We began this day only 25 kilometers out from Perito Moreno. That we should have stopped so close is in itself incredible, given our determination to reach this desert oasis after 12 days on the road. But Ruta 40 is never short on surprises, and after two days of relentless canyon-climbing in scorching heat through the desert, a sandstorm arises from nowhere to greet us on our final descent.
We are the victims of history. Six years ago, Chile's Volcan Hudson duplicated the efforts of Washington's Mount St. Helens and deposited a blanket of volcanic snow over the land. The ash covered everything, burying roads and fences, killing sheep by the thousands, and all but destroying the local fruit industry. To this day, evidence of the eruption is everywhere. Ash swirls through our hair, into our eyes, grinds in our teeth and gears, and sucks our wheels like quicksand.
Further inspection reveals that both Nancy's front and rear hubs are dangerously loose. With time on our hands and a sudden case of Mr. Fix-it fury, I decide here and now to do a complete hub rebuild. Not the best decision to make in a sandstorm. I spend the next hour struggling in vain to keep the grease clean and prevent everything from blowing away. Finally, we pitch the tent and I crawl inside with my scattered tools to complete the operation.
Later, as night ensues, the winds seem to tire. We relieve the panniers of their final holdings and collect all our water from the various bottles stashed on the bikes. We throw everything together — scraps of salami, mustard, honey, garlic, onion, rice — the vestiges of nourishment that remain. We eat out under the Southern Cross and a slender curve of moon. It too is down to its last sliver after sharing its light through the many night rides.