to El Chalten

I woke up to the sound of the wind exactly as expected. In fact I’ve expected today to be like this for more than a year. It’s the toughest stretch in South America and in a way it’s not even technical. It’s blowing maybe 30 mph when I wake up, strong and nasty on gravel but not terrifying
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The day’s track, including another route error, which cost 40 minutes against a brutal headwind later in the day, total 348k’s. This road is a legend.
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The Google Earth
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We leave early out of town and up onto a plateau. The breeze isn’t too bad, the plateau has a moderating effect
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We ride through nice curves and join Ruta 40 again. There’s about 100K of pavement, which ends here. At this point it’s blowing over 40 from right to left. Very hard work and the hardest wind so far on the trip, much harder than Lake Michigan, but the easy part of the day. I lean poor Lucinda into the wind at 20 or 30 degrees at this point
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I stop to get a picture of an approaching car to show the dust being blown level. Stopping at all would be impossible without being blown over very soon. The camera leash is lashing me hard. This picture shows one of the two main difficulties, other than just being blown off the road. The tracks made by cars and trucks leave tracks that are free of gravel but pile up small berms of loose rock between them. And this is the big joke, known by all who’ve ridden here: you have to stay in the track. If you hit the berm you may lose all grip in the war with the sidewind and you crash. The only way to do it is solo – I can’t imagine having anyone else around for this private battle. Check out the berms here. Just loose gravel, normally you don’t think about this. But in this breeze they can be the end
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There are many horror stories about this leg of Ruta 40. Just recently a friend of Ben’s got blown off the road 4 times. Steve (who you’ll meet here in a couple of days) got blown off the road further south once and blown over stationary once. Trevor, a pro who I rode with in northern Argentina said that in his 75,000k on this trip this was the only time his heart was in his throat.

Fortunately the wind was no more than about 40 here. Around the corner below is the long hard stretch of about 100K of much higher wind. Here the road is loose gravel with no tracks or berms which was even harder, but predictable
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Then, out on the plains, it blew over 50, the heaviest wind I’ve ever experienced bike or not. How can I guess? Years of sailing and talking to the locals. I kind of know what 40 feels like and guess from there. Obviously no pictures were possible for the 3 hours of the central section.

Because of the gusts we couldn’t ride the extreme right side in case of being bounced off it to windward in a lull so picked a line most of the time about 3 or 4 feet from the right and about 10 or more from the left.

Threading the line between the berms was a nightmare. Keeping the bike moving forward at a crazy lean angle I won’t even write a guess of here, full strength fighting the gusts and keeping straight was almost an impossible task. Every time you hit a berm you nearly loose the front end. That happens a lot and you don’t get used to it. Maximum speed was about 30mph for the hardest 100K.

Twice we got blown completely over the road but by some miracle not off the road. The moment you lost it and you raced across the road is unforgettable. You’ve lost control, the three-way conversation you had going now excludes you and is entirely between God and Lucinda. Somehow what happened is that we recovered before disaster and I no idea how. This was a very difficult time – when the wind had picked up to its maximum, well over 50, and I’d just survived two huge crash misses with 100K to go I seriously thought I wasn’t going to make it. But there’s no way out at all. No shelter, no options, no-one to help if you crash and you can’t stop or you’ll get knocked down. So I just told myself and Lucinda to ride it 10 feet at a time and hope for the best and not think about not making it. We didn’t crash once for which, as they say, I’m extremely grateful.

In two areas the landscape breaks up, you get partial shelter and can take some pictures without being blown over.

Here’s a typical sheltered road shot
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At one spot it was even pretty and the road clean
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Heck, there was even a junction later, the only feature for 200K of nothingness except the earlier hours of survival hell
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Towards Tres Lagos there are about 10 miles of pavement in 3 sections
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Rare company
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And into Tres Lagos. Lots of deep gravel before town but who cares, the winds backed off
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The town. It was freezing and I was dehydrated after neglecting to pack more than one bottle of water. So I rode through this near-Ghost town looking for a tienda. There was a building with an old Pub sign. I parked and opened the door to a dozen ruined people crashed out on adjoining mattresses and squalor
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Then onwards to El Chalten on pavement. The lake
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Screaming wind
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Very strange weather as we approached the mountains. It looked like it was going to rain, or was raining, but it never did. The air just looked thick with grey
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Riding against a gale headwind was murder. I could only manage 50mph maximum. Jeff just got blown out of one attempt into the mountains it was so extreme, I just learned
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Hills to the left
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and to the right
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Then El Chalten, tucked into a small valley
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It was over. I was completely exhausted. But happier than I can describe.

Comments

One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Tom D.,

    This track sounded just hellacious. I’m sure getting your undies off was difficult due to the sheer pucker factor!
    Jesus – it’s like this: don’t cross the berms or you’ll wash out the front. But we’ll throw in a silly stupid side winds to force you randomly… over the berms!
    “Ah ha ha ha…” (somebody up there has a sick sense of humour…)

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