Laying out our maps we had a few options that would take us to Mendoza. The main route which would surely allow us to make time at highway speeds also took us out of our way. The net gain might have been insignificant, but we opted for a more remote road that appeared to be paved and therefore wouldn’t slow us down.
We had last filled our tanks the morning we left La Rioja. But as I took the turn off toward Los Baldocitas it occurred to that Jeremiah missed it. Just a mile before my low fuel indicator started glaring at me. Oddly it seemed that I’d only traveled 170 miles or so. Usually the indicator lights after I’ve traveled about 200 miles. From there I usually have another 50-60 before I start to worry. In remote areas such as these there are no gas stations. Instead, enterprising residents sell fuel from their houses using whatever containers available. Just a couple miles from the turn-off I spotted a tiny sign that said “NAFTA” – the word Argentineans use for gasoline. Usually just pulling into someone’s driveway or yard creates a fervor of attention, I never really need to knock. But this place was weird. Even the dog sitting behind the fence refused to move from his nap. So I honked and hollered “hola”. That’s when I saw a couple eyes peer through the window. No words. Just a look. I asked to buy some gas. The eyes looked. And then the 8 year old boy gave me the bad news. “No hay.”
Just then Jeremiah pulled onto the dirt driveway. “You’re reserve light is showing?” he asked in a mocking tone. “We’ve only gone 150 miles.” he said looking at his odometer. But most of the miles we’d been battling a heavy head wind. Plus the ride to Talampaya and back was a long straight fast road allowing speeds to 80-mph. I was burning some good and valuable fuel. Just as we left the quiet house Jeremiah screamed over at me, “Hey! My light just came on.”
So the race was on. According to the map the town of San Agustin del Valle Fertil was about 40 miles away. But we were facing strong head winds. We did our best holding off on cranking the throttle or impatiently wanting to increase our speed as we cruised along this arid high desert wasteland. Almost an hour later Jeremiah pulled next to me. “We better find gas or it’s going to be ugly.” I cocked my head side to side. Nothing. But my GPS said 7 miles to go.
We rode into the town on fumes.
For the next nearly 100 miles we flanked the Sierra de Valle Fertil mountains on a road that can only be described as an endless wayward journey of “whoop de whoops”. Like a roller coaster we went up and down. And up and down. Evidence of the strong storm that whipped through here a few days ago sat at nearly ever wash as sand, a tad of mud and water challenged our patience and traction. The wind started hammering us hard and the temperature continued to rise as we started to rise up to the Pampas and through the tiny own of Chacuma. With about twenty miles to go before turning onto route 141 toward San Juan, Jeremiah pulls over to the side. As protocol I stop and check in. The wind is blowing more than 40 mph. This combined with ear plugs, the sound of our engines made it difficult to understand what he was trying to say to me. In his gloved hands he was leafing through the small notebook he used to mark gas purchases, maintenance stops and general info. I struggled to keep my bike balance because the wind was blowing so hard (my bike is too tall for me to place both of my feet on the ground simultaneously).
“I’ve got to lube my chain!” he shouts trying to penetrate the whipping wind. “It’s been 500 miles.”
Huh? If I didn’t have my helmet on I would rammed a finger in my ear in an effort dislodge any wax build up. “What?” No. It was true. Amidst this fighting 40 mile wind and scorching 100 degree heat in the middle of the the pampas (i.e.. nowhere) Jeremiah decides to lube his chain. I was dumbfounded. There would be no way lube from a spray can would find its way to his chain in this wind. As my thoughts raced faster than the sand whirling around the pavement below my feet, I wondered what could implore a person to pull over in this ghastly place when we were 180 miles from the major town of Mendoza, a shower, good food and killer wine — and certainly a sufficient place where one could lube his chain or anything else he so desired.
I’m sure my chain coulda used some lubrication, but I just shook my head and moved on. Later when I confronted him of his wacky dip into neurotica, he defensively tried to convince me he found a place in the shade and out of the wind.
I battled the blazing sun and the heat that goes with it as gusts of wind tossed me and Doc all over the road to Mendoza. Taking a break for a cold Coke and nearly a gallon of water, Jeremiah caught up to me just as the vines of San Juan started monopolizing the roadside. Just as twilight was fading to night we rode into the city of Mendoza. Nearly a year ago Jeremiah on his way to Ushuaia had a rendezvous with my old riding partner Sacha on these very streets. We opted to stay at the same hotel they stayed in last year right on the Plaza San Martin.
While I managed to convince Jeremiah to join me for dinner and a Tango show, I was less persuasive when it came to visiting the Bodega’s or any of the infamous gastronomia gourmet food for which this wine region is so famous. Eager to get to Santiago for Christmas and to work on my bike, I barely had a chance to taste and see Mendoza, but what I did was fantastic.