A long excellent day. First of all, the day track below for reference. This is almost half the length of the country. Small, the nearly 7M people make it the mostly densely populated Central American country.
So I had to head back to El Tunco this morning early. Something I’d forgotten. There are two ways south down to the plains from the volcano. The way through Santa Maria (the way I came up yesterday) or through Berlin. So off I went for the steep ride down and lo and behold it’s perfect dirt the whole way. But from the top, the morning view down through the volcanoes
Looking the other way
Then down quickly into the jungle! Yay! Monkeys (no)!
Lovely, fast, narrow
See the house?
To the bottom, 20 miles later, and another pretty river. There’s a fisherman almost in the centre of the pic, just a bit to the laft
So I walked down to watch him, and caught his net just before it hit the water. He only casted twice in ten minutes. Patience
Then, on the flats, navigating cows. For the moment i’d blanked and forgotten how to say *get out of the way you fucking cows!* in Spanish, but they don’t spook easily anyway so we steered through them
And the ride down was over. So the loop up to Alegria and down, with the connecting main road, is now my favourite all time loop. Why do I think I’ll be back to do it again? Here it is, for your trip down here
Then off fast to El Tunco for a couple of hours to get my chore done. Then back again, but we took a diversion about 30 miles down a dirt road, following the Rio Lempa to the ocean, which was just out of sight at the start. It was a dead end so we saw virtually no one. This can be a bad thing, and we had a random incident with a local in a pickup who didn’t think we should be here.
Incredibly lush land down the road
Until we got to the end of the road. No ocean access without a hike and I’m not leaving Lucinda alone
But we were beside the Rio
Then, tired, we raced up the side of the volcano, pavement side, back to Alegria.
We’re headed for this, Volcan Tecapa, and a small town that sits just several hundred meters from the top, on a shelf, Alegria.
But first we head across the lowlands, crisscrossed by rivers coming down from the highlands, on our left and we ride south, to the sea, close-by, on our right. Every one is beautiful.
First a quick picture tour of the lowlands
The war ended only 19 years ago, so there’s plenty of this about. A feature of wartime construction is metal doors in brick walls and it looks damn grim. I’ll remember to get a photo. Lots of grim things in El Salvador from that era.
A huge river, Rio Jiboa
A typical town on the way
Then, after maybe 50 miles, there’s a road heading up to volcano and Alegria. There was just about nowhere to stop for photos on the switchbacks, but here’s the thing: it’s maybe the best 20 miles of asphalt I’ve ridden on this tour, if not ever. 1st and 2nd gear for most of it!Better, for it’s distance than Dragon’s Tail in North Carolina, better than Devils Spine, Mexico. Unphotographable because it’s narrow, no shoulders, precipitous drops occasionally, blind corners, steep, everything, but i’ll try. A track of a section – what this doesn’t show is it’s steep
Once you start you can’t stop, and to add to the beauty, one side’s a jungle. But what I’ll remember it most for, other than the crazy view, is the half dozen brilliant chicanes, just flip-flopping into perfectly cambered and perfect -radius bends. Pictures of the view, from another road down to the plains, in the following post.
What a difference a border can make. El Salvador is a completely different animal. More on this in a few days.
I’ve read a few ride reports from others and I can’t remember anyone whining as much as I have about the heat. And I can’t use being Canadian as an excuse because some of the others have been too. Oh well.
So the plan was to head up to altitude to escape it for a few hours.
Next to El Tunco is a town of 35K, La Libertad, which seemed like a good place to explore.
So I rode around the backstreets on my way to the Lake this morning. Here’s the town behind the waterfront
The water, according to all reports is supposed to be cool. It isn’t, it’s like a bath. Back to the temperature thing. My usual greeting to people isn’t *Buenos Dias*, it’s * Mucho color. Es normal?* which translates roughly to *Christ it’s hot. Is this normal or what?*. The Latinos are pretty intuitive and reply, kindly, * no it’s not normal* which means *as your host in this country, since you’re obviously suffering, I’m going to be tactful and pretend this is abnormal*
After lunch, up to the caldera rim and back onto this beautiful road
There was work to do this morning. emails, banking, laundry, all the stuff that hasn’t been done in the last week. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore and went for a ride.
There’s a loop around Volcan de Agua (the huge Volcano that dominates the valley) that’s dirt between the pueblos of Santa Maria de Jesus and Palin. About 1/3 of the rest is a main road.
If you’re in the area here’s the track
A few miles out you ride through Santa Maria de Jesus. A town made entirely out of unpainted cinder blocks. This is a classic example of why you don’t ride at night in Central America. A dangerous town
Then immediately into country around the base of the volcano. Lucinda is running around without her panniers for the next few days. She thinks it looks OK but doesn’t like the feel of her rear wheel in steep descents, she says, adjusted as she is to having more weight back there. Not for the first time we think we need a quick-reference setting for the rear Ohlins preload.
Then, a little further is the pueblos’ garbage dump, which is for hundreds of yards the side of the road
Huge vultures resting in the trees
Back into the woods
But they’re always there
Another hour or so later things deteriorate again for a long way
So two days ago I crossed from Mexico into Belize.
Leaving Chetumal. Forget Chetumal
The border, unbelievably, is another breeze. Both the Mexican and Belizean sides are modern and slick. Getting Lucinda cleared out takes ten minutes. Here she gets her tatt photographed by the customs girl
She silently allows herself to be sprayed for bugs. *As if *she mutters to me
Then insurance. You’ll notice I have the Packsafe lockable wire mesh over my duffle. A good idea when solo at borders and you have to leave you bike to go into a a building
Then the money changers. I’ve made a note of the exchange rate pesos/belizean dollars the night before (6.07) and shown the guy the phone screen so he can’t screw me and he takes the 7 basis points plus the quote spread, which sounds OK
Then no more than 10 minutes later, we’re at the Caribbean!
That’s Lucinda posing under the palms. She knows she’s hot and looks good pretty much no matter what so this never takes long
Then, to start, we blast off down Belize. This road trip we’re on isn’t a holiday, and we’re behind a bit after the bike parts debacle, so we’ve decided to blast through rather than dither in two of the countries: Belize and Honduras. So we pass all the sexy dive/snorkel resorts and destinations, headed for Belmopan where we can set up for a more difficult border crossing – back into Guatemala.
An hour or two down this road is where I meet Christophe and Toni, from the previous blog post. Christophe is WAY into patches. After listening to him for a while I realize he’s tough and experienced so I give him a *pass* on the patches
And as I said in the previous post, this van pulls up and out jump these two black dudes, and a girl. They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. Christophe and I can’t believe that in the middle of nowhere, no-one for miles, we riders meet, and minutes later this is happening. I guess you had to be there
Toni’s a few minutes behind on the plot and they’ve got him reading the Watchtower. I’m beginning to think Christophe is sponsored by Klim or Arai because he’s jumping into every shot looking heroic
Then it’s the beautiful Hummingbird Highway. I’ve done it twice in two days.This is a great riding road. Only an hour long, it’s a must when in Belize. Lots of single lane bridges to speed up and go whooosh over
To this wonderful place. The Jungle Dome. It has a pool which is the thing that keeps (an old man like) me renewed once in a while if it can be found. Gonna run out of these pretty soon
It’s on the banks of the Belize River, much like Las Guatamayas was on the banks of the San Pedro a while back
Then, yesterday, I get an email from Toni saying he’s at a cheap place at Hopkin’s that’s right on the beach, so in a spontaneous moment I take off and spend the evening chatting to him and another Canadian, Blake from Saskatchewan (down on a dive holiday)
The beach at dawn
Today I returned to another border set-up, ready and looking forward to monkeys a day and a half out.
A very incomplete post, but sketchy internet again yesterday for pics and video, so. Tomorrow should be interesting…
I met Brian from Canada somewhere in Arizona I think. Other than that I haven’t met any solo long distance riders out on the road. But if I saw one at a distance I’d know it, obviously. The bike, the gear – impossible to miss.
So imagine. I’m riding through central Belize this afternoon, in the middle of nowhere on this long straight stretch. All of a sudden I see a big bike ahead. I speed up, pull alongside and we look at each other in surprise. We pull over and chat, exchange email addresses and agree to meet in the next couple of days. Toni, from Germany.
I take off. 30 minutes later I pass another guy! We stop and chat. He’s headed north, home, so I won’t see him again. Here’s another shock: Christophe’s from Vancouver! And we share a mutual friend, Ross.
Then along comes Toni again. He stops, we laugh and tell a few stories.
Then, on this desolate road, a van comes to a screeching halt alongside us and out jump these black dudes, and you wouldn’t believe what they want.
Long distance riders usually write blogs and nearly all have a menu tab labelled GEAR. Riders have a strange and intense fascination with what others riders are carrying. It’s like girlfriends rifling through the back of your sock drawer hoping to bump into something that will inform their paranoia.
But mainly it’s guys who read gear lists. Different riders have different reasons to be interested. Some carry tons of equipment and hope they haven’t missed anything, so go through yours. Others are interested in what a well-sorted tools list looks like. Others, like myself, are interested in how light they can go and still be comfortable. Light has a certain righteousness to it that’s beyond trying to be tough or cool. It makes everything simpler. The bike handles better and is easier to lift after a fall. You can find stuff. It feels good to be less complicated. But it’s also a challenge and requires a little bit of practice.
So here we go. Let’s start with technology. I believe in the benefits of good technology and how a pound or two can make a huge difference. It’s maybe the only area (except another very small one) where I have gone the distance and have as much as the better equipped riders. I can’t see any good reason to not do this – there are too many benefits. The total weight of all my tech is around 5 pounds and it provides me with huge information, safety and convenience. The downside is that you have to power it up. Some you can charge off the bike. And if you can’t find power for an extended period you have maps and do without…
But first, here’s what everything goes into:
2 X 31 liter aluminum panniers
1 X 40 liter duffle
1 X 20 liter duffle
1X 9 liter tank bag
1X 4 liter emerg bag
So a total of 134 litres. My set up is maybe among the lightest and smallest I’ve seen yet on the road for the time and distance I have in mind so we’ll see at what point this economy fails. For instance I’m relying on the scattered service shops for filters, etc. After Guatemala my next big shop is in Panama City for instance.
Cables, chargers, cards, etc. Normally more organized and will be when packed.
Maps of countries through Central and South America. As good as 1/100,000 and as bad as 1/470,000.
Documention. Nothing – nothing – is as important. Or as creative. In the best case you have multiple drivers licenses, all good enough to pass inspection. I have 5. Permits and Carnet. Passport and copies. Multiple original registrations. Two complete wallet sets, one high limit, one low, different banks. Vaccination documents. Various levels of medical coverage and assistance, including Medivac. All of this is nice and neat below but takes awhile to get organized.
I love this helmet. Soooo light, nothing comes close I’ve found. A narrow but comfortable fit. BMW, thankfully not logo’d, carbon enduro helmet, made by Shuberth.
Sidi boots. Obviously. They’ll be finished in another 6 months or sooner.
Held gloves, thermal and not.
Riding gear. Man, I really don’t want to get into what’s good and what’s not right now. I don’t have the best jacket and pants, but for various reasons the best is/are unacceptable.
Rev’it gear and insulation, nearly worn out. Gore-tex (forgotten how to spell that) Score out of 10, about a 6. The good news is that it’s a really old suit with 50K in it going back to my 1200GS, so it’s been OK value.
Soon I have to replace it. The only two choices as I see it are Klim or Rukka.
Second to documents are tools. Gord and I stripped down, modified and generally came up with a set that works for the HP2, barely. Tools are heavy, so nothing extra. From the top left, clockwise
Two 8 litre soft fuel cells, 20 litre OR outer, chopped bleach bottle funnel.
1 liter hard cell and siphon. For fuel theft.
Aerostitch compressor. I’ve owned three compressors and this is the most robust with the greatest delivery.
Zip ties. Bailing wire. Gorilla grip. Whipping twine, etc
Tools. All very specific to the HP2, a few custom made by Gord. Two big drivers, one for the Ohlins.
JB Weld, fast and slow
Plugs, reamer, etc
This is a very very small tool set with no spares. I like it. It can deal with most things. But there’s no end to what you could carry to cover a broader set of issues. So if something comes up it can’t handle, then we’ll deal with it however.
Camping. I don’t want to camp unless it puts me in a better situation than the alternatives. So far this has been only 3 times in 5 months, haha. It’s been easy so far finding crap places or nicer places that are just too convenient, because you’re nearly always tired. And in Central America not even the most frugal rider camps. There are too many places in the smallest of pueblos, 50 or 100 miles apart, at so little cost, that virtually no one does it. And in Central America there are security issues. But that will change in a few months, in South America, so I carry it along.
Mostly light alpine stuff.
Since we’re on gear seldom used, here’s my second great extravagance, after the tech stuff. My water gear, including my fave mask and dive licence. Plus super light Patagonia coral slippers which I won’t regret. Carried the whole way from Vancouver. It’s funny but I have a hard time typing the word Vancouver without stalling a bit in thought.
Rain gear. OK a plug for ARC’TERYX. I’ve no idea why I see that word out there in print in mixed upper/lower case but I guess they’ve lost that script. Anyway, Sara, my girl at ARC sent me the following Gore jacket and pants for downpours when and if my suit got overloaded. I’ve no idea what the model names are. But here are a jacket and pants in their sacks, compared to a razor. Brilliant.
Actual clothes. For warmer weather, a pair of lightweight pants, three T’s. Three boxers and three socks. Other clothes. For cool weather, jeans, a cotton hoody, warm riding socks, 2 fleece-type tops. A crisp white shirt for emergencies.
And bike security. a large cable lock and Packsafe
Plus bike cover, notebook, pens, headlight, lighters, webbing
Two pairs of shoes
And toiletries, as they say
That should do for a couple of years, excluding turnover.
Not shown is the armour I’ll be wearing for a short while. It’s still a couple of days away. And my Guatemalan scarf which I can’t find.
We’re a day and a half from the Guatemalan border and leave at 7:00 sharp from Oaxaca for Tehuatepac.
The group’s fairly split up, with Peter and Fred out in front. I’m a few minutes behind them, followed by Dan, Helge, Marty and Bill in the sidecar, and David. About an hour out of Oaxaca we’re into hills and nice twisties.
At about 9:30 we pull over for a photo. I push the shutter at the wrong moment because a truck ends up in the pic. Hum, wonder what that means
Five minutes later Peter and Fred are stopped at a pullout and I stop to chat for a few minutes. As usual I prefer to ride by myself so when it’s time to go I don’t join them and hang out for a bit.
Ten minutes later I’m going into a corner and the bike goes both loose and solid underneath me. I think I’m run over something and have lost the rear end but at the same time I feel like I’ve dropped an anchor, slowing suddenly. This feeling is completely new and I haven’t got any idea what’s going on. Lucinda veers a bit left then for a fraction of a second we’re straight, and i think ‘OK, no problem’ then another fraction of a second later Lucinda dives right and I’m high-sided off her.
Something’s blown in the right cylinder due to the overheating, we’ve been in a skid and I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull in the clutch, because I hadn’t figured it out in the partial second of time I had to prevent the crash.
As I’m flying I’m thinking, as I’ve been in this situation before, oh boy, this is really going to hurt.
So here’s the video. Riders will find this a bit nasty. I trimmed the video at the precise moment the high-side started because the flying and landing bit is too gross to watch.
Holy shit it’s a long flight. I land hard on my back. The impact is brutal. Way worse than any of my bone breaks. Worse even than when I broke part of my pelvis. I’ve been completely hammered and fighting for air. For a while it doesn’t come and I’m worried. A scary half minute later I can suck in enough that the panic subsides and I crawl to the side of the road. I know where I am is deadly should a car come around the corner. Up against the guard rail I look back at Lucinda. She looks fine, but down and in the middle of the road. I’m scared stiff that a car comes around now and hits her but I can’t move anymore and watch her helplessly. I’m done. I know this isn’t a standard ‘off ‘, it’s another big one.
A pick-up comes around and slows just in time. The driver jumps out and runs over to me. I guess because I’m against the rail and look normal enough when I point to the bike he runs back to it, get’s her on her feet (a rider, what luck) and wheels her over beside me.
While this is going on there are two huge thoughts messed together in my mind at the same time, fighting for control.
“Oh no. I’ve really hurt myself this time”
” Oh no. My tour is over”
The second thought loses the argument. Somehow I know it’s not over, that I can recover from nearly anything. I have before. I become intensely curious about what’s wrong with me, because it feels huge.
Then, as luck would have it, Dan comes around the corner. The trained medic in our group. He quickly parks and is at my side almost instantly. God what a relief I think. Off with my jacket and he goes to work. Asking questions while he checks me over, a bit at a time. It takes forever because there’a lot to check. There comes a point after maybe five minutes of this that the focus narrows. It’s my left side, front and back, from lower rib cage to top. Somehow I know that nothing inside is screwed. I have no idea how I know this. I say so. He believes me, or says he does.
To put this in perspective, in previous accidents, where things have been serious and bystanders worried, I’ve not made a fuss about it. I just shut down and wait. This time, for the first time, I was worried. What do they call it? Blunt force trauma? Now I know what that means, I think.
While this has been going on, the group that was behind is now in action. Helge’s getting Lucinda in a pick-up and co-ordinating everyone. Dan’s monitoring me. David’s on traffic control from the north, Marty from the south. The rest were ahead and of course enjoying the day, which I’ve screwed up for the present group. Damn.
There are a ton of details about the rest of the day. The short form is I go back to Oaxaca by ambulance, get XRayed, shot full of drugs, put in the Mexican chase car, driven and entertained by Mac, where I spend the next day and a half getting to Antigua. Where fortunately I had planned to spend six weeks learning Spanish and touring the countryside. So as it happens, it couldn’t have happened in a better place. The XRay checked out. I’ve just been beaten up hard and it’ll be a few weeks before I can ride again.
I’m mystified by what happened in the right cylinder. We tried to start it the following morning and it was all explosive smoke and oil being fired out. We’ll find out more when we take her apart. Poor Lucinda. She has a bent rear subframe and a shot engine. Getting her back in fighting shape is going to be the next adventure.