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Ruta 40

Vicuña crossing the street in the Chilean Andes
Dry, salt and cactuses
September 26, 2017
Traditional Argentinian goat shepherd posing for a portrait picture
Dario Sepúlvada
October 28, 2017

26th september - 9 o'clock am


It feels like starting our world over again and that almost one year after leaving Amsterdam. At Daniel's place we prepare everything for the 4.000 kilometers to Ushuaia. Overhaul the bicycles, change the gears, repairing clothes, a new haircut, searching the routes and writing warmshowers. Five days later the bicycles and our heads shine again and we are ready to cycle to the end of the world. The mystical Rita 40 will be our guide. In Mendoza the road signs say 3.300 kilometers and they count down to the start of Tierra del Fuego, the province where Ushuaia is located. We will take a detour on the Carretera Austral in Chile, ending with 4.000 kilometers when we arrive cheering in Ushuaia in the end of December.


On Tuesday morning we roll the bicycles out of the garage and say goodbye to Daniel. The first kilometers Ruta 40 is a two lane highway with a lot of cars and trucks, but more south the cars disappear and the urban landscape transforms into a dry desert scenery. The long straight roads aren't inspiring, but with our heads turned to the rights we always have a beautiful view on the snow capped peaks of the Andes. In Tunuyan we cycle straight to the voluntary fire station, when a car follows us to tell that Ruta 40 isn't in the best condition more south. Half an hour later we are sitting in Cesar's kitchen and have a warm place for the night. The bicycle magnet continues working when we enjoy a pizza with the family until late in the evening.

In the morning we buy food for three days because the next 200 kilometers we won't find anything. Piled up with five kilograms extra a person we climb slowly on the straight Ruta 40 with the vast Campos on both sides, and we pitch our tent at the side of the route. In the morning everything is white when the fog wraps the world into a mysterious silence. We have only 45 kilometres to cover to the farm house of Pablo's friend in the middle of nowhere. We turn right to the old Ruta 40, unpaved and curving through the cloughs. The first kilometres are on consolidated sand but then come the rocks, the washboard and the loose sand. Our speed drops until cycling becomes impossible and we only cover three kilometres in an hour. It are 110 kilometres on this road to the next civilization, which will take us three more days with this speed. A hard choice, cycling back or risking hunger. We decide to cycle back and take a detour. Later we read that this part of the Ruta 40 is not accessible with normal vehicles, only with properly equipped four wheel drives.


A large detour later we finally arrive in El Sosneado. The last 25 kilometers the warm breeze changed into a strong wind on our nose. We almost can't get ahead and fight against the wind. Gasping we reach a road side restaurant where they tell us that snow and cold weather is coming. Next to the restaurant stand a big road sign "Ruta 40 3000 kilometers". We can put our tent under a roof protected from the wind. In the morning we are shivering from the cold as temperature won't rise above 4 degrees. Around noon it stops raining and we cycle the last part to Malargue where we take our first rest day before covering the next 200 kilometers without any villages or shops.

Mountain peaks with fresh snow reflect powerful within the dry landscapes. Loaded with kilograms of food we leave Malegue when we start a 40 kilometer long climb. Half way uphill the light breeze turns into a wind storm. The wind starts to push and pull on our bikes. It drags us off the road, lugs us to the other lane or makes us to stop. With moments we stay paused with the bike between our legs. The knees are bend and our feeds push in the flour, to not be drawn away. Hiding is impossible, continuing is the only option. The wind thunders in our ears so we can’t hear a thing. We don’t hear the truck coming until it passes us with a load horn. Zoë is in shock and tears run over hear cheeks when she is shouting the container to death. When we reach the top it is snowing. Snow and sand hits us with speed, we can’t keep our eyes open and need to protect them with our arms. Even down hill we hardly move and got pushed from left to right. Along the road we finally find a sheltered remote house. With clapping teeth we ask Maria if we can warm up inside. A shopped goat’s head is hanging on the clothesline and the saw is still on the kitchen table with the goat cut into pieces next to it. "whether we want a goat stew?” asks Maria. Luckely we receive a piece of vertebra instead of something unknown, when we enjoying the food. An hour later, the wind is a bit quieter and we can cycle straight. It's half past four when we arrive in Bardas Blancas. To our surprise we find the road asphalted while Google Maps told us different. We turn left into the valley and get the wind in the back, this time we are flying through the valley. At six o'clock we stop at a road workers' workplace who are asphalting the road. They give us a sheltered spot inside the goat-run and we receive a warm meal in the ‘canteen’. Meatballs with tomato sauce, that's at least a year ago.


The next morning we start with 25 kilometers asphalt, but after that it changes into the famed ripio, an unpaved gravel road. The road is terrible and the bikes suffer. We bump from stone to stone, lose grip and hardly go faster than a hiker. If we stop cars to ask for the distance, the answer varies between 15 and 50 kilometers, which is a difference between 3 hours and 8 hours. Olivier's front luggage carrier is damaged by the many shocks. All the aluminium welds are broken and now are fixed together with tape and tyraps. If the stones become smaller, we get ‘cowribs' and the wind. Out of the reach we finally hit asphalt again, but the storm is not done with us yet. Over the next hill lies a lake, with hopefully a house to shelter, because it will be impossible to set up the tent.

And yes, at the top we see a few trees with two little houses. We ask for a place next to the house, but the wind finds every corner and blows hard across all sides. Eventually we can put the tent between three walls made out of corrugated sheets, which represents a garage. Dario is home alone because his wife is in town to give birth. He invites us inside to drink a warm maté. We talk for hours with the charming man and learn everything about the simple farming existence. That night we cannot close an eye when the wind beech into the corrugated boards. If it's a miracle, everything is still there like we left it when we wake up. It rains little drops and the wind makes it cold, but we decide to move on. Fortunately we have the stormy wind in the back and we are quicker in Barrancas than we ever imagined.


Soaked from the rain we nock on the door of the police office. Officer David helps us to find a sheltered place for the night. When we are two streets away, he says "Where we are going now, is my house". He has nightshift and offers his house without any doubt. This is the first village that we encounter since the stormes came up and now David is telling us that throughout the province of Neuquen they alarm 'code red’. Schools are closed, trees fall over and there is no electricity. Last night the storms hit 150 kilometers per hour and it doesn’t seem to end the coming days. They did not experience this in thirty years. In the morning, David returns from the night service and is talking non stop. With pride and tears in his eyes he waves his new ‘european friends’ goodbye. When we arrive a few hours later in Buta Ranquil, the fireman take us off the street. They predict winds up to 120 kilometers per hour in the afternoon and yesterday a motorcyclist turned over. The fireman don’t want us to get on the road and offer us a safe room against patagonian storms. Ruta 40 brings enough adventure, although it may be less extreme. A relaxing cycling day simply does not exist here. When we enter Chos Malal for a well-deserved day of rest, the kilometer signs indicate 2600 kilometers away from our end destination. In ten days we did 700 kilometers and we are getting close to the beautiful Lake District, where the landscape will change.

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