Posted on February 4, 2015
Nearly nine months have passed since Alex and I rode through the gates of Ushuaia realizing our goal of riding from San Francisco to the end of the world. When we got back people wanted to know what our favorite country was or the best experience of the trip and what I found was that it was hard to put this trip into the mini sound-bites people wanted to hear. Yes I have a favorite country from the trip, I have places I would like to go back and places I don’t ever want to go back, but they are all a part of one massive undertaking Alex and I completed.
Another thing that I think people want to hear is that you had a life altering spiritual experience that has moved the clouds of doubt from your life and everything is clear now. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. I’m not saying that this trip hasn’t changed me, it most certainly has, but in small ways I see in my every day life.
On the adventure to getting our bikes back from the shipping container (story to follow) a fellow biker and I found ourselves on the long road to LA talking about our trips and the experiences. One comment that he had was that he could remember every day of his trip distinctly for one reason or another, but since being back the weeks blended together and he could hardly remember what happened last week let alone a couple weeks ago. I find the same occurrence in my own life. I can run through almost every day of the trip in my head, but often forget what I did last week. It’s because during “Autopista End” every day was a new experience or a new place. I need that in my life now because at the end of it all, I won’t remember any given weekend I spent watching Netflix but I will remember crashing in Cusco.
The other thing I learned was that I needed to stop procrastinating with the goals in my life and need to take steps, even little ones, every day in achieving what I want. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now saying that the best thing I did in my life was the Autopista End trip. I need something more than that.
Alex and I have talked about the phenomenon of the “Bucket List” in recent years and how you will overhear people saying, quite literally on a daily basis, “oh I am putting that on my bucket list”. I don’t have a bucket list anymore, if there is something I really want to do, I am going to find a way of doing it, of taking some step toward accomplishing it. It doesn’t mean it will happen this month or this year even, but if I keep taking steps toward it I will eventually succeed or realize it wasn’t what I really wanted. I would rather die in the process of achieving a goal than with a list of a bunch of dreams I never even attempted to realize.
This trip has changed me in ways I can’t really put into words and there are still some days where I think it was all a dream, that Alex and I are still planning this crazy idea we had so many months ago.
I would like to thank everyone that followed our blog, left us comments or helped us along the way. I would like to thank my Mom, for teaching me that “I can do anything, it may take me longer, but I will get there” and my Dad for keeping my imagination alive and young. But most all I want to thank Alex Washburn for without which this trip wouldn’t have happened. She is an amazing person that I have been fortunate enough to share my life with.
Posted on April 16, 2014
As it had taken us the better part of a day to actually get to the gates of Ushuaia, the celebrating didn’t last long as the sun was setting in a darkening grey sky. One point of note that I noticed in our ride to the end of the world is that though the sky was dark, and rain threatened us more than a couple of times from Rio Grande to Ushuaia, there was a constant sun shinning toward the end of the road, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, that I thought was so befitting the circumstances.
As we high-fived on the side of the road, three motorcyclists pulled up next to us and Juan Pablo (Argentinian) introduced himself and his two fellow riders who were from Scotland. We explained that we were from California and that this was the last stop on our six month trek. Juan Pablo asked us if we had a place to stay, and seeing as we had not planned more than one day ahead, the answer was no. Originally we had thought to get a nicer hotel to celebrate the end of the trip, but Juan said his find owned the cheapest hostel in town and it had motorcycle parking.
Tired from the drive, and seeing the sun sinking in the sky, we thought it would be a good idea to follow our new friends to this biker hostel and see what it was all about. Less than ten minutes later we were parked at Momo’s and being given a tour by Lisa (one of the two Scotish riders), who had been there for eight days already and knew the lay of the land.
Momo’s is an oasis at the end of the world, where things can, and do, get a little pricey because of the unique local and the amount of tourists. There is a big yard that can accommodate many bikes (this morning there were four BMWs and our two KLRs with room to spare) and the entire hostel has heated floors so being cold is never a problem. Being in the right place at the right time landed us here, and we are grateful that we continue to have good luck finding great places and friendly people as we ended up being in Ushuaia longer than we thought.
After throwing our bags into our room we headed out for a celebratory bite to eat and then promptly passed out once we got back to the room. The next day we explored the downtown of Ushuaia and booked a tour to see the penguins (one of the main attractions I wanted to do when we got here!).
Downtown Ushuaia is half Swiss mountain village and half industrial shipping port, mixing tourism and functionality into one small town. To the north it is bordered by mountains that house a glacier and were just starting to be frosted with snow in anticipation of the coming winter. To the south is Beagle Bay (named for Darwin’s famed H.M.S. Beagle) that plays host to the port and the cruise ships that pass through from time-to-time.
The tours to the penguin island aren’t until later in the day as that is when they are the most active and the light is the best for taking pictures, so Alex and I decided to head up to Glacier Martial, where there is a chairlift that I read will take you to the top. After being dropped off by a taxi in the parking lot of the entrance to the mountain we were to find out two crucial facts: one, the chairlift does not go all the way to the top, it actually only goes up about 500 meters, and two, it is now closed for the season as winter is coming.
Finding out this information too late, we enjoyed the views for a bit and then decided to walk back into town before we left for the tour (I ended up going back and hiking up the mountain a couple days later). The tour starts with a bus ride out to the only farm in Ushuaia, where you then take a boat out onto the bay.
Before we knew it, the moment I had been waiting for six months for was upon us and we were face-to-face with wild penguins! There were two types of penguins on the island when we were visiting, the purely black-and-white ones are Magellanic penguins, and they migrate from northern Argentina to Ushuaia every year to have babies, and then swim north again once the summer is over. An interesting fact we learned about this species of penguin is that other than breeding season, they live completely in the water, floating on their backs at night as they sleep and rest.
The other species of penguin, Gentoo, just recently moved to the area from Antarctica about ten years ago and now live on the island year-round (much warmer than Antarctica, I would say these are the smartest penguins in the world). Notice they have orange beaks and feet, and are what I would call a stereotypical penguin.
We got to hangout on the beach with them (3 meters back at all times) and they just waddle around, preening themselves and jumping in and out of the water looking for fish. It was amazing to see this little animal in its natural habitat, just doing what it wanted to do.After seeing the penguins there was only one other goal we had to accomplish in Ushuaia, and that was officially reaching the end of Ruta-3, which is the literal fin del mundo. Ruta-3 runs through Ushuaia and into Tierra Del Fuego National Park finally ending at Bahia Lapataia. There is a famous sign at the end that declares the official end to Ruta-3, and all bikers joke that you haven’t truly made it to the fin del mundo, until you take a picture of your bike in front of the sign.
Of course the morning we chose to ride into the park it started snowing and even doing twenty-miles an hour in the park our hands were frozen by the time we made it to the end of Ruta-3. Ignoring the group of tourists that had arrived in a bus, I pulled right past them and parked my bike next to the sign. After six months of riding, I wasn’t going to wait for any entire bus load of people to take their pictures, this was our time.
While we were snapping pictures and rejoicing at the official end of the autopista, another tourist strolling by told us we shouldn’t leave our bikes their as we might get a ticket. Not that we were planning on doing this, but it spurred in us a desire to take the no motorcycles sign that adorned the pillars in front of the Ruta-3 sign. We had been joking about taking a Ruta-40 sign, but they were too big, this was the perfect size and was held on by two flimsy looking screws. Out came the tool kit, and in less than a minute the sign was safely tucked away in our panniers, motorcycles once again free to bask in the glory of their accomplishment.
One of the other features of this national park are the foxes. When we entered the park the attendant we purchased our tickets from told us that “foxes will ask for food, but don’t give them any”. Low and behold, as we moved the motorcycles, the fatest fox I have ever seen came wondering out of the underbrush and started looking for food from all of the tourists that were gathered around. It acted more like a a dog than a fox, and it would go running up to any new vehicle that pulled into the parking lot.
It started snowing again as we packed the camera away, and we figured it was time to get back to the warmth of the hostel rather than freezing our tails off out on the road. It was a bittersweet moment riding out of the park, we were officially headed north, we had made it to where the autopista ends.
P.S. We will be posting a couple more blogs about how we got the bikes and ourselves home and reflections on the trip. We hope you will stick around for a little while longer and enjoy.
Posted on April 3, 2014
From Mendoza we were on a mission to get to Santiago so that we could make the push down south. Ariel the mechanic (along with others) had told us we could make it to Santiago in about five hours, though the big question mark was how long the border crossing was going to take, as our last experience had scared us in terms of waiting time.
We got up and headed toward the border, along with tons of Harleys, BMWs, and KTMs among other motorcycles. It was Sunday, and on top of that there had been a giant Harley-Davidson rally in Mendoza that weekend, putting tons of motorcycles on the road heading back to Santiago. It felt good to be surrounded by motorcyclists who were out enjoying the weather, the weekend, and just riding.
The border to Chile is through a half mile long tunnel and on the other side you are in Chile. We didn’t see any signs for where to get stamped out of Argentina, and went through the tunnel three times before finding out that it was all done in one location, about five miles into Chile.
While waiting at the border, we got to talk to several bikers and pick their brains about the route we were taking to Ushuaia and rumors we had heard about Southern Argentina. One Harley rider said that we should prepare for wind and to make sure we had a gas can with us (this was echoed by friends who had already rode through southern Argentina) as many of the gas stations are closed or simply don’t have any gas.
The border involved the usual inefficiency and the second searching of the bikes we have had on the entire trip. Finally done and processed we got to ride the snail’s pass on our way down the mountains. As you can see from the picture, it is s-curves all day long and quit fun to ride down, though I was glad that the on coming traffic was stopped for road repairs or it might have been a scary ride.
We made it to Santiago just as the sun was setting and it was long after dark by the time we made it to our hostel. We decided to take one day in the city to enjoy the sites and rest up before we made the big push down the 5. Santiago has a European feel with both the atmosphere and the architecture of the city and we enjoyed just walking around and exploring.The next day, once again, we packed and moved on. About ten miles outside of Santiago, Alex killed her bike as a truck passed her and as we coasted to a stop on the side of the freeway (thankful for a wide shoulder) she found that she couldn’t start her bike again. With the sounds it was making we could tell it wasn’t getting enough fuel to keep it idling. Long story short, we played around with the fuel lines and finally were able to suck whatever was blocking the tube out. Something similar happened in Peru, and the same fix worked. We won’t question it for now, we are just thankful that we could fix it and move on.
We were able to make it to Chillán (past where we thought we would make it due to the US quality road that is the 5) and found a cheap hostel with parking and a place to clean our chains, that badly needed some attention. It was in the last minutes of twilight that Alex was close to finishing cleaning her chain as Tobee (from Germany) came walking up the driveway of the hostel.
Tobee has been experiencing some extreme bad luck with his KTM and delighted us with his stories from the road, a portion of which involved him removing the air filter of his motorcycle and using, in his words, panties to cover the intake. It was nice having someone to talk to and we spent the night swapping stories from the road and talking about the journey to Ushuaia. (The last we heard, Tobbe is still stuck in Chillán trying to get his carburetor repaired with the most patient of mechanics).
The next day, after a comment from Tobee, we stopped by a motorcycle shop to pick up an extra chain as Alex’s appeared to be on its last leg. It was here where I made a grievous error. It was close to when we were going to have to get the last oil filter change of the trip (we should have done this in Santiago). The “mechanic” at the shop said he didn’t know if he had the right size of oil filter and asked if he could just open up my bike and check to see.
After spilling oil all over my bike (should have been the first clue) he determined he didn’t have the right size oil filter, which if you looked at the size of the oil filter housing it was clear he didn’t have the right size. He put the oil filter back in and we purchased a chain and went to go fill up before heading out-of-town. It was at the gas station that I noticed the oil filter cap was not flush and decided we needed someone else to look at it before we hopped on the freeway. It was on the two block drive to the Yamaha dealership that my bike started hemorrhaging oil as if from a gunshot wound.To the “mechanic” at that other shop: YOU NEED TO GET ANOTHER JOB BECAUSE YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!!! Though I would tell Alex later that I should have known that was a horrible idea. Yamaha didn’t have an oil filter that fit, but their mechanic was able to take it out and get it installed again without any issues.
Alex and I found out that there was a Kawasaki authorized dealership in Temuco, which just happened to be on our way along the 5. Having wasted half a day with the oil disaster, we hightailed it to Temuco and got an appointment for the following morning. We used this as an opportunity to change the chains and spokes, as well as, the oil to get the bikes ready for the last leg of the trip. Though this ended up sucking up one more day than we thought it would.
Fresh chains and riding like new we headed for the border to cross back to Argentina. Everyone had told us it was going to be cold in the south, we just didn’t know that the cold was going to come this soon. We stocked up on new winter gloves (that still wouldn’t be warm enough for snow) and gas cans for Southern Argentina.
After the best border crossing of the trip, we made it to San Carlos de Barlioche (the lake Tahoe of Argentina) and this is where things got interesting. It was cold on the ride along the lake, but we didn’t know we were going to wake up and see snow falling outside the window.
We took showers, got packed, and the snow had stopped, to be replaced with a light rain. We ate breakfast and got the bikes packed to try to make it out-of-town before the real rain started. We didn’t succeed.
Ten miles down the road it started pouring, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. Our new gloves and five layers of clothing wasn’t enough to keep the cold out and on top of that, we got our first snow ride. Not little flakes, but literally snow that falls, hits your helmet visor, and sticks.
We could only make it about 30 miles at a time before we had to pull over and warm up our hands as they were turning numb with cold. Making it to El Bolsón (only 80 miles past Bariloche) we had to give up for the day as we were numb in both fingers and toes and were soaked to the bone. The best part of being in a part of the country that is cold for a large portion of the year, they have heaters.Getting a hostel with a heater was clutch and Alex fashioned a drying rack out of the curtain rod that we hung in front of the heater. The hostel owner said that it would stop raining the next day, but it continued to rain all day and didn’t break until the morning of the next day.
Not knowing what the day would bring at 7am, the sun started to peak out around 9 and we were off. Riding through snow-capped mountains and frosty fields we made our way south, 36 miles at a time while we let our hands warm up. It wouldn’t be till after Esquel that we started dropping down in elevation and the ambient temperature rose, at least enough so that we could start putting some miles down without stopping.
The excitement of the day was that Alex’s bike was going to turn 30,000 miles. After lunch, ten miles outside of Tecka her bike hit the 30,000 mile mark and we pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures and I did a little dance in celebration. It was during this dance I noticed the massive amount of liquid coming out of the bottom of Alex’s bike…
To be Continued…
Posted on March 30, 2014
Travelers crave the authentic. They idealize it. And they brag about it when they achieve it.
Travel magazines, guide books and blogs do a great job motivating new tourists to pick up a passport and head to the airport every year which is AWESOME, however it also makes it harder for travelers (there is a difference) to make a real and unique connection to a place before it’s time to head back to the fluorescent life.
About a week ago Nathaniel and I managed to achieve one of those beautiful, authentic moments that made every time we’ve gotten stuck and had to pay too much for a hotel or broke down and bought American fast food (effing Tegucigalpa!) worth it.
It started in Lavalle Argentina, where the now familiar smell of gas was coming from Nathaniel’s gas tank and we suspected he had a new fracture in the tank, but couldn’t confirm till the morning as it was dark and we had rode 300+ miles that day.
The next morning Nathaniel went through the process of taking off his panniers and top box and discovered one of the weld seams on his tank was slowly oozing gasoline. We would wipe the spot where it was collecting dry and then gas would immediately begin spreading from a crack so small we couldn’t actually see it.
We had fixed a different fracture in the tank with JB weld a few days before, though the position of the new fracture made it impossible to seal with the JB Weld.
While we waited for the JB Weld to set, Nathaniel googled “KLR Mechanic Mendoza” because the next large-ish town was only about 30 minutes down the highway. I still think that phrase was an incredibly specific thing to look for, but it gave us the name, address and phone number of a man that according to legend is half mechanic half wizard. Looking at the thread about “Ariel” on Horizons Unlimited was impressive, although it was seven years old – just for the heck of it we gave the phone number a call and someone answered!
I asked if it was Ariel the mechanic and he told me it was. I next inquired if we could bring a motorcycle for him to look at and he confirmed his address for me.
Less than an hour later we were sitting in the middle of a residential intersection in Mendoza Argentina confused about which house was the mechanic’s shop. A pregnant woman motioned to me and asked if we were looking for the bike mechanic- I replied we were and she pointed to a house (her house). The woman was Ariel’s wife and a lovely hostess for the next two days.
The back of Ariel’s house opens up into a huge work space with dozens of motorcycles, cars, quads and even a full size truck tucked in cozily next to each other (also a couple of 60’s Ford Falcons). The walls are covered with every tool imaginable and the obligatory sexy lady posters, although he of course seems to be a loving father and husband.
Before we were introduced to this space he met with us out in front and told use he could help us, but that we needed to come back a few hours later at 4pm. Argentina takes ‘siesta’ seriously and from 2 o’clock to 4:30 pm it is often impossible to get errands done. Even banks and ATMs close during this time.
When we came back at four we rolled our bikes into the back portion of his house and Ariel’s assistant went to work draining Nathaniel’s gas tank after they had a look at the cracks and temporary repairs. Ariel floated around monitoring his assistant, drinking mate and helping another young guy in the shop who was working on his own bike. The whole process was very laid back, so after an hour and a half the tank was prepped for surgery and Ariel went to work with the blow torch.
After several blow torch sessions, we waited for what seemed like forever for the tank to cool down enough to be re-installed on Nathaniel’s bike and re-filled with gasoline. When we were ready to leave, Nathaniel asked Ariel how much he wanted for the work and Ariel told us not to worry about it and to come back the next day as he wanted to make sure the weld held and to ensure the quality of his work (it was now past dark). We were itching to get on the road, but agreed and then Ariel asked us if we would be able to return at noon and have asado with him and his family.
In situations like this I usually try to be polite and decline a few times before giving in. However, when an Argentinian gives you an invitation to eat asado at his house you say thank you and ask what time you should show up.
We arrived a little after noon the next day and things were awkward at first. Nathaniel doesn’t speak Spanish and Ariel clearly wanted his 11-year-old daughter to practice her English with us. It was interesting to talk to her and see what her life was like. Ariel double checked the weld and approved that it was going to hold, but he later joked to Nathaniel that he wasn’t giving a lifetime guarantee.
Eventually we all moved to the top floor patio of Ariel’s house where they have a brick grilling area built right into the patio. The conversation got easier once we all began to relax and I carried my miniature dictionary with me the whole day. I can communicated pretty well in Spanish (obviously), however I knew that over the course of the next several hours words would come up in conversation that I wouldn’t understand and I didn’t care about looking like a nerd leafing through a dictionary.
By the end of the day I was mentally exhausted.
It’s impossible for me to explain the feeling of being wrapped up in that afternoon. The conversation was warm and easy while I tried to translate back and for between Nathaniel and our hosts as much as I could, though the conversation never really slowed.
A friend of Ariel’s manned the grill which was fueled by a wood fire and although the stomach meat was marinated the rest only saw a generous sprinkling of salt before he laid the pieces out on the hot grill with the care and skill of a surgeon.
Argentinians don’t eat the meat once it has cooled off so there was one point where they took a cooled off piece from my plate and gave me a new one hot from the grill. I thought of it as strange, however there is no denying they are the masters of beef when you are crunching through the slightly crisped salty fat and biting into those simple delicious flavors.
I also really enjoyed their blood sausage, which was much softer than the blood sausages I’ve had in the past. It had the texture of pate on the inside and paired so well with the crusty fresh bread they had laid out on the table.
The entire time we sat on the patio I kept thinking to myself how lucky we were to be in that place at that moment.
As dusk came we started to say our goodbyes before disappearing off into the dark, back to our $20 a night hostel after having a dinner money cannot buy.
P.S. Ariel never did allow Nathaniel to pay for the services her provided, he said we had already paid with good company.
Posted on March 9, 2014
The Bolivian Death Road lives large in the minds of ADV riders. It was crowned the world’s deadliest road in 1995 and the nearly two decades since hasn’t tamed the curvy unpaved beast.
When we first left the United States, riding the Bolivian Death Road aka Camino de la Muerte aka North Yungas Road wasn’t on our itinerary, but somewhere along the way Nathaniel decided he wanted to do it. Somewhere along the way he got sucked into the macho idea of riding the death road and the fact that all the other boys are doing it.
I agreed to go, with some reservations, although I wouldn’t say I was afraid. However, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to do it if I was on my own.
We woke up early in La Paz and pulled on our riding suits before heading out into the crisp morning. The start of the death road is approximately an hour ride outside of the Bolivian capital and a giant yellow sign greets you on an uneven gravel turn out just off highway three.
We parked our bikes and then walked over to a bench-sign combo that gives a brief history of Bolivia’s most infamous 60km stretch of gravel. I learned standing there that the road was constructed by prisoner’s of war, it is often foggy along the route, and that ever since it earned the title of the world’s deadliest road it has been a huge tourist attraction (especially for mountain bikers).
The sign also spells out the rules of driving the death road. Because of its form you must keep to the left hand side of the road and vehicles moving up the hill have the right of way. Accidents usually happen when two cars meet at a narrow point and the uphill vehicle must back up- tires can easily slip over the edge of the cliff.
(According to wikipedia several hundred people die on the road every year, but I think those numbers are grossly inflated.)
We couldn’t see very far down the path because of the fog drifting around and after taking the obligatory photos of the sign and the entry point we hopped back on the bikes and headed off into the mist.Since we were heading downhill we were required to ride on the outer edge of the road. There are some guardrails (which we didn’t expect) that for some reason are never in the truly scary parts.
Most of the death road was not technically difficult riding, but the idea that around any blind turn could be a truck keeps you on your toes. Thankfully, we only met one vehicle going the opposite direction and it was on a portion of road where I could safely stop and let him pass.
For us, the most memorable part of the road was the portion where you ride on very uneven wet rocks beneath several small waterfalls (getting wet) and pass a solemn grey cross marking where people have died. The section is roughly 300m long and it is a narrow piece of work with a sheer mossy rock wall on one side and a lush green cliff dropping off the other into only god knows where.
The camino de la muerte was not nearly as tough as I thought it would be and if I had to make a list of the top 5 rides of the trip so far it would be on it.
Check it out: