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Old 03-15-2014, 02:01 PM   #16
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Arrival! Days 1-2

It's 1983.

As we have every year since 1975, my father, brother and I are at the Long Beach Grand Prix. And much to my dismay, this will be the last time that it hosts the Formula 1 circus.

Strolling by myself through the packed Vendor Row, I am handed a free issue of some magazine called On Track. It has a cool photo of Niki Lauda on the cover, and since he's one of my faves, I start flipping through the pages.

Towards the back, after all the articles on F1, IndyCar, Le Mans, Sebring etc., there is a single page article with two photos; one that shows a rally car jumping a sand dune, and the other of a solo motorcycle rider blazing across a dusty, barren plain. The complete, utter solitude of the rider catches my eye. For a looong moment, I stare hard at the photo, envisioning his isolation, before I finally glance at the article title.

"Paris to Dakar Rally, Week 2 Report".

My imagination races. Paris... France? Dakar..... in Africa? How is that possible? Around the Med? Ferries? Week 2? How many weeks is the race? And damn it all, where's the Week 1 report?

Mind spinning, I walk back to my grandstand seat in time for the start of the grand prix, and I'm enthralled with a thrilling race as Watson and Lauda carve the field en route to a stunning 1-2 finish. The car ride back home is filled with discussion of Michelin superiority, the impressive McLaren chassis, and Lauda's title chances.

But that night in bed, I'm looking at that photo of the solo rider.


Standing curbside at the Santiago airport, one duffel in my hand, the other on my back, I gazed wistfully to the north where The Dakar now finishes its route. This is as close as I'll get to it. This time.

I glanced to my right and saw the fellow who sat next to me on the plane. He shoots me a dose of stink eye. "He must still be sore," I muttered to myself. With three hours remaining on the flight, I was returning from the head when a jolt of turbulence threw me off-balance, and I fell into my aisle seat with hand outstretched to catch myself on the center armrest. In the darkness of the cabin, my hand slid off the armrest and, palm open, into the guy´s crotch. Unsure which of us was more horrified, I collapsed the rest of the way into my seat, and let a long moment pass.

"Anything I can say to apologize and, simultaneously convince you that was an accident?" I joked weakly.

Silence.

Two minutes later, the stewardess rolled up with the beverage cart. "Drinks or snacks, gentlemen?" she queried. The dude fired his salvo. Pointing at me, he deadpanned, "He'll have the nuts."

Back curbside at the airport, I gave my seat buddy a hearty wave before I dove into into a cab that took me to the bike. I had spent many hours on the Motorcycle Issue. Ship my own? Rent? Purchase locally?

With just a few weeks at my disposal, I opted to spin the wheel of fortune and rent from a company that specialized in very low mileage adventure-prepped bikes (we'll put that reputation to the test, eh?). A Kawasaki KLR 650, the AK-47 of the adventure world, was waiting for me upon arrival.

I spent about 40 minutes going over the bike, utilizing my meager mechanical skills to check the chain, tires, pressures, hoses, fluids, included tools and spares, and finally, the odometer. I had it packed within another hour and by noon local time, my South American adventure was underway.

Having just finished 16 hours of travel, yet juiced with adrenaline, my only goal was to make it out of the city and get a few miles south. I wanted to put Santiago behind me; I came to see mountains and rain forests and open plains, not some sprawling metropolis with the usual blend of high rises surrounded by hovels. We got all that back home in Los Angeles.

Using 8000 year-old technology perfected by the ancient Greeks, I used a map to find Ruta 5 South, aka the Pan American Highway. A two hour ride was interrupted only by a stop for lunch, which got me re-energized and I made 190 miles that day, stopping in the small town of Linares.

Per my established roadtrip routine, I just rode around until I found a hotel that passed the Eyeball Test. The owner was a charming woman who welcomed me and the bike into a secured locked carport. A quick meal, a quick online chat with my girl, and I turned in for the night, eager to get my normal 6-7 hours of sleep.



I awoke 10 hours later.

Day 2 and my goal was to reach Puerto Montt, a further 450 miles south. I knew going in that these first two days were just slogs, gateways to the stunning Al Sur. And they were... Ruta 5 south of Santiago is like Interstate 5 north of Bakersfield. Nothing to see here, folks.

Closer to Puerto Montt and wide open agriculture was a welcome sight, soon giving way to new growth forests. I pulled into Puerto Montt just before twilight with a slight drizzle coming down. With rain and darkness looming, I spotted a Holiday Inn Express right on the water's edge and, better yet, the headwater of the Carretera Austral, the famed Chilean road and half the reason for coming here.

With the ugly highway behind me, tomorrow will be the true start of this misadventure.

More photos at backpackermoto.com
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Old 03-15-2014, 02:17 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by FotoTEX View Post
And yes, there is cell reception in Tierra del Fuego, at least my AT&T phone worked there.
Well then, good thing I'm on Verizon.

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Originally Posted by Travelbugblues View Post

1) You are a GIRL! Girls shouldn't travel around Latin America alone!

On another note, when you end up in the Tierra del Fuego national park, be very, very wary of this Fat Fox, who ate my motorcycle bag and I had to run around in the pitch black, half naked, trying to get it back!
Can't imagine there are too many solo girl travelers who don't get that reason from one parent or the other.

If I get that far south, I'll probably feed that fox. I'm a sucker for the wildlife.
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Old 03-18-2014, 06:37 AM   #18
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Day 3

It's 1978.

"Mechanical sympathy," my father explains, carefully lubing the chain on my bicycle. "Take care of the machine, it takes care of you," he further preaches, the mechanic in him unable to cease the sermon to a ten year old boy.

"Yah yah yah," I think to myself. " I just want to RIDE it already!"

Dawn.

I roll out of the hotel underground parking, backlit by subterranean garage lighting and into the morning fog. Like Maverick and Goose, I'm on an F14 being hoisted onto the deck of the Nimitz.

It's an inspired moment. Early morning light struggles to pierce the fog and rain, but the blue glow illuminates the bay to my right as I work my way down this coastal highway. This is the Carratera Austral, one of the most stunning and challenging roads in the world, a glorious mix of billiard table asphalt and pot-hole washboard incisor-breaking gravel.

Miles 5 and 6 roll by. This early, the smooth road is barren of traffic, mine to enjoy as the sky gets a little brighter. Mile 7, I am Joy personified. One of those experiences that already surpasses the expectations you envisoned when you gazed at the wall map, Mile 8---

SNAP TWANG GRRRRR.

No drive. Something dragging. I coast to a halt in front of a farmhouse, where two dogs start barking at me before I can even dismount.

Putting down the KLR's cruel hoax of a kickstand, I climb off and glance down. Chain is off.... but not broken. Headlamp in side pocket of tank bag comes out, and I inspect the rear sprocket. No damage I can spot. I get half of the chain back on, roll the bike backwards, and the chain eases into place. The dogs cheer.

However, the chain is much looser than when I did my inspection that morning. And this is the triple ferry day, where the goal is to ride 25 miles to La Arena, catch the ferry to Puelche, then 35 miles to Hornopiren for the once-daily 11 am ferry to Leptepu, then a short 6 mile hop to Fjordo Largo and the final boat to Caleta Gonzalo.

I baby the bike onto the highway and play things conservatively, easing my way slowly to a max of 30-35 mph. All seems fine. I roll up to a backlog of trucks and vans at what appears to be road construction, so I roll past them to see what's the hold up. Turns out, I've reached the first dock! And the boat has just dropped its ramp!

The euphoria of success sweeps over me. I slap the KLR on the tank , the deckhand waves me forward with a flourish, and I putt onto the ferry. Rain still falls, harder, but I'm all grins.

The ferry pulls out for its short 30 minute voyage, and I take the opportunity to look at the chain again.Seems the same as when I got it back on, and rear wheel seems tight. I have two and a half hours to ride the 35 miles to Hornopiren, so I decide that when this boat docks, I'll look for a mechanic immediately.

That search proves fruitless. If I miss the Hornopiren ferry, I'll be stuck until the next day, so I opt to gamble the ride. If I break down, I miss it. If I don't try, I'll miss it.

I chug slowly out of Puelche..... at least the road is paved...

To be continued....
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Old 03-18-2014, 02:31 PM   #19
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Interesting wrote report . Have fun
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Old 03-19-2014, 09:01 PM   #20
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For those joining in, Mr. BPM is a motorsports journalist, and quite a writer. He is almost equally as nooblyas a rider.

In.

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Old 03-20-2014, 07:14 AM   #21
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For those joining in, Mr. BPM is a motorsports journalist, and quite a writer. He is almost equally as nooblyas a rider.
BP pegged it. Me = ADV Noob > writer!
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Old 03-20-2014, 07:27 AM   #22
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Day 3 (Part II) - 4

Nope. Didn't make the second ferry.



I encountered two gentlemen about halfway there. By then, just ten miles from Puelche, the smooth pavement had long since transformed into a dirt "road" that closely resembled the surface of the moon. The chain had come off five times and was so loose I was able to just drape it over the rear sprocket. The appropriate wrench to adjust the tension... let's just say it would have been perfect if the nuts had been completely round.

I was first-gearing it up the crater-filled lunarscape when I spotted Willi and Sergio working on a huge truck. Using my Senor Fish menu Spanish, I expertly explained my problem, roughly translating out to "Can you make my broken carnitas chain taco?"

Fortunately, mechanics speak a language that needs no translation: this dumbass wants me to fix his problem. And it took no words to illustrate the bike's illness.



Willi (the talker) and Sergio (the worker) were reminders to me ( I need such things) that there are still some damn good human beings on this planet. They stopped their work to help me, in the pouring rain, in Sergio's driveway, on the side of the Carretera Austral, in the middle of nowhere. Willi explained that Sergio lived there with his two children, the mere mention of whom made Sergio beam with pride.
I was relieved that it took them considerable energy to loosen and make the rear wheel adjustments. I'd have had no chance. When they were done, they asked when I would be coming by on the return. I was instantly bummed that I was almost certain to come back through Argentina, and that I wouldn't see them again.

They refused any money for the work, until I demanded and they humbly requested 1000 pesos each. I gave them 10000 each and feigned nothing smaller. They acted like they'd won the lottery, when it fact, it was me who had won.

I chugged away to their cheers and farewells. Me... I was elated and melancholy at the same time.

I reached Hornopiren having missed the ferry by 45 minutes, meaning I was stuck there for the next 23 hours. Surprisingly unperturbed, I decided to commemorate my arrival with a self-photo that would illustrate my dark and complex loner personality. Sadly/fortunately, my efforts were thwarted by an out of control roaming pack of dogs who kept photo-bombing me. They seemed certain I had snacks in the tank bag. They were right.



Next morning brought perfect blue skies, and the remaining two ferries got me to Carleta Gonzalo about 4 PM. Most folks choose to stay the night in nearby Chaiten, I opted for a few more miles.

I arrived in tiny Villa Santa Lucia, where the only hostel (four tin walls and a roof) was full. Just as well, I'll take my tent any day over a shared room with Sven the Scandinavian who last showered in 2012. Toasty warm, I happily crawled into my bag.

Many more photos at Backpackermoto.com
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Old 03-20-2014, 08:23 AM   #23
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Your writing ability is only surpassed by your photo-journalists skills.
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Old 03-20-2014, 12:59 PM   #24
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Your writing ability is only surpassed by your photo-journalists skills.
..... only surpassed by my mechanic skills.
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Old 03-20-2014, 07:45 PM   #25
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Nice report so far, keep up the good work. Well more photos of gorgeous women or scenery would add that touch of class.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:02 PM   #26
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Your writing ability is only surpassed by your photo-journalists skills.
Following as well. Thanks for adding your writing style.


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Old 03-21-2014, 05:14 AM   #27
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Nice report so far, keep up the good work. Well more photos of gorgeous women or scenery would add that touch of class.
Thank you kindly. LOTS of scenery photos coming up, at next good WiFi waypoint. Definitely hit or miss with the internet down here. Here's a quick preview...



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Following as well. Thanks for adding your writing style.
Just trying to present it all a little differently, I appreciate you following the adventure.
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Old 03-21-2014, 10:56 AM   #28
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Enough prologue. STORY TIME!!!

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Old 03-22-2014, 10:19 AM   #29
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Day 5

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Enough prologue. STORY TIME!!!
I punch out of Villa Santa Lucia and, sweet bliss, brand new asphalt!! Click up through the gears and now we'd see some riding! Wooooot! Mile 1 blazes by, Mile 2 in a flash, and then....



Followed by....



The 70 km from Villa Santa Lucia to La Junta takes:

Three.

F$%&ing.

Hours.

No fewer than 12 construction stops, as in, stop, shut off the engine, get off, chat with the construction workers, learn their children's names, etc. One day, the Carretera Austral will all be paved, and only senile men will fondly remember the challenges this road once presented. For now, the delays are a bit of a downer.

Fortunately, La Junta is a nice outpost. Gas, oil, and good eats. This place at the south end of town serves up hot soup, incredible chicken, and smokin' internet.



South of La Junta and the road begins its incline into the mountains. Passing through a few small towns and the scenery also begins to improve:



The road is decent packed gravel, and soon the ascent takes me into increasingly thick canopy, call it rain forest or jungle depending upon your bias...



The higher I go, the narrower the road becomes, and the surface gets worse, lots of washboard and blast craters. Now just a single lane, the corners are tight, blind, and for the first time, I'm nervous. All it will take is one Colin McRae wannabe on this road and I'm hood ornament material. The road is pure switchback, one trundling first gear hairpin after another, up and up.

I reach a small plateau and spot a nice wide turnout, so I pull over for water, a snack, and nerve collection. A huge metallic clatter echoes down the road, I look up to see this guy in Dakar Support Vehicle mode...



"Not a banana truck that will kill me," I state, amused. "That's a gas truck!"

Another dozen miles and I seem to have reached the crest, now slowly headed downhill. More construction, but these guys are my kinda stupid. They just wave me under the arm, barely stopping their work as I cruise beneath.



The descent is much easier, road surface improved, fewer blind corners, and of most relief to me, more like one and a half lanes now. I will take potholes and no visibility, just give me a little room to escape from a Petrobas rig.

Incredibly from nowhere, asphalt again. Open canyon big grin twisties, glacial waters as my wingman...



Down further goes the road now, a thoroughfare built using dynamite and sweat to blast away the stone so that I may pass....



And then I reach a broad valley, the elusive sun shining upon me. Clouds create dramatic shadows on the surrounding hills, horses roam free, there have been no other vehicles for over an hour. This stretch of the Carretera Austal, perfect in every way, is mine forever.

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Old 03-23-2014, 07:11 PM   #30
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Day 6 preview photos

A few photos from the upcoming Day 6 report...

Late morning twisties, north of Villa Cerro Castillo...



Roadside during a "put on a warmer layer" stop, I meet Canadian Jeremy and his HP2.



The approach to Puerto Rio Tranquilo...



More to come!
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