Crossing the Andes the Hard Way

Our tour was organized by Rawhyde Adventures, BMW’s official off-road riding school which teaches guys like me to be Real Dirt Eating Men.   Typically, I skipped the school.  Also, to “qualify” for going on this adventure tour, one had to fill out a questionnaire asking about one’s dirt riding experience.   I approached answering these questions as any ex-ad man might:  lots of embellishment on the positives, not too much emphasis on the negatives.   Net, I omitted the fact that the last time I’d ridden a motorcycle on dirt was 1993.  This would come back to haunt me when crossing the Andes, which in this case included 250 kilometers of dirt road…

Every Andean crossing starts out with Coca leaves chewed beginning at 6:30AM. Coffee? I don’t need no f…king coffee.

The road up the Argentinean side to the peak was spectacular. Beautiful pavement, fast curves, breathtaking scenery, few vehicles. This was one of the few straight sections. I averaged 90+mph on this road, but it wasn’t enough to beat...

Charles “Chuck” Brown. Chuck is one of the best motorcyclists I’ve ever ridden with. He’s fast on dirt, fast on pavement, fast everywhere. He’s the best student of riding that I’ve ever spoken with. I wonder what he was like at 25 rather than his 65? Perfect example of you are as old as you feel. Chuck hauls ass.

This is what altitude can do to one. Along with the Coca leaves. This is near the top.

Yellow tundra? I don’t know what this bright yellow grass was, but it covered the top of the Andes between 10,000-15000 feet.

The sign says it all. That translates to about 15,000+ feet

This is the beginning of hell, even though it looks like heaven. This was 100+kms (60 miles) of dirt road with trucks, cars and buses traversing the ONE ROAD over the Andes (note to self, remember to ask what kind of dirt road it is in the future as not all dirt roads are created equal). As I weave through soft gravel and dirt, desperately trying not to be knocked off the road, I remember the one piece of advice Jim Hyde – our Expedition Leader – gave me: when in trouble, twist the throttle! I did and somehow survived, but the whole experience scared the hell out of me.

Looks clear ahead. Oh damn, what’s that way back there? This guy was going way over 60 mph and like his fellow truckers, never lifted off the throttle to go around me. This takes place high up in the Andes, which can be accurately described as being in the middle of nowhere. Time required to get an ambulance to scrape one stupid Gringo motorcyclist off the mountainside would be measured in days.

As I was dodging the grasp of the Grim Reaper, my fellow Dakar Chasers were having a pleasant lunch next to an Andean salt lake. “Another piece of cheese, Nacho, please? Has anyone seen Fred lately? I’m sure he’ll be along shortly…” I was too sick to eat. All I could do was sit there and congratulate myself for not dropping the bike the eight times I should have.

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