Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Terrain


Waking up bright and early after our day off, we divided up cooking breakfast, checking the bikes, and buying fuel for our stoves to speed up our departure and avoid the heat. For the first time in Argentina, we had a decent climb which gave us a couple beautiful views over the desert and sparked a debate whether or not it counted for Cody and Ryson's first mountain. Eventually it was decided they could claim it as one since it was steep enough, even if it wasn't super long.

The great thing, once again, about a supposed "mountain" happens after you peak the top. Since we had been riding on flat for so long, it was a beautiful treat to fly down the back side without having to pedal. It only lasted about fifteen minutes, but it was a quarter hour of bliss especially since the wind cooled down the heat.

As we zipped off the oversized hill, our scenery began to turn back into a desert. This time, however, large red cliffs and outcrops were jutting out of the sand. Not wanting to miss our opportunity, we got off the bikes and wandered the sand in search of a campsite. Jonathan and Cody came back with news of a high quality place, but warned us it was far away. The walk was indeed several minutes, weaving various thorny plants and cacti. As we got closer to the site, in order to increase the feel of the Western exploration we had going, Jon flipped on the "Ecstasy of Gold" song from the movie "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" to help get everyone in the mood. Entering a clearing under a large red cliff face in the sand surrounded by other protruding rock towers, we couldn't help but agree this was one of the most unique and awesome campsites yet.

When you've been biking for months, your upper body begins to dwindle into nothingness. It's something you don't realize until you have to use it, but the arms are far from what they used to be. I can honestly say carrying those panniers half a mile through the thorny desert and struggling to lift the troll through the sand to avoid punctures was the hardest part of my day. Probably means it's time to start pushups again. Either that or we should carry a dumbell while riding to attempt any sort of body tone balance.

Despite how awesome our view was, it didn't do anything to curb the heat. We started sleeping with the rainfly off, willing to risk a rain wakeup for a few degrees of cooler air. The next morning, the heat steadily rose to over 95 degrees and a strong headwind made for a tiring afternoon. Finding some renewed energy at a gas station with some cookies and a coke, we found a municipal campground to spend the night and cool off. Just as we were setting in, another tourer named Jorge from Peru showed up and shared a campsite. We played hacky sack and cards until dark, then climbed back into our sweaty tents and tried to get a better night's sleep.

The next day, Jorge told us about an alternative route that went over a pass instead of around the mountains. Doing the almost unthinkable, we opted for more hills and made the climb out of sheer desire for variety. Although still pretty dry, we were thoroughly entertained to roll past a few trees, amazing cliff faces, through a tunnel, and look out over a lake on the backside.
As the land started to level back out, we had an awesome stretch with a field of lavender in front of the mountains you could smell from the road. I got to experience it three times since I had to ride back and pickup my phone at a rest break area, but it was probably the best place to ride multiple times in weeks. Deciding to officially escape the heat after a long day, we grabbed a hostel and searched for food that opened before 8 pm.

Our dinner was split. On one end, Jon, Kai, and a fellow traveler we met named Brendan ordered a couple pizzas while Cody, Ryson, and I went after a plate of empanadas. Somewhere there was a drastic lack of communication because while the pizzas were being devoured, I was brought one little empanada instead of my plate of 12. Although we had to wait a long time, they ended up getting extra confused and brought multiple plates we shouldn't have had. Not sure of the exact number we ate, Cody, Ryson, and I determined they managed to give us at least 7 bonus empanadas. Score.

Back into the desert, we rode the next day searching for shade. Some of the only places were under an old railroad bridge. Combined with a bit of harmonica playing, it really felt like we were lost wanderers. Probably not too far off. Not seeing much of anything all day, when we finally came to a little gas station we promptly stopped, bought out nearly all of their cold drinks, and found a sandy spot for the tents. We were even able to rig up the drom for a solar shower to get the dust off as we relaxed in the sand.

Waking up to a final ride, we pushed into San Juan and found Jon's dad, Doug, waiting for us. After days in the heat, it was incredible to have an air conditioned room and cold Gatorade from a fridge. The amount of liquid we all could drink without having to pee was truly concerning, but the veging out in the cool air was everything I dreamed about. Spending a rest day to pack up Ryson's bike, drop him at the bus station, and take a true siesta nap, we waved goodbye and prepared for a later night.

Some of the members from Doug's church wanted to put on an asado for us, or a grill out of sorts. First of all, they take their meat very seriously down here. Grilling the meat is apparently a minimum of 2 hours and rushing the art of it is against everything good in the world.
While the thick cuts of beef are clearly the focus of the meal, the bread, grilled veggies, and numerous fresh salads ranging from basic lettuce to shredded carrot with tomato and cheese fills you up. Apparently it isn't an asado without wine either, and this area happens to be world renown for them. Tough life.

Full from amazing food and company, we packed up the next day and rode out. It was a bit weird to have a new Ryson since we all had gotten used to his company, but adding Doug for a couple days was a fun way to mix up the ride. For the next two days we had what was hopefully our last bit of desert and gave Doug a taste of just how tiring bike touring can be. When we arived in Mendoza, we were greeted by a dangerous old friend named Netflix. Not up for a lot more activity, we ended the night watching Shrek and taking it easy.

Our next couple days in Mendoza were relaxing and spectacular. The city has large trees surrounding the streets giving it a very calm and shady feel, the parks are almost always in use and beautiful, we had amazing home cooked meals including a grilled cheese, tomato soup, and apple pie night, and every siesta we could satisfy our Netflix lust with a variety of shows or movies. Somehow we even found the motivation to get our bikes tuned up and celebrated by going to a wine tasting tour at Bodega Lopez.
The whole process was fascinating to see, but the most incredible part was the price of their bottles. While there were high end wines for more than I will probably ever be willing to pay, many of their quality wines were less than $5 US. Super dangerous. Naturally all five of us walked our with a bottle that we shared over a meal or on the rooftop.

Overall, our time with Doug has been incredible. His help with finding a bike box for Ryson, housing for all of us, insane generosity of time and delicious food, and company has been an absolute treat. I think for all of us, however, the greatest benefit of all has been a true, and for Jon a literal, taste of home. Four months down the road, it is so nice to have something familiar to be with and get a tour from. The last few days have been relaxing, rejuvenating, and a great reset before a final push. 

It's crazy that we are about to start our final chapter of the journey. We have had all sorts of side plans and features along the way, but all that is left now is to go south through Patagonia. Doug is giving us what we hope is one last ride to make up the last bit of miles, and the rest will have to be done ourselves. It's both exciting and a bit strange to have such a straightforward plan, especially since our tickets home are bought so we have a defined timeline. Thanks for following along and can't wait to see where Patagonia begins!

-Ben

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