Our Crew

Question: Can eleven Type A personalities get along for fifteen days? Answer: Yes, if they’re riding bikes and being taken care of by Pampa Adventures.

The Dakar Chasers

1. Jim Hyde, Rawhyde Adventures.  Jim was the Organizer, Expedition Leader, Protector and Main Cheerleader of our group.  ( ) Saved my ass more than once, but that can be said for most of my fellow Dakar Chasers

2. & 3.  Tom and Ken Petrillo. Tom and Ken hung together like brothers should.  Tom’s my hero, being an auto parts magnate, as he’s owned and sold more great cars than I’ve ever seen. Ken’s my hero as well, not because he owns his insurance agency, but because he ‘s like rated #1 in some AMA motocross series.  Very studly dirt rider.  Also saved my bacon more than once.

4. Kent Clausen, hotel developer from the Big Sky Country (or somewhere out there…)  I think of him as Gentle Kent, being an X Football player.   Didn’t take any knocks on the head as he’s a very, very sharp hotelier.

5. Raphael Bertolus, Jim’s friend and LA high-end builder.   Raphael set the record for being stopped by the police. THREE times.   He claims it was my fault as the police were looking for me.

6. Charlie Walton, Las Vegas surgeon.  Charlie was my roommate for most of the trip and a fine one at that.  Then, he deserted me for someone else.  I’m heartbroken.

7. Chuck Brown, retired BART manager.  What more can I say, Chuck’s fast and a major babe magnet.  Does it get any better than that?

8. Jim McMichael, Reno investment banker.   Jim’s riding strategy was keep your head down and plow straight-ahead, no matter what.   Probably what’s made him a successful financier.

9. Bassel Fares, 747 pilot living out of his flight bag.  Basel joined us a little late but immediately got in the swing of things.  Always rode covered from head to foot in black.  I suspect he’s wanted somewhere…

10. Mark Smead, retired software developer.  Mark was totally prepared, had all the latest gadgets, and was always up for the next ride.  Did I mention he helped pick me up out of sand?

The Pampa Adventures Crew ( )

There’s no doubt that the Three Amigos pictured above were the real heroes of this trip.  Jim’s company partnered with the Argentina-based Pampa Adventures who mapped out the entire trip, brought two chase trucks, and cooked some great meals in the remotest areas imaginable.  And, believe it or not, they did it with a smile on their face

Left: Ignacio, “Nacho.”   Good-natured, the Main Man and chief interpreter on the road.  As a bonus, Nacho mapped out my South American motorcycle trip route J

Middle:  Dario. Driver, cook, and all-around great guy.  Always quick to go to the cooler for a cold one.  And he drove his truck fast enough to keep most of us at bay.

Right:  El Jefe, Jorge .   Master of the expedition, a really welcome site at the end of the day standing in front of the hotel.  Picked great hotels and restaurants.  Had almost as many clothes with him as Raphael.

Best hotel. We stayed in four homes in the small city of Fiambala, Argentina since the real Dakar teams had taken up all the hotel rooms. This was perhaps our most memorable stay as we got a tiny glimpse of what an “average” Argentinean’s life might be life.

Which brings me to my final observation:  I’ve now been to four relatively poor countries (Nepal, India, Chile and Argentina) in the past year and guess what – people seem a lot happier there, than here.  What’s up with that?


Real Men are Made in the Atacama

The Atacama Desert stretches 600 miles along the coast of Chile.  It is the driest desert on earth, having no recorded rain for the last 150 years.   Think of Death Valley, and then multiply it by 100X.   There is not ONE plant growing in this place, not a shrub, cactus or weed.

We spent four days riding through its heart, along its western flank on the Pacific Ocean, and criss-crossing its mountain ranges trying to get a glimpse of the racers, rarely successful, except for a few check-points.

The Atacama replaces the Sahara’s role in the Dakar race. The Dakar, long famous for its Saharan dunes, focused much of this year’s race on the Atacama Desert. Many competitors thought the Atacama was harder and longer to get through than the Sahara. During just one day’s stage, about 25% of the bikes couldn’t make it and were forced out of the race. This is a shot of competitors racing off into the mountains.

The Atacama as economic engine. Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in South America, partly because of its substantial natural resources, mainly copper, nitrate (salt), iron and coal. The Atacama was – and is – being mined ruthlessly for its resources. We had lunch one day in a modern ghost town, Pedro de Valdivia, a huge nitrate mine that operated from 1931 to 1996. This is the purest company town I’ve ever seen, on a scale that can’t be explained via pictures or words. Thousands of three room worker houses, supermarket, schools, churches, a hospital and of course a huge factory. It’s all located in the middle of the Atacama, cut out of a mountain that was strip-mined for the salt and then abandoned when nothing was left. This is Jim Hyde, on the main street, and on the right, a dozen doors of different, but exactly alike, apartments.

The Atacama Coast of Chile. Bold, beautiful, endless blue skies and clear water. The coast is dotted with hundreds of small mining camps and fishing villages, each looking pretty worn, but with great views. We had lunch one day in a fishing village in one of these coves and became even more fond of the people of Chile.

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.