Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Darien Revisited?

What a difference a day (and a bit of rain) makes! The scene of one of many falls on a slippery Ruta 40. On wet clay, the bike is like an elephant on ice skates.

12:30 a.m.

Camped across the road from a small hotel and bar somewhere out in the middle of nowhere on Ruta 40. Traveled maybe 20 miles today. The most difficult conditions since Darien, Panama, and very similar in ways.

Earlier today

Still inside my tent! The wind came on early this morning and it was powerful. I was afraid it would pull out the tent stakes, and wondered how I would pack everything up without it blowing away.

It was fairly cold and around 9:00, I put on my riding suit inside the tent and ventured out. Just then it started to rain, horizontally. I decided I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile. Climbed back into the tent. Hanspeter’s words that it doesn’t rain much out on Ruta 40 were echoing in my brain. And from the landscape, it appears desert, so what’s the deal?

Though the wind has subsided, the rain continues and the floor of the tent is getting pretty wet, so I’ll have to move soon. I peaked outside and there’s some sign of clearing to the west, so I’m hoping the sun might appear soon.


When I was ready to leave my campsite around 12:30 today, I saw a couple vehicles go by and water seemed to be splashing. I had figured this relatively light rain would have just soaked in, but driving over to the highway, I could see water pooled up ahead and soon found out that just below a layer of gravel, the road surface had turned to a slippery mud.

With traffic working the surface into ruts, the riding became more treacherous throughout the day

Though the shoulders appear to be firmer ground, they're the most dangerous

About ten miles down the road, with Bajo Caracoles in view just up ahead, I was slipping and sliding. I fell down and could not lift the bike, so all the gear came off. A policeman had just passed, but was too far beyond to notice me.

Refueled in Bajo Caracoles and continued south, trying to gingerly pick my way, as traffic during the day had created ruts in the mud. I tried everything: riding in ruts, riding on the shoulder, paddling the bike through the mud (which I did for miles) and taking off into the pampa (which is sandy and not as slippery, but very rough due to bunch grasses.)

I lost track of how many times I fell, but I clearly set a new record today. The fourth or fifth fall had me worried: the right pannier landed on my lower leg, twisting my knee. If it remained, it would be bad. But when the bike came to rest, it lifted up slightly, allowing me to free my leg. I was “fed up” at this point. “This is hopeless!”

The drill was becoming tiresome. This time, I just left the bike lying there. I couldn't lift it and didn't want to strip all the gear off again. Within a few minutes of taking this photo, a rider appeared in the background (maybe he's in this photo.)

I photographed the bike in the road. I didn’t want to unpack everything again. Then, in the distance, I saw a motorcyclist heading south, slowly making his way along the shoulder. At first, I thought it was the Japanese fellow, then I realized it was a much larger bike – in fact, just like mine. It was Sacha Beriro! The last time we had seen each other was in Anchorage, Alaska! His timing was perfect.
He helped to raise the bike, while we caught up on each other’s adventures.

I hadn't seen Sacha Beriro since June, in Anchorage, Alaska. Yet he shows up on the stage to help me lift my bike. How interesting is that? The mud on his "Jesse Bag" is a souvenir of his own recent encounter with the clay.

This machine's "Achilles Heel"

As in Darien, Panama, clay mud builds up under the front fender and in minutes creates a very effective brake, making it impossible to ride. When the front wheel locks up, the rear wheel just wants to go around it. Next thing you know, you're on the ground. The impacted mud was hot and black from tire rubber. I had to continually stop to dig the mud out with a tire iron - a fifteen minute process. Sacha was not experiencing this problem at all. He has a Michelin "Anakee" on the front. I have a "Tourance". Possibly a factor. (I later learned he was running his tires at a very low pressure, which likely assisted.)

I tried to follow him, but the mud build-up forced me to keep stopping. Eventually, we reached a particularly muddy area and I suggested he go on. If I couldn’t get through, I was going to camp. Paddled along at a few miles an hour and was almost through when I went down again. I couldn’t lift it, so all the gear came off once again.

There were a few more dicey areas, then I was able to get up some speed: 30 or 40 mph. Climbed up out of the flatlands and around a bend. Ahead I saw a building with Sacha’s bike parked out front. It was a small hotel, “El Olnie”.

“There IS a god!” Sacha said stepping outside to greet me. They had a room we could share, but being the infamous snorer, I said I would camp. There was an area sheltered by trees across the road that would suffice.

I set up camp, then walked over to the bar and hung out, drinking warm Coke and watching the local characters. Sacha said they were evidently preparing dinner for us.

With our host, Señor Manuel Perez Andare, and several other travelers, we sat at a long table in the kitchen and enjoyed fresh greens from the garden and (I think) roast lamb. (Earlier today, while I was playing in the mud, I saw the slab of meat pass by in the bed of a pick-up truck. That truck was now parked at the hotel.)

We were invited into the kitchen to join other travelers for dinner: really fresh roast lamb, and greens from the garden.

A bus stopped and the passengers crowded in for drinks and snacks. Sacha and I questioned them about road conditions to the south. The news was not good. They were coming from the south and had been traveling for 20 hours, just from El Calafate. Road conditions are bad, and several vehicles got stuck, blocking traffic, they said. The bus got stock and had to be towed out, after a six- or seven-hour wait. "Crap!" We thought it might be easy sailing from here, but further trials await!

This couple is from Tustin, California! Stocking up on water and beer.

Among the cast of characters passing through this country inn, Alejandro Carlos Martinez de Sanzo. Alejandro and his family own an estancia south of here, and plan to open a tourist business (trekking and horseback riding.) With the paving of Ruta 40 approaching, his business should boom! His brother directs Pepperdine University's (of Malibu) Buenos Aires Program.

I was up past midnight, visiting with travelers. Neck sore, left calf banged up, back strained from lifting the bike so many times, but the right knee seems okay! (I have a feeling this is how football players feel all season long!)


WorldRider said...

Good god. I sure hope it's dry for me as I head down south. That looks awful. Don't think I would kept going. You're the man Tim!

timtraveler said...

Hey, Worldrider!

You have the right idea to stay put for a day or two if it rains along Ruta 40. It seems to dry out quickly.

(It's practically desert, so rain should not be a common phenomena.)

On the other hand, I experienced none of the famous winds out there.

Anonymous said...

2 comments (relocated here after post consolidation):

Gen Kanai said...

Very poor design by BMW here. You should just take off that black plastic mudguard in very muddy conditions.

Basically the R12GS isn't really designed for what you are doing. Maybe the 12GS Adventure is a bit more designed for real round-the-world travel but as a platform, it's too heavy, imho.
6:55 PM
timtraveler said...

I considered taking it off, but to do so, the front wheel must be removed, and in these conditions, I'm very reluctant to start taking things apart.

Without the guard, the mud would be all over my windshield (and faceshield), as I've seen with some other riders.

I stubbornly continue to just dig it out (and occasionally fall down.)

It's crazy - another inch clearance would probably remedy the problem, but there's no way to remount the fender higher.

Mud seems to be the only situation where this bike is hopeless (though I haven't been in deep sand yet!)