Saturday, May 14, 2011

Slapped in the face by a monkey tree (or was it a rock) aka the case of the missing bolt

[fall in the rivers district of Chile] A quick administrative update: We are actually back in the states now but the last two weeks have been a bit adventurous and I haven't had time to blog. My goal is to get caught up in the next week so here it goes...

You know those days that start out so gloomy and then surprise after surprise comes along and by the end of the day you are on top of the world and feeling as happy as a monkey in a hot spring? Well... we had the opposite of one of those for our first day back in Chile. I suppose it ended up on a high note, but for a while I was feeling quite ready for the motorcycle trip to be over.

View From San Martin to Villaricca in a larger map

We left Argentina on the day before the day I'm about to talk about. Our planned route was to leave San Martin de los Andes and take the route via a long ferry ride that cuts through the mountains. The ferry didn't sail until 4 pm so we lingered around San Martin for the morning and finally got going around 2. We meant to leave at 1 but you know how it goes. This left us with 2 hours to cover 50 km of road and 1 border crossing into Chile.

Lets just say that at 4:01 they had to remove the chain to let us on the ferry. At least we made it although if we hadn't I can think of far worse places to be stuck for 24 hours waiting for the next ferry.

The ferry travelled about 25 km along a gorgeous lake with pristine forests on either side. It was a very nice ride and we even made an intermediate stop to pick some oxen and their load. These big fellows were very docile and obviously the best choice for some of the roads in these parts.

[Practicing my spanish with some Chileans] Once on the ferry we ended up chatting with a wonderful family who happened to live in the Seattle area for 10 years and had just moved back to their farm in Chile. They recognized our Washington plates and immediately invited us to their farm outside of Villaricca to come and stay. Our plan had been to bullet it back to Santiago as fast as possible but we couldn't pass up an opportunity to stay at an organic blueberry farm so we told them we would come to their farm the following night. Our map had a road that we wanted to try to drive and figured it would take us a full day to get to their place via this road (the road goes by 5 different hot springs).

[We could have stayed here but it was $300 per night] The ferry landed, we started to drive and before we could find a place to camp for the night it got dark. We don't like to drive in the dark, particularly on dirt roads but we didn't really have a choice at this point. We kept driving until we reached the Coñaripe Hot Springs resort. We turned down to the hot springs and found a very nice and very empty resort. We inquired inside if we could camp and we couldn't, so we treated ourselves to a very nice night at the springs. After cooking another round of Pasta Panamericana, we took a soak in the springs and fell fast asleep.

The next morning we took another soak and were on the road for the usual crack of noon start. Our map showed what looked like a decent dirt road that went up past an active volcano and then dropped down into the town of Pucon where we could then take good roads through Villaricca and over to the farm. We figured we'd be at the farm by 3 or 4. We were feeling great from the hot springs and ready to drive our last dirt road of the trip.

We passed the Geotermicas hot springs and stopped by to check them out. The price tag of $35 US per person kept us from soaking but this crazy place was super cool just to look at. They must be the project of a quirky person as there are 17 slate pools connected by a red walkway through a canyon with gushing water. They were fun to check out and if we had more money it would have been a great place to pass the afternoon. But we had places to go.
So with our heads high we continued up the pass towards the volcano. We passed a sign saying something about the road being bad and only for hikers and another sign saying something or other about 9 km ahead but we didn't really pay attention as we felt we could tackle any road that lay ahead.
The road got worse changing from a graded dirt road to a muddy track through virgin forest.

We stopped at a particularly nasty river crossing to discuss what we should do. I mentioned that there were some signs a while back saying something or other about a bad road and something happening in 9 km but I just couldn't remember what it actually said. Neither of us felt like turning around and although the road was very muddy in places, it wasn't that bad as long as we drove slowly. My main concern was for the bikes. Unloaded, this road would have presented only a small challenge but with all of our gear on the back, we were definitely pushing the suspension system with roots and rocks on the track.

We pushed on and eventually came across this skinny little dog way out in the middle of nowhere. With winter coming it didn't seem like there was anyway this guy was going to survive for very long. We tried hard to not care and just chalk this dog up to the cycle of life but we couldn't resist giving him all of our food (raw eggs, yummy bread, salami, cheese, peanuts). Of course this set him off to following us and that was ok. We figured we'd eventually end up near some sort of civilization and we could ditch him there.

[my signature head scratch- now what did that sign say back there?] About a kilometer further up we came to a steep rocky section of horrible road. It looked like we could maybe make it up the section, but reversing it could be tricky since it was quite muddy and we would be unable to use out brakes.

Amongst the 100 foot monkey-pinch-me trees we decided to go for it and just see what lay ahead. It was getting late but we really didn't want to back track. In hindsight we should have taken off the luggage and shuttled the bikes up the drop but isn't hindsight so smug and cocky? I got my bike up the section without too much trouble and then came back down to drive megan's bike up.

This didn't go so well. I fell over once in a not too bad of a place but then right in the middle of the most technical part I fell over again. As Megan was helping me back up she noticed a sheared bolt sitting under the bike. And it wasn't a small bolt. We looked everywhere on her bike for where this might have come from but couldn't find anything missing. That said, there are a lot of places that you can't see without taking apart the bike.

That was that. I wasn't about to keep pressing on into unknown territory with something or other coming in 4 km (remember- I didn't really read the sign warning of something in 9km) and a sheared bolt somewhere on the bike. We backed her bike down the drop, I went up and retrieved mine and we sat for a second feeling pretty lame.

[holding the broken bolt] There we were way out in the middle of nowhere with no food (we had fed it all to the dog), an assumedly broken bike, a dog that was about to die and it was getting late.
I kept trying to remind myself that this was the reason we took the trip in the first place: To test ourselves in tough situations and see how we do. That we certainly weren't going to die up here and that no matter what happens we could find a way out of it.
We took a final look at the bike and couldn't find any missing bolts. I bounced the suspension up and down and couldn't hear any rattles. So we made the decision that we really couldn't do much to fix the bike up there. That hopefully the BMW engineers had designed some redundancy into the bike so that it would still be functional even without the bolt.

[the drop that turned us around] We slowly picked our way down the road stopping every once in a while to let the dog catch up with us. Once we reached a few farms down below we started to speed up knowing that it would be hard to leave the dog behind but that hopefully he would find some sort of food source at the farms. At sunset we arrived back at Coñaripe and tried to call our friends who probably figured we had ditched them. A few failed attempts at calling them (why is it so hard to make calls to cell phones in foreign countries- we always seem to epic when trying to place a phone call at a "public" phone) and we kept pushing on.

[meeting Jorge and Cristina on the ferry, I don't who the guy on the left side of the photo is] Finally after arriving in Villaricca we managed to connect with our the blueberry farmers and with incredible generosity they said they would meet us on the main road near the turn off to their farm. A half hour later we met up with Jorge and followed him to their warm farmhouse and a bottle of wine.
So that was our day that went from warm and easy to strained and tense and back to happiness. Looking back on it, it was all happiness. I mean we were driving motorcycles through the back roads of the rivers district in Chile past hot springs and having some good old fashioned adventure. What more could you ask for? We can only hope that it turned out so well for the dog. He was a cute little fellow and I do hope he makes it through the winter.

Oh yeah... the bolt.
The next morning I woke up and started taking apart the bike to locate the missing bolt. My feeling was that it was the bolt that holds the top of the rear suspension to the bike since the bolt was the same size as the bolts that hold the bottom together. The F650 has a cool way of accessing this hard to get to place. You just have to remove two bolts from the subframe, separate the rear of the exhaust system and then you can hinge up the entire subframe (which hold the gas tank and all). And there it was, the other half of the bolt was still left holding the rear suspension to the bike. Just a teeny bit of jiggling and the bolt fell right out making a perfect match to the other half.
As luck would have it, there is a store in Villaricca called the House of Bolts where we found an exact match to the now broken offender. I bought two.

Fortunately, the engineers had built some sort of redundancy into this part. If the bolt had fallen completely out (which we are lucky that it didn't) the the rear suspension would have pushed up into a metal cup and been held there temporarily. Catching air would have dislodged it, but we rarely catch air on the bikes.

I'm not sure when the bolt actually broke. It could have been in the monkey tree forest or it could have been a long time ago and the weight of the bike just held it in. It is hard to say but I have learned of another inspection item on the F650. It is probably a good idea to lift up your subframe now and again and take a look at the bolt up there.

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