Patagonian Expedition Race
The best traveling is time traveling. We (journalists and planners) awoke this morning in the early 1900’s. A potbelly stove strove to warm the dusty, drafty, and mostly forgotten ranch house built from 1903-1905. The house itself woke to find squatters in sleeping pods in every room and hallway. This ranch house is now used only once a year for a month of skiing. Skiing? I looked at Frederico Siha, the 67 year old man who owns the property and has lived here for over 50yrs. He didn’t strike me as a skier. Apparently the word for skiing and sheering (of sheep) is very close, my translator corrected with a smile. Senior Siha has three children, all living in the city, none with any interest in continuing the farm tradition, “You have to keep going till you can’t,” he tells me. Further, he’s sure they’ll just sell the land when the time comes. But before then, he wants to travel to Europe, a place he’s never been. When pressed for specifics he smiles and says, “Anywhere in Europe.”
On the ancient porch outside someone was setting-up a satellite thingy for internet (how these words come to you), It seemed strange, watching this blinking modernity wired into a house which is over a hundred years old. Made me think of an IV feeding a dying patient.
The winds were back this morning making everything a challenge: biking, walking, exhaling or trying to close car doors. The local name for these ferocious winds is escoba de dios. Translated: God’s broom. It sweeps things away with the force of a deity…an angry deity. If God is in fact sweeping away He clearly doesn’t want us here, or trees for that matter. Nothing can grow tall or with pride, the terrain hosts short angry bushes with thorns, tempting flowers and grassy bald patches. The scenery looks like the ocean bottom, but apparently sheep really enjoy it.
PC6 (Check Point 6)
Wind. Lots of wind. Cold wind—I understood why they call the country chilly. The Canadian team were assembling their bikes, rubbing their sore legs, “hey, I found a piece of pizza in my pack…yumm!” declared one to the wind. Another just sat in silence with the creepy absent stare of exhaustion. Maybe wondering what we’ve done to piss off the angry wind god. But far more interesting for the photographers was the Gaucho who showed-up on a horse of the past and right out of the postcard we have in our heads about South American farmers. The horse’s name was Poncho (I kid you not). Photographers in sherbet-colored Gortex shells with modern SLR cameras gathered around Poncho and the man who was dressed in once blue blue-jeans and a simple tattered jacket. Poncho, the horse, wore a poncho of sheep hide. Shutters clicked and the idea of the past, the novelty of the past, was preserved now in a digital format.
The man smiled the whole time, perhaps from the novelty of his instant popularity or discomfort from it. But people here are far more hospitable than the weather.
The Canadian team was the first into CP6 with no sleep since the race started. But Helley Hansen with two hours of sleep were the first to leave as their transitions to bikes was well rehearsed and well nailed down. Then for want of a bolt, Spain turned back after only a few yards. Either a bicycle bolt or screw was lost, the difference between the two lost in translation, but lost none the less. Something near the crankshaft, something important.
Drafting in the wind is the way to go now, on bike or on blistering foot. One team had fitted yellow tarps over their packs, that combined with the tight drafting line, reminded me of four ducklings marching down the road.
Later in the day we came across the American Gearjunkey(.com) group walking on the road. Yoga masters and super cute couple Chelsea Gribbon and Jason Magness were tethered to each other, “It’s a mental thing, keeps us in pace,” said Chelsea in her adorable squeaky voice, the only voice to cut through the wind. Slowing for demonstration the cord yanks her forward, “see?” They slept in a potato shed last night, “a very lumpy mattress.” The mean wind god struggled to sweep them off the road, but they persisted.