1/17/20 – 1/20/20
We commandeered the garden hose from the plaza in Londres to fill our water and then proceeded to wash ourselves. The women maintaining the flowers didn’t seem to mind this, although I received a pair of sour eyes when I started dumping baby powder down the front of my shorts to combat the day’s chaffing. I waved and smiled as we left and they responded with a cold nod. Another easy thirty kilometers or so of flat ground with a bit of a tailwind through the mountainside landscape that continued to get greener and greener. Occasionally I convince myself that we’re in the tropics again, but upon a second glance I realize that my latest benchmark is the altiplano and a withered sagebrush now seems rather lush. All the river beds are dry. We’re surrounded by mostly scrub bushes no more than waist high. Occasionally there might be a lump of wispy grass, but generally there is no ground cover.
We dispose of the last ten kilometers around a quarter past five. I was trying to understand what I felt was an unreasonable decline in energy from Soph at this point in the day.
“I think part of it might have to do with drinking coffee.”
“Yeah, on the days that I drink coffee I generally have a crash around three in the afternoon that I sort of have to power through. My energy is much steadier if I don’t drink it.”
“I’m not going to stop drinking coffee so you can shave an extra pound off your bike.”
“This is valid and I understand fully. Still, everything is perfect to ride another two hours right now. The road is flat, the wind is dead, the sun is about to dip behind the mountains, and the temp is superb. Don’t you get that rush of adrenaline and just want to keep pedaling as long as everything is so stellar?”
I was genuinely confused.
“I know this is difficult for you to understand, but I’m usually pretty beat at the end of the day.”
“Of course, absolutely, we all are. But I’m not talking about the end of the day really so much as extending the portion before the end of the day.”
We went back and forth. Me trying to explain a deeply held personal belief that a good sunset or the right music can easily carry a bike an extra fifty kilometers on any given day with virtually no effort on the part of the rider and her holding firm that I was grossly mistaken and it was all just a matter of the length of one’s femur or lung capacity or how much blood their heart could pump.
“But you’ve never even tried listening to Broken Social Scene during sunset.”
“We should be coming up on the campsite.”
The campsite was an abandoned building by the side of the road. The roof was long gone and most of the concrete which coated the original mud and straw bricks below it had cracked away. At first glance it did not appear to receive much human traffic despite its proximity to the road. Then we realized that everyone was just a bit more thoughtful than in other similar areas we’d passed through and made a solid effort to pile all of their trash into one of the rooms of the building and the rest into a nearby field.
We wash ourselves as best as we can with about twelve ounces of water each, taking care that not a single drop is wasted. I was standing in the corner where two brick walls met and noticed a large black spider less than a foot away at waist height. Upon closer inspection I saw that it had a bright red hourglass on its underside.
“Don’t come now because I’m completely naked, but there is a giant black widow over here.”
I didn’t even have shoes on. I couldn’t be more vulnerable. I kept my eye on it while sparingly splashing water on myself, but at some point I blinked and it disappeared.
I enjoyed sharing little nuggets of wisdom we’d learned over the last eighteen months with Connaire. Soaking lentils throughout the day to save cooking fuel, the versatility of powdered milk, ditching the tent footprint for a slightly larger tarp that could double as a vestibule. I watched him build a fire one night and knew that he had much to learn. Michiganders are highly skilled at setting a variety of materials ablaze in myriad circumstances. I refrained from stepping in. Still, it was difficult to watch him placing tissue paper on top of the kindling, which I knew would accomplish nothing.
The temp dropped and the wind picked up to just above imperceptible, which kept the biting flies away. Everyone went to bed and I sat up watching the silhouette of the Andes and listening to songs of all the inappreciable desert insects. The peaks, just a few miles away and rising sonorously from the desert floor, were covered in storms. The rain chilled air dropped and brought with it the sweet smell of mountain soil. I couldn’t wait to reach the south and shovel my hand through this rich black earth, hold it below my nose, and take a deep breath.
Bugs devour me and ignore everyone else over breakfast. Walk in circles around our derelict building as I brush my teeth to avoid them. They get stuck in my sunscreen as I apply it and sting repeatedly.
Happy to let Soph and Connair talk and hang back listening to music.
Cumulous disc stretching from behind the peaks five miles over the desert like a flat white metal umbrella on the patio of a nineteen seventies tennis club.
"I love picking up and leaving camp. It’s always so fresh in the morn and it's impossible not to want to ride."
“Couldn’t agree more.”
It was true. The weather had been perfect and the miles were coming easy. We broke for a late morning snack at an inexplicable bus station in the middle of a sand field with no town in sight. I found a tree behind which I went to have a morning movement. At some point I realized I was squatting into a nest of fire ants. I managed to escape without being attacked, but in the frenzy of jumping away I missed the little hole that I’d so carefully dug.
We’d taken for granted on the altiplano that, despite being incredibly dry, it was relatively cool and we didn’t dehydrate so fast. The summers in Northern Argentina are hot. Perhaps the hottest environs we’d been through. I had to make a point to sip my water every five minutes or so, otherwise my throat would become so parched that it was difficult to swallow.
We stayed in a musty house in a nothing town called Pituil that night. We ate pizza and drank Argentinian stouts.
After a few days of touring with somebody you start to get a feel for their daily routine. This includes one another’s bowel movements. Connaire would generally pull off the road to take a piss about an hour after we began riding. He would do this rather abruptly.
"Personally I think the fundamental obstacles we need to overcome in order to reform higher education in the United States..." I would be saying just as he'd cut me off.
"Whoop hold that thought mate. Time for the morning piss."
We spent the night of the nineteenth in Miranda, in a small town park. It stormed all night. Before the rain hit I was able to sit and watch the lightning. We rolled into Villa Union the next afternoon. Soph and I decided to take a break. Connaire continued toward Mendoza.
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