BACK TO BUSINESS

I still had 40km to go to the nearest town though, Barrancas, and the sun was getting very low.  As I descend one hill, I am confronted by a beautiful scene and the cloud geek in me forces me to stop for a quick photo.  Pulling away, however, I discover a flat in my rear wheel!  Just my luck when I am short on time.  To add insult to injury, in my haste I pinch the replacement inner tube between the tyre and the rim, leaving a small rip that I only discover when it fails to inflate.  Deep breath and time to shove in another tube.  This time the tube inflates but I can hear a very subtle hissing sound and concede that this one too has a puncture!  Inspecting the tyre again, I find a secondary foreign object that I had missed on first inspection.  With a patch hastily affixed to the second tube, the tyre finally inflates and remains so.  Over half an hour after stopping for a quick photo, I pull away and climb into the rapidly-encroaching dusk.  My map shows that there’s another 25km to go, with a steep descent in the final kilometres followed by a 3km climb up to the town.  Mother Nature appears in no mood to give me a helping hand though as, when I reach the descent and momentarily stop pedalling in order to coast down the steep 5-10% gradient, I grind to a complete stop in the face of a frankly ridiculous headwind!  Pedalling hard downhill, I finally hit the climb and have to start grinding it out.  I’m on the home stretch now though and finally the lights of the town appear ahead of me.  I head straight for the nearest hostería and the lovely owner, despite being in the middle of a family dinner, throws together a plate of food for me.  It’s 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve!  What a way to round out a special year of cycling, with a century ride (112.9miles/181.7km) – my biggest to date and a real test of mental and physical strength.

Unsurprisingly, the next day I find that there’s not a lot left in the tank!  A gentle 38km and I decide that it’d be best to know my limits and find a spot to chill out for the afternoon.  An abandoned house offers the perfect opportunity…

Somewhat refreshed, the pedals spin a little easier the next day and I push on to Chos Malal.

Chos Malal marks the centre of the Ruta 40 and also the point at which I’ll turn off to head over to Chile.  It’s another clear blue sky day with a brisk breeze.  After a relatively easy start on the ripio, the road climbs and the (head)wind builds.  Despite a good road surface, the wind becomes savage and I’m forced on several occasions to push the bike around exposed corners, rather than risk being blown off the road.  It’s almost as if Argentina is reluctant to let me go!  After several hours of grinding on as if I’m in a wind tunnel, I make it towards the top of the valley and the wind finally eases off a little…

 

After a night in the municipal hostería, I’m heading up towards the Argentine Customs on a lovely track besides a beautiful river, the wind thankfully lighter than the previous day.

Whilst the landscape is increasingly covered in dark, volcanic ash, in a short period of time it starts to look a lot lusher too – clearly most of the rain falls on the Chilean side of the Andes.  The climb up to the border, atop the pass, is spectacular…

I’m running out of time, however, to make it to the Chilean Border Post before it shuts so decide to take it easy and find somewhere to camp in ‘no-man’s land’.  Making my way along the road, I see a gaucho coming the opposite direction on his horse, a dog at its feet.  Just in case I spook the horse, I come to a halt about 30 metres away.  His horse, however, is still spooked by this bike-riding gringo and races off the track but continues in my general direction.  The gaucho is clearly struggling to control it and, as it pulls level with me, it starts bucking, throws him to the ground and races off!  Slightly bemused, I call out to the gaucho in Spanish to ask if he is OK, but he avoids all eye contact with me and walks off after his horse.  Clearly, his pride was severely bruised!  Amused/confused by the little episode, I move off and find myself a lovely little camp…

The next day I continue the descent to the Chilean Carabineros and then on through a lava field, down to much lusher climes…

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