#15 —Rain — Tires — Motivation
The Ride to Patagonia
I woke up cradled in the coffin-like shape of the sunken hostel bunk bed.
The Argentine next to me was still snoring after a long night spent on his phone chamuyo-ing (flirting) with his latest female interest.
A shower always marks the beginning of a good day. Hot water, a clean body, brushed teeth, new underwear (or yesterday’s pair turned inside out, more likely).
I was warm and dry.
That was about as much as I could hope for these days.
The beginning of a good day turned sour as I walked down the hostel stairs and saw my motorcycle in the street outside.
First punch to the gut: I had been hoping someone would steal her during the night. I hadn’t even locked the steering column.
Second punch to the gut: She was laying on her side in the street. The wind, which had chased me across country borders and changing biomes straight into the most expensive bad hostel I’ve stayed in yet, had had the last word the night before, it seemed.
The 15 or so Spanish-speaking tourists in the breakfast area turned from their light-hearted conversation to watch as the bearded American with a perpetual frown pitted his body against the curb and the bike and lifted her back up in one frustration-fueled movement.
A 500lb bike somehow weighs less with a frown on your face.
No lactose-free milk was to be found so I spooned myself a bowl of dry cereal and found a seat from which I could watch my bike; the wind still threatened to tip her over. As I held the child-size pink spoon and bowl, I barely noticed the scary amounts of sugar normally hidden in the milk I use to properly consume my cereal.
39 more minutes and all would begin to improve.
The reason for staying at this hostel lay just down the street. The night before, I had been assured the small metal building with pictures of tires painted on a weathered sign would be able to fix my flat tire this morning.
My second flat tire in 3 days. The night before, while still over 100km outside the next town, my bike had begun to “swim;” A familiar feeling to any who have ridden with a flat rear tire. I began to lose the sharp, familiar way my bike responded a million times before to the same actions; the motions I’ve come to know better than walking become alien, unsettling, and reason for brow-setting worry.
Sharp, blustering wind blows me off course, necessitating sharp corrections which are no longer possible due to a compromised rear tire.
Wind, rain, and my nervous grip on the handlebars lead to numb fingers.
And, as of an hour or two ago, the rain no longer slid off my helmet visor. It started to freeze in place.
Numb fingers, an unresponsive rear tire, and a vision-blurring pattern of ice on my visor.
Low battery, please charge.
My headphones remind me I was passing the 4-hour mark without stopping to rest and recharge.
I thump-thump into the first gas station in 4-hours. The sun hits the mountainous horizon. My GPS tells me I have another hour before reaching my destination and my pre-paid reservation.
Without masking my defeated tone, I ask the gas station attendant if there is a motorcycle tire shop in the next town.
In the typical manner of asking for directions in South America, I am sent to the next landmark at which I will ask for directions once again and in so doing draw closer and closer to my desired goal one small step at a time.
As the gas meter climbs higher, I flex and unflex my fingers in an attempt to regain as much feeling as possible before riding once again. I watch the most beautiful woman I have seen in some time stroll into the gas station holding a lapdog and wearing barely more than leggings and a long sleeve shirt.
“Why the heck am I out here doing this shit?”
Layered as thick as the Michelin man and yet still unable to stay warm, I slide back onto the bike and continue to make my way south.
The next gas station man points across the street to a small metal shack with a weathered sign boasting paintings of various confidence-inspiring tires. Promising.
They are, of course, closed as it is 19:04 on a Tuesday.
After seeing the look of defeat on my face, the gas man takes my phone and enters a random address a 15-minute ride away.
“Here is the only other place I can imagine might be able to help you.”
I glance down at the google street view image and see nothing but abandoned and burnt-down buildings along the street to which he wanted to send me. No shop in sight.
“If you go there,” he says “don’t stay long. It is not a safe place.”
I pull to the edge of the gas station parking lot, pull my helmet off, and take a second to think.
$30 for a coffin.
A short limp back the way I came and I found myself knocking on a frail wooden door as the wind pummeled me out of anger I was about to escape its reach at last.
$30 for a coffin and no parking for the bike.
As I’ve done a hundred times before, I unsaddle the bike, strip off my riding layers, place all my luggage on my bunk, and get my feet moving toward food and water without letting myself sit and brood.
The wind is happy to see me again and greets me with a headache-inducing gust to remind me my troubles have not lessened.
I duck into the first cafe shop I see offering food, order a sandwich and a beer, take out my notebook and begin to write.
“I just want to go home.”
I lift my pen and don’t feel the need to write more.
I just want to go home.
I’ve had the same thought before. I’ve felt the same so many times before.
Sitting alone in the first hostel of the entire trip in Baja, Mexico. I want to go home.
Sick in my hotel in Guatemala with a headache so bad I had trouble seeing clearly. I want to go home.
Heartbroken and without my bike in Panama City feeling like a fool and a loser in life after being rejected by a woman I thought to be one of a kind. I just want to go home.
Limping around the city of Guatepe, Colombia with a broken motorcycle and bruises covering my legs from a bad crash in the mountains. I want to go home.
Riding through burning tires and angry crowds trying to escape the coastal route of Ecuador as the riots intensified. I want to go home.
Riding 15,000ft high in Peruvian mountains wondering what would happen if the rain didn’t let up and the road didn’t begin to wind down out of the mountains soon. I want to go home.
Crossing the Great Atacama Desert switching between awe of coastal beauty never to be matched and the numbness that comes from coastal winter winds. I want to go home.
And yet, here I was, a mere 2,500km from the end of my journey and closer than ever to defeat.
I stared out the window as people went about their lives and I sat questioning the content of my own.
I didn’t muster courage.
I didn’t uncover hidden motivation to rally forth.
I didn’t beat the voice in my head that told me I was defeated; the voice that reminded me it was a mix of freezing rain and snow outside with wind so strong my layers were not protecting me, my bike sat with a flat and no spare in a town barely able to boast a single mechanic.
I didn’t stand up stronger than when I had sat down.
39 minutes until things improve.
I finished my dry cereal and washed my child-sized bowl and spoon.
Traffic honked and sped past as I made a wobbly turn out onto the main road to limp toward the metal shack and promised mechanic.
A few minutes later I was putting my helmet back on and attempting to turn a 450lb bike around with a flat tire (not an easy task).
“I only work on car tires. Sorry.”
39 minutes until disappointment*
I wobbled back into traffic following the typically loose directions of South America.
“Go toward that bakery. Hit the corner and go left. You can’t miss it. There’s a motorcycle tire shop over there.”
Several corners and two bakeries later I am talking to more strangers drawing slowly closer to my goal.
As I finally pull up in front of a small house with a tiny, 35-year-old, sun-worn sign boasting the magical words “taller de motos,” I notice my radiator is leaking.
After a half hour of knocking on windows and doors, shouting, and talking to neighbors who all assured me the mechanic was home just shout louder, I returned to my leaking, punctured, heavy bike.
Colder than ever as my motivation left me like the fluid from my radiator, I kicked my tire angrily and tried to ignore the growing headache from the biting wind.
Cough up the cash.
The pickup slowed as it began to pass. I nodded my head as the man motioned back toward my rear flat.
I rolled into a shop on the other side of town to the blessed sight of motorcycles parked on display around the lot.
I still didn’t know whether or not I was going to quit and go home. But aside from riding my bike into a lake and forgetting about it or burning it in a nearby forest, I didn’t think I had much of an option apart from fixing the bike and figuring out what to do next.
I left my bike with the smooth-talking salesman and basically mute mechanic and trudged to a nearby cafe.
I sat thinking as patrons came and went, coffee was made and consumed, and the internet slowly loaded my searches; Airbnb for options to stay here a bit longer and hope the weather improves and flight options to fly back to America.
Several hours later I was called back to the mechanic. The tubes had been pathed and one had been put back in the tire. The radiator would need to be taken to another shop the next day for repair. While removing the rear tire, they had discovered that my chain was on its last leg, my front sprocket was already missing one tooth, and my rear was missing 3.
Argentina has two exchange rates, an official rate from USD to ARS of 150 and an unofficial rate of 280. If you are working with ATMs and foreign credit cards, you pay the far worse rate of 150, essentially doubling the price of everything.
Argentina is also known as one of the most expensive places to repair a motorcycle.
Just my luck.
Sucking up a price tag on parts that cost me a fraction of the cost in the States was another blow to my steadily depleting reserve of strength.
3-weeks to think.
I pressed the confirm reservation button on my phone and took a deep breath.
I had made a decision; not a final decision, but at least a decision in the chaos of the day.
I would hunker down for 3-weeks to wait for hypothetically improved weather and give this ride one last shot before I threw in the towel.
In the days that followed, I worked to earn back some of the money I had sunk into repairing the bike and hid indoors while the wind wailed away outside.
The weather slowly turned milder with a mix of beautiful warm days and still cold but not freezing-rain-or-snow-type days.
I’m still tired. I’m still not as motivated as I was in the jungles of Guatemala or the mountains of Colombia, but I am here.
I am still here.
To finish or not to finish.
I’ve known since the beginning of this trip that finishing would be important.
I am the type of man that needs to finish what they set out to do or die trying (if not die, then at least suffer grave setbacks before quitting).
Over the last few months, I have started developing the habit of pausing my thought process wherever I am, whatever I am doing, to step back and realize how incredible it is to be alive wherever I am and in whatever state I am in.
Today on my walk to this coffee shop, I was worried about my failings at work, my fear of getting back on the road only to find wind and snow again, and the question of what the heck I do next after returning home from this trip.
I forced my mind to a halt for a brief moment and smiled at how incredible it is that I was walking down that dirt street in southern Argentina having ridden a motorcycle thousands of miles thru over a dozen countries from the doorstep of my home to a place in the world many only ever dream of knowing.
I am not perfect. I am not the strongest, the most outstanding, courageous, bright, creative, or capable.
I am only me, Jeremiah.
And I can only take one more step forward for myself.