Move to the back of the Truck!
-- Story by Chris --
Tuesday, March 12th: We woke on the beach of Lago Alumine, a definite vacation spot for
Argentineans. The temps are cooler now as we are in mid-fall here, so the resort town is
quite quiet. As we didn't have a definite destination in mind, we took our time packing up
the tent and getting under way. As we were leaving, we noticed that one of Erin's fork
seals was leaking we first discovered score-scratches in NZ, ground them down, and
hoped the seals would last a while -- they got about 20,000km.
We followed Ruta 23 north along the steppes of the Andes Mountains, and the border with
Chile. The lack of rain meant there was a lot of dust, so we separated a bit more than
usual. There was no one else on this road, the views were magnificent, and the landscape
was dotted with rare Arucaria trees as we approached Las Lajas. The temperature rose
dramatically as we drifted inland, (it's been a long time since we rode with just a
T-shirt under the jackets, and with all vents open) and we were sweating something awful.
In Chos Malal, the temp had risen to around 35C/95F, and the fork seals were leaking a bit
more, so we bought some fluid to help get us up to Mendoza (where we planned to change
The plan at this point was to keep riding, as it was starting to cool down and we
didn't find our calling to stop in the desert like landscape. We reached the provincial
border town of Barrancas just after 7pm. The smart thing to do would have been to set up
camp there, as we only had 45 minutes before the sun ducked down behind the mountains. So
instead, for reasons unknown at the time, we decided to push on in hopes of finding a
scenic spot to stop for the night. We passed the border post, not bothering to claim we
were bringing fruit and veggies with us, over a rickety bridge that defies the laws of
engineering, and onto some more gravel. I stopped so Erin could go ahead, and so I
wouldn't have to eat as much dust.
I only got a short way up the windy road, when I hit a bump, and knew something was
terribly wrong. I looked down, expecting to see my rear tire had blown off the rim.
Instead, the wheel looked fine, but the bike felt considerably lower -- I instantly knew
my shock had broken (Erin's just broke the previous week). I got the bike off the road as
much as possible and waited for Erin's return. It took a while, and I got anxious that
maybe something happened to her as well?!?!
Some 15 minutes passed before she returned, and I used her bike to return to the
Frontier police station to request help. After about 20 minutes, they got in touch with a
local farmer by CB radio, who came with his wife and baby in an old pickup truck. With the
aid of a spare tire, a mound of boulders, and a broken plank of wood, we finally got the
bike into the back of the pickup (the wife was much stronger than Erin or I), and bounced
back to the police station in the dark. We pitched our tent, made some dinner in their
kitchen (using our fresh veggies), declined showers, and climbed into the tent to sleep.
One of the officers approached, and said a trucker was heading north. We were
exhausted, and the driver offered to stay the night if we paid him US$200 (460 pesos) to
take us to San Rafael, a few hundred kms north. I offered him 200 pesos, he declined
and drove off as I fell back into my sleeping bag.
The wind howled all night long as we tossed and turned trying to get some sleep. Since
we were literally several hundred kilometers from any decent size town (like more than 50
people) we were nervous about our options for getting out of there. We were told that some
cargo trucks use this route to deliver goods south and then return north empty, but were
given mixed reports on the frequency. Some said about 30 trucks per day, others
claimed 3-4 every few days.
Wednesday, March 20th: We were up early, broke down the tent, and were
packed up by 8am. We made some breakfast, sat around, and I eventually pulled out
the hammock. Only a few cars passed during the morning hours, and by noon we were thinking
we would have to spend another night. There was absolutely nothing to see or do here, and
although very tranquil, it was also hot, dry, and boring. A flat bed trailer was
passing north, but supposedly had other cargo to get further up the road, and offered to
come get us the following day. We didn't know what to think, but thanked him and
returned to reading our books. He returned about 30 minutes later, and offered to
take us to Malargue, only 200km north (we were trying to get to Mendoza, some 600km away).
We were reluctant to go such a short distance, but we really had no idea what to expect if
we waited around. I knew we would have to find another ride in Malargue, and didn't know
what we would find once we arrived there.
We decided to load both bikes, as we didnt want to take a chance and damage
Erins forks with the gravel roads. As we were getting the second bike onto the
flatbed, a combi-truck pulled up to the frontier. He was heading north to San Rafael, a
large city 400km north, but still 250km from Mendoza. This seemed like a better
option. We got the bikes off the first truck, and loaded into the second. There was
no space in the front, so we rode in the trailer like cattle. It took us more than 5
hours to travel the 200km to Malargue, as the road was absolute c**p! The gravel
roads were smoother than expected, but with the tarp open to allow airflow, the trailer
was filled with dust and debris. The road, where paved, was worse than unpaved as it
was littered with potholes. The driver, Ariel, would switch back and forth between
the left and right shoulders, rarely driving on the asphalt itself. It was fun,
dirty, windy, and a new adventure the views continued to be spectacular (breathing
was also easier sticking our head out the tarp), and the slower pace of the truck allowed
us to gaze at the mountains for long periods of time it was like riding in an old
train. Ariel, was very kind and stopped twice to check on us (including a photo op)
-- he even gave us a several bunches of grapes, which we spent hours trying to devour.
All our gear was covered in dirt/dust, and our faces were almost black. When we
arrived in Malargue around 6pm, we ran into the gas station bathroom to wash up and buy
some cold drinks and biscuits. We only had 10 minutes, then were loaded back into
the truck. The locals stared at us while we made "mooo-ing" sounds as we
exited town. The paved road was perfect here, and we arrived in San Rafael around
By the time we arrived in San Rafael (the "big" town of 75,000 people) we had
made good friends with Ariel and his two friends (Pablo and Jose) in the cab. Ariel
insisted we stay the night with him and his family and he would help us get work done on
the bikes the next day. He lived 20 minutes from SR, and we didn't know where we were
going, or what to expect. We decided to let fate take it's course, and took him up
on his offer. We arrived at his home just after 10pm, had a big dinner, and stayed
up talking to him and his family until 2am. Ariel and Christina insisted we sleep in their
room while they slept in one of their children's room. (The next morning, he wouldn't
accept any payment).
What an incredible turn of events!!!
The early sun creates geometric shapes in the reflection on Lago Alumine
On the road to Las Lajas....
...there is a forest of Arucaria trees
Broken down by the side of the road...
Onto the first truck...
Wait, there's Jose, Pablo, and Ariel!
in to help us load the bikes -- we discovered the aluminum ladder makes a terrific ramp!
A typical moment in the 9-hour ride
The Cause: the
aluminum bracket at the bottom of the Ohlins shock