Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The First Days with Five

What fun would traveling be without a hiccup or two? With Cody and Ryson both in Argentina, all we needed was Ryson's bike to get pushed through. His box had been removed from his plane to lighten the flight and Ryson spent the next two days calling various people trying to get a promise his bike would eventually find its way to us. Thankfully, it all worked out and we were able to roll down the road, five bikers deep. Where we used to be a little group, now we're a force. Trolls are taking over Argentina, slowly but surely.

Trying to find productive things to do, we bought some plane tickets home (officially March 9th!) and sifted through the new gear to see what was necessary and what could be removed. Running some last minute errands like mailing back gear that was too heavy, we finally got moving back south. Even just outside our hostal we hadn't had that much excitement about starting a day on the bike for months. The newness of the road and the start of an adventure for both Cody and Ryson got all of us excited.

Let me just say, those two picked a perfect place to start. Coming out of Peru, we were a little nervous about the guys starting due to the terrain. It's one thing to bike all day with a loaded bike for the first time, but quite another to do it entirely up a mountain. At elevation. With minimal cities dotting the roads. It turns out all those thoughts were a waste of time because northern Argentina is a biker`s paradise. Almost frustratingly beautiful, we rode through thick green fields in front of a set of mountains with enough tree cover it reminded us of the LaCrosse river bluffs. Since the level terrain and scenery apparently isn't enough, we were constantly accompanied by little white butterflies just to feel a bit more magical. Stopping for lunch in front of a beautiful shrine, we couldn't have picked a better route if we had done scouting trips beforehand. The rest of the afternoon was spent winding around lakes and through a mossy forest, climbing just enough to get spectacular valley views.

As perfect as our first day of riding was together, the first night's sleep was almost opposite. We pulled into a small town and treated ourselves to a dinner out, leaving less time than usual to find a campsite. In addition, the last 30 minutes or so of the ride was completed in a downpour, so we were all wet and ready for some warm food. When it became time to look for a place to sleep, we spread out and realized there weren't many great options, but there was a hostal, campground, and pavilion that all seemed like they could work. First attempting the pavilion since it was free and dry, we were told by a man to leave but he recommended a different porch. As soon as we had set up our tents and got ready for bed, we got super sketched out by a pickup truck that pulled up about 100 yards away, dropped off some people and suspicious looking bags, then drove off. Less than thrilled with the situation and deciding we wouldn't sleep well anyway, we packed up in the dark and rain to go back to the hostal. It turns out our sketchy friends were a bunch of traveling musicians and the questionable baggage was instruments. It also turns out they filled the only vacant spot in the hostal we wanted to get out of the rain. Still out in the rain and a bit defeated, we went to the campground and set up our tents for a wet night's sleep. Not the greatest start to the trip for the new guys, but hopefully our sleeping will only get better here on out.

A bit restless the next morning, we all packed up and had perhaps the greatest therapy available, somehow finding even flatter terrain than the day before. Moving towards the mountains it seemed like we might have some sort of climb, but instead the road cut perfectly through them and we ended up in a nice little town. Determined to have a better night`s sleep and experience than the night before, we asked around and found a municipal building that permitted free camping. With plenty of time to air out the gear and cook a great meal, we were back on track. It took a bit of adjustment to figure out how to accommodate 5 people instead of 3 (things like sleeping, cooking, and decision making get more complicated) but after a couple days we were already making significant progress into new systems.

The following morning's ride continued with the trend of almost frustratingly pleasant. Somehow having a slight downhill grade all day, we made great progress and transitioned into more grazing fields and less cities. Our first true campsite was one of our best on the entire trip, right next to a river with mountains surrounding the green basin, and even had cattle and goats moving through on the far side for something to look at. If the ground hadn't been covered in ants, there´s a chance we never would have left.

Out of nowhere, our scenery drastically changed. The riding was still level, but when we came around a corner instead of a green basin full of cattle we entered a giant red canyon. It must have been a geologist's paradise because the color in the rock, amazing formations, and views all around were simply incredible. It apparently is a common attraction as well because every so often there would be a sign pointing out a rare feature. The first one we stopped at was called ¨throat of the devil¨and looked like the sedimentary rock had been turned 90 degrees, much like when the world bends in the movie Inception. As we continued, there were plenty more structures and rocks to be fascinated by, making the ride go super quickly despite the hotter weather.

After four full days of riding, we decided to take a day off and make sure that legs could recover. It also helps that we came across a giant vineyard and really cheap ice cream, but we can say we stopped for the legs. Grabbing great sandwiches (they come with fried eggs on top of the meat down here) our waitress was confused to understand we all wanted a giant liter beer brought out at once. We spent the rest of the night sampling the wines of the area, watched some traditional dances that apparently were going on in the center, and eventually felt the need for some impromptu acapella. It also turns out the only song we all know the words to is ¨I´ll Make a Man Out of You¨from Mulan. Even though we were having a great time, we couldn't even make it to bar opening. These crazy Argentinians go TO the bar around 3 in the morning. No thank you.

Here on out, we are only expecting our scenery to stay amazing. Everyone we have talked to has recommended Route 40 as the place to bike, and we haven´t even hit the start of it yet. We're surrounded by mountains but it seems we stay in the basins making progress very easy. The new guys are definitely figuring out how to tour a bit still, but they are learning quickly and already seem to have a great feel for what´s going on. It´s amazing how much more there is to say when there's five people instead of three and our nighttime energy has increased, both in camp and towns. With three, someone is almost always tired so it´s tough to get the group to play a game or do something. However, with five, the odds of companionship skyrocket quickly.

Excited to continue biking through the promised land of biking known as Argentina, our general direction is toward San Juan to find Jonathan's dad. It will be fun to witness Cody and Ryson finally experience the hunger that comes with biking (although right now it´s awesome to have people actually get full so I get a bit extra food) and watch them figure out their bikes like we did. As always, thanks for following along! With the plane tickets bought, we have exactly two more months to figure out what lies between here and Ushuaia. Time to ride.