Friday, August 12, 2011

The road less travelled

Yes, that road. The one that passes through the unknown. The one that passes through long stretches of inhabitable countryside. The one that inspires philosophies The one that begs you to follow your heart.

On such road, important lessons are learned. Your instincts may take control. Your reason may shake hands with your imagination. Your intuition is tested.

Route 20 through the northern stretch of the San Luis Province is pretty desolate. Or so they told me. They told me that I would find nothing. And a whole lot of it.

I didn’t quite believe them. There is almost never nothing. There is almost always something.

And plus, if there really really wasn’t anything, just think of the adventure I would have!

I left La Tranca under a light dusting of precipitation. It was cold.

I passed a parked car on the side of the highway. I wouldn’t have stopped except that I saw a huge bag of bread in the back window. And I needed bread.

I slowed to a stop and asked the two guys sitting in the car if they would please sell me some of their bread. Hugo and Franco, two personalities from San Juan were on their way to go fishing for the weekend. Their car broke down and the third person, who I never met, went back for help. So, there they were sitting in the car waiting waiting waiting. They pulled out some bread and treated me to homemade sausages and whiskycola. People are awesome.

Back on the road with a fully belly and four graciously donated breads, I pedaled along. I passed the fork in the road and took, yes, the road less traveled.

I pedaled and pedaled. Urging myself to go a little bit further. I passed a few lonely houses. I laughed at people’s notions of this supposed nothingness.

And then I learned a few good lessons.

Number one. Arid countryside usually means thorns. Everywhere. I propped Tioca against a sign and went to use the bathroom. When I returned to the road, I noticed the tires decorated with thorns of all shapes, sizes and generosities. Oh no, it’s only a matter of time… Lesson: don’t go off road in prickly countryside if you don’t want to learn how to patch your tire tubes.

Number two. Just because there are houses doesn’t mean that there are people. Many gates were closed and locked. I clapped and clapped and yelled. Sometimes there just isn’t anyone home. And then, night approaches.

Number three. Sometimes country folks are a little creepy. I saw a purple pickup truck parked on the side of the road. Getting a little desperate for a place to sleep, I approached. The man in the truck gave me some advice. His green eyes and stutter caught my attention. But what really caught my attention was when he started following me at a distance. That’s when I started to get a little nervous.

I pedaled and pedaled. Getting more and more tired with every kilometer, every locked gate, and every abandoned house. I knew that there was a town in 60 kilometers, but that would mean night biking, which I wasn’t to keen on trying. Especially fatigued. Even with the absence of heavy traffic.

I finally found a gate that was closed, but not locked. I let myself in and found Leo. I was so relieved when he let me pitch my tent in his tool shed that I was speechless with gratitude. That night I drank sweet mate, made small talk, and dined a polenta-soy-wild quinoa concoction. That night, the grey sky blew a harsh, but understanding cold. And I wallowed in my relief.

In the middle of the night, the tapping of rain on the tin roof was silenced. In the morning, I opened the tent flap and understood why. SNOW! Huge white flakes cascaded down to the ground. Snow. Snow snow snow.

Tioca was quiet. I gave a loving pinch to each tire. Tada. The moment I’d been waiting for! My first flat tire of the trip! Leo helped me patch her up and soon I was ready for the next adventure.

Lujan was the next blip of human civilization on my radar. To get there I had 50km in front of me. Each day my body was getting a little more tired. But I wanted to arrive to Villa Dolores. So go go go!!

I passed the electrical plant. A nauseating monstrosity. I stood for a moment underneath thick wires that hummed a deathly terrifying hum. An electrical current buzzed through the air. Everything vibrated. It is horrifying the cancer that humans are to the planet. It depresses me.

Lujan is a small town with very very friendly people. It was a cold Sunday. Businesses were shut and no one walked the streets. In the province of San Luis, there is free WIFI in every city and town. I sat in the plaza and froze my fingers typing and skyping.

It was 6pm when I left. Usually the sun sets around 6:30. With 90 kilometers left to Villa Dolores, I decided to push just a little farther before resting for the night. The dusk was cold. My toes were numb. The sun settled beneath the horizon. I arrived to a chapel.

The family living behind the chapel treated me to mate and torta de rescoldo and allowed me to sleep in the chapel. I lit a candle before settling into my sleeping bag, thanking the saint who gave me the four sturdy walls and roof to spend the night.

The next day was very long. My legs were very tired. But I pushed and pushed the final part of the way to Villa Dolores. I passed Quines with very friendly people. I passed a lot of countryside. I was stopped by a family in a car who took photos of me. I arrived to the border of the province of Córdoba and shared mates with the police officer on duty. I witnessed the first snowy mountains I’d seen in many days. I pedaled and pedaled even when my body thought it could take no more. I arrived to Villa Dolores and kept pedaling.

I met Melisa in the GNC station at the other end of the city. I unloaded my bike, took my first shower in 6 long days, and fell in love with Cordoba. I had pedaled 430km of desolate countryside in 6 days. I had snow, wind, rain. I had my first flat tire. I experienced fear, joy, relief, and everything in between. But the toughest leg of the trip was behind me; I had made it.

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