(December 15 – written by “Just Dave”)
Sometimes we struggle coming up with names for our blogs. Sometimes the names are cute or clever. And other times, well, the name just hits us on the head like a load of bricks. Today was a load of bricks, perhaps even a double load of bricks. We had wind all day, some tailwinds, some crosswinds and some headwinds. We knew that the last 30k into El Calafate would be more or less into whatever wind the day brought.
Today, the wind coming out of El Calafate was quoted at 90 KPH – yes, that’s 90 – or 56 MPH. We turned head on into this wind after about 68k. We started out working as a team, taking 1k turns leading into the wind. We did this for about 8k. It was mostly manageable; we got up to 10KPH a few times but mostly our speed hung in the high single digits. After about 8k, we had to go up a small rise and the wind seemed to strengthen. I got blown off the road twice and both of us were getting blown out into the traffic lane. It was a headwind but if you got a little sideways, you’d simply blow off in whatever direction you were leaning. We rode another 1k in this before deciding that we had to get off and push. It was just too dangerous with our speed below 5 KPH, we couldn’t control our direction.
We pushed for another 1k or so, keeping an eye on traffic coming up behind us for a pick-up to hitch a ride. Mostly sedans and large buses passed us so we pushed on. At this point pushing the bike was very hard. For the first time in my life, I got the sensation that drafting, while walking, actually made a difference. We took turns leading into the wind again, going something like 2 KPH. At this rate, we’d make it to town around 9PM tonight.
One of the cars that passed us while we were walking was a small van that looked like a taxi. We didn’t try to get a lift from it as I didn’t think our bikes would fit inside. A couple minutes after the taxi passed us, it stopped and circled back to us. Without really even asking if we wanted a ride, taxi driver Alex pulled over in front of us and popped open the back. The wind was so loud, we couldn’t really hear each other speak but Alex knew he could get the bikes in his van somehow – it was just too dangerous on the road and he wasn’t going to leave us out there.
We got everything inside, Nancy and I squished into one bucket seat in the front and we were in El Calafate in what seemed like only minutes. Alex didn’t start the meter but was happy to take a “tip” – I let him pick the amount. I would have pretty much just opened my wallet and said, “take whatever you want” really. I won’t say that he saved our lives because that would be overly dramatic (Senior editor’s note – I wouldn’t say that would be overly dramatic – the guy was a lifesaver!) but boy, we were sure happy that he stopped and was so keen to help us out. Alex, if you read this, you are a legend!
Phew… Back to the rest of the day.
The Pink House was an alright place to spend the night. It was windy overnight and as you might expect, wind whipping through an abandoned house, makes all kinds of strange noises. Both of us thought that someone was coming to join us or worse, kick us out, a couple different times. Naturally, one’s imagination tends to run a little wild when you’re sleeping somewhere that you’re not technically supposed to. But really, you’re in an abandoned house in the middle of the Patagonia pampas, it’s dark and no one knows you are there. The odds of anyone “stopping by” are zero, or less. Other than the imagined ones, there were no visitors overnight.
After a leisurely brekkie and pack-up, we were on the road by 8AM. We’d ridden all of 1k when we felt the first sprinkles. Now with the wind, rain and dark clouds, the surrounding brown treeless hills were even bleaker looking than they were yesterday. Add to this, Nancy’s bike is not shifting properly again. We had to stop at the start of every rise, so that I could shift her gears into a better gear for going uphill. We certainly had all of the ingredients for one, or both, of us to be in a foul mood.
Looking back on the morning, I’m quite pleased how we managed everything. We had to stop and put on full rain gear at one point. We had to stop for a couple of shift assists. We had some strong headwind sections. Rather than get upset, we just got on with the job – there were no grumbles, mumbles or sharp words. I know it is over used (perhaps in this blog more than anywhere) but really, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” Today’s team: Nancy, Dave and road angle Alex. (Senior editor’s note – I am not sure if it qualifies as grumbling but perhaps Dave didn’t hear my swearing every time I tried to shift down and couldn’t get the stupid gear to shift. I’ve got a nice blister on my hand to prove how hard I was trying to turn the d*** shifter!)
About 70k from El Calafate, we came to Lago Argentina where looking across the lake we could see the town. A ferry at this point would have been most welcome – there is none. At the bottom of the lake as we crossed the river leaving the lake, we met up with a couple of Dutch cyclists heading the other way – Arnold and Martin. They had come from El Calafate and reported stunningly great tailwinds – they did warn us we would have a strong headwind once we made the turn but little did we know…
Arnold has been on the road for about 14 months and is heading north somewhere – he’s not sure where. Martin has been riding for about a month, starting Ushuaia and is heading to Alaska. I’ve been carrying bear spray since the start of the trip, even though we left bear country a long time ago. I hung onto it through Central America – for bandits. I’ve been trying to find someone heading north who might make use of it. Martin was more than happy to oblige! So, in the middle of nowhere, on a windy bridge over Rio Argentina, we made the transfer – from us to Martin. I hope that he reaches Alaska but has absolutely no use for the bear spray – nice to meet you guys and good luck.
After the bear spray hand off and just at the right turn towards El Calafate, we stopped for lunch. At the corner, we met the wind. And from above, you know the rest of the story. It was one heck of a day. We survived. And we met yet another road angel. Wow – what a day.
We’ll be here in El Calafate for the next 3 days. We hope to visit a large glacier, have some good food and drink, and last but not least, get Nancy’s shifting fixed. We both feel a bit shell shocked from the day but we survived. Out of nowhere, the trip has given us yet another experience that we’ll remember forever – in Patagonia, the weather wins!
PS: 90KPH was reported by Alex. Later in the day accuweather reported gusts to 75KPH at about 6PM. So Alex was probably correct. Whatever, we could hardly walk, let alone ride into it.
PSS: Don’t worry about Nancy breaking her streak of riding every inch of South America – we ride out back the way we came the last 30k, so really, today’s car ride will be erased when we leave. And no, Dave has not ridden every fine inch – he had the two sick days in Peru.