Almost Here

19 February, 2018 – Puerto San Julian to Rio Gallegos via motorcycle, 360 km / 224 miles – 3-minute read

I’d wondered if we would have a perfect day between the insufferable heat of Buenos Aires’ summer and the bitterness of Ushuaia’s perpetual cold. Yesterday morning was it – that beautiful balance of heat and cold with no rain. Amazing blue sky littered with woolen clouds, desert air around us and the many guanacos. In the afternoon, it rained. Today, we wore our rain gear, braced against both rain and cold; tomorrow we’ll be adding our insulated vests, too. Transitions are quick heading on longitudes.

After finishing up my work Saturday evening, I’ve begun to settle into this section of travel as a mini vacation, not feeling the pressure of client expectations, and allowing myself to drift into daydreams as the miles go by.

In Puerto San Julian is a replica of the Nao Victoria, Magellan’s ship, and the first to travel all the way around the world. I’ve read about the ship since I was a child with single-digit birthdays; my sister’s and I would pretend we followed the same explorations while “sailing” cardboard boxes around the living room.

The boat was small – about 65 feet long – and boarding it, walking around, picturing the 40+ person crew going about their dailly business, was amazing. I forget that most of what I know of old sailing ships comes from later voyages, British sailing culture from the early 1800s, more than 200 years after the Victoria‘s voyage took place. Seeing what the men on board went through, pre-steering wheel, and in such tight quarters, really makes me feel like all my trips are essentially like riding around on cotton candy.

Even besides the amazing replica tour, yesterday was spectacular. As we rode along the seaside, we came across a beach packed with Patagonian sea lions all laid out on top of one another, with the occasional bark of scratching males and the young swimming playfully through the coastal waters. A bit further along was a pond off to the right, where wild pink flamingos stood lazily, and occasionally flew low over the water flashing their brighter shades. And near our hotel was a water lowland filled with gulls, sandpipers and terns. Beautiful.

Today was less filled with wildlife, though we did come across many, many, many guanacos. They seem less smart today, not moving as large trucks went by, and occasionally even springing across, panicked, before them. I’ll definitely be watching for them.

The road was desolate today, and when the gas station we stopped at late this morning only took cash, I decided to wait for the next, because, hey, I’d only used 80 miles off the new tank. That wasn’t my best decision of the day, and when I switched to reserve at 185 miles, knowing we still had 40 to go, my nerves definitely began to fray.  We didn’t see another gas station – or anything else – till our destination town. I don’t know how many more kilometers we would have had on the tank, but I was immensely relieved to see a YPF when we arrived in Rio Gallegos.

I finally pulled the air filter off for cleaning this evening, which was surprisingly easy, and shockingly dirty, with flakes oily black dirt coming off the surface like scales. Before I began this trip I really should have learned about the basic maintenance required for the bike to run well; but then again, I do most things this way, leaping and trying to find a landing place while in the air, and so far my life has been more interesting for it.

Tomorrow and the day after will be wrapping up our southern trip. With a ferry and two border crossings, tomorrow will be intense and long, but I’m hoping for an easy day on Wednesday with a mid-day arrival into Ushuaia. I’ve bought a large bottle of Patagonia Kulnes ale in anticipation of a celebration there.

Ostriches and Llamas and Worry! But not.

17 February, 2018 – Trelew to Comodoro Rivadavia via motorcycle, 373 km / 232 miles – 2-minute read

I’m up past my bedtime, so I’ll keep this short. Most exciting thing today? Our travel turned into a safari! A little outside of town we spotted our first guanacos (camelids related to llamas, alpacas, vicunyas and camels), and shortly thereafter spotted a group of rhea (small ostrich-like birds). The rest of the day we kept an eye peeled for the animals – really cool.

Another thing: the bike is running better. I still need to clean the air filter, because mileage is a little low, but it’s a 10% bump from yesterday at the same speeds, so I’m much happier.

Speaking of happiness, a random musing. On the first morning after Buenos Aires, the B&B owner warned me of high winds and crossing guanacos. Seeing them today made me really happy, but also brought the thought, Well, I guess I should worry about that, too, now.

And then I realized, no, I really shouldn’t. I need to be aware of the animals, look out for them, and take precautions to avoid being on the road in the dark when they may run out without me being able to react in time to avoid them, but none of that means I need to worry about them. It was an amazingly freeing thought.

And after we arrived today, we walked along the beach, listening to the waves and the chatter of families enjoying the weekend.

Southern Argentina Runs Out of Gas

16 February, 2018 – Las Grutas to Trelew via motorcycle, 333 km / 207 miles – 4-minute read

We ran out of gas yesterday – almost. The motor began to stall, with just enough to get us into the gas station. Where there was an orange cone in front of the pump. And an attendant who tried to wave us away, then flipped over the sign saying “No Hay Nafta” – there is no gas.

Suddenly we understood the 10-car line at the gas station we’d passed earlier; the attendant told us that was the only place to fill up near the town, 15 km back along a road when we had already used the reserve. But I was lucky, and begged him to try for just two liters, which he was able to get the pump to cough up. We were able to drive back to the station this morning, waited our turn in the long line, and got the gas we needed.

I spent the morning puzzling on it. When I flipped over to my gas reserve I was at 214.8 miles, which is within 0.2 miles of exactly what I expected. But then I ran out within 50 miles, when I should have had another hundred miles of fuel. I couldn’t figure it out, and that worried me.

Today we ran at 75 mph for the first couple hours, catching perfect road through the desert. Traffic was sparse, and the few big trucks we encountered were easy to pass.

Was it the gas tank and reserve being swapped? After the carburetor work in Colombia it felt like I had a smaller main tank, and more in the reserve. Or was it the choke? It’s been sticking since Bolivia, and I have a spare because of that, but I thought I’d broken it free in Buenos Aires. Maybe it’s something else? Air filter? Clog in the tank?

I spent the hours puzzling, then felt the engine sputter – at only 155 miles from our morning fill up. Getting worse, not better, then.

A YPF appeared in less than two miles, and I pulled us in with relief. At least we wouldn’t run out this time. But our day was supposed to be 8 hours today covering more than 425 miles — it was going to be long if I had to stop three times for gas, especially if we hit lines every time.

We talked over lunch, deciding eventually to stop off in Trelew, splitting our 8-hour day into two shorter ones, so that I could try to fix the bike. I thought about trying to find a local garage, but I knew what I needed to do, and had no confidence in either my ability to explain it nor in a guarantee of things working well for the next few weeks — and we need the bike to work well for this stretch through Patagonia. It will be cold, and rainy, and desolate.

I drove around Trelew, and was happy to find a motorcycle shop that Google said would be open. It wasn’t; everything here seemed to be closed from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the world’s longest lunch hour. After checking a couple shops, a gas station attendant referred me to the client he was pumping for, who recommended Carrefour, where I found car batteries (in the second, larger Carrefour), but no motorcycle batteries, but did find a nice guard who recommended a battery shop that would be open during the afternoon if I drove that way for a few blocks, then turned left on Colombia street and drove for a few blocks till something something words I didn’t understand in Spanish.

Surprisingly, it worked. I drove along Colombia looking for a battery shop, and it was open in the afternoon, and had the battery I needed. I had to take off two body panels and unbolt the saddle to figure that out, but by the time I drove away, my motor was starting better than it had in… ever. One item of the prep-for-freaking-cold-riding down on the fix-it list.

The second was bigger, changing out the choke on the bike from the standard wire-and-lever system to an after market push-pull mod. I’d been avoiding it because I dreaded taking the tank off the bike. It seemed like a big task. It wasn’t. Removing four body panels, the saddle (again), the tank, replacing the choke, putting everything back on – one hour.

And tomorrow we try again. I may need to wash the air filter, but I feel more confident to do that now. I’ve made two changes to the bike today, and she runs better than before. As important, I feel substantially better about fixing the bike myself. It’s a bit late for preparation, at the end of this trip, but maybe there will be another grand ride in my future…

PS – There was a dinosaur statue on the way into town. Apparently, I’m Owen Grady.

Breaking Through

15 February, 2018 – Bahia Blanca to Las Grutas via motorcycle, 416 km / 258 miles – 1-2 minute read

As it always does, our third day – today – saw us settling into life back on the road. We were lucky this morning, with a small kitchen in our apartment-hotel, and had a big breakfast of eggs (which we made ourselves) along with mixed fruit and other goodies from the breakfast buffet. Days beginning with eggs are better.

The road was, well, rough to begin with. Third day or not, having 30 mph cross winds makes for hard riding. We’ve been riding across what I’ve come to think of as Argentina’s Texas – hot, flat, windy – but ending, tonight, with a beach town.

I have to say that I’m loving my new fork brace. When we were in the mid-northern regions of Argentina, we hit a windy day, and spent the whole day fighting to stay in one lane, cruising at about 20 mph just to keep from becoming a semi-truck hood ornament. We had time to watch the birds flying overhead (flapping hard to stay still) and the goats (one baby goat tried to stand up, and was promptly knocked over by a particularly strong gust), but after seven hours we were halfway to our planned stop and exhausted, and stopped off at a little set of cabins, ending the day with a movie on our computers. The memory was great, actually, like so many times when things go wrong while traveling.

Still, I wouldn’t want to have that life-risking type of experience frequently, so in Buenos Aires I installed a front fork brace, and lowered my fender from beneath the headlight to just above the tire. What. A. Difference. It’s like riding a sport bike – better turns, much steadier in the wind. I’m still very careful passing semis, but at least I don’t feel as much like I’m about to cruise under their tires.

And we had a treat today, for the second half of the ride – we turned from west to south, and the wind that had been trying to push me over from the right suddenly was an amazing tailwind. 75 mph and felt like we were going 45. Amazing.

Till we ran out of gas, and so did the gas station. But I’ll fix that tomorrow.

Valentine’s Day… Really

This is going to be short: we travelled from a beautiful little family run hotel this morning, through moderate heat and high winds, and then I worked a couple hours to finish up a milestone on an ongoing project. I’m happy for the work and the 334 km (208 miles), but at this point I’m too tired to be good company – so we’re going to settle into comfiness with the takeaway we just bought and a movie, and then I’m going to get some wonderful, wonderful sleep before doing the same tomorrow.

13 February, 2018 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia via motorcycle, 326 km / 203 miles – 1-minute read

The first hour of any journey is exciting, whehter a trip to grandma’s house or the end of the world. Motorcycle trips are the same, and the beginning of our drive from Buenos Aires had me feeling good – the day wasn’t too hot, the bike’s running well, we had plenty of space – and I thought, “Damn it’s good to be back on the road.”

Of course, the first hour is followed by the second, and the third; the initial optimism is damped by sweat, gusts of wind from passing semis, and the inevitable reminder that riding a motorcycle for long periods of time is uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

Oddly, that’s part of why I do it. I know that for any stretch of road, the first day will be rough, and the second will be even rougher, but if I’m lucky, on the third I have a breakthrough where the stress fades, and I discover the shade of green created by sun through alfalfa fields, the moist scent from a storm a hundred miles away, and the feel of the road twisting beneath my tires. Unlike most of my everyday life, I find myself present.

This morning we left our home of six months. The apartment was a happy home for us, and though we’ve been melancholy while packing and saying goodbyes, this morning was bright – Buenos Aires is part of our past (and future, I hope) but our present is the road to Ushuaia.

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