It must be said, this was the point where I was beginning to lose the desire to keep cycling and traveling. I still didn't feel 100 percent, and I was kind of deflated. Nevertheless, I left Feliciano's beautiful house in the morning for the ride through Los Alcerces National Park. The next few days were to be a test to see if I had lost the passion for cycling and if my body had recovered fully from the debilitating illness. I decided, with Feli's advice, to cycle north toward Bariloche, folliwing a diiferent route than normal, through a national park, instead of the main road (still Ruta 40) which was said to be quite boring. Prior experience lended me no reason to disagree.
The road for the first 35km was lucsious tar-sealed tarmac, and even with a good climb out of a valley, I felt good. I found my black pen. The road crested down into a valley. I thought the park started there, but the entrance was not forthcoming. Half and hour later, finally, the entrance appeared, and with the guards at the gate, my hopes for a free entry were dashed. I paid 30 pesos, but observed there were also cheaper entry fees (for locals only?) Nevertheless, the park was lindo, a few waterfalls etc; but I had the feeling I had seen it all before on the Carretera Austral. Can't shake this negative vibe and mood. The hills were undulating, and the steepest was around 23% on loose rock, with seven slack-jawed gawpers leering at me. I despised them. Most of the day I just pushed on, looking for a free spot to camp, and according to my map, there were a few designated free spots on the way. I missed all of them somehow. After a good hundred or so kilometers that day, I played it criminal. I pulled into a pay-only spot, snuck my tent up, and read my book. Into the night, the campers next to me in their RV said Hola and called me over.
There were three of them, all Argentinean. All in their 40-50's. We talked for a few hours both in Spanish and English. They gave me some excellent dinner in the form of lamb schnitzels con chimi. I said my goodbyes, laid up for the night in my tent, then got up early the next morning, snaeking out and avoiding the camping fee. I was on my way out of the national park, back toward the rural Argentine countryside. On the road out, I met a local bike tourer. He had this endless enthusiasm about him that was shamefully grating to me. I happily warned him of an impending hill. As I left the park I passed a group of gauchos who either waved or offered me a cup of mate. I do hope it was just a wave, as I didn't stop. Strangely the faces of the locals here weren't as smiley as previously. Perhaps they mirrored my own. I was on my way on a rough road that was showing no pity and getting no gentler as the day's mileage increased. I was headed toward the dreaded Cholila-El Bolson road that had been under construction since 2004.
It lived up to it's reputation, reducing me to an exhausted, blistered, blubbering wreck, and almost drew a few tears of utter deperation. In fact if it weren't for the timely arrival of Sofie, I may have let the circling vultures take me. Sofie was a hard as nails kiwi bike-tourer laden with junk food. Naturally, with her chocolate, chips, and smile, she put a bit more in my tank, and once again I pedaled off alone toward the distant horizontal line on that forsaken road.