Well, at last we had a real day on the road. We woke to alarms to eat breakfast upon opening of the hotel buffet, to be dressed, packed, and ready to load out at 07:45. Then we had our standard morning briefing, then our standard morning half-hour group gas stop, and then we just spent the day riding! Today was far and away my favourite day of the tour, because we had clear and singular purpose: Ride. There was no sleeping in, no sense of meandering, no immediate coffee-and-undress stop, no 3pm-arrival-quick-let's-still-try-to-be-tourists afternoon. That it was the last day of the tour, and that we were familiar with our destination of Pucón, probably drove further the sense of purposefulness.
Leaving Bariloche, we backtracked northwest along the 231 before heading north up along the eastern (Argentine) side of the Andes cordillera. The scenery was remarkably different, and awe-inspiring. The majority of the miles were windy (like a stiff breeze) (while also windy, like curvy), at times very strongly. We were in a dry, gusty prairie -- with mountains. Aside from finding and locking in the appropriate counterwind countersteer angle, the hardest part of the day was missing pictures! Eventually, though, maybe 30 km before the you-are-leaving-Argentina customs, the urge to remain tight with the pack was finally overcome by the urge to stop missing great photo ops, and I began stopping frequently to try to capture the moments. Traffic became quite light and the roads began to have level, smooth ditches, which combined with having overcome the pressure of 'groupride,' created a lonely-wanderer feeling that hearkened memories of a more typical day in the saddle.
Today's border crossings were comparatively smooth. Exiting Argentina was a breeze, and re-entry into Chile was without trouble, though a bit more work as they searched the bikes and required all of the luggage to be pulled out of the trailer and lugged inside for x-ray. A couple of my fellow travellers in the group seemed to be irritated by the unnecessity of it all, but again for me, these border crossings were as good as any tourist excursion, and I couldn't understand how someone who signed up for this trip could be irritated by any aspect of the realities of crossing from Argentina into Chile at a remote mountain border post by motorcycle. Wasn't this the point?!
I rode with music in my ears today for the first time on the trip, and to my surprise found it not to be mental overload. I'd thought that it would, and had even surmised on the first days that the mental demands of group riding seemed to be occupying the neurons normally occupied by music. Myth, busted. I felt more in sync with machine, and noticed that the standing annoyances of group riding (e.g. how 9 successful first-world professionals can be incapable of pulling out of a parking space in an orderly fashion) didn't linger on my frontal lobe so long. Over lunch -- which, as an aside, was at a reportedly legendary empanada stand just off Ruta 40 at Junín de los Andes -- I discovered that my fellow riders Duncan and Cynthia from Down Under had been riding with music the entire trip, and I found myself explaining how I thought music made me a better rider because it helps me to feel in the saddle, rather than just think.
From the border crossing at Mamuil Malal, we picked our way through probably 40 km of gravel, much of which was under construction and featured flagpersons and dump trucks, then hit 2-lane pavement through Curarrehue. The group re-assembled at a left turn, and then again in parked traffic due to some sort of police emergency, and before we knew it, had somewhat suddenly arrived back at the farm where we initially picked up the bikes. The few hundred meters zig-zagging the gravel roads to the gated driveway were the only moments afforded to a sense of finality.
Final thoughts to come.
Day total: 359 km, 10h40m
Trip total: 1540 km
Start: Bariloche, Argentina. End: Pucón, Chile.
Soundtrack: Foo Fighters' "Outside," and CanRock shuffle.