Easier said than done, the title above. Outside it is cold, or wet or snowy or the combination. Then, having my periods; fiddling with the Cup I incidentally go through a little poop accident right besides my bicycle. And not before long I step into the pile and the brown colored spread is all over my snowy white camp, now beautified with patches of sienna. Needless to say, disgusting. When it rains day after day, I keep my positive vibes but it’s far from pure enjoyment. Frantically trying to keep my sleeping bag dry while drying my wet clothes in a one person tent. The little vestibule is stacked with panniers, food and the stove, leaving no space for my feet. I need to cook, change clothes and keep warm, all in that tiny little tent.
It’s hopeless to avoid condensation. It’s impossible to keep things dry, even in a 800 euro tent. I have long stopped liking the drops of rain on a tight tent cloth. In fact, no tent has ever kept me and the gear or the tent floor dry in such conditions.
I hate rain.
I notice my mind saying ‘at least it is dry’ being it below zero when I wake up and pack in the shade of a towering mountain wall with pain in my hands from coldness. Or ‘at least there is no wind’ says that voice in my head when it is heavily overcast and no ray of sun can dry my damp sleeping bag. ‘At least there is some sun’ says the voice when it rained and enjoying half an hour of sunbathing in my woolen outfit after a day in the piss rain. ‘But there is sun coming soon’ is what I hear when the tent is frozen and my toes too. And when it does rain all day and I have to start the new day in rain and end that day in rain I hear that voice go again ‘at least it is not cold’, being it a 5 degrees.
The voice is so optimistic that when the groundsheet is happily inviting drops of water, when I undress myself to pee in the rain, avoiding wet clothes, when the tent is placed in such a way that water streams underneath, I hear ‘maybe tomorrow it is finished raining?’
I hate rain. And that voice should shut up!
Worst of all is being at the lake district, cycling in the rain towards Bariloche, a road meandering through dense forests, passing pure emerald rivers and resting deep in the alcoves of high rough mountains, and I don’t see a thing because it is cloudy. The rain keeps me from making photo’s and the cold has me cycling a higher number of kilometers.
From San Martin de los Andes to villa La Angostura it is 110 kilometer up and down passing an abundance of dark, almost blackish lakes. In the wet autumn it isn’t only eerie but also very uninviting. I notice I am trying to outrun the rain, riding as much as I can. When I have cycled a stretch where my thoughts have gone far off, I call myself back to here, and ask ‘what have you seen just now?’ and I can’t answer. My head is not only cast down, as all beings do in rain, also my neck is stuffed with a hood, a Buff and and woolen tube scarf, and hard to raise up.
When I finally find a place to set up camp where no fences have to be crossed, I wish I could stay, and meander through for many more kilometers. An open nature, natural and without paved road is inviting, though such a rare occurrence in Patagonia.
Meeting with two other parties cycling I notice they too try to outrun the rain, our chats short to be able to cycle more. I think of Daniel, who wants to be in time for his Couch Surf address in Bariloche, having no decent food with him, no proper tent and no rain gear. He just waves to the other cyclists, speeding past them. We all hate rain. I wonder what the Mapuche think of rain before they had houses as they have them now?
I have cycled a full week in rain before, without sleeping in hotels: this thought I use to harden myself, and keep going.
Though I really could do without these annoying fences.
Cycling on roads cut through pristine forests, snow falling on my wet hands inserted in soaked down gloves, makes trying to shift a hard task. But once in a gas station it takes only 15 minutes to dry the thinner fleece gloves, 16 minutes to burn them. A very welcome end of a long day in the rain.
I start to learn about the weather. A blue clear sky with a few flares of white means the oncoming of heavy clouds. But there is hardly a clear blue sky. The photo’s may show that I pressed the black & white button on the enhancing program, but most of the photo’s are natural colored. I am now in a black & white world.
When the rain stops, it seems it is immediately replaced by a fierce wind. The temperature shoots up to 10 degrees and rain might be only a spray. Suddenly life is plush and comforting: the tent dry, the sleeping bag fluffy, condensation gone and only left with stinky shoes I call it the good life. Well, slightly better that is.
The thought of two other people in front of me is comforting, Antoine and the three horses are just a day or two in front of me, while super strong Hong Kong guy Daniel is in town when I reach Bariloche. I like meeting other cyclists, or peaceful cavalry, but am glad I am not here in summer season when it is flooding with them.
‘The pass I take is higher’, says Argentinian Alfonso, the kind of guy who does everything better than the one he talks to. When I ask him why most people cycle Patagonia from South to North, he answers: ‘I have seen no one cycling from South to North, everyone goes from North to South, except in summer maybe.’ When he asks me where I slept the night, assuming it was in La Angostura, the town where Dutch queen Maxima used to live, he is surprised I answer it was at a river. ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ he asks. Humans are not that dangerous, now it are rather falling trees and wild pigs.
Some other guys are just tougher, suffering more and have it harder than the one they talk to: ‘We have much more condensation in our tent because we are two people breathing,’ a guy from Australia says. They had incredible hard winds and severe cold, elaborating their story with examples that has me guess it must be at least minus 20 in day time. Wrong: minus 10 in the night. This strengthen me to continue south.
When meeting with women, very few and rarely alone (only one in Atacama so far), they talk different. They would say: ‘Isn’t cycling-life just fantastic?’ or ‘The wind was so hard, I fell!’ or ‘I really don’t want babies!’ Nevertheless, Spanish Aldo I talk with is just beaming with happiness, smilingly saying he hate the rain, his green eyes shooting his emotional spirit.
I know I am just in autumn and the winds are becoming intense, they feel like concrete walls running at me, in a fraction of a second. In my enthusiasm to have found an open camp spot I pitch the tent at a scenic spot. When I am checking out spots blocking the wind, I return to see my tent pole curved in a very sad way. I move at once!
Whizzing on a slight downhill with the wind in my back is reaching speeds over 60 kilometers an hour, well aware that with one change of wind direction, I am mashed. It is exciting, but an extremely focused kind of cycling.
Rainbows, glittery drops and rays of sun piercing through clouds are now often accompanying me. It’s a whole different lot than the desert.
After rain comes sunshine. And indeed, 6 out of 8 splendidly rainy days, the sun welcomes me when I reach Bariloche, with the wind accompanying.
With an incredible hard side wind, moisture gets blown out of my eyes and nose, I’m trying to find Casa de Ciclista. I’m sure the address given to me is wrong, as I always find everything. Damn it! I move on, not in the mood for a paid stay as I am not enthusiastic about Bariloche’s atmosphere. Besides, it’s good cycling weather.
The surrounding nature is truly magnificent. It feels fake, painted, airbrushed and retouched. It feels like watching a poster, one which someone will quickly shove aside as soon as your gaze move away. But it’s not. It’s real.
The surrounding of Bariloche shows a different reality. Here is where most Mapuche life, and where all the dogs as far as Neuquen has gathered, it seems. The streets look poor, the housing even worse, and the nature is simply one big dump. And why not, that I am collecting my dirt seems weird, because nature is really very open and has plenty of room for all we humans don’t need, inclusive of many dead cats and dogs. ‘Bariloche is very expensive, because many tourists come there. I only been there once, and never further than that,’ says a woman who hands me three delicious empanada’s, as a present. I bought a few necessities at her dispensa and when I place them in my bags I have about 10 hungry dogs around me, and a few people who look at me in great surprise.
I cycle further south, towards El Borson where I stay a night to recharge and wash. The atmosphere in the hostel is such it wants me to escape as soon as I can. Mornings in a communal kitchen with loud rock music and an ever-growing number of male workers living here, some of which who are super surprised to finally see a woman, including guys aimlessly sitting behind a computer, is not my thing.
Buying a pair of metal-workers rubber gloves, to keep my hands dryer than the expensive waterproof Gore Tex gloves, is having the salesman giving me a yerba mate. The next customer gets the next round.
Not that cycling in rain is my thing, but I move on. I am elated when I have placed my tent in a forest, and find out it starts snowing after a full day of rain. Yet, I can’t get asleep with all these weird forest sounds, unknown to me. The drops falling on my tent are loud like a drum, so I stuff my ears with plugs.
I wake up when I hear people stealing wood! Yes, I have heard stories about illegal wood cut and now I hear big trees falling around me. The cunning bastards are just sawing them in the middle of the night! Though, upon listening without earplugs I hear no footsteps, no voices, no saws, and I see no one shining a light.
You know, sleeping in forests is way more scary than a desert. A desert is safe, no one enters, no one needs anything from a desert. A forest is different.
More trees falling, one after another. From afar, from very near. A few times I roll up like a fetus, an automatic response of the mind to protect its body. My heart racing, and I feel a strong fear. ‘Wait a minute’, I rethink ‘this is no woodcutting, this is trees collapsing!’
A tree collapsing on me means the end of my expensive Hilleberg tent, and in a more serious scenario it means the end of cycling Cindy. I am alone in a forest, not far from the road as nothing in this part is open to wander, but not directly near the road either, as I have trespassed. How big is the chance someone comes and rescues me?
The sound of dropping trees has become especially loud since I unplugged my ears. Regularly I pop my head out of the tent to see which way a tree is coming. It seriously is a mayhem of branches tearing off like feathers blown by a soft summer wind and trees pulled out of the earth like a reed of grass is plucked and thrown by a children’s hand. I have never experienced anything like it. And I know this is seriously a threat. I must move. Now.
It is 2.30 in the night. 3.00 AM I am ready, needless to say without my cup of coffee and embroidery practice. I make sure each time a tree or branch is coming down, I shine my light and make sure it’s not hitting me. While in the distance large trees are unearthed with loud smacks.
Shining my light in the snow is a magical experience of diamonds glittering with a short forceful blink. The night is bewitching, white fragments falling in dense formation, equal to the trees and branches blocking the path back out to the road. I am warm, from excitement and fear, though my own smartness and decision have calmed me down.
I cycle on. Not knowing where to, and turns out I am on the wrong road anyway, heading not anywhere near I was planning to go to. I am stopped by two young guys in a car: ‘Que tal?’ All good, I reply. They return some time later to see me aimlessly riding in the dark snowy night and decide to ride in front of me, delivering me at the police station.
The police seems tired, or sleepy, and redirect me to a hostel. They draw an awfully bad plan on how I must cycle, which I find irresponsible. But so is camping in the forest while snowing. One police seemed to have thought things over and meet me while I am lost finding the place, finally delivers me at the bomberos voluntarios where I warm my hands at the burning stove with 4 high flames, something seemingly normal at the bomberos voluntaros, as they offered me in Chos Malal too. At 4 AM in the morning I collapse ice-cold in a deep sleep until midday.
The snow apparently had 12 electric poles collapsing. No electricity for 4 days. The town’s buzzing with generators and luckily I am in a government building so we have a generator. Besides, they’re not shy with using gas nor gasoline to heat and light the building, and that is with doors wide open.
One night I share the premises with a man who has no money to spend on a hotel. He misses two front teeth and his clothes are torn. When he sits for hours in the kitchen, alone, warming himself at the flames of the stove he tells me how his children are kept away from him by his second ex-wife, and how he is good for paying for those children only. When he comes back to the large hall we are both sleeping he reeks of alcohol, and he appear much more jovial.
He comes to visit the hospital, which next day he seems barely able to reach. He keeps lying in bed, telling me how much pain he has in his lower legs and how he sleeps only 3 hours a night, thinking too much about the troubles in his life. I feel for him and I try not to have my mind making up its own story based on what I see and understand. I serve as his half-baked nurse, bringing him coffee’s, without his much desired sugar. Until he stands up and walks to the hospital, ushered by the bomberos voluntarios.
Time upon time, standing in the supermarket queue I see remarkable many people buying alcoholic drinks. Often just only that. Alcoholic drinks are one of the cheaper products in Argentina. The rain, might be a reason. The rain is tackling me, pushing me hard, loosing my grip, falling. I miss enjoyment, but I don’t like alcoholic beverages.
Although I still enjoy camping and the simplicity with which this comes, I truly embrace the comforts of a building where it is a mere 10 degrees, while it snows outside. The kitchen is to my private disposal, and with 40 fireproof uniforms, the place is cozily occupied with about 6 people, which gives me a chance to practice my Spanish.
They all tell me how the roads are blocked with half a meter of snow, and that the best thing to do is stay here. I don’t believe them, and after 3 nights I am off to find out how the snow situation really is…