El Calafate-El Cerrito-Tapi Aike-Cerro Castillo
On the bolt-straight roads of the Argentinian pampa, my handlebars stay true, but my thoughts wander… For this a pensive place, and one that stirs memories and emotion; like a calling to fill this void, perhaps. There’s a meditative mood to it too, though at times my mind becomes stuck on certain thoughts, clanging round like a 2p coin in a washing machine.
I hum along to the noisy buzz of fat tyres on pavement. I listen to the snap of my open shirt, which flaps behind me like a cape. I look up, then around. A soft orb of sun, diffused. A thousand shades of ochre. The dot of a pickup truck making its way across the pampas to a distant estancia – the large rural estates in these parts. In this light, it’s hard to even tell what time of day it is. It could be just before sunset, but in fact it’s early afternoon. Scale plays games, and distance takes on a different quality; perhaps a more mysterious form of measurement is appropriate here, like leagues.
Then, a guanuco, the camelids native to Patagonia, breaks rank and jumps daintily over the endless fenceline. It makes a funny chuckling sound as I pass. Before long, a group of ostrich-like rhea waddle into the camouflage of the pampa. I smile.
Cars drive too fast. The sound of their metal cutting bluntly through the air, sometimes just a couple of feet beside me, is an ugly one. It feels aggressive and puts me on edge, reminding me of why I seek dirt roads. I can’t help but liken their drivers to squabbling kids, as they jostle to overtake each other. They drive nose to nose, and pass so close, despite so much space.
I see a couple take a photo of me from their minivan as it blurs by. What must be going through their minds? What would be going through my mind? I guess I must look a little crazy, out here in the Empty… Later, a man pulls over to take a photo. But as I draw close, he leaps back into his vehicle and accelerates off, door still open. He doesn’t even acknowledge me – it’s that metal-walled box of disconnection again. A more friendly couple flag me down to talk about the Pugsley. The husband works in a bike shop, 1500km away, and has never even imagined, let alone seen, a fat bike before.
I can’t really complain. For the most part, cyclists heading south are blessed with a sidewind or a tailwind. But not always, so it’s prudent to leave early, and cover a generous handful of miles in case the road swivels round in direction, and the wind grows in might. For when it does, the transformation is startling. One moment, calmness prevails. Then, an entity appears as if from nowhere. It swells and swells, rushing through the grasses, whistling through telephone lines; and within just a couple of minutes, literally, the ensuing hours are transformed into an almighty battle with the elements.
If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos. You can find it here.