I love snow … in theory. Which is to say I come from a country where it almost never snows and my very limited snow experiences have been great. The rest of my knowledge comes from TV shows.
Villa Pehuenia is a beautiful town at the edge of Patagonia in Argentina, and close to the Chilean border. I went there for the view, but also because there was the promise of a spattering of snowfall. Given that I had no experience whatsoever riding in snow, I was not willing to risk anything too hectic, at least not yet.
The plan was to arrive on Saturday and leave on Tuesday, with three days and nights to explore the town. Describing it as beautiful is an understatement. Villa Pehuenia, at least in the Spring, is the first town I have described as picturesque.
Leaving on Tuesday was intentional. I learned a long time ago to check the weather reports when on a trip, especially when planning to visit a snowy mountain town. Light snow was expected on Monday and Tuesday, with a full blown snow storm arriving on Wednesday. By my estimation, leaving on Tuesday would allow me to enjoy more snow than I ever had previously, while avoiding the dangers of riding through a storm but still getting some desperately needed snow riding experience. Snow and big motorbikes generally don’t mix well.
The light dusting of snow started a little before midnight on Sunday. It was everything I hoped for. But on Monday there was snow everywhere! Not a dusting, around a foot deep and definitely more than I bargained for. And the snow wasn’t stopping.
It snowed all day Monday and by the evening I was dangerously close to not being able to ride at all, which was problematic since my checkout was the following morning. I went to bed praying for the snow to stop.
On Tuesday morning, a full day early, the snow storm hit. There was heavy snowfall and the pattern was unlikely to change for the remainder of the week. I had accommodation booked in another town, and I didn’t know if I could even stay in my current accommodation. Moreover I was a little tired of the small town and I really wanted to leave.
So I packed up my bike and for the first time ever I planned to ride to the next town around 60km away, in the middle of a snow storm.
I rode slowly. My biggest concern was the next forty or so kilometres of mostly nothingness, with few houses, few cars, and no easily accessible help. I wore three layers of pants and jackets, two pairs of gloves, and a beanie under my helmet. Less than twenty kilometers later I was frozen stiff, my fingers barely able to move even with my heated handlebar grips set to maximum. I tried fixing that problem by keeping my hands close to the bike radiator whenever possible, but it didn’t help much.
Visibility was terrible, and there were times when I could see no more than a few car lengths ahead of me. I was the only vehicle on the road for the most part; I think only one passed me while riding through that small stretch of no-man’s-land, and the lack of visiblity meant I wasn’t able to even see the few houses along the route. Thankfully however, the road was not slippery in the slightest! One of my major concerns was the dirt road turning to mud, which would make the trip nearly impossible. But I quickly learned that while the road looked muddy, the gravel turned to a thick, grippy sludge instead of slippery mud.
The experience was nerve wracking. After 20km I was frozen, but I was also halfway out of the worst of it. Turning back didn’t seem smart. But what if the remainder of my trip got a lot more difficult? Wouldn’t it be smarter to turn back now when I at least knew what to expect? What if I fell and couldn’t get up? Would I freeze to death? It’s not like help was plentiful. Why were other cars not on the road? Were other people smart enough to know to stay indoors in weather like this, or was this just a coincidence? What if the snow didn’t carry on for just another 20km until I got out of the mountains, but I had to expect this for the next 200km?
It was one of those times when common sense and a desire to be safe and warm are pulling you back, and sheer stupid curiosity and determination are pulling you forward because if you don’t do this, you’ll never know what it’s like. I kept going.
Crawling along, I finally exited the mountains and arrived one town over for fuel and defrosting. Heavy snow gave way to light snow, then rain, and within an hour bright sunshine that filled the remainder of my trip towards San Martin de Los Andes.
That was a pretty awesome day!