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January 7th, 2012 | Argentina

Bajo Caracoles to Governador Gregores…

I was earlier than my companions, having slept like a log after the tough day’s riding the day before…

The much be-stickered petrol pumps at Bajo Caracoles...

Ruta 40 stickers are on everything, confirming it's popularity with adventure seekers the world over...

I left them snoring a medley, and went out to check that all was well with the bikes… I briefly considered pushing Pablo’s bike around the corner, and rushing back to the room to tell him his bike had been stolen…!!

I would have loved to see the look on his face, but I decided against this little prank, only to conserve my energy for the long day that I knew lay ahead…

I removed the cover from the Big Fella, rolled it up and packed it away, then rode over to the pumps and washed the dust off the headlights and windscreen…

I had struggled to see through it the previous day, and wanted a clearer picture of what I was trying to miss on the roads today…!!

After a very basic breakfast, consisting of a few slices of toast and jam, we gathered outside and chatted to the two Colombian bikers and their girlfriends who we had met the previous evening…

They were also on their way to Ushuaia, and had hired their BMW 1200’s in Santiago… All they wanted to do was ride Ruta 40, then fly back to Bogota… They were confident and experienced riders, and rode the dirt at speeds that before today, I would never ever contemplated…

Ready to ride more ripio... I spent some time on my own, thinking of the ride ahead, and psyching myself up for the challenge...

The one darker-skinned girl was as flirtatious as they come, all flashing eyes and wide smiles whenever she spoke to us, and her boyfriend was not around… My friends were more than delighted by her banter, teasing me when I ignored her obvious charms and went on loading the bike…

She came over to ask if they could ride with us, thinking I assume, that because I was on the bigger bike, that I was the leader of our “little pack”…

“Si…!!” I said glancing down at her hand which rested on my forearm… “We are leaving in a few minutes, but we are not going too fast, so I do not know how that will suit your boyfriends…!! Let us see what happens once we are out on the ripio…!!”

She flounced off with a smile to go and speak with her beefy companion, and later came back to ask if I would take a photo of them with the Big Fella…

“Don’t worry, Ronnie…!! We no tell Patreeshia..!!” laughed Pablo once they had gone back inside to pack…

“Ha…!! And I won’t tell your girlfriends when I get to Beunoa Aires either…!!” I said, wagging a finger at them…

The Big Fella's Colombian Fan Club grew by two...!! Here's the photo you wanted guys...!! See you in Ushuaia...!!

I rode at the back for a while, trying to chivy Pablo along while we were still on the tarred road... Had no effect whatsoever...!!

A huge part of me wished that Patricia was there with me on this ride, while a niggling little voice told me that it was probably better that she wasn’t, considering the condition of the roads…!!

Keep a sharp lookout for Guanacos...!! Buggers have no road sense...!! Once they choose a direction to run in, nothing will change their tiny little minds...!!

“Let’s get going Caracoles…!! Calafate is calling…!!” I said loudly, Caracoles being the Spanish word for Snail…!!

“Ronnie, Ronnie…!!” Pablo said, coming over to where I was sitting on the bike… “We cannot make it to Calafate…!! Eet ees too far, Che, and there is no petrol at Tres Lagos… We need to go to Governador Gregores to get petrol, and then we see…!! Hokay…??”

“We cannot make it on our bikes… We have to go that way…!!” chimed in Augustine…

We set off on the first section of road that was tarred for about 40 kms, all the way to Rio Olnie… A light wind was blowing, and although the sun shone brightly, it felt like one of those crisp mornings on the Highveld…

I occupied myself by imagining shapes in the clouds above me, which was difficult, because down here, the wind tears the clouds to shreds, scattering them in long wisps, hardly ever giving them a chance to bunch together…

The scenery held me spellbound while I was on the tar… Once I got onto the ripio, there was very little opportunity to take it all in unless you came to a full stop…!!

The contrasting colours of sky and earth often had me shaking my head in wonder...

The tar ended in Rio Olnie, which was even smaller a place than Bajo Caracoles…!! I counted just seven buildings as we cruised down into the long valley leading to it… A lone rabbit darted across the road as I entered the village, and small herds of Guanacos paused in their foraging to stare in our direction…

"Just stay off the road and we can still be friends...!!"

Three hundred and fifty km of gravel road lay ahead of us... I stopped here to wait for the guys to catch up so we could discuss our tactics...

Then the ripio began… It ran parallel to the new road they are presently building, curving between piles of rubble, over temporary bridges, down steep inclines and up even steeper ascents… It was covered from side to side in stones ranging from the size of large marbles, to fist sized rocks…

Mouth covered to avoid the dust of oncoming vehicles...

I passed Augustine, who had recovered from a bad wobble on a sharp bend, and was in the process of getting his nerve back… I stood up on the pegs to see as far ahead of me as possible, remembering the all important “Stand up, Look up and Open up” rule of offroad riding…

When I came upon a particularly bad section, where there was no discernible line to follow through the stones, I just yanked on the throttle and urged the Big Fella through it, using speed and power to smash my way through…

“We will not be the first to fall…!!” I often said into my helmet…

“Just hold me up and I’ll do the rest…!!” came the reply from the growling machine under me…

“Why must I do all the holding up…??” I queried…

“Because you’re the one with the hands…!! Ha…!! Now we’re even…!!” He clearly had not forgotten my jibe from our ride to Townsville in Australia… Bloody thing has a memory too…!!

Riding with the Colombians on a short section of tarred road in between the ripio... They were taking no chances with fuel, carrying what looked like ten litres in various containers...

Buses and trucks that came trundling towards me, threw up huge clouds of billowing dust, and when you rode into them, you were completely blinded for a few seconds, and could only hope you would not hit a pothole or a large rock…

The Colombians caught up to me while I waited for Augustine and Ezie… They told me that my friends were at least twenty minutes behind me, so I decided to ride on until I could find a better place to stop…

We got onto a tarred section that was actually closed to traffic, but had gaps in the barriers big enough to let a bike through… In this way, we saved about 20 kms of ripio riding, all in all, although we had to keep finding a way off the tar when we came across one of the huge drains that crossed the road…

I was riding a lot quicker than I thought I could on the ripio, and had outdistanced the other by a few kilometres at least… This would form the pattern for the rest of our rides together, all the way to Tres Lagos…

I waited for them to catch up to me, which by the time Pablo struggled up to us, was usually half and hour at least, sometimes longer…!!

When we were all gathered together, I suggested that we ride a maximum of 60 kilometres before stopping to rest… This would give Pablo time to catch up, and hopefully ensure that we never took a wrong turning and became permanently separated…!!

They all agreed to the plan, and at each stop, we would consult the map again and point out to each other any possible areas where there were likely to be problems…

“Pablo…, look here amigo…  Muy importante…!! There is a track here that goes straight on…” I said pointing to my GPS screen, “If you miss it, we will not see you again, and Augustine will take your girlfriend when he gets back to Buenos Aires…!!” I explained…

“No problemo, Ronnie…!! Augustine gay…!!”

“Yes, but you’ll be lost…!! What then…??”

“No problemo, I find Guanaco to be girlfriend…!!”

“Or maybe Gaucho find you to be girlfriend…!!” Augustine shot back…!!

Much side-splitting laughter and more wise-cracks later we got back on the road…

There were very few roadsigns out here, just a single small pole at every junction to show you which was Ruta 40, and which was a side road that led to some remote hacienda… We rode strung out, taking comfort in different ways of being together in each others company, even though were were usually at least ten minutes apart…!!

I knew that if I fell, someone would be along shortly to help me, and Augustine and Ezie probably knew that If I came across a very bad section, I would wait for them to catch up so we could do it together… I can only assume that poor Pablo hoped that if he didn’t turn up after an hour or so, we would go back and look for him…

Chewing up the miles...!! I had covered more than 2500 km since leaving Santiago just six days ago...!! Ushuaia was still 1300 km away on the route I was determined to follow...

Each time we stopped, we compared notes on how we handled the section before, drawing confidence from our combined experiences…

We laughed and joked about the near misses, the “almost fell’s” , until Augustine arrived at one of the rest stops covered in dirt…!! He had gone down trying to cross over a pile of sand to get onto the “promised land”, the term we used for the strip of new tar that ran alongside us sometimes, and we wished we could be on…!!

Back to ripio, having run alongside the Rio Chico on tar for a short while...

He was unhurt, just “shaken and stirred”… The edge of his enthusiasm had been blunted by the fall, and for the remainder of the day, he hung back behind Ezie, riding more slowly and carefully than he had before…

The ripio had spoken loudly to him, and he was listening… By days end he had recovered, despite taking yet another fall, this time just in front of me, soon after we had started off from another of our  rest stops…

He made too sharp a turn in thick sand and went down heavily on his right side… He lay stunned for a few seconds while I tried to find a place to safely put my side stand out, so I could help him lift the bike…

We got his bike upright, and while he spat dust and wiped his face free of more of it, I checked his bike for damage… I could see no obvious problems, and a minute later we were back on the road again…!! No fanfare, no commiserations, just business as usual…!! A fall on Ruta 40 is almost expected…!!

For my part, I was riding “out of my skin”, enjoying the challenge and continually surprised at the ease with which I was dealing with the conditions… There was usually very little room for error, and I remained intently focused on what I was doing… I made full use of our rest stops to drink water, do some stretching, and smile broadly at everyone and anything… I was having the time of my life…!!

We came to a longish stretch of tar, where the Ruta 40 ran up against the Rio Chico, and took a sharp left… The tar ran straight and true, for about 30 kms, then ended as abruptly as it had begun…

I was a long way ahead at this stage, and would wait almost an hour before the last of my companeros arrived… I rode slowly over a very tricky section, where gravel a few inches thick had been spread, and stopped to take a photo of the looping Rio Chico…

The Rio Chico, blue sky reflected in the water...

I parked the bike on a good clean stretch of hard packed dirt road, and then took a short walk to look over the bluff I had ridden up to, and stood looking out over the Rio Chico floodplain… In the area where I parked, clumps of thorny scrub grew, their little yellow flowers contrasting sharply against the light brown sands around them…

"We're on the road to Gregores..." ... Nah, doesn't quite have the same ring as "nowhere"...!!

These Gauchos, two brothers, pulled over to look at the bikes and had a rapid fire conversation with the guys... Not sure what they spoke about, but there was much laughing and joking...!! They had a huge hound in the back of the pickup, who eyed me hungrily as I walked up to pat him... The look in his eye stopped me dead in my tracks...!!

The wetland attracts birds and animals alike, hosting large flocks of geese and waders, as well as Guanacos and the odd cow....

All in a straight stripe...!! One of my favourite photos of the day....!!

I hoped that lunch wasn't too far off.... I was feeling peckish, see....!!

The road got all gnarly on us again, and by the time we got to Gregores, I had lost the feeling in both my feet...!!

After loitering around on the bluff for a while, we went back to the bikes and prepared to ride the last 70 km to Governador Gregores, a little farming town that had a surprising amount of decent infrastructure, considering that it was in the middle of nowhere…!!

The last time I had stopped, and sat down in the saddle, the bike dipped alarmingly under me, and I knew then that my rear shock’s days were numbered…!!

I had been standing up on the pegs for over an hour and the massive difference between this and sitting on the bike was disconcerting… I felt like I’d sat down on a much smaller bike…!!

By the time I got to Gregores, I had lost all feeling in my feet and calves, and had to ride around for a while to shake some life into them before I could stop and feel the ground under my boots…

Getting off a bike when you have pins and needles in your feet WILL result in a fall almost every time…!! Your brain does not know when your foot is on the ground or not, and you end up leaning the bike over too far before you get the side stand out…!!

Just in case we were uncertain of being in Gaucho Country...!!

We refueled as planned, and judging by the small volume the Big Fella needed, I knew that I could probably have made it to Calafate with the fuel I was carrying… I put that thought quickly away, reminding myself that this was now about “us” and not “me”…

Augustine questioned a few locals, trying to find a decent place to have lunch at, and then led us to a very smart restaurant, which had just opened it’s doors for lunch…

Ezie sits resting outside the surprisingly posh place we ate at...!! I was sure we would be thrown out on our ears, but the owner welcomed us personally and hovered attetively around us, occasionally spreading the bad news about the road ahead...!!

Hardly touched sides on the way down...!!

I should never have had my arm twisted to have one of these...!! Delicious, by the way...!!

Lasagna was the only thing available and we were happy to go along with anything they offered us… We were starving…!!

We followed up the main dish with a bowl of ice cream and toffee caramel, which pushed us all over the edge and into the chasm of slothfulness…!!

We practically crawled out of the restaurant and stood around in the shade thrown by the building, groaning loudly at the ache in our bellies…

“We should have just had biscuits and coffee at the service station…!!” I moaned, “I feel too full to ride…!!”

We still had 180 km of dirt to cover to get to Tres Lagos, and then another 200 km of surfaced road to get to Calafate… There was still six hours of daylight left… I was all for giving it a go…!!

An hour later, I was pretty damn sure we would never make it…!!

©GBWT 2012

3 comments to Bajo Caracoles to Governador Gregores…

  • Mark Behr

    These are exciting times – some challenging rides and great countryside. Just what your ride is all about!

  • Charmz

    Brother dearest, that grey beard of yours needs a very sharp razor. It time to say goodbye to that hairy face of yours. Mom is very pleased to see that you are eating some decent meals and not just living on your biscuits and sweeties. Please take it easy….you still have another continent to get to.

  • Dear Sister…!! In my history books, adventurers and explores grew beards….!! I’m just following in their venerable footsteps…!! Ha…!! Ok, then, for you, I’ll give it a trim for today’s “special event” !! How’s that…??!! Love to all back home (and a lick for Jessie…!! Rather you than me…!!) Don Ronaldo de los Patagonia…

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