Day Two in Cusco and my spirits haven’t been higher in weeks. Either that or they just got real low over the final 500 miles since Huancayo. The seemingly short ride to Cusco was all dirt and took three days of backbreaking riding from dawn until well past dusk. My rear suspension sank even lower and my bike rattled to bits the entire time. For a while there, it seemed like there was no end in sight and that the real mechanical headaches would start once we arrived. As soon as we arrived in town, though, it all turned around.
When Charlie and I pulled into Huancayo we flagged a taxi and told him to take us to the nicest hotel in town. We hadn’t seen internet in a week and most nights our hotel rooms more resembled prison cells. The cab took us to Hotel Presidente. At $80/night it wasn’t cheap, but it was the shot of civility that we needed. Great beds, HDTV, hot water bath tub, and blazing internet. We indulged late into the night.
The next morning while packing his gear Charlie noticed that his SW Motech racks had broken in two places somewhere along the previous three days of dirt. The breaks were bad enough that they had to be welded immediately. We checked in for another night and took off for the mechanic’s district down the street. Our first stop was Honda and they said they could weld Charlie’s racks and fix my suspension that day. Then they said they couldn’t. Then the little 4’5” Peruvian mechanic needed to take Charlie’s bike for a ‘test ride’. He had to pull his ass all the way off the seat just to get one leg on the ground. No helmet, he ripped down the street with a huge smile on his face as the rear tire flared out to the side and then jerked back into alignment. Charlie just had to watch and hope.
When the mechanic came back he said he knew a more specialized shop that could do the work that day. We followed him there and met an even shorter guy. I showed the new mechanic my soft rear end and Charlie mimed that where he wanted welds and reinforcements. He seemed to understand, although wasn’t paying much attention to our requests. We left the bikes with fingers crossed and went back to Hotel Presidente to soak in the luxury some more.
The next morning we were waiting outside the mechanic’s front door at 10:00am ready to go. He showed up ten minutes late but seemed confident. He brought us in and first showed us Charlie’s racks. He had welded them, and apparently reinforced them, and even painted back over the job. It looked alright from a distance, but as it turned out it was a pretty sloppy job and very poor quality paint. My bike was sitting noticeably higher. He had tightened my spring a bit and from what I gathered refilled my shock with something (oil, gas, or nitrogen). It wasn’t great, but the rebound was a little bit stronger. I figured it would get me to Cusco. He charged each of us $60 (included bleeding my brakes) and we were off.
Mounting Charlie’s boxes back on the poorly welded racks was a real dilemma back at the hotel. We managed to jam them on there around noon and then hit the road. By the time we left town my bike had sagged back to its lowest position yet. And then came seven hours of hard pack dirt, mud, and gravel. The scenery that day was more of the same, sparsely populated highlands. It was a good look at some real hard living as we pulled through the dusty villages along the way. People out there didn’t look at us with smiles; they looked confused, startled, and often resentful. They were friendly enough when we stopped, but the social disconnect was obvious between us. This was a world that time forgot.
Around 5:00pm Charlie and I pulled over and asked for directions like we do every twenty miles. We had taken the wrong path. It took half an hour to get back to the turnoff that led to Ayacucho, our next destination. The turnoff was unsigned and hidden off on the right side behind a building. Straight ahead led to nowhere; the tiny turn to the right led to everywhere. Not a single sign to designate the two.
Back on track an hour behind schedule the sun started to dip behind the mountains. We were still a long way from Ayacucho. Tired and beaten, we finally pulled into Churcampa in pitch black at 7:00pm. The place had a hotel and everyone in town was very excited to help us. Some kids organized parking for us behind the gates of the local Catholic Church. Right next door was our hotel. It worked out well and Charlie and I were both asleep by 10:00pm.
We awoke at 5:00am the next morning and were on the road soon after. Since we hadn’t made it to Ayacucho, we had some miles to make up if we planned to get to Cusco by dusk. It looked doable. I started asking around how long it would take. The answers ranged from six hours to two days. Nobody had a clue how far it was. These people didn’t leave their homes. They may have been to Cusco once fifteen years ago. It was hard for us to fathom as Westerners who will drive three hundred miles just for a weekend. Whatever it was, Cusco was far away. Worst of all, we were in the middle of nowhere. It was either go back to Lima via two days of dirt, or keep pushing for Cusco via days of dirt. No escape.
On that section of the ride I hit a low point. The bike was rattling worse than it ever had been. Some of it was mental; my pannier locks bounce and the sound gnaws at my sanity. Some of it was real; my rack was still loose and jiggling around on the left side. Every bump hit harder than usual with the rear shock out. I went from resenting the bike, to pitying it, to praying for it. My back was knotted up from the last week of rigid dirt riding. My shoulder had a piercing pain concentrated in one spot from constantly adjusting the throttle. I had been putting off all of these things for days now and with Cusco sounding further and further out of reach it was all coming down on me. Of course there was nothing to do but keep my eyes on the road and navigate the course. Eventually I started in on a very complicated series of mental math calculations and decided Cusco was in fact within reach by the day’s end. That was my light at the end of the tunnel.
For a while it looked like we were going to make it. The first seven hours of dirt went by easily enough and by noon the time estimates had dropped to twelve to eighteen hours. We kept pushing through the mountains weaving from one range to the next over all the ridges in between. Around 3:00pm we got to Andahuaylas. 140 kilometers further and the pavement started. We gave the local kids some candy, got gas, and tore into the dirt again. The prospect of making it to Cusco was finally put to bed when we got stopped at a construction zone and told it would be an hour wait. They were paving the road. Finally, in 2011, Peru got around to connecting some of its most important dots. We were a year too early to benefit.
Unfortunately they were only paving a short section and we quickly were back on dirt after they set us loose. Just like the last five days the road was about 1.5 lanes wide. I hit the wide corners fast when I could see around them and the sharp corners slow and inside. Right as the sun was setting, my lines proved to be not enough. I was riding the inside of a curve when a semi emerged from around the corner. I got right on the shoulder next to the ditch and snuck by him and his trailer. Right behind him was another semi; he was taking the curve a little sharper. His trailer was coming around the inside riding the shoulder that I had planned to finish out on. There was no point in protesting or evaluating; I rode right down into the two foot deep ditch and promptly dropped the bike against the hill in the soft mud. Charlie was too far ahead to notice, so it took me a few minutes to figure out how to straighten the bars and right the bike on my own. Even though it wasn’t all the way on its side, the ditch made it challenging to get any leverage to pull it up. Finally I weaseled my way between the hill and the bike and pushed it up. Then I had to get on and out of the ditch. I got real muddy, but it actually went pretty smoothly after that.
By then the sun had set and we still had forty dirt miles to go. Charlie and I have been caught in the dark lately and it’s never our intention. We’ve been pushing ourselves to keep up with Ivan’s route and the maps are often very deceiving. Even worse is that the sun goes down early behind the walls of mountains. Regardless, we had to finish. Downhill dirt roads in the dark with cliffs around every corner were not fun for the next hour and a half. It seemed to go on forever, but we finally pulled into Abancay around 7:30pm. The ten day dirt battle was over. I’m not sure that I won, but I survived.
Saturday afternoon after 130 miles of mountainous pavement we pulled into Cusco. We settled in a motorcycle hangout hotel called Casa Grande and instantly crawled into bed with our computers. First on my agenda was sending out the S.O.S. I explained my suspension situation on both ADVrider and Horizons Unlimited asking the experts for ideas. This whole trip was organized by information from those forums and there was no doubt they’d have ideas for this road bump. I posted my distress calls and went down to Norton Rat’s Tavern for a pint of keg beer.
Norton Rat’s is known to be a motorcycle knowledge mill and I went there looking for Ivan’s friend Jeff Powers. Jeff wasn’t there, but they had ESPN on in English so I stuck around. When I got back to the hotel my luck had already changed. An ADVrider inmate named Pat from California had already gotten back to me. Pat had been following Alex’s and my blogs from the start and he rides a DR650 at home himself. His profile stats show him to be an expert and he had (relatively) good news. Although I already had resigned to it, it was sad to hear that my rear shock was obviously blown and in need of a replacement or a professional rebuild. Rebuilds are technical and I’d already been ripped off once. Replacements don’t exist in Peru. That’s where I’m at now.
The good news is that Pat has a spare stock shock at home that he’s willing to ship down at the rock bottom price of $150. I had looked into buying some $1000 replacement shock, but Charlie made a good point that putting 1/3 of the bike’s value into one component isn’t the smartest financial decision… especially since I don’t know that I’ll even own the machine in six months’ time. The only problem is that Peruvian customs are known to halt delivery on such items and start up a nasty import tax process that could waste a lot of my time and force me to show up in Lima. I’m still working the details out on that.
Today I went back to Norton Rat’s and talked to Jeff Powers. He recommended me to a trusted mechanic whom I’ll check out tomorrow morning. I pondered that and watched the Packers dominate the Bears over more draft beer in the evening. If the mechanic doesn’t have a quick, local solution, I’m left with two options. Slow Alex down and have him buy me a shock in Colombia where my bike is sold, or have Pat send down the shock and potentially deal with customs. Right now all signs point to Pat. I just have to do a little more research to make the process as smooth as possible. I’d also like to thank Darrell from the community as well. We met in Mazatlan in the motorcycle parade and he’s been in touch on the blogs ever since. Today he offered some sound mechanic advice on my situation as well as a generous cash donation to Alex’s Paypal account.
The ADVrider community proved its worth yet again. Even when we’re out here with the odds stacked against us there is a legion of supporters ready to jump in and help in any way. There aren’t not a lot of people out here riding motorcycles around the world ignoring all the fearful warnings, and that makes it a very tight group. I’ll make up my mind in the next 24 hours on how to get this part down here and if I make the wrong decision, I rest assured there’ll be more people to help bail me out.