Friday, November 26, 2010

Orleans, Santa Catarina, Mile 443, November 26, 2010

Greetings from Orleans, a pretty little town about 25 miles from the coast. 

Yesterday evening, after I got of the internet joint where I wrote my report, I went for a walk to the one square block city park in Sao Joaquim, where there were no fewer than seven Orelhoes (public telephones, which operate on cards).  Wanting to be a good boy and phone my mother on Thanksgiving, I went through ALL seven of them, but none worked.  I had to walk a block away to the police station (Sao Joaquim merits exactly a platoon of PMs.) to find one that works.  Like in the US, as everybody in Brazil gets cellular phones, the public phones are decaying.

Once I made my call, I went to the restuarant that had been recommended to me at my hotel, and had another excellent lasagna, served with rice.  Everything in Brazil seems to be served with rice.  They had the news on the TV, and all the news from Rio (1,200 miles away from me) was bad.  The images looked like something out of Iraq.  The situation is bad enough that the governor asked the Marine Corps to lend him a dozen M-113s, which then went on a rampage crushing cars.  I hope the people inside don´t feel too safe; a .50 cal will penetrate the side armor on an M-113.

On that happy note, I went back to my hotel, passing a bunch of very interesting planters and benches in the street.  The Santa Catarina mountains are apple country, and all the planters were giant green apples, full of flowers, while the benches were supported in the middle by what looked like apple tree trunks, and on each end by one half of a red apple.  Very well done, I thought.  While I had been eating, I had witnessed a city truck setting up half a dozen Christmas trees in the street in front of the restuarant.  For once, in Brazil, in November, it really felt like Christmas, I do not think it was any warmer than 45 degrees last night at 10PM when I went back to the hotel.

My window had no curtains, so I was awakened today at 7AM by the sun shining in my face.  Happy that there at least WAS a sun shining, and not rain clouds, I got up,  guzzled as much orange juice as I thought I could get away with from the free breakfast, and, at 8AM, was on my way, after a stop at the local gas station for a couple of Cokes to complement my frozen bottles of water.

When I left Sao Joaquim, I was at an elevation of approximately 4,400 feet, and I knew, from my map, that it was a distance of about 28 miles to Bom Jardim da Serra.  SC-438 immediately began climbing further up, albeit with a lot of ups and downs.  But, the trend was up.  Ten miles out of Sao Joaquim, I arrived at a road junction with SC-430, which went north.  I continued on 438.  En route, I was passed by two ¨viaturas¨ (PM cars, they are station wagons, so you can lock up more of the maggotry in the back.) with their sirens going.  The guy inside the second one motioned me to get off the road.  Wondering what this was all about, I pulled over, and about a minute later was passed by a convoy of trucks carrying absolutely enormous blades for a windmill.  These blades must have been 75 feet long, each.  I can only imagine the size of the windmill they are going to be attached to.  About 15 miles out of town, I reached an elevation of 4,820 feet, which would prove to be the highest elevation I am going to attain on this trip.  Shortly after this, I descended 550 feet in 1.5 miles in three minutes.  Once on the bottom (at a river), I encountered the ¨subidao¨ I had been warned about yesterday.  I got all the elevation back, in the same mile and a half, and be assured that it took a LOT longer than three minutes.  Back up above 4,000 feet again, I rode on in to Bom Jardim da Serra at a few minutes before noon, 30 miles out from Sao Joaquim.  Bom Jardim was a little tiny town that, upon inspection (I rode through it.) held no interest for me at all.  There was a cut off at the entrance of town with a sign saying ¨wind farm 10 kilometers¨, so at least I figured out where that convoy was going. 

I got out my map and discovered that it was only 20 miles on to a place called Lauro Muller.  I figured I would just go on.  This decision led to what turned out to be, so far, the most interesting bike ride of my life, and the first time in my life that I have burned up a set of bike brakes.

I continued south and east from Bom Jardim.  I started climbing again, and, as I did so, it got noticeably cooler and cloudier.  I passed several signs saying ¨Gelo na Pista¨ (Ice on road), which made me think that this would be a road to avoid in the winter.  Meanwhile, as I got higher, the clouds kept getting lower, and, after five miles or so, I found myself IN the clouds.  While it was not exactly raining, per se, the fog was sort of particulating water out of the air.  I assume the dew point was higher than the temperature; the temperature couldn´t have been more than 50 degrees.  I stopped the bike, and removed my IPOD, phone, and camera from my Camelback, and buried them in one of my saddle bags, to keep them dry.  I also put on my sweat shirt.  The fog got so dense that I could not see more than 50 feet in any direction; ghostly lights would appear in my front, or behind me, and then hiss on by me on the bike.  To say that I hugged the shoulder would be putting it mildly.  About eight miles out of Bom Jardim, I hit a sign that said ¨Welcome to the Serra do Rio do Rastro, elevation 1,421 meters¨, which jibed with my watch, which said I was at 4,690 feet.  I still could not see more than 50 feet.  Moving on another half a mile, I came to two more signs, one of which said the next 12 kms would be ¨curvy¨, and the other said ¨steep descent next eight kms¨.  Both of these signs were understatements.

The next five miles of the highway looked like something out of a mountain stage of the Tour de France.  It was an incredible descent, with the road making endless 180 degree switchbacks.  On my right was a wall of rock.  On my left, the Abyss.  Then, I would make a switchback, and the rock and the abyss would switch sides.  Water was still precipitating out of the fog, which in no way had let up, and, as well, I was getting splattered with droplets of water from the sheer rock wall I was descending, a wall that, at times, overhung the highway below it.  Due to the wet conditions, I had to ride the brakes, and by the time I was a couple of miles down, I could smell them burning up.  I stopped the bike, and used my last bottle of water to try to cool them off, but to no avail.  By the time I got to the bottom of the five miles of ¨extreme descent¨, my rear brake would not, held to the handle bar, slow me down.  Luckily, I had a front brake also.  During these five miles, I descended from almost 4,700 feet to 1,300 feet, which is a drop of 3,400 feet.  What does that mean?  Five miles is 26,400 feet.  Written as a fraction, 3,400/26,400 works out to an incredible 12.9% grade. (In other words, for every EIGHT feet forward, I dropped ONE foot.)  For five miles.  Unbelievable.  I have never done anything like this in my life.  I can only imagine what going UP that road would have been like.

Meanwhile, it had finally stopped raining, so I pulled into an overlook, ditched my now totally soaked Redskins sweatshirt, (actually I bungeed it to the top of my saddle bags in the unrequited hope that it would dry off), and then pulled out my Allan Key and went to work on the rear brake.  The shoe was basically gone, so I took half an inch of tension out of the brake cable.  Now, when I brake, the brake itself is touching the wheel, there being no shoe.  Not good long term for the wheel´s health, but at least it will stop me.  Tomorrow morning, I am going to find a bicycle mechanic who will, hopefully, have in stock a new set of shoes in my size.

I was by no means done descending out of the sky.  For the next five miles, I continued downward at a more leisurely pace, and ended up at an elevation of 700 feet.  From there, it was the normal ups and downs into the town of Lauro Muller.  Lauro Muller wasn´t much, and my map said it was only 7 miles on to Orleans, so I decided to continue.  During this part of the ride, I descended as low as 300 feet, which means I dropped 4,500 feet, almost a mile, from my high point of the day.  On that happy note, I will no longer bore you all with elevations, as the rest of the trip will not be, thankfully, involving mountains.

From Lauro Muller to Orleans, it had started to rain slightly, which put paid to my plans to continue on another 22 miles to Criciuma, so I rode into Orleans, up a VERY steep hill, and found a decent hotel with free internet.  The total ride today was 58 miles, of which I only actually pedalled about 48 miles.  Orleans is a pretty little town with, my landlady assures me, a beautiful view of the Serra that I just came out of, except for the clouds.  O well, maybe I will see where I came from tomorrow.

If it does not rain tomorrow, I should end up at the beach!

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