09/02/2020 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I’ve been in San Juan for 6 days now, and have only another 6 days to get out of Argentina before my status as ‘very naughty boy’ gets escalated to ‘enemy of the state’ and ‘target practise’. Problem is my knee is still causing me some major issues and I just don’t know whether I can make it out of San Juan in time, let alone get out of the country and across the Andes. No option really as there are no trains in this region of Argentina and bikes aren’t allowed on buses, or so I’ve been told. Whatever happens I have to get to Chile somehow, and I’m not looking forward to it.
Leaving San Juan for the fourth time really did feel like Groundhog Day. I knew that bloody climb out of the city like the back of my hand by now and although it had seemed to be getting easier on my earlier rides, I did have doubts as to whether my knee was going to be up to it this time. The incentive, if I needed one, was that I only had a few days left to leave Argentina otherwise the authorities would be on me like a rash. I was really hoping that I would be able to do it under my own steam rather than having to stick the thumb out.
(*I’m now writing this 5 whole months later. As I write, and you read, it may become clear that I felt I was getting beaten up by circumstances, gunpoint robbery, flash floods, injury etc., or at least it felt like it! If anyone feels as though I’m making a bit too much fuss about the grief my knee is giving me, it turned out that on 16th May I was forced by the incredible pain I was suffering, to visit the Accident and Emergency department of my local hospital back in England and, after being X rayed, being told I had a stress fracture of my tibial plateau. (That’s the bit at the top of my shinbone) With hindsight I’m now convinced this injury occurred on January 3rd on my 161km ride from San Jose de Jachal to San Juan, and I’ve been carrying it since.)
I had set off early as I really wanted to get as far as possible before the heat started to crank up. It was forecast to be 35/36 degrees in the shade and on the ride, there would be no shade at all. I would be out in the sun 100% of the time. Only 3 or 4 kilometres in and my knee started to give me some frightful pain and I thought it was going to give way. I stuck at it and gradually it started to loosen up and I was beginning to think I might make it. The first climb of 450m in 17kms went well and during the ‘roll’ down the other side I again topped 55 km/h, despite having buttocks very well clenched. I made it to Talacasto, the first chance to rest and have a cold drink, in good time and thought I had enough in the tank to make it to San Jose de Jachal by around 5.30pm. Later the wind stopped helping and the gentle but persistent uphill gradient started to be a bother as fatigue really set in. The last couple of hours was going to be horrible and my 5.30pm estimate had gone right out the window.
I got slower and slower. I had remembered a place about 25 kms from San Jose that had a small kiosco where I could maybe get an ice cream to lift my flagging spirits and hopefully sit down in a chair rather than lying on the roadside which is rarely comfortable. I got there parched and very hungry, and swore when I realised the door was locked because I knew that inside it was full of all things edible, drinkable and enjoyable, and I couldn’t get to them. Then I noticed a sign saying ring the bell if the door was locked, which I did and, ‘hey presto’ a little old fella opened up and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Cramp had started to set in so a large bag of crisps was badly needed for the salt, quickly followed by 3 ice creams and lots of cold sugary drinks. Each time I had to ring the bell for him to open up but I had zero guilt about disturbing him as I was really was not in good shape. Eventually he realised I wasn’t going anytime soon and started asking the usual about where I came from and where I started that day. When he understood I’d ridden 130kms or more in that heat he disappeared and came back with half a melon which was totally the best and I made it vanish in no time!
Eventually I had to get moving again and the real slog was underway. My pace continued to slow and my cramps returned. When I was about 7 kms away from San Jose I noticed that the local ‘Gendarmeria’ had set up a road block and were stopping most of the passing traffic. This happens a lot but they never bother with a guy on a bike, and so they are of no concern. However, when I was about 200 metres away I had an attack of cramp and had to get off the bike and do some serious stretching. I noticed one of the policemen watching me and I thought I must look a little suspicious, stopping in sight of a roadblock, so I was not surprised when he stopped me as I approached. He checked my passport and wanted to know why I had no entry stamp in it and also why my exit stamp had been voided. The explanation, in my Spanish, and despite showing all the paperwork from Migraciones, took some time and he then decided he wanted to look through all my panniers. During this I had another attack of cramp and I don’t think he was impressed by the scream I let out along with a stream of internationally known expletives!
Eventually, and in serious discomfort, I made it to San Jose de Jachal, all 160kms, checked into the same hotel I’d stayed in when there before, ate like a starving person and then slept like a log. The next morning my knee was again a big problem and no way was I going anywhere. I just had to hope that one day of rest would be enough for me to undertake the next leg of the journey to Flores, the border town. I did eventually make it to Flores, but still wasn’t feeling good so I didn’t stay at the campsite as planned and chose a small hotel instead. Good idea as it turned out as their restaurant was very good and I was able to get some great food inside me and more much needed rest.
I now had just 4 days left to cross into Chile and from Flores it was a minimum of 3 days ride. I was thinking more like 4 days as I wasn’t in the best shape for 3,000 vertical metres of climbing over the course of 90kms and in air that was going to get ever thinner. But I had to do it somehow and that will be for another time.
Thanks as always for reading this far and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.