As always, we aim to offer a weekend of superb adventure motorcycling related entertainment, talks, exhibitors, trade stands and of course lots of riding.
Whether you’re joining us for a second or third time, are an experienced adventure traveller or are new to adventure riding, we’ll have plenty on offer and lots of new information. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to catch up with a few old friends and hopefully make some new ones too.
Husqvarna Test Ride at the Travel Event
Tourtech are happy to announce the full range of Husqvarna enduro range will be available to test ride at the Travel Event. The enduro loop is going to be held at the Iconic Walters arena and is going to be a “must do” at this year’s travel event so make sure you book in early as it is on a first come first serve basis.
Motoxchange will have the full enduro line up available to test ride from the 125 up to the big 501. There will be a full Husqvarna team representatives and mechanics available to answer any questions.
Each test ride will be roughly 15 mins long and cost £25 on a set course at the iconic Walters Arena in South wales.
To book your test ride please click here
First Time for a Travel Event?
So it’s the first time you and your bike are going off on a adventure?
You might been on day trips with friends or just use your bike for the regular day to day use of getting to and from work.
Your first trip is something you will need to be a little more prepared for.
- You’re bike
Adventure bikes come in many shapes and sizes and chances are, if you’re reading this you already own one. But if you don’t, remember that a motorcycle is a personal thing and just because your buddy rides something doesn’t mean that’s the bike for you. Some bikes are built with better road performance in mind, while others are geared towards off-road performance. Some bikes do everything pretty good, but nothing great and others don’t. Ride your ride and you’ll be happy with your choice.
If you plan on adventuring in the UK a quality-riding suit is a must. As we all know the UK weather is unpredictable, so a suit that is waterproof is a must but at the same time it must be breathable for when the sun comes out. A Well-made, sturdy riding jacket trousers and helmet will keep your skin and skull intact. Most jackets and pants are vented and you can always cool off when you stop, so don’t skimp on the armor.
- Socks, Socks and more Socks
I cannot stress to you enough bring plenty of socks, cold wet feet is the beginning of the end to you day. What could have ended in happy smiles at the bar or camp fire talking about what you saw on the journey has now turned into sad faces and the comments of my feet are numb. As well as socks think about your boots, Are they waterproof? Having a boot that provides protection and flexibility is important, also factor in being able to walk and ride when choosing a boot
- Pack it up
If you’re riding to an event obviously you need to get your gear there. Camping equipment, tools, clothes, food and anything else you need have to make the trip. How do they get there? Panniers: The motorcycle version of the car’s boot. There are a lot of motorcycle luggage choices out there, but Touratech’s Zega Pro and Zega Mundo pannier systems are the standard. Durable, waterproof and dust proof these boxes are used by world travellers and weekend warriors across the globe.
Do not forget sunscreen even in the UK.
Usually there is plenty of water available at the event venue, but you definitely want to have hydration with you on your rides and there are some great hydration systems available for riders. You have to be sharp when you’re riding, for your safety and the safety of others.
- What to eat
Many travel events will have food available to purchase, some include breakfast and dinner and some in the cost of attending the event. There are some events that will not have food available onsite. Some riders will arrive at camp set up making sure there is much room in panniers as possible and leave for the nearest store. If you are out on extended rides try to remember to take extra water, protein bars, fruit and nuts.
- Protect those fingers
Catching a rock or a tree can make a enjoyable ride in to painful experience pretty quickly. Hopefully you have a protective set of gloves you wear when riding but this doesn’t always protect you enough when going off road. That’s when hand guards with spoilers become and advantage and for a added bonus they protect your leavers as well.
- Keeping the light intact
Once you have gone off road and in a group on occasion stones can and will be kicked up from a spinning rear tyre. This is the most common method to a damaged head light. Head light guards are easy to install and will save you money and time down the road.
- Where are we
Many travel events provide GPS tracks, these are riding routes that most of the time do not use roads. You have to follow the GPS system correctly to navigate to where you need to go. Your motorcycle should have a GPS unit and mount
- Turn up ready to ride
- Ask questions
- Challenge yourself
- Ride the rides you feel confident with
- Don’t worry about keeping up with you mates
- Listen and take on-board what the speakers say
- Ride safe
Now we have given you all the information you need for a travel event now its time to attend one. Touratech UK are holding their annual Travel Event from the 1st to the 4th of May. Click here for more information. Did I mention this event is FREE!
Touratech Aventuro Carbon
Touratech has released the new Aventuro Carbon a lightweight and versatile helmet that can be converted between street, adventure and off road. With no shortage of helmets on the market, but surprisingly very few good choices for adventure motorcyclists. Some of the most popular helmets still feel relatively heavy, has a high noise level and are limited to configurations. Because of these limitations Touratech main aim was to create the ultimate helmet that is versatile enough for adventure touring. Touratech has to start with using strong carbon fibre to create a new lightweight helmet that fills both European and US safety requirements.
Touratech Aventuro is designed for motorcycle travellers, this is clearly evident in its design.
The visors on most helmets tend to grab passing air, which limits your range of motion and puts strain on your neck. The helmet’s No-Drag Visor is designed with massive ports that allow air-flow to pass through the base of the visor. Like a pressure release valve, it dumps air to reduce pull on the head reducing strain and maximizing rider comfort. In sunny situations, the tip of the visor can be extended with a quick pull on its adjustable end. The Aventuro Carbon has been sculpted to cut through the wind with less turbulence and noise for the rider.
3 Styles No Tools
Like a Transformer, the Aventuro Carbon helmet can be converted between street, dual-sport, and off-road modes on the fly with no tools. The visor can be removed for a long ride on the tarmac and installed quickly for a few days of riding adventurous roads in the mountains. The shield can also be removed completely to accommodate goggles for dusty riding or full-blown, off-road racing.
Whether it’s a street bike day, adventure ride or single-track weekend in the woods, the Aventuro Carbon can do it all in light-weight comfort while providing the highest levels of protection.
5 Different Versions
- Crafted from lightweight, carbon fiber for increased rider comfort
- No-drag airflow visor reduces wind grab and strain on neck & body
- Transforms between street, dual-sport to dirt configurations with no tools
- Easy-open, easy-close vents designed to keep rain out
- Pin-Lock ready shield included
- Pin-Lock insert included (Clear)
- Intercom system ready, with speaker cavities
- Ergo padding system
- Washable, hypo-allergenic, Coolmax lining
- Emergency cheek pad removal system
- Liner cut away to accommodate glasses
- Designed for goggles with quick-strap ready embossments and strap-lock shape
- Includes action camera mount surfaces for top and both sides
- Extra long chin strap allows removal of helmet without completely unfastening 2DD buckle
- Exceeds all DOT and ECE 2205 standards for helmet safety
- Weight: Small 3.00LBS (1363g), Medium 3.03LBS (1375g), Large 3.22LBS (1463g), XL 3.26LBS (1483g), XXL 3.28LBS (1488g)
Range of helmets in stock and selling fast call us now or visit the Web Shop
SOMETHING HAPPENED TO THE WAY I WAS GOING
I was a bit nervous riding on a near knobbly on the front but there was no steerage issue at all. They offered me an oil change but the bike didn’t need one; the sounds from the engine were smooth and in any case, it was changed in Ushuaia by Moto Pablo. Having friends, not just sponsors, in a place is invaluable when a trip is moving as rapidly as this one. Hard though I might try to slow things down, as nature abhors a vacuum, when there is extra time to think around a situation, I fill it up with more “stuff.” Quick though this is, it’s slow by comparison to my 2012 solo “Incredible Ride” record when I rode the first version Super Tenere. Because large parts of my journey would not have dealerships stocking Continental Road Attack tyres, then I had to carry 2 sets for much of the way. The pass over to Aconcagua was covered in snow and I was immeasurably more tired than I was now.
This time on the 2014 model, the ride across the Andes was simple enough as was the ride up the central part of Argentina to Villa Union, after which I was continuing north, towards Bolivia and all that afternoon I rode through the Valle de Calingasta, a marvellously fertile green strip of land west of San Juan. Fields of alfalfa, onions and maize with the snow-capped Sierra Mountains as a back drop. What could be more perfect for such a sunny day when by days end I arrived at one of my favourite small hotels in the whole of Argentina, Hotel Canon Talampaya. The next day I left the hotel with the plan to arrive at the closed part of Ruta 40 as about the time the restrictions were to be lifted. Barely 30 miles from Villa Union I stopped the bike by a small wooden sign saying “Rest-Bar Posada – 10kms Aicuna.” The sign pointed down a narrow dirt track with a brown colour that was leavened with red. Turning down this track, I rode with the sun behind me and broad leaved acacia stood without movement, next to the cacti as the strong wind had now calmed. The nearby Talampaya Canyon along with the Parque Provincial Ischigualasto further south in San Juan have both been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, and I am ashamed to say I didn’t visit either. Entrance into the parque was dependent on hiring a guide and that meant leaving the bike behind. In Argentine terms it’s like riding past the Grand Canyon with barely a glance, except that because we have our own transport, we bikers only go where our bikes are allowed to take us.
The geological formations seem to have been created as part of some surreal Gothic cathedral and yet, not much further away and crowding down on me as I rode my bike along this track, brightly coloured song birds flitted from tree to tree. Two more grey foxes swept alongside me, their tales brushing in the dirt and I spied an Armadillo lurking in the undergrowth. You imagine, set amongst the edge of magnificence, echoes around here would really set the Condors flapping.
In the posada, a lovable and round woman says her name is Milarus and that the name of her dark curly haired husband is Dante. The beef was from the Vicuna, part of the Llama family, along with “papas frites,” which is not, but always comes with. I didn’t care, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
Music was constantly being played, pan-pipes predictably, but followed by a fusion of South American contemporary jazz by a famous Argentine musician called Sekou. Interesting how an man so famous in his field, revered in Argentina to the point of idolatry, and at the same time obsolete in the minds of those who have never heard of him.
The next day the journey continued, twisting and turning on Ruta 40, sometimes long straights would signal the end of the bends when suddenly you would be surprised by yet another set of curves that set your heart beating faster. Somewhere on the map I got lost after a place called Farmacita, should have stayed on the 40 but ended up at the village of Capanas, run down but functioning with a quiet plaza and small church. I was heading to Belen along a narrow desolate road forcing me to ford ever deepening water crossings so turned around to search for another route.
I am now not only at the edge of the piste in Argentina but at the edge of a way of life as I know it. As I leave this hamlet so many miles from Salta, from Tucuman, from Buenos Aires I see couples collecting plums in their orchard, inspecting small groves of walnut trees and oblivious so it seems to a world outside of their own. For 200 kilometres more I ride along a straight rode with only occasional bends, olive plantations perfectly spaced for the whole distance, millions of well tended fruit trees stand in line across the flat river plain to creep up the gentle slope to the base of more mountains. As the sun began to set, shadows lengthened almost to the Sierra. Clearly there were many parts of these slopes on which a human had never stepped on top of which sat a rising moon. As night fell all I could see was the road ahead and for the first time ever had my Touratech lights on full beam and they turned night into day, really.
Riding into the town of Andalgala I looked around for the middle eastern influence which the guide books claimed. Immigrants from Syria and the Lebanon are supposed to have settled in the area but I saw none. My only thought was that this was a small town never visited ever I think by foreigners. It has to be the place you end up if you get lost.
I found a small hotel and worked late into the night. The words were flowing but the pictures were not. Of all the images I had tried to capture, all that was worth saving were close-up photographs of my 100,000 mile boots. Oxford gave me the boots three Pan American Highway and two world journeys ago and hard as I tried to wear them out, it was only along this valley road did they finally decide to die. My toes protruded through the front like snail heads wearing hats and were were perfect for growing feet. This is the area where all my body odours drain, and it was these boots I had to thank for allowing the free-flow of my all day stink to so efficaciously, dissipate. Plastic bags kept out the rain and acted as a barrier to the buffeting wind and winter cold but out here the dry air circulated around the soles leaving the things that stand on my foot-pegs feeling refreshed.
Breakfast was two dry biscuits and a cup of instant coffee. The hotel owner didn’t look quite the ticket, so no point asking for jam and butter. I left happily enough though but at the edge of town on the back road to ?????, merely ???kms to San Miguel de Tucumen, a chap told me the road was closed and impossible to pass. He said I could give it a go, when several taxi drivers crowded round and concurred that I’d not get through. The rivers had washed away everything, they said, and that I must retrace my route to Catamarca which took me an afternoon to complete the day before.
I set off, back along the millions of neatly laid out olive trees. Hills that were to my right were now on my left, tiny sandy coloured tracks fingering off to disappear to some unimaginable isolated habitation. The bike roared quietly. It did everything I asked it to do. In the way it was impossible for me to understand how people can live in these hills, there was complete incomprehension how such a motorcycle not for a second under-performs.
FROM MT. ACONCAGUA TO THE INTERIOR
What a day! If with my eyes closed I could have put a pin on a donkeys tail then that is what happened today. I mean, nothing important actually occurred, sort of another day at the office for me – propping up the water cooler and keeping a low profile at my desk. So, I found a cheap hostel at 10,000ft, just near the lower slopes of Mt Aconcagua. Young travellers were travelling and we were all cramped nine bunk beds to a room. I’d taken some photographs of murals that had been painted on corrugated sheeting which lined railway sheds from the days of the Ferrocarril Transandino Los Andes – Mendoza. As the sun went down I walked to a restaurant which Health and Safety would brick up it was so grubby, but they cooked super bife chorizo and papas frites. Breakfast at the hostel was also surprisingly good.
So, hidden away in such a desolate setting, the human face of civilisation stood out proud and setting off I’d wrongly anticipated there being fuel on this, the Paso de Libertadores. This was the main route between the capital of Chile and Mendoza. So with 24 miles already used from my reserve tank I had another 47 miles before there would be a fuel pump. I’d taken a Super Tenere close to fuel extinction many times before and it conks out at about minus 50 miles, so this would be a Yamaha world record. I was up for it and with my sponsors supporting me on this new venture, I and set off.
For a while the sun was not up and the high-sided mountains of the very top of this section of the Andes were still cast in shadow. The long downhill slopes let me switch off my engine for minutes at a time and so allowed the bike, in a well grounded way, to glide. When the momentum started to slow, I switched on the engine and gave it a blip, more when there was a short climb. Slowly the shadows sunk to the ground and what warmth exuded from this cold morning radiated around the valley, even though there was a dusting of snow on the lower slopes and glaciers higher up. At 35 mph the bike was running at 99 mpg. Everything overtook me but a lot came into view. Grey foxes made a dash for it, the only wild animal I’d seen bigger than a bird since stepping off the plane. Not a puma in sight. When 60 miles showed up on the fuel gauge I began to wonder if this was my idea of playing a joke with myself, it was my personal April 1st. At 29mph and with a delicate grip on the throttle I could get the same economy as a tired 125. After an hour and fascinating though it was to ride so slow, but it was at such a tedious level of operation, I think I’d prefer to die. What was the Spanish for, “can you give me a lift to Upsallata,?” And, “where can I leave my bike so it isn’t cannibalised for it’s parts before I get back, por favor?”
65, 66 the 69 miles and I’m still good when suddenly, 3miles earlier than the last sign had indicated, the small town with the gas station suddenly appeared, dustily into view, and I had 71.4 miles on the clock.
The Argentine road trip experience is bankrolled by a giant fuel producing organisation called YPF. Every station has Wi-Fi, jolly good steaming hot cafe con leche and friendly staff. Though it is my own contradiction to say so but as a huge conglomerate it is my favourate fuel provider. The daily ritual is predictable; coffee, blog, piss, go. Adventure is sometimes more than that, but not always. There is a mellow nothingness managed by sparse vegetation mulching around in my head.
Meanwhile 405 miles up the road I arrive at one of my favourate hotels on the whole continent, Hotel Cañon Talampaya. Stylishly built as one floor it is contemporary and uber in every way. Affordable but the new resident manager Fernando, was a biker and gave me a deal. Did I mention the Hotel Cañon Talampaya in Villa Union ever? If you’re passing.
It was a slog to get here – long, flat hot desert straights with an occasional wiggle. Nothing changed or moved, except for me and that was so I didn’t get bedsores, the bike was so comfortable. Meseta and scrub held together as best it could crumbly desert soil. Not a cloud in sight, just a sun and an early moon. Mendoza being the obvious exception, but exotic sounding towns quickly passed; San Juan and San Jose de Jachel come to mind. Cars, people at gas stations and tractors on the road was the sum total of my cultural experience in this largely agricultural country, and yet.
There is something less than vague about what you can scrimp and save from such a cloudless day because it has such a feint character. Nothing shouts out at you, not the heat or what little traffic there was, just unending beauty around a corner where you expect to see more of the same; where little things come as a surprise.
THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL – PART 2
Part of the charm of travelling is not visiting a 40m waterfall or even the Hanging Glacier of Queulat. Neither is it touring through “landscapes painted,” as the Chileans say about their southern landscape, “by the Gods.” Strangely for me it’s the small things that can be enjoyed, such as buying food at a supermarket, truly understanding what it’s like to live here and trying hard not to be, which of course I am, a tourist passing through.
I think wherever you go somehow becomes a part of you and I am happy with this view of my travelling life. It’s like how you feel after a great meal with friends. A few days later, you cannot remember exactly what happened and what you said, but you feel good about the evening.
Coyhaique is the capital of the Aysén region and is about mid-way along Chile’s famous Carretera Austral. Construction of the highway was commenced in 1976 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in order to connect a number of remote communities. Earlier, in the 1950’s and 1970’s, there had been unsuccessful attempts to build access roads in the region. It was simply too hard to craft a road through sheer rock faces that plummets hundreds of metres down to glacier-fed deep lakes. And during the 20th century, the building of this route became the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever developed in Chile.
Carretera Austral has a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory. As an overview, this area is characterised by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains and access by sea and air is equally a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach Chile’s lands in the deep south, Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. These difficulties were deepened during the 1970’s due to the Beagle Conflict crisis. In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army‘s Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked in its construction. Many of them lost their lives during this effort.
And so, it is still not complete. Initially the highway opened to traffic in 1988, and by 1996 was completed to Puerto Yungay. The last 100 kilometers (62 mi) to Villa O’Higgins were opened in 2000. Yet, only a part of this entire route is presently paved, for the most part it remains an earth track and gravel piste.
I leave the bike beside the man selling garlic and sunglasses. Inside, the supermarket is charmless and has the slowest of queues, each of us shuffling slowly with our goods along each aisle and then past the fish stall to the meat counter. I wrap up my meat and my potatoes. The queue feels as if it’s going to take a lifetime to complete and it feels like half an afternoon is wasted trying to find lemons. Whilst fitting in is a good thing, there is something about the ordinary which pails after a while. After a long time searching and paying for tomatoes – I have what I need and as the sun is setting, there is still 100kms left to ride.
To lose time now may mean not reaching Bolivia which was a small promise I made to myself. Certainly the Atacama Desert has to be on any riders wish list, but just then I was stuck in a moment of Farmacias and stores selling cheap clothes. Women were pushing buggies in and out of lengthening shadows from steep sided mountains that form a back drop to the end of this busy main street. To my right a small wooden shack opens to sell his empanadas, dogs trot obediently behind boys on bicycles and in the coolness of the late afternoon sun everyone seems busy yet calm and for me it’s time to move on.
Separated by the long length of high mountains from the rest of the continent, and the world, Chileans have been successful in maintaining an indigenous appearance, undiluted by the genes from foreigners. The girls are not slim but have about them full bodies, circular faces and perfectly even half moon eyebrows above a kind way of looking. I set off with my bike and my tent to find a safe place to eat and sleep for the night.
ABOUT TO START THE CARRATERRA AUSTRAL
The next road out of Rio Mayo was paved and I headed in the general direction of Trevelin when, like some sort of shudder down the spine, suddenly decided to retrace my route back to the small town and check out the weather over southern Chile. Back at the YPF station, the wifi was strong and according to the digital weather map, the skies had now emptied of rain and the isobars suggested little wind. A high pressure indicated a possible completely clear sky with excellent visibility with therefore little chance of mud gumming up the wheels of the bike. I had dodged the inclement period of wetness in the south and looked as if I had made a good judgment of the west as well. If there is no schedule, no travel agenda, then I guess weather trumps route everytime.
The lady serving coffee and snacks at the gas station was pleased to see me. She remembered me not from my previous visit just over a hour ago, but the time three years before when I passed through leading a group of eager chaps from here, or thereabouts to Alaska. She was elderly and had a lovely kind smile and I said to watch out for me next time I should pass and she hoped, she said, to be on the right work rota so as make my acquaintance once again, after which I rode out of Rio Mayo.
If piste could be described as a road or track “in it’s natural state,” then pedantically most of the piste I have ridden on this trip so far is in the final stages of preparation for being surfaced, so no longer counts. Although many sections of back road route is true piste across Patagonia, much of it is being paved. The northern section of Argentina’s legendary highway is still not paved, but most of the rest is. Sad? Well yes and no. Yes for us Super Ten “back-roaders” but not for the people who live there. The enormous frontier spirit that exists here has to be backed up by good transport links. Road construction in Argentina is sneaking into those places you never thought it could get.
So now I want to check out the last piste of any distance across the border into Chile. As Ruta 40 is part of Argentine folklore, so the Carreterra Austral is to Chile.
A bit of geography. The Carretera Austral, formerly known as Carretera General Augusto Pinochet, is the name given to Chile‘s Route 7. The highway runs about 1,240 kilometers (770 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia and provides road access to Chile’s Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region and southern part of Los Lagos Region. These areas are seriously sparsely populated and despite its length, the Carretera Austral provides access to only about 100,000 people. South of the highway’s start in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique (population 44,850) is the largest city along it, and it is one of the last routes in southern South America presently being paved
Turning out of Rio Mayo I took the road towards the Chilean frontier, it too was in a pre-paved state of construction and then at the top of the hill took the left signposted for Dr. R.Rojas. The paved section lasted only until the town was out of sight and I rounded a hill before hitting the most obnoxious kind of pebble and sharp stone that made it impossible to hold a straight line. The bike falls forward, holding direction in lengthy piles of loose gravel like a drunken man. There is not a second that you cannot steer. For mile after broken mile, there is not an inch of line from which you dare stray. What narrow tyre track of firm surface there is, it is lined by a furrow of sharp stones heaped up like a ploughed field. Cross that line and you lick those stones with your face. Instead you gorge on so much piste you begin to imagine never being on paved roads again. It was 63 kilometres of construction to the turnoff for Alto Rio Senguer but I needed to bear left for the frontier and a couple of kilometres further across a small pass of flat topped hills the dropped to a small bridge crossing the slow moving River Rio Mayo. This was the perfect place to camp. Tent up, spuds peeled, scran on followed by a brew. A lark sang from a nearby tree whilst a small flock of geese flew slowly overhead. Geese have a commander who honks his commands and the young ones flapping to keep up tweeted their little sounds,”c’mon lttle ‘uns,” said Daddy Big Goose, “this is how we fly in formation – honk, honk.”
“Ok,” they all tweeted, “we’re trying,” when whoops, one of them fell out of line until the commander honked him back into place and they landed in the next field. Next field? Patagonia is one pretty big field, something along with the Great Wall of China you could see from outer space, but here, in the most outstanding wilderness and with huge respect to the time, distance travelled, effort and expense to get here, it did look like the hilly region of northern Spain. Maybe it’s this physical familiarity or sameness that settlers find it so easy to get to like when looking for a new home.
As the river gurgled, the sun went down presaging a simple sunset and without the adornment of clouds, day would meld into night without due fuss. A toe-nail of a moon did appear, but it would not be bright enough to compromise the night sky.
That was not quite correct – jumped the gun on that one because there was a length of cloud that condensed the light of the sun to lilac and the toenail of a moon was being pulled down to earth by a little pinprick called Venus. I made a fire and as the twigs spun their flames it kept me warm until in time, the embers resembled radiated insects glowing from inside until one by one they fell apart finally by the heat like worm casts. At which point the moon lay now at the horizon of the edge of the road, sitting on the pebbles until it was gone, leaving only a pitch black sky.
THE CAFE AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Where do you begin with a diary (although I use it I hate the word “Blog” and think of it in the way an ‘inkspot’ is to ‘writing’ so a “Blog” is to a “Diary Insert.” Maybe it should start, “Memorandum to Crew,” or more simply, “Memo to Self, “that’ll do. Point being, as soon as you publish the daily blog it’s already out of date. With internet publishing being so immediate as soon as I start writing about that new road in Chile, I’m already down and up it, had a few meals, ridden a thousand miles and put my tent up here and there between the Pampas and Cape Horn.
The immediacy of the Internet of course is lost in a field, rather more so in one at the entrance of an Estancia, where they are bigger. But there is a new road being built in Chile. Not so dramatic when you think of the construction that has been going on Ruta 5 crossing the Atacama, but here down in the 8th Region the significance for transport is impossible to overstate. Ever since I first rode down here by bicycle in 1988, and obviously forever before that, the road from the Fuegan town of Cerro Sombrero to the Argentine frontier has been rocky piste. A short distance from the Magellan Strait this small town serves expensive fuel, decent accommodation and in mid winter radically freezes over until the spring. Three years ago during my “Incredible Ride” double transit record, I passed through on the edge of winter where lakes and water filled peat bogs were thick with ice and frost. The wind rattled corrugated roofs down which slid crenellated shadows from bristling trees, and desiccated fences had long been sucked dry of their natural colour. In the way winter cloud merges with a murky sea, everything here was brown and green and grey. It was all a bit sullen. I remember failing by a few hours to break a record for becoming the fastest rider to journey from Prudhoe Bay to here, to the uttermost end of the earth, to this “land of fire” glazed in hoarfrost and rime.
The road with its sharp stones was harsh on the tyres. I had Continental TKC 70’s and so far the tread was holding well. Only recently released this new style of grip had never seen such action until now. It had a deep profile, chunks of tyre that were not casually cut. The profile of this tyre was established by engineers who would take pride if I didn’t slip on the piste. The parameters of a tyre that can do this have to be exact and that gave me confidence because with the vicious tail wind I was flying. At 73mph the bike was sipping fuel at a mere 63mpg. A spill at this speed on this surface would be the end of a lot of things but still the peat fields and scrub, grey fencing and big shadows suddenly loomed large then spilled out somewhere else over the plain.
Nearby, at this southern part of Tierra del Fuego there is a cafe called “Hosteria La Frontera.” It is 7 kilometres from the border with Argentina and is actually at the bottom of a road called the Route at the End of the World. Now, this cafe is the kind of place I like to ride to and I always call in when passing. Instead of putting up my tent I booked into one of their rooms – plywood dressed with
1950’s floral wallpaper, and well peel. I was soon to be tucked up in a bunk dressed with heavy blankets and an old quilt but before this, whilst the South Atlantic wind howled, it’s cold chilling anyone out there to the bone, I had my customary steak and chips and thought myself damned lucky to be on the bike out here, and to have my chips served hot.
I knew this cafe well. I had passed it perhaps 18 times and always called in for food and in time they had got to know me and I them. The old man who started the cafe after the war was called Ernesto and once, having fallen asleep on the road to Porvenir he rolled his car and was brought back to the restaurant his face cut, blood pouring from his wounds. My expedition doctor, Caroline cleaned him up and in time he recovered only to die two years last November of cancer. He was 80, a pilot and a frontiersman like his wife who I spoke to through the serving catch of her kitchen. “I live ‘ere in such a re-mote location,” she said in the way the Spanish drop their ‘aitch’s,’ “because it suits me character. It ees like a mediceene fora me to be ‘ere, it is calming and away from the fast pace of the life.” Madame Ernesto was planning to visit London for 5 days in July, she said after all the nature all year she needed to see things not made of wood with temporary roofing.
ps, you’ll see it in the photos, but the below maps give you an idea where I am:)
Bruce Chatwin in his seminal 1981 novel “In Patagonia” wrote how “dreams proliferate in Patagonia, that loneliness, that grandiosity, here anything can happen.”
Bruce Chatwin preferred to leave the reader with a choice of two journeys: one to Patagonia in 1975, the other, “a symbolic voyage which is a meditation on restlessness and exile.” The whole place is a magnet for those who suffered from a bad case of Baudelaire’s ‘Great Malady': “Horror of One’s Home.”
HIs wife Elizabeth called it “the wretched book,” and he said it was the “idea of journey as metaphor” in particular of Lord Raglan’s paradigm of the young hero who sets off on a voyage and does battle with a monster. I wrote about this in the first volume of my autobiography, “Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man.”
Suddenly, after turning off Ruta 40 on the local road to San Martin de los Andes, a narrow secondary road wound around a gentle and lush valley. Tall locked gates separated the road from a track you imagine leading to an estancia that may now be part history part dream. If there is treasure it is hidden. Country folk the world over are secretive about their money. The whereabouts of wealth will be marked in pencil as a grid reference or stashed away in a vault in Buenos Aires.
Further up the road the gas station at Junuy de los Andes was closed. After the delightful chore of crossing the plains the road suddenly switched to piste, the asphalt disappeared as I started to cross the edge of the Rio Negro.
After the bridge at Rahue, the road turned right to Alumnine and left to where I wanted to go when as the sun began to set it was obvious I had already ditched the schedule. Nothing was booked and that tallied with a lack of plan as I turned down a sandy path to make camp by a river.
Water that cascaded over the shallow rapids soaked up the sun and was warm. I swam against a deep and strong current and like some Tom Sawyer or a Huckleberry Finn, was immersed in a world of my own making. This is what remains after having carved out the fat from your fantasy.
Motorcycle travelling imposes such a discipline without which you wouldn’t survive, so the ability to focus on the moment was razor sharp. Having put together some dry wood and lit a fire, I sat on one of my boxes, gently steaming. It was a rough kind of paradise and I concluded that it had been one of the best endings to a riding day I have ever experienced. Some days shout out quietly their importance and this was that day.
All the next day I lost ground on whatever schedule I had loosely imposed on the trip. It was odd but any rigidity to the project was already in free-fall. Without the regulation of a clock ticking away my time and a concept augmented by the shortest route, I think I was a little lost. Not in a geographical way, I knew how the hills sat against a river and how geese cackled and laughed as they flew overhead, but my mental orientation had yet to find any points of reference. Getting lost is after all just another way of saying “going exploring.”
I camped south of Bariloche and the lake was too cold in which to swim. I rode on tarmac the colour of a fawns fur, dribbles of tar filled in the cracks like veins. Always the hills and at night the silence that only vastness can bring. Because you can see across them, unhidden from view by tall buildings, the largeness of the plains seemed a perfect fit for a night sky of unimaginable breadth.
On a journey like this, it doesn’t take long to feel estranged from a former life. Years of living become forgotten in days. Small towns are erased from memory in minutes and seconds are all it takes to disremember what it is you were meant to do. Indecently quickly adventure like this becomes another way of living. Everything seems familiar but its not as grasses form a Mexican Wave across acres of pasture you have never seen before.
CROSSING THE PAMPAS
There is a point in a journey when you think it cannot get any better, and then, it does. That has not yet happened. The Argentine Pampas is flat, the roads are lined with shrines and flags shredded by an unending wind and scruffy settlements have at their corners small temples of rusting vehicles. There is beauty in these flatlands across what can only be called a fascinating landscape in secret, and it is these hidden moments that I am sure the Pampas does not give up easily.
All journeys are compromised, mostly by lack of time and local knowledge but that doesn’t mean an adventure shouldn’t be started. As I too rode across what looked like a souless plain, the wind racking against flimsy fencing, there would be little chance of unearthing hidden gems – dinosaur footprints are said to be everywhere. I was too preoccupied in riding a motorcycle across coordinates to look deeper. Yet every few kilometres there was an easy history of people having died. Small brick-built shrines housing photographs of some young person would stand sentinel to the vehicles passing, their possessions stood in some public display alongside. The Egyptians buried their Phaeroes with what they thought would be useful in the afterlife, here it felt more like a demonstration of who they were on earth. Somewhere facing the wind and also a strong sun, a young boy’s bicycle was painted white and stood next to his photograph – a callow youth with swept back hair – and next to that a photograph of the revolutionary Che Geuvara smoking a Havana. “This is who I am,” these artifacts stood to say, “these are the people I would wish to have been like and in death they are my friends.”
In the midst of all of this nothingness, except for a million acres of “low thicket of grey leafed thorns which gave off a bitter smell when crushed.” All the towns fit the shape of the road, like a ribbon village, paper thin, just a few streets thickness from the edge of brown hills and more barrenness. 80% of what the town comprises off could be seen without leaving the saddle of a motorcycle. Hanging around oily entrances, Gomerias with their dirty hands would fix peoples tyres. Gas stations served cafe con leche and wi-fi and an abundance of auto servicios either gave life or the last rites to dead or dying motors, whereby they rust away by a tree or some place you imagine dogs would stand aimlessly and bark.