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Days 29-33: The Calm Before

P1010835There’s not much to say about the last few days, so I won’t go into terrible detail. On Friday the 13th, I borrowed a spare wheel from Pirincho Motos in San Martin de Los Andes and made my way back up the road towards Red – a trip that turned out to be slightly more complicated than expected.

From San Martin, I took the local collectivo to Junin de Los Andes where I found out that the “corte” (cut, or road block) south of Zapala on Ruta 40 that I just missed on my way south was still in effect. As a result, no transportation was heading north on Ruta 40, but was instead taking an alternate route.

P1010839With my moto just over 60km north of town on Ruta 40, I had the option of waiting out the corte (which could be many more days) or convincing a local taxi driver to take me out there. After a long conversation with one, including showing him exactly where my moto was on a map, I finally convinced him to take me out at a cost of $40USD, giving me flashbacks to a year ago when I paid off an entire bus to drive myself and a couple friends out of a small town in Nepal.

The trip out was uneventful and I was surprised and, oddly, slightly disappointed to find that Red was still there, untouched. It’s times like this when I realize I have a strange deeply fatalistic yearning in my adventures, as a part of me wanted it to have disappeared or be destroyed by vandals or the like just to see how I would react. Thankfully, this was not to be learned at this juncture.

P1010824My stuff was even untouched off in the bushes, and when everything was unpacked and checked by far the worst damage was the explosion of a bottle of hot sauce inside my dry bag. The result as both disgusting and smelly and I expect my dry bag will bear the scent for quite awhile.

With my borrowed wheel back on, I made the short drive to San Martin de Los Andes uneventfully aside from a long ten minute conversation at a Gendarmeria checkpoint outside Junin, where for the first time a police officer very politely asked me to put on my helmet in case his superior officer got mad at him for letting me through without it. I accommodated him by wearing the helmet through town, taking it off when I got out on the other side.

My philosophy on helmets: I think they are very important and wear them on motorcycles. On my mototaxi, however, I have a different philosophy for a few reasons. First, there is not enough room for a helmet on my head, causing me to constantly bang against the bars on top and forcing me to carry my head at a weird angle, all of which I believe is far more likely to result in me being hurt.

Second, perhaps more fatalistically, a partially enclosed moto is not like an open two wheeled motorcycle. The chances of my being thrown cleanly from my moto in a bad accident are miniscule, with it being far more likely that I will shatter limbs and/or my neck on the cage around me. Even after a month I can barely get on and off the thing without getting caught on some protruding bit of the cage. In fact, I’m absolutely convinced that even in a minor accident, the most likely outcome is that my femoral artery will be punctured or shredded and I’ll just bleed out, because the layout is such that my crotch is almost guaranteed to bounce around on the front end.

So with that in mind, I choose the comfort and increased awareness of going helmetless. That said, any time I end up on a busy highway (which has been quite rare), I do have a tendency to put the helmet on “just in case” – there’s a reason I carry it, after all.

IMG_5575Back to the current moment, I arrived in San Martin and decided to stay at the same awesome apartment hotel near the moto place. I dropped off the moto where we discussed replacing the front wheel with a tougher wheel with disc brakes and adding calipers, then I went off to eat another mind blowing steak.

Saturday afternoon I stopped by the moto place only to find that they hadn’t done the fabrication for the caliper placement because their fabricator was out for the day – no problem, I’d hang out until Monday. I used the opportunity to visit every single adventure store in this little ski town and found the same unfortunate reality that is true of nearly every adventure store in every ski town in the US: It’s all about style, baby.

IMG_5567This is one of my pet peeves about “adventure gear” – most stores carry the kind of gear that is designed to function, true, but is mostly designed to look cool. It’s the kind of thing you wear around town between ducking into lodges, or maybe put on for a day or two on the slopes every winter. Recently the quality of this kind of gear has gone down while the price has gone up… I’m sorry, but I’m not going to pay $300USD for a DWR coated fabric jacket with a crappy synthetic liner when I can get last year’s Goretex pro jacket and an 850 fill down liner for the same price.

And fleece… good god, don’t get me started on the horrible fleece trend. Unless the fleece undershirt you’re selling me is made from the wool of a virgin New Zealand sheep that was featured in Lord of the Rings and was signed by Peter Jackson while being blessed by the pope, expecting me to pay $200 for it is out of this world insane. I can go to Target and get a fleece jacket that will be 10% heavier and keep me just as warm for $15, thanks.

In any case, all those pricing issues were the same down here and I was actually surprised to find that the prices were in-line with prices back home. The only major difference I could spot was that most of the stuff for sale here was a few models old, stuff you can’t find back home. I guess I know what they do with the leftovers now!

IMG_5581Long story short, I found a pretty good pair of Salomon boots (B52 TS GTX) with 400g Thinsulate Ultra insulation for $200USD, the best pair of boots I could find in town short of one pair of full on summit boots that would have cost me around $800USD. Every other store just carried the generic crap designed for looking hip while shoveling snow, but I was happy to find these. The price wasn’t horrible if you ignore the fact that it’s a discontinued model back home that can be found for 1/4 that price on-line if you can find it at all..

I also grabbed a pair of glove liners and spent a lot of time looking for insulated inner pants with no luck – these are really hard to find back home too, for reasons I don’t fully understand. My TNF goretex hard shell pants aren’t insulated, and even with a pair of sweat pants and liner pants my legs are a bit over-exposed to the wind and cold… but my fault for not bringing my insulated pants as well. I’ll just have to add my fleece long underwear to the mix, something I’ve avoided because they get excessively warm when I stop.

Finally I grabbed another small dry bag to use for groceries and random stuff, allowing me to spread the weight of my load out a bit. As far as preparation goes, I think I’m ready to hit some snow and winter.

P1010842Otherwise, I spent all my time cooking, watching TV, eating out, and generally pretending I wasn’t alone in the middle of Argentina about to embark on the worst part of this insane little road trip. ;)

This morning I stopped by the moto place and confirmed everything will be ready in an hour. The disc brake conversion was a failure, but they found a good quality drum brake wheel to put on. A little extra maintenance (including some secret sauce I will unveil after I get a full test in) and I’m all set.

Instead of leaving in the early afternoon, I figured I’d spend the time tweaking my moto a bit, re-doing some of the wiring I was working on, and generally getting mentally prepared. Tomorrow, I hit the road again for the worst part of my trip… Southern Ruta 40.


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