Thursday, March 24, 2022

Pedaling the Pampas

The Plusmar bus line crosses the Pampas from Retiro to Olavarría.

After I spent a week adapting to a five-hour time change and recovering from the hangover of perhaps the most miserable flight of my life, my wife arrived in Buenos Aires and, after a couple more days, we took the bus to her hometown of Olavarría for the first family reunion since the pandemic struck. Leaving our Palermo apartment early, we caught a 7 a.m. bus that, in the morning rush hour, took more than two hours just to get beyond the city limits. After that, it was another four hours across the interminably flat Pampas in comfortable conditions—many of Argentina’s long-distance buses have seating comparable to business class on an airplane.

The Olavarría terminal early in the morning.

Rodolfo tends his rabbits at the chacra.

After María Laura’s sister Estela picked us up at the Olavarría terminal, most of that day and the next consisted of lunches and extended family dinners with her and her brother Rodolfo, at whose house we stayed. On the Friday, though, we rose early and, after a quick breakfast, we climbed aboard borrowed bicycles for a ride to Rodolfo’s countryside chacra, where he raises rabbits, chickens (and eggs), sheep, and even a few pigs. It’s about 12 miles (20 km) outside town but, despite the endlessly flat terrain, the ride proved more strenuous than I anticipated.

There were few landmarks along the route, but this roadhouse on the paved highway was one.

Estela and María Laura at the gate to the chacra.

Accustomed to the hills of the Oakland and Berkeley, which can be steeply challenging, I expected this ride to be a breeze—and in a sense it was, as gusty headwinds slowed our progress over the bumpy sand and gravel backroads (mostly used by farm traffic). Because of those conditions, my average speed was probably lower than most of my usual rides, which usually include downhill segments that allow for coasting at higher speeds. Only one short segment was along a paved highway, where we used the firm grassy shoulder to avoid speeding trucks and SUVs.

Our route from Olavarría to El Aromo and back

In the end, our route covered 21.96 miles (35.3 km), according to the Strava app that I use for cycling. What startled me a bit is that the Health app on my phone recorded this as the equivalent of walking 20.3 miles (32.7 km), which is one indicator of the fatigue levels we all felt on returning to town and the calm waters of the Arroyo Tapalqué, part of a pleasant greenbelt just outside Rodolfo’s front door. After dismounting, though, it was siesta time.

The ride ended at Rodolfo's house in town, alongside the Arroyo Tapalqué greenbelt.

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