did he know? The same people who gave me a ride down from the glacier, are standing before me now, with their nice, comfy, potentially bike carrying van and a thermos of hot mate. They came to rescue me from the monster. They were so glad to see me, but surely not half as glad as I was to see them. After the customary hugs of surprise, they asked knowingly if I wanted a lift with them to El Cheltin. I thought about it for a nano second before saying "Absolutely! You are a gift from god". They worked so hard to meticulously pack my bicycle inside safely for the rough 54 miles ahead. Once again we ate cookies (a whole kilo) drank mate and they talked of how many times they felt the van was about to over turn from the strong cross wind. They asked how I could possibly be out there all day on a bike? I said I can't understand the stress of driving, when on a good day a strong right hook from the monster might just over turn the van. But the truth is that without my constant companion and adversary, Patagonia might just be plain boring.

About 30 minutes down the road, we could see almost all of Lake Viedma and at the far end of this baby blue body of visual ecstasy was the impressive yet inaccessible glacier Viedma. Our mouths just hung open as we looked just beyond at the towering Campo De Hielo O' Higgins, the huge seemingly endless snow field forever feeding the glaciers of this whole region, while resting high above the Patagonian plain. An amazingly abrupt change of topography and climate. All of the barren Plain of this area belongs to Argentina and most of the snow field and mountains belong to Chile.

Meanwhile the inside of the van is filling up with dust for this road is not heavily traveled. Fortunately I like dust because I'm allergic and it makes me sneeze which is good for the lungs. It might of been healthier for me to cycle this but I'm grateful for the company, and even more grateful for the quiet, out of the wind place to camp that I will have in El Cheltin tonight. As we get close to mountains the wind significantly decreases. We arrived in El Cheltin and drove through to the end of the road. It's hard to believe that the oldest building here is only 11 years old. About 1000 year round residents are still working on their homes or adding to them. I wonder how long they wait before they put up the historic sign "Welcome to El Cheltin, founded 1987"? I suppose some day this road will be paved, and there will be hotels and condos and access to cross country skiing on the snow field in the winter. In forty years or so I would like to return to see this place again and reflect back on this day.

It's getting late and my friends asked where I would like to be dropped off. Without hesitation I said Camp Madden, at the far end of town which is also the trail head for all the hikes into the park. This is the north end of the huge Park National Los Glaciers. The Perieto Moreno glacier is at the southern end of the park. The southern boundary of this park is also the northern boundary of the Park National Torres Del Paine in Chile. About 100 miles northwest of this Park is the town of Ville O Higgens, the Southern most point you can drive in Chile without first passing through a large section of Argentina. After a second goodbye from the wonderful Argentine family, I sat down on the edge of the road and realized that I'm at the bottom of my energy reserve pit. The monster has a way of sapping energy at an alarming rate. I pick my self up and stagger into the campground, perform my end of day duties, only this time protected from the wind by mountains and trees allowing me to dine and sleep in comfort. Just before I fell asleep I thought to myself how fortunate it was that they showed up at the perfect time and how Donald knew a week in advance that we would meet again. With all its hardships and adversity the world is a good place. All life is unfolding just as it should.

In the morning I met Polona, a young women from Buenos Aires, who was a photographer and happened to find me, my set up, my 4 sided pyramid tent, my smoke spouting stove and my Minnie Mouse, interesting enough to take about 10 photographs of. She claimed to be doing a pictorial collage of rough travelers and found me to be a little more unusual than the average tourist. Naturally I took this as a compliment, and we talked for 2 hours before she had to run to catch a bus. The best thing about traveling is you meet so many interesting people, the worst part is we leave them too quickly.

I don't make a conscious effort to be different although I always appear to be. I do take pride in being me, and not giving any consideration to what someone else might think. If something is comfortable, serves a purpose, works and feels right to me than that's enough. I never feel I have to explain myself to other people. I used to be very judgmental of other people until I met a good friend who when ever we were talking would hold up a J using her forefinger and thumb to indicate to me that I was being judgmental in something I said. Now, regardless of what someone else says or thinks, I try to accept that's where they are now, and it's OK. I don't need to convince them that they are wrong or that they should think differently because when you judge others you really judge yourself.

After breakfast I decided to patrol the campground to see if I knew anyone here. Surprise, Surprise, about 50 yards from my tent I saw a familiar site. A green tent which will surely contain two Aussie girls. As I approached their tent (it's not really effective to knock on a nylon tent) I announced my presence by saying "this is park police do you have a permit to camp here?" Talking among themselves I heard one say to the other "I thought you said you didn't need a permit to this park? The book says we don't, shit..." Rachel unzipped the tent and peered out, then suddenly their look of worry turned to big smiles as they threw the guide book at me. Rachel said it's only Bob, and they both jumped out of the tent and gave big hugs and we talked about the trip here from the Perieto Moreno glacier. They, like everyone else marveled at the idea of riding a bike in Patagonia, since it seemed to take them forever to get here by bus. Actually it only to me 3 days and one lift (5 days without the lift). They just looked at me then handed me a bottle of white wine and said I should try it. It was still morning and wasn't keen on alcohol just yet, so I lifted it to my nose slowly, and gave it a good smell to appreciate it's aroma first, as I always do with fine wine. Instantly I became privy to their attempt to get even for the park ranger joke. The bottle was full of olive oil for cooking. A mouth full of that would of been a great way to start the day.

That day we hiked to the waterfall nearby, and climbed to the top of it-about 70 feet. I thought about jumping off, but the air temperature was about 50 degrees so I took a pass. We hiked on up higher and higher for about 3 hours to what we thought was the summit but when we got there we could see 2 more summits way beyond our reach for a day hike. Also from there we could see the reason we all came to El Cheltin: the 11,100 foot summit of Mt. Fitz Roy. This 4000 foot spire of granite is similar to Torres Del Paine but surrounded by more glaciers. Mt. Fitz Roy is a very difficult climb attempted only by some of the worlds best climbers. Altitude does not always determine difficulty. Here it's not the near vertical wall of granite that's dangerous but the weather. Sudden storms can roll in unexpected and trap climbers for days with winds reaching unimaginable intensity. In Bolivia I climbed a 21000 foot peak in two full but relatively easy days, with virtually no risk of bad weather, for it was the dry season. Here snow is possible on any day of the year.

The next day Rachel, Julie and I packed a lunch and did the 9 hour hike to the glacier at the base of Fitz Roy. A long but level hike on this surprisingly warm and sunny day. For me the highlight was speaking English again and telling jokes and laughing. When I leave here its 390 hard lonely miles with only the monster to talk to. This last leg of Patagonia will take between 10 days and two weeks so I better get all my talking in now. At the end of the trail was another blue lake at the tip of the glacier, which is another finger of the huge Campo De Heilo (snow field). At the other end of the lake was a moraine, a mound of sand and rock pushed up by the glacier during its advancing years. But now, most glaciers have been receding, probably due to global warming. There were several tourists here all of whom had to earn the view by doing the 9 hour hike, for no roads lead to this magical corner of the universe.

A raging river flowed from the lake about 50 feet across over which there was a rope about 6 feet above the river. In order to hike up to the glacier it was necessary to cross the river. This is easily done by hanging upside down with your feet crossed over the rope, and hand over hand you slowly pull yourself across. It wasn't that difficult but the penalty for failure was high. Meaning the water very cold, and its a long walk back to camp. Julie and I made it across safely but Rachel for some mysterious reason felt the need to test the water temperature. Blessedly, for the next several hours we all got to hear all the reasons that would justify replacing that rope with a foot bridge even at the sacrifice of a few trees. I had an extra pair of socks and a shirt which I loaned her for the trip back. I also promised her a lentil curry dinner when we got back in exchange for a few less comments about her predicament.

That night after dinner we wondered over to a campfire with about 15 people from Argentina gathered around it. They all had a variety of musical instruments and a few gallons of home made apricot wine. We all offered to sing songs we knew, some in English, some in Spanish. I took a shot at a solo of Stairway to Heaven while someone else played the guitar. They were impressed that I knew the words and I was impressed that I had the nerve to do it. Perhaps this was because, well, after 4 cups of wine and the knowledge that they don't understand English, eliminated the fear of mistakes. Later that evening I told the story/poem by R. W. Service "The Cremation of Sam McGee". Unfortunately there weren't any Canadians there to fully appreciate it, but even those who spoke no English listened very intently through the whole 5 minute narration, and all clapped at the end. Imagine if they understood it! Throughout the evening everyone took a turn to seek out more wood for the fire, our only source of heat and light. We also used the fire to cook up a big pot of pasta to appease the midnight munchies.

I don't ever remember sitting around a fire singing where everyone knew so many songs and could play so well. Many people in South America are natural musicians. After about 6 hours of not hearing the same song twice, I needed to score some sleep for another big hike tomorrow. Fourteen hours of solid hiking, two hours of food preparation and clean-up, followed by 6 hours of singing and wine drinking, all to be repeated 3 days in row. WOW, TO THINK THAT THESE ARE KNOWN AS REST DAYS!

Unlike me the people of Argentina have the amazing skill to stay up all night drinking and still be able to hike the next day. When I awoke the next morning there were still 5 people sitting around the fire. All of them claimed to have not been to sleep yet and all 5 still went on the 10 hour hike that day.

About 8 am I set off for the hike to the hanging glacier, and on the way up I met Jay, the guy I met only for a few minutes upon entering Torres Del Paine park. We decided to hike together. He asked where I was camped, and when I told him I was the yellow and gray pyramid tent, he shouted in surprise IS THAT YOU? It's the only yellow pyramid tent out of the over 200 in the campground. He was traveling with a another Canadian named Michael who was celebrating his 30th birthday today.

The hike was far and for the most part level except for 2 very steep sections before the summit. Twice on the way up we filled our water bottles straight from the river, and added the traditional 'ZUKO', the natural powdered fruit juice. The base of this 4000 foot granite spire called Mt. Fitz Roy is surrounded by a glacier, the lower part of which is literally hanging out over a cliff, about 60 feet above the lake. From the campground the mountain looks pretty close, but after a 10 hour hike it still doesn't appear any closer. Jay pointed out several climbers about a mile away, they looked like ants, struggling over the jagged ice of the glacier, trying to get to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy where they will camp and pray for fair weather tomorrow. I understand the vertical assent to the top can take two days, meaning one night must be spent on the wall. The things we do with our spare time.

When we got back to camp Jay offered to cook dinner so I volunteered to cycle into town to get some fresh bread to go with dinner. I noticed a house offering homemade bread for 2 dollars (2 pesos) a loaf (expensive for here, but well worth the treat), and a few other things as a surprise for after. The road through town was in very poor shape but I'm used to that and I feel so privileged for I'm the only one in town with a bicycle. Everyone else is walking. I wonder if a delivery service would be lucrative here? On the return trip the whole sky opened up, the clouds parted and like magic, Mt. Fitz Roy appeared before me. It was so majestic that I just sat down on the ground, and in a meditative stare watched the colors reflect on the rock as the sun set behind me.

On a cycle trip in Alaska, Assistant Ranger Al and I developed a motto for life. "Reality exceeds imagination", if only we allow it to. These words have proved fact on every trip since then.

While I was sitting there watching the sunset I was approached by the nicest couple from Switzerland who were also battling the monster by bicycle. Andreas and Judith would become known to me as Swiss couple number one, for I shall meet two more Swiss couples on this journey. We were instantly kindred spirits and shared wild yet similar stories of our experiences so far. They had plans to leave early the next morning but unfortunately I had plans for this evening and had to catch up on some much needed rest tomorrow. But I confidently told them I would leave the following day and make every effort to catch them. Then I hurried back to the birthday/dinner party at the other campsite and relished the end of another day in this southern Andean paradise.

After dinner, Jay and I were talking about his job as a park ranger in British Columbia when we noticed Michael starting to nod off to sleep, possibly a little sad that no one wished him happy birthday yet. So I lit the candle on the packaged "VAN CAKE" and we both sang happy birthday in Spanish (feliz compleanos). Michael awoke with the grandest smile, made a wish and blew out the candle. I then popped the cork on a bottle of sparkling cider and poured us each a cup full. He was so surprised and so grateful. For the rest of the evening he had an air of blissful happiness about him that was not there before. He said he could not have asked for a greater gift. It's the things you do for other people that bring us the greatest rewards.

The next morning I started to feel the effects of three days of hiking and drinking wine so I spent most of the day resting, studying the map and reading up on what lies ahead. That afternoon, anxious to try to catch the Swiss couple, I packed up everything, said good bye to Jay and Michael then wandered over to the Aussie girls tent (both of whom were still tired despite a full day of hibernation the day before) and said sorrowful good byes to them as well. I wished them well on the rest of their trip and made plans to try to meet up in Australia the following year.

On the way back through town I bought a couple of loaves of that homemade bread knowing that will be the last opportunity for fresh bread for the next 3 weeks. For the most part I still have enough to get to Tres Lagos, about 2 days from here.

More than anything I'm really excited about riding on the back of the monster for the next two days. The road runs south east then east for the next 80 miles, all with the wind. The bad road will keep me down to about 40 miles a day but 'wooo hooo' my turn to win a few rounds. What a joy to fly with the wind, it seems almost effortless. There were even places I had to use my brakes because despite the level ground, I was going too fast for comfort and safety on the loose stones. Imagine having to brake on level ground for fear of going too fast. From a stopped position I was amazed at the rapid acceleration, that would occur without peddling. All I had to do was lift my feet from the ground and vroom! Like a hand from the behind thrusting me forward. A real pat on the back from the monster. If you can make your adversary your best friend oh how easy life can be.

That first night after cycling 42 miles, I managed to find an abandoned house. Looks like it used to be used by a few sheep shearers years ago. Both doors and windows missing, no furniture or water - just 2 beds both covered with about 2 inches of dust. Neither interested me. I just wanted shelter from the wind, so I just slept on the floor peacefully and got an early start the next day. Just outside of Tres Lagos there was about a 500 foot vertical descent with 3 long switch backs. Because the wind was so strong from behind plus the added push of gravity, I was unable to maintain a safe speed on the bicycle since the road consisted of only loose stones and gravel. As unbelievable as it may sound, I had to actually WALK THE BIKE DOWN THE HILL. There were many times on the trip where I had to get down from the bike and walk for a while to combat the frustration of fighting the wind and large stones on the road, but this was the first time in my life I had to walk the bicycle because of the fear of going too fast!

Tres Lagos felt like a ghost town despite having people. Nothing but hundreds miles of pampas and wasteland for miles around in all directions as far as the eye could see. And in the midst of all this lies a small community of about 800 people. Nobody waved or said hello - they just looked and went about their business. I felt like I was in the film "Invasion of the body snatchers" and I had arrived a little too late. As I stood there in the center of town I was sure that this is where they got the idea for the film or at least for the behavior of the victims. No-one has any grass or trees on their property. There was just a scattering of houses and it doesn't even appear to have any type of city plan. You can't even tell where the street ends and the property begins. The town consists of 3 parallel streets about 100 yards long with one road into and out of town which both lead to nowhere. It was very eerie and surreal. I used the term "street" loosely for it was really little more than a rock garden. Come to think of it, if I lived here I would probably be a zombie too. I noticed an empty A-frame house with all the windows broken just on the edge of town. The edge of town means that there just aren't any houses beyond this one. There was a guy fixing a car at the house next door so I went up to him and asked whose house it was. Apparently the owner of this house either packed up and moved away (knowing full well that the chances of selling the house was about the same as the Buffalo Bills winning the super bowl) or the occupants had already been devoured by the body snatchers for refusing to comply. The man who was fixing the car said that he was looking after the house (so to speak) and I was welcome to sleep in it if I wanted. I thanked him and proceeded to enter my luxurious hotel accommodation for the night. The first level was filthy - broken glass, debris everywhere and holes in the wall. Surprisingly enough, however, upstairs I found a clean wooden floor and an unupholstered couch. I left the bike downstairs and took my gear upstairs to my private room, set up a kitchen, a lounge area by the couch and a bedroom by the window.

While I sat there cooking my dinner I looked out the window and watched the same pale green car go back and forth on the road. It was an old Falcon, about 1960 and still in excellent condition. The back seat and trunk had been converted into an open pick-up truck bed. I couldn't figure out why the car made about 25 trips up and down the street throughout the evening. The driver never looked left or right, he just stared straight ahead and kept driving back and forth, nothing in the car, no reason for driving. I couldn't understand why he would be doing that when the gas costs about $4 a gallon. I think he was the one that was snatching all the bodies, so I dared not go out after dark. This town definitely gave me the creeps. After dinner I had room service send up some fresh fruit to go with my Mate (which means I went down to grab some from my bike and bring it up to myself). The house was quite comfortable despite a tin roof that kept shuddering and the floor itself resembling one of those vibrating mattresses because the monster was still out there only doubly angry because he can't get to me tonight. Of course, he knows what lies ahead for me tomorrow so he just keeps laughing and howling. I lit a candle and settled into reading "The Shipping News" for about 5 hours.

In the morning, I read for another 4 hours for I knew it would be a couple weeks before I would get another chance. Besides, this is a good opportunity to catch up on some rest before the grand finale - another 320 miles of him against me.

That afternoon I did some major shopping, stocking up on too much of everything which wasn't to hard because they had a lot of nothing. I also filled all the water bottles and picked up an extra two litre bottle, not knowing what to expect up ahead. When I pulled out of Zombie City that afternoon I had about 130 pounds of stuff including the bike. I estimate I had about 25 pounds of food alone and 14 pounds of water. I probably don't need the 12 pound lucky bowling ball, but I carry it with me just in case I come across a great bowling alley. Just as I left the town, I turned back and saw the sign that read "Tres Lagos, 1 km" and I thought to myself, how could it have possibly got its name considering it means 3 lakes in Spanish and there isn't any lake to be found for at least 50 miles in any direction?

The first 10 miles out of Tres Lagos were among of the most difficult so far on the trip. Maximum weight, maximum head wind, bad road and - you guessed it - UPHILL. The road climbs about 250 vertical feet and I'm finding it exceptionally difficult to even walk while pushing the bicycle. I tried a couple of times, but I was unable to get any speed at all while trying to cycle. Hunched over the handlebars, grinding out each step seems to take all of my strength. I don't think I have ever felt such resistance before, not even on prom night. Frequently, I was brought to a halt by the wind, waiting for an extra burst of energy to take the next step. This, I thought to myself, is the monster's finest hour. This is what he's been laughing about and waiting for all this time. This is the point where the novelty of it all finally wore off. Prior to this day, the resistance actually drove me with energy and adrenaline, but now I was digging down deep inside to find the drive to beat it and win the war of attrition against the monster. Once up over the hill, the road leveled off but turned so that I had a killer cross-wind from the left front. There was less resistance, but it doesn't necessarily make it easier to cycle. Now I must keep both hands on the handlebars and concentrate at all times, constantly leaning and turning into the wind. If I take my eyes of the road or look over my shoulder, like a magnet I'm sucked right into the ditch. I've discovered I must cycle on the left side of the road against the traffic. This way I can see oncoming cars, if there are any, and get off the road as they approach. If I cycle on the right, I cannot see or hear them until they have passed me. I found it impossible to hear even the noisiest of buses. At the same time I feel quite unstable, many times blown off the road inadvertently so I need to be aware of any other vehicles well before they get anywhere near me. The ditch is just a trough off either side of the road used to collect rainwater when and if it ever rains. For the most part it consists of soft loose sand and rock, and whenever I'm blown into the ditch, my front wheel sinks 5-6 inches into the sand. Naturally this means I must get OFF the bike again, pull it out of the sand, walk it back up to the road, steady myself in this atmosphere of parallel skydiving and then, without becoming too frustrated try to start cycling again. I say try because sometimes before I even get my feet in the toe clips the wind has me stopped again and thrown me off balance. My feet go to the ground and I must start over. I estimate that I get off and on the bike between 30 and 40 times a day because something has interrupted your ride. The frustrating thing about this is that you can't get a rhythm going because of so many inadvertent stops. When boxing with the monster, I call these knock-downs. I guess mathematically that in 6 weeks of cycling in Patagonia, the monster has achieved about 1200 knockdowns. Thankfully there has only been one serious knock-down where he hit me with a left hook and sent me over the ropes and down a steep embankment. And of course I'm happy to say that he never got a knock out. He might have won a few rounds but I'm still standing, still riding and still grinding out the miles.

Throughout the six weeks that I cycled Patagonia the wind blew generally from the west north-west between 35 and 50 mph. Fortunately, I haven't had to set up the tent in the wind yet. Even if the tent did withstand the wind, I'm sure it would be an awful night's sleep, with all the flapping and slapping of the tent and the constant fear that it was going to tear or blow down. Also there appears to be an estancia (Ranch) about every 25 miles or so but I always carry a 2 day water supply just in case. Most of the estancias are well off the road, sometimes several miles, but are clearly marked on the map.

I decided to take a slight detour to Gobernadour Gregoreous and boy was I glad I did. First of all I had a full day of cycling on a better road with the wind. I still can't believe that these smaller side roads are in better shape than the main road. I guess it's because they're less traveled. This route was very scenic as it followed the river with a lot of greenery growing along its banks - an oasis in the desert. The river contained very little water but it was at least enough to keep things green.

I found this stretch of road the most beautiful in Santa Cruz county, with the exception of course of the route leading to El Cheltin. The town of Governadour was friendly, upbeat and actually had paved roads within the town. No body snatchers had invaded this area. There was also plenty of fresh vegetables, cakes and treats to restock. I also restocked on sugar, oatmeal, coffee and cheese. The feature advantage of my detour was a campground, out of the wind, campfires at night, people to talk to, laundry facilities and you might not believe it, but yes, a HOT shower. It goes against my natural instincts to pay for camping, but you get all of this for $2.00, and it in the middle of nowhere? I spent the following morning doing the laundry, scrubbing each piece by hand in a small sink with a plug in the bottom. By 11:00 am I had laid out all the clothes on a fence in the wind and within an hour, everything was dry. I even took time to wash and scrub my shoes. I always get about 3 days out of a pair of socks before I wash them and three days out of a T-shirt. It's amazing how often we wash clothes at home, especially when we're not even sweating in a dusty climate. My outer garments, shirts and sweaters, can go a month without washing even if I wear them everyday. My wool sweater which I wear almost every day and use as a pillow at night was only washed twice in nine months. Don't laugh, several travelers I met on the trip were worse than I was.

This was a great stop and a worthy detour. I really should rest for a day but I'm anxious to get back into the ring. I have about 6 really hard days coming up straight into the wind - two of which are the penalty for my detour. This stretch could prove to be a real energy zapper.

The first three days out of Gobernador were routine, like any other day at the office, knock down after knock down but no knockouts and, happy to say, still no flat tires. There was very little traffic, less than one car or bus per hour. No spaceships, no clouds, no-one to talk to - so I do a lot of singing and story telling to myself. This is the reason I take the time to memorize long scenes from movies or plays. Without hearing the music, I can sing over 200 songs which should look really good on a resume. When I have the energy I go over my Spanish words about 30 million times and then forget them the next day. Dealing with the monster is easy and so is camping in a hurricane or memorizing Shakespeare, but after 9 months I still can't even remember the Spanish word for "Remember"!

I slept one night under the road in a culvert, one night behind an estancia, and two nights in a ditch well off the road. On the fourth night, nearly out of water, I staggered up to a building which turned out to be a huge estancia with lots of activity. I went around back to get out of the wind, that is the east side of the house, leaned my bike up against the wall and stood there for a few moments. After 14 hours of cycling into the wind, I felt like a resident of Tres Lagos. I too was a zombie and the monster was the body snatcher. I guess if you stay in the ring long enough you too will become one of them. I stood there with my long, bright yellow yachting jacket with the huge Dracula collar half-way up my face, white reflectors on both sleeves and running down the front - only my eyes were showing. I was wearing a bright yellow Helmut, green fluorescent gloves, black socks with snow-white cycling shoes and a Minnie Mouse on the front of the bike. I call this my clown outfit - I'm sure I blended right in with the real Argentine gouchos. About 25 feet in front of me there was a guy with his back to me loading up the back of a truck. His peripheral vision caught a glance of me, then he turned back to what he was doing. About two seconds later I thought he was going to get whiplash as he swung his head around 180 degrees to get a better view of the weird Martian that had landed on his property. Now he looked like me as he stood there in a shocked zombie state for a couple of minutes trying to get a grip on what I was. I went over and introduced myself, told him who I was and what I was doing. I think he thought I was nuts, but invited me in for Mate and introduced me to the others. I couldn't believe I was here hanging out with real, genuine Argentine gouchos and they were the epitome of the part too. I even felt it in their presence. They were all about my age, but they looked like they could be my grandfather. I felt like a little kid around them. These guys were tough - you could see it on there faces. They spent their whole lives working and riding horseback out in this wind, keeping in mind that this part of the world lies directly below the hole in the ozone.

Pablo was the one I took to and he was also the Mate Server. He had a long thick dark black mustache, a buckskin vest, leather pants, leather shirt and leather face, black knee high boots and a black round medium brimmed hat with a string down around his chin. He wasn't tall, nor very big, but I knew no-one would ever say to him that he looked dorky. Besides, down here, looks and appearance mean absolutely nothing. You could wear polka dots with plaid and horizontal strips, or white pants after labor day and no-one would care. But fail to make eye contact during a reception of a mate and that would be the ultimate in dorkiness. When Pablo passed me a Mate, his stare bore down into my eyes and through my body like a jolt of electricity. He had an unspoken power and presence about him and I felt honored to be granted his attention. My Spanish is getting better, but unfortunately it was still too weak for deep conversation, because I'd love to spend a few days talking to this guy. At least I'm here. It's ironic how most of the people I know who speak Spanish never even leave the States. I can't speak any other languages yet I'm always traveling around different countries.

That evening 15 of us sat around a huge table and ate just like pigs at a trough - it was great. I never saw food disappear so fast or so noisily. Some was spilled and splattered on the table but that didn't matter. It was real Patagonia Goucho chow - Fat, fat, fat and more fat. The starter was a huge pot fat soup, big enough to bathe in. I call it fat soup because it looked like they had just melted down a huge slab of pork fat and lard, tossed in a few pieces of meat, a handful of barley, a few potatoes, 1 single carrot and a little salt and pepper. Before it even got to room temperature it was starting to jell, but as you might have guessed, it was about the best tasting soup I'd ever had. I ate two bowls with a half a loaf of bread. Then came the entree - a huge plate of freshly killed mutton. I know because I had watched them do it. As a second entree, as if that wasn't enough, they brought out a rack of ribs and a bowl of boiled potatoes. Just in case you didn't have enough fat, they brought out some fresh butter to put on the bread. It was all so good. I had read how at one time, people down here had survived on absolutely nothing but meat. I suppose the body can adapt to just about anything. After everyone was done eating, the cook brought out two large tins of cling peaches in heavy syrup - I was in shock - Something with color! Say it isn't so - Real canned peaches. Fruit as a food, a new concept. Finally they brought out some wine and we spent a few hours trying to communicate as best we could, but by 11:00 I was beat. They brought me to a room with 15 beds in it. I couldn't believe it, a real bed! I don't think I could get comfortable in a real bed. Truthfully, I really do sleep better on the floor. I usually find beds to be too soft, but that night I managed just fine, sleeping in comfort.

The gouchos stayed up most of the night drinking wine but were still up at 5:30 AM to move the sheep and work on the fences that parallel the roads throughout Patagonia. An amazing effort considering the distances involved. They returned about 9:00 am to wake me up. I thought I was tough after fighting the monster for a month, but there was no way I could ever keep up with these guys. They asked if I knew how to ride and I said I did but it had been a while. Pablo gave me the biggest horse I'd ever seen, a beautiful gray stallion, strong but gently cooperative. A more perfect horse could not have been selected and I'm sure Pablo knew it. They don't use saddles, which means no stirrups, but there was no wimping out now. I just hoped my legs were strong enough. He tossed a piece of sheepskin over the back so I wouldn't get the sweat from the horse on my pants, but I did anyway. At first we rode along the Rio Chico with an easy trot for about 15 minutes. Then we climbed a short but steep hill, went along a ridge and then down a another steep hill of lose sand and into another river. We trotted down the stream in 2 inch deep water. Pablo gave a shout that sounded like 'YA!' and smacked the back of the horse. Like a rocket he shot off down the stream. I did the same, only with half the intensity, MY scream of 'YA!' had the attitude of please run fast but only if you want to. But nonetheless my horse took off just the same.

I was flying and even the monster couldn't keep up. I didn't know horses could run so fast but I loved it. Water was flying everywhere and I felt just like I was in a movie clip. At first I felt like Billy Crystal in City Slickers, but when I finally caught up to Pablo, I let out a loud uncontrolled YAHOO!!!! There I was, actually riding with the Gouchos in Patagonia. He seemed impressed that a gringo from the states could keep up, but then so was I. I really wished I could speak more Spanish, but sometimes non-verbal communication is more effective than words. It's amazing how close I felt to Pablo and some of his friends even though we didn't share a common language and were together only a few hours. I feel closer to Pablo after one day than I do with people back home who I've known for a month. Perhaps it's easier when you're a traveling foreigner. I fervently believe it's important to adopt the ways and habits of the people you meet and to always be very patient and polite.

When we got back to the ranch, we had ridden for over three hours and I climbed down from the horse with the thought, "this kid's not going to be feeling too sporty tomorrow". Pablo said he had a lot of things to do but I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. I thanked him so much for my inaugural goucho experience, but mostly for his friendship. I told him that I was anxious to get back into the ring and resume my masochistic torture rituals. He said he understood completely for he needs to ride everyday too. With a firm handshake and a long stare with laser beams coming from his eyes, we said goodbye. With a tip of his hat, he smiled and rode away. I just kept staring until he was beyond the horizon. I felt so close, and yet so far away. A good friend yet a total stranger. In this world of fantasies and facades, he was about as real as they get. As the last of the dust cleared, I turned back towards my bike, my horse, my life - how different we all are, yet how much the same. We all made of the same energy.

I packed up my stuff, said my farewells to some of the other guys, mounted up on my horse, my chariot, my bicycle. As I started to cycle away, I reflected on the life that they lead. Sometimes I feel that my life is lonely, but it's nothing compared to theirs. Being a goucho is not something I could do for very long, yet that day with Pablo was one of the happiest and most memorable of my life.

After a week of almost dead-on headwind, it was nice to deal with a cross-wind again, for at this point the road turns due north. I've been missing all those knock downs and inadvertent U-turns complements of my close friend and only adversary. I finally arrived in Bajo Caracoles. On the map it looked like a big town, but in reality there was nothing here. A couple of houses, a one-pump petro station from the 1930's, and store with nothing but pasta and a few tins of soup. I arrived at about 2:00 in the afternoon and it was just too early to stop for the night. For some reason I'm very anxious to get to the next town, the last town in Patagonia. Bajo Caracoles was second only to Tres Lagos for its zombie-like atmosphere. It must be the wind that hypnotizes people into these expressionless, lifeless forms.

I cycle out of town going due north on this last 80 mile stretch of road before I turn west and cross the Andes into Chile. The turning point is the town of Perieto Moreno, not to be confused with Perieto Moreno National Park, nor the famous Perieto Moreno Glacier. I never did find out why Perieto Moreno was famous enough to have a town and park and glacier named after him.

At an average speed of 3 miles an hour, I managed to do the last 80 miles in three days. I'm going to miss frequently getting off the bicycle, pulling it out of the sand, the completely drained energy-less feeling that the monster leaves you with. As I arrived in the town of Perieto Moreno, completely exhausted and not just because of the environmental conditions. The insides of my thighs were still burning from the horseback riding. I spent the entire day sleeping and at the end of the day I still felt tired. I have a feeling that a long rest is in order for I don't seem to be able to get rested even after a full day of doing nothing but sleeping. But Perieto Moreno is not a town for resting in because it's still in the grip of the Patagonian monster and the atmosphere was not conducive to recharging your batteries. I only had to go 50 miles West to Las Antigos, nestled up against the base of the Andes, a relative Shangri-La on the shores of Lago Buenos Aires. That was the place to rest. I spent the night here in an old abandoned house on the edge of town and in the morning gave a little farewell salute to the monster. This will be my last day of fierce winds, knockdowns and frustrations.

From Perieto Moreno, the town, I turn West towards Chile and I'm delighted to find that the road is an excellent paved road. Route 40 continues northward another 2500 miles towards Bolivia. I will be sad to leave it behind but at the same time I'm very relieved.

The term Patagonia came from the original settlers here about 10,000 years ago. Through fossils and artifacts they determined that the original settlers were about 9 feet tall and consequently had very large feet. The native term for Big Foot is Patagonia. I imagine at that time the natural conditions in this region could only be tackled by a larger, stronger breed of humans.

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