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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    Day 16 preview:

    I had awakened just a few feet away from the Pacific Ocean, ridden out of Chile and across Argentina, and now I was standing on the shores of the Atlantic, all in the span of a few hours.

    I grinned.

    [​IMG]
    #61
  2. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    It's 2014.

    I stare at my Inbox, reading the Santiago announcement while paralyzed with disbelief. For weeks I've been contemplating a solo motorcycle journey to Patagonia, but have been straddling the fence.

    And now this. The timing is uncanny. Perfect, even. Certainly, it could only mean that the lords of two wheels had given their approval. I print the email, walk to the kitchen and hand it to my Blonde. She quickly reads it, smiles and asks...

    "Does this mean you've decided to go?"

    [​IMG]

    BLUE: My trip so far.
    RED: My planned return route.

    Spreading out the maps on the floor of my Puerto Natales hotel, I examined the route that I'd taken to get here from Santiago. The Pan American Highway, the Carretera Austral, and Ruta 40 through Argentina. Not quite the South American holy trinity, but not a bad addition to the CV, either. The only real plan I'd had for this adventure madness was that I would take my time getting to the south, and then in typical Backpacker Moto optimism, use the minimum number of days (minus one) to scorch my way back to Santiago. That would mean a (hopefully) entirely paved road return through some of the very remote, barren parts of Argentina.

    The schedule allowed for no more flexibility. In four days time, I was religiously committed to attending a spiritual gathering in Santiago, over 2000 miles away. Normally, such a distance would be an easy hop. But with two border crossings to do, unknown weather conditions, unknown roads, aboard a bike of questionable reliability with a paltry top speed of just 70 mph... I reckoned I was going to need every single minute. I loaded up and got to the task.

    Heading out of Puerto Natales, the 80 miles of blue sky between me and Torres Del Paine were like a sneering sixth grade bully. I sneered right back. There'd be other trips.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Just east of the park was Cerro Castillo, a quiet little outpost with an even quieter border crossing. I scooted back into Argentina with no drama and then hammered down for the 230 easterly miles to Rio Gallegos on the coast. There, I found a gas/food stop on the outskirts, loaded up both bellies (the bike, mine) and immediately was rolling again. Once clear of the city, and for the first time in what seemed like ages, I wheeled the KLR to the north and headed into the sun, on the road that would take me home. And while the desire for more days is a constant of every trip, this moment felt right. It was time to start heading back.

    Not long thereafter, I spotted a dirt road off the main highway and was powerless to avoid it. I rode for a few miles until it came to an end. I grinned. I had awakened just a few feet away from the Pacific Ocean, ridden out of Chile and across Argentina, and now I was standing on the shores of the Atlantic, all in the span of a few hours.

    [​IMG]

    Back on the highway, I headed further north to the small oceanside town of Puerto Santa Cruz. Cruising on the main waterfront street, my eyes were immediately drawn to a shoreline indoor soccer court. A dozen kids were playing while another half dozen or so spectated from the sidelines. I wheeled the KLR up to the court, shut it down, and the game came to a halt. The kids all gave me a cheer and came on over to check out the bike and pepper me with questions, most of which I could barely understand, my Spanish still being mostly limited to the menu at Señior Fish.

    [​IMG]

    The scene at the soccer court was familiar. Kids instinctively know cool, and while I would never proclaim to be as such, I do know that motorcycles are undeniably cool. Kids love 'em. Moms hate it that kids love bikes, so kids love 'em even more. It's beautiful. And it's been this way the entire trip, and not just with kids. Long distance motorcyclists are bona fide heroes in this part of the world, as it seems to strike a chord with the innate romanticism of Latin Americans. Since Day 1 I've had people hanging out windows to wave and cheer, give me thumbs up, ask for photos at gas stations, roadsides, pretty much anywhere I stop. Where I'm from, where I'm going, how long will I travel (hey amigo, we all want to know that).

    Whenever this "surround the moto guy" routine has played itself out, I've fancied myself a Pony Express rider who's galloped into town amidst a cloud of dust, a fat sack of mail in a saddlebag, along with the latest dispatches from Fort Laramie. "What news of the war?" asks the sheriff, as I dismount to distribute the mail to a gathering crowd.

    I settled into the hotel directly across the street and enjoyed two of the finest aspects of the local culture. 1) Even in the smallest restaurant in the smallest town, dinner is served as late as midnight, perfect for us night owls. 2) The Argentine beef is as good as you've heard. So, I savored both conveniences, returned to my room and, in an unconscionable decision, set my alarm as I vowed to get an early start.
    #62
  3. MeinMotorrad

    MeinMotorrad Long timer

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    Bit late to this one but, I'm in.
    #63
  4. itlives

    itlives Adventurer

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    Shreveport LA
    This is the first thread I've read on my first day here and my first reply.
    What a great thread you've written and adventure you've had!

    I'm only "slightly" envious -read that, insanely jealous - of your trip.

    I have yet to have an adventure (on a bike) but am enjoying yours vicariously

    I fear you've set the bar a bit high!

    MikeC
    #64
  5. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Rad, thanks for coming along! And congrats on that KTM 690, great ride!

    Hey Mike, thanks for the kind words! This has been my first dual-sport adventure, and it's certainly been a challenge. My inexperience hasn't been too much of a hindrance... I think the biggest obstacle to getting out there for a moto adventure is simply finding the Will to make it happen. I hope your circumstances allow for a trip of your own!
    #65
  6. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Puerto Natalas mechanic = epic fail.

    My dream of an early start on Day 17 were thwarted by an old adversary from earlier in the trip...

    [​IMG]

    Full day report coming soon.
    #66
  7. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    It's 1977.

    I am nine years old and standing in my father's business; he owns a Mercedes-Benz repair shop with five bays and lifts. He is showing my older brother and me how to use some of the simpler, less dangerous tools that are a part of his everyday labors.

    My brother has inherited the Mechanic Gene; he understands how the tools work, what they are used for, how things are taken apart, and how they go back together.

    I am clueless. I do have fun playing with the lifts, though.

    Sonuvabiiiiiiiiitch.

    [​IMG]

    The Puerto Natales mechanic, who had assured me that he'd resolved the KLR's ongoing issues, clearly had not. I immediately stripped him of his title as the Hero of Day 12. The chain adjuster bolts/nuts were completely loose (again), the rear tire had slid forward (again), so the chain was perilously loose (again), and the rear tire was crooked (again), now almost rubbing against the port side of the frame.

    It was now 8:40 AM, and with my accursed alarm-assisted start to the day, I'd been on schedule for a planned 9 AM roll out from Puerto Santa Cruz. Until now.

    "Well, there's nothing for it," I remarked to the cool wet morning. I had no time for chugging around village after village looking for the one guy who might know how to fix stuff; the clock was ticking on my Santiago return deadline. Besides, I'd spent so much of the trip watching other guys try to repair it, I might as well take a serious crack myself. Let the chips fall where they may. I loosened the rear wheel, moved it back, and then did my best to get the wheel straight using the chain adjuster bolts. Once reasonably satisfied with the alignment and the chain tension, I sat on the bike, checked the tension again while under my load, adjusted some more, then tightened it all up.

    So. Could I succeed where five mechanics (of uncertain ability) had failed? I had serious doubts. Rolling to the edge of town, I checked the time. My 9 AM goal had become a 10:15 departure. That by itself would not have been the end of civilization, but only an hour later and I was sitting still while a road grader worked on smoothing out a stretch of northbound Ruta 3. On the positive side, I took the opportunity to check out my repair. So far, so good.

    Moving again, the 150+ miles between Puerto Santa Cruz and Fitz Roy (no relation to the famed mountain to the west) was some of the most barren riding yet. I imagined Mars to be like this: a burned out landscape that Sherman had passed through, then doubled back a few times to make sure he hadn't missed anything. It felt as if there was nothing living or breathing. On my ongoing list of Amazing Places of Nothingness, I ranked it ahead of west Texas but just behind the all-time leader, the Australian Outback.

    [​IMG]

    It doesn't make for good pictures or good stories, but I have not minded these empty stretches of highway. It's why I chose to do a solo trip, to see some of the remote corners of the world and enjoy their solitude. Whether wearing the backpack or on the moto, there is an indescribable liberation that comes from being in a secluded region of the planet. Somewhat inevitably, you must overcome an unreliable bike or a bloody blister doggedly attempting to thwart your progress, with nothing but your will and your wits to get you to the next gas, the next trail junction, the next camp site or the next hotel.

    And eventually, it's all you've got to get you back home.

    Some people keep asking, "What do you do all day while riding/hiking, doesn't it get boring and lonely?" Perhaps not coincidentally, these are the same people who can't survive ten minutes without cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs, IMing and Twitter. I must be as much a mystery to them as they are to me. At the risk of over-dramatization, they'd rather be on an internet forum debating the authenticity of the latest superhero movie, I'd rather be a lone adventurer exploring Chile and Argentina, with Uncertainty and Unknown my only companions.

    And really, I'm not alone. My family and friends are with me, whether they know it or not. My Blonde is with me, every mile. Jonathan drops by every time a distant snow-capped peak comes into view. Sean's infectious laugh, whenever the chain falls off the bike or I fall off the bike. Kaelyn, whenever I pull out a different piece of gear. Ken, whenever I spot a rail line. Michael Scott, who more than anyone would have loved this moto adventure, should have been on this adventure. I could go on and on.

    Lonely? That's laughable.

    More construction and a lane-closing accident (no fatalities, thankfully) meant that sunlight was fading as I reached Comodoro Rivadavia, for a mere 350 total miles on the day. Far, far short of the 450 I had hoped for. I briefly entertained the notion of riding after dark, but in a rare display of good judgment, thought better of it. The KLR's now non-functioning lowbeam and intermittent highbeam tipped the scales in favor of making camp. I found a perfect place to pitch the tent about 30 miles out of town; it would allow for another attempt at an early departure, as I still had 1200+ miles to go over my final two days.
    #67
  8. lakota

    lakota Geeser

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    Annapolis MD
    Thought you were describing me:D
    Glad you are back. :clap Was distressed with the long weekend and no update:wink:

    Watch that chain and Stay safe
    #68
  9. itlives

    itlives Adventurer

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    Shreveport LA
    There's light at the end of the tunnel, and I want to snuff it! I want the trip to go on!

    I really enjoy your writing style.
    #69
  10. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Thanks much, Lakota. Uncertain wifi access and me being a painfully slow writer = spotty updates!

    I've really enjoyed the solitary aspect of the trip, and how with each passing episode, it reminds me of someone back home. Sure, I'd love to share that moment with them, but I'm also glad to have these moments to myself.

    Been watching the chain like a hawk and (no good way to say this) drowning it in lube.

    You and me both, Lives. I am sometimes envious of the massively long trips that people take, and I applaud them for it.

    At the same time, I like to think that if 3 months or 3 year trips aren't feasible/desirable, then I aim to prove that a feller can still pack a lot into just a few weeks of riding!
    #70
  11. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Stunning afternoon on the road, one of my favorites of the trip. A glimpse at Day 18...

    [​IMG]

    For the next 180 miles, it was pure motorcycling bliss. Smooth tarmac on winding mountain roads, lake views, high peaks, thickening trees, and the stunning colors of autumnal aspens. It was an amazing contrast from the scorched earth landscape of the morning.
    #71
  12. Gooner

    Gooner DC 43

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    Thanks for sharing your solitude with us. Safe travels on the rest of your ride!
    #72
  13. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    You bet, and my thanks for the well-wishes.

    With a forum name like that, I have to ask: Keep Wenger or let him go?
    #73
  14. queenpdog

    queenpdog Long timer

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    I just read the whole thread. You can't stop now! I need more!

    Wishing you enough challenge on the remaining miles to keep it interesting, and a safe arrival at your final destination (for now). I'm really enjoying being along for the ride.

    Julia
    #74
  15. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

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    Thanks to you, Julia, I appreciate the kind words and sentiment. And I'm not there yet, plenty of time for things to go wrong to add to the adventure! :wink:

    I see you have/had a few Triumphs in your day. Thrux, Bonnie, Scrambler all fighting to be my next purchase. Love that platform.
    #75
  16. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

    Joined:
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    Previously on Backpacker Moto....

    Let’s examine the Top 15 reasons why my solo ride is ill-advised (stated by family, friends, and random people off the street):

    1) Motorcycles are dangerous.
    2) The only Spanish you speak is from the menu at Señior Fish.
    3) You might get hit by a banana truck on some desolate Patagonian dirt road.
    4) You might get hit by a banana truck in the middle of Santiago.
    5) You don’t know the region very well.
    6) You don’t know the region at all.

    7) Local banditos/revolutionaries will steal your stuff and hack you to pieces with a machete(s).
    8) You won’t be prepared for the wind/cold/rain/snow.
    9) You don’t have a daily itinerary.
    10) You’re completely unprepared.
    11) You can’t rebuild a motorcycle engine.
    12) South America has jungles. Jungles are dangerous.
    13) Your loved ones will worry about you (note: they worry anyway).
    14) Verizon doesn’t have cell towers in Tierra del Fuego.
    15) There are less lethal ways to enjoy solitude.


    I rolled out of the sleeping bag after a perfect night's sleep under the stars. It was a clear, still morning, the sun already heating up the tent, and for once, not a trace of wind (yet). Sunny or not, it's only in the high 30s, so I suited up with my max warm clothes to start the day. Speaking of gear, I've had complete success living in my Arc'teryx Rho AR as a base layer, followed by a snug Patagonia Down Sweater. Meanwhile, Patagonia Capilene 3 on my bottom half has worked perfectly. Those layers have been covered by the superbly performing Klim Traverse Jacket and Traverse Pants combo, which have been nothing short of miraculous at repelling sprayed gravel, large insects, howling wind and driving rain. Not even soaked sleeves or cuffs have allowed a drop of moisture past these Gore-Tex outerlayers, making me bulletproof against tough weather conditions.

    I did an inspection of the KLR; everything was looking good. Chain holding steady, rear wheel reasonably straight. Having drowned the chain in lube at every gas fill-up, I'd now left a stream of Scottoil across the entirety of southeast Argentina. The dreaded eco-posse would have no trouble picking up my trail. I pulled out from my camp site at a respectable 8:35 AM (it's a vacation, goddamnit) and throttled up on westbound RN26. Less than an hour later, far in the distance I spotted a black column of smoke rising into the clear morning sky. As I got closer, I saw that it was actually two fires in tight proximity. Closer still, and I could see multiple fires on either side of the road, with a gaggle of vehicles nearby. Horrible accident? Cars smoldering? Still closer, and finally it all clicked:

    Roadblock.

    Trash fires burning heavily, throngs of people surrounding vehicles, all traffic stopped in the middle of the highway. Passage was being denied.

    "Finally! Banditos and revolutionaries!" Eagerly, I prepared to surrender my belongings and join their noble cause... whatever it might be. Squinting into the low morning sun, I tried to make out any machetes or AK-47s long favored by my oppressed brothers and sisters of the eternal struggle.

    [​IMG]

    Uhhhhh, no. It turned out to be young single women and housewives, armed to the teeth with friendly smiles and protest banners made from old bed sheets. Politely, they were stopping each vehicle and handing out leaflets. They didn't even give me one, once they'd discovered I was a Spanishless gringo. Christ, I can't even get recruited by the rebellious nonviolent homemakers of South America. Yet another dream shattered.

    Disgruntled, I continued across RN26 and linked back up with another desolate stretch of Ruta 40. Los Tamariscos, Gobernador Costa, Putrachoique, Tecka, the small towns ticked by. Having turned northbound, the infernal winds were finally at my back; these gales feel as if they're born from the bottom edge of the world. I suppose they are. Here in central Argentina, I was still further south than my trips to Australia or even New Zealand.

    [​IMG]

    I dove off Ruta 40 for a dash into Esquel, a ski town that confirmed I was back into the mountainous regions of the Andes. For the next 180 miles, it was pure motorcycling bliss, a wonderful bonus that in no way had been expected. Smooth empty tarmac on curvaceous mountain roads, lake views, high peaks, thickening trees, the smell of pines, and the stunning colors of early autumnal aspens. It was an amazing contrast from the scorched earth landscape of the morning.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I took very few photos over this part of the ride. Event documentation has obviously been a priority, but there have been a few moments I've wanted to myself. This perfect road, with perfect weather, a late setting sun, brilliant aspens, I just wasn't motivated to pull over and break the rhythm or the enchantment.

    El Maitén, El Hoyo, El Bolsón... I passed through this trio of quaint resort mountain settlements. I then took a bypass road around San Carlos de Bariloche, found the small town of Dina Huapi and grabbed a room in a quiet roadside inn. I closed out the evening with a review of my mileage. Good news: I'd logged just over 500 on the day. Not good news: still had 682 miles to go and just more than a day to do it. At the least, I was well-positioned for another unreasonably early departure and the 60 mile dash to my final border crossing back into Chile.
    #76
  17. dvmweb

    dvmweb Adventurer

    Joined:
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    40
    And, I think this a great story. Then I read a new one, and, it is even better than the last. Thank you.
    #77
  18. huzar

    huzar Pastor of Muppets

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    Great writing. I'm really enjoying your style and your pictures :clap
    #78
  19. BackpackerMoto

    BackpackerMoto Outcast

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
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    No question, there are many great stories here on advrider. Many rides to experience!

    Appreciate the kind words, and pleased you're enjoying it.

    Coming up on Day 19...

    "At the junction just miles before the border, I wheeled the KLR to the west and began my ascent into the Andes. Behind me, early morning sunlight graced the gentle hills and rocky formations. I pulled the bike to the side, jabbed the kill switch, and savored the silence as I took a final look upon the lowlands of Argentina."

    [​IMG]
    #79
  20. queenpdog

    queenpdog Long timer

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    :lurk
    #80