(October 3 – written by Dave)
Today it is 500 days since we left Fairbanks, Alaska. We’re still riding and still focused on the goal of reaching Ushuaia. To be honest, it really is just one day at a time. You can never get too far ahead of yourself on a trip this long. We only count the days because we keep track of them in a spreadsheet. We certainly don’t get up in the morning and say “Gee, today is day 499, let’s make it a good one!” I’m a morning person. Nancy is less of a morning person. I think she’d have left me a long time ago if the first sentence I utter on any given morning began with the words “Gee” (or “golly” or “dang” – you get the idea – cute is not something to try early on a Swede) (Senior editor’s note – it is not really true that I am not a morning person. If I could get up and have a relaxing morning drinking a nice cup of coffee while reading the paper I’d be happy as a clam. But if I have to get up at 6am (or earlier) and rush about packing up (again), eating a fast breakfast so I can get out on the road on my bike, I am less happy. And I don’t think you have to talk all of the time in the morning, as Dave seems to think...)
For our 500th day we got up early, even before it was light. Well, technically it never actually got dark last night so it didn’t have to get light this morning. Our 100+ site campground, with us and one other guy as the only guests, had a huge number of overhead lights that came on at dusk and stayed on until dawn. There had to be at least one light per campsite. One can only imagine the electric bill and remember, they charged us $0 to camp there. The lights on the football pitch didn’t come on until the boys showed up to have a kick-around but you guessed it, they were on all night as well. The lights didn’t really bother us but wow, Argentina tax dollars at work.
We had a mostly dry tent even though we camped on a small patch of grass. We really are in the Argentina desert now – it is quite dry here. It was mostly calm this morning and we had no dust. It was a pretty nice start to the day. We had about 11k of uphill to ride right out of camp and Nancy had made a hardcopy of the profile. We both got a little worried about the climb as the profile scale made it look “Peruvian steep”. We shouldn’t really have given it a second thought as the grade never went over 3% – none of that 6-10% Peruvian stuff.
As we neared the top of the climb, we got our first taste of what the wind was really going to do for the day, and it wasn’t nice. We were riding almost due south all day and the wind was coming out of the SSE – almost a straight headwind. It wasn’t too bad at 9AM, but throughout the day it really built up. By the end, it was blowing a near gale and trying to send us back to Bolivia. For some odd reason today, we didn’t get much dust along with the wind – for which we were grateful.
Needing a break from the wind we pulled off for morning tea in the small town Pituil. There is not much to the town and we had trouble finding anything to eat or drink. We had more than enough food and water with us but we like getting cold drinks and a snack when we can. We ended up sitting in the very quiet (empty) town square and making do with what we had. Pituil is one of those towns that the highway used to go through but now there is a new by-pass road. It seemed like more shops were closed than open.
Once we left Pituil, the wind became our biggest challenge. It was more head than side wind and it was really starting to blow. This made our speed drop even though we had a long 2% downhill. To be honest however, while it was hard, not having to deal with the sand made it a lot more bearable. It was just a matter of putting our heads down and grinding it out.
We had two more climbs near the end but they were only 3% as well – fooled again by the deceptive profile. Having said that, 3% with a strong wind on the nose was hard enough. We ran into another cyclist (Danny) heading north as we neared Chilecito. Danny was having a grand time motoring up one of our downhills with a raging tailwind. I forgot to get his photo but it was fun to chat with him. He was from Spain and has been out riding in the Americas for 4+ years. He also reminded us of how different all of us are that are out here riding. He wore no helmet but had a nice set of “Beats” headphones on. We met him at about 2PM – he started his riding for the day after 1PM, just leaving Chilecito. We always wear our helmets, we never listen to music and we would never think of starting riding for the day after 1PM. There is no right or wrong way to do this ride – clearly what we are doing works for us, at 500 days – and clearly Danny has figured out what works for him after 4+ years.
We rolled into town a little after 3PM. The hotels are all spread out and neither of us was looking forward to the hotel search. So, what to do but stop at a Mexican restaurant and have lunch. I had the standard burrito and it was pretty good. Nancy had a massive, and I mean massive, tortilla de papa. This is the second time that she’s order this dish and clearly there is no serving standard – last time it was just a normal meal. Today it was stunningly large but not near as tasty as the first time.
Onto the hotel search… The first one had no “normal” rooms but had a special room across the street above a gym, it was a long ways from town and the WiFi was iffy. The owner was super nice but he could tell that we would not be happy so he suggested a different hotel near the square. The second hotel had no rooms available. Finally, we found a room at the third hotel – Hotel Belsavac. The room is basic but adequate – though there is a hotel cat that took a liking to Nancy after a few pets and was pretty insistent on following us down the hall to our room with the hope of coming in. Some days it seems like searching for a place to stay takes hours and way more energy than we have. Nearly 500 nights of doing this, well, this part of the trip is not a favourite of either of us.
We were thinking of maybe taking a day off here tomorrow but the hotel and town are not as inspirational as we’d hoped. So day 501 we will be riding again. We have a short day planned and what looks like a proper pass to get over. At least several other cyclists called it a pass in their blogs. The profile, well, it again looks massive, but we’re onto to those tricky Komoot profiles – we know we can do it – one day at a time.