With 8 litres of water, half a kilo of rice and three carrots, we weren't exactly prepared for two days riding across a desert. But in our defence, we had no idea that's what we were getting ourselves into.
The road to San Juan is the longest shortcut I've ever taken. What was supposed to be three hours and 200km turned out to include two days and 120km of desert tracks, canyons, river beds, sand traps and road that had simply eroded away, ceasing to exist.
With no knowledge of what was to come, we started our journey in the afternoon after playing with the bikes in some caves and tunnels on the Argentina/Chile border. When we arrived at a barrier and a road closed sign, we deliberated for a while before deciding "how bad could it be?" In the hours that followed, we covered just 30km.
That night, we wriggled our mats out from under the tarp and watched the milky way sprawl itself across the desert sky. It was one of the most magical nights I've experienced. We were alone, isolated and filled with doubt about what the next day would bring. Food and water were at low to non-existent levels and we tried not to think about the consequences of a bike malfunction on a road that no one travels.
Starting at first light to get a jump on the day, we soon discovered that it was the day that might be getting the jump on us. The first hour and a half saw us cover a mere 10km, only 80km to go. As the road got rougher, we wondered more and more whether we should turn back. Stubbornness prevailed. For hours we skidded, slipped and slid our way down ever deteriorating tracks. The path would improve for a few hundred meters and we would ecstatically reach speeds of 40km/h only to hit deep sand again and struggle to control the bikes at walking pace.
At a macro level, we were riding through pure beauty. An untouched and desolate landscape. At the micro level, in the moment, we saw none of this. We were novices riding down creek beds, through sand and over rocks that more closely resembled a knife edge. All with fully laden bikes. We were so focused on the next 10 metres that most of the time everything else faded away. We were so focused that through the hardest parts we didn't even stop for any photos. We were amateurs playing in a professional's playground.
Along the road we passed a number of signs (mostly warnings), crosses and shrines for people lost to the road. Despite the bad omens, at lunchtime we got the break we needed. With 55km to go, we found a house and the road improved. I guess this road will have to wait a bit longer to claim it's next victims. These gringos live on for another day and hopefully many more questionable decisions.
Everything turned out fine in the end, and some of the discussions we had now seem slightly dramatic. But that's just hindsight. At the time, we had no idea what was around the next corner or over the hill. The road could have continued to deteriorate. We could have blown one of the thousands of things in the bikes we don't know how to fix. Any of the falls we had could have been a broken leg if the bike came down on us wrong. None of those things happened, but at the time we just didn't know. That's why it's an adventure. It's the unknown, the constant small decisions that can have massive repercussions. In hindsight, it can all seem an overreaction. But at the time it's real.
I forget who once told me, but one of my favourite lines is "It's either a good idea or a good story." It's completely untrue of course, sometimes it can be neither and often it's both, but that one line has led to a lot of questionable decisions and unforgettable memories. But as long as it doesn't end in a helicopter ride or a story on the evening news, then it hasn't really been that bad, has it?