Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bolivia to Chile via the Lagunas Route: Day 2

Day 109 (January 31, 2013)
Unnamed Lagoon to Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Day's Ride: 49 Miles

Waking up around 6:00 AM with a slight headache from the elevation, I walked up the hill above our campsite to snap a few shots of our spot.

Man, we really had a great spot. With the flamingos squawking in the background, we set about striking camp and preparing breakfast. Before long we were back on the road heading south.

Actually, most of the time there wasn't much of a road to speak of. You simply chose a likely patch of gravelly sand and pointed your front end in the direction that you wanted to travel.

I've heard people say that their dream is to ride a dirt bike on a golf course. I say you can keep the golf course; give me a mile wide patch of three inch deep sand on top of a layer of firm dirt with no tracks and no one else around! It's like skiing powder! I was having a blast making huge sweeping turns, carving beautiful lines at 50 MPH through virgin soil, feeling the front end float on top and the back end churning down to the bottom.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and before long we found that the Land Cruisers had had the same idea: the whole sandy plain was soon covered by the ruts of passing tourist wagons.

This slowed things down considerable. Riding in smooth wide open sand is easy; riding in sandy ruts is hard as hell!

Still, occasionally an open untracked patch of sand could be found. Mike and I were riding parallel to each other but were often separated by over a mile across the plain as we each tried to locate a patch untracked ground. We constantly varied between 1 st gear crawls through sandy ruts and 5th gear slaloms through fresh fields of sand.

After climbing up one particularly beautiful dune, I stopped to get off my bike for a picture and found that disaster had struck:

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised; this is typically what happens when I do a bunch of dirt riding. Still, I had done the Santa Theresa road twice and the Death Road once with no issues; I suppose that those little jaunts lulled me into a false sense of security.

This little break looked especially bad because it was so close to the frame that there didn't appear to be any way to splint it. Luckily for me, Mike had a 1/4 inch drive extension for his ratchet that fit perfectly inside the tubing.

Using a ratchet strap we were able to tension the luggage rack back together and then we got to work trying to stabilize everything. Mike saved the day again with his amazing bailing wire skills.

As you can see, we had to get a little creative to brace this up. Using a copious amount of bailing wire, a few zip ties, a 1/4 inch ratchet extension, a tire iron, a ratchet strap, and some duck tape, we managed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

After giving it a few wobbles to see how it was holding up, it felt like the rack was actually stronger in this configuration than it had been before it broke.

We got back on the trail and I commenced riding like a grandma, wincing at every little divot or washboard that I struck, praying fervently that the rest of the bike would hold up long enough to get out of the wilderness and back into civilization, a scant 160 miles of dirt tracks and washboard roads away.

After riding a few miles with the new system in place, my confidence increased slightly and I sped up a little. Mike was having some difficulties piloting his machine through the sandy ruts.

Knowing how sloppily my 650cc Honda was handling in the ruts, I can't imagine how his massive 1150cc BMW was doing; it must have been horrible.

Early in the afternoon we reached the "Arbol de Piedra" (Tree of Rock). Right as we pulled up four Land Cruisers materialized out of the desert and the rock was swarmed with tourists. We were having a hard time getting a clear picture and eventually we had to yell (politely of course) at everybody and ask them if they wouldn't mind standing clear for a few seconds so we could get a good picture. Our request was only moderately successful and Mike started getting pissed. I believe his exact words were: "I didn't ride for three months and over 10,000 miles through Central and South America to get to this point and let a bunch of assholes ruin my day!" Actually, those weren't his exact words, but that was the gist of it. Well said Mike, well said.

Eventually we got everyone out of the way and were able to take a few good pictures. I was tempted to go find a good bouldering problem on it until I saw this nearby sign:

Apparently climbing on the Tree of Rock has been a problem in the past. After the arbol, it was a short jaunt down into Laguna Colorada. Starting at Laguna Colorada, we would be riding in a large Bolivian National Park and we had to stop at the entrance and pay a small fee.

While Mike was paying his fee, I started chatting with one of the Park Rangers about my bike problems. After I showed him where my luggage rack had broken, he sparked up and told me that there was a guy with a welder and a full shop just down the road near the hotel. Jackpot!

Once again, you can find a welder just about anywhere down here. Either that, or I just have amazing luck at finding welders in random places. Who would have guessed that I would find someone who could weld out in the middle of the altiplano, nearly 200 miles away from the nearest village?

I went and found the welder, Edgar, who told me that he could fix me up but that I would have to wait until the generators came on around 6:00 PM. Mike and I rode over to the nearby Hotel and asked if we could sit inside out of the wind and have lunch.

Returning at 6:00 PM, Edgar lead us over to his shop and I explained what I wanted done. First I had him grind down a small piece of rebar to fit inside the tubing and serve as an internal gusset.

Next I had him weld all around the break. Finally, I had him weld a few nails along the outside of the tubing to serve as further reinforcement.

He did a pretty damn good job and wouldn't take any money from me. I finally convinced him to take 100 Bolivianos and had him sign my gas tank.

With the luggage rack repaired, Mike and I decided to go back to the Hotel and spend the night. We had originally planned to make it all the way to Laguna Verde and camp; however, the sandy riding and the time spent repairing my bike had nullified that possibility and we decided that it would be best just to hunker down where we were for the night.

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