Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dakar Finish and 32C v 32F

Fri, Jan 16: Our trip through Argentina / Chile is coming to an end, and what better way to cap it off but by experiencing the finale of the inaugural running of the Dakar Rally here in South America! We arrived in Buenos Aires to stay with friends - they moved into a house in NorDelta, right on a canal. Temperatures have risen steadily, and the site of the pool in the yard was like an oasis in the desert.

Saturday morning we rode north out of BA on Ruta 9 to encounter the rally finishers heading into town. After passing dozens of rally bikes, cars, and trucks, we turned around to follow them in and experience the local fever. Argentineans are a passionate people; their first love is futbol (soccer), followed closely by rally racing. We followed 3 rally cars into the city, down the famous Av. Libertador, towards the finish line.

Have you ever seen the finish line to a really big race? Usually there is a corrider for contestants lined by police barricades and cheering fans. The corrider in this case was about 2kms long, and well stocked by cheering fans and police. Tucked in tight behind the 3rd car, we made it all the way to the finish line before a french organizer spotted the posers...

When we parked the bike, many people came to take pictures. One woman handed me her naked baby - I wasn't sure what to do, so placed him on the sheepskin covered seat while his mother took a photo.

We spent Sunday at the podium finish of the Dakar, having scored a rider's pass for me (Chris), and a mechanic pass for Erin back in Valparaiso - basically we had full access. Check out all the photos

Robby Gordon, an American hero here in Argentina - the audience loves him and he loves them...

When we tried to leave at the end of the day, we were once again swarmed on the bike. We told the fans we were not actually racers, and their reply was, "no importa". We signed shirts, hats, flags, and bodies. Fun and embarrassing all at the same time...

The rules are clear; our motorcycle can only stay in Argentina for 8 months as a temporary import. Otherwise you must permanently import it and pay about $10,000 in taxes. We spent Friday patiently going around to a slew of different government offices. As experienced travlers, we are pretty good at finding solutions to problems, and after initially told "no" we were granted a special extension.

On Tuesday, the aduana showed up at the house to complete the paperwork for the extention we needed. We're all set for our return in November.We spent most of the day on Tues locked in front of CNN. Thoughout the trip we were asked about Obama and no matter who we talked to (South Americans, Europeans, Australians), everyone was excited about our new president.

As a last hoorah, we took the 46' launch out on to the Rio del Plata.

The temperature in Buenos Aires was 32C, while back in Denver it was 32F and snowing when we landed. Brrrr - Welcome Home!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dakar 2009 - First Hand Experience

The Dakar rally has been in full swing since January 3rd, and after security threats in Mauritania cancelled last year's event at the last moment, organizers moved the location to Argentina and Chile to mark the 30th anniversary --

Sunday, Jan 4th - we rode up over the stunning Pehuencha pass. Near the top of the pass we passed the Laguna del Maule, a colorful and vibrant site nesstled in the western slope of the Andes.

About 2 hours before San Rafael, we came across the Dakar organizers as they were scouting the route for a final check. It was very cool to see, and a great mini apetizer for things to come.

We arrived back at John & Annette's finca where we would hang out for a few days and wait for the Dakar and other travelers to come to town. One night, in the rain on the way back to the finca I ran into another traveller - I asked if he was going to J & A's finca and he said yes, but wasn't sure he knew the way. He said his name was Ricardo from Ecuador, and soon we hugged forceably - Ricardo is a tall and very emotional man. As happens so much - We have many mutual friends, have emailed each other for years and even spoken on the phone, but had never met until now. Same is true for a few others that showed up: Aussie couple Ken & Carol, Javier from Dakar Motos, and even John & Annette who we only finally met a couple of months ago!

Weds, Jan 7th: We were at Check Point 2 and the Bivouac for the Dakar in San Rafael, Argentina. Many locals rode in the night before to camp out at the location. But we 11 of us opted to stay on the farm, sample local wines, eat a huge asado, got to bed late (early morning) and departed for the site at 11am. The police had the roads blocked, so we drove across farms and dry river beds to get around them. In the end, we got caught and simply BSd our way in.

Our small group arrived at the check point after the second bike arrived (missed Marc Coma by a minute), and spent hours watching the various bikes, cars, trucks, and helicopters come through the check point. As we were on bikes, we were treated as though we had something to do with the rally, and were overloaded with wine, beer, cider, soda, and of course, asado! What an amazing experience it has been so far. The energy in Argentina is unbelievable!

The Dakar frenzy is truly unbelievable! People are lining the streets, cheering on the participants, and we’re getting thrown in the mix. Everyone is taking our photo and “hi-5 ing” us as we pass through towns. They line the streets with chairs and coolers, people of all ages, waving flags, banners, t-shirts, etc. On the roads, trucks and busses pull into the shoulder to let us pass and cops wave us through any traffic. Oh, and speed limits do not apply to us. NICE!!!!

One of the Belgian X3s caught fire about 7km from the checkpoint and the navigator was brought back to our area. After a couple of hours, the driver hadn’t arrived and as the car burned up, there was no communication. The navigator asked me to go check on him, and I was allowed onto the course to go look for him. Once on the route, with touring rear tire and panniers, the excitement toned down and I realized where I was and felt a little overwhelmed.

Deep gravel in a dry river bed, and I was the only one without a beacon when the cars/trucks were approaching. With one eye glued to the track and one to the rear mirror, I rode about 4km and got passed by several cars, trucks, and bikes (pulling out of the track was a challenge). I ran across another local on a 250 dirt bike who said the helicopter had picked up the pilot. I turned around and headed back up the track, against traffic. Fun and scary all at once!

With so many photos, we put them into a separate photo album from San Rafael

Next we went to Valparaiso, Chile and stayed at a guesthouse only 8 blocks from the bivouac where the racers spent 2 nights including a rest day. We managed to get “back-stage” passes into the bivouac where we hung with a few riders, including Simon Pavey (lonely BMW Rider amongst hordes of KTMs) - here are some photos from the bivouac in Valparaiso

It’s time to figure out what we’re going to do about storing the bike, so we’re heading east towards Buenos Aires and probably Montevideo in Uruguay. We plan to be back in Buenos Aires for the Dakar finish, on Jan 18th. Back in Colorado on the 22nd.

In the meantime, check out the new marketing campaign....

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Feliz Año Nuevo! Today is New Year's day, and once again we're in a foreign land. To celebrate the end of 2008, we returned to Pucon (Chile) to attempt to climb the active volcano Villarica, high above the city and still covered in snow. The past 10 days have been interesting and challenging...

Jan 21st in the southern hemisphere is the longest day of the year (solstice), meaning the sun rises earlier and sets later than any other day. It also marked the day we would stop traveling south and start our return north.

We departed in the rain, on our way to the ferry (60 miles). Ahead of schedule and half-way there, we got a flat. Normally a 1 hour challenge, however we discovered not only was there a hole in the inner tube, but the attacker was wire-cored from the tire itself. Yes, the inside of the tire was ruptured. I made a roadside repair, but we would miss the ferry.
We found a semi-abandoned work camp where we would seek shelter from the rain for 5 hours, and the caretaker scrounged up some food. After the ferry, it was another 2.5 hour ride to Cochrane in the cold rain, and we arrived at 10:25pm, just after darkness settled in.
In the morning, I took the bike to a local gomeria (puncture repair shop) to see how my handiwork was doing. The repair was holding, but we discovered 11 more breaches where the metal strands were poking into the tube. They were "professionally" repaired by the local expert, although neither of us were confident if the tire would hold. We left just after eating lunch and the first 22 miles north of Cochrane is covered in some of the worst corrugation we have ever seen. With only a couple of miles to the end of the really rough part, total failure.

I think it was all my fault – as we were bouncing along I was trying to get my mind off the negative vibes/fears and onto something more positive. I settled on “what differentiates us in business”, and quickly concluded the answer is problem solving. We excel at it. Well soon after coming up with clever ways to market this ability, the tire went flat, probably just the world’s way of keeping me in grounded, so to speak…

It took several hours on a road with few vehicles, but we got a small truck to bring us slowly back to Cochrane, around 7pm. To be honest, it kind of fun to travel in the back of the small truck and absorb all the sights and sounds.

A bit later, while trying to figure out our next move, Erin found a big truck heading north to the city of Coyhaigue, 200 miles to the north. While we couldn’t find a tire in Coyhaigue that would fit, it was the only real city along the 1,200km Carretera Austral. We finished loading the bike in the dark around 11pm, dragged our belongings to a local guest houses, then found a restaurant open at midnight for dinner. We were filthy and tired, and the meal was delicious!

Against all odds, our friend Santi who owns Las Salamandras guest house in Coyhaigue found a used tire that would fit our bike. Getting a new tire down to Chile’s outback during the holidays would have been very expensive and taken well over a week.

Dec 24, Christmas Eve, and I went to the truck depot to meet the truck. While the bike didn’t fall off the trailer as I had imagined, it had nearly fallen over and was marked up from where the truckers had to re-attach the straps. It was a rough ride for our KTM. The used tire we got is the same style as we were using, with even more tread on it, so we should be able to finish the trip without any more tire problems.

In town, locals are getting ready for the big event!

Everything was looking great, the sun was out again, we were with a great group of people in the guest house, and there was a feast planned for the evening. There were 5 "kids" from New Zealand, Adventure Racers (ubber athletes), a solo female Scottish bicyclist who rode 90 miles (mostly gravel) that day, a German backpacker, and an older NZ couple on 2 motorcycles. The night was proceeding well enough on its own, then Santi broke out a fresh bottle of Tequila and it was 3am when we turned in for the night.
Rather than continue riding up through places we’ve seen several times in the past, we opted to catch an overnight ferry from Pto. Chacabuco (1 hour from Coyhaique) up to Pto. Montt. It was a good trip with some friends, and very relaxing.

The German-owned guest house we stayed at in Pto Varas, just 20 minutes north of Pto. Montt was very efficient, with signs everywhere! This one was in the bathroom and Erin couldn't resist a photo:
We spent a couple of nights in the very European-feeling Pto Varas, then returned to Pucon to climb the active Volcano Villarica.

Wednesday, Jan 31st and then end of 2008. It’s been a great year and a great trip. The challenges of adventure travel help us appreciate how lucky we are. We woke early, got our equipment, and headed up to the volcano. The van dropped us off below the chair lift, and the first hour we spent hiking up through the volcanic debris to the station at the top of the chair lift. From there we donned are more serious equipment and stepped into the snow. We hiked for hours, one small step at a time, zigzagging our way up the mountain.

As we were climbing, we appreciated why the climbers on TV are always moving so slowly. Personally, I think I would go mad from the monotony. The views, however, were incredible - high above our surroundings, standing in the snow and looking at the lush green mountains below. The good news is they gave us new equipment to use; the bad news, new equipment. We were near the top when Erin’s open blisters became unbearable and we opted to start heading down. This in itself would be an adventure as we got to slide down the steep slopes on our butts. While the assent took more than 3-hours, the decent was only about an hour. The hike down the ski mountain almost as tough as the assent.

At midnight there was a fireworks display at the beach, just down the road. We watched it from our bedroom window, and were fast asleep shortly after.

To help ensure this trip is a proper write-off, we occassionaly stop in at real estate offices - see the reflection in the window?: