Chicago to Panamá y Más Allá - A Staged Journey Through Latin America

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Parcero, Nov 21, 2011.

  1. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

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    I see SA has roughed you up lol

    Not sure if pharmacy or sex shop :hmmmmm

    I think all GS kickstands are slowly deforming. Mine is getting more difficult to upright nowadays but yours looks like it's about to tip over!

    Congrats to the 2 new death road survivors! Hopefully the nasty bites go away quick!!
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  2. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Today was the day we would encounter the beginning of the difficult roads, although this part was likely to be more dusty than muddy. It was also the day that we would be closer to finding out whether or not we would be able to make it all the way across the Beni Province to Trinidad without incident. Beni is low lying, and we were just coming out of the rainy season, and any moisture would make the roads muddy and difficult.

    We met for breakfast at the hotel early, and Chris checked the Bolivian roads and weather websites for any last minute information. It looked like other than a wee bit of rain, all was well. Time to pack up and make our way to San Ignacio de Moxos.

    Almost immediately the road turned to deeply rutted dusty hardpack. Traction was plentiful, but the ruts left by trucks were about a meter deep in many places. The rest of the road was pretty pothole ridden, and the huge number of horses and cow herds that use this road didn’t do anything for the road surface. We were riding standing for most of the time, and getting dustier by the minute. When a truck passed from the opposite direction, the dust cloud obscured all vision. Passing trucks going in the same direction was also an issue since the lingering dust cloud brought forward visibility down to zero. I was starting to wonder about my air filter after all of the Bolivian dust it had already ingested and would ingest today.

    A stop for rest on one of the few smoother sections.
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    Finally, a real break in La Borja.
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    This food at this place was out of this world fantastic!
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    Chris is still checking the road conditions and weather to the east.
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    So far, so good.
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    After lunch the road conditions remained pretty much the same. We were both tired and although we knew it would be better to stand on the pegs, we were too tired to do that for long. It was just easier to be lazy and ride seated.

    Later in the afternoon, the road smoothed out but then turned to sand. Just about four inches on the surface—just enough to require 100% concentration 100% of the time if you wanted to maintain any kind of speed without going down.

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    As we closed in on San Ignacio, about 20 kilometers out, I was sure that we would encounter pavement, even bad pavement. But no, the road actually got worse. The potholes were even bigger, and the ruts were just as deep and the dust was still flying. It was also full-on sun in 100-degree heat. Traffic in both directions was weaving all over the place to avoid ruts, potholes, deep puddles, and other obstacles. It was really wearing me down.

    Finally—the town plaza!
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    And the hotel!
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    See that—air conditioning!
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    We pulled the bikes right into the hotel’s courtyard to unpack.
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    License plates almost unreadable.
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    After much needed showers, we walked down to the local lake, actually a fairly large one—Lake Isireri—were the locals went to cool off.

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    It was crowded with people of all ages, and had a nice feel.

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    We didn’t swim, and after a short stay we walked back to the plaza.

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    We found a pizza joint that was still open and opted for that for dinner. Good choice, and pretty much the only choice. After that it was lights out. We would have time to see a bit more of the town in the morning.

    I’m hoping that the AC will dry out my sweaty riding gear.
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  3. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Thanks, Dave! More to come. Still have lots of video to sort through and edit.
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  4. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Today’s plan was to ride to Trinidad, just 60 miles away. Depending on road conditions, that could mean an all day ride. It certainly wasn’t going to be an hour or two.

    Even so, we took our time in the morning. There was no breakfast in the hotel, so we walked into town to a traditional market, as had become our custom.

    San Ignacio de Moxos wasn’t that busy when we left the hotel, but got busy fast.

    The main church, constructed of wood.
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    The main plaza.
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    Much better in the light of day.
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    We went back to the hotel to pack up the bikes and suit up. The temperature was already close to 80 degrees. After I almost crashed in some slippery mud on the way out of town, the road was pretty good for the first 15 kilometers or so. Just dirt and gravel.

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    The beauty of the transition to the amazon was all around.

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    Some giant rats.
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    After a brief stop to try to catch some of the amazon’s pink river dolphins on film, we started of again. Almost as fast as we started, the road turned to wet red mud.

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    Chris was in the lead and about 100 meters into the mud he went down. As I watched him go down, I lost traction and my bike did a slow motion 180 and I was down. No damage to either bike or riders. We weren’t going all that fast.

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    We got both bikes up, and moved them to the side of the road. Chris’s bike started up for the move to the side of he road, and then wouldn’t start again when he tried to continue riding. Nothing, just dim dash lights.

    Chris is a capable mechanic and very knowledgeable about his bike. He quickly began checking all possible issues—side stand safety switch, neutral start switch, cleaning connections—unfortunately to no avail.

    After putting everything back together, we decided to try to jump start his bike with mine. It worked, but the battery was fried so a jump would be required every time.

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    While we were at the side of the road, several trucks and cars passed us with difficulty. Other cars were stuck down the road in the distance.

    While Chris was working on his bike, I had taken a walk about two kilometers down the road to see how bad it was. It was bad. A mini bus was stuck in deep ruts. The road seemed to have two levels, and it seemed like the higher level was drier.

    We started moving very slowly, and I successfully jumped up to the higher level. Big mistake. I was sinking into the soft, drier mud. I struggled to get the bike back down to the car tire ruts, and somehow made it. But as I road, it seemed like I had to feather the clutch more and it began to burn. The rear wheel of the bike was also swinging around toward the front.

    Chris ran back to see what was going on and said my front wheel had become locked up with all the thick, sticky mud that was jammed between the tire and the front fender.

    I stopped and we cleared it all out. I started again and in about 150 feet, the same thing happened. That’s how it went for awhile. Ride a little ways, front wheel would lock up, I would get off the bike and clean everything out. This got tedious especially in the 100-degree heat.

    I’m an ATGATT guy, but with the heat and humidity and the struggle to keep the bike upright, I was drenched in sweat. I took off my jacket and strapped it into the Mosko duffle. If I went down, it was going to be at slow speed and into soft mud anyway.

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    That section of sticky red mud was the worst of it, and was three kilometers long. That distance, about two miles, took us just over three hours to complete including the bike maintenance.

    When we finally got through it, the road was significantly drier, but loaded with deep ruts and ridges, and of course the Bolivian bull dust.

    Soon we arrived at what would be the first of two ferry crossings for the day. We had to back the bikes on to be able to ride off. The ferry operator helped us roll the bikes on.

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    After the first ferry ride we stopped and had lunch. We were drenched in sweat and it was good to be able to sit down and relax for a bit. Between the two of us we drank four liters of water in probably 15 minutes.

    I was a little skeptical of the restaurant’s cleanliness given the number of pigs in and around it.
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    After lunch, another ferry crossing.
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    This time I didn’t want to struggle with dragging my bike on in reverse, so I simply rode it on, and then turned it 180 degrees on its center stand.

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    When we finally arrived in Trinidad is was late afternoon. Before going to the hotel, we went about five miles out of town to see the commercial jet that crashed short of the airport in the jungle in 2008. No one was killed, and the plane remains there to this day.

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    Next stop was the local park to see the giant anaconda snake.

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    Sadly, the real anaconda had died months earlier due to flooding which brought contaminated water into his cage.

    Nevertheless, the park was beautiful.

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    We got back to the hotel a short time later, drenched in sweat and tired from the day’s struggles.

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    But...there was a pool.
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  5. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    After cooling down in the pool and showering, I figured it was time to get the bike washed. Tomorrow would the last day on the road for his stage and the route was to be almost all paved, so washing the bike would enable me to get that out of he way now and be able to put the bike in storage clean. There was also a bike wash place two blocks from the hotel that I could see from our balcony.

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    He was doing a very thorough job, and by the time he was finishing up, he had an audience.

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    My bike hasn’t looked this good in years!
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    We took a walk around Trinidad before dinner. One great thing about Bolivia is that even if the gas stations are closed or out of gasoline, you can always find it somewhere.
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    The main plaza.
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    More giant rats by the river, nicely lit by the headlights of a passing car. Not really rats, but members of the rodent family.
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    We grabbed dinner on the plaza and decided that since we had about 385 miles to cover the next day, it would be best to get a very early start, despite the road being “paved.” Travel in Bolivia always takes longer than estimated, and I had a flight to catch.
  6. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    We were up just after 4 AM to start packing. It was 5:09 AM when we rolled out of the hotel parking lot, just nine minutes short of our 5 AM goal and about an hour and a half before sunrise in Bolivia. We would employ my old rule of moto travel—no breakfast until we get at least 100 miles under our belts.

    While the road was, in fact, paved, it was some of the the worst pavement I have ridden on, bar none. After a relatively smooth first 20 miles, the road became an obstacle course of deep potholes. Some were hard to see in the dark, and I hit a few deep ones head on. We slowed down and tried to slalom around them, but here were so many that it was impossible to not hit at least the smaller ones.

    My mirrors were becoming loose due to the constant jarring, my Garmin inReach mount had to be tightened, and at one point, my phone which was in a RAM mount suddenly disappeared from sight in the dark. At first I thought the screen had gone dark, but I discovered it had fallen out of the mount. I stopped as fast as I could, fearing the phone was lost. When I moved my foot to put the side stand down, I felt something hit my foot. The phone was dangling by the charging cord. A quick check revealed no damage, and I put the phone safely in my tank bag—no more RAM mount on this road. That was the first time the RAM mount had let the phone go. Even after a 50-mph on-pavement crash in Colombia, the RAM still held my phone tight. I guess that’s a testament to the unbelievably rough conditions of this Bolivian road.

    When the sun started to rise the riding got a little bit easier. Not that the potholes let up, but at least we could see them. The slaloming continued.

    The going was tough and we stopped in a small town for breakfast. We had made it much farther than our 100-mile goal.

    Last day breakfast.
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    After breakfast, we continued on through San Ramon, got gas, and rode on through the stifling heat and humidity. About an hour outside
    of Santa Cruz, we stopped for a long rest.

    Rest stop outside of Santa Cruz
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    We rolled in to Chris’s place in El Torno at about 2 PM. It was nice to get in earlier than expected and without incident. I unpacked and got my bike ready for storage, and then took a cab to my hotel to get a little rest before heading home.

    The hotel even had a BMW on display in the lobby—nice touch.
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    Bolivia exit stamp. This stage filled one and a half pages—two entries and two exits from Bolivia, and an entry/exit from Perú. The faster the pages of a passport get filled up, the better!
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    Copa 235 you’re cleared for takeoff on runway 03 Right. Northbound departure for PTY.
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    Final leg from Panamá. Spool ‘em up and let’s get out of here.
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    The bike’s all packed away until next time. I can’t wait!
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  7. Nateman

    Nateman Adventurer

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    I just got caught up again. Looks like an amazing stage of your journey. That mud looked crazy. I am wondering if maybe a tire like Anakee 3s would have been better. If nothing else, the mud probably wouldn’t cake up so much.
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  8. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    That same thought occurred to me. I rode through similar mud in the Misiones Province in Argentina on Anakee 3s, and didn’t experience any issues with mud locking up my front wheel. A new set of Anakee 3 probably would have served me well.
  9. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    I thought I’d throw in a few pictures of Santa Cruz, to point out that not all of Bolivia is a dust bowl of rough dirt roads. Santa Cruz is said to be the fastest-growing City in Latin America, and the number of construction projects there seem to bear that out. This changes fast, however, not far outside of the urban areas.

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    The Alas II building.
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    World-class shopping. iPhone X, double the U.S. price. Levi’s jeans, about half the U.S. price.
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    The imported food section of the supermarket.
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    And of course BMW GS heaven. Mine didn’t instinctively steer into it.
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    And more projects coming.
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  10. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

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    Congrats on finishing another stage! That mud section looked like hell...not sure I'd be able to pick it up without any help.

    When is the next stage?
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  11. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Thanks!

    Yeah, the mud was a killer. In fact, the entire last three days of that stage were probably the hardest riding days of my life. Long, hot, difficult. My whole body was sore at the end.

    Next stage is looking like May or June. My TVIP’s now good until September but I want to get down south before that. Depends in part on whether I decide to swing back through Perú or just shoot straight to Porto Velho and the Brazilian Amazon. After that mud in Bolivia, I’m now a little hesitant to try to tackle 500 miles of it, especially alone.

    Did you arrive across the pond yet?
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  12. CanuckCharlie

    CanuckCharlie Been here awhile

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    Soaking up BA for another day...loving it here!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  13. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    That is such an enjoyable city! Enjoy, and safe travels!
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  14. Nateman

    Nateman Adventurer

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    Wow, that is really a stark contrast to your last few days of this stage of your travels in Bolivia.
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  15. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Yeah, it sure was, and vastly different from many of the other regions and cities that I visited in Bolivia. While the city center is older the outer parts of the city are very modern. Bolivia is a country of contrasts in almost every form, from its widely diverse geography, weather, road conditions (or lack there of), ethnic groups, politics, to basic economics. That’s just one of the many reasons that make it such an amazing place to visit.
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  16. Nateman

    Nateman Adventurer

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    How is your thinking coming along on BR319 vs. a Perú/Ecuador/Colombia return route?
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  17. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    My desire still is to do BR319 and then French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana, and maybe Venezuela if their situation improves. I am still gathering some intel and as the dates approach (either late August or September, the driest and only season that BR319 is passable) I will monitor the weather and road conditions closely and make my decision. If conditions are terrible, my options would be return to the east and north through Perú, Ecuador, and Colombia, or possibly hire a 4 x 4 vehicle to cart me and my bike through the Amazon on BR319. That was something we had considered doing in the Beni Province in Bolivia if road conditions turned really bad.

    As it stands now, I will be solo, although would prefer having another rider along for safety. You in? :hmmmmm
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  18. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    I found your blog extremely interesting and well documented.. I'm and ADV rider, born in Cochabamba but now living in NW Arkansas, USA for the last 48 years. You posted fantatic pictures with excellent narrative and in unbeliviable detail. My wife and I spent the best part of an evening looking at every picture in detail specially the portion from your northern Argentina and your Bolivian journey, trying to recognize some of the spots we visited, lots of them have not changed much, specially the plazas, the markets and of course the food. In years back I had the joy of ADV riding in Bolivia and visiting some of the same places you have.

    Thanks again and WELL DONE!
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  19. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial Supporter

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    Kaspilo, thank you for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the report. Bolivia has been one of the most interesting and enjoyable countries that I have visited during this trip, as you probably have gleaned from my writing. I am happy to report that I am heading back later this month to retrieve my moto, which has a TVIP that expires on September 3. While my plan has been to exit the country to the east and into Brazil, then travel the BR-319 to Manaus, I must admit that am a little torn between that and taking another, but different, loop through Bolivia. There is just so much there to explore.
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  20. kaspilo

    kaspilo Been here awhile

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    Parcero, thak you for your reply. I thought I've sent a reply from my iPhone earlier but I don't see it here.

    Personally, I never found the Amazon basin area attractive for riding, mainly because of the heat, the bugs and the shitty roads, that's the reason why i stayed mainly up in the Andes mountains. However, the last time I was riding in Bolivia was ~7 years ago and probably some roads have improved and other routes have changed.

    I would like to talk to you via phone but I don't dare to post it here. FYI-- This is my direct email: cnagel6@cox.net My real name is Carlos Nagel, I'm a retired Mechanical Engineer from Nestle/Gerber... maybe we can start here.

    You are more than welcome to come visit this area. I live in Alma, Arkansas, just north of the intersection of I-40 and rt 71. I'm considering riding to Yellowsrtone in the near future and you are welcome to come along. North-West Aransas has beautiful riding areas, off-road, tracks and trails, old towns, ghost towns and good restaurants... I ride mainly a 2009 BMW F650GS twin because of it's weight and seat height. My other bikes tend to be too heavy and not off-road worthy. The TAT crosses this area about 10 miles north from here and that's also a very interesting exploring experience, currently dirt roads conditions are not too great due to the dry (no rain) condition in this area, thus the substrate is very dry/hard packed with lose gravel on top of it.. "rough going" ... it is just like riding on top of ball berings.

    Best regards and lets keep in touch... Carlos
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