Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tierra del Fuego, The Land of Fire. Yeah right!

Day 127 (February 19, 2013)
Rio Gallegos, Argentina to Rio Grande, Argentina
Day's Ride: 235 Miles

Denied. Once again. I actually got up at a decent hour this morning, intent on catching an early ferry across the Straights of Magellan and then bombing all the way to Ushuaia in order to give my bike a proper viking funeral in the ocean as the sun went down. Unfortunately, the ferry had other plans.

After packing up my stuff and paying for my over priced hostel bed in Rio Gallegos, I went downstairs and loaded up my bike. My newly configured chain slider is looking pretty good.

I hit the road and was immediately having trouble staying on the road as brutal wind gusts blew me all over the place. I think after riding in the southern part of South America my bike is permanently going to lean at a 45 degree angle towards the west.

After a quick border crossing back into Chile and an hour or extremely cold and windy riding, I finally reached the ferry crossing and the Straits of Magellan.

I was immediately struck by the sheer number of cars, trucks, and tourist busses waiting in line. Luckily having a moto allows you skip lines like this, so I scooted up to the front.

Unfortunately, I soon found out that the ferry wasn't operating due to the high winds. Blast! I decided to wait a few hours and see if things improved. If not, I decided that I would head to Punta Arenas for the night and try and catch that ferry tomorrow.

I killed time for a few hours in the lee of a building, out of the wind, trying to avoid the gale. After talking with more people, I learned that the ferry in Punta Arenas was even less reliable than this ferry and that I would be better off just waiting here.

One hour turned into two, two hours turned into three, and so on. I eventually broke out my stove and cooked up some garlic and noodles for lunch. Then I looked for things to do to keep occupied.

I walked over to an old lighthouse and took some pictures....

I watched a sheep walk around all of the vehicles begging for food like some sort of stray dog...

And watched I a little tug boat like ferry pound through the high seas....

Before beaching itself next to the ferry landing, deploy a small ramp, and start taking on passengers. I briefly considered asking if they would let me try and ride my bike up the ramp.

I was just about to give up and go to Punta Arenas when one of the port officials told me that the ferry would start operating at 4:00 PM. Since it stays light pretty late down here, I decided that that would allow me enough time to make it to Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego.

At 4:10 PM the ferry finally started operating again.

I shared the ferry with a rider named Bear from California. He had shipped down to Santiago to start his journey and was contemplating going to Russia to ride this summer. We decided to ride together to Rio Grande.

The wind was still incredibly strong. Huge pouts of spray were coming over the bow and drenching us and our bikes every time we crashed through a swell. As I'm rather susceptible to sea sickness, I went up on one of the upper platforms and got even more soaked trying to keep my eyes on the horizon.

After disembarking from the ferry, we still had about 160 miles to ride to make it to Rio Grande. This stretch is the only part of the trip to Ushuaia where you absolutely have to take a gravel road. There are a few different gravel roads to choose from; we decided to take the one that goes to Onasin as we had heard that it was more compacted and had less traffic.

The wind on the Island was even stronger than it had been on the continent and it was all I could to do to keep from being blown into the ditch. Moreover, it wasn't long before the temperature began to drop and I started freezing. Eventually I turned up my electric vest, hunkered down behind my tiny wind screen, and prayed to God that this would all be over soon. Whoever decided to name this place the "Land of Fire" should be shot. A more appropriate name would be "Land of Insane Wind and Bitter Cold".

We made the second border crossing of the day and were soon back in Argentina where the road turned back to pavement.

We arrived in Rio Grande right as the sun was going down and got beds at a small unmarked Hostel called "Ruta 40 Hostel".

For dinner we headed over to a take out BBQ joint and got a kilo of asado, a few chorizos, some french fries, and a bit of Miller.

I'm going to go get some sleep. It's been a long day. Tomorrow I make the final run into Ushuaia.

Problem solved....tal vez?

Day 126 (February 18, 2013)
Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Day's Ride: a few miles around town

As soon as they opened this morning I went to the local moto shop. I removed the damaged link and installed one of the master links that I had and found that the chain was now way to short. So, now I needed a new chain....

Unfortunately, the only thing that they had in 520 was this non o-ring number. Blast. Luckily, it wasn't too expensive. Only 300 pesos.

After we put that on, I asked if they would help me drill some holes so that I could re-install my old chain slider. Unfortunately, it was time for siesta....

That meant that my chances of getting out of Rio Gallegos today were shot. Why does everybody in Argentina need to take a three hour lunch break? When you've got things to do and places to go, siesta time becomes very frustrating. These are the times that I wish I were back in the States.

I went back to the Hostel for a while then headed over to Manolito's house for steaks. Manolito showed me his indoor BBQ; very cool!

He's say's that everyone in Argentina has something like this at their house.

After lunch we sat around for a while and waited for the moto shop to re-open. At 3:00 PM we went back to the moto shop only to have them tell us that they wouldn't be able to work on my bike until tomorrow.

As we were standing around discussing what I should do next, Maritzio showed up on his Battle Scooter. I met Maritzio at my hostel yesterday. He's on a round the world trip on his 350cc, three wheeled scooter! Incredible. He's already rode the length of Africa on this thing.

Manolito told me about a mechanic that might be able to help me drill and tap my swing arm and we decided to ride over to his shop and see if he could do it. When we got there we found that he was still closed. Luckily, we had just passed a different mechanic who appeared to be open, so we back-tracked and asked if they could help. After Manolito explained what I needed, they said that they could do it. It's so nice to have a translator.

After taking off part of the rack and moving the battery box, one of the mechanics drilled a hole in the swing arm.

Meanwhile, I took my leatherman and cut a new slot in the end of the old chain slider.

After we had drilled the new holes in the swing arm, we ran into a problem. The mechanic couldn't get enough downward pressure on the tap to thread the new holes. So, we solved the problem by just getting a really long bolt and sliding it all the way through the swing arm.

Because we didn't have a bolt of that length on hand, the owner of the shop drove Manolito over to the bolt shop to buy one. When they returned and the bolt that they had just purchased didn't work, the owner took Manolito back to the shop to buy another one!

While they were running for the second bolt, I did my best to reinforce the old chain slider with super glue and duck tape.

If you can't tell, this thing is barely holding together! Just a small piece of rubber. I think it will hold, but just to be safe, I loaded it down with super glue.

We finally put everything back together and I had the mechanics sign my tank. I tried to pay them, or at least buy them beer, but they refused! I love meeting awesome people like this. It really makes the trip.

After we finished up we went back to Manolito's house and I had him sign my tank. Manolito is awesome! He has totally gone out of his way to help while I've been here. Once again, another highlight of the trip!

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make it all the way to Ushuaia. I'm still feeling some sort of drag when I pull in the clutch and coast. I don't know if it's the chain catching on the newly configured chain slider or something else. I may take my rear wheel off before I leave in the morning and check my rear wheel bearings. Beyond that and the chain, I have no idea what could be causing that feeling. Maybe it's all in my head. I have a tendency to imagine problems. I'm so tired of bike problems. I just want to make it to Ushuaia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome....Kind of....

Day 125 (February 17, 2013)
Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Day's Ride: 1 Mile

I awoke at 7:00 AM, still tired, but unable to go back to sleep. After eating the included "breakfast" at the hotel, I hunted down an ATM and some cash. I say "breakfast" because when a hotel or hostel down here says that breakfast is included, what they really mean is that you can have a few slices of bread and a cup of coffee.

I finally made it back to Manolito's house and we got to work on the issue of fabricating a new chain guard. Manolito had a thick piece of rubber matting underneath some furniture in his shop and he let me cut out a big piece of it.

After much hacking and cursing, we finally managed to fabricate something that sort of resembled the old chain guard.

After a little more work, we finally got it to where it would fit on the bike.

About this time a serious deluge of rain centered itself on Rio Gallegos and I decided that I wouldn't be riding anywhere today.

As we were putting on the new chain guard, I noticed another problem:

This is where the master link should be. Unfortunately, this is not a DID master link; I have a feeling that the mechanics just used some of the pins from where they shortened the chain to hook it all back together. Hell, they hadn't even heard of an X-ring chain until I told them about it, maybe they hadn't heard of a rivet style master link? This just goes to show you that you should never let a mechanic (especially in Central or South America) do something that you can do yourself.

In any event, the holes in the plate are stretched out; there is now play between the pin and the plate and I can slide the link pin back and forth laterally by about 1mm. I assume that at some not to distant point in the future, if I keep riding with the chain the way it is, then that plate is going to give out and my chain is going to break.

So now I have another dilema. I have two DID rivet style master links that I stold from Ed Zachtamundo after he got hit in El Salvador. I think the right thing to do would be to remove the damaged links and hook everything back up with a fresh master link. Unfortunately, they are for the "VT2" model; my chain is the VM model and I'm not sure if they are compatible. Even if they are compatible, I don't have the chain press tool to put it together. I realize that it can be done shade-tree style with a c-clamp, a nut, and a ball bearing, but I don't have those things either. For those of you that are reading along that are in the know, this is where I need your advice!

I think I could probably make it the last 300 miles into Ushuaia, but I think that the smart move would be to stay here until I can fix this.

I'm kind of at a loss for what to do right now. I think I'm going to go to the bike shop here in town in the morning and see if they can help. Until then, any advice from via the web would be greatly appreciated!

400 Miles of Misery....

Day 124 (February 16, 2013)
Fitz Roy, Argentina to Rio Gallegos, Argentina
Day's Ride: 393 Miles

What can be said about a 400 mile ride on a thumper in horrible weather? Not much, other than it sucks. It really sucks.

The day actually started out okay. Leaving Fitz Roy the wind was fairly mild (not much above 15 mph) and the sun was out. I actually stopped to take a few pictures of some guanacos that were beside the road:

About 100 miles into the ride, my bike unexpectedly died. I coasted into the shoulder while undergoing a mild panic attack, convinced that my worst fear had come true: a dead bike only 500 miles from the finish!

I jumped off and was about to open up the battery box to check the CDI when I realized that I had just hit reserve on my fuel tank. Duh! I mentally kicked myself, then turned the petcocks to reserve and kept riding. This new tank bag is awesome, but it does block my view of the fuel level unless I lean out a little bit. Combine that with a strong head wind and high fuel consumption and I ran out of fuel much sooner than expected. Luckily, I was only six miles from a gas station when I ran low.

After I filled up, things started getting bad. I was soon reduced to a shivering mess, huddled behind my tiny windscreen with my electric vest at full blast. I would ride for about 70 miles, then stop at the nearest gas station and spend thirty minutes warming up, then keep riding. Pictures were out of the question. At one gas station I bought a kilo of Matte, a gourd, and a small thermos and just sat drinking Matte for about an hour and a half.

The last 20 miles into Rio Gallegos brought a welcome easterly turn and the crosswind that had nearly blown me over several times that day turned into an amazing tail wind. I also saw my first sign for Ushuaia. So close!

I breezed into Rio Gallegos and stopped at a gas station to check my email and see if I could link up with Manolito. It turned out that he was only a mile away. Cleanwatt was also in town and wanted to link up, but he had already left the wifi zone and wasn't responding to emails....

I zipped over to Manolitos house and he invited me inside where I collapsed exhausted at his kitchen table. I eventually worked up the strength to walk to the Pizza shop with him and we picked up a few pizzas and a few beers and went back to his house for dinner.

After dinner I was showing him something on my bike when I realized that my chain guard was totally shot and hanging off of the swing arm! Now I knew what that damn dragging feeling was from yesterday!

It was so busted that the chain had been eating into the swing arm all day; I had thought I had felt something different throughout the day, but I couldn't place it; I attributed it all to the typical vibrations put out by a big single cylinder bike. Turns out it was my chain carving some nice grooves in my bike.

I suppose that I've been keeping my chain too loose. After ruining the chain that I put on in Colombia, I've been making sure that this new one was a little looser. Still, I think it killed my chain guard in record time. How fast do these things normally wear out? I just bought this one back in Lima, it's only been about 5,000 to 6,000 miles.

This kind of put me in a pickle. I didn't really want to ride the bike anywhere with the chain doing metal to metal contact. Luckily, Manolito hooked me up and let keep the bike at his house. He even took me to a hotel in his car. I got to the hotel and took a long, hot shower then crashed. Chain guard problems could be worried about in the morning.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Riding the Pampas

Day 123 (February 15, 2013)
Gobenador Costa, Argentina to Fitz Roy, Argentina
Day's Ride: 336 Miles

Today was all Pampas.

There isn't really much to see; just lot's of scrub brush, the ocasional animal, and an unbeliavably strong crosswind.

About two hours into the ride, I felt something hit the top of my leg. I figured that something had fallen off my bike; a quick look revealed that the bolt holding my windscreen to the fairing strut had fallen out.

I pulled over and fixed it with a zip tie before turning around and riding slowly back up the road with my eyes glued to the pavement, hunting for the missing bolt. I amazed myself by actually finding it a few hundred meters back up the road:

For lunch I stopped at a roadside place for some Choripanes. Chori-pan = Chorizo (Sausage) + Pan (Bread). Essentially it's a sausage sandwich. Quite tasty.

I had to wait a few minutes while the couple that was running the joint went to get some more pan; meanwhile, I tended the meat:

I was sitting next to a small field and a little gurgling irrigation ditch; it was all very peaceful and bucholic.

The rest of the day was rather boring. I started passing lots of oil wells and eventually reached the Atlantic Ocean.

After riding for most of the day, I called it quits in the tiny little town of Fitz Roy. My rear tire was about shot by this time, so before looking for a place to stay, I went to the little Gomeria that I had seen on the edge of town and paid to have my tire changed.

I could have done it myself; however, I was pretty beat from the road and I figured that I could spare $4 to have a pro do it in about 10 minutes vice spending 30-40 minutes doing it myself.

After the tire change, I was riding around town trying to find a hotel when I noticed a small dragging feeling coming from what I thought was the new tire. I got off to check, but couldn't find anything wrong, so I kept riding. Little did I know this would cause a fairly serious problem later....

I found a decent hotel a few minutes later.

The owner turned out to be a tough negotiator. The price for nights stay: a sausage:

Luckily he settled for a few bites of my Ramen noodles and we were soon fast friends:

The hotel had wifi; unfortunately, it wasn't working and I couldn't reset the router because it was locked inside of an office that no one seemed to have a key for.