Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saturday. Dobbin hits the road

We got Dobbin and got cycling, and got a taste of the infamous ruta 40

Map of route 

Having been told dobbin would not arrive until midday, and being skeptical about even that given he was already 2 days late, we took a relatively lazy morning. We enjoyed our 10 peso breakfast of bread and a hot drink, and checked out at 10 on the dot. Being three blocks to the cargo depot we hefted the bags around there and just as we approached Emma exclaimed "Dobbin!". I assumed at first she was optimisticly calling in case he was nearby, but no she had indeed spotted him sat outside the depot. Evidently too large or troublesome to have been carried inside at that point. We ran up, saw he was looking very well indeed, and ran in to do paperwork. Funnily enough the staff knew exactly what we were there for, and made some humorous comments including something about azul. I said "Si, la bicicaleta azul!" But it turned out they were implying the blue sack truck sat beside him. We had a laugh about that and I reaffirmed it was very definitely that blue bici I was collecting.

Despite him arriving in fine condition it still took over an hour to get him road ready, removing all the wrap and pipe lagging and getting everything straight, plus improvising a replacement for the missing mudguard bolt with a cable tie (...what else!)

We were keen to hit the road, so around midday we rolled out of town and onto ruta 3, dual carriageway for the first 20 km. In retrospect, we weren't fully prepared for the day ahead, but it was all fairly easy going to start with so we didn't think much of it. Past the town airport, we turned to face due east and got a taster of what was to come: solid headwind, slowing us so we'd feel happy if we held 10 mph. Couple hours later, after our first police checkpoint (what exactly do they do with these stacks of ID card numbers collected every minute?) we reached the turning for the fabled ruta 40 road. This was the very southern end of this 'back road' route the stretches almost the whole length of the country along the western (Andes) side. It's far less inhabited, as well as far lower grade, than the eastern highway we'd come down on the bus the days previous.  This was little concern to us though, as we were only to follow it for the first 200k or so, taking us across the country from Atlantic almost to the Pacific and leaving before the real distance started. We had to negotiate a slightly peculiar road block to join it, but then were delighted to find good quality newly laid tarmac, not the ripio (gravel) we'd read so much about.

As the afternoon progressed the wind got stronger and stronger. 10 mph was now a distant memory; we were pleased to hit 7. Around this point the reality started to dawn: this was not going to be the gradual build up to the ambitious cycling we have planned for later in the tour, this already was the main event. Furthermore, as afternoon turned to evening we came to understand the 'towns' sparsely dotted on our map are not necessarily even hamlets, but perhaps just a remote farmstead or abandoned buildings. This has big implications for our ability to pickup food, and more importantly water, as we progress. Still, at least we were well prepared with our expedition grade water filter and treatment tablets. Only, a water filter is not much use without water: the quite manageable 25 miles or so between rivers on our map is a serious undertaking when you're traveling at around 5mph. We already past the first river by the time we realized all this, and it turned out that was to be the only one we'd see that day.

We got pretty tired out by 6pm, especially me due to the extra effort needed for the steersman in windy weather, and only had one water bottle remaining so decided to camp down for the night and see if we could fair better in the morning. Finding a good spot to wildcamp is hard anytime, but ruta 40 passes through some of the most barren landscape: no hills (hence so much ground level wind), no plants (as nothing can grow beyond a foot high in this wind, and again meaning there's no shelter) so the best you can hope for is a mud mound left beside the road after the recent upgrade works. We eventually found one that gave some shelter from the wind, but left us more in view from the road than ideal but it would have to do. Then there was the small matter of dealing with the tufts of dry grass, that turned out to be surprisingly spiky - not what you want piercing your Therm-a-rest - but eventually we had a tent up. Some quick polenta and tomato sauce and we were done. Slept fine through the wind even with 2 hours of sunlight remaining.

It had been a tough day, but at least the road surface was good and maybe we'd get to Puerto natales in 3 days rather than the 2 originally hoped.