M/Cing to SA: To hell and back (barely)

10:00 PM on an increasingly deserted street in Mendoza.  The bike is broken as its overheating severely.   I’m attempting yet another road-side fix. We’re lost and have no place to stay.   And more and more people with the “are you crazy” look in their eyes come up and warn us that shortly the street will be too dangerous to stay.  I’m (no kidding) thinking that we’re sleeping on the sidewalk with pepper spray in hand to defend our fallen steed.

This is as close to disaster as we’ve been in a very, very long time

For the rest of our lives one word will mean fear, confusion, bone-deep weariness, despair, desperation, and, ultimately, survival to Karen and I:  “Mendoza.”   The past twenty-four hours have brought much of why we like to travel ‘freestyle” and much of what we pray doesn’t ever happen to us.  It’s the kind of experience that reinforces to some of you that we’re crazy.  Somehow, through the help of friends, the harnessing of technology, the never-never-give-up-always-on-the-case attitude that emergencies require, the kindness of strangers and pure, unadulterated luck I’m writing you in the stark comfort of a small hotel in downtown Mendoza.  I still don’t know where we are, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

The headlines…

  • Over 15 hours we nurse an overheating motorcycle 300 miles through 106F degree heat, making two 2-hour road side repairs by the least able mechanic I know (me).  We arrive in Mendoza and literally coast off the highway as Now Voyager has expired at the city’s edge.
  • Blackberry, Skype, email and Internet literally link a friend in Florida, an expert technician in Los Angeles, and me somewhere in the Western pampas of Argentina, together to brainstorm and fix Now Voyager.  Sam searches for similar problems by other bikers, looks for the nearest BMW dealer, and generally acts as communications hub.  My friend Ryan who happens to be an expert BMW technician, gives me blow-by-blow instructions over Skype on how to fix NV.  I take pictures with the Blackberry and send to Sam/Ryan for collective analysis.
  • It just keeps getting hotter and hotter.  For much of the day, it’s near 100, but then it jumps to 106.  I’m riding with one eye on the road and the other monitoring the temperature gauge.  I’m silently praying that the needle doesn’t move, or if it does, it does just a little.  This prayer isn’t answered as I’m forced to make one repair in a gas station 150 miles from Mendoza and the next under a tree at a toll booth a couple of hours later.
  • We would be up shit’s creek if every gas station, toll booth, “convenience” store in Argentina didn’t have high horsepower and FREE wi-fi.  I’ve never been to a country as connected as Argentina.
  • We avert another kind of disaster as KR awakens from her nap (yes she sleeps on the bike) to discover the bag tied on one of the panniers has loosened and the straps are beginning to get spooled in the rear wheel.  She warns me in time to come to a stop just as the rear wheel is locking up.
  • We arrive in Mendoza at Sunset.  We let NV cool off as we try to find a B&B or hostel to stay in.  We’re both disoriented, but have two potentials highlighted.  We ride less than a mile and NV severely overheats again, forcing a stop in a less-than-stellar neighborhood.  It’s now somewhere close to 10 as I decide to make another repair of the heating system and KR wanders off to try and find a hotel.  For the third time, I take the fairing off, open the system, and bleed the water pump.  This time its not going well and I don’t seem to be making much progress.
  • The street is now almost totally deserted — its maybe 11.  More than a couple of nice people walk up and warn me about getting robbed.  They have a seriousness of expression that makes me believe them.  I’m  a little unnerved.  But, I can’t go because NV isn’t buttoned up.  And if he was, would he run more than the few blocks he made last time?
  • Finally  I button him up and go looking for KR, who went off down the street looking for help. I’m cursing my stupid decision to let her wander off by herself when she reappears with vague directions to a garage that a hotel uses.  We slowly creep along, running red lights and dodging buses, as the last thing I want to do is be stationery.  We stop where the parking garage is suppose to be:  small, narrow street.  Not much lighting.  No one on the street.  Where’s the f___king garage!  KR goes looking for the hotel as I stand near NV.
  • Instead of going straight down the street, she hangs a left,  totally disoriented and lost.  I run after, trying to stop her, but lose sight of her.  I look back and some guy’s standing next to NV so I run back prepared to use my pepper spray in our defense.  It turns out he’s the garage attendant.  I run back around the corner yelling at the top of my lungs, “Karen!!!”  Five minutes later, she appears.
  • We store NV in the basement of a building that’s either being torn down or built, but its a ruins none the less.  We walk two blocks and find a hotel.  We sit in the lobby totally whipped and know that we’ve skated past total disaster.

The situation as of 6:00PM, Sunday in Mendoza, Argentina. Everything’s closed today, so I’ve spent the day working.  Tomorrow we tackle trying to figure out what NV’s base problem is. It might take a few days, but we’ll figure it out somehow.  Next, we’re going over the Andes and then up the Atacama desert.  If NV’s problem continues there, we’ll be toast.

The best part of traveling freestyle on a m/c are the people you meet. This is Dolf, a dairyman in this small village about 100 miles west of Buenos Aires. He tells us his story: he's from Scandinavia and was attending Ohio State to learn more about milking cows (I'm not making this up) and he meets his future wife there. They get married, and move back to his wife's home town and now Dolf works for her father who is a ... dairyman. Dolf and dad assure us the road west is fast and wide. No speed limits required. I don't need encouragement...

The trouble begins. NV starts spitting out its coolant. We're a couple of hundred miles west of BA, 20 east of a little town called Rufino. We ride to Rufino.

We find a cafe, with wi-fi of course. Here, I'm skyping Sam or Ryan while showing them video of the problem from my computer's camera.

Another serendipity occurs. We arrive at Rufino's only hotel (which Sam has guided me in via Google Earth/Skype) to find the hotel full of Brazilians on their m/c vacation. We have a truly wonderful evening of refreshments, talking bikes, learning about Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil. We have such a good time that we decide to tag along with them to Mendoza, which we do until the first stop. NV is overheating so we have to stop and make repairs, and they continue onward. We bump into them 14 hours later as we ride down a street in Mendoza.

Overheating repairs along side a toll station that had free wi-fi. We trace part of the problem to a malfunctioning radiator cap, which I replace with a spare (Thank you Ryan!). Then fill the system up again, bleed the water pump, put all the skin back, and repeat as necessary. It works well for a while...

Sitting at a Mendoza sidewalk cafe where NV expired. We're estatic at this point because we think we've "made it." Our plans and composure quickly go haywire when we get on NV and realize we can't go more than a couple of blocks without it overheating.

Which leaves us here. Shot with my Blackberry as I continue working on NV on Avenida San Martin. "You better go now, Mister!" I'm advisded by more than one person

Come on, would you have thought this was a hotel's garage? And this was shot during the day.

This is where NV sits now.

9 replies
  1. Jayson says:

    Dude… you two are my heroes! Don’t die. Keep the posts coming and if i can help, please add me into the story. 🙂

  2. Chuck says:

    Hi Fred and Karen……..from the picture it looks like your brought a television, a couch and a refrigerator……no wonder you’re scooter is over heating!!!!!!!! we do like reading the S.H.E…..keep it coming.

  3. Bruce Conrad says:

    Fred: Both the BMW 800’s we had in South America did the same; we learned to ignore the temp dash light until it started pissing coolant. Fill one of those Red Fuel cans with water. If you need I have a BMW friend in Santiago & here is her contact info. info@motoaventura.cl
    Tel. 0056 64249121
    Sonia Dvorachuk: 0056 998298077
    Sonia is a BMW Chile Dealer

  4. gwen says:

    FWKR- This is worse than watching the news. We suggest ditching NV over the Andes, returning to Vallarta and checking in to Hacienda San Angel. John W. is buying. the ellegwents

  5. Ryan says:

    Hope all is well. If the bike has enough coolant and no air in the system and the bike overheats again, check the thermostat before letting someone talk you into a head gasket repair…much cheaper repair…best wishes.

  6. Cindy says:

    JEEZ!! I am thinking good thoughts!!! Stay safe.. remember.. we have dibs on PV with you for next New Years!

  7. Gregg & Tish says:

    Well now, harrowing comes to mind, sheer terror, and perhaps mind-numbing frustration. But the good news is that your future mediocre days of travel will seem magnificent and unforgettable by comparison. Be careful, and forgive the amateurish assumption, but could it be possible that you are carrying too much weight for Now Voyager to perform without over-heating? Especially up mountains?

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