Section 7, Part 3: Across the Andes

Day 86: Villa Union to Jachal, 145k

We woke to a chilly morning with the sun peaking over the mountains.  We continued on the Ruta 40 for the majority of the day. As soon as we turned onto the highway the land was back to desert, but with beautiful rock formations interspersed throughout the valley. IMG_3144We road up a gentle incline for about 15k then enjoyed a long descent. It took a while for my legs to wake up, still recovering from the last section. Around 40k we passed a small town, that was 500m meters off the highway, by then the land turned back into the desert we now know so well. We enjoyed a tail wind for the next 60+ kilometers. Around 50k we approached a construction zone of freshly paved tarmac, it was glorious! Although the road was constant rollers for 60k after, it was still a smooth road. Also, Ruta 40 is light in traffic compared to other roads we have travelled, which is strange for being a major highway, but I will take it!

At 112k, we turned off the highway onto a narrow road through a nature preserve. The rock features were stunning, even though it was brutally hot by this point. IMG_3145Since we changed roads, the wind changed direction and we were riding through cross and headwinds. The road curved up and over a steep mountain pass, at the high point there was a mirador to enjoy the green valley and rocks below. These views always make the climb worth it. IMG_2278The descent down the other side would have been exhilarating if it weren’t for the headwind, I actually had to brake heavily to avoid losing control and riding off the edge of the road. The canyon below was beautiful with green trees and grass along the river, and more rock formations.

The wind began to pickup even more through this canyon. The dry wind made me parched. When the lunch bus passed, I asked for water. IMG_3150The guys offered me watermelon too, and cut a piece as big as my head. I enjoyed the refreshing fruit but then had to stand around for a few minutes to eat. Wasted time? I think not.

Several kilometers later, I turned another corner and the Hilux was backtracking to check on people for water since we were in a desolate canyon. IMG_3151The wind picked up significantly, and I had trouble holding onto my bike and staying straight! These strong winds continued for another 5k, I had to stop several times to avoid being pulled off the road and down a cliff.

Once out of the nature preserve, the road flattened out and was tree lined. I enjoyed the shade but the wind was still strong. The last 15k left to camp felt like a battle into the wind.

Once I approached the town we were camping, I noticed a gas station with a cafe! Luckily, the cafe was not taking a siesta, and I got enjoy a cold Coke and Popsicle. As I sat on the sidewalk, several fellow riders road by and I flagged them down. Everyone was parched and beat down by the wind and ready for a cold drink.

We wound through a few side streets before approaching our camp on the outskirts of town. It was a large campground with mature olive trees for shade. I appreciate that Argentina has more camping opportunities. Bush camping along the highway does not create a relaxing atmosphere for sleeping.

Day 87: Jachal to San Juan, 160k

The wind started around 6:30am, and was strong! While eating breakfast, you could see everyone’s eyes watching the tops of trees swaying and dreading the conditions we were about to endure. Once we were back on the highway, it was an immediate battle to stay upright on the bike with the headwind. After the first 7k, I had already resigned to the fact that the day was going to suck and I would get to San Juan in 10 hours. Bruce and a couple other fast guys sailed past me in a pace line, I figured they would be finished in a few hours at that pace.

Around 10k, when I was ready to start crying, a few of the older guys were passing me in a pace line and told me to jump on the back. I normally despise pace lines because everyone rides different and it can be frustrating. These guys road very similar to me and after a few kilometers, I relaxed and felt confident that we would survive the day.

We picked up another guy and then in the far distance I saw Bruce riding by himself. I was worried something happened to him, but he said the pace line gathered too many people and they were being unsafe by overlapping wheels, a quick way to crash into each other. He jumped in with us since he was waiting for me anyways.

I liked riding with the guys because they actually took breaks, about every 20 kilometers. I was beyond grateful, especially to rest from the wind. Around 50k the dinner bus passed us for a water refill and Bruce decided to end his day and the ride the bus to the hotel. There were 3 other guys already on the bus. I decided to push on, thinking that I could let the old guys out ride me!

The wind did start to die down and when we stopped at lunch at 74k, it was turning into a light tailwind! God bless a tailwind. We continued on and then stopped at a restaurant around 104k for a Coke. The restaurant had coffee, so I indulged in an espresso. We were making good time and then finally approached our climb for the day, 200m gain over 8 kilometers. You could see the road wind up and over a small mountain pass. I told the guys I was going to fall off and ride my own pace, they said they were all planning to do that. However when I finished my last pull, a bee flew into my helmet and I had to stop regardless! Since they kept pushing on, I put in music and hammered up the hill. After a few kilometers I caught the original 3 guys as they were taking a break. I stopped for a few minutes then continued ahead of them. I stopped at the top where the tour leader was waiting to refill water, I talked to her for several minutes and then guys passed me again! The tour leader told me that they are calling our pace line the Senior Peloton, even though I am the youngest rider on tour. I continued riding and hit beast mode, which I seem to find in the later kilometers of a long day. I caught up with the guys after 17 kilometers of hammering, just before we entered San Juan.

IMG_3155It was Sunday, so most shops were closed and charred meat from the houses was permeating the air. One of the most difficult things about traveling through the country is not having food available for several hours after we arrive at the hotel. So we drank beer. We get to enjoy a day off tomorrow to rest our tired legs!


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