February 13, 2016
As I ride along the 40 miles of unpaved Ruta 40 between Gobernador Gregores and Tres Lagos, I imagine a conversation between the Ruta 40 construction supervisor and his road crew, discussing this section of road:
Supervisor: “Ok guys, we’ve only got about 4 billion truckloads of gravel left, so we have to decide where best to use it. Here are my recommendations: First, if the road is straight and the wind is blowing straight down the road, don’t bother to put gravel down. It will be too easy for the motorcycles to get through. However, if the road curves sharply, or in any area where the wind is blowing hard at sharp angles to the road, be sure there is a deep layer of gravel. And if you can find a few big rocks to put in the road, use them too. You will also need to smooth the gravel out every few days in order to prevent the cars from making tracks that the motorcycles can follow more easily. Don’t fix the road; just make the gravel depths inconsistent.”
“Next, we want to be sure the motorcycles have to ride in the deep gravel, so we have to prevent them from getting off the gravel and onto the old road that runs right next to the new deep gravel. This old road is in great shape, and it would be very easy for motorcycles to operate on it, so build a large rock barrier between the old, good road, and the new, deep gravel road. If you can’t find enough large rocks to build a barrier, dig a deep trench between the two roads.”
“Last, we have separated the gravel by color. Be sure to use the gravel that best matches the dirt color so that it will be more difficult for the motorcyclists to tell where the deep gravel begins. Also, when possible, after a long distance of deep gravel, be sure to use a section of gravel that appears to be pavement from a distance in order to give the motorcyclists false hope.”
It only takes about a minute of riding in this gravel with a 40mph crosswind to realize that you have to make tiny corrections, and if you want to change “lanes” to a different car tire rut, you need to do it deliberately but cautiously. More than once, I went to change to a different rut, and the wind and gravel carried me all the way across the road to the opposite side before I could re-correct. My front wheel just kept pushing gravel regardless of what direction it was pointed. There is a point somewhere between about 9mph and about 40mph that works well, but you are at the mercy of what the wind and the gravel are going to do. The paved sections aren’t a problem with the wind, as long as you remain aware of the turbulence caused by the guardrails and various “hills” next to the road.
The last 60 miles into El Chalten are good pavement and straight into the wind.
As I pull into El Chalten, a small town that looks and feels a bit like Crested Butte, Colorado, I see Daniel and Joey’s BMWs parked on the main street. I stop and look around but can’t find them. It’s beginning to rain, so I decide to head for the campground. On the way out of town, I pass Thomas and Yazmin’s rental camper van on the other side of the street.
The last six miles northwest of town is unpaved, and the rain continues, turning the road to puddles and mud. When I finally arrive at the campground, I decide to keep my camping gear dry, and rent a dome that has a kingsize bed inside. It’s cold, but comfortable.
Morning dawns clear and sunny. The road has begun to dry, and as I leave town, I glance back at the incredible Mt Fitzroy and Cerro Torre.
El Chalten has become one of the great trekking destinations of the world. But with my ankle still swollen and bruised from my Bolivia crash, I’m in no condition to hike. So I will have to take a rain check on the trek and plan to return another time. Onward towards El Calafate and the bottom half of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.