Cycling Patagonia: a battle of wind and will

The downside of traveling from one place to another, rather than the out-and-back format or a loop as is more common when training at home, is that you can end up having headwind all the way, which is exactly what happened today. The northerly wind from yesterday was still out in force andshortly after I left my little cabin with the hammock and set off I had to stop and put another top layer on.

The first 30km were all uphill, not steep, but combined with the headwind pushing me backwards, I was excellent material for a slow TV show.

The clouds were hanging very low so there wasn’t much to see around me, except for the cars that passed me regularly and generally too close for comfort. The downside of being on a paved road as opposed to the middle-of-nowhere ripio. Interestingly, the lorry drivers were typically more considerate than others.

Stopped to see a waterfall, Cascades of the Virgin next to the road. High and narrow waterfall, very pretty. A shrine for the Virgin next to it. It seems to be fairly common here to build a micro church next to waterfalls.

Slog slog slog, the 30kms take 2 hours. Short descent, then 5 more km up and that’s the top (for now). There is a cafe at the top where I stop for a coffee and quesadillas. There, on top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, it turns out to be a true hard rock cafe (not Hardrock TM, totally private). Buho Blanco — check it out if you’re in the area!

Hard Rock lives on. Even on a top of a mountain in Argentina

I was welcomed by a very friendly dog and a white duck, and had a nice chat with the owner who wants to visit Iceland, and who was the first person I’d met that was surprised that there are as many as 300.000 people living there. He thought it closer to 30.000.

The duck welcome committee

A descent ahead, I resort to putting on my water proof layer so I don’t freeze to death. I only wear it when I absolutely have to because it’s too big and more suitable for parachuting than road cycling.

Once the descent ends another ascent starts. I’m now in yet another national park and true to form, it’s stunning. The first part of the 13km long climb is through a narrow gorge between sandstone walls beautifully sculpted by erosion, and with thick growth of blue, yellow and red flowers. The flower smell hangs heavy and again I wish I could record smells (isn’t there an app for that..). The gorge then opens up onto a wide valley, with the road snaking around it.

The climb, again, is not too steep, and I even seem to have a bit of a shelter here from the wind. The only thing that’s bugging me is that my bum has become very very sore. Surprisingly it seems to have happened over the last two days which have been mostly on tarmac. So it’s two minutes in the saddle, one minute out of the saddle.

Photos don’t really do the views justice, it’s a wide-angled beauty.

Once I’m over the top of the climb, the scenery changes yet again. I leave the honey coloured sandstones behind, and ahead are much much taller peaks, which appear blue, between them is a beautiful lake fringed by pine trees with totally different smells and sounds.

I pick up the pace quite a bit, no longer steadily climbing but back to the more usual Patagonian up and down ‘Yorkshirian’ terrain. 80km in, and I’m starting to feel tired. It’s always a bit of a no man’s land with 40km to go.

I pass a place called Villa Mascardi, according to a sign it’s Zona Urbanizada, but as far as I can tell it consists of a school and a forlorn bus stop. Lol.

Lakes are coming in hard and heavy now, I pass one, turn round the corner and see the next one. With peaks surrounding them. The wind seems to have changed its mind so that I even have a bit of tail now. Smashing it. Even the sun is shining through the broken cloud. And only 20km to go, life is so good right now.

I’m heading towards the metropolis of San Carlos de Bariloche, or Bariloche as it’s more commonly known. This will be the biggest town on my trip, and after the last week spent essentially in a forest, it seems huge. The urban area starts several kilometres before the city center, and I’m now dodging traffic rather than big rocks and loose sand. The near-vertical steepness of Bariloche’s streets would rival San Francisco, and with its complicated one way system, it makes for a thrilling ride. It feels like a megacity.

On the outskirts the buildings look mostly like allotment plot huts in the UK, sheds of various shapes and forms. Except these are people’s homes.

The town center is very developed though. There is even a cash machine that GIVES ME MONEY! which is very handy because I’m down to 2 pesos, or about 10 pence.

Bariloche is situated on a lake shore with mountains on the other side. With the current high winds and fast moving leaden clouds it makes for a dramatic view. The city center is for some reason modeled after Swiss fashion: the chalet-like buildings, restaurants serving spätzle and kuchen, and even a couple of St Bernard’s complete with first aid kits posing for photos on the main square.

This just doesn’t make sense

Dinner time in Argentina starts at 9pm and I try and try to conform to the local customs but only last till 8. Starved, I end up in an otherwise empty restaurant but am past caring. Steak and Malbec, at long last we meet.

The moody Lago Nahuel Huapi

5 December 2016. Tour of Patagonia, day 10. El Bolson to San Carlos de Bariloche, 123km, 2250m of climbing, 7h15min in the saddle

I’m greatly indebted to these guys who help me travel the world on my bike:

LifeCycles Leeds

Kría Cycles

Lauf Forks