You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

September 30, 2011

Back in the Game

A lot has happened since we first arrived in Cusco.  After all that dirt on the way it was supposed to be the promised land.  Gringos, bike expertise, and of course Macchu Pichu.  As it turned out, though, within three days we were back on the road heading for Lima again. 

Monday Charlie and I finally found some motivation to get off our asses; it was time to make a decision.  First we went to DHL to inquire about having a shock sent down.  It was doable, but there would be a 30% import tax.  Apparently used items are even more difficult than new.  Pat in California’s option took a hit.  Furthermore, no one could truly recommend a mechanic in Cusco.  There were a lot of maybes and pretty sures.  It was wearing me down.

Charlie and I went to a hardware store after DHL and bought a hammer and long flathead screwdriver.  We used them to tighten the spring on my suspension.  To do this you have to prop the bike up so the rear wheel is off the ground.  The spring goes around the threaded shock and is held down by two discs with little knobs coming off them.  You lodge the screwdriver between the knobs and hammer them around the threads very slowly lowering them and thereby tightening the spring.  We lowered the spring about an inch total.  That got the bike sitting higher, but the resistance was still way too soft.  Then I noticed the mechanic in Huancayo hadn’t turned my rebound all the way up.  Rebound measures the resistance given by the shock.  With the lowered spring and tightened rebound I was starting to wonder if I could make it to Chile on the weak shock.

Chile is the next promised land.  For one, they sell the DR650 there.  It’s also the wealthiest country in South America so professional tradesmen are easier to find.  Best of all, my mom is flying in on November 15th for two weeks.  At that point I can have her bring any parts my heart desires.  Regardless, that was seven weeks and +/-3,000 miles away.

Next I got on to cleaning my air filter.  It wasn’t due yet, but I’m beginning to appreciate the idea of preventative maintenance more and more these days.  While I was soaking it in hot dish soap water Charlie made a discovery.  His right fork was leaking oil.  Now we both had serious suspension problems.  Charlie had KTM’s WP forks put on his Tenere in California.  The only shop that would have those seals in a 2,000 mile radius was KTM in Lima.

So in about two seconds it was decided that we’d leave for Lima on Tuesday.  My repairs were getting nowhere anyway and I was tired of getting such underachieving advice from everyone in Cusco.  Charlie and I have been talking about making some serious weight loss attempts since we took off together.  No, we’re not getting pudgy; we’re just carrying too much shit that we don’t use.  Lima was only 700 miles north and we didn’t plan to be there long so we decided to remove the side panniers and ride with only the essentials.

I got all my tools, spares, clothes, electronics, and a slew of other stuff into my yellow Sea to Summit bag and my dad’s purple backpack.  The only issue was waterproofing so I lined the leaky luggage with garbage bags.  I bungeed them both down on the back rack and Tuesday morning we took off.  The bike rode like a gazelle without the side boxes.  It was so light and responsive and there was no wind resistance.  The suspension was strong enough that I could hit the corners pretty hard as well.  We were making good time. 

We got to Abancay just after noon, stopped for lunch, and kept going.  We didn’t research this ride because it was such a simple mission: get to Lima as fast as possible.  What we didn’t know as we left Abancay was that we were coming up on 190 miles of mountain passes and high plains.  An hour out of town the clouds started forming overhead.  There was no turning around, so we just geared up and rode right in.  By the time we got to 4,000 meters the rain was pounding and turning to slush.  It was 4:00pm and dark grey everywhere.  We were right in the middle of the harshest point on the Panamerican highway and there was nothing to do but keep going.  We rode through the snow on wet roads until 7:00pm that night.  Stranded at over 4,000 meters in the dark in a snowstorm on a motorcycle was never the plan, but staying on the road was our only option.  This was the only time in the last 15,000 miles that I didn’t have my camping equipment and I was regretting it. 

Finally the pass peaked at 4,600 meters and afterward the snow turned back into rain and around 6:30 the roads dried up completely.  I lost feeling in all my fingers and most of my toes up there.  We stopped at the first little town on the other side of the mountains and went to bed feeling quite lucky.  My bike had sagged back to its lowest position by the end of the day.  We won’t be attempting that section of the road in the afternoon on the way back. 

Wednesday we hit the road early and knocked down 400 miles, pulling back into Flying Dog Hostel in Miraflores district at 5:00pm.  All they had open was a matrimonial room so Charlie and I got to share a bed that night.  Thursday morning we rode to KTM, where we bought our TKC-80’s two weeks prior, and explained our dilemma to their mechanics.  Charlie was in luck; they had his fork seals.  His bike would be ready before Monday.  Mine was a different story.  Depending on a lot of factors, they figured about a week if it all went right.  I had expected this scenario, but to actually hear it and face it was devastating.  Another week in Lima?  Another week in Peru?

If the third world was getting to me in Colombia, it has absolutely broken me at this point.  I’m all for culture, but at some point all the half-assing around here takes its toll.  The culture of what is acceptable and safe is just so different down here.  I told the mechanic I wanted my suspension to work in Huancayo.  I’m sure by his standards it was working just fine when I brought it in.  He proudly gave it back to me that next morning a little better, but still soft by any professional’s standards.  The hostel here advertises Wi-Fi and hot water.  Both are barely there.  When a restaurant runs out of eggs, they don’t tell you; you just don’t get eggs with your breakfast.  Everyone is accustomed to such low standards.  And when you’re trying to get a big motorcycle roadworthy, it’s extremely frustrating.

That afternoon was another low point.  I was 700 miles north of Cusco, which I had fought so hard to get to, and still I had no answers.  The bike was in good hands, but even they were scratching their heads.  I was getting real down imagining myself stuck in Lima for the better part of a month waiting for parts, customs, and shitty mechanics.  I remembered that the bike import wasn’t a stamp on my passport like other countries; it was a separate piece of paper.  I could leave the country without the bike no hassles.  Just leave it on the side of the road even and walk away with only a backpack. 

Before the trip’s future got too dark Charlie and I decided to head down to the hostel bar.  There we met some German girls and decided to head out to a discotech with them.  Out of nowhere, Charlie and I ended up staying up until 5:00am forgetting about the motorcycles for the first time in weeks.  It was a blast; the disco was full of university kids both Peruvian and gringo. 

At one point I met a Peruvian girl who seemed pretty cool until she told me that the United States overreacted to 9/11.  She said deaths in such numbers were insignificant to the problems Peru constantly deals with.  As a privileged American I usually brush off the judgmental comments like that, but this time I got offended.  I thought about explaining to her that the first world has been in turmoil since the attacks.  Or contrasting that at home we are accustomed to prosperity and progress.  Elaborating that it was a loss on the grandest scale possible for our country.  Then I realized how far removed she was from grasping any of it so I gave up.  I almost could have remarked that not a single person in the United States even knew that the city of Yungay and all of its 75,000 residents were buried in an avalanche in 1970.  In the end I held my tongue and said we’re a proud country, just like Peru.  That conversation was over. 

Halfway through the night Charlie and I got separated and it was each man for himself.  We both managed to trudge home and safely retire before sunup… barely.  Today, Friday, we woke up around noon with an email waiting for us from KTM.  They wanted to see us.  We taxied over there mid-afternoon to find Charlie’s bike all ready to go.  Mine was disassembled in the corner and the shock had been sent to Lima’s premier suspension expert.  I waited around until 4:30pm and one of the mechanics drove me across town to the expert to hear his verdict. 

When we arrived the mechanic asked Dinno (the specialist) what he thought about the shock.  He casually replied that it was fixed.  I was cautious, but excited.  He took me in to his shop where he had the shock in a vice.  With the spring removed, he compressed the shock all the way down and as soon as he let go it gradually raised back up.  He said that it was staying down before he fixed it… ‘as if you’re just riding a spring right?’  Exactly.  It was so nice to talk to someone who actually knew what I wanted out of his service.  He said my bladder had leaked, something that is common over time.  He even figured crossing the mountain passes had played a roll.  I asked him what he did and he mentioned replacing all the oil, nitrogen, and a couple other things.  I’m not a shock guy and between our Spanglish conversation some of it was lost on me.  I asked him if it would get me to Argentina supporting all of my luggage.  He said definitely.  He charged me $100 and that was that.  I’m a little hesitant to put full faith in his fix, but he’s KTM’s suspension guy and seemed so confident and level-headed about the whole thing.  A garage full of Japanese and European bikes was promising too.  Even if the unit only gets me to Chile, that’ll be good enough. 

So the spirits are high again.  Tomorrow I pick up the bike in the morning once they reinstall the shock.  Then we’ll be leaving here as soon as possible.  Al is working his way down right now from Colombia and might show up in the next few days.  We’ll be in close touch.  As for now, it seems that the darkest hour has passed.  There’s only one more third world country between me and Santiago… and it’s the poorest of them all.  I’ll try to have a better attitude about Bolivia, but it’s going to have to really impress me if I’m going to stick around long.

Next stop is Cusco again via the easy route (the 700 miles through snow route).  There we will quickly do Macchu Pichu and I will send A LOT of gear home.  On the ride out here it struck me; I set out for 2,000 kilometers with just two light bags.  What the hell is all of the other stuff?  Unnecessary.  My plan is to ditch the Pelican case, send the camping gear home, and get everything into the side boxes.  Keep the weight low and forward.  And then tear up Bolivia.


  1. If the bladder had leaked and they didn't fix or replace it then it will again. Don't want to rain on your parade but.... Good luck.

  2. Don't hold your breath for Bolivia, it makes rural Peru look like the Ritz Carlton. Also, have your mom bring a nice shock.

  3. In the name of historical accuracy, the population of Yungay was said to be arround 25,000 when hit by 80 million cubic meters at over 190 kpr!