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30/03/2011

Nick Sanders Pan Am Blog 03

30th and the 31st March
Rio Gellegos – Rio Chico
The wind that blew across our bows had the kind of strength that precedes a warm front. Gusting at 80mph our bikes leant so hard over that we were nearly riding on our rims. Only the previous day Phil Cairn, a nice sensible lad broke his own wind as he got into a high speed wobble and as he fell used his elbow and handlebars as a brake. Both of them scraped down the road for a while and the look on his face was of bewilderment; that someone with his off-road capabilities should look like a novice.  He now wears a tee-shirt that says, ‘I ride like a twat me…’ but of course he doesn’t, it’s just that this is Patagonia; this is somewhere different and the riding needs to reflect that.

Moving on, Mr Scott Williamson on his Triumph was suddenly blown right off the road. One minute on the tarmac, happily thinking about what was in his packed lunch when the next minute he was buried face down into a fence 50 metres across tufty grass. Sanguine yet confused, he took out his pipe and stuffed the bowl with tobacco. You expected music to accompany the way he took his first puff and just as you accustomed yourself to this ditty of eccentricity, two more riders hit the dirt. As we put Scott’s bike upright, Andy Stoddart missed us by the width of a tyre and landed with a thump. Jim Wolfe, our mechanic and support driver was perplexed because every time he put on a CD in the support truck, he never got to the end of a track before someone binned a bike. I told everyone that the action was really at the back of the group, when, well, oops, someone did it again. This time it was Brian Clague the Aussie on his beloved but knackered old hand-me-down Suzuki something done up by his clever son Dan. Forced off the road by a gale so strong it could suck out the contents of your stomach, he was shoved at speed down a 6 ft steep-sided slope, bumping to a standstill on the tundra.

Meanwhile, Jim kept picking up bits of broken bike, keeping them safe in a plastic bucket for people to collect at the end of the day. We decided that it was an odd thing to buy an expensive motorcycle only to chuck it down the road whenever the opportunity arose. Seemingly every time the wind rose someone would lob themselves into a fence or a bush. The end of the mythical vanishing point for many of these riders seems not to be something in the distance but something they can crash through.

The next day was no less exciting. It is a Thursday and after a night camping in the rain we woke to a bright but bitterly cold day. The sun was watery but shone bravely against a backdrop of snow laden mountains. The cold had come early to southern Patagonia but with it we had lost the strength of the wind. 100 kms out of Calafate and 40 minutes from our camping we stopped for coffee at La Leonia, the ranch where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after robbing a bank in Bolivia. It was from this little ranch where the legendary mountaineer Tony Egger stopped to rest and contemplate summeting Cerre Torres. If there were a mountaineers café to be awarded such historical kudos it would be here.

Often I imagine where it must be that you find immortal places, and think of them being very faraway, and then you realise that you are indeed faraway and that the place you imagine is real, and here. You might equate it to Joeys Bar in the Provinces of Northern Ireland or somewhere else where a great sailor took his high tea.

Suitably refreshed we left. Brian’s son Danny and his pillion Becs had gone ahead as had Craig Dale from Manchester and his pal Paul Truelove and John Trevor. People were bonding and friendships were forming. In a disparate world it was enlightening to see strangers enjoy each others company. On the road again we fuelled at Tres Lagos where the tarmac turned to piste. Hills flattened and the road filled with gravel. Plains stretched to faraway mountains and all around the sky seemed to go on forever. Our field of view narrowed down to thin strips of baked earth shovelled clear of stones by successive vehicles which had passed by. Central to these strips, a cars width apart, these furrows of road rubble piled up as if ploughed to one side. Sam Wilson hit one of these furrows very fast and tank-slapped all the way to the ground, the side of his lovely orange KTM Adventure once again, like his friend Phil, became his brake.

John Dawson, the builder, rode into a bank of gorse and Scott flat sided his Triumph once again (and out came the pipe). Per Reinolf, the Swedish man riding with his daughter Ebba as pillion came off across a pool of pebbles that covered the road like a sea of marbles and my Super Tenere slid down my leg as I paddled my way across such a stubborn obstacle. By late afternoon, as we wild camped at Rio Chico – a little river that crossed the isolated Pampas - everyone was accounted for safely as we made our fires and warmed up our tea.

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