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Days 56-60: Warmth and Wheels

The last four days have been a journey across far more than just terrain – I’ve traveled across climates and biomes, struggled through vicious wind, and dealt with massive continued problems with my front wheel. Emotionally I leveled out with calm confident enjoyment of the simple pleasure of the journey as temperatures creeping consistently out of freezing allowed me to finally relax and unclench the mental control required to maintain control in the deep cold. In spite of the problems with the wheel it’s been a good time overall, enough that I found myself disinterested in writing at the end of each day.

As I look back at those four days, bits and pieces of each surface in my mind but there is no cohesive whole to any day. Without my log book and the very few photos I took I’m not sure if I’d be able to reconstruct an entire narrative, and even with these any attempt to do so would be lacking. Instead I have decided to detail a series of highlights over the last few days after sharing the stats – this does not indicate a shift in how I will write about this trip, just a bit of grinding while I change mental gears from survival to casual travel as a result of finally breaking out of the freezing weather I have struggled against for the last month.


Day 56: 333km (208mi), 10:00AM to 6:00PM (camped by Ruta 3)
Day 57: 477km (298mi), 10:15AM to 8:00PM (hotel in San Antonio)
Day 58: 331km (206mi), 11:15AM to 7:00PM (camped in pampas)
Day 59: 217km (135mi), 10:00AM to 4:00PM (hotel in Santa Rosa)
Day 60: Chilling in Santa Rosa, organizing repairs, writing this

Heading out of Caleta Olivia on the morning of Day 56 felt absolutely wonderful. There was a mostly clear pre-dawn sky, the temperature was a soaring 45F, and at first the wind was minimal. The city was also directly on the coast and the road through town hugged cliffs over the ocean. Watching the sun rise over the ocean, I could feel something begin to change inside, a slow subtle softening of tension in my body and mind as I allowed myself to believe that maybe I had made it far enough north to stay above freezing.

Shortly thereafter, the morning wind began… a vicious 30-40+kmh wind coming straight out of the west, trying desperately to blow me off the road. Still sore from the previous days of fighting the wind, I finally gave in and decided to try something new to combat it. I had been toying with the idea of weaving a bungee rope from the remnants of my cord and tying it up to the handlebars in order to keep Red pointed straight, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without risking being unable to turn right. A suggestion from a fellow at was the final piece I needed as he mentioned rigging it up so it could be unhooked easily – and I already had a bungee cord with hooks holding my bags on!

I wrapped it around the left handlebar until it was very tight and hooked it to the bar on the left side – half a second to hook/unhook in an emergency and the difference was remarkable. The bungee cord absorbed easily half of the force required to keep Red straight, enough to change the experience from painful to easily bearable.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of sun and warmth, the temperature staying consistently in the lower 50’s, warm enough that even with the wind chill I never got cold. As the afternoon wore on I began to see a nasty gray haze on the horizon which would turn out to be exactly what I expected: the volcanic ash cloud from the recently erupted volcano in Chile.

That night I found a great campsite off the road and relaxed in decadent warmth, spending most of the evening sitting on my mototaxi watching TV. It felt so amazing to be outside at night and not be cold, though I was oddly unable to muster up an appetite and barely touched my pasta. Once I went to bed it rained for most of the night, but stopped early enough that my tent was dry when I got out in the morning… lovely.

Day 57 also dawned warm and blue but there was still that haze on the horizon; no doubt, this would be a day mostly without sun. The temperature was still relatively warm and the wind was lower today than usual, so I headed off into the ash cloud only worrying about my spokes, which continued to break at an alarming rate.

The rest of the day was an endless ride under a haze so dense I couldn’t even see the sun. It was not a profound “cloud of ash” as one might expect, more of a thick and heavy haze like a bad day in Los Angeles. There was a very minor taste of chalk in my mouth and a slight smell of scorched earth, but I wasn’t convinced these were real – the mind often plays tricks.

As the day wore on, I stopped more and more frequently to replace spokes. I passed through a few cities big enough to have motorcycle places, but none could sell me an alloy wheel and no spare spokes of the right size were to be found. It was starting to look bleak as I was down to my last three spares.

Being unable to see the sun, I had no idea when sunset occurred and the haze seemed to choke much of the glow post-sunset. Darkness closed in rapidly and I made the decision to head on towards San Antonio, where I had been told there was a good moto shop with spares. A major factor in this decision was that after dark the wind had almost completely died and the idea of pushing hard at night was easily offset with the joyous physical relaxation provided by the abating wind.

Time passed and I got closer and closer to San Antonio when a new gremlin popped up – my headlight randomly started to flicker, sometimes shutting off completely for a second before coming back on! It was very intermittent, only happening maybe once every five or ten minutes, and did not seem to be at all related to road conditions, vibrations, or impacts. I shrugged both mentally and physically as I decided to worry about it if it shut off completely and continued on.

In San Antonio I found a cheap hotel, a cheap meal (and a few beers), and slept. The morning of Day 58 saw me driving around town until I found a shop that had, at least, spare spokes! I ended up buying 25 and immediately dismantling half my wheel on the side of the street to replace eight spokes that were either missing or in various states of disarray (some of my spares had been slightly the wrong size and couldn’t tighten properly).

Then, for the first time in a long time, I left Ruta 3 and began my slow meandering path towards Mendoza, where I plan to resume Ruta 40 north. The trick was avoiding some of the major east-west roads in the area where traffic is heavy, so instead I would be riding through the Pampas.

At this point, my wheel and tire were so badly damaged that even with all the spokes set properly there were constant alignment and stability issues and I was breaking spokes every hour or so. The rest of the day was mostly just me driving along the road and stopping every couple hours to replace spokes.

During one of these stops I heard a moto pull up next to me and looked up to see the guy I had met at Tolhuin stopped next to me! He had suffered from some minor mechanical problems that cost him a few days travel, proving that at times a slow moto is better than a fast moto that won’t go anywhere. I did get a little choked up when he told me he was heading for Santa Rosa that night – at 260km away, there was no way I could make it there at all today, while he would be there before sundown.

As we said our goodbyes to maximize the light, I wished him good luck. His reply warmed the cockles of my heart for some reason I don’t quite understand: “Igual, loco!” (“Same to you, crazy!”) A dude riding his motorcycle all over Argentina at a horrible time of year for fun thinks I’m crazy…  haha.

The pampas tricked me. I got all excited when I saw it was all happy trees and bushes and grass and couldn’t wait to camp… until the first time I tried to pull off the road and discovered that everything has massive thorns. It’s about as inhospitable a place as I can imagine and I ended up driving into the dark hoping to find somewhere to stop. Finally I pulled off on a disused side road and quite literally set up camp in the dirt road.

As I was hanging out watching a movie I heard a vehicle coming and looked up to see a ghostly red truck stopping next to me, visible only slightly by the ash filtered light of the moon. It turned out to be a rancher who lived nearby and he had seen my lights and come to check me out because he thought I might be the police? I didn’t ask what reason he had to worry about the police coming to poke around in the middle of the night, and instead we had a great conversation where he confirmed that normally he and his buddies are the only people on the road but they do tend to drive without headlights at night because the moon is strong (that’s not suspicious at all, right?).

He then asked if he could take some photos and I said of course, so he took off to get his camera and came fifteen minutes later with a buddy who didn’t believe him that some crazy gringo with a three wheeled motorcycle was camped out in the freaking road a kilometer away… I ended up talking with them for around half an hour and got the weirdest vibe, it’s so hard to describe. I was convinced these guys were up to something a little shady, but they were so friendly and nice that I didn’t feel threatened at all. Maybe I was imagining the shady bit, but…  weird.

Later in the evening it began to rain so I tucked into my tent, silently thankful that it was raining at night and not during the day, and enjoyed a nice warm thoughtless night.

Packing things up in the morning on Day 59 was a bit annoying because the wind started early and everything was so wet. I hung bits of the tent all over Red to dry in the wind as I tended to my morning ablutions and attempted to find a spot to warm up a cup of water for coffee to no avail. Finally, back on Red, I headed towards the highway, but something felt weird.

I had parked Red in maybe four inches of deep sand, so my morning inspection hadn’t shown anything wrong, but he seemed to be leaning heavily towards the right, more than usual. As I got to the highway and clear of the sand I checked it out and, sure enough, my right rear tire was very low. After two punctures on the left rear and one in front I suppose it was about time for the right rear to have its turn, but I filled it up and kept an eye on it for the rest of the day and it seemed to hold – spoiler, it was totally flat this morning when I drove it to the mechanic.

The rest of this day was really weird, put me in a strange mental place that’s hard to explain. The rain had seemed to quell most of the remaining ash (and, based on projections I had seen in the newspaper in San Antonio I should be north of the main cloud now) and the sky was mostly blue. The trees and bushes of the pampas, while evil and clearly out for blood, were still the first real vegetation I had seen for what felt like months.

The temperature was incredibly warm, the low 50’sF allowing that ultimate decadence of doing quick maintenance without needing to wear gloves… and, let’s be honest, it felt absolutely great to find my manly bits right to hand when I needed to take a leak without having to mount a search and rescue expedition to find them, shriveled and hiding from the cold.

The wind, however, was absolutely brutal and my wheel was now seriously bad. Santa Rosa was becoming a sort of holy grail in my mind, where I would either find what I needed or take the time to completely pull off and rebuild my wheel again if necessary to get me to Mendoza.

That’s really all I did for the rest of the day, then – drive, casually and carefully, towards Santa Rosa. Further north I ran into more ash or dust, but in general it was a nice ride aside from the wind. I found the tumbleweeds flying across the road endlessly amusing and simply enjoyed the ride, stopping frequently to check and replace spokes or just relax.

At one point the road shifted and the wind was coming from slightly behind me (but still mostly from the left), just enough to allow me to hammer it up to the full 70kmh in 5th gear and chill out for a bit. I was remembering this old Commodore 64 game called Aztec Challenge were you had to run up a pyramid while avoiding spears thrown at you from the side, sort of like I needed to avoid the tumbleweeds constantly flying at me… when I noticed two huge things moving on the side of the road.

The next five seconds went like this:

Second 1: Holy crap. Those are tumbleweeds. Those are the mothers of all tumbleweeds. They are HUGE!

Second 2: There is no way those things are getting blown across the road by the wind, they are way too big. It’s funny to watch them rock back and forth like they are trying to move though.

Second 3: OMGOMGOMG THEY ARE FLYING TOWARDS ME, wait no they are too slow I will go past them no problem.


Second 5: I wonder what it would be like to smash into that. Would it burst apart in a giant explosion? Maybe it would wedge itself under me and cause me to flip. Should I bail and jump off if I lose control and start to roll? What if it tears up my jacket and my pants and I’m stuck without decent gear in Argentina? Maybe it’s not that big a deal and I should just ram it at full speed, that might be kinda cool. Would it be better to hit it head on or try to let it smash into the side? Wait, nevermind, I would have to accelerate to get in front of it and that isn’t going to happen. I wonder if it’s soft or hard? Is it like, a colony of tumbleweeds all rolled up together? How did it get so big anyway? I wonder if chicks will find the scars from having my face shredded attractive, will I be like Danny Trejo and get movie parts just because I look scary awesome? Chicks dig bad boys, I don’t have to tell them I got them from a tumbleweed…

Somewhere in there my body unconsciously did the right thing and I remember processing the fact that both of my rear wheels were locked up and the back end was trying to throw itself off to the side as a result, then I sort of leisurely watched as the massive tumbleweed crossed barely a couple of feet in front of me then got clipped by the right side of Red as I passed it.

Awesometown. I almost continued on but realized I had to stop and hunt that crazy thing down. The other one was stuck on the far side on a sign post (thankfully they hadn’t both come at me), but the one I just missed was wedged up against a tree, allowing me to capture some photos with the world’s biggest freaking tumbleweed.

After that, the drive was uneventful and I pulled up into Santa Rosa, a surprisingly large town (it’s hard to guess based on the map I have, which does not indicate size). Found a couple of bike dealers but no Honda place on my first pass through town, then turned around to look again when an SUV with a bunch of kids hanging out yelled at me to pull over.

I thought maybe my tire had gone flat without me noticing or something, but it turned out they just wanted to find out where I was from and give me some donuts! Awesome. They also hooked me up with the location of a place that sold spares, as apparently most of the dealers only sold new bikes (this seems common in Argentina, and a bit unusual to me). I found the place but of course everything was closed since it was Sunday, but there was a hotel nearby so I ended the day happy and warm and clean.

Today, Day 60, I woke up early and went over to the parts place where, I am happy to announce, I was able to buy a new alloy front wheel! It’s a disc brake wheel so I won’t have front brakes, but at this point I don’t care. I also picked up a new tire and tube so I can keep my “old” front as a spare, then found a nearby mechanic.

The plan is a complete engine service, fix my flat right rear, swap the MT40 with one of my spare tires on the left rear (it should be good road for the next few thousand km until I get to Bolivia, no sense in wearing out the on/off road tire), and mount the front wheel. It should all be ready by 7:00PM tonight so I can be on the road again tomorrow. We’ll see!



Rinku said…
Front End Alignment San Antonio
Its a very nice information shared, i found it very interesting, thanks a lot for sharing.

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