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January 7th, 2012 | Argentina

Gregores to Tres Lagos…

The short stretch of tar that took us out of Gregores was a brief respite from the dirt roads… We crossed the wide bridge over the Rio Chico and then were back on the ripio…

A long steep ascent on a road slippery with “marbles” took us up onto the plateau where the new road was being built…

After negotiating the worst section of road thus far, we were glad to see the back of the Gregores to Ruta 40 detour...

Neither of us were in very good nick after the huge meal we had enjoyed, and all made silly mistakes we had not been making during the morning part of our ride…

I nearly slid off the road on a sharp bend when I looked down at my GPS at the wrong moment…!! The front wheel hit a large round stone, slid off to one side, and I was too slow to correct the slide… I had to sit the Big Fella upright and haul on the brakes to come to a full stop… We skidded for a few metres before the tyres found some grip and friction did the rest…

My front wheel was barely a foot from a steep drop off that led down to a narrow stream…!! It was a very close call…!!

I sat taking deep breaths as Augustine and then Ezie came crawling past, tip-toeing through the bed of loose gravel that I was standing in…

That was the closest I came to a “big off” all day, and I realised how quickly you can come to grief on this road… It is not only the road surface that wears you down, it is the dust and the heat, and the very long distances of fierce concentration that saps your energy and makes you lose focus…

An exhausted Pablo catches up to us, muttering "Mierde...!!" a couple of times as he came to a stop...

This was by far the worst section of Ruta 40 that we had tackled, and an hour later, we had barely covered 50 km… We stopped to rest again, regrouping at the junction of the detour to Gregores and Ruta 40… I had not taken a single photo in the last hour, which, considering how many I take in a day, spoke volumes for the fact that I was VERY busy staying on the bike…!!

On his lighter bike, Ezekiel could scoot along at a good clip... Notice how thickly spread the gravel is here... Hard to find a riding line that you can follow...

We took off along the next section, and for a while I hung behind Ezekiel to see how fast he was riding and if it was worth matching my pace to his…

With my heavier bike, I needed to ride a little quicker to keep it upright and under control, using the weight and power to keep it on the straight and narrow…!! I eventually motored past Ezie and got back to the speed I had become used to…

The long and winding road that is Ruta 40... The new tarred road that is being built can be seen on the right...

I averaged about 70 km/h and on the firmer stuff, was able to go even quicker, especially when the road was wider, which made it easier to correct a slide or choose new lines when the one I was on petered out and became filled with pebbles…

My tyres were holding up well on the dirt, and each time I stopped I checked to see if the plug on the rear tyre was still holding… The last thing I needed now that I was riding that much quicker, was a sudden flat…!!

We passed Lago Cardiel, it’s icy turquoise waters fed by melting glaciers on the Chilean border… A few camper vans were parked on the roadside and I slowed down to check if the occupants were having any problems… Out here, it is the norm to check on fellow travelers, because you never know when you might need help yourself…!! Getting the thumbs up in reply to my own signal, I motored past them and onto a much narrower section of busted up ripio…

I pulled the Big Fella over in this open section to wait for the others... It took almost an hour before we were all together again... We were taking a pounding...!!

The shaking over the last two hours had begun to affect my left elbow, and I had constant shooting pains traveling down to my little finger… I pulled over to take a break with just 50 km to go to Tres Lagos… I located a tube of Arnica ointment and massaged a big dollop of it into my elbow and forearm, and then climbed up onto a large rock near the roadside, where I could look back to try and pinpoint the whereabouts of the others…

There wasn’t a plume of dust to be seen anywhere along Ruta 40, and after half an hour, I wondered if I should turn back to look for them… Just as I was climbing down off the rock, I saw a flash of light out in the distance, and watched as Augustine came struggling into view… I could see by the way he was riding that he was exhausted…

Augustine didn't even bother to get off his bike when he came to a stop... He kicked the side stand out and lay back, closing his eyes until we were ready to ride again...

Eziekel tops up his tank while we wait for Pablo...

Dog tired with still more punishment to come.... To make matters worse, the wind sprang up and would hinder us even more...

A short while later, Ezekiel pulled up, his face covered in dust… He grimaced in my general direction by way of greeting and then tiredly undid the straps covering his spare fuel bottle, and emptied the contents into his tank…

There was no way we could reach Calafate before dark… That was now obvious, and had been for a while now… It was already 6.00pm, and we still had an hours hard riding just to get to Tres Lagos…!!

I had drunk the last of my water before Augustine arrived and asked for something to drink… I felt bad that I had not waited for him or the next rider to arrive before drinking all my water…

Ezekiel had barely a quarter of a litre left in his bottle, and we had no idea how much Pablo was carrying… We should have been carrying far more water than we did during this ride to Tres Lagos…

Pablo had barely any time to rest when he struggled in a full hour after I had stopped… The rest of us were itching to get the ride over and done with, and soon set off again, this time riding a little slower, and bunching together with only a few hundred metres separating us…

I think we instinctively knew that we were all running on near empty, mentally and physically, and wanted to stick together in case one of us came off… Even Pablo hung around with us for a while, before dropping back out of sight again… He was just too nervous to ride any faster, but gets 10 out of 10 in my book for sticking to his task…!!

A strong breeze blew through the valleys we were now riding through, making it almost impossible to stand up on the pegs… The strong gusts would carry us across the road like a kite on a string… Sitting down was for me far more difficult than being able to see clearly ahead when standing… I was also doing my best to preserve my rear shock, which I feared would “pop” if I hit a big rock with all my weight on it…

The rest of the ride to Tres Lagos was a bit of a blur… It tested our determination and stamina to the limit… I remember struggling to see the lines I tried to ride as the road looped through a low range of mountains… The hills blocked the sunlight and threw the road into deep shadow… I recall hauling the Big Fella out of a deep section of sand that we had wandered into; remember now the sudden surge of adrenaline that coursed through me as I frantically tried to extricate us from it…

It was almost dark by the time we reached town... We had been on the road for almost twelve hours and covered only 400 km...

One near miss as I crossed over from one side of the highway construction to the other, completely dented my confidence, and saw me riding badly for the next few kilometres, weaving all over the ripio like a drunkard on a bicycle…!! I kept choosing the wrong line and having to power out of trouble…!! My vision blurred from time to time, only for a second, but it was enough to scare the hell out of me…

Augustine caught up to me just as we came over a low rise and saw Tres Lagos spread out ahead of us… He tried to pass me, but the Big Fella was having none of it…!!

“I refuse to have to deal with these crap conditions AND chew somebody else’s dust…!!” he grumbled above the wind… I had to agree with him on that one, and helped things along by giving a quick twist of the throttle and powering away, trying not to spray Augustine with pebbles as I did so…!!

Augustine discovered this place on the edge of town... A new guesthouse that was very comfortable...

Just short of town, we finally got shot of the ripio, (or so I thought…!!), riding smooth tar for a few kilometres, before taking the turnoff to town that was on gravel, and even worse than what we had been experiencing…!! So much for the last of the ripio…

I actually began dreading riding back out on this mess of a road the next morning…!!

“Will it never stop…??” I muttered into my helmet…

Half an hour later we were sitting on the sidewalk of a small cafe, eating doughnuts and other sweet-breads, washed down with Coke… We all needed a boost that only sugar could give us…!!

Tres Lagos is a dusty little way station, named after the three lakes that can be found just off the main road leading to it… There is not a piece of concrete or tar road anywhere in the town, and it has been a long time since a grader went through here…

Half an hour after our snack, we were settling into a new hostel cum guesthouse which was still being completed… We shared a room that contained three bunk beds and a single bed…

Before we showered, the guys set about checking their bikes for damage, cleaning and oiling their chains and doing some general maintenance.. Pablo had an electrical problem, a cable that had been worn through by the constant jolting on the ripio… He fished about in his kit and a few minutes later had the problem sorted…

I had no such problems, and teased them while I drank beer which I had walked into town to find…

“If you had a BMW boys, you wouldn’t have to fiddle about with your bikes, in near darkness like this…!!”

They grinned tiredly back at me, unable to rise to my jibes…

Then Pablo stood up from behind his bike and said, “Ronnie, Ronnie…!!! Look…!!”

He was pointing up at the sky behind me… I turned to see what the excitement was all about and was greeted by the sight of one of the most awesome sunsets I have seen…

We grabbed our cameras and rushed away from the house and the power cables to get an unobstructed view of the sky…

The blue hour comes to Patagonia... Photo by Ezekiel...

It was almost 10 pm, and we had used up all our energy getting to Tres Lagos, but the sunset seemed to regenerate something in us… We stood together in a tight group, snapping away, photo after photo… Not saying much, just living in the moment…

The sky gets a little darker as the wind blows some cloud in over Tres Lagos... The colours get more vivid...

That old tightness was in my chest again… I felt the emotion stirring and welling up inside me… We were all overcome to some extent by the beauty in the sky above us… We spoke in whispers, reverently…

Somewhere nearby a dog began barking… A shotgun blast rent the silence… More dogs began barking… More shots were fired… We hardly noticed… Later we heard more shots and somebody said something about hunting rabbits…

We stood watching the changing light and the clouds turn smoke-like….

Sky on fire... Any more sunsets like this and I'm likely to burst into tears...!!

It was like looking at a volcanic eruption… I imagined smoke and lava pouring out of the sky…

Then the show was over, our excitement drained away, and we were exhausted again… While I showered, Augustin and Ezekiel went off to find food and returned a short while later with more than enough to feed us all… I cannot remember what we ate, just that there was left-overs when we were done…

We staggered upstairs, and before Augustin and Ezekiel had showered, I was fast asleep… I did not hear them come into the room, even though the wooden floors squeaked loudly, no matter where you trod…

Ruta 40 had done a number on all of us today, but we had got through it in better shape than many others before us, and that was something we were all very proud of…

©GBWT 2012

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