Part 5 - Gravel Rules OK (Esquel - Perito Moreno)
Next up is 400 kilometres of Ruta 40. 40 in Spanish means “a lot of gravel’. Trust us on that one. Right from the start we had the feeling that the Ruta 40 separates the men from the boys. A biker from Brazil on his way up from the south on a Yamaha brings us the good news: the 40 is in a hopeless state, and the wind comes from a turbine. Hey, this sounds like fun! But, we didn’t ship four Harleys from Europe to South America just to go Sunday riding. We manage a respectable distance and the day ends in a place called Rio Mayo, with an asado - for a change. The local radio (it is actually next door so that really is local) celebrates our leaving with Joe and Volker’s favourite tunes.The Ruta 40 rocks us. Literally. It is a nightmare of round, pebbly gravel. On the rigid bikes it’s impossible to travel at more than 25 mph. Only Volker on his “modern” Evo Sportster is able to go any faster. This turns out to be a good thing, as he can ride ahead, stop, take pictures of us as we scramble past, and then load up and scoot past us again. Shitty road, great pictures, trouble-free bikes.
Two out of three ain’t bad. We reach Perito Moreno after five hours and dine on homemade Chorizo ham, cheese and olive toasties. Then we spend a great evening with some hitchhiking Argentinos and Israelis. Hitchhiking doesn’t strike us as a very successful operation out here. If you want to stick your thumb in the wind, you get all the wind you want here, but cars are a problem though. At breakfast time we hear that the 40 may improve from here onwards. And, lo and behold, the gravel gets friendlier. Speeds of 30 and even 55 mph are possible. But the land is as barren as ever, here and there decorated with buttes and dead volcanic cones.
Our next stop is Bajo Caracoles, which is basically just a couple of houses and a petrol station which doubles as an inn. Paul’s chain needs attention again, as the fine dust is eating away at the links. We’re not amused by the call from W&W Cycles headquarters saying that our pictures lack action. Excuse us, guys, the Ruta 40 is an evil piece of road, the gravel ranges between the size of a walnut and a human fist, plus there’s man-eating tracks and potholes that swallow a whole sheep. One false move or loss of concentration means disaster here. Or worse. We’re too busy staying upright to worry about how good or exciting we look on film. Thinking up all sorts of tortures we’d like to inflict on the guys back home, we head onwards towards Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world.