I would like to start by thanking our good friend Chris Lane, the owner and proprietor of Roaring Mouse Cycles bicycle shop in San Francisco, who's generosity has kept our bikes in working order for the last 16,200 miles. The only thing that has exceeded our ability to wear out and break bike parts is Chris' generosity to replace them. So far we have worn out 10 chains, 2 full drivetrains, 2 rear derailleurs, 4 bottom brackets, 4 26” downhill rims, 8 sets of brake pads, 1 brooks saddle, 1 set of XT pedals, 1 BB7 brake and 2 sets of cables and housings.
Prior to the trip Chris took phenomenal care of me and my bikes while I was racing and crashing in California. He would go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I never missed a race due to broken parts or an ill performing drivetrain. It comes as absolutely no surprise that Roaring Mouse Cycles is the top rated bicycle shop in San Francisco on both Yelp and City Search. This is just a small testament to his local following, the superior service, and his talented mechanics. After the trip I look forward to continuing to represent Roaring Mouse Cycles and to buying Chris and his mechanics a much deserved round of beer.
The two day trip from Salta to Cafayete was perhaps the scenic highlight of the last section of road. From Salta the barren landscapes transformed into beautiful multi colored rock formations, highlighted by green valleys and huge saguaro cactus. The final 80km into Cafayate marked the beginning of the infamous Quebrada de Cafayate where massive sandstone rock formations sit amidst the Sierra De Carahuasi.
When we pulled into Cafayate, we immediately searched out the local sandwich shop to satisfy our new addiction to the Argentinian favorite...the Milanesa, which is essentially a salsbury steak, paired with a slice of ham, 2 eggs, lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo on a french roll aka a heart attack in a bun. The guy behind us at the outdoor eatery immediately struck up a conversation in order to find out where we were going to and coming from. As it turns out, Ronnie the Sweed, was also on bike, staying at a local hostel and also headed to Ushuaia. After increasing our cholesterol by 50 points we accompanied Ronnie back to the hostel and ended up setting up our tents in the back yard under the shade of grape vines. You know you are in northwest Argentina when your campsite looks like this:
After settling in, the three of us came up with the game plan to put together a feast of local beef and wine. Our over indulgence on the local cuisine resulted in a very late wake up and we made the easy decision to take a rest day in Cafayate.
The next day we departed Cafayate with Ronnie and started our 1000km haul to Mendoza.
We had heard so much about the “endless supply” of municipal campgrounds in Argentina that we were anxious to give them a try, so when the opportunity presented itself in a small town just two days south of Cafayate we jumped at the chance. The fact that it was semi abandoned and lacked restroom facilities only meant that we would avoid the $2 fee in exchange for pooping in the woods.
We settled in for an uneventful night.
2am....”Seth do you hear that?”
I strained my ears and I could make out a faint rustling just beyond our tents.
“Yeah, it sounds like some people are getting out of a car.”
I peered out of the door of my tent to see a group of men, illuminated by the domelight of an F150 emerge from the truck. I could also see a few guys piling out of the back. I closed the door of my tent after realizing they had no interest in us.
I started to fall back asleep when a guitar started playing. I opened my eyes and sat up.
Add guitar number two.
“Parker what time is it...check your ipod.” (I still do not have a watch after providing it as payment for a canoe ride in Peru)
Add drums (seriously).
Add horrible vocals #1.
2 minutes passed and all of a sudden I could hear three or four more drunk men add in with the chorus of the song. Before we knew it there was an absurd number of instruments playing and men belting indecipherable lyrics. I laughed to myself and laid back down and thought to myself...these guys won't last for long.
3am...another car pulled into the parking lot. All four doors opened and more men piled out.
Add Vocals #20 through #26
People are now pounding on car hoods and slapping sticks together...in an attempt to create even more noise pollution.
The singing continued as I fell in and out of a slumber. Each time I awoke I was surprised to hear the the music was still in full force. Anyone that could have heard the volume of noise that we were attempting to sleep in would laugh.
7am...I opened my eyes to see that the sun was starting to illuminate the inside of my tent. The music and singing were still in full force! I laid in my sleeping bag trying to determine how many minutes of actual sleep I had experienced when there was a sudden pause in the noise. I opened the door of my tent hoping to witness a pile of passed out drunks. Nope....just a pee break.
7:02am Vocals and instruments resume. Men are stumbling around the parking lot and the singing has transformed into yelling.
8:00am I am making breakfast and staring at the scene when three of the men look over and make eye contact with me. Maybe it was my sobering stare or the juxtaposition of me making breakfast that started the immediately exodus of cars and people. Within 5 minutes the parking lot was cleared.
The seemingly endless straight stretches relatively flat road from Salta would have made for some easy days of riding had the wind not been a factor.
As it was the wind created apocalyptic scenes where dust and sand clouds moved like tidal waves across the martin like landscapes, swallowing everything in their paths, filling our eyes and mouths with desert and pushing and pulling us at their leisure.
On one particularly frustrating day we took a wrong turn just over a mile into the day and ended up going over 30 miles in the wrong direction. It was a bit demoralizing to battle winds for four hours only to end up at the same place we ate breakfast. To make matters worse, after recovering from our detour the winds and sandstorms became so intense that large gusts would completely stop us in our tracks. We finally gave up after about 90 miles of riding and as I slowed to a final stop a large gust hit the side of me, blew me sideways, I lost my balance on the sandy shoulder and felt like crying as my bike rolled over on top of me. Well not really, I think I maniacally laughed at myself.
The short sections of awesome scenery helped to keep us enthusiastic about pushing through the incredible winds.
Three days after our ominous day we rendezvoused with our two good friends Justin and Matt at a hostel in central Mendoza.
The presence of these two tomcats sparked an immediate energy that carried us through 5 amazing days off the bikes. Our leisure time included barbecuing huge portions of Argentinian beef, consuming our share of local wines, touring the local wineries on rented bicycles and leaving an indelible mark on that hostel.
As I write this we have actually pedaled as far south as San Martin de Los Andes...and we are now on the last page of our maps! We have officially entered trout country! We are spending some much needed time off the bikes in Chile with our friends and my girlfriend Eliza. We will fully update you on our progress before returning to our bikes in San Martin. In short, we were absolutely unprepared for the physical and mental challenges that the section of road between Mendoza and San Martin demanded of us. We left blood, sweat and tears on that hellacious stretch of pavement and dirt.