La ruta 40 🇦🇷

Posted on Jun 10, 2023

The bus company had protested just enough about taking my bike on board that I was happy to have my hand forced. I left Mendoza on two wheels. Others had told me that the upcoming stretch to the province of Salta was worth skipping because there simply isn’t a whole lot going on. But unlike the stretch between Los Ángeles and Santiago, Chile, for which I took a bus, I was excited and motivated to see how desolate and quiet this road really was. It’d be about 1,200 kilometers of two lane road through the desert. I left knowing that if it proved to be too much then hitchhiking shouldn’t be too hard.

Due to the busy holiday weekend celebrating the 25th of May, I had split my time in Mendoza between two hostels. As these things go, a late lunch with other cyclists, buying some last minute groceries, and packing the bike, it was late afternoon by the time I set off. I deliberated briefly whether or not to stay another night as I had heard that the road I needed to take went through some bad neighborhoods. I concluded that I best just get to pedaling and hit the road.

Tell us how you really feel!

I had learned from some other cyclists that there was a nice spot to camp not too far up the road and I could make it there before dark. It was a covered patio outside of a rural health clinic and as I pulled up I found a French cyclist camped out whom I had ridden with several thousand kilometers ago and had last seen in El Chalten. We asked inside the clinic if we could camp under the roof out front and this was no problem. Over the next two days we rode together to the city of San Juan where he decided to spend a few extra days. After a last big lunch together I hit the road again solo.

Abandoned rest stop campsite along the ruta 40

Over the course of two weeks riding Argentina’s route 40 I found plenty of great campsites right next to the road in the form of old, abandoned buildings. The first of those was a building that looked to have been a rest stop at one time. It had a small bar and a few tables and chairs but appeared to have been left to the desert quite some years ago. I fell asleep early and woke up around midnight to a few other guys smoking cigarettes in my rest stop. I’m not sure if they knew I was also there but I stirred and we seemed to have scared each other and they left in a hurry.

Just keep going

Quickly after the urban areas of Mendoza and San Juan I was out in the desert with very little of anything around. The pictures give some sense of the distances and the road just went on, and on, and on. Long straight sections and the occasional car passing with a honk and a wave. I stopped many times to take in the silence and to see if I could briefly push back against it by screaming. At night I’d scour the map looking for abandoned buildings I’d pass the next day. If not to sleep then for a nice break in the shade and out of the wind. My bike was generally quite heavy on account of having to carry more food and water than usual.

Ready for anything, powered by Oreos

Downhill from here

Some nights I didn’t manage to find any particularly special campsites and ended up sleeping beside the road behind some bushes. With the full moon rising early I was able to ride past sunset and make a quick camp when I was really done for the day; tried and true rice and lentils for dinner and a few chapters from a book and I was off to sleep. Those that had advised me to take the bus for this stretch mentioned the monotony and routine of riding out here. For two weeks it really was simple days filled with waking up early before sunrise, eating, then riding all day looking at what you see in the pictures, relishing a passing town if I had the privilege, eating some more, then sleep and repeat. There was a lot of novelty in all of that, though. One night I laid out on the highway and looked at the stars. I saw some car lights on the horizon and scurried off to the bushes, wanting to get off the road and not wanting to be seen. It took another twenty minutes for the car to pass my camp. Again, long distances and far horizons out here.

Sitting on the highway at night

View from my roadside house campsite

But the novelty did wear off some days and I was ready to just smash these distances and make it to the province of Salta. In those moments I’d keep an eye on my little rearview mirror for some kind of truck that could take me and my bike. I caught a few rides like this and noticed some patterns. It almost always worked best in the morning. Toward the evening no one ever stopped. Also, the cheaper, more damaged the truck, the closer it was to having the wheels come off rounding the next turn, the likelier it was that the driver would stop for me.

Go 100k and then turn right

My first ride was in the back of a pick up truck. The cab was full with three older gentlemen headed toward Villa Unión. They told me I’d have to ride in the back with the dog. That wouldn’t be a problem and we quickly lifted my bike in the back. I’m not sure if I was as happy to catch a ride as the dog was to have some company. He looked skinny and appeared cold and couldn’t get close enough to me. Again I thought about not having biked the whole way, whatever that would mean, but I was happy to see this wonderfully beautiful landscape from a new perspective, the back of a truck, instead of fighting against it and trying to get it over with. It was a fun experience hitching that first ride and I enjoyed the change of pace.

Hitching with a buddy

The start of some windy hills

Over the next few days I rode through a few provincial and national parks but didn’t stop. I crossed a mountain range riding from one valley to another. A lot of the area reminded me of the American southwest particularly the Grand Canyon. As I climbed toward yet another pass into a strong headwind I stopped behind a guardrail on the side of the road. A small car with a trailer came up behind me and stopped as I stuck out my thumb. A few kilometers later we crested the pass, which opened up into an incredible downhill through a valley that looked like a movie set for Jurassic Park. I briefly regretted catching the ride but was content in covering the distance and chatting with the driver. As he proudly told me how beautiful his region was he opened a fresh pack of cigarettes and tossed the plastic wrapper out the window. He dropped me off in Chilecito around midday during the afternoon siesta, a time when everything is closed. I carried on northwards by bike.

The San Santiago refugio, a good shelter for the night

I passed a small construction site and asked the workers there where I could buy some water. They filled my bottles and I was on my way. That night I camped at a small refuge dedicated to San Santiago. I was once again thrilled to have a roof with a wind break to sleep under. When given the option I prefer to simply “cowboy camp” in my sleeping bag on the floor. It makes setting up and breaking down camp much faster and I don’t have to deal with the condensation generated when sleeping in a tent. After a quick breakfast the following morning I was on the road again, which was easy enough having camped right next to it. I quickly caught a ride to the nearby town of Pituil from an olive farmer who worked there. I bought some water and a few snacks and carried on up another very gradual but steady climb.

A nice downhill stretch

Go 80k then turn right

Later on in the day another van stopped for me and gave me a ride to Belen. It’d be my final hitched ride on this stretch. Her boyfriend and a friend were also riding out here on a long distance bike trip. She’d been travelling with them by van for a few weeks and knew the struggle. We all met up in Belen, had an ice cream together, cooked dinner, and camped. The following day me and one of the other cyclists carried on together while two drove the rest of the way to Cafayate. They had time constraints and wanted to be in Cafayate in two days’ time. I was happy to hitch my wagon to theirs and ride some final long days in the desert with some company. We rode what has been my longest day so far covering 132 kilometers. We had seen a building on the map that looked suitable for a roadside camp but upon arrival found a goat that had taken up residence inside. We let him be.

The one trick dog begging for some food

Riding the phoenix

The next and final day for this stretch was a fast 115 kilometers of downhill riding into Cafayate. The two who had gone ahead had rented a small house with a pool. I was happy to take a very cold dip immediately after arrival followed by a glass of wine. I spent the next two days resting in Cafayate and meeting a small group of Austrian cyclists. I hope to find an optometrist soon because I broke my eyeglasses a few days ago and I’m tired of the floppy, taped up pair I’m now sporting. The food, especially the empanadas, are significantly better here in Salta than further south so I’ve taken this opportunity to eat my fill. I can sense the end of Argentina approaching and am excited for what the road holds up ahead.

Twelve empanadas for yours truly