Sunday, 12 May 2013

Give me a break! Ruta 40 Argentina!

There is a first for everything on my world motorcycle journey and this is SO bad it's funny, well it wasn't funny at the time, but now it's funny.

You can see by the tree on the far right in the picture below that we are still battling strong winds.  But when I see that funky cloud up ahead, I have a gut feeling it's about to get even worse.


We rode through this wind and it was super tough.  I was getting so ticked off when a gust would shove me fast and hard into the other lane, which wasn't a big deal unless somebody was coming!  And sometimes... somebody was coming!  So scarey.

I followed behind a slower truck for quite a while, that helped a lot.. UNTIL....

My helmet visor disconnected on the wind side of my face. Still connected to the left side of the helmet, the clear plastic visor miraculously didn't snap off, but I was still in motion and wanted to save it.  If it snaps, I will have to finish my trip without any visor until I leave South America!  So I really wanted to save it.  The problem was, I can't hold my hand over the visor to keep it from breaking in the wind and hold on to the bars, clutch and brakes to stop the bike at the same time.  With my feet and only one hand, I slowed then came to a stop. I can still hardly believe I managed that. It was SO hard to do, at a severe angle mind you, from battling the strong wind gusts.

Once I was actually stopped, I could not let go of the bike to unsnap the chinstrap to try to fix the visor.  I could NOT let go of the visor or the bike nor get off while using my left leg strongly trying not to be pushed over in the wind!!!!  I considered just letting myself drop, but I'm on the side of the road, not the shoulder.  I could have definitely crashed into the dirt and gravel slope on the right going downhill, totally sure the bike would land on top of me.  If I fall to the left, any truck or car can hit me at any time, because they are also tackling control of their vehicles in the wind.  It is clear that what I learned before, is that it's harder to stay upright when stopped than it is in motion and I was really losing it.

James was long gone, he wasn't watching in his mirror due to his own battle with the wind.  And I was stuck. After what seemed like forever, he finally turned around and came back, thank goodness!  "What's wrong Sherri Jo?'' Just hold the bike James, I need to get off. "but what's happened?"  I showed my helmet and please just hold the bike, I have to get off.  Once I was off the bike I realized how shaken I was from being stuck. James reminded me that I should have chosen the option to just crash or fall in the gravel down the slope.  We would have eventually gotten me out from underneath the bike and back onto the highway, which would be a better choice than being smashed from truck in the road.  Fair enough, but I didn't want the possible damage to me, my helmet or the bike at the time, but he is right.

James is very patient and very good at fixing things, so he took my helmet.  It was just the snap in plastic piece. I could have fixed it, but I was glad he managed to do it quickly so I could have a little bit of a stress out. But now I laugh at how comical I must have looked if anybody saw the whole thing.

Later down the road we found a patch of trees and tucked into them for a wind break. A much needed break both mentally and physically.  It was late in the afternoon, and I suggested to James that this is all too dangerous and riding my motorcycle to Ushuaia is not worth dying for.

He agreed that it was worse so we looked at camping in the trees for protection for the night.  The problem with that little patch of trees is that it is a rest area and you know what people do when they don't have facilities available.  All the land, everywhere we looked was coated with human poo, toilet paper and broken glass.  It was thoroughly disgusting.

We spent a few minutes trying to decide what is the smartest option at this point.  The wind is roaring but there is no way that I can live with camping here on poo land.  I saw a house tucked behind a fence and some trees across the road.  I want to ask the owner if we can camp in his trees.

Now the next challenge, how to get the bikes across the road. Literally, by the wind direction if we try to ride directly across the cross wind, we are going down.  Even he said so with that big BMW!

We ended up riding wrong way down the shoulder and then crossing at a diagonal.

The farmer was a nice man and of course he said yes.  Thank goodness!  I explained to him I feel these winds must be 70-80 km/hr as a guess.   He has a wind meter and said the gusts are at 100+ km/hr.  WHAT??!!  I just rode my motorcycle in that!?  He said I was crazy and shouldn't be the road.  "Believe me Senor, I am more than ready to get off this road!"

There are no natural forests in this part of Argentina.  Any group of trees have been planted solely to be used as wind protection.

We are camping amongst the animals tonight.. and I'm happy with that!



James wasn't as pleased as I was.  There is a fair bit of animal poo around too.  He just sat and stared at it for a while until I picked up some branches and swept him a clean space so he could set up his tent.  He got into his tent and I didn't see him again until the next day.


I was interested in having a look around the farm though, it really is a beautiful place to be stuck for the night.


After a very long night of wind roaring through the trees, my tent pole snapping under pressue, the tent flopping around like crazy and continuously wondering if a tree might fall on my head, the sun came up once again. We're not sure, but it seems the wind might be marginally calmer at the moment.

We needed to make a decision to ride in this again or hang out in an animal paddock all day.  Neither thought appealed to us, but we decided it was worth giving the road another chance.

We did pack up and ride, and slowly arrived Bariloche, a beautiful touristy town in Argentina.

Huge temperature change, I was freezing!  My heated jacket doesn't work, and I'm shaking to the bone.  A big bowl of soup for a late lunch and hot tea fixed me up.

In Bariloche we know that the majority of the roads we will ride south of here are gravel so now we can change our smooth roads tires to the TKC80's we've been carrying. We found there is only one shop in town that has the tire machine.  This saves a lot of time when changing out 3 tires. James is changing both tires, me just the front.



When we left the shop we rode about 2 blocks to get fuel.  On leaving the fuel station something happened and I fell down in the road right in front of all the traffic.. Embarrassed!!  And it wasn't even that windy in town amongst the buildings! What happened?  I felt something jam.  But when I picked up the bike I was able to roll it to one side.  James says he doesn't see anything, and for me to get back on the bike and try to ride again. But I am adamant that I didn't just fall over for nothing, something jammed and I'm not riding until I find it.  While he tried to roll my bike himself, I saw the culprit.  The brake caliper is hanging near the front wheel.  The big screw is still laying in the middle of the road where I fell over.

It turned out, between the two boys working on my bike, one of them forgot to reattach the caliper.  Thanks guys!!  I'm going to guess that the old man is not used to having a helper like James and neither checked to see who was doing which part of the job. I'm the idiot for trusting them and not checking it myself. Anyway, James has his tools handy on the side of the road, he reattached the caliper and we were on our way south.



I've seen a lot of rainbows on this journey, but this is a super bright one!


This is still hard core wind. But we're making our way.


We pulled in for fuel at the next largeish town, Esquel.  As luck would have it, my bike died shortly after leaving the fuel stop.  AGAIN??? For real???? NOW WHAT!!!!  Can I just have a normal day somehow??  I restarted the bike, went about 5 km and it died again.  It won't restart while in motion, but if I pull over completely stop and turn off the bike, it seems to start again straight away.  This time I got a good 20-30 km and then it happened only every now and then.



Then it got super worse.  This time I stopped and stayed stopped.  I told James the bike is dying big time, I don't know why, but I want to try to flag down a truck to see if it can take me back to Esquel.  A German couple riding south to Ushuaia also stopped to see if they could help.

It was hard to get an Argentinian truck driver to stop, but I finally got one!  He says he has to stop often for bikers on this road, Ruta 40.  I ask why?  (porque?)  Agua... agua en la gasolina.  He asked, "Did you fill up at Petrobras (the name of a fuel station)?"  I said "Si", he said, "Nunca.. Never buy fuel at Petrobras, only YPF".  I didn't know that they have a reputation for water in the fuel.  The Germans knew that, but we didn't.  In Paraguay, it was the opposite, the Paraguayans were saying whatever you do, make SURE you buy at Petrobras, the other stations are bad.  I assumed that carried over with the same company in Argentina.. Wrong!!!


The truck driver was funny, he kept dipping his finger in my fuel and tasting it.. and said "Si, hay mucha agua"  There is a lot of water in your fuel.. Dammit!  THAT is a man who knows his fuel!  I always thought you had to use a clear bottle to visually see if it's dirt or water,  but this guy has experience!

But we all couldn't help laughing at this guy as he seems to enjoy tasting my fuel.. over and over!  Totally weird!!

There was nothing we could do on the side of the road in this strong wind.  Too big of a problem for taking the bike apart.  The trucker couldn't carry me, so I decided to carry on.  Again the bike would start and I could ride it a few km's before it would die again.  I just dealt with it, the continuous stops and restarts until it died just outside this huge farm (station).  I told James I'm going to go up and ask them if we might be able to borrow a shed to take the bike apart and drain the fuel.


I had to open a couple of gates to get to the house. A bit cautious as I wondered if they have those gates there to keep people coming in from the road. But a man answered the door straight away, in his classic Argentinian wool beret.  I see the name of the property is "Estancia El Chalet"  (The Chalet Station).  I'll tell you more about this property later.. it's fascinating!


Score!  The man at the door, Ignacio, was super kind and gave us the sheep shearing shed to work in.. woo hoo! It is SUCH a relief to be out of the wind.. huge relief!!

The first thing we did was drain ALL the fuel.. after I found some spare plastic containers around the shed to put it in.  Then we added some new gas from James spare emergency fuel that was not purchased at Petrobras.  The bike started and ran in idle no problem, but once in gear and riding it died again, the same symptoms.  Oh dear.. we were hoping this might be an easier fix, not looking good if it still wants to die.


It's quite interesting to watch how busy this farm is.  By the looks of it, it seems to be quiet, but there is always a horse and a herd of cows or sheep coming through from somewhere "out there" for this or that.  Vaccinations, tests, mustering, etc.


I have the KTM 690 Repair manual in my computer and we loaded it onto James iPad (his batteries last longer).  James is a really good mechanic and he has the patience to read through the manual to try to troubleshoot the problem. Give me a cookbook and I'll make a helluva meal, but I go into complete brain fog with mechanics. I'd prefer he remove the black sock off his head to read it a little more clearly?!


We really need internet though. (I hate that we are so spoiled by it, but in these situations is when modern technology really shines) James wants to get on to some forums and ask some KTM people questions.  They don't have internet at the farm, so we agreed to leave the bike here and go to town, Gobernador Costa, just 10 km down the road.  Ignacio tells me there is internet there, but it's dial up, very slow.  Anything is better than nothing and we give it a go.


Nope the internet is far too slow for us to make any progress.  Waiting for answers is long, especially in different time zones and researching online at dial up speed is super frustrating. We got some information, but we'd like to talk on skype and that will be impossible.  We know if we go back to Esquel 200 km north of here, we can use proper fast internet to achieve many goals.

So the next day we prepare to travel two up to Esquel. And wouldn't you know?  There is a problem already! We haven't even left yet.. COME ON!!!!  James rear tire is very low. Why?!  We just put that new tire on! He thinks there might be a puncture?  We can't find one.  He gets out his soap and does the valve bubble test. 


Yep, it's a leaky valve.  Gee whiz, give us a break?? !! He tightened it up and we're on our way.  Thank goodness his fix was an easy one!


On the road north to Esquel as a pillion rider.  I think I've reached a new low.  However, it was nice that the wind is kind to us today and I can enjoy the ride, the view, and take some pictures of the beautiful land we rode through yesterday.





2 hours on the internet gave us heaps of information and ammunition for solving the problem.  Back to the farm we go.... Nothing like riding 400 km round trip to get some information, but it was a really nice ride.


Out of the options we tried so far, draining the fuel, new fuel filter which I've been carrying in my spare parts, and spark plug, each attempt is not fixing the problem.  This brings us down to the fuel pump or the fuel injector.  We try the fuel injector because it's the easier of the two, first.


We bought a 9V battery in Esquel and with some spare wire, removed the fuel injector and tested the spray outside of the bike.  It sprays fine.

Ugh ugh ugh.. it's so frustrating for me, but even more so for James who is doing all the hard work.




Working away inside the sheep shed, do you ever feel like you're being watched???


James reassembles the bike for the 4th time.. let's hope the fuel injector trick does the job.


James takes my bike out on the main road to test it while I wait in huge anticipation and some seriously big prayers.  I watch the boys bring in some more sheep and take photos to try to keep my mind off why I can't hear the bike motor on the road.



James came back, the bike is running, so I'm about to do the hallelujah dance.... UNTIL...


He says no, it died twice, while shaking his head. (My lights look good though, hey? ;-)


I feel more bad for him than for me, as he's worked so hard for nearly 3 days on it.  The only other possibility is the fuel pump of which I do not carry in my spare parts.  And during our research escape to Esquel, finding one in Argentina for a KTM 690 Enduro "ain't gonna happen"!  What the heck do I do now??? I'm stuck but we need to get James south to Ushuaia.  While we were in Brazil, I came up with an idea to have Christmas together with other riders in Ushuaia and I've rented a little cabin there.  I'm devastated.  I can't go, but it will be great to get James on his way.

James is so kind, he insists they can't have Christmas without me (they easily can, but it was nice of him to say) I must come 3000 km on the back of his bike (not a great option, he doesn't have a rear seat) or by bus.  I spent some time thinking about it, I'm sick to my stomach about all of this and quite happy to stay here. I can get a new fuel pump on order and deal with it being the luck of the draw.  The breakdown is not a KTM problem, it was the result of buying fuel with water in it, and how could any of us have known at the time.  But I don't want to hold him or anyone else back because of it.

He wouldn't let up, there is no way a new fuel pump will arrive from the United States before Christmas, and it would be better to be with friends over the holidays. I know he is right, but I will just be embarrassed after all this not to arrive on my own bike. James made a conviction, "We are fixing your bike, you are riding to Ushuaia, just not today."  Fair enough, such a good friend, I arrange to stand on the street to flag down a bus going south, while James does his best to cheer me up, and packs up his bike to ride..  God speed, James!



I got on the bus. It was a super weird experience. I have never traveled on a bus in my life!!  I have no idea what to expect, but if I were to guess, I would think it is going to be really cramped and torture.

I sat "upstairs" in my supersize plush seat and had such a beautiful view! The wind was blowing hard enough that even the big bus was thrown over to the other side of the road a couple of times.. really!  So I was worried about James.  But I am loving this bus experience so far.  No way I would do it full time, but it's not bad!

I took some photos from my front view 2nd storey window.


Toilet and snack break..  I met a lot of foreign travelers on the bus.  They had pre-purchased their tickets weeks ago, and were as surprised as I was that a bus would just stop and pick me up on the roadside like it did.




Not a bad ride.. We changed buses in the middle of the night.. Always stopping for drop offs and pick ups.

New morning, new bus.. great movies!


When I got this handed to me for lunch, I looked at it and thought, Uh oh.  But it was darn tasty!  Under that knife and fork is an Argentinian classic,  rolled meat with egg and vegetable.. with a really nice bread.


After several border crossings, out of Argentina, into Chile, out of Chile back into Argentina, it was a real pleasure to be on the bus while the attendants take the passports and stamp them.  Usually I am waiting in long lines for immigration and then more long lines for the bike.. but WE get to stay on the nice warm bus with the movies going. Easy peasy!

Coming into Ushuaia, we are finally out of the flatlands and into the snowy mountains of Tierra del Fuego.



Oh man, that was 28 hours of bus riding.  Directly off the bus in Ushuaia I spot this sign..  other than the ceviche, the rest might describe my sentiments.  And quite possibly another "sign" of my theory that Kevin had something to do with this.. ha!


I can't help but to laugh.

So, there you go.  Going through the emotion of all this was not easy at the time.  Like I said at the beginning, it wasn't funny then, but it is now.  The universe just won't give me a break the last few weeks.  I've been lucky so far.  But a tiny bit of me wonders if it isn't Kevin stepping in from above stopping me from riding to Ushuaia at the moment.  What seemed like a tragedy might be a blessing, or help from above as if I did push myself through the wind on my bike, maybe I would have been blown across the road in front of a truck, injured or killed. I don't know, but this is my way of putting a protection positive angle on the whole ordeal.  There were just too many ways I have been stopped from riding to the bottom that it's downright strange and beyond usual.  And knowing that I would never give up so I can reach my goal on time, somehow a different choice was made for me.

My KTM 690 has performed well the whole world over.   The only other big problem I have had with the bike is at the hands of the mechanics, not the bike itself.  Which means to me (and I knew this before I left home) that I will make a point of going to mechanics school before I take off on World Tour #2.  That won't prevent me from buying fuel with water in it, but I will be darn ready if it happens again!

For now, I made it to Ushuaia for Christmas. Now my main focus will be... what to make for Christmas dinner!

8 comments:

  1. As my sis-in-law likes to say, there are no bad times, just good stories in the making, and you certainly have a good story to tell! The worst crosswinds I've dealt with were only half what you experienced, so props to you for getting through it. Are the winds like that year-round, or is it seasonal? As always, great pics and great story. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Operator7G..the winds in Patagonia are year round.. You can always count on it here! ;-)

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  2. As usual, great blog entry. Love the photo of James giving you a kiss. He seems like such a wonderful young man and a true friend to you. Glad you were both safe in the wind.

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  3. I really enjoy your blog, and the lovely photos. Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us...

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    1. You are most welcome.. thanks for following and cheers!

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  4. Hi,

    What month did you do this part of the trip? In May? How was the temperature? We are doing a trip in the same area in June, and been a bit worried about the temperature. Please advice :)

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    1. Hi Christian, I traveled here in early December - January. The temperature was cool, but not freezing. June will be winter, so it will be much colder, ice and snow. If you must go at this time, be careful! Best of luck, SJ

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