Part II: Esquel to La Cancha
December 2, 2009 - Day One
There was a tourist train scheduled to make the round trip from Esquel to Nanhuel Pan on our first day of railbiking. This gave us the opportunity to ride the “Old Patagonia Express” and get a leg up on our initial day, so we loaded all our bikes and equipment and boarded La Trochita. It was my 73rd birthday and I was given the opportunity to ride in the locomotive cab for the entire length of the the trip. The steam engine was number 16, an American built Baldwin 2-8-2.
The distance from Nanhuel Pan to La Cancha was now just 29 kilometers, the shortest ride of our trip. Assembling our bikes, attaching our gear and making many initial adjustments delayed our departure well into the afternoon. By then, the wind was howling down off the snow crowned peaks of the Andes and the temperature was in the low forties. It was all we could do not to get blown off the tracks. As we wound our way through the foothills, the wind would first attack us from one side and then the other. But nothing could defeat our spirit. The scenery was strikingly beautiful and we were on our way at last.
With the flag flying from my bike the barren but spectacular landscape was reminiscent of a National Geographic expedition. The only soul we met during the day was one gaucho and his dog.
First day minor mechanical problems caused a few derailments that delayed our progress and we didn't reach the abandoned station at La Cancha until almost dark. For those of you not familiar with railbiking, speed on the tracks is not fast. Although 15 plus MPH is possible, we normally travel at about 6 to 8 MPH. With stops for adjustments, photos, snacks and nature calls, our average drops considerably.
We set up camp in the diminishing twilight but had to cook our first meal by headlamps. Francisco's friends, who came to pick him up, had a large camp fire going for us, and brought welcomed news of warmer weather in the days ahead.