At curva 11 we rested and reflected. There was obviously a downside to this notion of Nomadic Standard Time. Traveling slowly, drinking in your surroundings, calling it a day after a measly 60 kilometers is all well and good, but there’s a price to pay. And we were in the process of paying it.
My body was rebelling. I was asking too much of it. My heart lungs and legs quite obviously preferred that Amaya who shoveled in chocolates and wiled away her time on the internet. She was a gentler taskmaster. Who was this evil soul prodding the unwilling body up an Andean pass?
Inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale. Concentrate on your breathing. Remember what you’ve learned in yoga class. I coaxed myself on. You can do it. Come on. Don’t wimp out now.
18 wheelers lurched by, straining under their heavy loads. The smell of burning rubber permeated the air as drivers fought to control their descent.
Higher and higher we climbed until finally, at around 3,000 meters, the road leveled out and before us stood the entrance to a four-mile tunnel.
The tunnel was tempting. There was even a special SOS tunnel service that would take you through for free. We’d benefited from this service just before arriving in Santiago.
But there we’d had no choice. At the mouth of the tunnel, the authorities pulled us over and literally forced us into the back of the SOS truck. Not that I’d have RISKED MY LIFE just to ride my bike every single inch through the Andes.
But here, at the Cristo de Redentor Pass, we had a choice. The old road off to the right snaked its way up the mountain and into Argentina. More switchbacks and some serious climbing. And an abrupt end to the smooth tarmac. Think big rocks and sandy surfaces.
I summoned all my determination and set forth. I would turn my back on the tunnel. Opt for the hard way up the mountain, hoping my efforts would be justly compensated.
The High Mountain Road Extreme Caution sign did not exactly set me at ease. This was going to be tough.
After the first few switchbacks, I began to wonder if my lungs might explode. Eric appeared to be having a much easier time of it. He worked the pedals slowly, easing himself up the track. I, on the other hand, operated on short bursts of energy followed by long periods of panting like a winded dog on a hot summer’s day.
At every curve I’d beg him to give me a head start. Wait till I was half way around the switchback before he started grinding the gears.
This idea met with some resistance. Not good use of energy, he claimed.
And he was right, dammit.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
I’d pushed now and then. I’d whined a fair bit. I’d let fly a few un-Christain-like curse words fly. But I hadn’t given up.
Now it was time for some fun, flying down the mountain into Argentina.