Mountain Biking Stories


Prepping for a year out of the country, Sarah and I considered what is most dear to us, recreationally. Sarah readily embraces her stand-up paddleboard (SUP), an inflatable model that can support two adults and a mid-sized dog. Dear to me is a bicycle, of any sort, but most especially one suited for off-road terrain. A bicycle also serves as redundant transportation, in a way, if we were unwilling (or unable) to move our vehicles. Top of the list, then, were added one paddleboard and three mountain bikes.

But which bike? The knee-jerk reaction is “My favorite one!” Then, however comes the realization that your favorite steed will be subjected to the elements for close to a year, draw the eye of those looking to remove you of your bicycle, and quite possibly be damaged while it is on the vehicle (either due to a collision or bikes clacking against each other on or off-road) not to mention being subjected to the dirt and grime from driving nearly 12,000 miles. My faithful Ibis mojo 3, my absolute favorite bike to ride, was quickly dismissed, as the bike is just too nice to abuse and too attractive for theives.

After further weighing these considerations, the obvious next choice was my old Ibis tranny. The frame had been damaged in a crash (what better bike to take than one that had been previously damaged?) and I had a slew of mid-level parts for it, plus a wonderfully wide wheelset that gleefully soaks up washboard. As the immense pressure of preparing two vehicles for a year out of the country came bearing down upon us, however, the feasibility of completing another relatively complex repair and rebuild side project quickly fell to the bottom of the list. Not to mention that the lively orange paint would attract a lot of attention.

Amongst the turbulence of our imminent departure, my eye settled on my covid-era mountain bike: made by Giant, this bike was conceived to go fast, world-cup fast, by riders a lot younger than me. And as mentioned, it was my covid-era mountain bike. A bike purchased when frame repair was backlogged for months and such a crushing demand existed for new bicycles that you had to take what you could find. It was in those times that I found this Giant.

And while stupid expensive and not made for idly touring another country, this mostly black frame and components (with splashes of dark blue) and  super-subtle labels does not draw any attention. The proof of this being that, after two months driving around Argentina, I have yet to receive a single question about it. Perfect.

Perito Moreno Glacier Visit

The trip to Perito Moreno Glacier was the most “touristy” trip we have made on our trip so far. But, it’s immense and accessible hugeness is worth elbow to elbow tourists. Going early, before most of the buses showed up helps make the experience more private. We camped in a free wild camp in the trees outside the Parque National Perito Moreno with our hitch-hiker friend from Russia the night before we entered the park.

Niles watching the ice broken from the main glacier.
The Perito Moreno Glacier, 70 kilometers long, 5 kilometers wide, loud and actively calving into the water.

Our hitchhiker friend and us had different plans for entering the park to see the glacier. Our friend, traveling on a shoestring budget, had heard that he could hike around the entrance to avoid the 5,500 pesos ($25 USD) admission fee. We planned to drive and pay our fees, meet him inside and drive out all together. We left Gypsy in camp in the second vehicle safe in her kennel having heard of people being asked to leave if their dogs were in their vehicle.

Imagine the loud cracking of the ice and the occasional loud boom of falling ice into the water. The sound came well after the ice fell so you have to be watching to win the sight of it. Also, wind, always wind.

This visit was a highlight of our trip. We hiked the wood and metal walkway along the “interior” trail to witness huge calving off a nose on the wall of the glacier.

Now, we are hunkered down outside El Calafate waiting on our driving day tomorrow, Sunday, which according to the wind forecast should be without strong winds. Then, Monday we travel quickly after getting Gypsy’s paperwork from SENASA in Rio Gallegos, cross into Chile, back to Argentina and on to Ushuaia.

“I was here!”, they painted 10,000 years ago.

Overlapping hands of people dating back 10,000 years ago in Cuevo de Las Manos, Argentina.

While traveling along Ruta 40 in Argentina on our epic travel year, we made a detour to Cueva de Las Manos. This archeologically significant site is  UNESCO recognized.  Like Borobudur, Indonesia or Machu Pichu, Peru, Cuevo de Las Manos, Argentina offers insight into humanity’s capabilities and priorities during ancient times.

We made visiting this site a priority because Mike’s parents record petroglyphs in New Mexico which has given us a glimpse into the world of rock art. With his parents, we have been able to hike up to images made one to two thousand years ago in Mesa Prieta, New Mexico, USA.

The oldest paintings of Cuevo de Las Manos are 10,000 years old. Some are as recent as 1500 years. 10,000 years is about 650 generations ago (our math, not the archeologist’s), assuming reproduction around age 16. It’s estimated the people at that time had a lifespan of about 35 years. These records are from the oldest known inhabitants of the Americas: North and South. Hence, the UNESCO designation.

Common themes of hunters, hunting and reproduction exists between the sites in New Mexico, USA and Santa Cruz, Argentina. The nine moons of human gestation are painted to help the Cuevo people count and understand timing for birth. This knowledge must have been so important to record when the chance of losing significant knowledge between generations was possible with a bad storm, animal attack or disease. Also recorded are hunting strategies using the valley’s landscape are outlined in paintings.

The age and beautiful condition of the art – along with the living site of the cave which is closed to allow more study and preservation – get my mind dreaming of  how the people lived in the valley. During our tour, the idea was presented that women may have stayed in the cave during pregnancy and to raise small children. So, the nine moons must have come in handy when trying to understand how long you would be hanging around.

The valley the cave is located in was not as dry as it is now but was filled to the erosion marks of the river. As the glaciers of the Ice Age receded, the valley started to resemble more and more what it looks like today. This made the area more and more friendly to habitation. Another landscape change compared to today is that parts of the cliff came down during an earthquake in what is now Chile, 3000 years ago. So, some of the living space and art was lost at that time. I imagined that the broken rock be a gravesite as well, if some people were not lucky that day.

The people of Cuevo, when not tending to their general survival, must have had planning and dreaming time to create the paints, knowledge and  art. There are at least 52 known sites of art up and down the valley.

Imagine standing on the rocks piled high under a cliff overhang to blow powered minerals over the back of your hand and to do this perhaps yearly to record your presence. I imagine that this was family time. Mom would say, “Don’t move!”, then blow and repeat until your hand is outlined in negative.

The paints were made from rocks containing iron, manganese, sulfur, and copper and mixed with animal fats.

Not all of the minerals came from local rocks in the valley, either. People traveled with the copper colors all the way from Lago Posadas to make the light green-blue paintings. We made the trip from Lago Pasadas in a day, but walking would take many days, especially if traveling as a family.

The hands remind me of hearts carved into trees with the initials of lovers. Or our the selfies taken on our trip. Maybe, their significance is more like the highly skilled muraling throughout South America. But of course, these paintings are so much more durable and we can imagine that the whole community in the area participated in the creation of the paintings by the varying sizes of the hands.  Kids hands below and adults up higher.

Pregnant Guanacos (Patagonian llamas) with a full moon. Guanacos were a main subject of the painting stories outlining hunting strategies and reproduction.  Guanacos still populate the hills today throughout Patagonia.

Chulengos,  baby guanacos are pictured inside and next to adult guanacos. Here is a baby guanaco we encountered hung up in a fence. Mike was able to free her and she was able to rejoin her upset herd of adult guanacos.

Guanaco getting help, the fences hang up the hind legs when they jump over. We saw several dead on our trip through Patagonia.

Topo map of canyon

Bad omen influenced by hallucinations?

We were told the archeologist working the Cuevo de Las Manos site isn’t finding an identification for the strange distorted animal pictured above but, there are theories. Like, it’s a bad omen or a now-extinct insect. Guilicho- a bad omen or warning is something that could be perceived in different forms. In the community that studies petroglyphs located in New Mexico, USA the theory of these alien or bug-like images is that they were conceived under the influence of psychedelics and are shamanistic.

Ostrich footprints, same animal that the paint oil is derived from and in post-mortem honored here.

Because we are traveling slowly through Argentina in our campers, we were able to stay two nights camped on the edge of the valley, overlooking the visitor’s center. We took the tour once and also hiked to the Casa de Piedra in the valley bottom. We would love to come back and have more time exploring the valley looking for the 51 other sites.