The Lake District

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
Trip End Jul 15, 2005

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Bizarrely, we have arrived in the Lake District, a term which doesn't seem to have been copyrighted by our own fair version in England. It's beautiful and a massive contrast to the barren scenery we witnessed just a few days before. And being autumn in these parts, the foliage colours are stunning.

And we have left the ripio behind us, having had to endure just 2 days of the gravel since we last posted to this site. To be fair it was some of the most difficult ripio we have had to face as some of it was just soft sand and hence virtually impossible to cycle on (in?). In fact through one part, a lorry passed us, only for us to pass it, it having come off the road, reversing and trying the hill again. It later passed us again, but again got into difficulties and we overtook (we thought about offering assistance, but we're not sure what help 2 bikes and a bungee cord would be!). Anyway, it was over 30 miles later that it finally overtook us for good!! But at Rio Mayo the tar began and we took the opportunity to douse our bikes in WD 40 (and kill our landlord's lawn) to clean them of all the grime that 800 miles (Land's End to John O'Groats) of gravel, dust, sand and daily doses of oil had created, before taking to the asfalto. What a splendid invention tarmac is, and Mr McAdam may yet have saved Philsy's failing knees.

Rio Mayo: a papal greeting for the tarmac!

Not surprisingly, the tarmac has improved our rate of progress, but the wind has still held us back. Rather ironically, Starky was nearly blown over as a gust of wind caught him whilst he took a photo of a signpost warning of strong gusts - you'd think he might have been prepared for it! Winding through a mountain pass, Philsy had to get off and walk as his bike was pushed all over the place and in danger of a gust pushing him under a passing bus (might have straightened out his knees . . .). But we expect the wind to be less of a factor as we head farther north and out of Patagonia, and whilst winding around the recent lakes and mountains, the wind has been less of an issue.

Another dry river bed

Food and water should also be less of an issue now that we are leaving the barren and thinly-populated central Patagonia behind us. Water is of course all important, and one of our problems has been arriving at a river where we hoped to fill our water bottles, only to find that it was now bone dry. But we have always found water somewhere. One of the joys of such hard cycling (there are others?) is the ability to eat vast amounts of food. For example, in El Bolson, we decided to dine out and went to a restaurant where we had goulash/lasagne followed by bread puddings and cream, Irish coffees and a litre of cheap and, it must be said, really rather nasty wine. So walking back to our hotel, feeling still slightly peckish, we passed another restaurant, or really rather more accurately, we went into another restaurant where we topped up on mixed grills (with bread and an all-you-can-eat salad), a couple of tarts (plenty of those in these parts) and a really rather fine bottle of wine (that still only cost less than two quid). Fortunately there were no more restaurants on the way back to the hotel! One by-product of all this feasting is an excess of gas that is dealt with quite easily whilst cycling in the open air, but this can be unfortunate for the second cyclist who might be taking advantage of the first's slipstream. It is also very easy to forget that once in polite company, nature's forces should be controlled. The cold weather also produces copious amounts of nasal secretions that likewise can be expelled quite easily (and again with due consideration for the following cyclist) with one finger blocking one nostril (outside is considered more seemly) and a force of air being thrust down the remainder. Again one must curtail this freedom whilst walking down the High Street ...

We're now in the town of Bariloche, the first town of any size since leaving Ushuaia, 1486 miles ago. It's the first opportunity we've had to repair or replace any of our equipment. We're lucky to have found a hostel which is owned by a guy who rents out mountain bikes (a 60km mountain-bike ride of the lakes is one tourist activity that we had little difficulty in declining) and he's giving us the benefit of his local knowledge and given the bikes a bit of an overhaul. Both bikes have taken a bit of a hammering on the ripio: Starky's brakes were worn through to the metal (Philsy has yet to get to a speed where he has needed to use his) whilst Philsy's front left pannier rack broke. Our man has been able to get the aluminium rack welded (at the exhorbitant cost of 3 pounds) and all the other minor jobs have been attended to. One Ortlieb pannier bag clip has broken in half, whilst another disappeared altogether, but nothing much we can do about those - bungee cords will have to suffice. Philsy's Therma-Rest mat seems to be having a baby - a large and growing lump has developed in the middle - and replacing it is proving impossible. Starky (from the balmy climes of Capetown) has invested in a new sleeping bag that will cope with an extreme temperature of -45 degrees centigrade: Philsy is hoping that this will not be absolutely necessary . . . Bariloche's also the 'chocolate capital of Argentina', and we're now doing our best to test this Lonely Planet claim - elderly ladies in previously respectable tea-houses have looked on aghast as we each plough our way through chocolate puddings meant for dos personas and then lick the plates clean.

The first 300 or so miles from Perito Moreno carried on with the barren landscape we have become accustomed to, but then rather surprisingly changed suddenly to an Alpine landscape with fertile valleys dripping with ripe fruit, trees draped in their vivid autumn colours, snow-capped mountain peaks and warmer temperatures. We hope the warmer temperatures are a function of our progress north and not that this is a micro-climate, but we have been fooled before, so not counting our pollos just yet! We haven't decided exactly which way to go from here: we can carry on north through the mountains which presumably will be quite hard, but this scenery might make it worthwhile; or we might head off northeast to Neuquen and then up through the Pampas to Mendoza - this might be faster, but also boring; or we might just find a way of combining the two. Who knows, 'cos we don't!

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