Monday, June 3rd: We woke after a good
nights sleep, and headed outside to prepare the bikes. The bike covers were coated
in white, as nighttime temps had again dropped below 0°F/-15C. We pushed the 3 bikes 10
meters into the sunlight to help warm them up, and were immediately tired. We were
"down" at 4,300meters, but still having trouble breathing. After a short
struggle between the batteries and the cold, all three bikes turned over and began warming
After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, Kfir, Mark, and I put on all our layers and
mounted the bikes. We had to make it back to Uyuni, some 280kms northeast before sunset.
Not sure how the bikes would perform today, we headed out while Hector loaded the jeep
with the help of John and Erin. Hector had given me some basic directions, including the
names of the 5 villages we would pass near or through.
We were following the very nice winding track around the southern part of Laguna
Colorada. I thought we were on the wrong track and headed further south to where I thought
that more (direct) tracks were. When I got to the signpost for the road north, I turned to
wait for Mark and Kfir. Mark was right behind me, but behind him was just grazing Llamas
-- we couldnt see Kfir. After a few minutes I backtracked and found Kfir standing
next to his bike, off the tracks and in the middle of the sand. He could not get the bike
to run above 1st gear. We got his bike back on a track and were heading to the
signpost where we figured we could flag Hector down.
When we got back to the signpost and to Mark, I felt a cool breeze on my right leg. I
looked down and discovered my zipper on my pant leg had popped. Suddenly, Mark said he
thought he saw a dust trail further north, closer to the lake. Oh no! We knew it had to be
Hector. Mark grabbed some duck-tape and began taping my leg while I watched the truck pass
our position some ½ kilometer away. As I was the faster rider (barely), I took off across
the sandy dunes to catch Hector, the jeep, and the trailer! Mark was to follow me as we
knew we would have a fight with Hector.
I tore across the soft surface, with a mixed feeling of dread (for Kfir) and amazement
at how my riding in sand has greatly improved. We always had to wait for Hector in the
past, so I thought I could catch him quickly. When I eventually got to the road he was on,
it was quite good and as I sped at 100km/h to catch him, I couldnt seem to close the
gap. Many turns were deep sand and I struggled to keep the dancing handlebars level and
the front wheel pointed the direction I wanted. At every bend I thought I expected to
catch the jeep, but the gap never seemed to get smaller. Although I was following a faint
dust trail, there were still many trails to choose from and Hector knew the correct one
without hesitation. At one point I made a wrong turn and ended up in a small industrial
I was exasperated beyond belief why was he driving so fast after all this time?
(Erin later explained they believed we were in front and were trying to catch up to us). I
finally thought I got my break when I saw the jeep begin to climb a mountain. I was no
more then 200 meters below them, flashing my headlight and waving my hand. I was
concentrating on them, and not on the ground below me
mistake. The deep sand caught
me unaware and threw the bike right, then left. I tried to get my leg out to stop the
fall, but my reactions were too slow. Down I went with my right leg trapped below the
bike. I was scared: Scared that the jeep would leave us stranded, without the fuel to get
to Uyuni, even if the bikes were OK and we knew which way to go.
I kicked my way free of the bike and stood up to see the jeep had stopped. I waved my
arms to make sure they had my attention, then looked down and tried to pick up the bike. I
had no strength, and could barely budge the bike. I looked up the mountain to wave the
jeep back for help, but could no longer see it. I thought Hector had abandoned me. Erin
was in the jeep yelling at him to stop, but he had said we were on our own. A moment of
calm followed by a flush of anger got the bike halfway up, while sheer determination got
the bike upright. I jumped on the bike and took chase up the hill. As I came through the
first switchback, I saw the jeep pulled off to the side, with Erin waiting for me. They
hadnt driven off, they just pulled off the track and I couldnt see them. When
I eventually reached them, I stopped the bike, put my head on the handlebars, and just
tried to breathe.
After a few minutes, I explained the situation. Hector didnt want to go back
it was 47kms and all kinds of problems for him. It was then I realized one of my
fork seals had blown, and that I had felt some hesitation in my bike while chasing him.
Could I be having problems again, too?!?! I told Hector to take my fuel container and
Marks off the jeep, that we would top up and continue to Uyuni, but that he had to
go help Kfir. At the very least, he had all of Kfirs gear and Kfir couldnt
stay in town without his sleeping bag.
John helped me fill my tank, while Hector unhooked the empty trailer. I wanted to argue
with him, but knew it was pointless and more important that Kfir himself wasnt
stranded. Just when they were ready to leave, we spotted Mark riding where I had dropped
my bike. He thought he went the wrong way and began to turn around. We all shouted and
even beeped the horn. It was too late, he didnt hear us. The jeep turned around on
the narrow trail and started after him. I was still having trouble catching my breath, but
decided to check my sparkplugs while I waited for Mark. The plugs had a light coating of
soot after only 67kms
would I make it to Uyuni?
After a half-hour, I didnt know why Mark hadnt returned. I was sitting on
the ground at 4,650meters, and couldnt seem to catch my breath. I said to myself
that I would give Mark another 15 minutes, until 11:15am. At 11:30, an hour after we saw
him from the ridge, there was still no sign of Mark. I assumed he went with the jeep back
to Kfir, and they were in some sort of argument. I couldnt breathe, and needed to
get to lower altitude. I wrote a note to the others that I was moving onward.
Unsure of myself, I crept up one of the rockiest trails I have ever encountered. I
shifted back and forth between first and second gear, unable to control the bike over the
rocks as I had no strength in me. I was scared. What if I got a flat? I didnt have
my pump, Mark had the pump. What if the jeep stayed in Laguna Colorada or took a different
route? What if I missed a turn or took the wrong one? It took me 90 minutes to ride 25kms,
but I finally got down to 4,000 meters and was beginning to feel a little better. Now
what? Should I wait for Mark? Wait for the jeep? Where is everyone and which way are they
I reached the small river crossing 2kms before Villa Mar that Hector had told me about.
I turned away from the village, but soon got lost in a myriad of trails that ended in a
llama farm. I backtracked over the river, then up the road to the small village. I found a
few guys working on an old Jawa motorcycle and asked them directions. There was some
confusion and I asked if they could cross the river with me and put me on the correct
trail. They asked me to wait 5 minutes while they re-attached the shock, then one of the
men led me out of town. The river wasnt wide, but it was up over my boots with my
feet on the pegs. I asked if he could cross with his bike and he smiled as if to say no
We rode another kilometer and came to an intersection I had taken to the north. He told
me to continue straight, and that the track would turn to the north in another kilometer.
He warned me I would have to cross a larger river at 2 different points further ahead, but
not to worry as they would only come up to my waist!
I thanked him, took his photo, and gave him 10 BOB ($1.50) for his help it was
the smallest bill I had. The track was not as smooth as he had said, but it was pretty
good and I was starting to feel better. When the road curved to the north, it lined up
with a route on the GPS and I instantly felt heaps better! I eventually came to the river
and stared across the 25-meter expanse. The river wasnt moving too fast, but was
clearly moving and did not look shallow. The proper thing would have been to walk across.
But I didnt have a choice I had to get across. I crept to the muddy bank and
gave the bike throttle as the front tire hit the water. I was progressing well until I
reached the middle and the bike began to slow. A further twist of the throttle produced a
mild gurgle and the bike surged forward until we safely reached the other side. The river
didnt reach my waist, but was up to my knees with my feet on the pegs, which was
deep enough for me!
The second time I had to cross I had a better idea what to expect and crossed with
little difficulty. I realized the jeep would have to come across at this point, if it were
taking the same route as originally discussed. I wrote my name in big letters in the mud
so Erin would know I had safely crossed.
As time and the kilometers clicked by, I began to feel my normal strength return, and
the fear of unimaginable problems slipped away. There were a few more large river
crossings, but I just followed the jeep tracks and got through fine. I was progressing
nicely, firmly in-line with a route on the GPS. I passed through the villages Hector had
mentioned, and confirmed with the few locals I was heading the right way.
I reached Uyuni around 5pm, before sunset but later than expected. The route was pretty
bumpy in many places, and I was trying to be careful with the front forks. After parking
the bike in the hotel, I went to the office of Uyuni Tours to see if they had heard from
Hector. They hadnt heard anything, and assumed he would reach Uyuni later in the
evening. I spoke with the woman about the problems, and she agreed that Hector should have
taken one bike in the trailer, but the US$35 price was too low to include the $5 park fee.
I said her boss gave us the price and the guarantee, and although we enjoyed the beautiful
sites, we were dissatisfied with the service. She agreed.
Forty-five minutes later Mark rode up, with the jeep a few minutes behind. I was
thrilled to see them, and Erin ran up and gave me a big hug! They had talked to the locals
in the villages and knew I was ahead of them, but there were still many tracks to choose
from and few signs, so they always expected me to get lost. The GPS made all the
Kfir had made it back to the ranger station, and the rangers would bring him and the
bike to town in their bi-weekly truck to Uyuni, free its covered in the park