2. The joys of riding north.

Now past the city's boundary, albeit for an occasional lorry passing by, the road was mine. It felt great to be back on tour, the openness of a quiet road, birds tweeting amongst the greenery that skirted the surrounding mountainous peaks the road snaked through.
Thirty kilometres out was a turning onto the 'J' road. A gravel road that leads down to a few 'estancias' (farms) and is the planet's furthest southerly road  [partly for that reason] I'd planned on riding down it and hopefully catching a lift back. With the weather now having turned bitterly cold, upon reaching the junction, with even lesser traffic on it, if a return lift had not surfaced it would be a cold 100-mile there-n-back two day ride, so with no regrets I keep to the main route and start climbing the first mountain pass.

Sitting at a mere 450 metres, the pass didn't take so long to climb, but nevertheless worthy of a photo! So who managed to guess the correct answer of the pass?

The descent opened out into another valley, becoming slightly shielded from the bitterly-cold sea-breeze the temperature crept up to double figures, underpinning my 'no regrets' on passing the J-road as I freewheeled the descent.

My day's destination was Tolhuin, 110 kilometres from Ushuaia so made a satisfying start to the tour. Also, having read on other blogs that the town's bakery (Panderia) manager is an avid cyclist and accommodates around-the-world touring cyclist's for free - a great ending to my first day!

Entering the town, I'm soon leaning my bike against bakery. As most tourers do, pondering about with the bike removing a few key-valuables that never leave my side I'm totally oblivious that through the sun's glaze of the front window I'm being spied upon by two pairs of eyes.

As I enter the bakery I scan the room in hope of being recognised / greeted by the manager - a regret that I hadn't learnt any Spanish to help in such circumstances! Continuing my visual scan, as I reach the right-hand side of the building - that seemed to also resemble a cafe / village communal meeting place - I make contact with said two pairs of eyes...Jules + Nicky!!
Having departed Ushuaia the day before me the cold weather / snow had thwarted their plans of Tolhin-in-a-day thus camped forty kilometres back and had arrived here by mid-day and been sipping copious cups of coffee.

At the counter, as I order a whopping beef roll and two sugar-drenched cakes the assistant - without question - leads me across the road to a small warehouse unit that contained shelving with copious bakery ingredients and a small room with a bunk and a single bed.

Inside the room was just amazing!

Every square inch of walls, ceiling and door covered in graffiti and tags from cyclists from around the world. The third photo's so true! With a workers toilet / shower block within the warehouse and a bakery full of yummy food, life was good! Later the owner turns up and we thank him for his hospitalit (unfortunately I forgot to take his photograph for my 'Hosts' page!).

Sleeping well that night, the following morning I bade farewell to Jules + Nicky, but would inevitably meet again further down the long long road we we're all travelling.

One thing I'd noticed in Argentina were the dogs. In Ushuaia there were many of them on the streets, just carelessly walking around. They were apparently owned by people but simply allowed to freely wander around the place sniffing out scraps of food and hand-outs from wherever, they were mostly friendly so I'd always give them a good fuss. Tolhuin likewise had its fair-share ambling around the streets, many of them were big dogs with thick winter coats so protected against the cold southerly wind, with an "I'm friendly" wag-of-the-tale they'd be a guaranteed fuss from me.

Riding out the sky was clear but still quite fresh, later passing a road-side spring I fill my bottles with crisp ice-cold fresh water. My destination was Rio Grande, quite a big city and intended to sleep at one of the city's fire stations (volunterios bomberios). From books and blogs I'd read, most South American countries fire stations will host cyclists - either a bed or place to pitch with use of shower and even wifi.
By 3pm the wind had turned from a gentle breeze into the an almost impenetrable brick wall of 'no entry'. This is the reason why most [sensible] riders ride south as opposed to north! Crawling along only a tad faster (if fast is the right word) than walking pace a roadside Estancia (ranch / farm) comes into view. With many white corrugated-tin buildings one of them must have my name on it. Eventually reaching  the entry I head for the main house and soon a farmer comes out. Fortunately he speaks fluent English and is more than glad to help - explaining its a 'pay forward' in that I [ when possible] pass on this help to someone else. 

I explain that another two cyclists may pass and may need some shelter "yes, no problem, call them in" he replies Showing me an empty corrugated sleeping-quater with a bunk-bed in and another corrugated building where the toilets / showers are, then to the kitchen where the farm-workers cook was tending to a large pot of potatoes and meat to which I'm handed a plate of! Wolfing it down like mum's Sunday dinner out the corner I my eye I see two cyclists passing by...out of the door I whistle them in! Having intended to continue the 40 kilometres to Rio Grande they were happy-as-Larry for the early stop. Soon they're also handed a plate of the yummy-tummy food and smiling with glee at our not-so-soon-expected re-grouping!

Later that evening the farmer comes over for a chat. A great man with stories galore, informing us the typical size of these estancias, tens of thousands of hectares - literally bigger than most English cities, they're HUGE!!
Previously lighting the stove we're invited to raid a pile of scrap wood for more to burn, also using the stove to make some soups and coffees. With the wind typically calm in the early hours we decide to set the alarms for 5am...the joys or riding north!!

Our night's 'corrugated cottage'.

Awake, packed and on the road by 6am the wind had beaten us! Although not so strong still a persistent breeze. After twenty-five kilometres we pass over the Rio Grande (River Grand) whereby the road takes a welcomed 90' right bend, yielding a tail cross-wind and we're nicely eased into the city - named after it's river - Rio Grande.

Quit a large city enterig we pass by industrial and commercial units and warehouses etc. eventually making the centro we firstly stop at a cafe before heading to a supermarket to buy a few days supplies then its back to our nemesis. Eventually making the city's boundary we're now crawling along at 7-8 km/h! Caught by occasional side-gusts we're literally zig-zagging along the gravel shoulder. Passing by a church / school complex set back 100 metres we decide - with only 53 kilometres rode - to carry on, another half a kilometre and we're like "shall we?"..so we turn around and are blown back at 18 km/h to the complex. Asking a few people we're eventually pointed to a reasonable patch of wind-shielded grass amongst some trees, a perfect retreat!

Another early start the next day and we're riding through a very barren terrain, with little of photographic interest the camera stays in. Our plan was head for the Argentina / Chile border town of San Sebastian. At 45 kilometres we pass by an off-shore gas-line pump station, taking our chance on a shelter-break we call in and ask at one of the small buildings, soon we're lead into a kitchen area and was even permitted use of their stove t make some soups and also refill our water bottles. One thing I've learnt from travelling is that most times, people like to help others where possible.

On the descent to San Sebasitian we pedalled hard..Yes! on a bloody descent, we pedalled hard!! Having not bought too much food-stock in Rio Grande, as we approached the 'town's last few kilometres-countdown some faded memory was telling me this place had little to offer in the way of supplies. On arrival this was [unfortunately] confirmed. It was simply a border post with a petrol station and cafe/hotel. Nevertheless we had drinks and asked if we could camp in a suitable [wind-shielded] area, luckily the proprietor had just the place.

Some of the town's inhabitants...I call these 'furrypillars'.

The following morning we're stamped out of Argentina for the 15 kilometre ride to the Chilean border.
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In the following post two more rider join us -  Rene + Mirjam !