Monday, 16 May 2011

Chasing sunshine

Chasing sunshine,

Its cold at night, the outer zip on my tent has broken so the wind and frost get in. My sleeping bag and foam mat, the self-inflating one got ruined ages ago and binned, are not really up to this so I am going to get a cheap sleeping bag to go in my other sleeping bag. I find I wake up all through the night having strange dreams only to realise I am actually still in my little tent in south America, its one crazy dream straight into another. Yesterday it rained I got soaked the wind made the rain sting, I pitched the tent early the desert floor just became mud that stuck to everything soon everything was covered and I was feeling wet, cold and pretty miserable. The next morning was hard to get packed up and into wet clothes in freezing conditions. I pack up in the dark and get going as soon as there is enough light, today I was lucky there was no wind and soon the sun came up it started to get warm really warm I dried all my stuff out and soon I was down to just shorts, top and arm and leg warmers. I'm hoping I'm far enough north now to catch the odd warm day.

Today I was going to get to a small town according to the map and small it was I almost cycled past it thinking it was a farm; it was a grand total of three buildings. The old petrol pumps caught my eye. It was the first place I had seen in four days. Outside the petrol station/general stores was a man standing in a suit, a dark navy blue suit, double breasted with great big gold buttons and flares. It must have been 30/40 years old this suit. Next to him was a stick, a hat, a small leather satchel and a rolled up duvet. I cycled over and said hello as I went past "where are you from" he asked in very good English, England I said and asked where he was from, Germany. I asked him is that seriously all your stuff for travelling pointing to his four things "yes... but I have too much" he said. He explained he had got rid of everything to achieve total independence and freedom. He had been stuck in this place for days waiting for a lorry or car to take him on his way. I didn't point out that he was now completely dependent on others and as a result had lost his freedom. He may have turned his nose up at all off my possessions, but all I need is some fuel for my stove and food (and maybe a 70s suit, it was pretty cool).

Inside the petrol station/general stores was exactly how you imagine a small store out here to be. (Outside was a bar to tie your horse to, people do still use horses as transport out here, I leant my steed of steel against it). There were shelves with packets of food where some that had been in the sun had faded compared to the rest and tins with spots of rust on. You could buy spares for your saddle and calendars of 2009. I loaded up with food that probably went out of date years ago and got back on my way.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Visitors Centre

They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Visitors Centre

Glacier Perito Moreno,

Note after 3 days in El Calafate my bike is now fixed.

I decided to take a small detour and see the Perito Moreno glacier. By the time I had picked my bike up and loaded up it was 11.30, still it was only 50 miles to the glacier I wasn't worried. I was fighting a headwind, one of the worst since I had been out here, and it took me 4 hours to do 25 miles. I was just crawling along, soon I was in the Andes this helped break the headwind but now I was climbing and descending. It was almost 6pm by the time I arrived I had about 1/2 hour of daylight left, I’ll find somewhere to sleep I thought and see the glacier in the morning. It became apparent I wasn't going to be able to camp, I had been told when I bought my ticket absolutely no camping. I figured I might be able to hide somewhere but there was nowhere, it was either mountain or open and I would be seen. Oh well I thought I’ll have to go to the hotel, this turned out to be closed (it’s now out of season here). I went back to the visitors centre, by now everyone had gone apart from a guy cleaning. I ran through my options, I can't camp, hotel is closed, all the buses have gone and there is no way I can do 50miles back to El Calafate tonight. There was a large sheltered area between the gift shop and cafe I was sheltered by three walls and I had a roof over me. I got in my sleeping bag I was warm it would do.

At about 10pm a ranger found me and asked me what I was doing "waiting for the gift shop to open" I replied. I explained I had nowhere else to go and I was sleeping here unless he let me put my tent up "no camping no no no" he said. I shrugged and pulled the draw cord on my sleeping bag so only my face was looking out. He stood there "but it will get cold" he said, I shrugged again (I would be alright but I was hoping he would let me pitch my tent). He walked off and then came back and said "ok ill open the toilets you can sleep in there". Even better I had shelter, lights and heat!

The next morning I spent ages at the edge of the glacier, the front is 5k wide and 60 metres tall, massive chunks of ice fall off the front with loud cracks and booms as the glacier grows (up to 2 metres a day sometimes). All throughout the night I could hear it.

I was ready to leave and was just having a coffee when a different ranger found me and asked me to leave the park, I couldn't believe it, I was being thrown out. It wasn't my fault, there was just no way I could do 100 miles with a headwind and mountainous climbing in one day. On the way back it was easy the wind was still strong but a tail wind for me now the only downside was it was pouring with rain and I got soaked.

Tomorrow I start heading north again.

Getting back into the swing of things

Getting back into the swing of things,

The part was meant to turn up for my bike on the Thursday before Easter, nothing came and everything closes down at Easter in Chile, the Monday was not a bank holiday so I decided to go and ask at Chile express if there was a parcel for me. I knew UPS had used a third party but I didn't know who it was. "No, no parcel for Robert joy" I was told. I went back to the hostel and sat in my room wondering what to do when there was a knock at the door, it was the mother of the family looking all excited "parcel here" she said "here at the hostel" I replied "no, but here" I wasn't sure what she meant by that so I said" Chile express?”, “yes" she replied. Still didn't make much sense I had just come from there I decided to go back and ask again. This time she produced the missing parcel.

I quickly fitted everything back on to the bike as I was putting it together it became clear the rear derailler was bent. I went to the bike shop he didn't have one which would fit as I walked back I thought there is no way I can spend another week or so here. I borrowed a vice and hammer off the guy who owns the hostel and started to gingerly tap it back to shape it took all of about 2 minutes before I lost my temper and started to hit it as hard as I could. It was a state but I could get three gears it will do I thought.

By now it was 3pm I might as well set off first thing tomorrow I thought (only 3 hours of daylight).I went and had dinner in the cafe and said goodbye to my favourite waitress. The next morning it was raining I didn't care, I was back on the road. By lunchtime my legs were killing, I was just climbing and with only three gears it was taking everything I had. I realised that I hadn't peddled for one month that's the longest break off a bike in years, my knee was starting to hurt from pushing a big gear in the climbs. After 8 hours I could do no more I was exhausted I set up camp and fell asleep. The next morning I shook the ice off my panniers and wiped the frost of my saddle, it was going to be a cold day. I started climbing again and was soon riding through patches of snow, not for the first time I wondered if my kit was up to this. I could only manage a short day my knee was killing me and the cold was getting to me. I was starting to feel ill my legs were shaking and I had no strength, I would have struggled to walk up stairs at that point. I made a large pan of pasta enough for the morning as well and went sleep. It rained heavily during the night but was clear in the morning, then my route turned to dirt track with all the rain the night before it was a sticky mess I was stopping every 100 metres or so and having to dig mud out from between the wheels and frame with a tire lever, in the end I started pushing the bike, without my weight I was actually going quicker, it took me all day to cover 50k and again tonight I'm exhausted.

You may think I'm moaning, I'm not. I'm just telling you how it is, frustratingly slow and hard. But I am so happy to be back on the road even the cold and the problems are better than being stuck. I'm in my little tent right now typing this and there is nowhere else I would rather be.