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 March 24, 2014
The days since Salta Argentina have been busy with riding and motorcycle repairs, so I will do a brief recap to get us all caught up and then Alex will be posting a blog soon about new adventures.
After our day of motorcycle maintenance in Tupiza, which also included paying our Argentinian reciprocity fee ($160) and printing out the receipt, we were off to the border to cross into Argentina. What we didn’t know was that this was going to be the longest border crossing of the trip. While many of the borders in Central America were long due to copious amounts of paperwork or bureaucracy, this border crossing was long simply due to the amount of people and the lack of employees.
We got to the border at 11am, and wouldn’t be done till close to 4:30. The main hold up was getting stamped out of Bolivia and into Argentina. Both lines were over two hours of waiting, in the sun for the majority of the time. The climax of the day was Alex and I yelling at people that were trying to cut in line and getting one of them sent to the very back. We both don’t mind waiting if everyone is waiting the same amount of time, but there is a special place in hell for people who think that line cutting is ok. Yeah I’m talking to you guy with the faux-hawk and nerd glasses!
Knowing halfway through the process that we were not going to making our goal of Salta by nightfall we decided that we would just drive as far as we could, hoping that we might make it to Jujuy. At dusk (considering we never know what time it is in a new country), I pulled over to the side of the road to point out the giant sundial on the side of the road, that marked the tropic of Capricorn (the southern most latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon).
Having just passed a fancy looking hotel and being out in the middle of nowhere, we decided to see how much the hotel cost and make a judgement of weather or not to keep going. The hotel ended up being the most expensive of the trip, but Alex and I were beat and it was legitimately a distinct building having been constructed in the early 1900’s.
The next day it was up and off to Salta where I needed to get my fork seals replaced. We got into town and found the shop we were going to take the bike to, and it was closed. A man passing by informed us that it was siesta time and that the shop would reopen at 4:30. We went and got sometime to eat as we waited, and later found out that the entire city shut down between two and four-thirty and that restaurants wouldn’t even start serving food until eight at night.
Got the bike delivered and were told they wouldn’t be able to get to it until Monday as Saturday they were busy and they weren’t open Sunday. The meant we were stuck in Salta for three extra days we weren’t planning on. Not the biggest deal, but Salta isn’t the best city to be stuck in and they were uneventful days.
One of its claims to the fame is that they say they invented the empanada and so Alex found a market that only served the doughy pastry. We went and enjoyed many different verities of empanada, but the best one we had in my opinion was at a restaurant on the main square of town.
Monday came and we picked up the bike in the afternoon and prepared to leave the next day. That night was the most intense lightening and thunder storm we both have ever experienced, with one waking me up that sounded like a car explosion. The torrents of rain that accompanied the thunder was enough to saturate the ground and caused our bikes to fall over in the patio of the hostel.
We packed and prepared for a long day in the rain, but were lucky that it must have rained itself out as we slowly made our way out of Salta and on to the open road.
Posted on March 17, 2014
For a reason…
In Bolivia I started asking the owners of hotels (using Alex translate their responses) how long it would take to get to the next stopping town we had decided on. Why? Because in Bolivia there can literally be nothing for miles and miles and I wanted to make sure that we made it to the next destination without running out of gas or having to drive long distances at night.
I accomplished only one of these goals when we set out from Uyuni to Tupiza after our day in the salt flats. I had asked the owner of our hostel the night before how long it would take to get to Tupiza, as we were planning on crossing the border to Argentina the next day. She responded that the road between the two cities was bad, mostly gravel, and that it might be better to back-track to Potosi and then head down from there as it would take 4 hours from Uyuni straight. A total of over 600km (roughly 372 miles) for the back-track, when the road that went straight there was only around 200km (or 130 miles).
Alex and I had been told by Google maps not to take certain sections of road and to instead do these long loops, but as of yet, we had’t encountered anything the bikes (or us) couldn’t handle. The worst was the road between LaPaz and Oruro, and that was simply because at varying intervals it would turn into gravel (while also hailing), before becoming asphalt again. Annoying, but nothing to worry about. And with this in mind we decided that some gravel wasn’t bad enough to warrant a back-track of more than 350 miles.
The next day we got up, got packed, didn’t take showers because the element in the water heater was broken, and headed out after having some breakfast (our last meal until 9:30 that night) and spending a half an hour looking for gas, in a town that isn’t any bigger than a four or five street grid.
By the time we got onto “highway”-21 it must have been close to 10:30, not the earliest start to the day we’ve had on the trip. Highway-21 was never asphalt, not even in Uyuni, and about ten minutes in I gave up on it ever being asphalt for the entire length of the drive.
The first half was boring landscape you can’t be excited about going ten to fifteen miles an hour through. Llamas littered the sides of the road, while bumps caused by rains, that make the road resemble monster truck tire tracks, made for a slow bumpy ride. Stopping for a moment to wait for Alex to catch up to me, and checking what appeared to be an oil leak on my front left fork, I stood up to see a mama llama and her baby starring at me.
Not knowing if they wanted to attacked or were simply curious, I backed away from them slowly and raised up on the balls of my feet and put my arms above my head (what I was taught to do in cub-scouts if you come face to face with a mountain lion) making myself as big as I could. All the mama did was look at me, blink, and continue forward as I retreated to where Alex had stopped some twenty feet back.
All in all they were just friendly, curious llamas not accustomed to seeing stupid motorcycle riders, in full gear, stopping on the side of the road. The mama even ended up nuzzling Alex’s hands as she tried and succeeded to pet her. Seeing as we still had an entire days worth of riding ahead of us we pushed on from the llamas, as they lost interest in us and went back to grazing.
Thinking the road couldn’t get any worse, it showed me a thing or two, by giving us sand on top of monster truck bumps, which helps to destabilize you better than anything we have encountered thus far (I almost tipped over more than half a dozen times that day, but was able to keep the bike up luckily). I went around one corner and couldn’t see Alex in my rear-view mirrors so I stopped to let her catch up.
However, after a minute of not seeing anything I knew something had to be wrong, so I flipped around and rode back around the corner to see Alex sitting on the side of the road, her bike smack dab in the middle of the sand on its side. I made sure she was okay before anything else, she replied that the sand was soft and she wasn’t going very fast when she fell, so we both went to lift the bike back onto two wheels.
It was at this moment that Alex realized that a cable was hanging loose, and upon further inspection, it had been held on by one of the sub-frame bolts. We don’t know how long she had been riding without it, but for those that don’t know the KLR, the back and front of the bike are held together by, you guessed it, the sub-frame bolts. There was no way she was going to be able to go another 100 miles on one sub-frame bolt without risking snapping the other and literally having her bike come apart into two halves.
There was a small cropping of buildings that some people might call a town only a couple minutes away, so we decided to get off the road and figure out a plan. Supposedly, according to locals, there was a larger town about ten miles away (though when your only going 15-miles an hour that can be almost an hour of riding) that we might be able to find a replacement at. However, I had read forums before we left where people had snapped sub-frame bolts and had a hard time finding replacements.Before we went to anything drastic, we decided it would be best to check our tool bag, as I had thrown in a bunch of random spare screws and nuts we had bought, but hadn’t used when we mod’ed our bikes. Miracle of all miracles, I had not one, but THREE bolts that were the right size to fit. I don’t know where they came from, but they saved our asses (literally). Alex’s bike went up on the center stand, we made a couple of minor adjustments, and we were off again.
I’ll spare the details of the next 100 miles, and nearly 7 more hours of driving that occurred other than the important details. No more tip-overs by either driver, getting to the halfway point at 4:30pm, driving the last 40 miles in the dark, still on gravely dirt roads (they did get better in the second half, though still quite rocky), in the middle of the mountains with no ambient light say for headlights, smell of gas on my bike (to be covered later).
All in all, what the lady said would take us 4 hours took us ten plus hours to drive, the last three in the pitch black. Although, after driving the road all day and seeing how the Land Cruisers blast through it like they are training for the next Dakar we can totally understand why a local would think the trip only takes 4 hours.
Finally making it to Tupiza, we found an awesome hotel with parking and a restaurant right next store that was still open, again small miracles.
Even though we wanted to get to the border the next day, one of our bike gurus (Chuck Squatrigila) suggested we take a half day and check every bolt for looseness on the bike. It was a good thing he did. My bike was now leaking quit a bit from the left fork, but there was no mechanic in town who could do the repair, and it was looking like Salta, Argentina was the place to get it repaired. Though one mechanic in town told us it would be fine to drive on asphalt for another 1,000 miles (I don’t know if I believe that).
We found several loose bolts on both bikes, and the connections to my battery were loose (I lost electricity while parking that day, which made me think that might be the case). The big find on my bike was that gas smell I mentioned earlier, ended up being a hairline crack in my tank that was leaking a small amount of gas. Not to worry, Alex and I had prepared for everything (thanks to the help of many people) and we pulled out the tube of JB Powerweld, followed the instructions, and epoxied the crack right up. We checked to make sure it stuck and there were no leaks in the morning, good to go.
It was the hardest day of riding of the trip, but we both felt accomplished for tackling it and making it through, though I think are guardian angels took a couple blows that day.
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:
Posted on February 28, 2014
The morning came early the day we left for Machu Picchu, the first alarm rang at 4:00am, with one following at 4:15. Alex wanted to straighten her hair (a rarity on this trip, and I applaud her for even trying, you all see how my hair is done every day, short) and I was off to the motorcycles to get the straightener, my mono-pod for the GoPro, and the audio recorder in case there was any good sound along the way.
It is mentioned in the video, but because it is the rainy season in Peru (I swear it is the rainy season in each country we go to no matter what) they don’t run the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu for fear of the tracks getting blocked. With that said, you have to take a bus from Cusco to Pachar and then catch the train from there.
Our day went taxi-bus-train-bus-bus-train-bus-taxi, though it isn’t that hard compared to hiking the Inca Trail. For note, the Inca Trail is closed during the month of February so that it can be cleaned of trash and maintained. Anyone who read our other blog on Northern Peru, knows about the trash problem in this country. Research will return all sorts of results saying that Machu Picchu is closed during February, but this is not true, as clearly we made it there and back just fine.
Seeing as I had sprained my ankle a couple of days before, it is probably a good thing that we couldn’t do the Inca Trail. By the time we got to Machu Picchu it was about 10:30 in the morning, which gave us the better part of the day to explore the site.
It is currently low season for tourism in Peru (again because it is the rainy season) so we were both pleased at the amount of people in the park. Though in 2011 they restricted the amount of people that are allowed in the site to 2,500 people per day. Also for note, if you want to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain to the north west) there is a limit to 400 people per day, and we were told by one of the docents in the park that there is usually a two week waiting list. Due to the massive nature of the complex, even with the amount of tourists allowed in, you never really get a sense of it being overcrowded, which helps add to the experience.
We hiked around the park, took pictures, and did the whole tourist thing for the better part of the day. Machu Picchu is at 7,972 ft, which is well below Cusco at 11,200 ft. With that said, if you have spent some time getting acclimatized to the altitude in Cusco, then you shouldn’t have any issues with hiking at the lower elevation of Machu Picchu. Though it is quite a hike from the bottom to the ‘Guardhouse’, where you can take the quintessential postcard photo so you might be out of breath.
Personally I would have liked to have had two days at Machu Picchu. Alex and I get caught up in documenting the experience that for me it sometimes gets in the way of just being in the moment. It would have been nice to go the first day and do the whole picture taking thing and then know you had another day to just soak it all in. Even with only having one day, there was a moment where it began to rain and we were forced to just sit and wait under one of the huts. It let me stop, recenter, and enjoy just being in this magnificent place.
I think I have written enough, and will let you pictures and video do the rest of the talking. It was worth the expense, and as far as expectations go, it doesn’t disappoint.