(December 14 – written by “Just Dave”)
Today I think I just about broke my helmet mount rear view mirror. No, I didn’t fall or drop my helmet. Rather, for the first 90k or so, we had the magnificent Mount Fitz Roy and its full range hanging out just behind us. It was far harder to look forward at the road and not keep looking back in my mirror. And the photo ops were great as well at the top of every crest of the rolling highway Ruta 41 that we were riding. We didn’t have brilliant blue skies but Mt Fitz Roy and the cohorts were mostly cloud free. Taking them in kept us busy all morning – even if some of it was through the rear view mirror.
We were up fairly early and manage to be on the road right at 8AM. El Chalten was very much still sleeping at this hour. In fact, once we left the city limits we didn’t see hardly any cars for the first hour or so. From the edge of town, and pretty much for the full day, we rode through dry, alpine desert like scenery – no trees and not many large bushes. It was all very different from the last month on the Carretera Austral – scenic, but in different way. And of course we were looking in the rear view mirrors most of the time anyway.
And the wind, did I mention the wind? From town, until 90k later when we turned right at the Ruta 40 junction, we had a blazing tailwind. We rode the 90k in less than 4 hours, actually having 100k on the clock by noon. We met two Germans and a Frenchman going the other way – they were not as thrilled about the wind as we were (no kidding!). The right turn on Ruta 40 was a bit of a shock as it turned nearly 180 degrees putting us back into the minstrel that had been our friend for entire morning. We had an equally blazing head and side wind for the next 20k before stopping for lunch at the sleepy Hotel Leona.
The Hotel Leona was made famous in 1905, when after robbing a bank down on Argentina coast, none other than Butch and Sundance hung out here for a month or so. We’d heard some bad reports about the staff at the hotel but found them very friendly (just goes to show you…). We had a great lunch there (sorry no photos) and then lingered over a coffee and brownie. It wasn’t super warm inside but at least it was out of the wind – both of us noted the ringing in our ears. We toyed with staying there, in the hotel or camping in their carpark but we knew that we’d be turning back to favourable winds for the next 11k to a famous cycling stop on this route known as the Pink House.
We arrived at the Pink House, finding it with zero difficulty. The Pink House is a famous abandoned house at just about the midway point between El Chalten and El Calafate. Cyclists have been stopping here since at least 2012. It used to have windows and some doors, now it has none. It is pretty clean as most cyclists do their best to leave no trace and/or have cleaned up a space to stay in before us. The walls are covered with graffiti – or said differently, cyclist’s signatures.
While the idea of staying in an abandoned house sounds a little like we are finally going feral, there really is nothing else out here, or anywhere near the halfway point, other than Hotel La Leona which is quite expensive for a room (US$75) and very windy for camping. And as I noted above, there are no trees, bushes or much of anything else to hide behind. We’ve read many blogs of other bicycle tourists who’ve stayed here. There appeared to be some for sale signs on the property just before the Pink House but it wasn’t clear if the house and the nearby abandoned restaurant were part of that property. Odds are, as time goes on, the house will be taken back by Mother Nature and cyclists will have to sleep behind, rather than inside. But for now at least, it is in pretty good nick. And it got us out of the wind for the night, so we are not complaining.
We’ve set-up in “the green room” but had our choice of pink, yellow and white rooms as well. We’ll leave no trace, perhaps taking a little extra rubbish with us as well. We signed our names to wall to mark our time here and say a quiet thank you to the long-gone owners who built such a sturdy place out the middle of nowhere. Certainly they weren’t thinking of touring cyclists at the time but we appreciate their efforts all the same.
Tomorrow we have about 95k to ride to ride to reach El Calafate. The first 60k is with the wind or perhaps a side wind. The last 30k are into the westerlies. Today was a good test for us. We really only had 21k of headwinds but it was enough to give us confidence that tomorrow will be fine. We’ll be up early, trying to exit the Pink House without too many cars driving past on the highway, and perhaps to get a jump on the winds. We have three days planned off the bikes in El Calafate and are looking forward to a nice break.