Home on the range

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Home on the range
May 13, 1997

Tent life before the rains came
I couldn't believe it. I could not believe this was happening to us. I grabbed Bill's hand tighter to gather strength. We are on the brink of disaster. The tent is collapsing. The walls slam against our bodies and the floor slaps up and down as waves of wind tear through. We have barricaded ourselves against the sides, trying by force of will to make ourselves as heavy as possible. Please, we silently beg. Please hold.

We had knowingly accepted the pampas bargain: intimidating expanses of barren terrain and strong winds in exchange for pure blue skies and searing sun. It was the sun we were seeking, after two weeks of daily rains in the clutch of the Andes. Still, with apprehension we cycled out of Junin de los Andes and into the rolling hills and consuming vastness of the desert. Though months had passed, we still bore the psychological scars of our wind-racked battle further south. But looking behind us, the thunderheads seemed parked atop the mountains, not daring to come any closer. It would be all right.

Our campsite was one easily forgotten, a small flat in a gravel quarry, hastily agreed upon in encroaching darkness. An aesthetic zero, but a place to catch some sleep, nothing more. Now, after 35 hours and counting, it is undeniably our home.

We used all our force to hold
down the tent
The noise is the worst. We can hear the wind in the distance — swirling, building, gathering strength, then suddenly the intense climax, our little tent world shaken like an earthquake. We try to block out the thought that three tiny aluminum pegs are all that attach us to this earth.

I had watched the small muddy lake growing, until now it threatened to flood the tent. I forced Bill out of his lethargy: We must move the tent. I can understand his reluctance. Moving a set-up tent, books, food, wine, clothes — two days of sprawl — is an epic in unwelcome ordeal. We settle again and replug our ears to escape the noise. Every so often we deny the obvious and peek through a small crack to see if the weather bears any trace of change. No such luck.

Out of food and out of fresh water, tomorrow we will be forced to move on. Ahead lie 200 more kilometers until Zapala, our next town. Now we welcome sleep's oblivion, and dream of a distant and separate pampas, one that hopefully can keep its promises.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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