2011/01/23: 110km to Roadside Scrub Camp
Our day off in San Rafael was spent trying to keep from roasting. At one point, I saw a dogo argentino (think great dane crossed with bulldog) lower itself carefully through an opening to where the cool water (and garbage) flows in a gutter under the sidewalk. Sensible dog. We took a lot of showers.
We set out at 04:40h to avoid the heat, and the road wound up a few ridges onto a plateau. Mid-morning, we arrived at a truck-stop/restaurant and I began a conversation with kindly Suzy, who was over 70 and who used a walker due to back and knee problems. My Spanish seems to be sufficient to get these things started. We were invite to join Suzy and her son, Miguel, for a paella lunch at the back of the shop, so we dozed in the shade till lunchtime. After lunch, we were also invited to join them for a car excursion to a reservoir where we could swim, and where we helped Suzy negotiate her walker to sit in the water in a folding chair. On the way, we learned much about local issues, and also that we had just entered Patagonia — as it is defined in terms of physical geography — when we climbed the last ridge. Muchas Gracias Miguel y Suzy.
After this afternoon of hospitality, we rode another 60 km across the treeless plain and camped in something like a gravel pit. Unfortunately, as we left I found I’d mislaid my new bike computer, complete with altitude function and which I was really enjoying. (My Xmas present from C!) I thought of one more place I may have dropped it when we were 30 km downwind. I generally remove it from the bike when we stop, and take it with me in my handlebar bag. I hadn’t closed the zipper on my bag this time, and had moved it many times times. I knew it was lost, not stolen, and felt very stupid about it.
On this ride we started to come across large fibreglass objects in the desert, each sporting an antenna and a solar panel… sort of like you may imagine an alien landing vehicle. My first thought on seeing one was: why was there an self-cleaning toilet 20 metres from the road?
Actually there are 1600 of these dotted about the desert here with a grid spacing of about 1.5km (covering an area of ~3000km^2). Together they form a detector array for cosmic rays for the Pierre Auger Southern Observatory (PASO).
One of the unexplained things in this world is that there are cosmic rays impinging on the earth with energies up to 10^20eV. The mechanism of how these particles are accelerated to energies 100 million times higher than the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth is still a mystery. This detector seeks to pinpoint the source of these particles to see if they come from distinct locations. One proposal is they come from Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) that are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes that are devouring large amounts of matter. Indeed early PASO data seems to show a predominance of the highest energy cosmic from the
2011/01/24: 81 km to Malargue
After about 60 km, the heat was such that we dove under a bridge for a siesta. We had just settled in our mesh tent (no fly) to avoid biting flies, when a truck arrived and someone got out to start fishing. Then two families arrived and began picnic proceedings.
As the heat dropped a bit, the wind changed direction and increased. We could see that once we tuned the corner in about 100m we’d be perfectly aligned for land-sailing. Unfortunately, I neglected to point my bike directly into the wind as I prepared for take off, so a gust blew me over with a splat onto the asphalt as I mounted the bike. I soon learned the correct technique of alignment, and released brakes to begin acceleration. At one point, we reached 43 kmh without pedalling!!
Navigating through Patagonia is going to be a strategic game of observing and using diurnal wind patterns where possible. We met a muscular cyclist from Buenos Aires coming the other way. We were passing through a windbreak area at the time, but I sure did not envy his task with that headwind.
2011/0/25: In Malargue
A quiet day here in a very low key town. We visited the observatory (see Chris’s part) and cleaned our chains. A thunderstorm has come through and it is cooler now. Good news.