Heads up, this post contains moderately detailed instructions on advanced wilderness defecation techniques which can reduce strain on the knee. It has been brought to my attention in the past that such topics are a bit over the line for a blog focused on micturation. Still, I feel that this information could be found useful to other cyclists likely to find themselves in a canyon in the middle of nowhere with Patellafemoral tendinitis. Enjoy.
2/9/20 – 2/16/20
It was raining the morning we left San Rafael. I’d received a message that my cousin John had passed. He’d originally invited me to Nicaragua some years back, and I spent the day wondering if that trip had not happened whether or not we would be here.
Eventually it cleared up and we got started down Ruta 173. Every mile there was a winery or an old man selling sausage. The Valle Grande. It was simultaneously reminiscent of Northern Michigan with all of its tourist stops along the Au Sable River with endless roadside family friendly campgrounds and hotels and rafting mixed with the red rocks and desert outside Zion National park. We camped under a willow tree next to the Rio Atuel.
After the Altiplano, it all feels like Disneyland. Easy days of not having to carry much food or water. Wine, cheese, cured salami, and olives available in even the slimiest of tiendas. Every night we now eat ravioli with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese and wash it all down with Malbec.
Little ant super highways at our campsite. Can’t tell if they actually cleared a road for several dozen meters or if they had simply compacted the ground from walking the same path day and night. Hauling big leaves and berries to grow their fungus deep below us. The original farmer.
Skipped breakfast at camp figuring we would find something at one of the little restaurants in the canyon. Stopped at a place that looked a bit rich for our blood. We had a hard time understanding the server, but she seemed to be saying that they were just finishing the breakfast buffet and that we basically had five minutes to grab whatever we wanted free of charge. We filled all of the remaining plates, ate what we could, and dumped the rest into our food bag.
Red rocks and scrappy bushes. Lush green areas around sparse rivers and manmade lakes; everything else just gnarly scrub and their roots breaking apart the weak red rocks and sending piles of scree into the roads.
Turqouise sand stone. Turquoise rivers. Rain threatening all day, arches, two hundred foot dams holding back embalsas filled with black and red sandstone cone islands. Half a dozen tunnels. Average ten km per hour because we're always stopping for pictures.
Found a decent camping spot on a lake. Visible from the road, but quiet at night. Just birds and bats. I took a swim in the icy glacial runoff and made a fire to warm up. I realized that we hadn’t made many fires lately, especially for the sole purpose of keeping warm.
Weather becoming more erratic. Sunny, cloudy, rainy, headwinds, tailwinds, cross winds, all in one day. We met a film crew making a documentary on the Rio Atuel, which was what we’d been following for the last few days. They said that it has been damned so many times and there is so much water taken from it for industry and other human activity along it, that it no longer flows into the Desaguadero River. I noticed several areas where it appeared to be dry. They said this was because the entire flow gets redirected to power plants in some areas.
Later that night we camped under a quiet bridge crossing the Rio Salado. To the south there is a small ball of light from Malargue. Third night in a row that we've camped by a river. Another thing that had been common from Alaska to Oregon, but seemed to have been less of a feature for the last year. There is almost always a sign of somebody else that has camped under a bridge. Broken bottles, graffiti, dirty diapers, a fire pit: bridges drive home the transient nature of our lives more than anything else. The vibrations of cars above, the rivers below. Everything in a state of flux.
The desert continues with its red and brown and evil thorny bushes. We took our second lunch in Bardas Blancas. Just before town is a large obelisk that welcomes you to Patagonia. It is in a desert wash next to an abandoned gas station. A bit undramatic.
All the old Volkswagens are in Argentina. They’re usually broken down in front of decrepit gas stations with a raggedy bearded traveler trying to push start it while his companion takes photos. The wind seemed to be picking up in our favor so we did another quick twenty five until the road turned to dirt. We found a good spot along the Rio Grande. Remorseless horseflies. I had an allergic reaction from one and my hand swelled up like a balloon. I went to look for an entry to the river and almost stepped on a four foot snake. Perhaps a green racer. Slightly venomous, but not overly dangerous. We washed. I took a nap. Soph made dinner. I was a bit of a mess with my swollen hand, achy knees, and allergies that were causing most of the holes in my head to leak.
I went to let some air out of my tire in anticipation of the dirt in the morning, but it appeared to be low already. I’d stopped counting flats, but that was somewhere around fifteen I reckoned.
The dirt was trash despite having been recently graded. A mixture of washboards and softball sized cobbles. There was a large berm along the edge and anything in the road at the time the machines came through had been pushed to the sides. Occasional rigor mortis ridden fox or dog legs sticking out, but usually just bits of glass or unidentifiable shrapnel.
Fist size gravel. Bumpy and slow. Hard on the knees. Low on water and ask a few passing cars for some. They quickly top us off and give us each a Snickers. Dead desert flirts with deader basalt before becoming a sea of volcanic glass. Find another campsite along the Rio Grande. By the end of the day I was limping. Only another one hundred eighty kilometers to where we could rest. The river was cold. It felt great on my joints. Water silty from recent rains. Rather than clog the filter, we filled a couple of bottles and let them sit overnight so the silt could settle.
Roadside towns with toothless old men offering us bags of cookies, sweet old ladies sending us off with sacks of fresh bread, and extension cords run between houses to share power with pop bottles reconfigured as junction boxes to protect bubble gummed wire connections from the rain. The heat is back. Even riding at forty kilometers an hour the wind is scorching. Yellow road signs faded white. Eyes blinded by sunscreen sweat and cornea destroying photons. I close my lids for ten seconds at a time for reprieve and then open them for a moment to make sure I’m still in the lane. Hard dirt uphill. Knee screaming.
In Barrancas we stopped to rest away the heat of the day. A German shepherd adopted us in the plaza and laid next me to while I napped. Any time other dogs came near it chased them away. It would occasionally lick my toes. It followed us for several kilometers out of town. I named him Shep. We tried to lose him, but Soph's chain slipped off the front ring and he caught up. She started throwing rocks because she didn’t want him to get lost or hit by a car. It was heart breaking. I picked up a few stones and sort of dropped them in Shep’s direction, but couldn’t actually throw them. Eventually we left him far behind.
Pull into a canyon hoping to find shelter from the wind. At sunset, it always makes a final assault. The general strength dies down to a tolerable level, but occasional it gusts at gale force. You can hear it racing through the narrow walls. Each time I try to protect whatever I'm working on, but alas, the sausage gets covered in sand and our meal becomes vegetarian.
At the end of the day my knee was so sore that I couldn’t properly squat to relieve myself… This led to the discovery of a method which I now call the crab. It involves leaning back with one’s feet on the ground in front and using the arms to support from behind. I was incredibly impressed with the efficacy of this position and the smoothness of the movement that it produced and will likely work to perfect even once my knee has healed.
Morning haze, blue mountains, twisting river. I had no idea that Argentina would be so desolate. It is like the loneliest parts of the Southwest US but without any of the people. Nevada type buttes and mesas mixed between washboard mountain ranges with the addition of perfect conical volcanoes all along the route.
Wretched twelve kilometers uphill into headwind that takes us more than two hours to complete. Roll into the small settlement of Auquinco and meet Erwin, a Bolivian, who offers us water and a place to put our tent that is sheltered from the wind. I mostly sat in a daze on their lawn wondering what to do about my throbbing knee. A neighbor girl, maybe seven years old, came by to play with Juliet, who was probably three or four. By my personal standards they were torturing a chicken; holding it upside down, pulling its wings out, tossing it up in the air, and giving it brisk bats to the beak any time it struggled to escape. I chose not to intervene as I was focused on stretching random parts of my legs in hopes that everything would feel perfect the next day. I was also distracted by a drunken cowboy riding a horse on the highway. His body sagged from side to side. Almost entirely limp, he muttered incoherently. The steed seemed to be conscious of his inebriation and would shift its hips as he was about to fall off in order to roll him to the other side. A truck drove by and honked. The cattlehand raised his fist in the air and shouted, "Puta de meirda!" (Bitch of shit)
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