The last, and the first at the same time, week of cycling was very difficult, tiring and eye-opening. I feel like a rookie here, because long distance cycling is an entirely different ball game to motorcycle touring. It is slow, physically tiring and your success depends on many more factors. On a motorbike you just think of fuel in your tank and oil in your engine. There are very few places in the world where you won’t be able to reach another town in a day. Now I need to think about taking enough water with me, enough food, and paying attention that I eat regularly. Otherwise the energy may just run out and cycling will no longer be fun. Northern Argentina is a difficult terrain to start a bicycle journey. It’s hot, dry, mountainous and windy, with small villages far apart and nothing in between.
On the first day of cycling between Santiago and Los Andes I was battling with the heat but being in an urbanised area I had access to water and cold drinks :) On the second day I had to climb up the 3,200 m.a.s.l. mountain pass over to Argentina. It was a long and a very tiring day with very slow progress. At points I was glad that my mountain-bike was having such low gearing because I had to use the lowest gears available. At one point, during my many rests, motorcyclists whizzed past me speeding up the 32 steep curves which I dreaded. I thought to myself: “You are just thinking of the bends, I am thinking of the gradient, how far up they’re going and if the wind is not in my face”. Despite of cycling all day I barely did 60 kms. At the end I was so tired I could hardly walk. It began to drizzle and I decided to call it a day and camp on, what I thought was an empty military camp. As I was about to find the best spot for my tent I heard a whistle, looked back, and saw a young soldier waving at me to come inside the building. The entire complex was guarded by two young soldiers – one volunteer and one young professional officer. I explained to them where I was going and what I was doing in my broken Spanish and luckily for me, they invited me over, offered me a warm bed, food and drinks. We ended staying till late trying to chat in Spanish with the help of Google Translator about world affairs, sport, food, girls and music. Next day, I woke up early and headed off to the border which was still about 20 kms up the mountain. It took some time to reach Argentina but I was motivated by the fact that as soon as I cross the tunnel onto the other side it will all going to be downhill. And it was. 4 hours later I was in the first Argentinian town on the way, called Uspallata, where I treated myself to good meal and a big bottle of cold beer. I also met an interesting Swiss couple who went on a two week cycling holiday on a tandem bike. The guy was a retired structural engineer, studied for his PhD in Berkeley and specialised in vibrations. He even worked on the unfortunate case of the swaying ‘Millenium Bridge’ in London which was designed by Arup in such a way that its natural frequency was equal to the frequency with which people walk. We had an interesting discussion about frequency domain, Bode diagrams, resonance and cycling. You can meet interesting people in very random places.
From Uspallata I took a small road 149 which turned into a very washboarded gravel road and which was going through very windy parts of Argentina. I later found out that a nearby town of San Juan is a kite surfing spot. Never choose roads that go near places known for wind sports :) A few days later I arrived in a place called Jachal which is situated on the famous Route 40 100 kms from San Juan. When I arrived here I was absolutely tired and in need for a rest. As I got to the town centre I spotted a long distance cyclist who, as I later found out, was on a trip from Alaska to Ushuaia and headed south. Nick was an Englishman living in Sydney and a seasoned cyclist by now. He travelled light, which made me look like a BMW GS1200 rider compared to him. Tips were recorded and points taken. I shall made corrections if I decide to do more long distance riding at some point. It’s just a reconnaissance trip anyway. My bicycle is bloody heavy though. I might need to call Lans for some doping ideas ;) The town of Jachal turned out to be a rather friendly and accommodating town with free public wifi, free access to electricity at the town square and at the municipal camp-site which, have a guess, is free too. I ended up spending 4 entire days here, charging my batteries – literally and figuratively speaking, and finishing my long overdue journal paper. The job is done. The first draft is ready and sent over to Leicester, and as the shared drive is being sluggishly synchronised, I am finishing this blog entry and getting ready to get back to the campsite for my last night in here. I am ready for another week of cycling now and I’m happy knowing that from now on my evenings will be spent not on writing the manuscript but on watching the collection of movies I took with me on this journey. The day is drawing to a close. The wind is picking up. It seems like another rainy night tonight. Why is the internet so slow again?