Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650 ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride


June 4, 2002.-- What a long, strange trip it's been....

Credit to www.theodora.com/mapsUyuni Adventure:
Last Day

-- Story by Chris --

Monday, June 3rd: We woke after a good night’s sleep, and headed outside to prepare the bikes. The bike covers were coated in white, as nighttime temps had again dropped below 0F/-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 up.

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 couldn’t 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 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 couldn’t 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 facility.

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 hadn’t driven off, they just pulled off the track and I couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 Mark’s 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 Kfir’s gear and Kfir couldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t know why Mark hadn’t returned. I was sitting on the ground at 4,650meters, and couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 going?

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 wasn’t 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 problem.

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 wasn’t moving too fast, but was clearly moving and did not look shallow. The proper thing would have been to walk across. But I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t 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 difference today.

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 – it’s covered in the park entrance fee!

 


Kfir fueling up


My helpful friend on his Jawa


A skeleton of a fox, as a statue in the middle of nowhere


The last river crossing

 

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