M/Cing to SA: The S.H.E. Accelerates

Fifteen hours after starting for Santiago, NV arrives at the Santiago BMW dealership after two (2) flatbed tow truck rides.

The Shit Happens Express accelerates as we attempt an Andes crossing and fail

Of all the skills that I had hoped to acquire in my life, being an expert at loading and unloading Now Voyager from a flatbed truck didn’t even make the list.   I can now take a quick glance at the flatbed’s surface, its winching system, the eyes of the driver, and determine how NV should be hoisted on — and off– any flatbed.   You too would be an expert if you’d loaded/unloaded on a flatbed twice in a four hour period.   Moreover, what does it say about the BMW “ultimate driving machine” experience when I felt relatively safe for the first time in 15 hours sitting in said tow truck rumbling down the road  toward a city, snug in its warm comfort.   No more engine quits at the side of the road, no more semis bearing down on us in a tunnel as we coast out, no more pushing NV along to save its overheated engine, no more being pushed around as truck after truck hurl by inches from where NV has quit running.

Yet, there is something to be said about the feeling of accomplishment in having somehow, with no understanding of Spanish and dwindling resources to rely on, KR and I get us down the mountains and into a BMW dealership without getting hit, killed or robbed or hurt.  There were no Wi Fi networks, across the globe links to experts, gas stations with air conditioning and food, nor much in the way of “civilization” as we know it to rely on.   We got here because we had to, we had no other choice other than the prospect of spending another night alongside the road.

For those of you with a life, here’s a short version of what happened:

  • We spent two days in Mendoza getting Now Voyager “fixed” from the local, authorized BMW dealer.  Their analysis says basically that my road side repairs of the previous day’s journey were inadequate and that now they’d put the cooling system right.  All systems are a go!
  • We reconnect with the wonderful group of Brazilians and ride with them over the nearest Andes pass, which will deposit us close to Chile’s capital, Santiago.  The first part of the day goes well as the road and scenery are spectacular.   I catch myself thinking that we’re on the verge of our first good motorcycle day in the three weeks we’ve been in South America.  We reach the Chilian border, about 10,000 ft up, and get all of our paperwork done and through in slightly more than an hour.  KR does a great job in ushering us through the administration and I keep the Steed moving along.
  • Shortly before the top, NV begins to overheat a little.   Whenever I slow up — even in high, cold altitude with no engine load — he starts to get hot.  Always being the optimist, I hope its just a little thing caused by the altitude.  I start the emergency drill immediately:  never come to a stop without shutting him down, push him along rather than the stop and start that everyone else can execute, don’t push him in terms of speed or stress.
  • None the less, we make it over the top and descend the wonderful switchbacks coming off the Andes on the Chilean side.  I have great video which I will upload once I figure how to.   Then it happens without much warning.  We slow for some traffic, he gets hot, strews coolant all over, and a couple of miles later the red warning light is flashing and we come to a dead rest along side the road.
  • We’re about 70 miles from Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes with no town near.   One of the Brazilians driving the chase car stops and offers assistance.  He attempts to call the BMW dealer that Sam has supplied (thank you Sam about a dozen times!) and eventually goes on his way.
  • Three hours later, after concluding no help will come, we fire NV up and attempt to limp toward Santiago.  We are on a highway that winds through the hills (they would be mountains in any other part of the world except perhaps the Alps) and we’ve made another 17 miles.   We find ourselves behind a slow moving pickup truck when we enter a tunnel.  This tunnel turns out to be very long, very narrow, and because of the pickup, very slow.  Now Voyager is having none of it and all alarms blast off again.  I shut it down and start coasting down the tunnel.  If we come to a stop, KR and I know we’re toast as there’s just no place to go.  I can see the headlights of the semis coming closer and closer.  I tell KR to lean down to get the best aerodynamic position possible.  We make it out of the tunnel and coast another 2-4 miles down the mountain to a toll booth.
  • This turns out to be a crucial piece of luck.  While there is nothing close to the toll booth — no store, houses, town, etc. — one of the guards calls an emergency vehicle.  He explains to us that they can get a truck out here, but it has a 20 km limit.  Go back 20kms to the town of Los Andes or go 20 km forward and get deposited somewhere alongside the road, but closer to Santiago.   We pick the latter option.   Both KR and I know if we hadn’t made the toll booth, we’d be camping alongside NV tonight as there is just nothing else around.
  • Tow truck #1 promptly arrives and after a fair amount of discussion (of which I only understand 20%), we figure out how to get NV onto his flatbed and proceed down the highway toward Santiago.  Neither KR nor I really understand how far he will take us nor will ultimately he will deposit us.  He goes more than his allotted 20 kms and drops us off in a gas station about 18 miles from Santiago according to the Garmin.   He calls tow truck #2, a commercial outfit ( amazingly, tow truck #1 is free), and 10 minutes later a big red Mercedes flatbed arrives.  After a similar amount of discussion, we figure out how to load NV and start the slow, but oh so comfortable ride to the BWW dealership somewhere in Santiago.
  • We arrive at the Santiago BMW dealer around 10PM.  Our driver convinces the security guards to find someone in “authority,” which they do and eventually we are let inside the gated and guarded car lot.  We unload, ask if there’s a hotel nearby, and are given a ride to the Radison two miles down the road.
  • This is not your ordinary Radison, but one of the most sleek and luxuriously hotels we’ve been in (certainly lately:).   It’s great.  We dump everything in the room and rush downstairs to the restaurant before the 11:00PM close time.  Screwdriver please!

The situation as of 11:00 AM on Wednesday in Santiago, Chile. I write this in the lobby of the local BMW dealer awaiting the removal of NV from their new car parking lot to the their motorcycle service department some miles down the road.  Everyone has been very nice, but no action has taken place yet.  I am in a mean, no bull-shit mood.  If one more person tells me that all 800s have overheating problems in the mountains, I’m going to whip out my pepper spray and dust them.   I have applied every account-guy fiber ever developed over 30 years of client service to not to rip someone — anyone  — a new asshole .  I am so totally disgusted with the BMW over-promise that I could choke someone.  But, I know that won’t accomplish anything and probably will just piss off someone that might be able to help me.

Despite its many statues and parks (this one of San Martin taken as he swipes at the moon), Mendoza isn't our favorite city. The primary redeeming visual characteristic is the thousands of trees (there are more trees than people) planted a hundred years ago and are fed by an elaborate underground irrigation system. The real attraction of Mendoza -- its wines -- are to be found in the wineries surrounding the city. Not surprisingly, the cheapest thing in this town are great Malbecs.

A thin patina of safety. NV sits in the service bay of Genco BMW in Mendoza. I can't really blame the folks at Genco as they tried their best. One m/c technician, about a dozen bikes awaiting attention, and here comes this gringo who obviously performed road side repairs in a less-than-stellar fashion. Conclusion: its my fault as the thermostat, fan, radiator cap, and water pump all work. They top it off with coolant and send me on my way. I ride NV around Mendoza all day, making sure not to baby it in traffic and all things do seem right. I'm optimistic.

Calm before the storm (again). NV sits in front of the maligned Alcor hotel in Mendoza. Perhaps I've been too tough on the Alcor whose staff have been extremely gracious and nice. Yet, it's located in a gritty part of the city and the room doesn't even have an electrical socket. And for $65 DOLLARs a night, I feel a little ripped.

KR and Edson celebrate what will surely be a wonderful day of riding in the Andes. The night before we had dinner with Edson, his family and some friends. We like them alot and decided to hang with them over the Andes and into the Atacama.

And the roads were terrific. Going up, they're fast and sweeping curves. Going down, it was another story.

Road construction delays are expected and common. I guess a short summer makes for little progress as they seemed to be working on the same places as when I passed last year: )

We approach the Chilean border crossing at 10,000 ft. Cars and motos are directed to the large lot in the lower right.

Surprisingly, I was most apprehensive about our first border crossing, this one from Argentina to Chile. Here KR took over the filling out of a dozen forms and shuttling them between offices. We were done in a little more than an hour with no problems.

And DOWN we go! Switch-backs on the Chilean side make for great, but ohhh so careful riding.

Taking pictures with your eyes closed: ) We lean in and KR snaps a pic

Then the S.H.E. kicks in for real. We're in the foothills of the Andes along side Ruta 60. KR and Francisco take shelter in the shade of a small house. We make phone calls for assistance, to no avail.

We were helped all along the way by total strangers. Two workers from the Colbun Central Chacabuquito hydro electric plant drive by and stop. None of the four of us can speak the other's language, but they convince us it will be safer to move us and bike down the road to their plant. Which we do... In this shot, one of the guys stands in the shade while the other "explains" to me about safety with the guard looking on. Later, he heated water for our tea 🙂

For a while we relax hoping to be rescued by Santiago BMW. We soon come to the realization that we're on our own. Now than NV has cooled down, we chance another madly-slow-dash to Santiago

This is definitely NOT the light at the end of the tunnel. We catch a slow truck entering a narrow tunnel and NV goes bonkers again. I shut him down and we silently coast down and out of this mile-long disaster waiting to happen. Somehow its downhill enough that we're able to keep our speed up sufficiently to get out of the tunnel and down the mountain to...

The toll booth located somewhere on G115. Here the "rescue tow truck driver" and I try and understand what a passerby motorcyclist is saying. We finally get his message, " You're shit out of luck."

All I'm thinking is how appropriate it would have been to drop NV on a tow truck 🙂 Not this time, I manned-up and made it happen. Right after this picture, KR took over the operation of the winch and tow truck driver #1 rushed to help me get NV all the way up.

This is the BMW experience they don't advertise, but it was welcomed.

Not knowing the language is just an inconvenience when ordering a drink, a great deal more serious when you're in trouble. This is an example of what occurred a dozen times. FW speaks only english. Tow truck driver #2 speaks only Spanish. We find a 3rd person -- this time a guy who's walking out of McDonalds-- who has a slight grasp of both languages. The three of us collaborate sufficiently well to get the job done.

The Happy Ending for this episode 🙂 Best hotel we've stayed in for quite sometime. KR is still purring. I may not get her to leave. Can't really blame her...


9 replies
  1. Jack & Janet says:

    I was envious when this started but I am not so sure anymore. You will love Chile. I rafted the bio-bio several years ago after taking the train from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara Chile. I recommend going south, it is truly a beautiful country. Lots of hot springs you can soak your tired bodies in. Have a great time, hopefully the troubles are over.

  2. Chris D'Angelo says:

    Still better than sitting in the office all day… I am still jealous! Only 7 more hours and I can get a glimpse of the Dakar on Versus for 24 minutes… OOoo! 6 hours and 59 minutes…

  3. Pete Mac says:

    Fred (& KR),
    I hope you continue to find the energy to post such interesting feedback – I know you’ll likely say it’s because you’re sitting around waiting for repairs that you have the time, but this tough moment will soon pass too.
    Great pics; excellent captions; good writing!
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Pete Mac says:

    One more thing… presumably the techs are checking that your radiator fan is actually engaging and cooling? Had a similar problem on Sandi’s 650 where some debris in the fan housing was jamming the fan and preventing it from turning.

    Just a thought


  5. Cindy says:

    I’ve been glued to my computer screen for 30 minutes. THANK YOU for your wonderful writing and details. Love to you both!

  6. Yvonne Angyal says:

    SCHEISSE! BMW’s!!!! Anyways… Hope you get that baby running again! I must say that it does make for a very interesting and exciting story. I am really enjoying all your blogs and looking forward to the next one. Wishing you happier travels to come 🙂
    Enjoy that part of the world!

  7. Ron & Lee says:

    Sorry to hear about the problems with the bike. I also had some overheating in Alaska last year and found the rock guard (we are both using the same one)cuts the air flow to much, for the marginal BMW cooling system. I would suggest you just remove it and make sure there is not any dirt on the air cooling holes and keep them as clear possible using water or air. Good luck.

  8. Peter says:

    I too. Not only read every bit it, but am also looking forward to more. Also can’t wait to see the video. Be well, both of ya.

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