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January 11th, 2012 | Argentina

Hard Ride to El Chalten…

"Excuse me waiter, but do you really think this is enough meat for four growing boys...??"

Will somebody please remind me what the hell I am doing down here….!!!

Pablo has a "side stand incident"....

We took a 430 km round trip to another section of the Glacier National park today, and got hammered by winds that gusted to over 100 km/h….!!

If I had a needle with me, or could find a sharp stick that had not been blown to kingdom come, I would have happily poked myself in the eye, just to have a little fun…!!

It all began last night, while we were wolfing down another huge platter of meat at a local eatery in El Calafate…

Augustine, having supposedly gleaned some “good information” from some local, suggested we ride to a place called El Chalten to see the mountains other sights out there…

“Eet is muy beeootifull, Amigos…!!” he had told us…

The following morning, dressed as warmly as we thought was necessary, considering we had been experiencing good weather for the last few days, we prepared to set off…

Things got off to a bad start right off the bat…!!

As Pablo tried to mount his bike, the bloody thing slipped out of his hands and fell over, just missing Ezekiel’s foot, who was already sitting on his own bike…

El Chalten would prove to be more than just "a liitle outride to kill some time"... It would be the longest ride I had ever made from a "base".... Usually, I did not bother to ride more than a 200 km round trip to see something of interest...

We rode back along the route on which we had entered El Calafate on, and then turned west along the northern edges of Lagos Argentino… The wind was blowing fairly hard at this point, and when we turned north again to ride across the wide flat plain towards Luz Divina and La Leona, it became a lot stronger, blowing our bikes all over the road…!!

Crossing this bridge over the Rio La Leona, I came close to hitting the barrier on the opposite side of the road...!!

My friends were struggling more than I was on their lighter bikes, and I found that I had more control at higher speeds than they could ride… I indicated that I would wait for them at the next turnoff, and nudged the Big Fella up to over 100 km/h and got my shoulder into the wind…

The scenery here in Patagonia has a special beauty all of it's own... Dark clouds, blue sky, and a wide open plain were often what we saw on our rides through this area...

Up ahead of me I could see that light rain was falling… It was very localized; a light shower here, a gentle drizzle in other places off the north and patches of bright sunlight in-between… I took a chance and rode through one shower after another, believing that I would not get too wet if I thundered through them and into the sunlight beyond, and I was mostly right…. Mostly…

One particular shower covered an area some 3 km wide, and by the time I got through to the other side, I was soaking wet… This together with the cold wind, had me shivering uncontrollably for a few minutes, until the wind dried most of my riding gear…

Did I forget to mention that it was also raining...!! Well it was...and that made what were already difficult conditions to begin with, almost impossible to ride in...!!

I am not sure when last it had rained here, but I do know that the water had lifted the oily residue for the previous dry season up onto the surface, and in some corners, I had very little traction… It was like riding on soap…!! Something we bikers try to avoid at all costs…!!

Told you it was windy...!!

We took the turnoff that skirts the northern edge of Lagos Viedma, and if anything, the wind coming off the lake was even stronger than that which we had experienced before… I had to slow the bike right down to cope with the strong gusts that blew off the lake and across the Ruta 23…

Up ahead I could the foothills of the Andes that guard the little town of El Chalten, and off to my left I saw the massive Viedma Glacier that marched down into the lake…

I was far ahead of my companions by then, each of us dealing with the wind in our own way… I knew Pablo would have one foot off the pegs, ready to prop himself up if the bike went down; Augustin would probably be riding too fast in the conditions with his light bike; and Ezekiel would be gritting his teeth and toughing it out on his little 250 cc….!!

After 215 km of high winds, rain and bitter cold, I arrived in El Chalten.... The town lay at the end of a long valley, through which the Rio Fitz Roy gurgled...

Once I got in among the mountains, I received a little protection from the wind, and I cruised down the final long narrow valley and into Town, my heart rate slowing down as I did so…

I refueled, holding the bike up in the wind, fearful that it would blow over while the young lady filled the tank… Then I trundled the Big Fella over to the cafe alongside the service station and parked him out of the strong wind…

The tallest peak in the region, Mt. Fitz Roy, remained stubbornly hidden by cloud while we took a few photos of the town...

Ezekiel arrived about 10 minutes later, shaking his head in annoyance at having to battle the way we did to get there… The others arrived a long time after that… We sat sipping coffee, and requested that Augustine tell us again why in God’s name we had ridden all the way out here…!! He just smiled tiredly at us, unable to give us the cocky answer that we had expected…

The Big Fella seemed quite proud to have got here without kissing the tar...!!

El Chelten is a very popular hiking destination… Young and old alike were either returning from a long hike in the mountains, or getting their kit together to set off… I did not envy them one little bit, and if this was the summer weather they would be hiking in, I would hate to see how bad it gets in winter…!!

Los Machos made it to El Chalten despite all that nature threw our way...!!

These huge signs dot the Patagonian landscape.... This one shows that you are entering the Santa Cruz province...

We ate a fairly decent meal in the small cafe, then wishing each other good luck, set off back to Calafate…

If anything, the wind was even worse than before, as it usually is in the mid to late afternoons down here… With Dire Straits’s “Alchemy” album blasting through my earphones, I rode out of the hills and onto the plain to do battle with the wind…

Just after I took this photo, I had to rush over to the bike to prevent it from being blown over...!!

By the time I reached the turnoff to Ruta 40, 90 km later, my nerves were in shreds…!! I had nearly been blown off the bike while crossing the bridge over the Rio Cangrejo, which emptied into Lago Viedma a few kilometres to the south of Ruta 23…

I stopped to wait for the others, and when Ezikiel eventually came into view, he buzzed right past me…!! He later told me that if he had stopped, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to continue…!! He just wanted to get back to El Calafate and off the bike…!!

I couldn’t blame him…!! I did not wait for Pablo and Augustine, and got back on the bike, tore past Ezekiel, and rode the last 130 km back to town as fast as I could…

I had not been affected by the cold as much as the others had, and they had stopped somewhere along the way to put their rain gear on to act as windbreakers… They arrived back at the cabana a long time after I had already changed out of my gear, and one by one headed for a hot shower…

Augustine collapsed in a heap when we got back to our cabana in El Calafate... The rest of us were not far behind him...!!

It was warm inside, but outside it was as cold as a witches tit…!! Which by all accounts, is very cold I am told…!!

We had basically wasted a full day out on the road, chasing a suggestion made by someone who had probably only ever made the trip in the comfort of a motor vehicle…!! Sure, the scenery at El Chalten was great, but the ride there and the stress it induced being on a motorbike, was not worth the effort…!!

You win some, you lose some…!!

And I am reliably informed that things get worse from here on down to Ushuaia…!!

This was NOT in the brochure…!!

They boys needed every bit of gear to try and keep themselves from freezing out on the road today...!!

©GBWT 2012

5 comments to Hard Ride to El Chalten…

  • Don Willi

    Well Gyp ,

    So far so good…..aha…

    Just so you have the proper terminology at hand….you are now in what’s called the ROARING FORTIES……a sailors nightmare as well….!

    Loiter a bit in order to encounter more motobikers if need be ……there will be more a comin’ in short order….

    Phrase of the day :

    Jo quires un cervesa por favor….!

    PS : great wind foto with the sign….! Ha…

  • Ollie

    Loving your work Ronnie. You are on the way to my bucket list destination!!!!

  • Mark Behr

    Sounds like you are about to take on some awesome weather – have fun!

  • howard

    You are blowing the wrong way! sign says it goes the other way LOL

  • Ha…!! A few minutes after this photo was taken, the wind blew the paint on the sign the other way…!! R.

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