Posted on July 3, 2014
I chose this picture for my “Autopista Ended” post because I am a huge fan of irony. I think the fact that my only frustration cry of the Autopista End trip happening after only a week on the road and in Mexico (where I used to live) is hugely ironic. Later in the trip, Nathaniel was often frustrated by how not-frustrated I would get when shit started going south.
If you followed us from the beginning you will probably remember that Nathaniel and I got stuck at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula for nearly a week. We didn’t import our bikes properly, we didn’t have the paperwork to take them to the mainland and the whole fiasco had us repeatedly going back to the La Paz immigration office, which has very short daily operating hours. It was the definition of mañana. I believe I originally described the experience as Kafkaesque.
Thankfully, our initial roadblocks on the trip were not indicative of how the rest of it went. We had intended to do a trip breakdown and describe how we shipped our bikes home once they returned to the USA but our bikes are still not back… For all I know they are floating in a shipping container somewhere off the coast of Colombia so the ‘how we got our bikes home’ post is going to have to wait.
We’ve been home for 11 weeks, Nathaniel has been back at his job for 6 and we’ve been in our new apartment for about 3. It’s almost disturbing how you can go on an epic adventure and then integrate back into your old life so seamlessly. I think that is the strangest part about being home.
As long as you have a good support system and some money in the bank the first world welcomes you back like a drug addiction. The comfortable lives we lead are designed to keep us anchored to a place, to things. Having everything the American Dream tells you that you should want and still being unhappy is the ultimate first world problem. I know a lot of college educated 20-somethings that are now quitting their jobs for the same reasons we did (more or less).
My personal goal now that I’ve returned from Autopista End Part I (yeah that’s right – we are already talking part II!) is to remind myself daily what I really want to be doing with my money, my time and my life. I don’t need to use shopping as a form of entertainment. I don’t need to eat out so much. I don’t need so much stuff.
The biggest thing this trip did for me was help me prioritize my life goals in a new way – they aren’t priorities I just repeat anymore, they are truths I feel inside of myself and for that I will always be thankful.
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 10, 2014
After our adventures with Alex’s radiator, we were both eager to finally get on the road and ride every day till we made it to Ushuaia. We got up the next day and headed off on Ruta-40, after having breakfast at the gas station we filled up at (Note: Argentina has some pretty awesome gas stations with meals, that sometimes, are better than you would find in a restaurant). The sky was looking dark, and we wanted to get on the road to hopefully avoid any more rain, as the temperature was likely to continue to drop as we moved south, and riding in wet gear does nothing but slow you down.About 50 miles down the road it curved and within the next five minutes we were facing bright blue skies, it was one of the few times on the trip we were able to out run the rain (the next time being the following day).
Ruta-40 is famous in Argentina, and in all of South America, with many tourists viewing it as akin to Route-66 in the US. It runs all the way from La Quiaca, in Jujuy Province, in the North to Punta Loyola, near Rio Gallegos, in the south a total of 3,107 miles.
While the Argentinean government made a resolution in 2006 to pave the entire length of Ruta-40, Alex and I experienced first hand that this is still a work in progress. Talking to locals, mechanics, hostel owners, I had even bought a map that listed what routes were paved and not paved in Southern Argentina, to try and give us a shot at not doing anymore 120-mile dirt/gravel roads, to help speed us along.
All of this planning was for not when we reached Alto Río Senguer, filled up with gas and had a cup of coffee, all with the plan to ride to Perito Moreno along the 40, since we had already done 120 miles that day with no issues. Leaving the gas station we followed signs toward Rio Mayo (along the way to Perito Moreno) and stopped just shy of the edge of town as the road became, what the locals call, “ripple” or gravel.
We double checked the map to make sure we were going the right direction (we were) and agreed that this must just be a section of gravel that lead back to the great asphalt of Ruta-40 we had been riding on all day (pipe dream). About five miles into the ripple road, a truck came cruising by and we flagged him down so Alex could ask if we were in fact on the 40 and how long the ripple continued. His response was that yes we were on the 40 and that it was ripple the whole way to Rio Mayo, about 60 miles.
There was no way we were going to make it to Perito Moreno, and I had doubts on how long it would take us to reach Rio Mayo as it was already two in the afternoon. I also wished I could go back and yell at the gas station owner, who we asked about Perito Moreno and he never mentioned once that the road there was all ripple. We continued down the road at a snails pace, only reaching second gear once, and barely cresting 15 miles an hour on the good stretches.
Concerned about the integrity of my gas tank (it had been welded in two places) Alex took the lead and soon disappeared around the corner. I continued at my ten miles an hour pace, going to the happy place in my mind and trying to ignore the otherwise complete lack of scenery. Cruising around the corner I soon saw Alex’s motorcycle, on its side, Alex standing next to it. The gravel had gotten big and deep, and she lost control and had to let it fall. Nothing the KLR can’t handle, and we both lifted it back onto two wheels and noticed that the radiator was leaking again.
Not having the time, we had only done 30 miles at this point, or the tools to fix it we decided all we could do is continue on and get desalinated water and coolant further on down the road. Another 30 miles of bland scenery, gravel, and ten miles an hour landed us on the door step of Rio Mayo, just as the last rays of sun light faded from the sky.
The next morning, we asked the hotel owner and the gas station attendant about the road to Perito Moreno, with the hotel owner being less than helpful, but the gas station attendant confirming it was about ten miles of ripple, and then asphalt all the way to Perito Moreno.
The ripple for that ten miles was the worst of the trip, by far. Large stones that move when you hit them and then the monster truck tire marks of road that combine for slow painful driving. (I try to not exaggerate, and am sure some riders would call us wussies for complaining, but when you’re close to the end of a 15,500 mile ride you really don’t want anything to happen to your bike, and riding on these roads is hard on both rider and bike). We finally reached where the asphalt began, and enjoyed the freedom of being able to do 70mph again, all the way to Perito Moreno.
In Perito Moreno we filled up with gas and asked the attendants about the conditions of the road to Tres Lagos (our intended stop for the night, and original stopping point after Perito Moreno, trying to get back on track). He confirmed it was all paved for about 500km, which would get us to Tres Lagos at least.
Riding from gas station to gas station, we made our way toward Tres Lagos, on amazing asphalt through dry plains. 100 miles, 200 miles, we pulled into Gobernador Gregones as the sun was setting, though with the goal in mind that we were going to make the push to Tres Lagos to stop from falling behind. I suggested to Alex that we should ask some locals about the road, just to make sure we didn’t get stuck on another ripple road, at night time.
After talking with a truck driver (they always know the best roads, and have really great concepts of distance) we learned that the road would be about 40 miles of asphalt and than would turn to ripple for another 80 miles till Tres Lagos. We were staying in Gobernador Gregones for the night, but good thing we asked.
It wouldn’t be till the next morning that we would find out that we somehow got off the 40, to get to Gobernador Gregones, but the 40 turned to ripple anyway, and wouldn’t have saved us anytime. It was off to another long day of gravel.
The truck driver was right on and after 40 miles, the road suddenly ended into a dirt road. It bears mentioning that the first 40 miles of this road was some of the best ripple road of the whole trip. Compacted dirt with little to no rocks that allowed us, at some points, to make it up to 40mph. At some point this ended, and was replaced with the larger rock ripple, that only allows 10mph and fatigues body and mind.
The detour to Gobernador Gregones ended up being a blessing in disguise as it not only prevented us from trying to get to Tres Lagos in one day, but also from having to stay in Tres Lagos, which didn’t have any real roads leading to it and in general looked less than welcoming (though I don’t actually know as we never made it into that town, but simply skirted it).
It took us four hours to go 80 miles and make it to Tres Lagos, however once we made it there we were hell bent on making it the rest of the way to Rio Gallegous, our original plan for those three days of riding. It would be another 200 plus miles of riding, ending the day at 360 miles, to get us into Rio Gallegos after the sun set.
Posted on April 7, 2014
As my bike odometer ticked off the final tenths of a mile to 30,000 I started to slow my bike, shifting down through the gears I came to a slow stop and pulled out my phone to take photos of the odometer as Nathaniel parked his bike and jogged up to me.
I had missed taking a photo of the 20,000 mile reading in Guatemala (it had been raining) so the 30,000 mile mark felt extra special for both of us. Nathaniel started doing a happy dance, however my laughter was cut short as he pointed at the ground “Holy crap babe- your bike is leaking!”I looked down and an acid green liquid was all over my boots and engine, it had even puddled on the inside of my skid plate. I parked the bike and under closer inspection we realized the thin metal grating that protects my radiator which has been broken for sometime had rubbed a hole in the wall of my radiator!
I know that sounds bizarre, but since I ‘temporarily purchased’ the bike from Chuck Squatrigilia (who I also refer to as my motorcycle mentor) a year ago I’ve put somewhere around 20,000 miles on the bike. In 20,000 miles anything is possible.
It also kind of blows my mind I’ve put 20,000 miles on that bike in a year. My first year riding! Anyways…
Together we removed the screen and brought out the JB Weld. JB Weld is some amazing stuff, though it takes at least an hour to harden to the point where you can test whatever you are attempting to fix with it.
I tore off a piece and mashed it into a ball, rolling it around in my hands over and over till it was a uniform color I began trying to mush it over the hole that had been leaking the bright green fluid.
I say try because it would not stick although we had wiped the area dry. I tossed the useless already hardening putty into the bushes, tore off another piece and started the process again.
The second time it seemed to stick well so all we had to do was wait an hour before turning on the engine to see if the JB weld would do its job.
I took a few photos, Nathaniel took some photos, I skipped rocks across the road, we waited. I made a pillow out of my winter riding gloves and a Marc Jacobs clutch so I could lay down on the side of the road. I am sure any passing motorists thought I was crazy.
After an hour we decided to try the bike and see if the JB Weld was going to hold my radiator fluid. Nathaniel started it up as I knelt on the ground to inspect the patch and it looked fine! We were so excited! 10 seconds, 20, 30, Nathaniel suggested we rev the engine to an rpm it would have to run at when we got back on the road and once he got it up to 3500RPM the green liquid start to ooze out of invisible cracks, which quickly turned into a steady drip puddling in my skid plate.
We shut the bike off and I reached for more JB Weld. We had enough daylight left to try this one more time before we were going to have to try something drastic like towing my bike behind Nathaniel’s without proper rope.
I began mashing up the grey putty as Nathaniel wiped the bike dry again so I could apply it. Carefully tapping and rubbing the JB weld onto its self I held my breath hoping it would stick and it did.
We had another hour to wait.
And, it didn’t work.
We were frustrated at this point mostly because it was going to be dark within an hour and still being up in the mountains it was getting cold. I waved a car down and asked if they had any rope. They didn’t have anything we could use to tow my bike, however they said the next town was only 16 kilometers away (ten miles), which was helpful to know.
I figured the only option was for Nathaniel to tow me with his bike so I connected my leather belt from Gap to the metal cable we use to lock up the bikes, which I in turn connected to a random length of orange stretchy cable (I don’t know where it even came from) using our padlocks. I thought it would hold, but Nathaniel had his doubts. The part I was most worried about was that it was only long enough to give us about two feet of space between his back tire and my front tire which I don’t need an expert to tell me is stupid and not at all safe.
We were both nervous because although we have ridden so far in the last few months we are still newbies when it comes to motorcycles. We still need help sometimes deciding if something can be fixed with duct tape or if we need a real mechanic. And of course, neither of us has ever towed a bike or been towed while riding one.
The way KLR plastics are shaped made it really hard to find something to wrap the cable around in the first place and our bikes have a much higher center of gravity than say a Harley-Davidson, which makes tipping over at low speeds really easy to do.
With my bike in neutral I was completely tense as Nathaniel carefully let his clutch out and got his bike rolling. The strange assortment of cables and leather held and I started to roll forward, but my front forks were jerked to the left and then the right and back again. I yelled at Nathaniel to stop, we took a breather and we tried again.
I had no control over where my bike was going and Nathaniel said he was getting jerked around as well.
I think we got about 30 feet before we gave up.
It was at this point we decided that I just had to drive the bike to the next town. Neither of us wanted to leave the other waiting on the side of the road and Nathaniel doesn’t speak spanish so sending him ahead didn’t make much sense anyways.
It was cold enough out, and the JB Weld had slowed the leak down to a slow drip, where I thought my bike would be okay.
We were to the next town in a few minutes (exactly ten miles, which is surprising considering many times we have been told one estimate and had it be completely wrong),however it was much smaller than we thought. It was tiny. Like- so small if you were in a car and your passenger dropped something on the floorboard they might miss the town while they were bent over looking for it.
Just past the town’s only gas station Nathaniel pulled onto what looked like a paved driveway and braked very quickly. I braked hard to avoid hitting him and unfortunately for me the part I had to brake on was covered in gravel (of course).
My back end started to fishtail and I almost kept it upright. As my bike came to a stop it leaned so far I had to put my feet down, but it didn’t help. The bike was going over although there were a few seconds where I though I could hold it till Nathaniel got off his bike.
The bike was leaning at a 45 degree angle and both my feet were solidly on the ground, though I was straining to hold it in that position. Nathaniel saw what was happening and tried to get off his bike to help, however I realized (thinking back to a story about my Dad) that it wasn’t worth hurting myself to keep the bike from falling another two feet.
So, I let the bike go as I hopped to the right onto the ground with it to keep myself from getting pinned under it. Nathaniel helped me pick the bike back up and the KLR was of course fine, but I broke my THIRD mirror of the trip. (I assure you I teased him about this for the rest of the night.)
We were lucky that Tecka had a hotel because the next town wasn’t for 50 miles. The hotel ended up being a part of the gas station so after we locked the bikes up we bought some cold cuts, bread and chips to have a picnic in our room. It was sadly enough one of the more satisfying meals we had enjoyed for several days.
The next morning finding the town’s mechanic (Alejandro) was pretty simple seeing as it was the building with all the rusted cars laying in front of it. Alejandro appeared from across the street after we had only been waiting at the shop for a few minutes (it was early) and I tried to explain what was going on with my bike.
He told us to bring the bike over and he’d take a look at it.
Once he saw the problem he assured us he could fix it. Nathaniel went to get us coffee and pastries at the gas station while Alejandro and I went to work taking the bike apart. If I didn’t have the panniers and top box on the bike it would still be a little bit of a chore to remove the radiator, however all told you have to take off something like 19 bolts before you can even think about touching it.
Once we actually had the radiator out it didn’t actually take Alejandro that long to clean the aluminum with some acid and solder it back up. He also put some kind of hardening epoxy mixed with steel wool over the solder and explained that the epoxy can flex more with extreme temperature changes and will help the solder hold.
After we put everything back together it came time to pay and we did not have enough cash on hand. Nathaniel rode to the only ATM in town and it was empty! (of course)
I asked Alejandro where the next atm was and he said I could find one in the next town 50 miles away! So, off I road at about 70 miles an hour down the highway, checking to make sure the patch held about five miles down the road. Finding the ATM was easy and I powered down a milanesa sandwhich at that town’s only gas station before turning around and riding another 50 miles BACK to Tecka.
Nathaniel says that while I was gone Alejandro decided to make us dinner and went to the store to buy a chicken for us. This was how we found ourselves being fed dinner once again by a Argentinian mechanic.
After dinner we pushed on south once again, making it back to the town with the ATM and the gas station!
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: