BackpackerMoto: ADV Noob vs. Patagonia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by BackpackerMoto, Mar 10, 2014.

  1. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Nope. Didn't make the second ferry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Many more photos at Backpackermoto.com
    #21
  2. boatpuller

    boatpuller Long timer

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    Your writing ability is only surpassed by your photo-journalists skills. :D
    #22
  3. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    ..... only surpassed by my mechanic skills. :D
    #23
  4. VTphoneman

    VTphoneman Been here awhile

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    New Hampster
    Nice report so far, keep up the good work. Well more photos of gorgeous women or scenery would add that touch of class.
    #24
  5. Shooby

    Shooby Long timer

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    Following as well. Thanks for adding your writing style.


    :ear
    #25
  6. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Thank you kindly. LOTS of scenery photos coming up, at next good WiFi waypoint. Definitely hit or miss with the internet down here. Here's a quick preview...

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    Just trying to present it all a little differently, I appreciate you following the adventure.
    #26
  7. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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

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    Followed by....

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

    Three.

    F$%&ing.

    Hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    #27
  8. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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

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

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

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    The approach to Puerto Rio Tranquilo...

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    More to come!
    #28
  9. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    It's 1993.

    After an eighteen month hiatus, I am eager to start playing again. At a local field, my good buddy introduces me to the girl who organizes a twice weekly pick-up soccer game. Blonde hair, sky blue eyes, a kind smile, and quick to laugh.

    If Blonde were here, I would have to pull over and snap a photo of every Patagonian stallion and mare. The horses are every bit as stunning as their legend tells. This one fellow was such a master of his domain, he will earn immortality on my office wall.

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    I left Coihaique with rain and wind as my partners, but I grinned smugly behind the visor. There is no bad weather, only bad gear, and the Klim Traverse jacket/pants combo continue to perform brilliantly. Reviews of my gear forthcoming soon.

    I finally broke free of the rain, but with temps in the low 40s, the wind was cold even with sporadic sunshine. I found a turnout to put on warmer gloves when another bike pulled up behind me. BMW HP2. Nice.

    Turns out the fellow spoke good English for a Canadian; Jeremy was a year and a bit into his RTW odyssey. We agreed to ride together for awhile.

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    Pavement all the way to Villa Cerro Castillo, where converted buses served up jumbo hamburgers. We chowed heartily before beginning this dirt/gravel/washboard stretch of Ruta 7/ the Carretera.

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    And this was where the ride truly came to life. Soaring peaks stretching over the road, deep foliage, lush valleys, unreal azure waters. This is a demanding yet magical road, best experienced on a bike with unimpeded view.

    We came across an old codger, riding his horse north as we traveled south. He led another horse behind him, undoubtedly to give to his neighbor in exchange for a wife or daughter or some such. The man sang as he rode away... dude didn't have a care in the world.

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    The approach to Puerto Rio Tranquilo is reserved for ADV lore. Twisting gravel roads, a lake at your side, and a small but homey village at days end.

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    More photos at Day 6 -Backpackermoto.com
    #29
  10. r3mac

    r3mac Been here awhile

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    What a fabulous read ( so far)

    Eagerly waiting on more.
    #30
  11. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Thank you kindly. Certainly, many others here have documented this same stretch of road, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to ride it.
    #31
  12. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Two photos from upcoming Day 8 (Day 7 was a layover).

    Both shots are from the road between Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Chile Chico, as I rode around the perimeter of Lago General Carrera.

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    #32
  13. Jimmer

    Jimmer emboldened lurker

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    :eyes
    #33
  14. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    I've received a few messages asking about the gear I'm using, so I figured I'd use my Rio Tranquilo layover day to quickly touch upon my boots and gloves, since there's not much worse than frigid hands and frozen toes.

    I have a general disdain for shoes, boots, sandals, pretty much anything that goes on my feet. Whether at home or backpacking on the trail, I kick off the galoshes first chance I get. This context is important when discussing the Forma Adventure boots that I’m wearing for this South American expedition.

    Quite simply, the Formas are the most comfortable footwear I’ve ever owned. Of all time. Ever. In my entire life.

    Frankly, the notion of long days in some skanky moto boot wasn’t something I was particularly looking forward to. I have a wide and collapsed arch foot, so a good fit is paramount. Having accepted that riding barefoot was a generally poor idea, I had some lengthy discussions with BP at Atomic-Moto.com. He eventually concluded that the Adventures would fit my foot and fulfill my South American mission parameters. He was right.

    Against all of my behavioral patterns, I eagerly pull them on each day, forget they’re there, and am in no hurry to pull them off after 13 straight hours. When I get back home I may wear them around the house instead of slippers. Me, boxers, and the Formas. Resist the mental imagery.

    Performance… so far I have endured three extended rain storms of several hours each. Feet stayed bone dry. Protection… on the Carretera Austral, there’s been no shortage of rocks kicked up, either by the KLR or the construction trucks barreling the opposite way. The Formas have laughed at it all. The hard side ankle protection seems particularly sturdy.

    Boots are a highly personalized piece of gear; no brand is a perfect fit for all feet. All I can say is that the Adventures have far exceeded my expectations.

    As for gloves… we all know the score on that issue. Cold hands suck. After more discussion with BP, and in anticipation of the increasingly soggy and cold southern conditions, I opted for the Alpinestars WR-3. Given my backpacking experiences, I have been partial to Gore-Tex for 25 years. The WR3s utilize a Gore-Tex membrane in addition to being well insulated. I didn’t expect to wear them until halfway into my trip, but the cool temperatures arrived early and I’ve been wearing them since Day 2. They have kept my hands dry and, as long as I work my fingers from time to time, nice and warm. Having never needed an insulated moto glove before (20 years of sunny SoCal street riding, dontcha know), I was a bit concerned about the bulkiness of such a thick glove. I needn’t have worried. Neither feel nor dexterity are compromised.

    Just like the boots, these gloves have performed exceedingly well, and the two together have completely negated any concerns I had about these two vital components. We shall see how they last over the course of the entire trip.

    Back to the RR, good internet means Day 8 report is on the way, detailing the long ride from Rio Tranquilo, into Argentina, and to Gobernador Gregores.
    #34
  15. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    It's 1978.

    I'm at the Los Angeles Sports Arena with my dad and brother. Throughout the month of June, my dad has yanked us out of school to watch live closed circuit coverage of the World Cup on the massive projector screen at the 16,000 seat arena.

    Today is the final, Netherlands versus host nation Argentina.

    Regulation ends in a draw, yet when Argentina scores the go-ahead goal in overtime, the partisan Latin crowd erupts into a revolutionary-like frenzy. I am ten years old and am soaked in beer from the rabid fans behind me.

    When we get home after the game, Dad pulls out the globe and shows me where Argentina is. It seems very close to some curiously white continent called Antarctica.

    After our layover day, Jeremy and I head out from Rio Tranquilo on the road that circumnavigates Lago General Carrera. Nothing but dirt, gravel, and a stunningly beautiful ride, with ever-present views of the lake and distant snow-capped peaks. It's a road with vistas that demand you pull over and stop, every quarter mile or less, to shut off the engine and absorb the scenic splendor and perfect quiet.

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    We come across a group of riders doing a BMW rental tour. Jeremy immediately pulls over and flocks to them, while I stay on my bike with my helmet on, watching as they all sniff each other with tails wagging. It's an interesting dichotomy; I have discovered that most "solo" riders are on the constant lookout for people to ride with, converse with, swap tales with, hang out with, even live with for days/weeks. I suppose most humans have such a tendency.

    I do not.

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    No matter my prickly personality, I am encountering many very friendly and kind people on this trip, yet I don't gravitate towards them. In this environment, in this setting, on the bike, on this occasion, I am not here for comradery or companionship. The isolation within the helmet, the solitude of these desolate roads, that's what I've been craving.

    At Cruce El Maiten we bid farewell to the Carretera Austral as we head east on 265 toward the Chile-Argentina border and, once reaching Chile Chico, I bid farewell to Jeremy. He's a good guy and all, nothing against him. But he's on a four year round-the-world schedule that allows for a leisurely pace, versus my whirlwind tour like a man with four weeks to live.

    The border procedures are a bit humorous. First, you have to enter the Chilean border control, where you get permission to leave. Then you ride a few kilometers to the Argentine border control, where you get permission to enter. They want to know where you've been and where you're going, as in, the actual address. I make one up. I don't have enough Spanish in my arsenal to explain that I have no goddamn clue where I'm going.

    Having come over the Andes, I expect the topography to flatten out rather quickly in Argentina. It does. I pass through Perito Moreno for gas and Argentine pesos before turning south on the famed Ruta 40, one of the longest highways in the world.

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    I press on southward to the settlement (smaller than a village) of Bajo Caracoles. Amazingly, a van filled with Scandanavian tourists has filled the only local accomodations, so I gas up again and put the hammer down for Gobernador Gregores, 130 miles further, with a broad storm peering from the horizon. Wind and rain alternately pick away at me as I race against darkness to reach the town; this time, I am the victor and get there just before twilight.

    Many more photos at Backpackermoto.com.
    #35
  16. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    It's 1993.

    I'm in my final semester of college. Halfway through a session of my Civil War class, a student enters the room and hands a note to the professor. He quietly reads it, refolds it, then walks to the back of the classroom and hands it to me.

    Almost any man will attest: the older you get, the more you come to realize the merit of the lessons taught by your father, or the lessons omitted. As I've aged, I too have come to appreciate the values drilled (and that's the best and only word for it) into me by Dad.

    I wish he were alive, so I could tell him that. Been wishing that for 20 years.

    He felt particularly strongly about the need for humility, and the dangers of too much pride. He loathed the type of men who loudly honored themselves. He admired the type who quietly and successfully went about their business, letting achievements speak for themselves.

    One thing I am learning about solo adventure travel in remote Third World locales: there's no room in the pannier for an over-abundance of pride. Sooner or later, you are going to have to throw yourself on the mercy and goodwill of your fellow human beings. Your humility may be all you've got to offer.

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    Relevance: the deep washboard moguls of Ruta 40 have shaken the rear wheel loose... again. My attempts to repair it have been futile. The chain is so loose, it won't stay on more than 50 yards. As the chain flipped off this final time, I parked the bike, shut it down, and pulled an apple from the tankbag. Dismounting, I took a few strides away and sat down. It was perfectly still and quiet.

    "SITREP." I stated flatly in my best Jeremy Clarkson. "I'm on the famed 115 km stretch of Ruta 40 north of Tres Lagos, renowned for horrific road conditions and 70-80 mph winds. The bike needs repairs, my tools/skill are insufficient, and I haven't seen anyone for the past two hours."

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    "On the positive side, I have snacks and water, the sky is clear and wonderfully blue, the gale-force winds that plague the region are nothing but a whisper, and temps in the mid-40s are quite pleasant." ​

    "You wanted solitude," I muttered, snapping a few photos. I've been here 45 minutes. Still no one.​

    Another half hour or so and a distant trail of dust came lumbering up the road. I soon made out the silhouette. Tour bus. I concluded, optimistically/hopefully, that given the remote nature of this place, certainly the tour companies load up their buses with a few extra tools, if not someone who might know how to use them.

    On a rare occasion, turns out I was right. I successfully flagged them down and humbly asked for assistance; the driver and his assistant (co-driver?) briefly conversed, gave me duel grins and thumbs-up, then got off the bus with a boxful of tools. The bus passengers also disembarked and, to my complete surprise, were unperturbed by the delay. They stretched their legs, admired the utter remoteness of my mechanical malaise, and one older German fellow offered his assistance. He collects Nortons and BMWs.

    In fact, he shrewdly pointed out the problem... the bracket for the Scottoiler was bent at a bad angle and was keeping the rear wheel from ever being truly tightened. Couldn't completely fix it here, but he was confident we could do a temp solution that would get me to a real mechanic. He also made a comment about the particular brand of chain on the KLR, a remark that I heard but didn't quite understand until a few days later.

    Collective efforts, led by the driver Gustavo, and after 30 minutes I was back on my way.

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    With about 20 miles to go before Tres Lagos, I rode up and over a crest and took a sudden faceful of blasting wind from port-side. Just like that, bike and me drifted two feet to the right, I was in the damnable bottomless Ruta 40 soft gravel, and PLOP, down we went.

    First time I've dropped a bike in my 20 years of riding. Not very spectacular either, I've had more impressive wrecks as a kid when on my Big Wheel.

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    The wind, from nowhere, was like nothing I've experienced, not even in three decades of backpacking 12,000 foot passes in the Sierra Nevada. I had trouble standing and keeping my balance, the wind was so strong. At 6'2" and a veteran of heavy metal mosh pits, I'm usually not easily dislodged. This wind scoffed.

    It took me about a minute to ascertain the wind's direction and the necessary lean angle just to remain on my feet. The KLR, on its side, needed to be pulled up... into this wind.

    I waited for a brief respite in the gales, and heaved the KLR back onto its wheels. Other than a crack in the right handguard, it's fine. I carefully climbed back on, and almost fell again while standing still, as a strong gust slammed into me as I swung my leg over. Humility, man, humility. I got moving again at near-walking pace.

    Half-mile later and I came across two Brazilians on matching 1200 GS; well, neither of them were on their bikes, actually. Both BMWs were on their sides. Their English was pretty good, and the three of us commiserated about the wind and road conditions, they both having simultaneously fallen from their mounts. We got their bikes upright, and I held each one in place while they respectively climbed aboard. Together, we putted down the ripio.

    A deep gravel abyss of a road that was, incidentally, about 30 yards from a perfectly paved virgin highway. For ten maddening miles this went on. The temptation to ride over and use it was tempered by the now ever-present vigilant construction workers whose only job, it seemed, was to guard their new road against miscreants like me.

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    The wind subsided as we reached the village of Tres Lagos. The Brazilians opted to remain; I inspected the rear wheel repair, which seemed to be holding station. I rode another half hour before taking the 90 km detour towards Mt. Fitz Roy, which was shrouded in a late day storm. With no fanfare and no view of the epic Fitz Roy range, I motored into the mountain touristy town of El Chalten and found a room for the night.
    #36
  17. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    It's 1976.

    My parents, my brother and I are in a four door sedan at the border between West and East Germany. We have just finished a month-long visit with my dad's family, all of whom are still behind the Iron Curtain. For three hours, we have been at the East German border that leads back into the west. The entire car has been torn apart... door panels, seats pulled out, luggage emptied on the ground.

    I am eight years old, and I can't stop staring at the East German guards with their large rifles, constantly hovering near my mother and father.

    Nestled perfectly at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy is the town of El Chalten, a charming locale that reminded me of a hybrid of Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite Valley. Lots of tourists but also lots of climber/hiker dirtbags (<-- affectionate term). Yesterday's late day storm that shrouded Fitz Roy and Company has given way to a perfect morning, revealing this range in all its glory. My ride out of town was a visual wonderland; I stopped every half mile or so to admire the vast peaks punching holes in the blue sky.

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    With a somewhat forlorn glance in the mirror, I headed to the southeast. My hope was to reach Puerto Natales, the favored kick-off point for invasions of Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Happy to be back on pavement, it was still some very desolate riding on this day, I saw perhaps one car per hour. I reached the intersection of Ruta 40 and the shortcut to Tapi Aike. The dirt road was just 45 miles, while the paved version through Esperanza was more than twice that. I pulled off at the intersection, enjoyed a "ham and cheese sandwich" that was typically just bread and mayo, and weighed the options.

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    I'd been unsuccessful in finding any mechanic in El Chalten who was interested in actually working, so I've pulled over every 20 miles or so to inspect the rear wheel. It was okay for awhile, but yesterday's temporary fix was living up to its name. The chain was loose once more, so I broke out the tool kit, laid down in the dirt, and adjusted the rear wheel as far back as I dared. It was now at its maximum. If this dirt road shortcut was in decent shape, I'd be fine. But if the ripio was more like Supercross whoops, then I'd be hosed. I pledged to ride a half mile on the dirt, see how it looked, then decide.

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    I got about 100 yards. It was another 20 mph moon crater experience, so I flipped a 180 and chose to take the long way around. Once beyond Tapi Aike, I reached Cancha Carrera and again, had to decide between a short dirt road that would let me re-enter Chile at a quiet border crossing, or stick to the pavement and cross at the busier Rio Turbio. I ached to take the dirt road, but it was 10 miles and the bookies had already placed long odds on my chances of reaching Puerto Natales. I opted for the border crossing outside Rio Turbio, and that turned out to be as enjoyable as a thousand fleas in the testicles.

    See... the Argentines don't really want you to find the border, because that would mean you're leaving Argentina with your Yanqui tourist dollars to spend them in Chile instead. Rio Turbio is a, errrrm, rundown community with narrow constantly winding streets designed to confuse your sense of direction, and absolutely no signs indicating where the border was located. It's a clever strategy. Even the locals pleaded their ignorance.

    This time, the wheel of fortune spun my way; using a perfect blend of blind luck and random guesswork, I was able to navigate through Rio Turbio, out the other side, and onto a deserted mountain road that rose into the clouds and, finally, Argentine border control. I felt like I'd found a lost civilization as I rolled up and parked. The agents had me through in a painless ten minutes. The Chilean border station, a few miles further down the road, was a different matter.

    I admit that my childhood memories of East German border crossings has always tainted my attitude when entering or leaving a country. Power-mad officers asking moronic questions...

    Why are you here? I'm on vacation (to undermine your feeble government and destroy your way of life, of course).

    Where are you staying? Puerto Natales (at the Che Guevara Revolutionary Suites, thank you very much).

    Is this your multi-tool? Yes (I use it to make pipe bombs and to torture captive policemen).

    I force a friendly smile.

    They poke, they prod, they root through your stuff. It only takes one authoritative asshole to ruin your day with a smirk while stating, "Your papers.... are not in order."

    On this occasion, my apprehension was well-founded. The tank bag, the panniers, my duffel, the Chilean agents wanted everything emptied, completely spread out on a table, inspected, explained, then X-rayed. The guy in line behind me had a pickup truck full of car parts and was brought to tears by the process. It took 90 minutes to re-enter Chile. There were two people in line, counting me and the parts guy. I will state for the record, the border agents were unfailingly polite, if not completely humorless.

    By this point, it was getting dark as I motored the wet downhill concrete road towards Puerto Natales. In no mood for an extensive hotel search, I rode straight up to the nicest looking place on the waterfront and checked in. I tromped up to the room and snapped a quick photo of the harbor, just before the sun went down.

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    #37
  18. lakota

    lakota Geeser

    Joined:
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    Annapolis MD
    this report meets all the expectations that I had after reading the first post. Great writing and pictures. thanks for sharing.
    #38
  19. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

    Joined:
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    The Teton Range
    Thanks much for the kind words. I hope the report conveys a notion that just about any ADV noob, armed with little more than the will to do it, can get out and explore and experience these incredible places.
    #39
  20. Kawi-Mike

    Kawi-Mike Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
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    180
    Location:
    Santa Fe, New Mexico
    I agree with lakota. This is a great report. I am really enjoying it. Can not wait to fire up my KLR.
    #40