Inner Landscapes

Today, I’m biking through a short stint of rocky Route 65 near Arroyo Shaman in the estepa of Patagonia while my family packs up camp. I rode away from camp this morning with the plan of meeting my family down the road in about an hour. I set off with my mountain bike, pack, water and “energy carrot”. We are running low on food that can be carried in a pack ready to eat, so a carrot.

This part of Patagonia is near the Chilean border, receives about 8 inches of precipitation a year, treeless except for tall bushes and full of river rock. It’s full of river rock but there are no visible rivers close. It’s thick with rocks and low lying mounded bushes where sagebrush would be if we were in Montana. And then across the wide expanse of the valley, there are rounded mountains, also full of rocks. There are no homes, no pavement, no interruptions for the wind but the mountains on either side of this water and wind carved bed of desert colors.  It’s the landscape of epic coming of age stories in which the youth is left to survive on her own with only a carrot for days. I degress….and I’m no longer young.

When I do these rides alone and exposed, I feel the expanse of this area more acutely than when riding in the trucks. My mind wanders and I feel all the emotions between fear and an exhilerating feeling of freedom as time goes on.

On this ride, I imagined people making lives on the land. Figuring out how close and how far they wanted neighbors (the answer was far). How the weather makes it’s patterns, what they would hold dear and what they would fear. If I lived here in a ranch house, relying on my horse and dogs, I would hold dear food storage and fire. I would fear the loneliness. I would believe in gods that gave meaning to it all. And then I turned my thoughts to geologic time.

Geologic time makes me feel even smaller than the conditions of the landscape I’m experiencing today. It’s wonderful to see the evidence of the millions of years in molecular compressions causing glinting granite, twisting pressure to contort and upheave layers. The volcanic pumice mixed with chert, crystal and granite river rock which have been jumbled and tumbled by consistently moving water carrying pieces of time down a now dry riverbed. What could be closer to knowing without a doubt, people are not in charge.

This thought gives me peace in a way that religion must give the faithful. I feel at peace with the faithful as well here in a way I do not feel in a church. I’m in the leaderless church of nature, the one I see no human hand in. The place where individuals can battle their inner landscapes free of any person-made pulpit.

Here in Argentina, the Catholic Church dominates since colonization by the Spanish. Ranching is the economy. Throughout our travels in Argentina we have remarked on the absence of large mammals not part of the ranching industry. But today, I see a lone guochua which I’ve been told has the predator of the snow leopard. It’s bigger than a llama, with red-brown back, long neck and camel-like head. He stays his distance from me and my photos are blurred compared to what I can see with my naked eye.

I continue my ride, easy and flat. I pick the flattened truck tire marks through the gravel to keep from spinning out in the rocks. That keeps me busy for a while. I take out my energy carrot and get my snack while still riding. Very practical. The tire marks are not concentrated to just a two track, the drivers look to be picking lines that would intensionally be preventing this, widening the drivable parts of the road.

Here I find a gate across the road. I didn’t expect this on a “public” route through this remote part of Argentina. This type of gate is in Montana as well when there are easements. Instead of Elk or Bears, there are two Gouchas silouetted at the center of the gate. Here are three fence lines meeting, with the gate merging two of them. It’s not locked but I don’t go through, distracted by the sheep bones and mysteriously a baby’s pacifier and large cow femur bone mounted on one fence corner. I take photos.

I find the only bush worth peeing behind and wonder which side is the most private bathroom. If you are alone why do you even wonder? Why even bother to find a bush? I laugh to myself but still pick the side away from the road. There is a gate, so there must be some rules here. I’m on an easement through someone’s land.

The trucks are coming up the road towards the gate and me. The red truck first, driven by Niles, my son! He is practicing driving out here. We are super careful in towns to be law abiding regarding drivers and vehicle registrations but out here, like in Montana, country roads allow a freedom to 15 year old boys. This trip is a time for growth in all of us. Most outwardly by Niles who is taller and more confident looking since our take-off date 6 months ago.

We were able to free ourselves from our jobs by building a metaphorical sailboat over the past fifteen years. Something that came to maturity during the pandemic, something of the rich get richer during hard times phenomenon that we were on the right side of. I don’t feel evil about it, I do feel lucky. It’s not completely passive, just like a sailboat. There is some paying attention that the enterprise needs even when weather is easy. And also within the metaphor to the sailboat, the whole thing could reverse itself and capsize. Nothing is a sure thing.

The investments of the last fifteen years took us pouring over spreadsheets at night in bed over a laptop after our regular jobs and kids. It’s the reason we can all go off galavanting across the continents, the 4 of us and the dog. For us, it’s the American dream.

We have a daily budget that limits us but, that only seems fair. Our American dream isn’t about freedom to do nothing, it’s more about freedom to choose a new course. We are available to learn and explore without the bounds of our jobs perhaps forever if this sailboat holds its course. But, there are rules.

We are camping throughout South America, we cook in camp. We go where fewer people go. It’s where most camps are free and the land less occupied. We like meeting the people who are here.

There is a routine of meals, packing, un-packing, travel and route-finding. We shop and eat local food. Luckily, here in Argentina this means wine regularly. We bike and paddle board the roads and lakes, it’s summer here.

I’m so very grateful this is all possible at this moment in time.