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Days 94-98: The Struggle for Beauty

In which Pete nearly loses Red and gives up once again, before crossing an ice field to spend the night with the Bolivian army at Laguna Colorada and returning to Uyuni for supplies.


Day 94
Unknown Location, Southwest Bolivia @ 9:45AM
End: Laguna Colorada, Southwest Bolivia @ 6:00PM
Distance: 56km (35 miles) in 8 hours (7kmh / 4mph average speed)

I woke up this morning with absolutely no idea what was in store for me. It was a conflicted beginning to the day, as I found my boots had frozen completely solid and all the inner fur lining was coated with ice... and yet, for the first time in many, many days, there was almost no wind in the morning and I was actually able to make myself coffee. In fact, the night had been warm enough that my water bottles only half froze, allowing me to hydrate properly as well as enjoy a warm cup of coffee as I packed my gear up and reattached Red's rear seat.

As I started back up again, I thought the worst I would encounter today would be this horrible incredibly rocky road. From now on whenever I eat ice cream, I will think of it - massive rocks, literally a foot in diameter at times, often more than six inches, were scattered all over the road. I had to carefully pick my way along, trying my best to thread through it all with minimal damage. On two wheels it would have been a lesser task; on three, it was difficult, painful, and potentially damaging.

And then I came to my first obstacle of the day, and boy was it a doozy: another river at least twenty feet wide. This one, however, was covered in ice and snow, with two tracks about a foot wide and a foot and a half deep cut through the ice by all the 4x4's. This time it never occurred to me to turn around, my only dilemma was where to put my wheels.

If my drive and front wheel were in the rut, in the river, deep deep in, with my outer wheel on the ice, what if my wheel got stuck in sand? Or, alternatively, what if I couldn't get any traction on the ice? I debated for a bit before deciding I would try to keep my front and right wheel on the ice while my drive wheel spun through the river beneath, and went for it.

Less than halfway across, I was stuck, my drive wheel spinning furiously, unable to push the moto at the weird angle through the sand and ice. I was wearing my Chuck Taylor's while my frozen boots thawed and dried out at the back of the moto, and thankfully I was able to instinctively avoid pushing with my feet when I got stuck this time and soaking another pair of shoes and socks.

There was only one thing for it: Carefully balanced on Red, I took off my dry shoes and socks and shoved my feet into my cold, frozen boots. Then I shoved my cold, frozen boots into the cold, frozen water and pushed Red across.

It was misery, and for a few brief, precious moments I convinced myself that this was the worst I would encounter today. How I was able to do that while looking up the hill ahead of me, I still don't understand... but for those few moments while I dried my feet, pushed on dry socks, and ran in circles to warm them up, I truly believed the worst was past.

Four hours later, I was standing behind Red, braced against it with one wheel all the way over the side of the road and the other partway down, the only thing keeping my mototaxi from rolling down a steep hill into the river. In those four hours, I had traveled only a few kilometers, almost all up very steep hills, and I would spend the next hour feet deep in a slippery pile of rocks waiting for someone to come along and help me push Red back onto the road.

In retrospect, that frozen river crossing was a pleasant beginning to an otherwise brutal day.

It started almost immediately after the river crossing, the road shooting steeply upwards. At first Red struggled with the angle but had the power to conquer it, but within moments complications had arisen. The amount of rocks, dirt, and craters in the road made climbing incredibly difficult, as each large rock or crater that Red's wheels would touch had an effect like driving into molasses.

At first I could ascend by slipping the clutch and carefully straddling Red, running along the ground and preventing my weight from boggin the moto down. As the hill got steeper, this was no longer enough and once again I was forced to remove my gear in order to goose Red up hill.

On a flat road I can barely feel the difference between Red with all my gear (and even a passenger) and Red without, but on a hill it is instantly knowable, incredibly clear. For hours this was all I would do:

Unload my gear then goose Red carefully up a steep section of hill, slipping the clutch and running with him until either the clutch overheated, I became too tired to run, or we cleared the hill onto a flatter section. There I would shove a rock under Red's tires, walk back to my gear, and in typically three leap frogging trips I would slowly bring my gear back to Red.

Sometimes I would be lucky and I could throw the gear on and climb a quarter or half a kilometer under power with all my gear, other times the clutch would immediately protest and I would be forced to portage once again.

As the day dragged on a huge wind kicked up blowing directly down hill, further complicating both Red's and my own ability to climb. I'd load up with gear and struggle upwards, one step at a time, completely exhausted, trying not to fall over in the wind. Sometimes gusts would come at an inopportune moment while I was off balance and I'd slide back down hill in the dust and dirt and rocks of the road.

Within the first hour, at over 4200 meters again, I began to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness and physical exhaustion overwhelming me. My vision would often blur, evil gnomes in my head would smash spikes against my skull, and I struggled constantly between the need to throw up and the desire for the momentary catharsis I knew that puking would yield.

Slowly, inevitably, we climbed. It never occurred to me to give up, simply because the curving of the mountain preventing me from knowing where the top truly was. Every time I rounded another corner, moved Red forward another quarter kilometer, I convinced myself this next one would be the last. It was the only way to stay sane.

After four hours of this, I had managed to climb around five kilometers. As I had so many times before, I had just traveled a short section with all of my gear on Red when I hit another very long, very steep, very daunting section of road. I stopped and put a rock under Red's tire to unload my gear, knowing that the rock was too small, but in my state of mental and physical exhaustion I didn't make the connection between the rock being too small and the consequences.

I picked up my big red bag from the back of Red, carried it to the side of the hill, and turned around to remove the rest of my gear... just in time to watch Red slowly rolling down the hill, the steering wheel slewing viciously to the side and shooting it directly off the side of the road.

I was on the left side of Red, with no way to access the rear brake on the right side, and no options other than trying to stop it by physical force. I leapt across the road, grabbed the frame, and dug my feet in. It was not enough, Red simply dragged me through the dirt with him. In a decision I don't even remember making, the series of moments happening at full speed rather than the typical slow motion of such an event (perhaps a result of my exhaustion), I dove behind Red and caught the back bumper with my shoulder as it came flying over the edge of the road.

I slipped and slewed through the rocks on the steep outer edge of the road, then something caught - my feet, Red's undercarriage, something. The motion halted, and Red sat there balancing on a fulcrum, one wheel hanging free in the air, ready to continue on it's path down into the river but ambivalent about the idea.

At first I tried desperately to push him back onto the road, but I simply couldn't get any traction in the deep scree. In a fury of strength I physically lifted up the entire back end over my head like an olympic weight lifter, but even then I could not find the leverage to move it back onto the road and Red quickly came crashing down, less ambivalent about his flight to the river, more eager now.

There was nothing for it but to wait. I knew that eventually someone would be by, as I'd seen a fairly consistent flow of 4x4's every couple of hours throughout the past few days. I found a few ways to wedge myself against Red's bumper, taking the minor amount of weight on this side of the fulcrum with my back and the frame of my body, preventing the need for the flexing of any muscles. I had my camera in my jacket pocket to take a few pictures, and my phone in the other to listen to music.

And so, I waited. And waited. And waited. And my mind, slowly, ever so slowly, rotted. My will eroded. At first I was amused at the situation, then amusement faded to frustration, then slid into deeper and deeper despair. I started to see my day, and the entire trip, not as some grand triumph of will - but rather a pathetic stupid purposeless stubborness. I even considered stepping aside and letting Red roll into the river, why bother to hold onto this stupid mototaxi on this stupid adventure that made no sense.

I distracted myself with music and time slowly passed, and then, below me, I saw what I had been waiting for: a trail of dust as a 4x4 slowly climbed the road beneath me. I freed one hand to wave desperately at them as they approached, figuring my plight would be obvious but the universal call for help would not go unnoticed just in case.

And then I watched, shattered, as they drove past me up the hill without even slowing. This, right here, was the lowest moment of my day, my emotions and mind bleeding out onto the ground around me as I became convinced that somehow, for some insane reason, they did not notice me or did not want to stop. I could not imagine how much longer I would need to hold Red, or whether the next vehicle would pass me by as well. It was time. I was done. I couldn't do this any more.

This does not even begin to touch upon the despair I felt in that moment. I was so low that it didn't even hurt; it was simply a calm, knowing acceptance that I was done, there was no more of me to give. The only other times I can remember feeling this way was when I realized it was time to quit the job and company I had given five years of my life to and earlier when I broke up with the woman I had also given five years of my life to.

In the moments between this calm acceptance and my final decision to let Red go, the 4x4 high above me on the hill stopped... and euphoria spread through me as I realized that they had indeed seen my plight, but they could not risk stopping on the steep hill to help me! Instead they had driven half a kilometer up to a flatter section to stop. I was saved after all!

It was hard to sit there under control while the driver of the 4x4 walked slowly down the hill towards me, every step bringing me closer to rescue but taken oh so slowly. Finally he arrived and we laughed about my plight as he helped me pull Red back onto the road with ease as I slipped and slid through the scree.

I told him that I think I couldn’t go any further up hill, it was just too steep and going on forever. He gave me a strange look, in my defeated state one I interpreted as “you got all the way here and are going to give up?” and told me something that right then I needed to hear as much as any words ever:

”You are almost at the top. This entire section is the hardest part to Laguna Colorada, once you get to the top there are no more hills. It’s just a little further. You can even make it all the way to Laguna Colorada, the road is open!”

With that, he headed back uphill to resume his tour and I pondered his words. I looked at the long, long road stretching out ahead of me. I considered Red’s near trip off the cliff. I reached inside and felt my deep physical and mental exhaustion.

Then I laughed and decided I couldn’t give up yet! Not for something as simple as a hill! I unloaded the rest of my gear, put Cake’s song The Distance on an endless loop at maximum volume, and spent the next hour portaging the final kilometer up the road, one endless step at a time… screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs, refusing to be beaten.

It was absolutely brutal, but when I finally crested that last rise and saw another massive altiplano stretched out before me… it was worth it. I had won. I remember screaming into the wind as loud as I possibly could “I BEAT YOU HILL! YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!”

As the adrenaline slowly settled, I got back on Red and began to drive him further south. The only good thing I can say about the road from here is that the scenery was beautiful and the road had mostly a slow downhill trend. The surface itself was narrow, covered in rocks and ice, pockmarked and rutted – a road at any other moment I’d likely consider ugly… but today it was one of the most beautiful roads I’d ever seen.

I slowly made my way along towards the mountains in the distance when unexpectedly the road began to fall away sharply and a long descent stretched out before me. Like a mirage on the horizon I could see what appeared to be an intensely turquoise lake, the color reflecting the light and stealing the horizon with a beauty I tried in complete vain to capture with photographs.

Was it the chemical cocktail pumping through my body in combat against the brutal fatigue that caused such a shining magnificence? I’ll never know for sure, but I continued on regardless, inspired and impressed. Upon arrival I found out I was looking at a salt flat covered in some sort of mineral liquid, heavily industrialized and worked over a large percentage of its flatness… yet still, in spite of the piles and ditches and machinery tearing into it like burrowing insects, it was magnificent.

The road soon passed the salt flat and once again both its character and that of the land around me changed. Never in my life have I seen such constant variance, something new seemingly beyond every open stretch of road. Now the road turned to a deep coarse sand, a dark brown and almost ash like in consistency. The plain here narrowed, a strip of featureless brown sand-ash perhaps a couple of kilometers wide, hemmed in by mountains.

Once again I drove into the teeth of the wind, the pressure and sand conspiring to prevent me from leaving second gear, slow constant headway on an apparent endless treadmill like a conditioned lab rat. It was cold up here on this plain, the sun somehow robbed of its warmth, now merely a decorative ball of fire in the sky. My Chuck Taylors were of no use against this wind and cold and my feet soon lost all feeling.

In frustration I decided to stop and try putting my boots on again. I hoped that by now they would have mostly dried out, but ultimately I decided that wet cold boots with heavy insulation were better than warm frozen thing slabs of leather. Within moments of going into the boots my socks and feet were once again soaked and I started to doubt my decision, wiggling my toes and running around in an attempt to get some warmth into the closed system; it was to no avail, my feet were too far gone. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it, my calculations indicating that the likelihood of actual damage was low, the temperature not quite cold enough for frostbite – just misery.

The scenery flipped again. One moment I was driving through thick sand-ash, surrounded by featureless brown, the next I was on a field of snow and ice, layered thickly over a red clay surface. Here, as well, the road changed: it was abruptly buried under multiple feet of snow and ice. One moment, a smooth sand road, the next, snow and ice stretching to the mountains.

This then was the section so many had been saying was impassable, and for good reason. Like me, however, it appeared that some 4x4 drivers are more intrepid than others, for heading away from the field of ice and wending its thin hopeful way through the snow were two shallow ruts – clear evidence that more than a few 4x4’s had decided to make their own path.

Not just their own path: they had made a path for me, and I followed it. Slowly and carefully, struggling against the grip of the clay, wary of the large rocks, fighting the push of the wind, staggering against the cold and the endless white beauty around me, I moved forward. At some point I realized my feet no longer hurt, that while wet my boots were doing their job, and I was pleased. I had to stop repeatedly to gather my will and simply stare at the beauty around me, but as the sun began to flirt with the mountains I knew my day was nearly done.

Down a small dip, up a small hill, and out into another huge opening went the road. The entire horizon dropped away in front of me, a huge bowl surrounded by mountains in every direction. Within that bowl, something white, flat, and frozen glistened, a subtle hint of a dark red reflecting the surround clay, but somehow different. I had arrived at Laguna Colorada.

It’s one of those things that only seem to make sense in the middle of nowhere, but for some reason, here, kilometers away from anything but this lake, the road suddenly existed again. It had been clearly plowed, a wide and deep road descending towards the lake, surrounded by snow and ice. Here, upon my arrival at my destination, I would no longer need to even struggle. What could be more perfect than this?

I can tell you how overwhelmed I was with emotion at this point, but it’s probably not something that can translate. Even now, days later as I write this, it’s hard to think about it. It was a powerful thing, the ending to this day, because the day itself was… difficult.

I rode down towards the lake as the sun dipped into the mountains, determined to go as far as I could before finding a place to set up camp. On the eastern side, however, the road ended abruptly in a gate next to a few scattered houses. End of the road.

I got out to take some pictures at the gate and was surprised to find two Bolivian army guys coming out to greet me. A quick conversation confirmed that no one was allowed further south, the road was still being cleared and in some sections had snow over two meters deep! They told me that the houses nearby were empty at this time of year and I could pitch my tent next to one of them to be out of the wind, no problem.

I thanked them for the information and told them I’d better go set up camp as soon as possible, before the sun completely set and the world got cold. They agreed and we said our goodbyes, me turning Red around to find a likely spot for my tent. I was happy to know I would be out of the wind, slightly sheltered on this high frozen plain, and I slowly began to even out as my accomplishment and happiness turned into a slow level burn.

In the middle of narrating a video as I turned around, I heard someone yelling at me and looked up to find one of the Bolivian army guys yelling at me to come over to his building. I actually thought for a moment I had done something wrong and was going to get in trouble, his gesturing was so frantic, and I quickly ran over to see what was going on. He motioned me inside a small room and proceeded to shatter my mind with the simple offer of some hot coffee.

As the sun set, I hung out with two Bolivian army guys on top of the world. We drunk hot coffee and ate hot stew and rice, sharing stories of adventure, the beauty of the mountains, and the hardship of being alone. The camaraderie of fellows trapped alone in a frozen wasteland.

I ended up setting my tent beside their building, carefully preparing all of my cold weather gear, and settled in for what was surely to be a long, cold night. With my sleeping bags doubled up, the question wasn’t whether or not I’d survive the expected –30C temperatures, but whether or not I’d be able to sleep at all in the cold. The answer, quite surprisingly, was that I could, and did.

Only once did I wake to check the temperature inside my tent, my watch showing 4F followed by flashing low battery warning. It did not matter, for I was warm and content.


Day 95
Laguna Colorada, Southwest Bolivia @ 9:45AM
End: Unknown Location East of Villa Alotta, Southwest Bolivia @ 6:30PM
Distance: 180km (112 miles) in 8 hours (22kmh / 14mph average speed)

I was woken up early in the pre-dawn not by the cold, but by the gaggle of people talking outside my tent. Clearly a few 4x4’s had arrived early to watch the sun rise over Laguna Colorada, an interesting idea but one I had no desire to participate in. I snuggled up and waited for the sun to fully rise and touch its warmth upon my tent before once again setting out into the world.

As they did last night, “Doctor Condor” and his sidekick (as the two Bolivian army guys insisted I call them) greeted me with hot coffee and warm food. For the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of seeing a completely frozen egg – during the night it had frozen, expanded, and cracked its way out of its shell like a little bird trying to escape. There it was, this little ball of yellowish ice sitting atop a pile of egg shells… how bizarre!

I dug through my supplies and to thank them for their hospitality I gave them my remaining coffee and a few packages of pasta, a meager gift but all I could spare – and one they appreciated regardless, as their coffee was indeed running low. Saying goodbye, I regretfully turned around and began what I expected would be a long, slow return to civilization.

Today, however, it seemed the very road itself needed a break in its struggle against intrepid adventures. I had beaten it into submission yesterday, and out of respect or exhaustion it did nothing to hinder my progress. With a slight tailwind and plenty of grip on the now frozen clay, I tore northward across the ice field at high speed. I entered the land of dark brown sand-ash and skipped across it at nearly wide open throttle, only downshifting from fourth gear for very deep sections.

As I arrived at the salar, I knew there was a hill ahead that would defeat Red, because it had been frighteningly steep to ascend. As far as I could recall it was the only evil hill I’d be likely to encounter that day and as such I was not afraid. Driving around the salar, admiring its strange green beauty once again, I suddenly ran out of power on what seemed to be a minor hill, Red stalling and dying.

At first I was shocked, convinced I should be able to ascend everything except for this giant hill that had grown to mythical proportions in my mind. Doggedly I unloaded Red and began the long slow process of milking him up the hill, an incredibly difficult climb that seemed at odds with the appearance of the hill itself from below. Finally at the top, I turned around to head down to get my gear and the memory clicked: this was, indeed, the Evil Hill. Somehow the color of the road and the surrounding terrain conspired to make it look shallow and gentle from below, but from the top the truth was clear.

Bringing my gear back up, I loaded everything again and once more set off across the rocky plain towards that insane descent, anticipation laying like sweetness in my mouth. Upon arrival at the top of the hill, I looked at my watch and realized that in less than two hours I had crossed what took me double that yesterday… and now, the descent!

I was, perhaps, a bit reckless. After all, there are no guard rails, no safety. There’s no traction for braking, the curves are incredibly sharp, the angle incredibly steep, and the road itself covered in massive rocks. I didn’t much care, however, tearing down the hill apace, often wide open throttle in third gear, consuming this mountain with as much passion and glee as I could muster, punishing it for what it did to me yesterday.

Seventeen minutes later, I was at the bottom of this mountain. This mountain that took me over five hours to ascend, crushed beneath my heel, a shattered husk. Even the crossing of the ice covered river didn’t slow me down. Who’s the master, now?

A little later down the road, I had a decision to make. My map showed an alternate route heading north from a small town to the southeast – do I head for the path less traveled, or return north along the standard route which I had ridden down two days ago?

It’s not much of a decision and soon I was struggling southeast. I pulled into this small, desolate desert town that my map showed contained the road north and began to ask for directions. The first lady pointed me towards the northeast, the second person I asked confirmed that route, then the third person told me there was no road towards Culpina K as my map and the others had said. I slowly headed out of town on a small set of tracks where the fourth person confirmed that this wasn’t a road that went anywhere and that the only way to get to Culpina K was to go back towards Villa Mar.

At times, I can be stubborn. My map showed the road heading towards Culpina K as being a main road that went down a sort of valley. This small set of tracks was not a main road, but it was definitely going down a sort of valley, so it must be the right one… right? I decided to drive down it.

Deep mud, many many river crossings, lots of sand, and about twenty minutes of insanity later I wasn’t quite starting to question my decision, but I was sort of wishing I could find someone to confirm what I was doing… and the road provided. A 4x4 came heading towards me along this strange track and stopped to talk. He quickly confirmed two things: I was heading in completely the wrong direction, and that I’d have to go back along the route to Villa Mar to get back to Culpina K and Uyuni.

Frustrated, I turned around sped back the way I had come. There was a new problem, now: after my detours to Ollague and this ~60km side track, combined with the massive fuel consumption at high altitude and all the running in sand and uphill, there was no way I had enough fuel to return to Culpina K or San Cristobal. I would run out somewhere along the road.

Oh well, there’s plenty of 4x4’s running through with giant 50L reserves on their roof racks, surely someone could spare me a few liters, right? Off I went once again, hitting reserve in Villa Mar and tearing north. I started to have concerns about my strategy as I saw not a single 4x4 along this route. What if nobody came? They seem to travel in bunches, what if I missed everyone for today?

No big deal, I’d just camp for the night. All is well. In the late afternoon all of my water bottles were still almost completely solid chunks of ice from the night before and I was down to a few carefully hoarded Ritz crackers, but I’d had a decent breakfast and was content. I saw a few 4x4’s parked way off to the side of the road amongst some massive rocks and decided I’d go ask them for fuel.

Instead, the drivers told me that I was less than 15km from Villa Alotta and that there were a few places I could get gas there. “No problem,” I thought, “surely I can make 15km” and hit the road again. Four kilometers later, Red sputtered to a halt, completely dry. Woops.

For just over an hour I waited as not a single soul passed in either direction. Finally a 4x4 came and with anticipation I flagged them down. Inside was a neat family with a Bolivian driver and I quickly explained my predicament only for them to tell me they had no spare fuel! I told them it was okay, I could wait for someone else and they told me they didn’t believe anyone else would be coming today.

We talked for a bit more and when they realized that all I really needed was one or maybe two liters of fuel to get to Villa Alotta, the driver looked at me and said a sentence I’ll never forget: “Look, I’m going to save you.”

And sure enough, it turned out that on top of their 4x4 they had a huge 50L gas can with almost two liters of fuel remaining at the very bottom of it, sloshing around emptily. Thus saved, I headed onwards to the next obstacle: that brutal river crossing.

This time I approached it much more methodically. First, I took off my boots and socks, pulling up my under layers up over my knee to prevent anything but my goretex pants (and flesh) from being exposed to the water – with the gaiters inside the pants up around my knees, the inner lining shouldn’t even get wet.

I carried most of my stuff across the river and set up my cameras to capture what was sure to be an exciting event, then ran back across to attempt the crossing once again. It wasn’t perfect, but I made it across without stalling or dying in the middle of the river – or, most importantly, getting stuck and having to wait for assistance. In two sections Red got stuck badly, but in both I was able to jump off and push him out while gunning it, the now timeworn solution for such situations.

Of course this meant I had to deal with the intense pain of frozen feet, but thankfully I was able to dry them off and get them back inside my boots for warmth, a much better situation than coping with frozen boots for a few more days.

P1020254Earlier in the day I had danced with a dream of making it all the way back to Uyuni since I was making such good time, but by now the sun was going down and I realized it wasn’t going to be at all possible. In Villa Alotta I found a nice girl to sell me ten liters of gasoline, enough to fill my tank and get me to San Cristobal, then set off into the oncoming night determined to get as much distance as possible.

Soon the night was starting to settle around me and once again the temperature was rapidly becoming unbearably cold. It seemed a cold front was moving through this area, and while at the same altitude two nights ago it had only dropped into the 20’sF very late at night, it was doing so quite early tonight. I found a construction quarry to make camp and cooked some very disgusting pasta under an incredibly beautiful night sky. I even made a wish upon a shooting star before cramming myself into my tent for warmth and comfort.


Day 96
Unknown Location East of Villa Alotta, Southwest Bolivia @ 9:45AM
End: Uyuni, Bolivia @ 4:00PM
Distance: 126km (79 miles) in 6 hours (21kmh / 14mph average speed)

P1020255It was a very difficult morning. The night ended up being much colder than I expected and once again all of my water was frozen. Yesterday I was unable to drink much, only little bits as chunks of ice slowly thawed, so this morning I was severely dehydrated and uncomfortable. Even worse, my little gas stove didn’t seem to be working properly and I couldn’t get it to burn. I tried melting ice on my exhaust but there wasn’t enough heat for it. Finally I was able to get my stove to light and put a cup of ice on to melt as I packed up, but even then it kept going out and melted the ice only slowly with many re-lights.

Nothing for it but to push on, so I continued onward to San Cristobal. Even with the sun out the morning was very cold and I found myself stopping frequently to warm my hands and gloves. My spirits were very high though, because I knew I’d end the day in Uyuni with a warm shower and a giant bed, so nothing much slowed me down.

In San Cristobal I decided to fill up my tank and my spare gas can. I was a bit leery about the decision because I felt the gas I got here last time was pretty bad, but I didn’t want to wait in line for 6+ hours again in total in Uyuni. On the way out of San Cristobal I passed a little market and stopped, desperate for sustenance.

Over the last four years I’ve tried to wean myself off of liquid sugar and as a result I can’t even remember more than one or two non-diet sodas in that time (except for the occasional rum and cokes when I forget to ask for diet). I usually use artificial sweetener in my coffee as well, though on the road in developing countries I’ve become used to the occasional spoonful. Regardless, as much as I may eat sugary foods, my body isn’t used to sugar in liquid form.

It may not have been the smartest thing to then buy a 500ml Fanta Orange and, on an empty stomach in a body not used to this type of sugar, proceed to chug the entire thing. Ten seconds later it felt like someone had punched into my stomach then proceeded to twist and mangle my insides as my entire body tried to figure out what the hell just happened to it. It took all my willpower not to spew Fanta everywhere, but I just barely managed to keep it down. In a stroke of genius, I decided some Pringles would settle my stomach and bought a can for this very purpose (as well as some room temperature water).

Luckily for me, it actually worked, and with a few Pringles and half a liter of water inside me things were much better. Stabilized, I headed once again for Uyuni.

A few hours later, after quite a bit of struggling against the wind and that horrible road south of Uyuni, I finally arrived. I returned to the nicest hotel in town and walked in hoping for a room, only to be told that they would be full tonight! Then the magic happened, that wonderful thing where people you’ve laughed and joked with before decide to do you a favor instead of treating you coldly… and the staff went into a frenzy trying to figure out how to move people around, put these people in that room, free up that room, etc. until they had a room to put me in.

Then they realized that room was having a hot water problem, so they moved more stuff around until they could put me in a room with guaranteed hot water. So delicious. I went inside, tore off my stuff, and got clean.

Then I went and found some Coke Zero. It’s not Diet Coke, but it’ll do. Yum.

Days 97-98
Uyuni, Bolivia

My initial intention was only to spend one day hanging out and recovering in Uyuni, then head out towards Chile and Tacna. I ended up spending almost all of Day 97 hanging out in bed reading Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics (fascinating books), and as such made the decision this morning to stay for another night.

Today I need to clean Red’s chains, buy supplies, and prepare for the end of my journey. According to Google Maps, it’s roughly 800km from here to Tacna (Peru), where I hope to unload Red and fly back home. Just over a hundred days after leaving Lima, my South American adventure will be complete.

Those last 800km will be anything but easy, however, as I cross more brutal terrain in Bolivia and descend into Chile. I’m not even sure if Red will make it… but I’m going to find out.


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Today I begin what may become one of the most difficult tests of long term mental and physical endurance and strength I have ever undertaken: for most of its remaining 2500km through Patagonia, Ruta 40 is considered one of the most desolate highways in the world. Over half of the remaining road is gravel, sand, and dirt. The number of towns listed on a map once I pass Perito Moreno can be counted on one hand, and there are many stretches of hundreds of miles without provisions, fuel, or places to stay.

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks

In the past couple months on the road I think I’ve spent more time riding my scooter through rain than I have in the dry – this is clearly reflected in the fact that as time has gone by I’ve invested more and more money in things to keep my stuff dry, since wet gear sucks. One of my favorite purchases for this trip is the pair of Sea to Summit Big River Dry Sacks I picked up just before leaving, in 13L and 20L sizes. They cost me around $20 each and are one of the best pieces of gear I’ve purchased in years – extremely durable, effective, and simple to use.

5 Things that Suck about Traveling Solo

I find it telling that it seems a majority of the interesting travel blogs I run across are written by solo travelers, most often women. I think there’s a reason why we write more than people who travel with friends or in groups and that it’s pretty self evident: it’s an outlet for our loneliness. In the last year and a half, the vast majority of my time has been spent away from home, alone. As I write this, it’s been over a month since I’ve conversed with anyone in my native language, and I can remember every single conversation in English for the month before that. The truth is, I don’t think I could have done this without the internet – without a blog to share my thoughts, without Facebook to see what my friends are up to, without the occasional e-mail to provide a fa├žade of normalcy… without these things I’d likely have driven myself insane with my internal dialogue. Now, I grant, there’s a reason I travel alone and I do love it, but lately it seems all I run across in the blogosp