Thursday, February 09, 2006

Rio Chico on Ruta 40 to El Chaltén

20 miles south of Tres Lagos, wonderful tarmac! In the right background are Cerro Torre (the needle) and Cerro Fitz Roy.

12:00 a.m.

In my tent at the small “Confluence” campground at the entrance to El Chaltén, The Glaciers National Park. It’s remarkably mild this evening, though snow-covered mountains surround the town. While a beautiful two-lane highway takes you 50 miles out toward this park, the final 7-1/2 miles are gravel, and, in fact, the entire town is gravel and dirt.

When I came to the end of the pavement, I remember someone telling me there was a gravel stretch. It is fairly hard road, with rock outcroppings that provided some good knocks. In the dark, it was not fun, and then there were all these rabbits in the road!

And yet there is a hotel here that charges $300 a night in this dirt town. Incredible! I investigated a half-dozen hotels with prices ranging from $45 to $300. It is fairly outrageous for what they offer. And at 11:00 p.m., the night was too short to get my money’s worth. I opted for the free camping (which is a nice service provided by the town.)

There are many interesting-looking restaurants and crafts stores, and this a base for trekking into the back-country. I hope I’ll have the patience to at least explore the place tomorrow before leaving.

Sacha and I split up at the turn-off to El Chaltén. He is on a tight time schedule, to reach Brazil by the 23rd or 24th for Mardi Gras, so he was going directly to El Calafate and the Moreno Glacier.

About 270 miles traveled today. It was hard work in the dirt, requiring full attention. I rode standing much of the time.

A godsend oasis! The hotel "El Olnie" on Ruta 40 at Rio Chico, out in the middle of nowhere. That's Sacha's bike. I camped across the road to the left. Blue sky and drying roads! Life is good.

Began the day about 8:00 a.m. after a very chilly and restless night. But the sun was shining, and that was quite a welcome relief. Our host prepared coffee and set out some rolls for breakfast, then asked us to join him for an aperitif. We graciously declined.

9:15 in the morning, and our host Manuel is offering us an aperitif!

I gave Sacha my spare set of rear brake pads, as his are so low he’s been trying not to use them! He’ll get me a replacement set in Buenos Aires. (Brake pads have been a problem for many of us long-distance riders. They seem to evaporate! But we’re traveling with loads that most motorcyclists never carry.)

Out on the track again, I fell once, coming out of a muddy patch. Sacha, who was up ahead, came back to help lift the bike. I finally realized one of my problems was “looking down”. You have to focus on the horizon. I do that in gravel, but had to force myself today to do it in mud. I caught myself constantly looking at the mud and ruts in front of the bike, which inevitably brings you down.

Part of a Chilean bike tour, this young lady finally had to have her bike hauled. They had taken three hours to go less than 100 kilometers today (which, under the conditions, wasn't too bad!)

Other members of the tour. Ah, the luxury of having a support vehicle carry your gear! They still look a mess though!

Some Italian travelers snapped this one for me

Sacha on Ruta 40. It was always a relief to reach high ground, where the road was generally drier.

With every hour the road dried further, and we could make better progress, but there was mud to be found all along the way, so it was never comfortable. Not much looking at the scenery. At one point, I was far out ahead of Sacha and climbed a hill where I could look back to see if he was following.

Two riders approached from the south, and we had one of those now-traditional middle-of-the-road meetings. Christian de Lorya (I hope that’s the correct spelling) and Bernd Thiel from Cologne (Köln), Germany are on a one-year round-the-world odyssey, riding Yamaha 600cc bikes which they bought used for about $1,500 each. They said the road ahead wasn't bad. At Ushuaia, they recommended staying at the “La Pista del Andine” campground.

Christian de Lorya (I hope that's the correct spelling) and Bernd Thiel from Germany are on a one-year round-the-world odyssey, riding Yamaha 600cc motorcycles

They purchased these bikes used for around $1,500 each!

There was no sign of Sacha and I was becoming concerned. The Germans said they’d check on him, but I wanted to go back and make sure he was okay. Drove back at high speed, over five miles, and found him working on his bike in the middle of the road. He had gone into a mud puddle at speed and slipped. The frame for the left “Jesse Bag” was bent and the muffler pushed in against the rear tire.

Sacha found the mud on the right and took a hard fall. The Germans had some heavy-duty tools to help straighten the bent parts.

The Germans were carrying a long pry bar and hammer, which proved quite useful. We were stopped 1-1/2 or 2 hours as we worked on the bike. “No problem. The road’s just getting drier the longer we take!”

But it was 4:00 when we got rolling again, and we were anxious to get to El Chaltén or El Calafate tonight. Late in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to ride at 50 to 60 mph. The road was hardening, and the problem areas were generally easy to spot from a distance. Never did I feel completely comfortable and it required all my attention. It is amazing how malleable the clay surface is and disconcerting to feel the tires drift in the soft stuff.

There is something out here that smells like geraniums!

Sacha was famished and we stopped in the road to eat some salame, mortadella and bread. Sacha even had a squeeze-bottle of mustard. “Ah, this is living!” I asked him to take an “action shot” of me riding down the road, as all the photos I have are stationary.

Rare action shot! I wanted at least one photo of me riding.

After 222.3 miles (including about 10 to 12 miles of backtracking), we reached Tres Lagos. I had a little over a liter of gas to spare – 15 miles range, according to my bike’s computer. Drove into the tiny town but didn’t find a gas station. I stopped at a residence to ask where the gas is. The woman there said it’s on highway 40, just south of town. Back out onto the highway, we found the “YPF” station. It was a welcome haven. It has a well-stocked mini-market and even running water!

Bought a cold soda. Sacha tried the empanadas and said they were quite good, so I joined him. We stocked up on cereal bars.

These two riders from Cali, Colombia ran into the same trouble as Sacha and I. They were forced to camp alongside the road last night when their bikes became stuck. The gentleman on the right also experienced the mud build-up in his front wheel. His wife was riding with him but they were forced to put her on a bus, along with his gear.

About ten miles south of Tres Lagos, a "wonderful" (you have to understand how relieved we were!) wide new highway begins. The lines aren't even painted yet. I celebrated, weaving all over the tarmac.

Lots of motorcyclists out here! A group tour of six riders (I think) this morning, the two Germans, two Colombians we met at Tres Lagos, and then I met an Argentinean on the way in to El Chaltén.

Mystical lands. Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy


Tim Spires said...

We need more of these!

timtraveler said...

Getting action from timtraveler is quite a rare phenomena!

Anonymous said...

2 comments (moved here due to post consolidation):

Drew Kampion said...

Hey, dude! We need to see some pics of the rainforest! Get your butt over to Rio!
7:51 AM
timtraveler said...

I already gave you rainforest pictures - in Panama, I think.

Anonymous said...

2 comments (moved here due to post consolidation):

Drew Kampion said...

Hey, dude! We need to see some pics of the rainforest! Get your butt over to Rio!
7:51 AM
timtraveler said...

I already gave you rainforest pictures - in Panama, I think.