The next morning the parking attendant at my fancy hotel helped me get Doc up on the center stand for a good chain lubing. I was ready to hit the pavement and brave the winds on Ruta 3 south toward Piedrabuena. For the first 150 miles the road was in bad shape with potholes, construction, recently oiled lanes. The crosswind strong and the few times the road cruised along the coast I was treated to vistas of rough sees and an endless horizon. As the miles clicked by the fuel drained. The first armadillo I passed was a pancake on windswept highway. The second slowly meandered as I dodge it’s thorny tail as it crossed my lane.
The wind fought me the who ride south toward Piedrabuena where I thought I’d take a dirt road across the continent to El Calafate. By now the ocean was too far east to see and all I could focus on was the wind, the scary strong gusts and the music from my iPod. This road was long, straight and boring. Finally a stretch where I felt comfortable cranking up the tunes. It was a wonderful reprieve. With the strong winds coming from the west, passing trucks going south provided additional excitement. For as I overtook the trucks the second I’m on the eastern side of this massive windblocks the wind stops and for a few brief moments I felt as if I was floating. It was suddenly quiet, the heavy force of wind gone and the purr of the engine incredibly noticeable. Then the second I pass the truck and slam back into the wind the bike jerks, tilts and waddles a tad side by side as I feel as if someone just swung a baseball bat at me. Intense.
In San Julien, where in the middle of this desolate landscape I found a modern and clean YPF gas station. Gas attendants at most these places are always suprised and amazed that the fuel filling cap for my F650GS Dakar is not in the usual spot – the gas tank is actually under the seat and the fill cap sits midway on the bike. The guy has to naviate around one of my dry bags to thread the pump and handle into the tank. I notice another bike, a Honda, loaded up for travel. It appears to be an enduro/dual sport but I don’t reconize it. It’s not the usual Trans-Alp or Africa Twin that are found just about everywhere except the United States. No, this was dark blue and gray and it appeared to be patched together a bit with tape and wire.
Dario was securing his gear and putting on his helmet when I pushed my bike away from the pump next to his. Tall, unassuming with a friendly demeanor, he pulled out maps from his tank bank that was stuffed with guide books, tools and other remnants of many days traveling. He pointed to a few smashed parts of his bike, a 1989 Honda NX 650. “Ruta 40!” he said with a slight smile. Somewhere outside of Tres Lagos he ran into deep gravel and the bike went down. Oddly enough, one of his plastic panniers landed on his leg which was okay, but still sore from the crash a few days before. His starter switch broke as did the cowling around his light and fairing. I should note that you might remember Ming who rode with Jeremiah for a bit and I had met in San Pedro Atacama. Well somewhere along the same stretch of Ruta 40 he crashed his DR650 bruising his ribs and barely getting his leg caught under the bike. Ruta 40 has beaten a lot of riders.
Soon Dario and I moved our conversation to inside the YPF where we sipped Cokes and swapped stories. He pointed several areas on the map worth visiting, and then explained he had started his trip with a few other riders. One friend had his F650GS stolen from a hostal in El Calafate. Amazingly, he told me the cops had recovered the bike. As the clock ticked on and the sun sunk lower in the sky we had to say goodbye. He needed to move north toward Buenos Aires and I needed to get into Piedrabuena before dark. We swap cards and it turns out Dario is a photographer and we agreed that we’d connect later in March when I would be in Buenos Aires. He needs to jump wires in order to start his Honda – another problem created by Ruta 40.
So as the sunsets late in Piedrabuena I find the hotel at the YPF station in this tiny settlement several hours north of Rio Gallegos has no vacancy. A quick fill up and a cruise through town. Dario gave me a tip on a hostal in town so I went looking for it. The first stop was a seedy dive that was also full. Next stop is a hostal that looks a tad better but of the 3 hotels in this town, it was looking to be my only option. A guy in his thirties, thin with dark hair and sporting a huge smile walks out of the hotel. I figure he’s the owner and going to tell me the place is full. But no. I notice a lanyard and keys around his neck. The lanyard says BMW. Turns out the guy is on a F650GS – not the Dakar – and his bike is in the back.
Enquiring about a room I learn that all they have available is one with three beds and a shared bathroom. But the price is rather high since it really is meant for a family. Meanwhile, Nano a thirty-three year old from Buenos Aires shows me his bike. Nano is animated, funny and full of stories. His buddy who is traveling wiht him back to Buenos Aires had ridden to Ushuaia on a Moto Guzzi. But the roads on Tierra del Fuego beat up and mashed the front rim beyond repair. And this was after another stretech of dirt road and a heap of gravel caused him to face plant and crash the bike. So the Moto Guzzi was on a truck heading to Buenos Aires, while Leonard, a 38 year old bike enthusiast with a receding hairline and full beard, decided to ride two-up with Nano back to the Buenos Aires.
We continue swapping stories while I consider the more expensive “triple room”. Nano tells me that just about a week before his bike was stolen while in El Calafate. My brain whizzes and I remember the story Dario had relayed. “You’re kidding?” He shows me the bike and the wires that were used to hotwire his bike. “Sabes otro motociclista se nombre es Dario?” I ask him if he knows Dario. It’s that damn small world syndrome coming back at me. These guys were originally riding with Dario, the guy I met just hours before in San Julian.
But now I get the real story of the hijackd and stolen BMW F650.
Leaving their bikes at the hostal, Dario, Leonard, Nano and another biker went out for a beer and some chow. Upon returning they find the BMW has disappeared. While locked and secure, the panniers were still on teh bike and contained all of nano’s clothes, supplies, parts and worldly possessions. Meanwhile, the cops get involved and for the next three days all of them roam the streets looking for the stolen bike. Leonard had already sent his bike with the bent rim onward to Buenos Aires, while Dario was getting ready to move North toward El Chalten, Tres Lagos and then across the continent to Piedrabuena. After the three days Nano had given up. Feeling dejected, sad and nearly in tears that his prized bike was gone forever, he and Leonard hop a packed bus for Buenos Aires.
So take a look at this picture. Two guys leave Buenos Aires weeks before on the ide on the trip of their lifetime to the bottom of the world. Now weeks later they sit on a crowded bus and have to stare out the window while realizing that in their dreams neither of their journeys would end this way. Spaced, feeling sorry for himself Nano just stares out the window when a glint or glare of something red catches his eye. They’re just 15 miles outside of El Calafate. Wait! It’s his bike. He sees it sitting on the side of the road. Running to the front of the bus he nearly yanks the shirt off the bus driver who refuses to stop because they are on a tight schdule. Finally after nearly a mile the bus driver stops and lets the two guys off.
Nano and Leonard start running down the highway. It’s hopeless. But they convince a bicyclists to turn around and head down the road to where they bike was last seen. No luck. Nano tries his cell phone and calls the cops. Just as he’s explaining that he spotted the bike he loses his signal. Frantic and paniced he tries to reach the cops again. But it’s useless. They are just ar enough out of twon where the signal is too weak. Nano nearly breaks down and cries. They walk miles back to town. And as they walk into town they see police offices and wait, yes, that’s his bike. The cops had acted on the truncated call and were able to catch the guy and the stolen bike.
I found a room just down the street but later we continued our conversations and stories over dinner and a couple cold beers. These guys talked me out of the road that stretches about 150 miles over dirt, gravel and mud to El Calafate. They said it was in very bad shape and would likely take the better part of a day. Instead, they suggested get an early start in in three hours I could be in El Calafate enjoying the glaciars, cold beers and hip environment. I considered this to be valuable advice.
The next morning we connected for a last round of photos, hugs and high-fives while they journeyed north and I headed to El Calafate – the quick route!