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34 for 40 Journal
Up to Date Information Before, During and After the Ride
Now that the ride is finished you can read through each day from the beginning! Just scroll down and start reading!
Please send journal responses to dave@34for40.org, I would love to hear from you!
 
 

Day 1
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA  >  Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
September 1, 2006

Dave at the starting point in Prudhoe Bay, AlaskaThe Alarm clock went off at 3 AM for a planned 4 AM departure. Doesn't sound that terrible if you got to bed at 8 PM, or even 10 PM. But for Ryan and I who both retired near eleven and Donny who didn't hit the sack until one, the three o'clock alarm was annoying at best. (You will have to read about the last two days to learn why we all had so little sleep.)

Considering what lie ahead, the three AM awakening was pretty easy with the exception that we woke to temperatures in the 30's, drizzling rain and fog. What a way to start.

After a good 20 minutes of putting gear on and grabbing bags, the three of us jumped in the borrowed truck from Lynden Transport and drove over to their facility. The bikes were ready to go and we were soon off, following a wheelie by Ryan, for the East Checkpoint of British Petroleum - the farthest north you can travel on a continuous public road in the Western Hemisphere.

We were met at the checkpoint by Officer Neil Lynch of The North Slope Police Department, who signed our log books and sent us on our way toward Ushuaia, Argentina at exactly 4:28 AM Alaska time. Remember that number.

So there we were, three mice on a maze of roads that crisscross two contents heading for our piece of cheese. Donny was the leader following the GPS that took us on a tour of Prudhoe Bay, we did not need. Lost in our first 15 minutes.

Finally the GPS led us to the right road, the only road - the Dalton Highway, also known as the "Haul Road", south towards Fairbanks, Alaska.

As I sit here now, less than 24 hours after the beginning, the only way I can measure the day is by events - not by time or mileage. The first event was getting to the start, the second, Donny driving us in circles, the third was riding down through the freezing tundra, as flat as any place I have ever been, and I grew up in Central Illinois. The fourth was our first stop on the tundra and having my bike fail to restart after I turned it off. The battery was dead, drained that way by my overuse of electrical devices. It took us at least thirty minutes to get the jumper cables out and the bike restarted. We would have to do this twice more during the day before I figured out what was causing the problems, each time costing us a half an hour delay.

The fifth was the sheer pain. Even though the three of us had heated vests, thermal undies, and fabulous winter riding gear, the open shields on our helmets led to discussions of frostbite. We shared our first Clif Bars for breakfast along with some water and we were soon rejuvenated. For fun we shot some video displaying one of our helmets caked in ice.

As we traveled further, part six, we approached the Brook's Range. The view as the high tundra opened up to the peaks and valleys of these northern mountains was astonishing. We watched the rising sun as it lit the summits above the fog layer that had still not reached the ground below.

Part seven was the stopping to fill our tanks from spare jerricans hoping the bikes would make it to Cold Foot, Alaska where we could refill.

Part eight was riding the winding road over the tallest pass and finding the temperature on the other side to be 10 degrees warmer than the northern side that we had left. The icicles that had formed on our eyebrows and the little radio antennas melted away and we were finally able to turn off our heated vests.

Part nine was lunch at Cold Foot where we met Ian from London who had been on a BICYCLE for almost a year riding from Ushuaia on his way to Prudhoe Bay. By the way, to all future travelers making this journey - travel north to south as we are. To travel in Ian's footsteps, or tire tracks, you will end in the saddest city in the world - Prudhoe Bay, and you will ask yourself why you wasted your time to get there.

Part ten was very pleasant weather along rivers I cannot name and in valleys intermixed with Aspen and fir trees.

Part 11 was the mud pit. It left the most telling picture of journey. A mile or less of pure mud that coated our bikes, gear, and bodies. I was scared to death of dropping the bike, even though we could not travel faster than 20 miles an hour through it. It covered our face shields so fast that I was blind within a minute. It was scary, disgusting and hilarious all at the same time.

Part 12 was following a pace truck through a miles long construction area that was filled with inches thick loose gravel that was determined to unsaddle us. We all made it through without falling and I, the inexperienced off road rider received a, "Nice job Dave!" from Donny as I exited the other end.

Part 13 was a mirage. Even now I can't believe it exists. After hundreds of mile of rock and mud and dirt you arrive to a perfectly paved two-lane road that cause you to shout for join and praise the tar gods. And then, about five miles down that perfect piece of tarmac it disappears and turns into many, many more miles of dirt and rock and mess.

Part 14 was finally making it to pavement and racing along in turns and hills that motorcyclists around the world live for.

Part 15 was arriving to our hotel hours later than we ever expected to get here, washing the mud off our bikes, working on this journal and ...

Going to sleep.

 



Day 2
Fairbanks, Alaska, USA  >  Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada
September 3, 2006
8:00 AM
(Preparing to Start Day 3)

I am writing this entry from the curbside of a hotel in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. It's 8 am. We arrived at the hotel at 3:30 am. It was cold and we were tired when we stopped.

Our gallant efforts to regain time yesterday resulted in more delays. Donny's front fork seal went out on us about 200 miles outside of Whitehorse. Ryan put down the video camera and put on his mechanics hat and immediately went to town on the fork.

Donny got back on the bike and headed south but we were held back again when the fork went sloppy on him again. We pulled over for another very long delay because when we re-checked the fork there was now fluid still in it and yet it was making a nasty noise every time we hit a bump.

The Iridium satellite phone came in handy again as we called our two dealers on their cells late at night. Calgary is 1100 miles away, and it is Sunday, on a holiday weekend.

All we can do is get on the bikes and head south. We won't be able to make up any time but we may be able to put some miles behind us.

Amongst other problems, yesterday morning I somehow pulled the communications cord out of my helmet so I had no way to talk to Ryan and Donny on the road. This is after blew up my iPod the day before we left on my first test run. So I have been without music for two days and then without communication. During Ryan and Donny's repairs on the forks I pulled out a soldering iron and re-wired my helmet. At least I was back to talking with the guys for the last 5 hours into Whitehorse.

We had rain yesterday but it did not slow us down too much. The roads are much better now and before the seal issue we were making good time.

That's about it for right now. We have to get back on the road. Watch for supplemental updates with regards to our first two days in Prudhoe Bay and more about the good things that happened yesterday. Amongst them we are happy, and safe.

Dave

 



Day 3
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada  >  Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
September 4, 2006
3:00 A.M. (Ending Day 3)

Today started with good intentions - a short nap, fast in and out of the motel, a quick breakfast, but was held up at the start as we desperately tried to get knowledgeable information on what was going on with Donny's forks - the math just wasn’t adding up

Remember it is Sunday morning on a holiday weekend. Not a single motorcycle service shop was open in the western hemisphere, that's the one we are trying to race down. Luckily for us, the owners of the dealerships that are sponsoring our ride have provided us with their cell numbers, and after phone calls through them to their services reps we finally received some answers that made us more comfortable about riding further on a hobbled bike. Donny had a long day ahead of him to keep the GS going straight down the road; the good news is that we had fantastic roads that were wide and straight with big long turns. Easier for holding a bike that oscillated at speed. The bad news is that these same roads would have provided the current record holders the opportunity to make big miles going at high speed.

The day continued to be one of those "burn in" days that you have as you are trying to get all the bugs out of a system. It's starting to take less time at gas stations as we pulled off our first "helmet on" gas stop. This is where you pull up to a gas station, one guy goes into pay while the two others tend to the bikes, while none of the riders remove their helmets. Every time a helmet comes off at a stop, time is wasted as gloves have to come off also, and glasses, and ear plugs and the list seems to go on and on and then it all gets reversed as it all has to go back on.

Part of the burn in is knowing where all of the items you are going to need are stored on the bike. Having no time to work with our bikes at home before the trip started, we are not absolutely aware of where everything has been put causing delays as we unpack and repack everytime we need something. The "system" that is developed along the ride makes every future stop faster. Shortening the stops is the only way to make out more time in the saddle.

As for the ride itself, well once on the road thescenery could not be topped riding through the Yukon and British Columbia is just stunning. You can't count how many times we yell, "Awesome!" in to the mics as we rode along.

To top off the stops, at one AM we pulled over on the side of the road in a valley next to a river. Once we got off the bikes we suddenly noticed the Northern Lights lighting up the sky above us. It was a sight like nothing any of us had ever witnessed before. The sky above lit up like a huge white ghost being pulled into an even brighter white tornado. The funnel appeared to be sucking the apparition into the mountain behind us, while the ghost fought the mountain with its arms extended and flying through the sky.

At 3 AM I could no longer ride safely so we pulled into a motel knowing that we would once again lose ground on the record. Today we will refine our system even further and get farther along our route. The bad news, is that the three of us are well aware that the team that holds the record today, made an epic drive of 1,500 miles on day four of their journey. The best that we can do is to try and maintain good speed and not let the distance between our times get too far apart.

We are at least a day behind at this point with only 31 left to go and our hobbled bike is yet to be repaired - this by the way is due to lack of parts availability, and has nothing to do with Ryan’s ability to fix the bike on the road. Speaking of which he has already done a stellar job finding and fixing potential problems before they become an issue.

 



Day 4
Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada  >  Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
September 5, 2006
3:06 A.M. (Ending Day 4)

What a great day for the team! After spending the night - or a small portion of it - in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, the team managed to log 958 miles, stopping in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, around 3:00 A.M. their time.

A great day but certainly a long one! If you are thinking of making this trip yourself some day and wondering just how much effort it takes here is the actual message we received from Dave:

In Lethbridge Canada

958 miles today

Going to bed now

Will try to make phoenix straight thru
When we awake

Please post

Dave


So as you can see, a lot of energy is going into the daily effort.

 


Day 5
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada  >  Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
September 5, 2006
(Ending Day 5)

 


Day 6
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA  >  Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

September 7, 2006
(Ending Day 6)

Where to begin? Seriously, where did this day begin? Sometime late last night Ryan and I had to call it quits even though I tried a couple of different ideas to stay awake - short of mainlining. (That's a joke folks.)

It was sometime after midnight on day 5, again freezing cold, when we stopped for gas. While the guys put gas into my bike I went inside and ordered, get this, a cup of coffee and a Turtle ice cream bar. First off, my family can attest, I don't typically eat ice cream. So why would a grown man who is already freezing cold order and ice cream bar? That just shows you of my thought process at the time. In my mind I thought the sugar from ice cream might make it in my blood stream faster than a candy bar and pick me up a bit. It didn't work.

After the stop we traveled another 30 miles down Interstate 15, about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City when I called it quits. I could no longer move forward safely. Ryan decided to bag out with me while Donny, who was still going strong, continued on for Phoenix. Ryan and I pulled into an RV park, paid the 20 dollars for a spot, pulled out the drop cloth and went to sleep on the grass. I slept in my riding gear, Ryan actually got into his sleeping bag. We had two, maybe three hours of sleep and then, it started to rain. We got up, and hit the road.

Ryan did well with the couple hours of sleep. I was a mess. I felt drunk. I couldn’t concentrate and just wanted more sleep. We got on the bikes and headed for Salt Lake City. About 20 miles down the road we stopped for gas and a pick-me-up. I had a Red Bull (not a sponsor - but really people, you should think about it) and a banana.

Back on the bikes, and believe it or not, I felt better, much better. We made about 120 miles before "hit the wall." Even though I didn’t need gas yet, we stopped, refueled and I had another Red Bull. Five minutes later, I was ready to go.

We made it 100 miles this time before my body said, "Stop." Repeat the paragraph above, another Red Bull, and on the road again.

This time we made 80 miles before the fourth Red Bull of the day. This time something really kicked in. We were deep into Utah and I just started to feel good and no longer tired. Ryan and I were making great progress.

Our speed was up - way up. Miles were clicking by. I was in the zone. For some reason, I forget now, we pulled over at the top of an on-ramp. We took a few pictures, walked a bit and then I looked down at Ryan’s tire and noticed; cords.

Cords are what you find below the rubber when a tire is worn out. It had only just stared to show but we had told our wives and family we would come home happy and healthy so we decided not to risk running on this tire and drove a bit out of our way to St. George, Utah where Ryan was able to find a shop with a tire that would fit. It was a big *#146;ol knobby. That's all they had in town to fit his rim.

Side Note: Ryan wanted me to make sure I added that the guys at Pro Cycle in St. George, Utah were better than just nice to him. They actually pulled another bike off the "rack" to make room for Ryan’s tire change. He notes that Travis did the fastest tire change he has ever witnessed. Which is good, and bad - there was no time for Ryan to get a nap!

While Ryan was searching for a tire in a previous shop, a manager at the store asked me what was going on. I told him about our journey and the next thing I knew a television crew was onsite to do an interview with me for the St. George News station. See, even bad things (the tire) end up good.

You are probably wondering about Donny. Donny currently lives in the Phoenix area so he was STILL powering on from the night before determined to make the 1,200 mile run all the way home to see his family and get his bike into service at BMW Motorcycles of Scottsdale. Remember, Donny has not only been riding for over 24 our on this stretch, having departed Lethbridge, Canada the morning before, but he is riding on a seriously crippled bike with a bad front fork seal. This guy is superman when it comes to motorcycle riding.

Back to Ryan and I, we depart St. George and head towards the north side of the Grand Canyon to cut from Interstate 15 on route 89A towards Flagstaff, Arizona. The road is remote to say the least. As we are powering down a valley, my temperature light comes on. This isn't the first temperature light we have seen during the trip. In fact, I am the last of the three bikes to have some temperature issue, due mainly to the nasty gray crud of Prudhoe Bay.

As the others before me, I slow the bike and watch the light. However, mine doesn't go out. I pull to the side of the road and Ryan discovers a shot radiator fan. (See Prudhoe Bay crud above.)

My first plan is to stop here by the side of the road. Send Ryan onto Phoenix 400 miles away and then follow at night when the temperatures drop. However, in the hour we are delayed, the temps begin to drop fast. So fast we put on winter rain gear. I decide to give the bike a try. I ride one mile down the road when I smell smoke!

The bike dies.

Ryan and I get the bike to the side of the road and begin investigating the cause. We determine the broken fan has shorted out the main fuse. We unplug the fan, replace the fuse and are once again on the road.

Darkness has arrived. We are going to have another long night ahead of us.

Finally, we arrive in Flagstaff. It’s late. We won’t make Phoenix tonight. We pull into a motel and get some sleep. The wakeup call will come at 4 AM.

Donny made the entire journey from Lethbridge, Canada to Phoenix, AZ without sleep. His bike is in the shop being repaired and he is able to spend the night in his own bed.

Side Note: For those of you who have been waiting for journal updates and are calling my cell and satellite numbers with no success:

I have been without communication capabilities pretty much from the start in Prudhoe Bay. Some how, I pulled a microphone wire out of my headset. It will be repaired while I am in Phoenix. So please, don’t stop trying. If you have the numbers, call me. By the way, when I mean no communications it is way worse than it sounds. I can’t talk, to you, or Ryan and Donny, on the bikes. But I can hear them, talking, and laughing and having a good old time while I sit talking to myself for six long days.

Oh, my iPod is on its way. My daughter purchased one for me and reloaded all my music on it. My biggest regret so far has been not having music while traveling through some of the most beautiful vistas in the world. My favorite, by far, was day three in Canadian, British Columbia. The road was fabulous and the views were breathtaking. I will get caught up as soon as possible with the journals I am backed up on.

We leave Scottsdale this afternoon and will head straight for El Paso, TX to cross into Mexico.

 


Day 7
Scottsdale, Arizona, USA  >  El Paso, Texas, USA
September 8, 2006
6:00 A.M. CST (7:00 A.M. EST)

The adventure continues. Ryan and I started the day in Flagstaff, Arizona. We didn't have it in us to travel the last distance from Flagstaff to Phoenix on Wednesday after our very long and troubled trip from north of Salt Lake to Phoenix. The night came sooner than planned; we were, once again, tired, cold and wet.

We awoke early, around 4AM, and took straight off to Phoenix. My motorcycle ran without a cooling fan, which had stopped the day before. Even though it was very cold when we left Flagstaff, I had to be very careful not to burn my engine up on the way to Phoenix. When we were finally within 15 miles of BMW Motorcycles of Scottsdale we hit a traffic jam. There is nothing worse than sitting in traffic with an engine that has no fan. I was seriously worried I would blow up the engine and end my trip on Arizona 101. I had finally had enough and drove the breakdown lane past all the stopped traffic.

The arrival to Dave Slepek's shop was incredible to say the least. Ryan and I rolled our bikes inside next to Donny's which had arrived the day earlier. Louie the shop foreman put a couple guys on each of our bikes. We unpacked our stuff and walked away.

The next surprise is when Tom Witt walked in the door to Dave's shop. Tom had been interested in making the trip with us earlier in the planning stages. Tom picked up Ryan and I, along with all our gear and dirty clothes. HE then bought us lunch and dropped us off at his house so that we could wash clothes, catch up the website and even do an radio interview via phone with Mark Asher a sports jock in Arizona. When we finished, Tom took us back to our repaired bikes, went out and brought back dinner for us and even did some wrenching on my bike. Tom stayed at the shop with us until close, shook our hands and is now off planning to meet us in Argentina for the final leg of the trip.

As I said, it was an eventful day. Before we shipped off Ryan, Donny and I had a heart to heart discussion. There's not much further that needs to be said. They both believe in 34 for 40 and the Pat Tillman Foundation. In the end the two of them were willing to go on and ride the trip without me, or I would ride the trip without them.

I departed Phoenix for Ushuaia at about 7 PM.

My first stop was Wal-Mart. Not a big fan of the conglomerate but when you need a few supplies for a long trip late at night you just can't beat it. I bought some metric wrenches and other tools that Ryan was carrying for the trip. I thought about buying a video camera to record the remainder since Ryan was doing that for us but decided against it at the end. This trip will be recorded in words from here on out.

I finally got out of Phoenix around 9 PM and arrived at the Mexican border near El Paso, TX when they opened at 6 AM. I will call that the end of my day; Flagstaff to El Paso in 24 hours, approximately 600 miles.

 


Day 8
El Paso, Texas, USA  >  Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico
September 8, 2006

 

Last night I left Phoenix about 9 PM. I was a blur of emotions. I was mad, excited, scared, tired, worn, inspired; all at the same time. I knew that the best thing for me was to get on the bike and put miles between my ex-co-riders and myself. Somewhere along Interstate 10 I pull into a rest stop, park the bike and lay on the parking lot next to it to sleep. I just laid there, helmet on, gear on. An hour or two later, I was awaken by a truck going by. I stood up, mounted the bike and got back on the highway.

 

At 6 AM I found myself at the El Paso / Ciudad Juarez border crossing into Mexico. The crossing had just opened, however one of the people needed to sign off on my motorcycle documents was not in yet.  I didn’t mind, I slept in a waiting room chair for his arrival.

 

It was warm when I walked outside. I stood in the parking lot and changed to my warm weather gear. It was exciting to be in Mexico. A new unknown was getting ready to take place. While in the parking lot, I made two phone calls; one to Dan Molina to let him know where I was, and the other to my nephew Tony to explain what had gone down in Phoenix.  This was an important call with Tony, he was my link back to family and he knew as well as I did what was about to transpire. Tony asked when I was planning to tell my wife that I was alone. I told him later in the day when I had a few miles behind me. I had to promise to tell her before he got home from work. He was staying at my house while I was gone and he did not want to be holding any big secrets when he walked in the door.

 

So I got on the bike and rode. Of course things quickly went south, pardon the pun.  I was not in Mexico for an hour before I got lost. A half an hour later, sans any outside help, I get turned around and back on the right road.

 

I didn’t know what to expect about Mexico and its roads. Had no clue beyond what I had previously seen in major cities when traveling there on business. What I discovered is that the roads are very good, long and boring. I still had the drive in me to prove everybody, including my ex-partners wrong; that I could do this trip and break the record. The problem was that I had a big phone call coming and it was weighing very heavy on my heart.

 

At 4 PM I call my wife and give her the news that I am in Mexico, and alone. This news does not go over well. She wants me to turn around and head home immediately. I tell here I can not do that. I am already deep into Mexico and I have people counting on me. This information does not change the situation to her. Get back across the border is all I hear.

 

I tell her I have to try and go on. I am two days behind. If I get to Panama and things do not look promising, I will come home. I need to at least give it a go to Panama. She does not agree with my reasoning, but tells me she loves me as we hang up.

 

I ride on.

 

The night comes sooner than planned. This is an ongoing problem with me and motorcycling. All the trips I have ever made on a motorcycle end with a mad search for a hotel much later in the night than planned.  In my mind, I always see myself sitting around at dusk having a beer with my riding buddies watching the sunset, just before I prepare to head back to my cozy little B&B for a shower and sleep. What inevitably occurs is that it is 10 PM or later and I am in a strange town, the bad part of it no less, searching for a run down hole-in-the wall, before I am mugged at a street corner.

 

This happens again tonight.

 

When I finally arrive in Gomez Palacio, it is late and dark and dank. I ride around searching for a hotel. When I finally stop a cab, he points to a place that I would not put my worst enemy’s dog up for the night. I ride on. Finally, I find an ultra-nice hotel. When I try to enter they have no rooms. I don’t even get to the desk. I understand, I smell and look like a bum. However, the people are nice and they get an English speaker to help me out. They give me directions about 10 blocks away to a nice hotel. I thank them and depart.

 

When I arrive in the area I have been directed to, I am back at the same dump I saw earlier. The directions said it was a Best Western that I was looking for. This was no Best Western. I start increasing the circles I make around the blocks nearby. I finally find the Best Western and it is truly the best, Best Western, I have ever seen. This is the first time in the last 48 hours or more that I get a bed and a shower. I take a long hot one. Get in clothes long enough to go down and order room service. I eat, and immediately fall asleep.

                                                                                                                                                                                          

Day 9
Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico  >  San Juan Del Rio, Mexico
September 9, 2006
9:16 A.M. EST

Last night was a much needed and really good night's sleep in Gómez Palacio, Durango. If you want to find that on a map, Gómez Palacio is about 200 miles due west of Monterrey, Mexico and 375 miles almost due west of the southern tip of Texas.

The goal today is to make it to Mexico City. I am two days behind the previous record holders. It's a long and quiet road, but my communication system and satellite phone is getting great reception, so if you have my satellite number please give me a call. It'd be great to have some of you on board with me today.

 


Day 9 (continued)
Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico  >  San Juan Del Rio, Mexico
September 9, 2006
10:13 P.M. CST (11:13 P.M. EST)

I awoke early, grabbed my bags and trudged slowly out to the bike. It had rained hard the night before. The parking lot was wet along with my bike. All of my possessions were dry and ready to go. I got on the bike, found my way out of town and ended up on another very straight, very long, very boring, toll road.

My spirits were pretty low until the calls started to come in. My brother-in-law Bob called. One of the things he said was that I was still very early in the ride. Hang in there, we still had a feather under the cap and I should see how it works out. (More on this later.) Bob's comments changed my morning. Immediately after hanging up the phone with Bob it rang again. I was expecting to hear Bob's voice again but instead it was my nephew Sean calling to wish me well and get caught up. His happy voice on the other side along with the comment that all his friends were following me now really made me realize this isn't about me and the bike. It's about all of us who have and are now following the ride. I am just the instrument. Together, we are a band.

Throughout the day I was in constant conversation with Dan Molina. He was my conduit to a group of BMW riders from San Juan Del Rio, Mexico. These folks, along with others were awaiting me at a toll both along the route. I am serious, there were no less than ten people waiting for me at a toll both! It was the best warmest sight for sore eyes. After a number of pictures, which will soon be posted here, we jumped on the bikes and rode for about an hour to the hotel where I am now staying.

One note about the riding with this group is that they are all on big beamers with the exception of one Ducatti. When this group moves out, they move fast. Once again, I was white knuckling it to keep up.

Once we arrived, we reintroduced ourselves. I was now traveling with Alejandro (who communicated with Dan and Oscar to organize my arrival), Carlos, LeAnne, Eduardo, Raul, and Saul. They treated me to an excellent dinner, great advice and conversation. Tomorrow morning they will be waiting for me outside the hotel at 7 AM to lead me past Mexico City and on my way to Guatemala.

Ok, the Internet café is closing. I had more to say but will have to update more later.

Miss you all. Looking forward to the journey ahead.

Dave

 


Day 10
San Juan Del Rio, Mexico  >  Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico
September 10, 2006

Carlos, LeAnne, Alejandro and Saul were downstairs waiting to depart; their goal for the morning, get me safely on my way by avoiding Mexico City. The four of them led me by car for two hours before we took a few final pictures, shook hands and said adios. What great hosts these BMW riders were.

Although I might have made the ride all the way to the border today, it made no sense to try. I needed a stamp from a bank for my documents before I left the country and there would be none open until Monday morning at 9 AM. So I cut the ride short (511 miles) and am staying in an ocean view hotel in the city of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico.

Coatzacoalcos claim to fame must be oil, because it has more oil tanks along the shoreline than I have ever seen in my life. And as I look out my ocean view window, I can see tankers lined up for miles. Still stopping early, getting a good meal and a good night’s sleep is huge.

My expedition doctor, Mark Barba, reminds me daily that the key to success is a good night’s sleep. He could not be more correct. The last two nights I received at least 6 hours of sleep and each day I feel better during the ride. Not once did I yawn or smack my head with my hand to sharpen up today.

The roads were once again incredible. The toll roads I travel on are mostly empty and paved like our interstates in the States. I do not expect much of this in the future. Here’s some advice; leave the 650 at home. I would be a day farther down the road if I was on a bigger bike like the 1200. The roads have been so good that I could have easily traveled 10 to 15 miles an hour faster on a bigger bike. Add to that fewer gas stops and any record is history.

Yesterday I removed the grate I put over the radiator to protect it from the rocks. I discovered that the engine ran cooler at the high speeds today. Still, in the warmer weather I was re-introduced to the temperature light.

If there happens to be any individual reading this entry from BMW or the 650 chain gang, that has advice on how to cool this bike down without losing speed, please send an email to dave@34for 40.org.

The cold weather still affects me. Today was no exception. This morning following the riders from San Juan Del Rio I was cold. However, I did get a taste of what tomorrow will bring. At one point during a stop to talk on the satellite phone with Camilla sweat was pouring from every pore in my body. Once again, I was rained on, but only for a short time. I have yet to go without rain on any day of this journey.

Speaking of Camilla, Dan Molina who I speak with constantly on the sat phone and has been my bilingual crew chief extraordinaire is leaving tonight for an office trip to Chile. Before he departed he contacted Camilla and handed my logistics over to her for the next week or so. Need to get a message to me, contact Camilla.

When you travel on an extended trip, you usually pack too much, leave a little behind and bring something new home.

Well, I am no different from the rest. I have already left Tom Witt, in Phoenix, with a box to ship back to Atlanta and will have another to ship from Panama. Along the way, I have left a little if myself.

For instance, my sunglasses must not have wanted any part of this trip. On the second or third day, I pulled over for one reason or another along the side of the road, and removed my sunglasses to get the helmet off. The hardest part about sunglasses is that they are one of the first things that come off when you stop and the last thing to go on we you start. Just don’t forget that “last thing to go on” part.

I pulled the glasses off and set them on the bike. When I was ready to go, I forgot all about them and drove away without wearing them. Not only did they fall off my bike, but I also found a way to run over them! Now, I ask you, how in the hell can you run over your own sunglasses when riding a motorcycle? One wheel is past them before you ever start and the second; well I don’t know how you can get it to run over anything that drops off the bike. Some how, I did.

At the time another rider was behind me. He picked up the frames and lenses and returned them later in the day. One lens was bent in half, but did return to its normal condition, now with a crease down the middle. The arms of the frames were ok but the little rubber pieces that sit on your nose were no where to be found.

While in Phoenix, Tom Witt happened to have an exact pair of spare lenses for my glasses, which he kindly gave to me. I wore the glasses for another day and a half until I walked into a convenience type store at a Mexican gas station. Once again, I left the glasses atop the bike.

While I stood next to the bike enjoying an ice cold Coca-Cola in one of those small glass bottles from the 50’s the store attendant walked out and in perfect Spanish told me my glasses were on the ground, dangerously close to my rear wheel. I thanked the man, picked up the glasses and put them back on top the bike, then finished the Coke. You probably already guessed it, an hour later and many miles down the road; I realized the glasses were gone, this time for good.

Another thing that I left behind in Mexico, I am laughing out loud as I write this, was a fully loaded two gallon container of gasoline!

In my mind all I can envision is Tom Cruise on a motorcycle with rockets exploding behind him. Except in my case, I hit a bump, the can flies off, there is a huge explosion behind me leaving a big hole where the road previously existed, cars and baby carriages are strewn everywhere, while unbeknownst to me, I travel down the road like Mr. MaGoo with a huge smile on my face.

I told this story to my friends; Carlos, LeAnne, Alejandro and Saul last night. This morning Saul brought me a replacement fuel can exactly like the one I lost.

Speaking of things brought too me, Last night Alejandro bought me a pair of in-the-ear plugs from Sony to connect into my Baehr system. The audio is perfect now in my helmet. I am so excited to be re-connected to the world.

Today was the best day on my ears; which may be why it was such a good day all around.

Thanks to all of you who are with me on this journey. Hopefully, I will continue to find internet cafes to update the site.

For those of you wondering about my aches and pains; believe it or not, my butt is not the least bit sore. I have a nasty kink in my left shoulder that rears up when I look for traffic in that direction. The tips of my fingers are numb, which is ok since my cuticles are there and they have been a mess since Prudhoe Bay. Some of my finger tips are cracked and raw, also. Other than that, I am solid!

 


Day 11
Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico  >  Guatemala, Guatemala
September 11, 2006

 

 


Day 12
Guatemala, Guatemala  >  El Salvador  >   San Marcos de Colón, Choluteca, Honduras
September 12, 2006

I awake early in a nice hotel. The events of the day before still make me smile. It's 5AM and the Guatemalan police will be waiting for me outside at 6:15. My clothes are still wet. Getting things to dry in Central America seems impossible.

My friend Patrick Taylor told me yesterday to enjoy the Guatemalan coffee while I am there. I take his advice and head downstairs for the first of at least 4 cups of coffee. I return to the room and pack.

When I am all packed and on the bike, the police arrive, precisely on schedule. They ask if I would like to lead or if I would like them to lead. We agree that while in the city, they will lead. I will take over once outside.

Yesterday, when I first realized that I would have an escort following me, I made a point to follow all the rules of the road. I then realized that these guys were just as eager to see this Gringo go as I was to be going and the fun started.

Today we stop at no lights. The van enters all intersections with lights ablaze and sirens hailing. I pull up along side it as we go through intersections to provide better protection in case someone does not stop.

I easily save an hour in morning traffic having the police lead.

Once in the mountains, I take the lead and race through the twisties and straight aways. The cops are behind me. Every once in a while I can hear the siren.

It has been almost two weeks since the start of the journey. I wish my partners could see me now. I am nearly laying the bike down in turns and look forward to them now. My riding ability has changed dramatically.

The police and I make it to the border with El Salvador in record time. Even if I do not win the Trans Americas I can always tell myself that I own the fastest trip ever on a motorcycle through Guatemala. Unless the police and tourist bureau decide to back another rider, this time will stand.

After lots of pictures with the Guatemalans, I wave goodbye and head to my first real border crossing. The US / Canada, Canada / US, and US / Mexico don't count. Americans do those borders every day on motorcycles. There is nothing to it. When I arrived in Guatemala the police were there to watch my bike and help with the process. As I crossed the bridge into El Salvador I was hit by a million attacks to my senses. If you ever get a chance to visit one of these border crossings, do so. The experience of what is going on all around you and the way people live and do business in remote border towns is simply amazing.

The office of customs is very small. About the size of two-hole out-house. It's early in the morning and I stand in line behind only five others. The process takes less than an hour. It is cheap straight forward and simple. I am on my bike and heading up the mountain.

In 1982 I was in college at the University of Illinois. Ronald Reagan was president; there was always news about bad things in going on in El Salvador and Nicaragua. On April 1, 1982 the school newspaper reported that Ron had declared war in El Salvador and was reinstating the draft. My grades were not very good and I thought for sure I was headed for Central America. I learn later in the day that the news in the Daily Illini was an April fool’s joke. But I will never forget thinking that the only reason I would ever see El Salvador was on the back of a jeep behind a machine gun.

As I climb the mountain on the bike the first thing I notice is the road. Sure, the roads in Mexico were very good, but this road was different. It was the exact width of a standard US highway. Where appropriate it had curbs and sewers. The lines were the exact color as those in the US and the pavement was the same composition. These are the roads Ron and Ollie built. Some of that US tax money went to things other than guns and bullets. It went to American educated engineers and roads you write home to your mother about. I made excellent time.

My bike was running great. I had the best, clearest reception on my phone, of the entire trip to date. I talked with Rich Smith for nearly 15 minutes while riding down the road without a garbled word or dropped call. The satellite coverage was superb.

There was a mall and I stopped and bought new memory cards for the camera. I started taking pictures again and was as pleased as punch. Though I was excited to quickly get through the country, it was sad to leave such a clean, neat, well put together place. I had not planned to enter El Salvador; I was going to skip it all together but chose at the last minute to save miles and cross its border. I am very happy I did.

I raced to the fast approaching border with Honduras. As I arrived and was still moving men came running towards me. These guys make their living helping travelers through the maze of paperwork experienced at border crossings. Finally, I pull to a stop outside El Salvador Customs. The men are shouting at me as I pull my helmet off.

"Uno momento!" I shout.

I pull off my gloves. The men are still screaming at me to, "Pick me!"

I was feeling pretty confident. I had crossed a couple of borders by now. I played it cool.

"Hablar English?" I asked.

A few in the group responded.

Two in particular seemed to speak pretty good English; one especially well. The crowd around me and the bike was large. Now that the non-English speakers realized they were out of the picture they started pointing to their English speaking partner yelling and pointing to pick, “Their man.”

It was hot, I was exhausted and this process was getting ugly. "Get away from my bike!" I yelled. The best English speaker began mocking me and repeating everything I said so that I could see how good his English was. "Don't touch my bike! Touch my bike and you are out!" Everyone backed away for a split second and then closed in again shouting at me to, pick them.

The best English speaker touched my bike. "That's it!" I shouted. "You touched my bike. Get out of here. I am choosing this guy." pointing to another.

Process to run papers for a Gringo usually gets one of these guys about $20 US. So my new friend and I along with two of his friends start the process. I pick a young boy who followed me from the last gas station on his bike to watch my moto when I am away.

The process to leave El Salvador is easy. I kick myself; I could have done this alone. I am surprised to learn that these guys are also, going to handle my paperwork in Honduras. They jump in their cart and lead me to the Honduran border.

Before departing Atlanta I made copies of every document I own so that I don't have to have them made at the borders. The first sign of something odd is when the runner takes my copies, and Xeroxes them, and then asks for money for these new duplicates.

"No way am I paying you for copies," I tell him.

I gave you copies of my documents. He shakes this let down off and heads away to do my bidding. I sit next to the bike with the kid who watches it for me and start making phone calls.

The next thing I notice is that the other guy, the good English speaker, is back hanging around.

"Get out of here," I tell him.

I already have a runner. He disappears toward the direction my runner went off to. When my runner comes back he wants $300 dollars US. I tell him straight up that this is bullshit. I know the fee is $35. At this point, I realize I am being swindled.

I grab my bags off the bike, my helmet and my riding gear. It is hot and humid and I am now determined to handle this on my own. The kid watches the bike that is secure, beyond being totally stolen.

The first stop is the bank to pay some fee. When I get there, the runner wants me to pay $35, not $300. It’s at this point I realize  this is just the start. With my limited Spanish there is no way in hell I can do this alone. I can not begin to describe the long lines, the shouting and the shear insanity of what I see around me, let alone the smell.

Most swindlers would disappear after getting caught in action. My runner now feels he has to finish, proving he is legit. It's about this time I realize that “bad guy” is back and there are four cronies with him. They send glances my way as they head away from me towards the bike, that is now out of sight. I grab my bags and gear. Leave my runner to do his thing and head back to the bike.

It's like a spook movie. Everyone is watching everyone out the corners of their eyes. It appears to me that even my runner is part of the same organization. I stay with the bike and leave it only to pay some "official" more money. When the process is finally done it costs me another $40 paid to a man with a stamp who places his official blessing on my documents while sitting on the back of a white Chevy with Maryland plates.

The whole process took about three hours. Cost me over $100 in tips and fees and was as miserable an experience as one can imagine. As I drove away bad guy and his crew were watching me. I would only spend about 100 miles in this country and already I hated it. My experience was not over.

As I am driving towards Nicaragua I can see lightning and a huge rain storm brewing. I pull over just in time to put all my rain gear on. I am actually proud of myself because I have beaten the rain gods.

When the rain comes it is torrential. I continue to ride and stay mostly dry. The rain stops. I arrive in a town as dusk approaches. I turn a corner and cars are backed up as they travel through a puddle. I start splitting cars, riding through the puddle, and soon realize I am in fast moving water and the cars around me are stalling out. I stand on my pegs as I ride like the pros teach you, the water continuing to rise on my forks. I feel the water as it touches the toes of my boots on the pegs. I must continue forward. To stop is disaster. The water continues to rise on my water proof boots. I continue forward. Then it happens, the water from this flash flood that has picked every grimy item, off this grimy, gross city, is now pouring over the tops of my boots!

All I can think at this point is that Helge Petersen, famous motorcycle world traveler, says that as long as you don't get water in your air intake, and you don't stop and fall, the 650 will traverse a river.

I make it to the other side and continue down the road.

It is now dark. I am in Honduras. It's 40 miles to the next town. I stop; pour the muck out of my boots, and head into the mountains. I am breaking a rule, traveling in Central America at night, I am in the mountains and suddenly notice there are no cars going my direction. Worse, there are no cars coming toward me either.

I start talking to God and apologizing to my wife for breaking the no night travel rule. But there is no place for me to go but ahead.

Maybe it is just because I am tired but the mountain road gets creepier and creepier. There is no one around. It’s pitch dark and I have put myself in a bad situation.

As I continue up the mountain, an SUV passes me. This is my ticket, I figure. I stay on the tail of the SUV. If something goes down, I will see the SUV stop first. We finally drive through a small town that hugs the road. There are few lights on and I notice that a car pulls out between the SUV and I, while another car pulls out behind me.

”Oh shit,” I think.

The car in front of me does not go far and then pulls down a street. Ok, David, you are just imagining things now.

The SUV and I continue up the mountain. I can not express how much more comfortable I am to have this car leading me.

We pull up behind a tractor trailer that is heading up the mountain in the same direction. There are now three of us in this convoy.

At the top of the mountain, in the dark, there is a road block.

I have been told never to stop for a road block at night. But I am the third in line and have an opportunity to see that it is the military making this stop. Everyone is wearing nice clean uniforms.

I stay in line.

The other two vehicles are released. I am the only one left. The officers want to see my passport. I handed it over and ask if the road ahead is safe. I have about another thirty miles down the hill before the city I am trying to reach, forty miles total before I am at the Nicaraguan border.

The officer tells me it is safe and lets me go. I am on the top of the mountain and it is dark.

My only hope for some sanity is to catch the SUV and semi-trailer that have had a good ten minutes start.

I throw on my all my lights and begin the race down the mountain to catch them. It does not take long to make up the time. A moto can go a lot faster than a tractor trailer on mountain roads.

I feel relatively safe again until we reach the town I was heading for. At this point the three vehicles go different directions. I drive up and down the streets looking for a hotel. I stop and ask some people sitting on the steps of a building if there is a hotel. They point down a couple of blocks. I head in that direction, find a hotel that seems to be closed.

I drive around some more and see some lights on in the second story of a building and stairs going up. I hear people laughing. I park the bike on the sidewalk. Immediately, kids are hanging around.

Kids bother me, frankly; I don’t like most to begin with. Call me Scrooge, I don’t care. Here it is relatively dark, my bike will be exposed when I go up the stairs and kids like to touch.

I quickly go up the stairs signal to some one and head back down the stairs to watch the bike.

The person I waved to comes down the stairs and I learn that I have found a combination, bar, restaurant, hotel.

A man comes down and leads me to the back of the building where he opens a gate and I enter a courtyard. I park the bike for the night, grab my bags and head up the back stairs.

The room with its own bathroom is very clean and well lighted; the tab, $20 US. It is an amazing find after such a crappy afternoon.

I remove my soaked boots and wet stinking clothes, lay things out as best I can, take a shower, put on some clean clothes and go into the restaurant for dinner.

I sit at a table by myself and am soon beckoned over to join two men at their table. They are brothers, in their fifties. One is visiting from Miami; the other is a local Nicaraguan. I eat like a pig. They share their appetizers, listen to my stories and order even more food for me. I have two beers, wave off the third and say good night. It has been an incredibly long day. The last eight hours alone was more than I can take in a normal day. I am due for four and a half hours of sleep before I head to the Honduras / Nicaraguan border.

I am two days behind the current record holders and I may be in serious trouble of making my flight in Panama by Wednesday.

 


Day 13
San Marcos de Colón, Choluteca, Honduras  >  Nicaragua  >  San Isidro de el General, Costa Rica
September 13, 2006

The alarm goes off at 4:30. This is starting to get old.

I get up and start moving around in my room. My clothes have not dried. Neither have my boots. I put on wet socks and undies then the riding gear. I grab my bags and head out into the hall.

The back door of the hotel is locked. The manager must have heard me try it because he is now up and walking over to unlock it and the gate outside.

I load the bike and head out the gate with a wave to my host. That little hotel was a great find. Something I expected more of on this trip. It’s 5 AM; time to make up some ground.

When I arrive at the Honduran border it is nothing like the experience the day before. I pull up to a gate that is set up across the road. A man in a uniform leaves the little shack next to the road, looks at my documents and sends me farther down the road. There, I find the customs office. They take my passport and documents, make ten different stamps on everything and send me on to Nicaragua.

I can not tell you how happy I am to be out of Honduras. Sadly, bad people there have ruined any chance of me saying anything good about the place. The border crossing yesterday was abysmal. Borders do not need to be that way.

I don’t understand why governments don’t clean up these places. Seriously, why should a miserable experience be the first thing an outsider sees of your country?

The corruption at borders is just silly. Honduras should hire Rudy Guilliani. He would clean that border up in about a day. Hell, I could clean it up in three days. For starts, why not install a credit card system at these borders for foreign travelers? If every tax and fee is covered by credit cards it would be harder for corrupt officials from taking money, and the whole, go here, go there, document process? The bottom line, it is bullshit. Designed to cause confusion and assist corruption. Finally, why should I have to pay a helper? With a few extra signs, I should be able to handle the process myself.

I cross over to Nicaragua. It looks quiet and safe. I park the bike in front of the customs building. I am the only traveler around. I walk inside. There is a man typing on a computer. Behind him, is a man sleeping on the floor. He looks at my docs and points me to another window on the other side of the building. I walk over and discover another man asleep on the floor. I wake him. He knocks on the window to the adjoining office where another man is asleep. He too, wakes.

I hand my documents to this man along with the letter I have from the Nicaraguan Embassy in the US which I have in my possession due to the help of my Senator, the most Honorable Saxby Chambliss. The letter is an invitation from the Nicaraguan Ambassador wishing me Godspeed through his wonderful country. The man re-reads my letter three times. He hands it to one of the other men. They all suddenly perk up and start moving faster.

One man asks for a $3 US processing fee. I hand him the $3. I continue the process hitting three different windows for more stamps to my documents. When I am finally ready I go out to the bike, as I am standing there, the man comes back and returns my $3. Guess he didn’t want me talking to the Ambassador about the charge. Heck, $3? I would have given them $20 for the ease in which I went through this border.

When I try to start my bike the battery is dead. I pull out the jumper cables and wait for another traveler to come by and jump the bike. When this is accomplished I ride over to the gentleman manning the gate. As I pull up he says, I swear, in the exact tone of John Belushi in the Land Shark skit on Saturday Night Live, “ $20 dollar inspection fee. “

 

This is the only English this man knows and he keeps repeating it in the same monotone voice. “$20 inspection fee.”

The border was simple and fast. I am not going to bust this guy’s chops at this point. I just want to go down the road.

I reach in my wallet and pull out a clean, crisp, $20 US bill, hand it to the man and put my hands back on the grips.

”$20 security fee,” comes out of his mouth now - in that Belushi monotone.

”$20 security fee,” he repeats.

I nearly died laughing! This guy had gonads! He had a real scam going. How many more $20 bills was he planning to extract from me?

I reached in my wallet and pulled out the letter from the Ambassador. The man looked at it and opened the gate. He didn’t hand me back my $20 and I really didn’t care. Honduras was behind me. I was in Nicaragua now and things were going to go well.

Things did go well for a couple hours. It’s warm, the roads are good and I am making time. The plan is not to sleep tonight; to ride through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and make the border of Panama. It is a big goal but I had a good rest last night and a great start this morning.

I am about fifteen miles outside of Managua when I notice my anti-lock break light on the dash come on. Oh, oh. I have seen this condition before, in Alaska when my battery was getting ready to die. In Alaska I was running my heated vest, heated grips and PIAA lights at the same time sucking a lot of watts. Today, I had none of that going. What the heck was up? Then it happened. The bike died while going down the road. I pull off the road next to a small roadside stand.

I investigate what could be wrong, saw nothing unusual. The local Pepsi delivery truck was parked at the stand. I asked for a jump and the guys helped me get the bike started. I left it on charge for a while, put the bike back together and started down the road again.

I guess this is as good a time to complain as any. BMW, why on earth do I have to pull the seat off the F650 to jump start the bike? Any traveler is going to have a ton of stuff strapped on that seat. Every time I need a jump I have to un-strap my luggage, take the key out of the ignition, open the trunk on the bike, reach in, unlatch the seat, jump the bike and then put it all back together.

It’s not over though! If by chance you forget to put the trunk lid back on before you start the bike, YOU CAN NOT CLOSE IT WITHOUT THE IGNITION KEY! Which means you have to shut the bike off to close the trunk on a bike you just jumped?

Ok, I just opened up a can of rant here. Why the heck all they locking crap anyway? When I started the trip I was given a locking oil cap. I put in on the bike and it immediately was a huge pain in the butt. As soon as I had the opportunity, I took it off. Who is going to steal the oil in my bike? And why would someone dump something in the oil in my tank? If I am that close to an evil person, I am in a lot worse shape than getting contaminated oil.

The only thing I want my key to do is lock my bike. Beyond that, leave the moto alone!

Oh, oooh, and one other thing. Whose stupid, idiotic, idea was it to store the battery in a place that takes over a half an hour of parts to be removed just to get access to it? I would like to have 15 minutes in a ring with that brainiac.

For those of you reading this to get knowledge for a future road trip on the 650, take my advice, First off, put a battery kill switch on the bike in an accessible place. Many boats have these to totally shut off the battery when needed. Secondly, add a 6 inch piece of wire to the positive terminal that sits under the seat for jump starting the engine. Hang the wire down below the seat where it is accessible without removing the seat. Of course, keep it covered and secure until you need it.

Back to my story; so I head out onto the road for another couple miles when the bike dies again. This time I am on the shoulder of the road with no place to go.

I calmly pull out my drop cloth, begin removing my clothes and prepare for major surgery. There is no reason my bike should be draining the battery. The only thing that could be causing this is some add-on item that is shorting the battery.

I pull out my knife and scissors and go to town right there on the side of the road. I cut out the automatic oiler, the PIAA lights the communication system. Everything that is attached to my battery that was not put there by BMW, is removed.

While I am doing this a man on a moto-cart stops to help out. I always told my wife that Latin Americans will stop and help long before most folks from the States. The theory stands true.

After I complete the surgery, I put everything back together and pull out the jumper cables. It is not long before another Pepsi delivery truck stops. The men get out and help me get the bike started. I charge the battery again charge it for a bit then get on the bike, wave goodbye and head down the road.. for another mile before the bike dies again.

The Pepsi truck pulls up behind me, two guys get out and push the bike with me riding it at least a half a mile down the road to a Shell station. At the same time the driver of the truck holds back traffic so that we can safely make it to the gas station. I was floored by the help I received. To top it off the driver of the truck would not leave me until he was sure I was going to get to the Managua BMW dealer and he refused to take any money from me. I owe a debt of gratitude to these men.

At the Shell station the owner takes over, finding a truck to haul the bike into town, he manages the loading process and all the calls to BMW. He too, refuses any money.

Before I depart with the bike a man pulls up in a shiny new black pickup. He is Latino, as he walks up to me, he introduces himself in perfect (if you consider the Bronx perfect,) English.

His name is Billy. The owner of the shell station called him to say an Americano needed help. Billy told me exactly what was going on and how much it would cost. He also felt the price, $30, was fair but could probably be lower.

I must have had a HUGE smile on my face to receive all the great help I was getting. I finally turned to Billy and said, Billy where in the hell did you get that New York accent in Nicaragua?

I’m originally from the Bronx., he said.

I laughed and laughed. How did I find this New Yorker way out here?

I jump in the truck as one man remains in the back to watch the tied down bike. The driver and I exchange some Spanglish before I quickly fall asleep in the passenger seat. Before I do, I hang my soaking wet boots out the window.

I am warmly received at the Managua BMW dealership. They take the truck into the back and I ride the bike down two precarious ramps. As the bike is being looked at I am offered the use of the Internet, sodas and a place to clean up and change clothing.

When the prognosis comes back that I have a bad battery, Sergio Mantica, the sales manager for Auto Mantica and I, get in his pickup and travel around town in search of the proper battery.

We find the battery at a little moto shop. The owner of the shop charges $60 US for the battery, a price Sergio thinks is ridiculous, but considering the situation I happily pay. The manager takes the battery behind the counter and fills it with water that will soon react with the battery and produce the acid that will make the battery perform.

I watch as he is filling the battery and notice that it is overfilled and he has to wipe fluid from the top before he closes it up and hands it to us.

We head back to the shop and turn the battery over to the mechanic working on the bike, letting him finish the install.

About 10 minutes later I am summoned back to the shop. The battery we have chosen is the correct amperage, volts and watts. It is even the exact same size as the original from BMW. The problem is that the positive and negative posts are on the wrong side.

Having worked with car batteries in the past, I did not see this as a huge problem. Move the connection wires around, lengthen them if need be, but put the battery in and lets get on the road.

The mechanic is already doing this. While I watch, I order a coke and get some of my stuff ready for the trip to Costa Rica. We pull out maps and Sergio gives me directions out of town.

While drinking my coke I set it down on the work table and notice the new, clear plastic hose that is used on the battery to move any overflow of acid to the ground (and not inside the bike).

POST NOTE: I didn’t think twice at the time because the BMW already has a hose affixed inside the bike to serve this purpose. This is a HUGE mistake on my part not to bring attention to the hose on the table. Because the battery was turned around in its holder, the mechanic could not attach the BMW hose to the Chinese battery. Instead he left the overflow without an exhaust hose.

The bike is started, and then put back together. I get all my gear loaded back on it, pay the bill, tip the mechanic, and wave as I drive away.

I have killed at least six hours with the battery and my problems are not over. Before I can head for the Costa Rican border, I must turn north and return to the Shell station where my problems started. There is nothing worse than having to backtrack.

Finding the Shell station was easy, it sits on the Pan-American Highway. Once there, I fill up and make the run south again.

Problems arise pretty fast when I get back into Managua. I am quickly lost and can not find the easy, fast road to the border that Sergio had told me about. Instead I twist and turn until I am completely lost. I find a cab driver and pay him to lead me out of town.

The road the cab driver puts me on is not the one Sergio had planned for me. At least I see it on my Nicaragua map and can see how it is going to get me, eventually; to the route I need to take.

While on a back road that cuts from one highway to the next I travel through a small town. The road is incredibly pot holed and the vehicles are all weaving in and out at 15 miles an hour or less to get through the mess.

As I am moving with the cars, standing up on my pegs, in my flashy Alpinestar gear no less, a cop on the side of the road waves me over. I figure, no problem. I have spoken to many police doing checks along the road I have traveled. I show him my US passport and the documents from Nicaragua for the bike.

The cop then pulls the classic shake down. This is the first time I have experienced this on the trip. Sure, I have had to pay bribes for service from officials but this cop is dirty.

I tell him that I do not speak Spanish. He has a sheet with a list of violations in Spanish – subtitled in English! He goes down the list and finds one for me. Crossing the yellow line.

OK, remember, I can not get a moving violation. That is against the rules. In addition, this is total bullshit, there was no yellow line. It was a gravel portion of the road that every driver was maneuvering to get through the pot holes. We were only going 15 miles an hour or less and I was not passing anyone.

My violation was being an American in flashy clothes standing on my pegs.

I reach into my tank bag and pull out the letter form the Ambassador wishing me a pleasant and fast trip through his country. I hand the letter to the cop. He reads it, quickly shakes my hand and motions for me to continue on.

This guy wasn’t even creative, he was just a crook.

I travel further down the road. Right before I get on the Pan American Highway I stop for gas, water and a coke at another Shell station. After filling up, the bike starts, but even though the kickstand is up, every time I put it in gear the engine dies. After starting and restarting the vehicle, I determine I have a faulty kickstand sensor. I move the bike to the side and begin taking tools out of the panniers. I have drawn a crowd as I begin surgery.

After an hour’s time, I have disconnected the wires from the sensor, tested how they affect the bike, determined that I need to short all three, finish the process and continue down the road. I have wasted a minimum of eight hours in Nicaragua and the border closes at ten PM tonight.

I get back on the main road and move out. The process out of Nicaragua is simple. However, it is pitch dark and nearly 9:30 PM as I enter Costa Rica. There are few other travelers moving at this time. Though the process into the country is pretty simple, the darkness and desire for everyone to go home for the night makes the process a little more confusing than it should be.

As I am finally readying to depart I meet Sebastian Zavalla and English speaker who works in both Colorado and Costa Rica. It is nice to talk with an English speaker and we discuss our travels for a moment before I head south.

Well, I guess the idea of not traveling during the night is out the door. If I have any chance of catching the current record holders or my flight on Wednesday, I have to get going.

Not far within Costa Rica, I am stopped by the military. They review my papers and let me move on. It is very dark, and as beautiful as the tropics are with all their greenery during the day, that foliage just surrounds you at night. At the beginning, the road reminds me of roads in Central Illinois when the corn is 10 feet high surrounding the two lane that cuts through it.

As I travel deeper the trees and foliage actually rise above and over the road. It seems my lights don’t even cut through the darkness it is so thick.

I arrive in a city of decent size. I get gas, and across the street I see, what else but a Burger King.

OK, I could have easily left this portion out of the story, it is so embarrassing to me, but you have stuck with me this long and you need to see all sides of the story and what follows is one of the funniest parts to date.

I hate American chain restaurants. They have ruined the mom and pop shops of the past. The fact that they are now found in every country I travel to makes me even madder. Why are we letting these institutions ruin the gastronomic fabric of the entire world? I dislike them in the US. I despise them in the rest of the world.

It is late, I am in hurry, and I’m hungry. OK, at least it isn’t McDonalds.

I pull in the drive through, I order a chicken sandwich. It is the same chicken sandwich you can get at any other Burger King in the world. I order a small fry and a coke to go along with the chicken sandwich.

I pull up to the window, pay for the meal, get the bag, ask for salt, get that, pull up out of the way, reach in the bag and pull out a hamburger with ketchup!

Remember that cartoon as a kid, Rocky and Bullwinkle? Where Bullwinkle is always trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat and getting something entirely different?

That’s me at fast food joints. It may be why I hate them so much. I can’t remember the last time I got what I ordered.

My daughter and I took a trip to Nashville recently to look at Universities. On our way home, it was late and we were traveling down the interstate. We were both getting hungry and were ready to get home. Seeing an Arby’s off the side of the road we pull over and order a meal.

We both like Arby’s. For some reason I have always felt the food was a little healthier there. Roast beef instead of a fried burger.

We pull up, place our order, get the bag and head down the road. This is Arby´s, right? Roast beef. You can pretty much only get roast beef at Arby´s.

NOT ME! I reach into the bag and what do I pull out? Two fried fish sandwiches! Smothered in EXTRA tarter sauce!

Let me tell you something, when you are expecting roast beef and get fried fish in goo it just hits you the wrong way.

So here I am in Costa Rica sitting in a parking lot with fast food that is, wrong. Oh, and I have not even started in on the other part of this misery. I hate, hate, detest, am sickened by.. KETCHUP! I can’t even stand the smell of it.

Why people coat food with red, vinegar, sugar is beyond me.

I pull the tops off the two burgers that have no ketchup on them add the burgers and eat.

It has not been my day. Actually, my life has gone to hell since that Honduran border. How long ago was that?

I get back on the road. It is 11 PM. I call Jeff Byard in California to get caught up with where I was and where I needed to get to. San Jose was a long way off, but if I could push it, I could make it there or farther tonight and still make my flight tomorrow.

 


Day 14
San Isidro de el General, Costa Rica  >  Panama City, Panama
September 14, 2006

 

Remember the scene in the movie Easy Rider where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are riding through the small southern town and find themselves amidst a marching band as it trumpets its way down main street in a local parade? The Easy Riders are pulled over by the sheriff, thrown in jail, and arrested for; Parading Without a License.

 

It’s midnight or later in Northern Costa Rica on the Pan-American Highway. Traffic has begun to back up. I can see that quite aways ahead of me, maybe a mile or so, are police lights. 

 

For the time being, the oncoming traffic lane still has one or two cars going by in the opposite direction. I decide to get out of the queue in traffic and begin passing vehicles. We are not going very fast. The cars and trucks my line might be going 10 miles and hour. I pass on or two then just keep going. There is no oncoming traffic at this point. I get pretty far down the road before I am accompanied in the oncoming lane by a line of cars that is going in my direction. The fact that there are cars lined up in the oncoming lane is not as surprising to me as the fact that the police lights, though closer, appear to be moving away from me.

 

The traffic suddenly changes from strange to chaotic. I am now splitting cars, all going in my direction, on a two lane road (that’s suppose to be one lane in one direction and one in the opposite). I am being passed, get this, by people running and on bicycles! It’s one o’clock in the morning and I am in the middle of nowhere and the world has just gone mad!

 

There are busses pulled over on the side of the road, people running this way and that way. Cars are honking their horns. People, mostly high school aged kids are hanging out of the packed car windows yelling and screaming.

 

I am on my pegs, standing, weaving in and out of cars. The cop lights continue to move ahead of me. I slowly pick my way through all this chaos. An hour goes by, I have made absolutely no time what so ever in this madness. Although, I suddenly realize what is going on. There is some kind of ceremony in process; up ahead of me is an ambulance traveling south in the oncoming lane. Next to the ambulance are five kids running south in my lane. One of the kids is carrying a torch. Behind this group of kids is a pickup truck with five or six more kids in running gear. These kids jump out of the truck at intervals, run up, grab the torch and continue to run south.

 

I finally get positioned directly behind the ambulance; however, there is no way around this thing. On the right is the runners, on the left of the ambulance the road has no shoulder. I am, for the next half an hour, stuck behind this ambulance traveling as fast as the kids on the right can run.

 

Here I am in a race to make good time and be in Panama by 2 PM tomorrow for a flight and I am riding as fast as a man can run.

 

I finally see an opportunity to pass the ambulance on the left. I pull around, and ride on the grass until I am passed the vehicle. However I soon realize my problems are not over. In fact, they may have just begun. Ahead of the ambulance a couple hundred yards are three motorcycle cops spread out across the road leading the whole process.  I pull in behind the cops. I am sure they are wondering where this yahoo on the BMW came from. I ride like this for about a mile or so when they finally signal to me to pass them. I do, and am finally on my way. The entire time thinking, “Somebody’s going to pull me over and arrest me for parading without a license.”

 

I race ahead; it is now close to two o’clock in the morning. As I ride, for the next couple hours, I see people setting alongside the road, waiting for the procession I have passed.

 

I am beat. I have been going for almost 24 hours. I finally arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. When I pull up to a hotel, I am told there is a room for $175 US. I have no interest paying that kind of money for 3 hours or less of sleep. I also realize I am lost, off track by  a half an hour. This news does not settle well. I get back on the bike and backtrack. I finally am headed down the correct road. I don’t know where I get the energy from but I ride through San Jose and into the mountains south of the city.

 

It finally happens, something I discovered in our first nights on the road, at some point, when I am so exhausted I can not take it anymore, I start to hallucinate. I am riding on a winding mountain road. I am nearly freezing to death (this is Costa Rica damn it!) and I am seeing things. It is time to stop.

 

The next light I see is near the road outside the Athens Hotel. Athens, sounds like Georgia to me. I park the bike under the light but do not go into the hotel. It looks closed. I get off the bike, lay down my tarp, and lay on top the tarp next to the bike. I am cold, but I am off the bike. I sleep for about two hours. When I awake, the sun is coming up. I get back on the bike and begin to ride.

 

Costa Rica is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the Western Hemisphere, maybe the world. I wouldn’t know. All I have seen so far is darkness and yellow striped lines.

 

When I get back on the bike I can finally see what I have been missing. I am on a very high mountain. How I got here is anybody’s guess. Daylight changes everything. The road is suddenly a pleasure to ride. It has very tight turns around the mountainside. Everywhere it is green with foliage. It is warm. I rev the cycle and start taking the turns aggressively. I am finally making time through Costa Rica. If all goes well, maybe, just maybe I can make that two o’clock flight.

 

Exiting Costa Rica is a breeze. I enter Panama and get some help with the process. It is not that hard but I am really tired and would just prefer for someone to tell me what to do. So I pay the $30 and let an older man run the process, which takes about an hour. Time is wasting.

 

My clothes remain wet from Honduras, a couple of days ago now.  I am really getting ripe. The heat of Panama makes it all, well, just that much more ripe.

 

When the process is complete I get on the bike and ride south.  After about 10 miles I get to a police check. While the cop is looking at my documents he discovers that my license plate number on the document does not match the one on the bike. It is missing one number. The idiotic woman in the office 10 miles back forgot a number if though she was handed a life-size, color copy, of the plate. I am told I must go back and have her fix it.

 

For more than a moment, I think about continuing on without the fix. Who else is going to catch it? After thinking about it, I turn around and return to the border. I walk the document up to the woman, cut in line, she sees the error and writes in the number. Hell, I could have done that 10 miles ago.

 

It starts to rain. What the hell, I am already wet.

 

After a number of hours, I find myself, riding across the Bridge of Americas. The rain had quit just before I approached the bridge and for some reason the heavy traffic I had been in, opened up allowing a slower over the expanse. I stand on the foot pegs and get an incredible view of the ocean with ships lined up for traversing the canal and the bay with marinas filled with pleasure boats. To the south of me I could see the sky scrapers of Panama City, to the north - well, I don't look back very often.

I can remember visiting Panama City years ago. This wasn't my first crossing of the Bridge of the Americas but it was a moment I won't ever forget. In a way, it signaled the end to the first half of the trip.

If there is one thing I am very good at, it is the ability to get myself back to a place I have already been. I can't even say that I am good at directions, but put me in a city or country and I can usually find my way back years later. It happened this evening. I had never been on the highway I was traveling but I had an excellent sense of where I was going and was able to find my way back to the Avenue de Balboa where I pulled over, called Camilla and arranged to meet Louis Carlos Torrero, the service manger for Bavarian Motors, Panama. Louis took me to a hotel; I unloaded the bike, placed the luggage with the porter and sent it up to my room. I, on the other hand, walked directly over to the local mall, entered a department store and bought a pair of underwear, a pair of socks and a cotton t-shirt. As I paid for the clothes, I literally salivated. The new items in their shiny packages were clean, odorless, and DRY! I returned to my room, and started a hot bath.

I have traveled to a number of places around the world and have stayed at a lot of hotels. Tonight's experience was new. A bath? Outside a Las Vegas trip with my wife or a hangover recovery on boy's weekend, I don't take baths in hotels. Tonight however, was a different story.

Since my little road, turned raging river, experience in Honduras my boots have been damp at best. Today, when the torrential downpour came I was wearing a raincoat but not rain pants. The agua would hit my pants, travel through to my legs, and then straight down into my boots. While I was waiting for Louis to meet me, I pulled off socks and boots and poured at least a pint of water out of each shoe. My feet were killing me, remember, I had not stayed in a hotel the night before, it had been at least 36 hours in those wet boots. My feet were white, water logged and felt as if there were a thousand needles stuck in them.

Speaking of needles; the tips of my fingers on both hands are numb and feel as if there are little needles aggravating each. My right wrist, the throttle side, is very sore and I foresee many Alieve in my future. Due to the windy mountain roads of Central America I am not able to use cruise control or a throttle paddle. My butt is finally starting to hurt a bit. I have a little sciatica starting on the left side. Amazingly, this is the opposite side from what I experienced before the trip. There is still a sharp pain in my back near my shoulder that comes only when I turn my head hard to the left to check for traffic.

The bath looked like a little bit of heaven.

My wife can tell you I have a more than a few pet peeves. One of which is an aversion to odors. I can smell a granola crunching, Dead Head from a block away. Oh my gosh, these people would run from me at this point! Since arriving in Arizona, my body, in a single day, goes from freezing cold to pouring sweat. At one point I was stopped along the road in Mexico to talk on the satellite phone to Camilla in the States. My helmet was on, the sun beating down on me and the heat from the bike wafting up, the sweat on my head was pouring, pouring, down my face and filling my helmet. Needless to say, the rest of my body was doing the same, filling my riding gear with a stink that can not be matched.

I try to change my under clothes each day, but I have not had time to wash them for over a week. Even though I stick them in a net bag on the outside of my bike, they do not dry. The bag is a habitat for mushrooms at this point.

My gear arrived in the hotel room while I was at the mall buying new undies. When I entered the room, the smell from the bags, circulated from the full force of the air conditioner nearly floored me. All of my clothes, sans outer riding wear, went into the tub after I finished. Standing in the shower now, I spend the next 20 minutes stirring my clothes and individually attempting to clean each item in the clean water.

I have always wondered why there is a coiled string above the bath tub. For the first time tonight, I have discovered what they are for. That coiled string makes a great place to hang clothes that have not been washed for a week. However, all is not solved. My hands are no longer capable of wringing the "Dry-Fit" undergarments. My grip is very weak from holding onto the bike's grips. Oh, that reminds me. Early this morning I was flying through Costa Rica and made one of a thousand questionable passes on a tight winding two lane road around a slower moving vehicle with oncoming traffic. As I am half way around the target vehicle, and with my eye on the oncoming truck I suddenly notice a HUGE pot hole I had not seen before. There was nothing I could do to escape the shock I was about to take. To move left would put me in danger with the oncoming truck, there was no right because I was passing, and to stop was, well we won't mention that. I hit that pot hole so hard that it collapsed my front-end to the fullest and still sent a shock up through my wrist and into my shoulders. After finishing the pass I watched the front tire thinking it surely would flatten. The Ark just kept on going.

One of the saddest things about the trip, (Animal lovers move to the next paragraph.) is all of the dead dogs I see along the road. I have yet to see a dog that you would find in any US neighborhood. The living dogs, are all scrawny, hungry and very nervous. There is no beauty in these hardened animals. There is less in the bodies that litter the road. I have not seen a cat, dead or alive.

I am traveling without effort through Panama The road is newly paved and I am within the posted speed limit because I have been warned repeatedly that Panama has a lot of police on the road anxious to play Barney Fife. Remember, a ticket is the end of the trip.

Ahead of me on the road is a group of big, black, Panamanian vultures feasting on road dog or some other carrion. These vultures are bigger than the largest crow in the US, yet smaller than the vultures Gary Larson dressed with cowboy hats in "the Far Side" cartoons. Suddenly, they see me approaching each taking off in different directions. These are not fast moving birds. One chooses the wrong direction, a little late, and lumbers in front of the Ark. BAM! Feathers every where! He hits the right front handlebar and then my leg. I am amazed at how much force was transferred to the bike through the contact. This reminds me that a buffalo, cow, or even a dog could be tragic. The vulture will soon be dinner for the amigos he was just feasting with.

My two o'clock flight must have departed by now. I continue down the road in hopes that my support team back in the States can make new arrangements for me to travel to Colombia. All I can do now is find my way to Bavarian Motors in Panama.

 



Day 15
Panama City, Panama
September 15, 2006

Where? Panama City? But Dave, you are supposed to be in Colombia!

I was supposed to arrive in Colombia on Thursday afternoon however; things have just not worked out as planned. The little feather in my cap is getting smaller and smaller. Not only was I supposed to be in Colombia but I was supposed to be on a direct flight into Medellin. I missed the Thursday flight due to Honduras and later a battery problem. Today is Friday, and Dan Molina has scheduled a midnight flight for my bike to Bogata and a 8:05 flight for me.

I arrive at Bavarian Motors at 7:30 AM where Louis and I begin working on the bike. It will receive new tires, sprockets, chain, throttle and clutch cables, fork oil, engine oil and filter, and other general maintenance.

Between turning screws, I get breakfast, take pictures for the local BMW club, update the website and emails, and take phone calls from Dan Molina who is organizing the shipping of the bike and contacting Colombian Customs. Tomorrow is Saturday and we are not sure when or if Customs is open.

Problem number uno arises in a day that is soon to get complicated. The BMW dealership has not received my tires. They have known about my arrival and need for two weeks. The problem is that the tires are in a crate sitting in Panamanian Customs. I will have to wait until Bogata to get new rubber.

The repairs are taking longer than expected. I have a broken stud on my kickstand. This bike has always leaned way to far when on its kickstand. A couple of days ago it started to lean even farther over, as a result I now learn, of a broken bolt. You would think you could do without a simple item like a kickstand but no way. I am barely able to lift this bike if it falls over, and it has. The kickstand has given me nothing but problems since Prudhoe Bay. The worse was the little experience the other day in Nicaragua when the switch went bad.

I have two major goals during the day. Number one is to move my communication system to a better location on the bike. The second is to finally repack the Ark in a way that I can gain better use of the items I am carrying. After two weeks, I still can not get to things fast enough. One of the ways I will improve on my packing is to send some items home. These include my sleeping bag, computer and old maps.

Louis runs into more problems with the bike. When he has the Ark apart, he notices that battery acid has leaked all over the interior motor section and begun eating away at everything. When the new battery was purchased in Managua, the guy who sold it to us overfilled it. While being installed at BMW we discovered that although it was the right battery for the bike, its terminals were on the opposite sides than the original. This caused some rewiring issues to get the cables long enough to reach the positive and negative terminals. That's when we noticed it starting to leak out the overflow.

Because he was so concerned about the wires length, the serviceman forgot to install the overflow hose that leads acid down through the bike and onto the ground. Now that we had the bike apart again, we noticed the error and the damage. Franky, it was very bad. Left any longer and acid would have eaten through all the wiring on the bike. It had already almost eaten through the plastic valve covers making them so damaged that Louis would not pull them off to adjust the valves because he feared the covers would not go back on. That service would have to wait until farther down the road.

As time for departure neared we continued to have issues getting the bike back together. I gave up on repacking and dumped everything into the bags swearing I would do it right in Bogata when the new tires were installed.

We finally depart for the airport. It wasn't until I got to cargo area and preparing the bike for shipping that I realized how late it was. After weighing the bike and filling out documents it occurred to me that there was no way I was going to make the 8:05 flight. That's ok I thought. I think Dan said there was a 12:00 AM.

WRONG! I get to the airport and realize that the next flight to Bogata is 11:00 AM on Saturday morning. This is a BIG screw up. Dan has already talked to Customs to be waiting for me at 6 AM and the BMW dealership was to open for me (they are typically closed on Saturdays) to put on my new tires at 8 AM. I am then suppose to follow Colombian BMW riders from Bogata to Medellin and then north for 100 miles returning to Medellin before dark for the night, starting the trip south on Sunday.

Instead, I check into a roach motel, literally - I killed a big one that wanted to shower with me - had dinner and went to sleep. Ahhh.. the good news of the day, the motel had a nice coin operated washer and dryer. I was able to buy some soap and wash all of my clothes in a real washer and a, get this, DRYER! I am once again clean warm and happy.

I rode the bike a total of 16 miles today. From the BMW dealership to the airport. That's a pretty negative affect on the 500 miles I must average everyday. To top it all off, during that 16 miles, it rained. That's 14 days straight.

 

Day 16
Panama City, Panama  >  La Dorada, Colombia
September 16, 2006

 

I awake early and head straight for the computer. There are a lot of updates to the journal that I need to make and I also want to catch up on my email. My body is getting accustom to the odd hours I keep and the lack of sleep. I rather like that fact that I am using the entire day up instead of lying around or sleeping.

 

With just enough time to spare, I stop by my room to grab my bags and head to the airport. When I get into my room, I have a message from Dan Molina that is titled, “Important.” With little time left to catch my flight, I am not able to call Dan and find out what is so important. I go straight to the airport, stand in line nearly an hour to purchase a ticket and race to the airplane.  I am the last one on the plane, having nearly missed this one, too.  It appears I can do miracles on a motorcycle, but these airplanes just keep causing me problems.

 

A little advice to world travelers out there; when it comes to airplanes in foreign countries, especially Latin America, do not take for granted anything you have learned in the US about airline travel. Lines in the South are extremely long, and it is nearly impossible to walk up and buy a ticket in anything less than three hours time. The inefficiencies here are just amazing. When I get home, I am going to go up and kiss one of those Delta electronic kiosks I use to despise.

 

Once I board the plane I find myself next to an Israeli man who is in the travel business. We talk during most of the flight. When he learns that I have lost my iPod for the second time, he offers me his own. He says that I can send it back to him when I get the chance.  I am simply amazed by his very generous offer, but refuse. I have killed two of these beasts so far. I don’t need to kill a third.

 

When I arrive in Bogotá, I am met by German Restrepo, (pronounced Herman) a motorcycle enthusiast who has been waiting my arrival and communicating with Dan Molina about my missed flights over the past few days.  It is Saturday and it is starting to get late in the afternoon. What I need to do at this point is asking for a miracle. I need to get my bike out of Colombian Customs and the shipper Girag’s warehouse. Did I say it was late in the afternoon, on a Saturday? If we are unsuccessful, it will be Monday morning before I see the bike.

 

German loads me and my bags onto the back of his bike and we start the crazy process. Needless to say, without German, I had no chance of getting the process completed before next Saturday, let alone the end of the day. German ran around like a chicken with his head cut off and in the end, got the stamps we needed.

 

We took pictures as I brought the bike down the steps of Girag’s offices. This walk is a right of passage for adventure riders coming into South America.

 

I finally get a chance to call Dan.

 

“Sorry I am so late responding. What is the emergency?”

 

“You weren’t in your room and you had not checked out, yet. I was worried you would miss your flight.”

 

Dan is beginning to recognize how hard it is to get me on a plane.

 

We were still in a huge hurry. I was now about 6 hours late for an appointment at the BMW Dealership in Bogotá for the repairs to my bike. The shop does not usually open on Saturdays. The owner and his children were on site to open the doors for German and me and left us with the master mechanic who put two new tires on and fixed other nagging problems. I had a chance to unload my luggage once again, and try to get it better organized. At this point I packed a box up that contained items I no longer felt I needed and sent them back with German to ship to Atlanta. Here I was two weeks into this trip and I still did not have a good packing system, but I was learning.

 

After eating at the shop, the three of us made final adjustments and prepared to leave. I paid the bill thanked my fantastic hosts, and followed as German led me out of town. It was dark already, and I was preparing to ride over the mountains and on to Honda or La Dorada to sleep. It would be hours before I arrived but I was repeatedly told that the road over these mountains was relatively safe. It did not matter what I was told. By my estimate, I had ruined any chance to catch the record holders after missing the flight in Panama on Thursday. In the past two days I had ridden 16 miles. I needed to get some road behind me.

 

Immediately after leaving the shop, I noticed my ABS (anti-lock brake system) light on. When I depressed my rear brake, it was simply, not existent. Oh crap! What the heck is wrong now?

 

German and I did not have time to worry about the brakes. I had to keep going. On the outskirts of Bogotá I filled with gas, hugged German who I owed a thousand thanks for getting me through the day and headed for the hills.

 

Once I left Bogotá, the night immediately got very dark. I entered the mountain road with few other vehicles present. For some reason, I was not worried. My satellite phone was getting good reception; I talked with my brother-in-law Bob, and sister Janice as I rode. Hearing their voices so clearly in my helmet seemed to take any worries away.

 

Going down the mountain was a bit of a chore. The road is very windy and steep and I had zero rear brakes. I just kept the speed down and attacked the hill.

 

At the bottom of the mountain you enter a very long valley that runs nearly the length of the country. I had been told over and over again in Bogotá that the bridge was out at the bottom of the mountain. Everyone kept saying this was no problem; I could use the ancient pedestrian bridge.  What this really meant, I had no clue. I just figured I would deal with it when I got there.

 

It was Saturday night when I arrived on the south side of the river to Honda. When the road petered out into the old town, I found myself in the middle of a bazaar with live music and vendors and lights and people everywhere. I was definitely a sight to be seen on my big BMW. There ahead of me was the bridge. I can’t explain it to you. You will have to see the pictures. It wasn’t really small. A VW could easily ride across it if needed, but it was now reserved only for human, bike and moto traffic. Getting down to it was a bit of a task, but I worked it out and made it to, up and, over the bridge to the opposite side. When I arrived there, I was amidst another active, ancient, community.

 

My adrenaline was pumping. I was happy to be in Colombia, had looked forward to this part of the journey from day one. I wanted to get more miles under my belt before the big ride north. I threw the no riding at night rule out again, and headed for La Dorada. There were a number of trucks going the same way as I, so I felt relatively safe.

 

I started up (remember I am heading north now) the road and again, it turned pitch dark relatively quick. There also were fewer trucks than I originally thought.

 

I traveled about 20 miles down the road. My destination was another 15 miles or less and I notice the back of my bike reacting weirdly to the road surface.  I don’t think much of it. I have traveled on a number of different surfaces over the past two weeks. I keep my eyes on the dashed line and continue on. Further down the road, the rear end is getting really sloppy. I pull over at the only light I have seen along the road in the past 10 miles.

 

When I pull up under the light, I notice that my back tire is completely flat. Great, here I am in Colombia, its dark, and I have a flat. However, I must admit, I keep my cool. There is a man in a little shack nearby. I ask him to help me put the bike up on the center stand. He does. Not far away is little outdoor refreshment stand. There is a name for these open air stands but I can never remember them. They are all over Latin America. At the stand are two people watching TV.

 

I role out my brother Frank’s tarp. I pull out my tools and I look at the job at hand. It is this point that I realize that Ryan had the big Crescent wrench in his tool bag. I don’t have anything big enough to remove my rear wheel.

 

As I am sitting contemplating the situation, an old man from the refreshment stand walks over and with no English in his vocabulary motions to me that I need to move the bike to the other side of the refreshment stand.

 

Time for some honesty; I am not excited about having to move the bike at this point. It is up on the center stand and I needed help just to get it there. Moving the loaded bike is hard enough to do, with a flat it is really hard to move. With a little anger in my soul, I pack things up and move my bike to where I am told; a distance of maybe 40 yards.

 

The good news is that I find myself under another light. The better, most God-like news is that there is a sign, in Spanish, under this light, attached to a small shack, that reads, “24 Hora Reparacion Neumatico.” In English that’s, “24 Hour Tire Repair.”

 

Someone continues to watch over me.

 

The shack has an opening where a door once stood. Inside that opening, through the dark, I can see a man asleep on a mattress on the ground. I wake the man.

 

When he walks out of the shack he is wearing green pants that are extremely dirty, the zipper is wide open, who knows the last time it actually could close. He is nearly my age, a big man, he does not wear a shirt, his hands are black from permanent exposure to grease, oil and dirt. His feet are in a very old pair of Chuck Taylor, Converse All-Star high tops.

 

When he sees the moto he starts waving his arms and yelling. I don’t understand his words but I do understand his actions, he wants none of this.

 

But I am blessed, and I know it.

 

I do not listen to his rants, which have now attracted his son, who is about 14 years old.

 

I take off my riding jacket. He rants. I take off my shirt. He continues. I put on a pair of gloves I keep for doing work on the bike. He has not let up. I make him come over and help get the bike on the center stand. He starts to quiet a bit. I point to his son, hand him some bills and tell him to go buy three Cokes.

 

By the time the boy gets back with the ice cold Coca-Colas the man has pulled out a wrench big enough to pull the rear wheel off. I do not let him work alone. I am right in there with him as we pull the wheel off. At this point, he goes to town. This man has changed and repaired thousands of tires, mine is just another, small, inconvenience.

 

Actually at this point, I think he is proud that he is doing this moto. While he is finding and patching the hole, I go through my bags. I have one brand new tube with me. I do not know if it is the front or the rear. Ryan carried one and I carried the other. When it is in hand, I discover that we are in luck, it is the rear.

 

The man continues to patch the tube we have pulled out of the tire. It will be used as a backup for later on. While he is doing this, I search the inside of the tire and discover a staple that has made the hole. It is removed, the man double checks my work and the new tube goes into the tire.

 

It is amazing how fast this whole process has gone on. We drink our sodas as we work. It is very hot out; we both sweat.

 

When the wheel is back on, and the bike is ready to go, the man refuses to charge me for the work. We are all smiles at this time. He is very proud of the work he has accomplished and I am re-introduced to why I love Colombia. The people here are fantastic, hard working, and stuck with a bad rap.

 

I tip the man well. There is hand shaking all around. I reluctantly, get back on the bike and continue on to La Dorada.

 

I soon find the city and a nice looking hotel on the city square, surrounded by the church, and a number of ratty looking buildings. The hotel manager and security guard are very pleasant and invite me to park the bike inside the hotel in the sitting room. I move the bike across the white tile floor, unpack, and head up to my room. Before the manager leaves, I ask for a cervesa. He leaves, returning with a beer and an offer I am not expecting. He does not speak English, but I quickly understand what he is saying.

 

“Chica?”

 

“Pardon?” I reply.

 

“Chica? You want woman?”

 

I just smile, and answer, “No.”

 

First off, I am not looking, nor do I need a prostitute, and even if my wife was with me, all I can think of is sleep.

 

Another eventful day, I will be up early; in about four hours.

 

 


Day 17
La Dorada, Colombia  >  Honda, Columbia
September 17, 2006


My phone alarm goes off at 4:30. Since I did not unpack much from the night before, there is not much to get together before I head downstairs. When I get there, the same manger who was there the night before is at the counter, as is the security man.

I load my bike as it awaits me in the sitting room. Once loaded, I carefully roll it over the tiled floor and out the front door. It’s chilly this morning, I turn the key on the bike, finish wrapping up, take a few pictures with the two men. I hit the start button and the bike is dead. In the few moments I had the key on and did not start the bike I had a dead battery. Once again, I will have a later than planned departure.

I am not upset. I get off the bike, eat a Smartie, roll the bike into the road that surrounds the town square, pull out the jumper cables and stand there while a few cars and busses drive by at the early time.

Finally we get a bus to stop, but when I investigate the battery situation I realize it is a 24 volt system. I let the bus go and stop the next taxi that passes by. They manage and I convince him to pop his hood and let me hook up. I have him stop the engine, a running auto engine can ruin a motorcycle battery, I start the bike and let the cabbie continue on his way.

One final wave goodbye to my two new friends and off I go for what turns out to be the most depressing day of the journey to date.

I can’t think of another word to use other than, “depressing.” Though I think this is not the right word. “Depressing,” to me is when I am really low in spirit. My spirits are high as I get on my bike. What is so sad about the day to come is that I will travel three hundred miles north, find a police officer, then travel another 300 miles south to a location not far down the road from where I started the day.

To break the record I need to travel across every latitude line in the Western Hemisphere on the bike in a southerly direction and under its own power. Because I left Panama City, located in North America, by plane, I now need to ride north in South America to get above Panama City and then begin the trip south again.

Kind of depressing, I will ride over six hundred miles and get credit for only three.

It is still dark as I leave La Dorada. The road is in good condition as I cross a huge bridge to enter the eastern side of the valley for my trip north. The land becomes flat relatively quickly and is soon occupied by me, a lot of trucks and cattle. This must be the “Texas” of Colombia. Lots and lots of cattle ranches.

The road soon turns to intermittent dirt and pavement. The pot holes go from being the size of plates to full on bath tubs. I will not kid you here, some of the pot holes are at least sixteen inches deep. Usually, when they are that size they are also bigger than the bike is long so you kind of go down into them and then back out.

I like the rough road. I have now ridden thousands of miles of pavement. A little off roading (while on the road) is fun. The only problem is that the road is also filled with a ton of oil tanker trucks. They have to go extremely slow over these potholes so I have to maneuver around them as I ride rather quickly across the road. This is what the Ark lives for.

The road turns flat again and the pavement improves. I travel through a town during this early morning with at least two dozen small butcher shops lining right next to the road. In these open air shops whole carcasses of cow hang from the ceilings. There is no refrigeration that I can see.

Travel through Colombia seems pretty safe. Before entering every town or crossing any medium size bridge or larger, there are a few pylons in the road. The Pylons are accompanied by police/army officers. They will stop vehicles as they see fit to ask for papers and investigate the contents of the vehicle. (Remember this dear Americans as you give up small privacies to your government. Today it is phone tapping, tomorrow it is car searches.) I am generally waved through most of these stops.

Everyone has warned me about traveling through Colombia. When I did interviews in the States a few weeks back, the interviewers always wanted to know about my thoughts on Colombia and how scared I was to travel there. As I travelled south and met new friends they always warned me about Colombia or were even surprised anyone would travel through the country, alone, on moto. I was excited to travel here. The results of last nights tire change just proved to me even more that this country is a wonderful little secret. All of us on the outside only hear about the bad things, most that occurred years ago. You never get the good stories. Americans are not the only ones that need a good “bad guy” to hate. It seems every country has horror stories about Colombia, legit or not.

So I feel pretty safe in my travels up the valley today. I get stopped along the way at one exceptionally large bridge. The fact that I do not speak Spanish actually helps my passage. People soon get bored about bullying someone that just doesn’t get it. I do get the opportunity to get some Army officers in a photo session. Want to pass peacefully through this world, carry a camera. Not a big one that makes people think you have money or value, but a little one to take some pictures.

As I near my destination I come to another topes (the bumps put across the road to slow traffic through towns. I have now traveled across thousands of these. Some huge and bone jarring, some smaller and nearly non-existent. The one I approach is not special in anyway. Suddenly, without cause I hit the topes I a relatively slow speed and the bike goes HAYWIRE on me!

The only thing I can think happened is that the tope was covered with oil. I nearly wrecked the bike right then and there. I got my right foot out and somehow righted the bike before it was completely down. It actually hit the road and I certainly would have broken my ankle had I not been wearing my riding boots.

What a scare to wake you up just about the time you get bored.

I rode the remaining miles north, watched the GPS for the coordinates I needed. Once there, I took some pictures, found a military outpost next to a bridge and got the attention of two army officers. I called Dan Molina on the satellite phone and handed the phone to one of the officers. Dan explained what was going on and the officers were only to glad to help with pictures of the GPS, pictures of themselves signing the log boo and pictures of the Ark and I. After about an hour of time gone by, I remounted the bike and headed south.

It started to rain. And then, it started to tropical downpour. About this time I got lost. Remember, I have just driven up this road a couple hours before, now I am lost. I am in a city and I clearly do not remember traveling through a city this morning. The rain is still coming down and the street has become a river. I had this experience in Honduras and made it through a couple days before so I “think” I am an expert now. I stand on my pegs and ride the river road for a half a mile. We are heading down hill and the road continues to get more water from side roads. This is not a pool of water like that in Honduras; this has become the raging Colorado. At best, I am getting pretty worried about the conditions.

I take the next left hand turn and look for a way out of town. Each east/west road I cross has an even deeper river running through it. I have to turn around. I take the next right and now am in the midst of a flood. The first chance I get a make the next right. As I do I am now out of the river and spot the lights of small pool hall bar open to the outside. I can see people inside. It is still pouring. I make the decision to stop and get help. There is a small ramp up to the sidewalk in front of the building next door. It is covered in white tile. I point the Ark towards this ramp to park my bike on the sidewalk. As soon as my wheels touch the wet tile it goes down. Luckily I was not traveling fast. Even though the bike is down, I remain standing. The bike is running and I reach over to shut it off. The folks playing pool all walk outside underneath the awning and look at the commotion.

On the first day that I purchased the Ark, I dropped it in the backyard. My nephew Tony was there to watch and after the accident, I jumped up to try and lift the bike. My adrenaline was flowing and I was some what shocked that Tony had not run over to help me pick up the bike. Instead, he took his time, smiled, told me to calm down and helped me right the bike.

As I stood on that sidewalk with the bike on the ground and ten people looking at me, I did not get excited, was not embarrassed, was not mad, and did not cuss. I had come a long way on this journey and I am not talking miles here.

I took a breath, stood back, looked at the bike for damage -there was none. I turned around, squatted, grabbed the bike with my hands and slowly lifted it to upright. I put my kickstand down, grabbed my soaking wet map and walked under the awning with the others.

They invited me in, laid my wet map on a pool table to dry and began working on how to get me back on course. I bought a cervesa and worked Spanglish as best I could. They invited me to bring the bike under the awning as they moved tables apart so that it could get out of the rain.

It was at this time that something special occurred to me. This group of people that certainly did not rank in the upper echelon of their community told me how lucky I was to find them and not to travel down another community. It was then that I realized that every community has another community that is worse off/more dangerous. That when traveling in one part of a country you will be told that the people farther south or east or west or north are not as friendly. That it is not as safe. Ask them about their community and they will always tell you it is safe.

Colombia as a whole in the Western Hemisphere gets this wrap from all the rest of the countries. We all need someone below us to make ourselves feel better.

These people helped me with directions. They shared a beer with me and they sent me on my way, a bit drier than when I arrived.

By the way, I have pictures of the road turned river from this area. I will post them when I get home.

The day continued.

I headed south and it was apparent that I was not going to make it to my destination before dark. I rode fast, made no stops but you can’t stop time and I was getting myself in a place I did not want to be.

The problem is that returning always takes longer than the initial trip and it sure seemed like everything was a lot farther away than originally planned.

I suddenly noticed I was ion a road that did not seem familiar. To top it off there was no traffic coming in either direction. I was alone and it was dark.

Before I started this journey and old friend told me that if it took 34 days, I would see two full moons. The bad news about that meant that most of the trip would be filled with no moon at all, especially the Central American part. It was dark tonight, pitch black.

There were no road signs; I did not know where I was. Finally, I saw a large entry gate to a home along side the road, probably a ranch of some kind. I pulled in. There just happened to be a man outside getting out of a truck. Iw as able to determine that I was on the right road. I was hoping he would invite me in and let me stay the night but he did not offer. I rode on.

I suddenly found myself on that same thirty mile stretch of treacherous road I experienced in the morning. It was not fun any more. Why would a perfectly good road be not maintained for 30 miles? I am tired, I am worried and this is when the mind starts playing games with you.

Maybe the government doesn’t want anything moving through this area fast. Where are all the officials I saw early in the day?

I picked up my speed, turned on all my lights, stood on the pegs and took that section pretty hard. At one point I hit a pot hole so hard it collapsed the front end of the bike, my elbows and shot pain into my shoulders. All I thought was, “Please front tire, don’t go flat on me now.”

The tire stayed inflated. I was back in civilization; I went through the town with the butcher shops. I started recognizing things and seeing more cars. It was getting late. I passed the town I stayed in last night. My goal was another hundred miles but it was apparent I was not going to make that. Instead I would go to Honda, the town I went through last night that had all the activity going on. It seemed like a neat town.

When I arrived in Honda it was not the booming town it had been on Saturday night. It was pretty dead, and dark. I saw a hotel or two but they looked pretty spooky. I saw a man and his girlfriend on a moped. I asked if there was a bueno hotel close. They assured me, there was, and I followed them for a mile of windy city streets to a hotel that in fact, looked ok, though the neighborhood looked a little rough.

I parked the bike on the sidewalk, went in and met the manger. He took me up and showed me the room. The room was bleaker than anything I have ever personally witnessed. There were two very low beds with white clean sheets on the mattresses. The room appeared clean enough and the sheets and pillow cases appeared clean. I just wanted a place to stay and the manager looked pretty legit. I agreed to the room. Oh, by the way, the door to the room was metal. I have never ever, seen and hotel room door that was steel.

The manager took me around back where I parked the bike in a locked garage under the building. I ordered a cervesa and went to my room.

Has this day not worn you out enough yet? Because the story starts now.

I took a cold shower. For some reason South America lacks hot water and paper towels. (More on the paper towels later.) The thin, white towel was clean. I have to give them that.

I dressed, went downstairs with the satellite phone and called Dan Molina.

“Dan, this is Dave. I am at the (name withheld) hotel in Honda. If I disappear, this is the last known location.”

I put the phone in my room, asked the manager where I could find some food and began walking the four blocks down the street. When I got to the location I was looking for from the night before I quickly noticed how things had changed in one day.

As a world traveler I often say how things are not as bad as reported or tell my wife that I am safe, because I stay out of bad spots. Well.. I was someplace I should not be. This has nothing to do with the country of Colombia. You could find this location in Atlanta. It just was the wrong place at that time.

I did not want to eat from a roadside vendor. I was looking for a restaurant with indoor seating. I wanted out of the public eye.

I turned a corner and there were two restaurants. There was a table outside where a few people were sitting at one. A young kid about 12 years old sees me and gets up. He comes over to me with a big smile on his face. He speaks a bit of Spanglish, too.

“You looking for a place to eat.¨

“Si.”

“You like pieces?”

Fish.

“Si.”

He leads me to the second restaurant where an old women and her 14 year old son / grandson comes out to take my order.

I am deathly tired from the last two days ride.

I ask for a cervesa and order what he recommends. The boy runs to the store next door and brings back a beer. He then serves me soup.

Listen, I will try anything and eat most. This soup smelled like my socks were boiled for two days in it. I tasted it but could not eat any more than a sip. It was simply, the most disgusting fish blah I have ever smelled in my life.

My dinner came out. How I hoped it would just be some fried fish. Instead it was fish with a sauce over it and some potatoes. I ate the potatoes.

The cooks boy kept wanting to talk to me in Spanish. I did not want to try. I was tired but very polite to him. I liked this kid.

Then the first kid came back, Mr. Smiley. I did not like this kid. He tried to talk to me but I wanted none of it. I sat picking at my food. Finally I could not give it anymore effort. As was finishing my beer a 20 something year old woman who was sitting at the table outside came and sat down at my table. She too, wanted to talk. I didn’t.

She asked me if I wanted another beer. I replied no. Two beers was more than this situation needed. I did not like this woman and did not want her anywhere near me. She took my fork, seeing I had finished my meal and ate a couple bites off my plate.

I am sure somewhere in her Spanish she asked me if I wanted her. All I kept saying was no, no, no.

She returned to the table outside. I paid my bill then asked the young boy, the owner’s kid if he would walk me back to my hotel. I did not like the situation that had developed.

The kid and I conversed as best we could as walked the four blocks back to the hotel. I walked down the middle of the street, the kid next to me. As taxis, motos, or other cars came down the street the kid would grab my elbow and try to get me on the sidewalk. In Spanglish I told the kid I was not worried about getting hit by a car. I did not want someone, anyone, jumping out of a corner along the sidewalk.

I got back to the hotel safely. I paid the kid a couple of Pesos and thanked him. I said good night to the manager, went to my room, locked the door,, (it did not have a deadbolt) took off all my closes sans undies, pulled the clean sheet off the second bed and put it on top my mattress for double protection put the one last sheet on top of me and immediately fell asleep. I was awakening at 4:30 about four and a half hours from now.

I don’t know when it happened, it took me minutes to realize where I was, but there was a knock on the door. I had probably been asleep less than half an hour, but I tell you, I was out.

“What?”

The knock continued.

“Whose there? What do you want?”

“Mister, open the door.” It was the kid with the big smile.

What the hell? How did that kid know where I was staying? I heard a woman’s voice. What the hell was happening?

OK, so the good kid could have told them my hotel, but how did they know what room I was in?

They kept knocking. They wouldn’t stop. They kept telling me to open the door.

My head was clearing pretty darn fast. I got up, I looked around. No weapons of any kind. There was a window. I was on the second floor. I put my riding boots on as fast as I could. If I had to jump, I wasn’t breaking an ankle.

More knocking. If they knew what room I was in from the manager, how could I know he was not standing out there with a key?

“I am not opening this door!” I yelled from the window.

“Adios! Leave me alone!”

Finally the knocking stopped. I sat down on the end of my bed. My feet were still in my boots and I was in my underwear.

That’s how I went to sleep last night; with my feet in my wet boots, resting on the floor and my body lying back on the bed.

 

 


Day 18
Honda, Colombia  >  Popayan, Colombia
September 18, 2006

I was awakened by huge, HUGE explosions. It was not yet 4:30. My alarm had not gone off. Light filled my room, and then it was filled with the shock of another explosion. Between the sounds of thunder I could hear the sounds of a torrential downpour. I did not have air conditioning in the room. The window was still open for a fast exit from my experience the night before. I went back to sleep.

When the alarm did go off, I could still hear the downpour. I shut the alarm off and went back to sleep. At five AM the manager knocked on the door. This was my backup wakeup call. I would set my alarm for 4:30 but always had a wakeup at 5 to ensure I was on the move.

I got up, went into the bathroom. As I sat there clearing my head and my bowels I noticed the ants. They were everywhere. Ugh!

I finished and went back into the main room. My stuff was wet. The window was open and the rain had poured in. I put the rest of my clothes on, wet socks into wet boots, grabbed my bags and headed downstairs. It was still dark and there were no lights on. I had my little headlamp on as I descended the stairs. The manager was there to open the garage for me.

The bike stood in a huge puddle in the garage. The only vehicle in the whole place and my bike is in the one puddle that exists. What a start to the day.

I stand in the puddle as I load the bike. I mount it and ride out the door into a town that I have no idea where I am. It’s dark, but not raining.

I drive in the direction that I feel is correct. There is a huge puddle across the entire road. I hit it at about 20 miles an hour. I make a huge mistake; I take my feet off the pegs and lift them ahead of me in the air. I immediately realize my mistake. Never take your feet off the pegs. These are what stabilize the bike and keep you from falling over and secondly, my feet are now forward and the water from the very deep puddle pours up my pant leg and into my boots.

I am not on the road for five minutes and already I am lost and sopping wet! Won’t yesterday ever be over?

I continue down the road searching for a sign and that is when one of the special moments of this trip occurs. A cab pulls up out of nowhere, the driver rolls down the window and asks me what I am looking for. I tell him the city and he points me in the right direction then drives off.

As I head in the direction he tells me, I think about what just happened. I have passed thousands of cabs since I have been on this trip. None have ever paid me any attention and suddenly this angel appears out of nowhere?

I head up the mountain for what is scheduled to be a long day.

Angel or not, things are still a little bleak. I am wet and extremely tired and it is only 6 AM. The mountains are close now and the poverty I have been in for the last 24 hours is starting to change into villas. I stop and take a few pictures then continue down the road. I enter a town that is a decision point on the remainder of my route over the mountains. As I am looking for the right road I see a bakery on the corner. I pull the Ark up close and dismount. In my wet boots and full gear I walk in to this very clean open air café.

The counter is full of incredible breads and desserts. There is an espresso machine behind the counter. I order three different pastries, café espresso double and an Orange Crush. I have not had an Orange Crush in 30 years or more but they did not have any juices and I needed some fluids. Since I was already having an espresso I thought I would skip the Coke and get something Orange.

Oooooh! That stuff is sweet! Do they pour sugar half way up the bottle before adding fluid? Amazing how things you thought were good as a kid can make you vomit as an adult!

I skip the rest of the Crush and finish what is easily the best thing I have tasted in, two days. The pastries are incredible and the coffee is darn good.

As I walk back out to my bike a man with his wife / girlfriend stop me and ask questions in perfect English. They are attached to a Sharpei on a leash. This is the first American looking dog I have seen since leaving the US. He looks healthy and well cared for.

Ok, you have to hang in here with me for a moment, because I have to try and think how to describe these two.

They are in their early thirties. He is the tall dark, long haired Latin man that every American woman dreams of. He’s right out of one of those soft porn girlie books women are always reading on the beach. She is this smoking hot Colombian woman every American man has heard about. It is 6 AM and she is in a pair of leather cowboy boots with high heels on the bottom. They are both dressed perfectly. I am not talking dressed in designer clothes, ready for a night out or anything. They are both in cowboy-villa-ranch-landowner clothes. Jeans, sweaters, jackets, scarves, boots, but they look like a million bucks in these common work clothes. They are riding in a typical, used pickup truck. What are these two doing in the midst of all this other dirt and grime?

I am talking to the two of them, as I stand in my wet, smelly, non-brushed teeth and thinking how embarrassed I am with the way I look and smell.

They are of course, both Colombian. He spent a number of years in LA and speaks perfect English. I don’t think she speaks English because she says very little. They help me with my route and surely save me hours of pain and suffering by not going the other way. Once again, I have been given help, just when I needed it.

As I head down the road things change, not just the scenery, but the feel of the place. I am now heading into north western Colombia towards Calle. There is less trash on the side of the road, almost none. The land is obviously owned by large farm operations. The villas are impossible to see because they are surrounded by fifteen foot tall perfectly manicured hedges.

I ride higher into the mountains.

I am not for sure, but this may be the highest mountain pass that I will cross on the trip. The bike is running great and I am flying up the mountain, passing cars and huge trucks as I go. At this point the lines on the road don’t matter. I pass queues of vehicles behind a slow truck on two lane blind mountain curves. My spirit is up and this is the kind of riding and scenery I had hope for on the trip. I climb and climb and climb.

I pass an accident. Thankfully I am a motorcycle and can pass by it. Other vehicles will be held off for some time as they clear the road. This is the first accident I have seen since starting the trip.

It starts to, what else, rain. And it gets colder. Much colder.

I can’t stand it anymore I pull over to the side of the road. There is an empty building here. The wind has got to be blowing at over 40 miles an hour. Sleet is coming down and I am frozen stiff. The heated vest is on full, the heated grips, too. I grab more clothes out of my bags and try to stand next to the building to get out of the wind. I take my Frank Thomas over coat off and add every piece of clothing that I think I can get under it. I get back on the bike that I left running, worried it would not start back up in the cold.

I travel miles down the hill. Evidently I was on the very top when I added clothes. I am suddenly hot. Two miles more and I pull over and take off more clothes. Another mile and I stop again and put my warm weather gear on. The sun is shining and the view is simply spectacular. I can see the road I will be traveling winding down the mountain for the next 10 miles. I take pictures and laugh at myself for my poor timing on stops. There I was freezing to death for a half an hour, when I finally stop and put on more clothes it is the end of the cold and the start of the heat.

I am a dope.

I head down the mountain. The ride becomes fun again. At the bottom I stop and get gas. When I go to start the bike the battery is dead. I jump start it with a perfectly restored 1940s Willy’s Jeep. Some guy in the middle of Colombia owns this gem. I thank him for the jumpstart and continue on. I have miles to go before the end of the day.

My next destination is Buga Colombia. There I am to meet Jorge Salas and his friends to accompany me around the city of Calle, Colombia. Jorge and Julian meet me on the side of the road. Once again, it was great to have new friends to ride with. We hugged, exchange greetings and headed for some lunch.

As we were sitting in an outdoor café having lunch, a man walked by our bikes. He suddenly pointed down to my front wheel and asked if I had seen it. I did not know what he was talking about. I walked over to the bike, looked down and was shocked to see my front rim.

The rim had a huge dent in it. How the front tire remained on that wheel I will never know. Why my bike wasn’t shaking profusely, I will never know. What I did know is I had problems.

The rim must have been bent on the massive pot hole I hit the day before. So far it had held up.

Jorge had a friend in Popayan, a city 200 miles down the road that could help with the rim. He made some calls as Julian set off for a little run to pick some things up. He told me he was stopping by home for a moment but when he came back he had a moto shirt for me with Buga´s cathedral on it, a medal with Mary on it and some Holy oil for aches and pains. Evidently he had seen the St. Christopher statue attached to my handle bars and thought he needed some company, and help.

Two more friends arrived on bikes and the five of us raced out of town.

After getting me around Calle, the four riders wished me goodbye and sent me on my way. Before leaving we had lots of hugs and pictures. Jorge gave me a Colombian flag that I kept in the pocket next to my heart.

I was on my own to Popayan.

By this time Dan Molina and I were spending a lot of time on the Iridium phone. I could not take incoming calls in my helmet so I had to pull over every time I needed to make a call. Dan was coordinating the riders joining me and the help I would need in each city, it was truly becoming a logistics nightmare.

Imagine being at the beacon call of a guy in a foreign country 24 hours a day and knowing you were his life line. This is what Dan had to deal with. If he was going to a movie, or having dinner, he would stop and take my call, or someone else’s call that was trying to reach me. In addition he was updating the rest of the world on where I was and my status.

I am not sure I could give someone else the time as Dan was giving me.

As I have already mentioned, the scenery through this part of Colombia was incredible. It is in the top two places that I have visited so far; British Columbia in Canada and now Western Colombia.

When I arrived in Popayan I was immediately lost. I needed to find a hotel to stay and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back in touch with Jorge, who knew people in this town.

I finally pulled over to the side of the road and took the map out of my tank bag. Just then a little red car pulls up next to me.

"Senor David?"

What the hell! Was I hearing things?

"Pardon me, are you Senor David?" came the voice.

"Yes, Si, yes, I am."

"We are friends of Jorge. We have been waiting for you. Please follow us."

Can you say miracle? Because that is what I am thinking right now.

I follow the car through the city, down a back alley and into a gated area where I turn into the back of a monastery that has now been turned into a beautiful hotel. I unpack my bike and head to the check in area.

The monastery is simply incredible. I am assigned a room where I immediately go and take a shower. I spend the next half hour pulling out all of my clothes and hanging them off my balcony to dry. I have not been in dry clothes for days and the reek of my clothing fills the room.

Immediately after showering I put what clean clothes I had and followed my new friends about ten blocks away where I was to meet another friend of Jorge’s to get my front rim fixed. When we arrived the owner of the small shop informed me that there was no way the bike could e fixed before tomorrow. I told him that was not possible; I had to have the bike in the morning to continue on.

I waited around the shop while others talked and people came and left. Finally a young man comes and directs me to follow him down the block. As I ride along a few blocks following this guy to who knows where I notice that every shop in the area is a moto repair shop.

Colombia must be second only to China on the number of motos on the streets. There are simply thousands of them. All in the 100 cc to 250cc range. I have found myself in the area of town famous for moto repairs.

When I finally come to a stop at the shop of the man I have followed, I become the spectacle. Men from all over come to see my BMW 650. This bike I consider small is a giant in this town. And the fact it is a BMW makes everyone ooh and ahh. They all circle the bike and ask questions. They see the wheel and make comments I do not understand.

The man, Johnny, is 24 years old. He is grimy as is his shop. He moves around without concern for me. I watch him come and go. I watch as he grinds a piece of rubber and I wonder to myself if this guy is going to work on my bike or not.. If not, I want some dinner and to go to sleep.

Johnny finally comes over to my bike and begins to take my front wheel off. We suddenly realize that a special tool is needed to get the wheel loose. Johnny does not have this tool.

I think for a moment then start going through my bags. What do you know? BMW Bob has put the tool in my bag of things he gave me before departing Atlanta.

I loosen the bolt and Johnny removes my wheel.

I am a hands on kind of guy. I want to know how to do things and one thing I realized the other night is I need to know, I need to watch, how to change a flat. I have the experience with the back tire. So I help as Johnny, with minimal tools dismantles my tire and tube from the rim in seconds.

The next hour is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am telling you, it will be ingrained right nest to the moment my daughter was born. I was in the midst of an artist and did not recognize it until much later in the process.

Johnny grabs my rim and moves to the sidewalk where there sits three 4 by 4 pieces of wood and a two foot section of railroad rail. Not the wooden tie, but a piece of steel rail two feet long. Imagine how much this hunk of steel must weigh!

Johnny, with help from a 17 year old kid, while eight others and myself stand around and watch, lays the BMW rim on two pieces of 4 by4, takes the piece of what I now realize is car tire rubber cut in an arc, lays that on top of the rim, places the third 4 by 4 on top the rubber, picks up the steel rail with one hand and then slams the steel down on the 4 by 4.

This is why there should have been video documenting this trip, because I will not do justice to what my face must have looked like when he slammed that piece of steel down.

The crowd that had gathered exploded in laughter watching me watch Johnny re-bend my rim. With every hit I cringed. Here I was watching some man on a sidewalk beat the living crap out of my highly tuned piece of German engineering with a 40 lb hunk of steel and some wood.

With each hit I thought he would crack the rim and my ride would be over.

Johnny finally slowed the process about 20 minutes into it. He showed me the rim and I was more than happy with the result at that point. Ok, I thought. He’s done. Let’s get it back on the bike.

Oh no, Johnny wasn’t done. He stuck the rim on a make shift wheel tuner, spun the wheel, adjusted some spokes and then beat the rim some more, this time with two, five pound sledges. This process went on for an hour and I watched in amazement as the rim returned close to its original shape and completely straight when running on the tuner.

Johnny wanted to charge me about $8.00. I gave him much more than that and thanked him over and over again. The crowd stuck through the whole process and we all had some hearty laughs.

In the end I pulled out a bunch of Alpinestar stickers and passed them out to everyone around. I had smiles and wave goodbyes as I headed down the road, back to the monastery turned hotel, on the new rim.

After the rim process I went out to dinner with my friends who found me on the side of the road and two more of Jorge’s friends. They were all motorcycle enthusiasts. We enjoyed a great dinner, some sights of Popayan and then it was back to the hotel for a short night of pleasant sleep.

Dave

 


Day 19
Papayan, Colombia  >  Quito, Ecuador
September 19, 2006

The day starts early. I don’t want to leave my accommodations. It's magnificent, an old monastery that has been turned into a hotel. It's still dark, my clothes are hanging from every possible hook, hanger and rack in the room in an attempt to dry them. They are still damp and rank as I pack them into my bags.

The room includes breakfast as have many of the places I stay. The problem is that I am always out the door before breakfast is served. As I pass the kitchen, a large white room located next to the fabulous courtyard, I hear a person moving. Dropping my bags, I enter the room and find a man going about preparations for what later will be breakfast.

"Pardon senor, cafe negro por favor?" I sheepishly ask.

"Si," I hear in response.

I go back to my bags, carry them to the bike and finishing packing. The man appears in the courtyard with a small cup of Colombian coffee. I thank him profusely, pour it down and ask for another. With the second cup, I am served a croissant. This is pretty elegant for a grubby moto rider.

As often happens, I am saddened by my morning departure. This is no way to see the world, arriving late, departing early, racing from one place to the next. However, I did not come on this ride for a vacation, it is a job and I must treat it that way, at all times or at least as long as I can.

Emigration from Colombia and Immigration to Equador are both very easy processes that are completed without the assistance of “helpers” or an official’s shakedown for a bribe. While working on my immigration process in Equador I am met be two other moto travelers. Casi and Diana are German riders that have spent the past year or so riding BMWs around South America. When they learn about my goal to break the record they both look at me in astonishment.

“Why on earth would you ever undertake such a trip?” they ask. “It just makes no sense,” they add.

I have to sort of agree with them. Though I am in a new, exciting country, I will see very little of it. These two have been riding for a year, are seeing all sorts of incredible sites and are planning another 4 months on continent while I speed through Equador in a planned two days on a journey that will hopefully end within the next two weeks.

I take a picture of our bikes. Comparing their vehicles loaded down like desert camels, mine seems almost naked.

After processing my entry papers, I wave goodbye and head south.

I had not planned to stop at the BMW dealership in Quito, but the lack of back brakes forces me to find another shop that can get my bike as close to complete as one can expect on a journey this rough on a moto. This means opening up the throttle, ducking behind the windshield and riding hard in an attempt to get to Quito before the dealership closes.

Though signage in Ecuador is the best I have seen in weeks, I still get relatively lost as I head towards Quito. At one point I come to a fork in the road that offers “Quito” in both directions. I take the right hand road which turns out to have very little traffic on it. This is a good thing unless of course you are lost and looking for reassurance you are on the right road.

One thing I can say for Equador is that the terrain is beautiful. Mostly mountainous, the farmers grow things in places I just can not imagine. For this Mid-West boy, it amazes me to see corn growing straight up the side of a mountain, in neat rows no less!

The native population must be the smallest people in the world. I bet many of these individuals do not top out over five feet tall. The men and women wear black hats that look like English bowlers along with brightly colored wool ponchos. Many of these folks could be found riding in the backs of pickup trucks. I am sure they found this large gringo on the tall bike as odd as I found them.

I started to watch the GPS as I neared the equator sure I would get a chance to take a picture of the official crossing when it came. Sadly, I still did not have the GPS completely figured out and had accidentally pushed a button that made me miss my shot. In a hurry to get to the BMW dealership, I went on without the picture.

I arrived at Alvarez Barba BMW just before close. Luckily Dan Molina had already talked to the dealership before my arrival and I was received with open arms. The shop was kept open just for me. My brakes were repaired along with a couple of other items. I really received the royal treatment including a great dinner later that evening with Victor, the head of moto sales, and his daughter.

 


Day 20
Quito, Ecuador  >  Máncora, Peru
September 20, 2006

Before I went out for dinner with Victor and his daughter last night, I did my best to prepare for today's ride. I was bound and determined to put some serious miles between myself and the current record. When the alarm went off at 4:30 AM, I jumped out of bed and headed downstairs to prepare the bike and get a cup of joe.

As luck would have it, one thing after another caught my attention and I did not get on the road until 5:30 AM. Today's goal was to get 700 miles in.

The day started out well. I found my way out of town in the early morning very easily. One of the benefits I have is that I enter major cities at night and depart them in the mornings missing most of the rush hour traffic. Add to that, that I usually leave quite early and traffic has not been a major issue.

After getting a good start the weather got to me again. Quito is above 10,000 feet and even though it rests in the middle of the equator, this morning it was freezing cold. I am telling you my thumbs, which hang below the heated grips were numb. I thought for sure that I would pull my gloves off and they would be black. The cold weather really takes it out of you. Good intentions or not, the cold just drains all positive vibes.

The one good thing the cold did do for me this morning, it may have saved my life.

Ecuador as a whole has been really surprising. Overall, it has the best combination of roads and road signs that have seen outside the US. Going from the Colombian border to Quito and then out of Quito south, the signage, which is literally non-existent in other countries, was fantastic. Just about the time I was thinking to myself how I should comment on the signage, I was surprised like no other time on the trip.

As I said above, the cold saved me. I was outside Quito and making great time traveling on a separated four lane road. The road was in great condition and no one else was on it coming or going. I was traveling downhill and had just entered the clouds (or fog) from above. I was so cold that I had to slow down. I just could not take the wind chill any longer. So instead of getting the best bang for the buck with my little 650 going downhill on a nice road, I had backed off the throttle pretty well, when what to my ... OH MY GOD!! surprise, the road repair crew had dumped a load or two of dirt across both southbound lanes. There was no signage at all! No warning that the road was under repair, just mounds of dirt. Even at a much reduced pace I had to slam on my front and rear brakes - thank you BMW Quito for the repairs. The BMW anti-lock brakes worked perfectly and I was able to catch the small, un-signed detour into the oncoming traffic. Man, that was close.

It turns out that there had been a land/rock slide in the path and the road crew used dirt from the slide to detour us. A little notice would have been nice.

A little later in the morning I got lost. As I said, just about the time I was ready to brag about the signage, things just got bad. Part of the issue was Ecuador DMV's fault and part was the directions I was given to get through Ecuador to the Peruvian border. The road I took was probably two hours longer than other routes because of the mountain roads. At the same time it turned out to be one of the most beautiful, most fun roads I have traveled.

Ecuador has been the surprise country to date. The scenery has been incredible.

As I came out of the Ecuadorian mountains I found myself in the lowland jungle areas of the country. This area was mile after mile after mile of banana trees and sugar cane fields. Imagine the corn fields of Illinois or the wheat fields of Montana being nothing but row upon row of banana trees. It is wild!

The really funny, or odd thing about the banana trees is that the farmers use every piece of land available to grow more trees. So many acres of trees, that the only place for the workers to build houses is on stilts over the drainage ditches next to the roads! I am not joking here. If the land is flat it either has a row of trees on it, or a highway. The only places for houses are above the ditch.

As for sugar cane fields, I have seen and smelled all I need to. Ripening sugar cane has the same aroma as bar barf.

As I left the jungles of Ecuador I arrived at the border to Peru. Both border crossings were pretty simple and I did them by myself without the help of locals. It went so smooth that the Peruvian border officials thought they deserved $30 dollars US as a favor. I gave them $20 (no receipt available) and was happy to get on my way.

It was about 4:30 when I started moving through Peru. I had not gone far before I was riding along the Pacific Coast and quaint little beach communities. I decided to find a place with an Internet connection, a $15 room and try to get caught up a bit.

447 miles today. I will give tomorrow a chance to be the big mile day.

Dave

 


Day 21
Máncora, Peru  >  Barranca, Peru
September 21, 2006
11:56 A.M. EST

Finally, I find a convenient Internet cafe! Stopping to give you a quick update on my day.

This morning I was up at 4:30 and out of the beach bungalow by 5:30. I have to be the first person ever to awake that early in this vacation resort to get on the road. The accommodations; $15 for the night, 2 beers and dinner about $2.50. The best part is that I had dinner at a table on the beach with good satellite access and I was able to catch up with as number of friends and family.

The road quickly departed the ocean and turned southeast for the Peruvian desert. My goal was to put in 100 miles before I stopped. At about the 90 mile mark I went through an oasis of sort where they were growing fruits and vegetables of some sort. The sun was just coming up and the bugs were out in full force. I don't know what kind they were, I just know that they were small and green and within 10 miles had completely covered my helmet, windshield and any exposed part of the front of the bike or my body. It was sick, and funny!

I stopped at a small store along the road to get breakfast. I wanted two croissants, two oranges and coffee - they did not have coffee so I ended up with a Gatorade. I paid about $2 to a man who handed me a slip to give to the person serving bread. Instead of ordering two croissants, I must have ordered a dozen croissants because I ended up with a bag full of them. So far I have eaten four this morning. Guess croissants will be lunch also.

About the coffee. Here I am in the center of coffee nations and I have an impossible time finding coffee. Get this, on three occasions now I have ordered coffee and they have given me Nescafe freeze dried. Yuck!

After my bakery experience I road out of town guessing at my route and trying to follow very cryptic information on a hand held GPS. So far, Peru has been the worst country for road signs. There just are not any. About the time I am patting myself on the back and really proud of getting through a busy city I realize I am on the wrong road.

No problem. I will just take the next road east. It will run into the road I need. So I find a paved road and start down it. About 2 miles into the journey the road turns to loose packed gravel. No problem, I can ride gravel now that I am more experienced and the road seems used. About two miles down the road it turns to sand and rock. Ah oh, this isn't looking good. Never the less, Gerulski men do not turn around.

I am now in the middle of the desert on a one lane desert road. Every once in a while a man with a donkey and a cart will pass going the other direction. I take this as a good sign. He must be coming from somewhere, right? I continue east. A boy of about 6 is riding a donkey, he is holding a girl of about 3 in front of him. There are no parents anywhere to be found. As soon as I passed them, I regretted not getting a picture and was too afraid to turn around in the sand to go back for one.

Finally, I saw a semi-trailer heading north across the desert ahead of me. It was a really funny sight since I could not see a road yet. Just a big rig moving fast across the desert and no dust following him. I feel very relieved and continue forward with a big smile on my face. Sure enough, I find tarmac. The road south from there was extremely flat, straight, deserted and fast. Oh, and one other thing, windy.

That's it for now. Thanks all for following my reports. I hope to be in Lima tonight.

Dave

 


Day 22
Barranca, Peru  >  Palpa, Peru
September 22, 2006
2:35 P.M. EST

I think the kinks are out of the Kaneva / Internet Security Sytems bike. Knock on wood, but for the past two days I have been going without any troubles. Currently writing from Palpa, Peru. Started my morning from Barranca, Peru about 100 miles north of Lima. After writing yesterday about missing rush hours in major cities, I hit Lima at 7 AM this morning. Traffic was CRAZY! And frankly, a BLAST! I even impressed the Peruvian bus drivers with my ability to get in and out of lanes.

As soon as I was out of Lima I hit the desert again. Miles and miles and miles of sand dunes. Most of the riding was flat and straight. Every once in a while the road would climb an exceptionally large dune, and then down again.

After my report yesterday morning, I was back on the road to finish up with over 600 miles. Had to do some real searching to find a decent hostel in Barranca, but finally found a nice one. The room $8.00. Christopher the 23 year old manager even ordered delivery pollo (chicken) for me. I bought two cervesas, gave one to Christopher and I practiced my very weak Spanish with him over dinner. Immediately after dinner, it was to bed. I slept like a rock and got a full 6 hours in before the alarm went off at 4:30. I was on the road by 5:15 and got 400 miles in by noon.

I think I have finally worked out a good plan for riding. I get up early and get going. Stop around noon when I can find an Internet cafe (by the way, none have served coffee), eat my lunch while I type (Gatorade and yesterday's bread) and then back on the road. The process breaks up the day a bit and I have a hard time writing at night when I stop.

Speaking of night, Tim Cahill wrote a fantastic book called Road Fever about breaking this world record in a pickup truck. I hate repeating what someone else has already written about but this experience needs to be repeated.

People in South America must think it is a sin to ride with your lights on. In the US, all motorcycles must have their lights on when driving - 24 hours a day. On top of this, BMW makes it impossible to turn the on bike without the headlight running (this is a bad idea by the way BMW). So here I am running my headlight duing the day as I ride down the road. A clear 30 percent of all vehicles I approach during the day flash there lights repeatedly at me. Guys in busses flash AND wave their arms out the window at me! It's not like the light is in their eyes or anything. They are just being helpful I guess.

At night it is a different story. I have these great PIAA headlights that are on my engine covers. These extra lights really light up the night when I am traveling after hours.

The most annoying thing about driving after dark is the games other drivers play with me. Many trucks and cars refuse two turn their brights off as they approach. Even worse, many will play a little game and turn their brights off and then hit them right before they pass. Basically blinding you for a few seconds. Last night, I had finally had enough of it. It was time to get these guys back.

My PIAAs are mounted just tight enough that as I am riding, I can actually reach down and move them with my hand. So while I was alone on the road, with a mountain wall to my left, I turned on the PIAAs and directed them along the wall as I rode to the approximate height of a truck drivers head. After doing this, I continued down the rode with the PIAAs off, only using my standard headlight and high beam. As vehicles approached, I would turn my high beam off with plenty of time and courtesy to the on-coming traffic. If the driver left his high beams on I would flash my high beams. Usually, this would cause them to turn on their standard lights.

A little farther down the road a comedian finally got his due. The truck was coming at me, high beams on. I flashed mine. He finally turns his off. With about 50 yards to go, he throws his high beams back on me.

GAME ON!

With a simple tap of my left index finger I light him up like the 4th of July! I swear I can see his "deer-in-the-headlight eyes" and mustache as he is frozen in time forever.

These are the things I do to entertain myself sans iPod or others to talk to. Yes, if you have not heard, about a week ago I fried my second 60G iPod.

Another thing I do to get myself through a day is to pick small goals. I have discovered shooting for a 700 mile day from the start is very hard to do, and very hard on the mind. If I discover that the roads are taking longer than planned it can be depressing as I head into the end of the day knowing I will not meet my goal.

Instead, I now pick small goals. For instance, today and yesterday I told myself that I could not stop the bike or touch my feet to the ground before I put 100 miles on it. I then say, 250 miles by 10 or 11 AM. Something reasonable. Finally, this morning I said, "David, you are not allowed to pee until you put in 400 miles." It was the fastest 400 miles I have yet made!

I miss you all and enjoy hearing from you when I get the chance. A few notes to some individuals out there:

Christine - the Smarties are priceless! When ever I need a little happiness or pick-me-up I grab a Smartie. (For those of you who don't understand this. Christine, keeps the candy bucket at work. The one candy I love and always eat out of the bucket is Smarties. Before I left for the trip Christine gave me a bag of Smarties for the ride. They are in my side bags and I always eat one when I think I need it.)

Rob Empric - I have not said ït yet. (Rob and I talked before I left on this journey and wondered when I would be riding along and say to myself, "What the hell am I doing?" Before the trip I thought it might be in the first 8 hours. It has now been 22 days and I have not said it.

PJ and Glenn - Coincidences never cease to amaze me. This morning I was getting gas. In Central and South America you never pump your own fuel. So the kid who works at the gas station comes over and asks what gas I would like. There on the front of his shirt in big letters is "Siemens." I laughed out loud (and took a picture). VistaScape, the company I work for was bought by Siemens yesterday.

That's it for now. I am going to get back on the bike and.. Not stop the bike before.. I see something green. Remember, I am in a desert.

BTW - The kid that runs this Internet cafe is playing some fantastic music!

Dave

 


Day 23
Peru
September 23, 2006

 


Day 24
Peru  >  Santiago, Chile
September 24, 2006
7:46 P.M. EST

 

Santiago, Chile. I pull up to the hotel, turn off the bike, walk into the lobby, the two men at the desk stare at me.

"Pardon, Senor. I need a room for one night, please."

The younger man looks to the older man. The older makes a quick shake of the head. The younger tells me there are no rooms tonight. They are full.

I can see the lie in his eyes.

I ask if he can point me to another hotel, nearby. I make sure he knows I want a nice hotel even though I look like a bum and smell worse. He sends me down the road about two kilometres.

I find the hotel, a nice small establishment. The man at the desk is more than happy to have me. He asks if I am with a moto touring group in town. I reply, no, that I am on a world record trip to Ushuaia. He has been to Ushuaia, in the summer. He assures me the weather should be ok, now.

I ask if I can park the bike and bring my gear up before I sign in. This is no problem. I park the bike, pull off my bags, lock the side cases and shuffle back to the front desk. I have no idea how bad I look.

The room is $68 a night, with free breakfast and welcome drink. All I want to know is if there is hot water. The bell boy shows me to the room, (but not before I spill all my stuff from my tank bag on the floor of the lobby) and exits quick. I have not brushed my teeth in three days. That is probably just one of the reasons he wants out, fast.

I enter the bathroom, throw my flip flops in the tub and start a hot shower. The flip flops are gross and need a good cleaning after the streets of Central and South America.

I take off my clothes. The Alpine Star long sleeve winter shirt I have been wearing non-stop for the past two days goes in the tub. I will need it rinsed and dried by tomorrow morning. It will go back on for the duration of the trip.

The undies go in a corner. I consider just throwing them away. I made it two days without having to.. go. Finally, in the middle of the night, last night, I pulled over on the side of the road in the desert and went. I used a red shop rag. That's all I had.

I finally see myself in the mirror. I have forgotten that I have not shaved in about a week. I look terrible. I get into the shower with my flip flops and shirt. I start on my hands. They get relatively clean. What's under the finger nails is going to stay there. Even the tips of the fingers stay black. Then I notice my fingers. The tips are full of tiny blisters and dead skin. It doesn't hurt because they are all numb.

I scrub the rest of my body until it is red. Then I wash my hair. The water running off my body and into the tub is gray, almost black. I rinse and repeat. I laugh at myself. Maybe I will look in the mirror and discover that I have just washed away what remains of my black hairs.

When I am clean, I start on my shirt. I rinse and re-rinse. The problem is wringing it out to dry. My hands will not work. I get the feeling this is what older people feel like when they have arthritis.

I step out of the shower and try to shave. This is funny in itself because I can not hold the razor like I usually do. Instead, I hold it like a kid eating soup that has no manners, with my thumb hanging out, and my wrist over the handle. It seems to work ok with a lot of effort. Once again I notice the dark substance dripping off my face. I have washed my face over and over in the shower but it still leaks grey water when the razor goes over it. My side burns are long and bushy from lack of care.

I tell you all this, not because I want your sympathy. Rather, you have stuck it out with me for the past three weeks or longer and you too, are a part of the experience.

My right hand is rough with calluses. I have soreness in the wrist; my back is a little sore but nothing to worry about. My rear is still not sore at all. I discovered that riding is all about the feet and thighs not about the rear. To control the bike and ride properly you must have all your weight on the pegs. So, much of the wear goes into the thighs, and not the butt.

The last three days are a haze. I will write about each individually as I get time but want to catch you up a bit.

I am making time. Since departing Victor, from BMW in Quito, Ecuador, after a very nice dinner I went straight to the hotel and into bed. I awoke at 4:30 packed quickly, had the last coffee I would see in three days ( I didn't know that then ) got on the bike and rode out of town.

Twenty hours later, somewhere in Peru, I pulled into a grungy gas station and convinced the young man working the night shift to let me pull the bike behind a tractor on the dirt and sand and let me sleep next to it. I pulled out a drop cloth I always carry that my brother Frank gave me a few years back. The drop cloth was for the bike. I covered it up so that it would not draw attention. I pulled out my extra riding jacket, used it for a pillow and lay in the dirt next to the bike. I awoke at about 3:30 when a truck pulled up across the street and began loading bricks or something. I rolled up the drop cloth, waved goodbye to the attendant, and rode south.

I was determined to get some miles behind me. However, something always comes up. I pulled into a gas station, a very small gas station, that I was desperate to find. While filling up, I noticed green anti-freeze all over the front of the bike. Here I was in the miserably hot Peruvian desert and I had a leak.

To get to the radiator fill cap on the F650 you have to remove the side cover. A 10 minute process at best. With a loaded bike and tools in strange places it can take longer. I started in on the project and realized, I had drawn a crowd. I don’t mind adults hanging around. They usually stand back and watch. Kids on the other hand will get right in there and touch things. I shoed the kids away and continued the job of unscrewing the side cover when I realized, hell, there is a better way to do this. I pointed at a twenty-something year old kid and handed him the star screwdriver tool then pointed at the screws. He went right to town, more than anxious to help.

We checked the overflow, it was fine. We opened the radiator, it was hardly even low. We added some water, tightened a hose that looked like it could be the cause, put the bike back together and off I went and hour or so delayed. I rode until gas was low again, about a hundred miles out. When I stopped to buy gas, they would not take a credit card. I only had a few pesos and was only able to fill the main tank about half way. My two spare cans were both full. It was now getting dark and I was about to enter, I later learned, very desolate desert territory.

I started down the road and before I got three miles out my temperature gauge came on. It was getting cold out. I thought for a moment that maybe I would just ride easy for a while and the cool air would solve my problem. I hate turning around. But my good sense won over. I turned around and headed back to the gas station I had just left. When I got there I pulled into a lighted area and went to taking my side cover off. That’s when I realized that the little star tip for the screw driver was missing. It must have fallen off when I was putting things away the last time. I searched my entire bike. Every zip lock bag, every crevice. No star tip of the right size.

The guy who had pumped my gas when I only had a couple pesos came over to see what was going on. I showed him what my problem was. He went into the store and came out with a regular screw driver. No! I said. He left and came back with a Phillips head screwdriver. Again, I had to wave him off. I gave him a smaller version of the tool I needed. He left and came back with a full set! Wow, someone is really watching out for me.

We took the side cover off and realized that I had a hole in my radiator. You would think that this would get a man down, but not me! Bob Wooldridge, my BMW dealer, on the last day I saw him before I left for the trip handed me a half a bottle of radiator stop leak and said, "Keep this just in case. If you have to, pour it in and pee in the radiator to fill it up." I didn’t need to pee in the radiator. The gas station had water. But I have to tell you something about Bob. The man gave me a few things on that last day, all of which I considered not bringing along. One was the half bottle of stop leak that saved my day. The other was a small pair of jumper cables that have been used at least a dozen times on this trip, including, at least three times on the first day out of Prudhoe Bay. I have learned to trust and love Bob.

The stop leak seemed to work. But this time I wasn’t putting the side cover back on the bike. Instead, I have bungeed it to the top of my bag on the back seat. In addition, I filled a used two litre Coke bottle I found in the trash with water and strapped it to the top of my side cases. Now, looking like a man right out of Mad Max and the Thunder Dome, I rode into the desert.

Again, I wanted to cover lots of territory. I had been delayed another couple of hours. I rode until I could not ride any longer. I pulled over and slept on the dirt next to the bike. I awoke after I could not take the desert cold anymore. I was frozen stiff. The only way to get warm was to get on the bike and ride. This is because; I was wearing an electric, heated, vest. The problem is that I am too scared to plug it in when the bike is not running worried I will drain the battery and not be able to start the bike again. So when I can not take the cold anymore, I plug myself into the bike and ride some more. Later in the morning, after the sun had risen, I pulled over next to a building, parked the bike close to a wall, crawled in between the bike and the wall and slept in the sand sitting up in all my gear, including my helmet. Lucky I had all that practice wearing my helmet.

So that’s what it is like trying to break the record. I made 727 miles, 812, and close to 700 again today, respectively. I hope that is just baby steps to the miles I plan to put in over the next four days. On Monday morning my bike will get new oil, new steering head bearings, a valve job, new gas filter and an intense look over. By afternoon, if all goes well, I start on the final leg to Ushuaia.

Cross your fingers.

Dave

 


Day 25
Santiago, Chile  >  Chile
September 25, 2006

 


Day 26
Chile  >  Tecka, Argentina
September 26, 2006

7:46 P.M. EST

As I rode through the Lago (lakes) area of Argentina all I could think is how beautiful the place was. It reminded me of the Lake Tahoe. Mountains all around, curvy roads along the lake, pine trees, no trash, and a hundred different mountain resorts with that Alp like feel to them. This is definitely one of the prettiest places of the trip. It now fits in with the top three; British Colombia, Canada, Western Colombia, and now Argentina.

It had rained all morning on the Chilean side of the mountains. It was also cold there and though I did not have snow on the road, it was piled 4 feet high along the sides.

I make the two border crossings and head down the mountains. It is still rainy and cold. I am upset with myself, not making very good mileage. On the side of the road is a neat looking restaurant/cafe. I turn around and stop. I have to have some caffeine to keep going.

When I pull into the cafe, I have all my winter riding gear on including my balaclava. This makes me look like I am trying to rob the place. I go inside and there are three 20 some things running the joint and one family of 6, an old man, his wife, one of their 30 year old kids, his wife, one other person and a small child of 5.

The rodent is running around, screaming, making a total nuisance of himself. The grand father looks about as happy as me regarding this fact.

I take a seat as far away, in a very small joint, as I can, take off my gloves and jacket and order a cup of tea. I need some sugar, too. I order a waffle off the desert menu. It comes piled high with caramel. I realize I am losing precious time.

While I wait, I notice Nora Jones is playing on the stereo. I fall asleep in my chair. The food comes. I eat, sip my tea and think what a cool place this would be to bring the family back to someday.

The family leaves, they are tourists. I watch as all six pile into a car not big enough for four! Once again, the scene repeats itself of South American’s pulling off the clowns in the miniature car act. When you see this in action, the only thing that goes through your head is how many Dunwoody soccer moms are driving Suburbans with one small child in the back.

So I continue down the road. Not five miles along, I pass through a cute little community similar to Colorado’s Aspen, or Breckenridge (but more authentic). The sun comes out, the road dries. Suddenly, I am riding curvy roads around the lake and I am not cold, bored or wet. The motorcycle is running like a champ happy to be free of the extra weight I removed in Santiago.

A miserable night, a horrible morning, turns into the perfect afternoon.

I ride on. The small communities continue to appear. I ride farther and start to turn along the back side of the mountains. The land flattens, with the mountains off to a distance now, but never leaving my side. I am in a huge desert valley.

I pass more towns, each pretty in its own, all with cabanas available and little hotels. I go farther. The towns are coming much less often now, sometimes separated by 50 or more miles.

It is starting to get dark. I had planned all day to get caught up on the map makers "aggressive plan" but it is obvious to me that I will not make this distance if I try to get some needed sleep tonight. I promise myself that I will stop at the next town, about sixty miles down the road. I will purchase a room in one of those quaint hotels, have a cervesa and nice meal, then get some sleep. It’s dark when I pull into Tecka.

Part of the "system" I have developed is always getting gas before I go to bed. This way, when I awake I can just get out of town as fast as possible. It also prevents awaking early, ready to go, and discovering no gas stations open.

Highway 3 runs alongside the town of Tecka. It does not go through the middle as it does in most towns. When I pull off Route 3 the first thing I notice is dirt. There is not a paved road in Tecka!

Maybe it is just because its dark now, but Tecka does not appear to be one of those quaint communities I have been passing all day.

While getting gas a guy walks over to inspect my bike. I wish I had a picture but I did not want to embarrass him. He was smaller than me. Not tiny or anything just not as big. He had long black flowing hair, a cool, black, leather Harley type jacket, black leather riding pants, leather boots - black, a black half helmet, a really cool thick multi colored scarf around his neck (it was cold out). He walks over my way. I pull my helmet off and immediately begin talking in English to him. I just assumed he was a traveler like myself from a foreign country. He spoke English. Not well, but better than my Spanish. Still assuming he is a visitor I ask about his travels, it is at this time that I notice his bike. It is small. At the biggest, it is a 150 Suzuki or some such vehicle. I am in awe.

It turns out that he is not a world traveler. He is from some community near-by. Of course, near-by could mean a hundred miles away here.

As has happened a hundred times before, he asks about my bike, what size, is it a BMW, the questions go on. For weeks I have been responding that the F650 is too small, that I should be on a bigger bike for this journey. I look at the bike as I say this. It is tall. I can barely touch the ground when I sit atop it. The front wheel alone is 21 inches from bottom to top. It’s long, especially with my special Fred Jones brackets, holding two, two gallon gas cans out the back.

I look back at this man in his leathers. I watch as he kick starts the little Suzuki and I think about the brashness of this American.

I pay for my gas and ask the attendant for a hotel. She directs me down the street a couple of blocks and to the right.

I ride the three blocks, turn right and ride down the centre of town. It’s dirty, it’s worn out, it’s sad. I look for a hotel, riding along seeing people outside in the cold and dark hanging out. I don’t really like the picture here. It is mostly dark.

At this point that I pass Senor Martin’s Hotel, it appears to be the only one in town. It is dark, it looks closed. There is not a light on in it and I don’t like the looks of the surrounding area. I drive right past. Finally, turning up a dirt street, I see a small restaurant with a proprietor at the counter. I pull up, park the bike and enter.

"Pardon Senor. Is there a Otel in town?" I ask in broken Spanglish.

"Si!" he responds.

I spend the next few minutes talking with this older gentleman. His English is pretty good and another young man who is in the restaurant exits the door. I am to follow him to the hotel. I thank the proprietor and remount my bike. We travel two blocks and pull in front of a grocery store. The young man runs in and I follow.

He directs me to the owner of the store who is running the cash register as about eight others muddle around the establishment. As I entered the store two men depart. I watch them carefully. One appears to be drunk.

The young man informs the proprietor that I need a room. He looks at me, asks to wait uno momento and finishes his transactions. The store reminds me of the one my grandparents ran in the small town I grew up in. It is smaller than the one I knew, and the items appear a little less organized, but beyond that, it is the same premise. One of the first things I note is how the proprietor writes the bills of his customers down on a note pad. Few of the customers pay in cash. I remember my great aunts pulling out a large green ledger to write down bills of customers. I can’t remember when I have seen this since.

The bike is outside, in the dark parked along the road. I move over to a point in the store where I can glance at the bike through the window. This is not easy to do with all of the items stacked in the windows.

I watch as the two men who left while I was entering are looking at the bike and talking. As I have noted before, most adults will not touch the bike. They will talk, ask questions, circle, point but they will not touch.

The key is in the bike and more importantly the little hand held GPS receiver I borrowed from Tony is mounted in full view. In the dark it appears to be a little TV radiating, luminescent to the world around.

If there has been one thing that has drawn more attention then the bike itself, it is the GPS.

Major-Generals from police and military installments throughout Central and South America come from behind their desks at road stops to view the GPS and ask questions. People literally took pictures of me and the GPS.

I watch the men outside intently. One man appears to leave but the other, probably the town drunk, begins to close in on the bike, attempting to mount it.

I tear out the grocery store door.

Please understand that I am not in fear of this guy stealing the bike. He could not even get the GPS off if he wanted to. He’s just a drunk. Every town has one.

Where I grew up, we had a few. Who could forget old Pauly walking the streets of Westville? As a kid, every time we saw him we would yell, "PAULY!" and Pauly would reply with a huge wave. Pauly was our Otis.

One other note about Pauly, and town drunks. Pauly, and the others from my community came to my fathers funeral. They dressed in the best they had, but they came. I will never forget that, and it is a reason why I am always nice to the town drunk. They have a heart, too.

So as the town drunk is approaching my bike, I come tearing out the door yelling, "Hey! Hey! Hey!"

The proprietor of the store could not help but to here the commotion and he came running right behind me. In very loud Spanish he tore into the man near my bike. I did not understand a word that was said, but I know exactly what was said. He told the drunk to leave my stuff alone, that I was a visitor from another country. That he took good care of the drunk and the drunk needed to leave other peoples stuff alone. The drunk argued back. I suspect he was telling him that he was doing no harm. I stood next to the bike, sorry that I caused this commotion.

The drunk walked away, the proprietor took me into the store. He walked to the back of the store and down a hall where he showed me my room. It had two very small beds in it. It was clean. It wasn’t the Ritz and it wasn't even the Motel 6 but it was spotless.

We went back outside; he showed me where to park the bike in the back courtyard. There was a door to the back of the store and a safe place for the bike. As soon as I stopped the bike, a large German Sheppard was next to it looking at the ground by my feet where a rock sat.

The dog picked up the rock and dropped it at my feet, the international sign of, "Fetch."

I threw the rock, and it started. He was relentless. I would throw and then turn to get some things off the bike. He would return and drop the rock on top his front two paws that were now atop my riding boots. I loved this dog. Any loneliness that I may have felt was gone. It is amazing how good an animal can make you feel.

This dog didn’t know a word of English. But his Spanish was a hell of a lot better than mine!

As I went inside the back door the dog brought the rock just outside. As I would try to close the door the dog would drop the rock just inside the door so that it would not close. Geeze, what a smart dog!

I took my stuff into the room and unpacked. The proprietor came back to the room and it was at this point that I realized I had no Argentine money.

A funny thing about Dave as he bumbles through foreign countries; I don’t speak a lick of the language, and I also have the uncanny ability to enter countries without any of their money on me.

So the proprietor and I looked at each other. I pulled out all the Chilean money I had and amidst it was a US ten dollar bill. The proprietor grabbed the bill and said fini! That’s not all, he went back to the store a brought me a cervesa, a dozen rolls, two huge hunks of cheese and some baloney.

I was careful to eat only what I needed returned the platter to him, washed my face in the communal bathroom and went to bed.

What a day.

Dave

 


Day 27
Tecka, Argentina  >  Rio Gallegos, Argentina
September 28, 2006

12:16 A.M. EST

The sound filling the inside of my helmet is deafening. It is a sound I have never heard before.

My day started off a little late. When I awaken in the back room of the grocery store I realize that something is amiss. That “something” is sunlight coming through the curtained window.

I look at my watch, or at least try to. I own a small light that is attached to a headband. Last night, before retiring for the evening, I wrapped the headband around my left wrist. Having travelled for years, I find that if I leave the bathroom light on in the hotel room, if I awake in the night, I am not completely startled wondering where the heck I am. Sleep in enough hotel rooms, and trust me, one night you will awake and not know what city you are in, let alone where you are at the moment.

Last night I was left with a bit of a dilemma, the bathroom was communal, located out the door and down the hall. Leaving the light on in it was not going to help much. To solve the problem, I wrapped the elastic headband around my wrist so I knew where to find my light.

When I finally got to the watch, I discovered that it was 6:20 AM. Great news when you consider I was in bed by 9 P.M. Terrible news when the alarm was suppose to go off at 4:30.

I got up, and dressed. Not to hard a project when you consider I was still wearing the long underwear that had not been removed for two days. My t-shirt was replaced with the Alpinestar winter log sleeve turtle neck. After that it was electric vest, spine protector, winter jacket, pants and boots and I was ready to walk out the back door to my bike.

When I opened the door to the parking area the first thing I noticed was frost on the bike. It was completely covered in a light coating of ice. My Camelback water carrier had ice in the line. It was going to be a cold morning. The German Shepard was back with his rock. While I packed the bike, I got a good ten throws in for the dog who brought the rock right back to me, laying it on my feet.

I gave the rock one last heave, jumped on the bike and drove away before the dog could return. We were both sad when I exited the gate.

After two hundred miles, I arrived in Sariemento. This was the planned destination for the night before but the delay in Santiago was still costing time. In a way, I wish I had made it to this little town. It had lots of hotels, a cyber café and restaurants. At the same time, last night was truly an experience and night I will never forget.

I stopped at a cyber café, caught up on my email, and walked across the street for some breakfast. An hour later and a fantastic lunch I didn’t expect (I sometimes have a hard time with ordering in Spanish), I was on my way for another long day.

The Gremlins were not up as early as I, but they started their torment between miles two hundred and three hundred. It seemed they always chose the most remote areas to show their nastiness.

I finally learned through trial and error, that if I shut the bike off with the key as I drive down the road, I could then restart the bike by turning the key on, kill switch on, and then hitting the starter. This seemed to “reset” the bike and gave me another hundred miles or so before things repeated themselves.

As I said earlier, it was to be a long day. I had the two hundred miles I didn’t make yesterday to catch up and then another five hundred plus that I was scheduled to do today. In addition, I would like to go even further to make tomorrow, Thursday the 28th, an even shorter day to Ushuaia. As it stands, the plan is a three hundred and fifty miles or so for Thursday.

The day turned warm, in the low fifties. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the wind was not to strong. By mid day, I saw the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, I was getting a break with a little bit longer sunlight. I kept thinking as I entered South America that I would be getting longer days but it never seemed to work out that way. Now, I was even farther south and the sun seemed to hang up in the horizon longer than normal.

The Gremlins were back in force and it seemed as though the intervals between total loss of power were getting shorter and shorter. The solution of turning the bike off kept working, but I always wondered when I was going to turn that key on with no result.

I was talking to Tony about every hour on the satellite phone to give him an update on my location. At one point I told him I could look in every direction and see the curvature of the earth. That’s how flat it was.

The road ran absolutely straight for miles and miles on end.

It was dusk, and the road became a bit more curvy, a bit more hilly. I had just recently held off the Gremlins and was travelling a little slower than my earlier pace. I entered an up hill blind curve and that’s when the noise filled my helmet and pained my ears.

It was a sound of shear terror, it sounded like this:

Nyooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

It was not evident at first, but it was my own voice that was filling the helmet. It was a scream that I did not know could emanate from my vocal chords.

The cause of the terror? To my right at a ninety degree angle to the road and I, was a huge, fast, brown and white, furry animal with a small head and big ears!

Did I mention fast?

As soon as the animal saw me it turned forty-five degrees and headed up the road in my lane, while I swerved to the left with all my might into oncoming traffic, on the two lane shoulder less road. Thank God there was no traffic. Thank God the animal turned. Thank God I am still alive. I missed, what I think, was a llama by eight feet or less.

For a moment, I thought my wife would receive my body, in a pine box and a nice sweater.

After I quit shaking, I pulled over and called some family back home to report the near disaster. In the web posting it says I laughed after the incident. Trust me when I say this, I never laughed. That animal almost made me soil myself.

After the llama incident, the day turned to dark and I road the last two hours fighting off more and more persistent Gremlins. Before finally arriving at the hotel, the bike died and I nearly could not get it started.

I am three hundred and eighty-five miles from completing this journey. At this point, I might as well be looking at Ushuaia from Prudhoe Bay, because if the engine troubles do not subside in the morning, I may very well not make it out of this town.

I don't know about you, but my fingers are crossed.

Dave

 


Day 28
Rio Gallegos, Argentina  >  Ushuaia, Argentina
September 28, 2006

5:20 P.M. Local Time (4:20 P.M.)

 

Ushuaia is surrounded by a spectacular mountain range and sits on the ocean at the foot of the mountains on the Magellan Straits.

I did not realize all this before departing Prudhoe Bay, in fact the only thing I knew about Ushuaia is that it is the farthest southern city connected by a road in the Western Hemisphere and that people have made it the starting / ending point for their journeys.

The day started a little later than normal. My first stop would be the border crossing from Argentina back into Chile. The border would not open until 9:30 and it was only 60 miles from the hotel I occupied in Rio Gallegos. I set the alarm for 6 AM and got an extra hour and a half of sleep.

The bike almost did not make it to the hotel the night before and I was really worried that it would not start in the morning. I awoke, put on my gear and walked down to the bike parked in the locked garage. I walked it out to the street, turned the key, moved the kill switch to the "On" position and then pushed the starter. Nothing, not a single noise.

It was going to be one of those days. I calmly pulled out the jumper cables, loaded the bike with my gear and attempted the start one last time. Oops, the bike was in gear! I put it in neutral and it started right up. My renewed patience gained during this trip has paid off more than once.

With a little skip in my step, I mounted the bike and rode off. Everything seemed to be running perfectly. As I rode out of town I saw the first sign of the entire trip with the city Ushuaia on it. I stopped and took a picture. I believe it said, Ushuaia 585 kilometres.

The "Ark" - the name I have given the bike, and I along with my St Christopher statue holding a headless Christ child (you’ll get that story some where back in the journal entries when I finish them) were on our last hurrah.

I was out of town, about 20 miles, when the Gremlins attacked for the first time today. Riding at about 70 miles an hour the bike died. This time it failed to start. When trying to start it I noticed it died every time I tried to put it in gear. Maybe this was a repeat of Nicaragua. I pulled out the tools, cut back the wires I had hotwired to remove the kickstand kill switch and re-shorted them. I got back on the bike and this time it both started and continued to run.

Maybe I had just fixed all my problems? I doubted it, but there is hope. I rode another five miles when the Gremlins struck again. This time, the bike restarted and continued down the road.

OH MY! There one is! It wasn’t a pink unicorn, my wife suggested, that I almost ran into last night! Standing next to the road was a big old YAMA! (I call llamas, yamas now. The double L in Spanish sounds like our Y. I don’t know what a llama is called in Spanish but forever more, I will call them yamas.)

Do you know how odd it is to see a llama that is not behind a fence at a zoo? I wanted to stop and take a picture but I was afraid the bike would not start. I kept going. About another five miles down the road I saw another llama. This time I could not stand it. I had to get a picture. I pulled the bike over, and turned it off. The llama was on the opposite side of the rode on top an earthen embankment. When I got off the bike he meandered away so that I could not see him. This did not shake me; I thought it might give me a chance to sneak up on him. I walked across the road, out of his site and started up the embankment. What do you know? These are curious animals. As I look up the embankment the llama is standing above me with his head peaking over looking for me! I guess we were both a little surprised to see the other, outside a zoo.

After a few pictures I got back on the bike and headed down the road. The more desolate, the more the Gremlins attacked. I had to stop and restart the engine numerous times. Finally, I arrive at the border. It was nine o’clock. I waited with a few others, made it through the process,and headed down the road again. I must say, next to the good ole US of A, you can’t beat Argentinean Customs. These folks are fast and courteous. The buildings are clean and the people are friendly.

I head through no-mans land to Chile and repeat the process to enter into the country. By this time, I have seen herds of llamas and one other odd animal; it looked like an ostrich, but smaller. Of course amongst these two odd beings, I see thousands of sheep. They are everywhere. I have yet to see a penguin.

I find myself in even more remote territory, further from civilization and the Gremlins attack over and over again.

My next stop is a ferry ride. I arrive with about a half an hour to spare. While I wait I visit a small shop next to the ferry and have a sandwich and cup of tea. I ordered coffee but they brought out NesCafe. I sent it back and ask for tea.

I know it is my last day and I have spoken about this before, but people, help me here, how hard is it to have a drip coffee maker and a pot of coffee? You are running a restaurant. You can’t have a pot of coffee on? I go back to the bike and wait for the ferry. When it arrives they put me near the back. The bike is so sick it hardly makes it on the boat.

As I cross the straits, I call Dan Molina, Tony and BMW Bob in Atlanta. We talk about possible fixes but none of them are what I need to hear. I want a solution to the crank shaft sensor. I am not digging into any other part of the bike because I know what the problem is and the only solution is one that shorts this sensor and allows me to finish the race.

I pay my fee on the boat and ride off. Five miles down the road comes the part of the trip I have looked so forward to and yet, now due to the bikes condition, I simply dread the “International” road to San Sebastian. The road is 80 miles long, so I am told, and nothing but gravel and pot holes. This is why I chose to ride the BMW Dakar. Instead of considering the 15,000 miles of pavement, I chose a bike that would get me through the “Haul Road” out of Prudhoe Bay and the “International Road” to San Sebastian.

My bike has been sicker than it has been the entire trip and here I am getting ready to give it one of its biggest challenges.

The bike ate it up! It went 55 to 70 miles an hour down the potholed gravel road like a kid in a candy store. It ate up the dirt and the rocks and spit them out the back side. Not once, not one single time in the eighty miles did the Gremlins attack. The only problem I had at all was a little bit of mud. My tires were in no condition for mud and when I hit the first batch the rear end swung out from under the bike. No problem I thought, there is not much mud. The road is dry, I can handle this. Then the inevitable occurred. It started to rain! I could not believe it! But after a few sprinkles, it quit and was dry for the next couple hundred miles.

At the end of the road I went through Chilean Customs and then back into Argentinean Customs. Both processes were smooth and pleasant.

Back on the pavement and the Gremlins started back in. I tried all sorts of new theories but nothing worked. Why the Ark ran so well in the gravel is anybody’s guess.

At this point I had two to three hours to go. I battled the Gremlins the whole way. The trucks I passed must have thought I was some type of loon. I went from flying by them to broken down on the side of the road. I would pass the same vehicle three, maybe four times in a row.

I needed one last gas stop. I pulled over to the side of the road and multi-tasked. There was a beautiful view of the upcoming, snow capped, mountains. I wanted a picture with the Ark so I pulled over, shut off the bike, and started the first task at hand.

I was parked, close to the side of the road, on a hill, with a bit of a curve. I walked down an embankment and was twenty feet away from the bike, standing completely below it.

I took a pee.

While standing there doing my business I heard a semi-trailer hauling butt up the hill. It was travelling fast. It was then the dream sequence of this movie starts. All I kept thinking as I heard that truck approach was that it was going to slam into the Ark and completely demolish it while I was standing 20 feet away. Sixty miles from completion and here is how it was all going to end.

Before the truck actually arrived at the site, I saw the vision replay in my head from fourteen different angles. In each, the bike explodes and turns into a thousand different pieces.

The truck finally flies by, and of course, misses my bike by many feet.

I call Jeff Byard, the map guy, and get some final pointers on the finish. I pour in gas from one of my reserve tanks. The engine starts and we continue down the road.

One hour to go. It has been 24 hours since I completed the journey and I have read many emails asking me how I felt at the end. What it was like in those final moments. What did I think about? Who was there to great me?

In that last hour all I could think about is would the bike make it. I had a snow covered mountain pass to cross. The scenery was incredible. But I could not look around. I could not think about great things Joe DiMagio would quote, or Sun Szu.

Nope.

Going through my head was, “Will this bike please restart. Will the Gremlins please leave me alone?”

When the hill started its downward slope I was encouraged. I kept thinking, “I can run a 10K, how far can I push this bike in a day? I am ahead by seven days. I can push it at least 10K a day to get it to Ushuaia. That’s seventy miles.”

When I finally saw the sign, I was relieved. I pulled a u-turn in the middle of the road and ran into the police shack. The officer must have thought I was nuts. I kept pointed to the clock and then explained to him in Spanglish what was happening. He somehow understood, signed my log book, stamped it and shook my hand. We took lots of pictures. He then took my camera and pointed to the sign 50 yards back up the road. He wanted me to have a picture in front of the “Bienviendos To Ushuaia,” sign. As he walked, I tried to restart the bike. Can you believe it did not want to start this time?

It finally started. We took more pictures. I called my wife. I called Dan Molina. I called Tony and that’s when I found out I had a conference call scheduled in fifty minutes.

I had the name of a resort hotel that Camilla booked for me in town. I didn’t have a clue as to where it was but if I knew Camilla, she picked the nicest place. I looked up the mountain and saw a mansion. I pointed the bike in the now sleeting rain and headed up the mountain. When I got in the hotel I had another witness sign my book.

When I went into my room I ordered room service; a plate of cheese and a cervesa. In my first journal entry I talked about being a mouse on the great maze of roads searching for my piece of cheese.

I was now enjoying my piece of queso and a cervesa. I felt.. like.. well, I had finally completed something in my life.

I then got on the phone for a conference call with sponsors, friends, supporters and Pat Tillman Sr. Tell me talking to Pat’s dad doesn’t shake you up a bit!

I answered questions, told some more stories and thanked everyone. When it was over I went to my room, and lay there, nude.

I was able to get my clothes off. They stunk to high heaven, and I stunk, too. But for some reason, this time I could not make it to the shower. I just sat on the bed, not wanting to sleep, just wanting quiet.

For 27 days I have had engine and wind noise in my ears, people asking me questions in a language I can’t understand, and one that I can. All I wanted was silence.

As I said, it has been 24 hours, and I still have not put it all together. I have done a few interviews already and one thing I have noted is that I expect this record to last less than a year.

The last record stood for three. The record before that, three. There is a man trying to break it as I write this. My record may stand for only days. I don’t care.

I like the title “Former.” I will take Former World Record Holder with pleasure. I have accomplished something. I don’t think it is great by any means. I did it, from start to finish. I am happy with the accomplishment.

What really excites me is that I had a dream and it became contagious. My wife told me early on that this was my dream and not to expect others to feel the same way about it as I did.

That was very good advice. My wife is a Sage. I love her for many things, but her sensibility is one thing that keeps me from hurting myself.

But this dream, had legs. I can not believe all the people that got “On Board” in one way or another. From Dan Molina my angel on the other end of the satellite phone, to Tony, Blake, Wade, Camilla, Bob and plenty of others I promise to never forget.

I especially want to thank Chris Klaus at Kaneva, Tom Noonan and Leah Brumbelow at Internet Security Systems, Glenn McGonnigle and P.J. Lynch at VistaScape, and Bob and Linda Wooldridge at Atlanta BMW Motorcycles. These seven people made this adventure possible. Without their generous contributions and support I would have never left Atlanta.

I have received emails from school teachers that used my trip as a way to talk about geography with their classes, to people my mother's age who followed along to relive a dream of their own.

If you have been a part of this for the last 27 days or more, drop me an email, dave@34for40.org. I would love to hear from you.

There is plenty left to write about the trip. I am going through and doing a daily journal entry. It is all in my head. With nothing to listen to but the wind for 27 days, I had a lot of time to think. There are some great stories yet to be told that could not be put in the journal at the time because I was racing to that piece of cheese, but now I promise to do my part and finish documenting the trip.

The one thing I would like everyone to remember about this journey:

Never take your hobby (or your life) to seriously; it takes all the fun out of it.

Thank you all,

Dave

 

 

  Click Here for pre-ride journal entries from Atlanta!
 
 
 
JOURNAL
What's it like to ride a motorcycle thousands of miles, day after day? Find out Dave's thoughts in his online Journal. To view the Journal,
 
CLICK HERE
 
TRACK DAVE
Where's Dave? How far has he made it? How much farther does he have to go? For the answers to these and other exciting questions,
 
CLICK HERE
 
PHOTO GALLERY
Meet the folks and see the sites with our online photo gallery!
 
CLICK HERE
 
VIDEOS
Follow Dave as he prepares for the ride! Learn the secret training techniques that even the pros are afraid to try! (Good thing we're not pros!)
 
CLICK HERE
 
IN THE NEWS
We’ve shamelessly exposed ourselves to the world … and the world noticed! To find out about news articles and interviews covering the 34 for 40 event
 
CLICK HERE
 
LINKS
What a great journey this is! We have met some really great folks along the way and learned of others as we prepare. We wanted to share some of them with you, so to visit our Links page
 
CLICK HERE
 
 
www.pattillmanfoundation.org