2009 Trans Americas
The Real End in Buenos Aires
Leaving Ushuaia is emotional. With most journeys when you turn for home, it’s sad because you always want to go a bit further. However with this journey there is no-where further to travel. We cannot go south any more and this has been our route for five months. So while turning north is a major step and not without regrets, it is the only way we can go.
We retrace our route back to Cerro Sombrero in Chilean Tierra Del Fuego for our last night on the Island and then the next morning recross the Straits of Magellan. It is a choppier crossing than previously but just as quick. Our route then diverts and we turn east to head towards our final land border crossing. We cross on Ruta 3 from Chile back to Argentina for the last time. We have crossed 17 land borders including 7 times between Chile and Argentina. Ruta 3 is basically our home for the next 4 days as we take the only paved route up 2000 miles of the east of Argentina. We stay in a few little oil and gas producing towns, which are basic towns with some lovely hotels to keep visiting workers happy. As we ride north we enter the Welsh settled areas of Patagonia and start seeing dual language signs. Policia / Heddlu! We divert off Ruta 3 to visit Gaiman an Old Welsh community with road names such as JC Evans and Ruta Rodgers. It is a strange mix.
We travel through Pampas terrain. Huge, flat and open with low scrub plants that are trying hard to survive and keep out of the treacherous winds. Guanaco and rhea are still plentiful but start to fade out the further north we get. They are replaced initially with stretches of desert terrain with the sand blowing across the road, and then later with arable farming and then cows and sheep. We ride our biggest day which is 490 miles of Ruta 3 made tiring and challenging by the in-secant cross wind which is strong enough to move the bike, forcing the tyres to slide across the tarmac.
Then without much warning we are staying in a nice remote hotel at the edge of Sierra De La Ventana National Park and it is our last night before Buenos Aires and the finish. A relatively subdued night and then off early for 300 miles before lunch and a re group to ride into Buenos Aires.
Into Buenos Aires and along Julio 9th which is the widest road in the world, and to our hotel, for more hugs and congratulatory pats on the back. This, only after we ride down the incredibly steep slope to the hotel underground car park onto the newly painted concrete floor and in a final moment of symmetry Aaron drops his bike in the hotel car park. (Ed dropped his in the Anchorage Car Park just as we left!)
All that remains is a final night out to celebrate. We are going to Tango Night the night away. Professional dancers and the Argentine Tango close up is absolutely amazing. A truly fantastic way to end the trip.
Spaces for the 2011 Trans Am are limited and filling fast, so to experience the journey first hand e mail us soon! Back to top
Back to the tundra which, while not the last gravel everyone will ride, it is the last very tough section of Ruta 40 and so everyone is solely focused on “don't fall off!”. Over the border once more to the Torres Del Paine National Park and we are staying in a lovely Hacienda. During the evening the owner arrives in his pick up with two young lambs that a puma has killed. We are here for two nights so we can spend a day riding in Torres Del Paine. There are herds of guanaco, rhea and small foxes. Even after 17 weeks travelling, there are still plenty of surprises when several riders see at the side of the road a guanaco giving birth. It takes ten minutes and mum spends most of this still grazing. Within 15 minutes the newborn is walking, somewhat unsteadily but wking all the same.
From Torres, we head off to cross the Straits of Magellan. This means we are at the end of the continual land mass of the continental Americas. We ride past abandoned estancias on the coast and rusting ships on the way to the ferry to Tierre Del Fuego. The ferry runs about every 30 minutes simply on a when it arrives it loads up and goes back timetable. At each end the boat rams the ramp and the captain keeps it driving into the concrete ramp while cars, trucks and bikes load and unload with the tail of the boat drifting left and right in the current. Nothing as time consuming as tying up!
Once on Tierra Del Fuego it is a short ride to Cerro Sombrero for an overnight stop. The next morning we are back on unmade roads and cross the moor like terrain of the north of the island to another border crossing. The island is divided between Chile and Argentina. We ride on and mountains rise in the distance. The south of the island returns to mountains, forests and lakes. We stay on the north side of Lake Fagnano just 65 miles away from Ushuaia where Ruta 3 ends.
This is the most southerly road in the world. The end of the road - literally. We ride away in the morning in convoy and make our way gently over Paso Garibaldi and down into Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world, through the city (more of a big town) and onto the Lapataia national park and to the end of the road after a final 20 miles of dirt and mud track in the park.
We park up and then there are lots of hugs, a few tears and a glass or two of Champagne. This is the first Trans Am where every-one who left Anchorage has arrived in Ushuaia. One rider is now pillion with her husband. One bike is crashed and unrepairable and has been stripped of parts to get another back on the road, but we are all here and all on bikes.
After an hour or two, beating off curious tourists we turn and head north. We haven't really done this for 5 months.
We have two days in Ushuaia to reflect and enjoy Antarctica. Time to visit Penguin colonies and boat trips out towards the cape. The second day is Mac's 60th birthday and a bit of a lunchtime party follows. The rest of the day is spent quietly to get fresh for the 3047km ride north to Buenos Aires and the real end of the journey. Back to top
Carretera Austral & Ruta 40
From Fuetaleufu we ride to the Carretera Austral. This is the dirt road connecting the top of Chile to the bottom built by Augusto Pinochet's Chilean Army in the 70's and 80's. It was originally only there for the army but opened to the public in the late 1980's. It varies from deep sand and gravel, hard compacted surface two lanes wide, to rocky narrow twisty hairpins. Two stretches of newly graded sand catch at least three riders out as they are soft with no tracks to follow.
Puyuhuapi is on a sea inlet and is a small fishing town with little reason for existence other than it is on the road. Lots of German families and influence here and this town is no exception. We stay at a four storey wooden Bavarian style house with a shallow roof. It is very welcoming and friendly, with a small black cat tucked up behind the wood burning stove, who if picked up will make a brief appearance before returning to the best seat in the house.
The next day is more gravel initially very narrow, wet with rain and winding around the inlet. In the rain this is challenging and slow as there is always the promise of oncoming trucks and buses. After a while the dirt is replaced by perfect tarmac, and the road wends it way through beautiful autumnal red foliage and trees despite this not being autumn. The coarse grassed fields and pastures are all littered with dead grey timber lying haphazardly in huge numbers. It is quite striking and forms a lovely backdrop to smooth swooping roads.
Chris has a bad day when he locks the front brake on a switch from tarmac to gravel and goes down. He is remarkably fine, once again we avoid serious injury, but the front of his bike is missing. With no instruments, ignition lock mechanism trashed, no brake or clutch master cylinders or levers, and us in the midst of rural Patagonia, the bike is unrepairable. This despite Jeff’s best efforts, over two nights. The upside is Chris's swinging arm is fine and he very generously tells Jeff to strip it off his bike and fit it to Andy's so they have at least one functioning bike.
Off again and the scenery of yesterday afternoon continues as we get back on the dirt and travel down a valley with snow capped mountains framing the ride. We stopped and had Papa Reinas for lunch, which are stuffed baked potatoes with meat and veg filling. A cross between shepherds pie and a Cornish pasty.
Another border crossing today. The day is spent circumnavigating the deep blue lake largely on or directly above the shoreline. We arrive at the Chilean border post, which is a shed by the side of the road and complete the normal formalities. Ride on and they are building a cathedral of a border crossing, only months from completion. Why on this no traffic gravel road? When we get to the Argentinian side we realise why. On May 21st they opened their new border crossing point. Much nicer than the shed but now shortly to be outdone by the Chilean Cathedral. Oh and they have tarmac on their side as well - so there!
From here we are heading back to the famous Ruta 40. Another top to bottom road it stretches the length of Argentina. We hit the gravel and climb as the terrain fades to scrubby wind blown plains. And it is wind blown. The gravel is deep and you have to keep to the tracks cleared by previous vehicles. You are riding leaning into the wind but when it gusts you can be moved left or right involuntarily and into the deep gravel. It is a challenge to keep to the road and negotiate your way back to a track. We stop for fuel and a sandwich at, well, the only place that sells fuel and coffee and makes sandwiches. However the man making the coffee also serves the fuel so don't be in a hurry for either. Fortunately his daughter makes the sandwiches! Our destination for the night is a working estancia (farm). We arrive to flasks of tea and coffee and the most incredible location. Built in a natural bowl there is no wind and the coarse grass land on which they raise sheep is littered with their horses and the farm sheep dogs. After Lamb from the Parillia (BBQ) we retire to the main room and read, play a Finnish card game courtesy of Perti, jenga, and are serenaded by Max on guitar.
El Calafate is the entrance to the Argentinian Glaciers National Park. We are here for two days two visit the park and the Glaciers before the final weeks ride down to Ushuaia. A visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier is a must for most riders.
Still more Ruta 40 dirt to contend with along with Patagonian winds and a crossing of the Magellan. Still it is not over until the fat lady sings, or for us until the thin lady tango's in the Argentine Tango bar in Buenos Aires, the now traditional last night out! Back to top
The Lake District (Chile & Arg)
Leaving Santiago we have two days on the Pan Am to move the whole game south. The first night we stay at Salto De Lajo, where someone appears to have installed a not so mini Niagra Falls outside our cabins. On to Osorno where we are all fitting knobbly tyres at Moto Aventure Chile for the long stretches of dirt and gravel roads to come. This is a BMW hire bike company with a fleet of 40 R1200, 800 and 650 GS's, so if ever you are in Chile and want one...
“It'll be cold” says Kevin about the ride over the Andes back to Argentina. This turns out to be a bit of an understatement. The ride to the border is cold, very cold, and as we approach the border we see a snow plough coming the other way covered in snow. We should have taken this as a warning! We pass out of Chile but have 30 miles to go to the Argentinian side. This, for 15 miles has 2-3 inches of snow settled on the road! We pass a man fitting snow chains and a Mack truck stuck in the snow wheel spinning and going nowhere. It is very cold and slippery. When we get to the Argentinian side the customs ladies look out their window and laugh at us. This tells us a lot.
We ride on into the Argentine lake district. It's like Windermere and Scarfell Pike on growth hormones. What in the UK lasts for minutes, here lasts for hundreds of kilometres. “I fancy a cheese and ham toasty and a coffee” says one rider at a stop and at the end of the road we come across an alpine lodge. The menu includes “Queso y Jamon sandwiche tostada” Excellent!
San Martin Los Andes is a lake front town where many riders have their first taste of Patagonian Lamb, which is barbecued over a real fire in the restaurant windows. The next day has an optional dirt side road. It has among the best views of the trip. Sharp edged mountains capped with frosty white snow, round hills with porcupines of fir trees, turquoise gem stone lakes with white horses, it is incredible.
It is a bad day for Andy though as he hits a pothole with a square rock at the far edge that lifts his front wheel high, flattens the tyre and trashes the wheel. It also allows the swinging arm to hit the rock before the rear wheel with disastrous results.... It snaps in two!
We have a day off on Barriloche, also known as Chocolate Town, which allows us all to prepare for Ruta 40 and Carreterra Austral. We have over 1000 miles of dirt roads to do and we need to be fresh and energetic, or at least something close! Again we are riding to Chile and traversing the Argentinian Lake District which remains incredibly beautiful. Lake, Mountain. Lake. Lake, Mountain, but you can't get jaded as each corner brings a new vista that takes your breath away. We cross the border at a shed at the end of 40 miles of gravel at which the guards are very friendly and relaxed. Their chubby tabby cat is highly furr'ed and needs to be at these temperatures. A whole seven kilometres later we arrive at Fuetalufu. A frontier town with a nice grassed central square and little else. The hostel is log construction with high ceilings, an unusual collection of old tills and typewriters and a great roaring fire. Perfect… Back to top
Northern Chile & Argentina
Today we enter Chile and the last but one country on the trip. Arica to Antofagasto is 470 miles through the Atacama Desert and the desert valleys this morning are full of clouds. We cross the plains above them surrounded by miles of rock scattered sand and then descend through the clouds into rift valleys suddenly emerging under the clouds into the valley, then cross the valley and repeat in reverse. From Iquique we follow the coast road all the way to Antofagasto. The road is two lane wedged in between the huge sand dune on our left and the pacific on our right.
After a few days in Chile we are crossing to Argentina for the first time. It's a 300 mile day with 120 miles of dirt on a road used only by us and the Dakar Rally earlier this year and again in 2010. This is all at over 4500m altitude. The road is initially well compacted and grippy, and progress to the border post is swift and uneventful. Then Nick goes down on the soft sand and while unhurt, the combination of high altitude and the crash sends him into shock. Jeff arrives with the van and in 5 minutes flat, his bike and Nick are in it. As all this is happening Simon rides back to say that Paul has also gone down but is up and about, although his bike is pretty battered.
When Jeff arrives with Nick at Paul’s accident they realise while Paul's bike is a definite non runner, Nick's in the van is a go’er. Paul is OK to ride and so in 3 minutes flat Jeff unloads Nicks bike, loads Paul's and speeds off. At the border the Argentinian customs guys could not be more helpful. A guard accompanies Nick and Jeff to Fiambala and the local hospital, where after an X ray and now out of the high altitude Nick is given the all clear. Paul and Nick spend the evening comparing bruises!
The next morning is a nice simple tarmac 200 mile day and so 4 riders promptly get lost leaving town (as does Jeff in the van!) and ride 20 miles down the wrong road, 20 miles back to town and then leave again! After yesterday we need an easy day and we get one to Villa Union and a lovely hotel with a fantastic restaurant that serves the best steak of the trip so far. Welcome to Argentina proper! The next day passes without incident as dirt sections are treated with unsurprising caution by all. Then we have a group ride into Santiago where we will be for four days to get the bikes serviced and to rest up, get Paul and Nick to hospital to get checked out and generally re-group.
BMW Chile have supplied the Carabineros with a fleet of R1200RT's and they have arranged for us to enter Santiago with a Police escort, stopping traffic and blocking roads with red lights flashing. Their uniforms are dark green with highly polished black riding boots and elbow length white gloves to stop the traffic. Great fun as they race past our nice staggered formation directly at on-coming traffic that swerves to avoid them. They are scraping the engine bars around corners as they swoop in and out and we arrive at the hotel like royalty on tour, although we look decidedly scruffy next to them. This is all filmed by the main Chilean news channel and shown that evening on the 9pm news!
About four weeks to go to Ushuaia but this includes 1500 dirt miles on Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral. In some ways little time is left, but still 5000 challenging miles and 5 weeks... Back to top
We cross the border with ease. It is very quiet and we ride south to Chiclayo. It’s a ride across the Sechura Desert. There are no facilities on this road. No fuel, no services, no food or drink. This 130 mile stretch almost catches a few riders out, as they crawl into Morrope on only fumes. Riders are quite shocked by Northern Peru. The change is immediate. Life is obviously hard. Houses are straw mats in the desert, no water and no electricity. Rubbish is dumped on the edge of town and blows across the scrub, plastics clinging to the small thorny trees.
There is some relief in the small seaside town of Huanchaco. It’s on the coast and we get some blue sky before the normal low mists and fog swirl in and drop the temperatures so we need fleeces again for the first time in many weeks.
From here, we take the gorge road of Canyon del Pato. It’s pretty rough this year and roadworks on part of the section does not help as riders struggle over stretches of deep gravel and some sandy hairpins. We have four riders with passengers. Their efforts constantly surprise us, as they all make the canyon without dumping their passengers or bike on the ground. Maybe they don’t get too testosterone fired up, to rip up the road when their loved one is on the back. Everyone enjoys a cold beer in Caraz and then take Kevin out for birthday celebrations.
From here we take the tarmac road back down to the Pan Am, have a noisy night in the rough and ready town of Barranca, then battle our way around Lima in the rush hour, before making the relative calm of Nasca and at last, our first rest day since Colombia. The flight over the Nasca Lines turns a few green! We’ve been joined by two other GlobeBusters guides (Peter and Alan), who have arrived early for the Patagonia trip (it’s a standalone ride with ten customers booking for the five week stretch from Santiago to Buenos Aires). They spend time with Jeff the Van Man to try and sort out Paul’s bike, which gradually has been getting more problematic to start each day. They identify a problem with the starter motor, which is resolved and the bike now starts first time, every time.
We are now on the gringo trail of Southern Peru, taking in Cusco and Machu Picchu, Puno and Lake Titicaca and the white city of Arequipa. It’s the first time we have had contact with tourists for a long time and it also means that the quality of restaurants and accommodation improves too to cater for the mainstream holiday maker. We have only few problems to sort out over this period – a few riders are suffering from altitude symptoms and Jim’s bike has conked out. Between Van Man Jeff, Peter and Alan, we manage to get the one Suzuki V-Strom back on its feet and Jim is all smiles, narrowly escaping van riding until Santiago. It’s great that all the bikes are still rolling; the only time the bikes have ended up in the van is because the rider is not too good.
We have a final group meal in Arequipa to mark the end of Peru. Everyone is in high spirits. So far, so good. Back to top
We have a bad border crossing into Ecuador. There is only one guy issuing bike permits, one computer and a bad internet connection. It sometimes takes him 45 minutes to do one permit and there are 20 bikes waiting. By the time he finishes, it is dark. We have 80 miles to ride to Otovalo and the final group does not make it in until 11pm. Everyone is pretty exhausted, but our hostess, Margaret is amazing, the fires are blazing and food and drink await. The difficulties do not dampen the smiles that we are now in our tenth country.
Ecuador is home to the Equator. This is a huge milestone for the group. There is much congratulation as the bikes line up on the equator line. We have all come so far and it is a very special time. This is our first time that we have led a group across the equator, thanks to riding in Colombia – now we are riding south over the mid-point of the earth and it feels different.
Ecuador is also tiny. It only takes us a few days to ride north to south, through Quito and down to Cuenca. From there we have some amazing mountain roads to get the border. For Nigel, it’s a bad day. He is caught out by a drifting vehicle, a tight bend and a little too much speed. Once again, we are lucky. He is hurting badly, is very bruised and his bike looks battered, but he manages to crawl into town. The next morning, he still climbs aboard the bike to continue the ride to the border. Riding all the miles is a non-negotiable for many.
Picture - The Equator: another milestone Back to top
Picture - Views from the roads in Colombia
Kevin and I last rode here in 2003. It was on the Trans Am World Record. We still have contacts with the local riders that helped us back then and all are eager to welcome the GlobeBusters team to Colombia. It is a huge event for BMW in Bogota too. Although some independent motorcycle travellers have been coming back to Colombia for a while, we are the first big group that they have had the opportunity to welcome and we attend a huge presentation, talk about the travels and GlobeBusters, and speak with the press.
It is the same in Medellin. Another enormous welcome from local riders, who come out in the evening to hear us speak, watch our films and are hugely happy that at last groups of riders are coming back to Colombia. They are so keen that we have a fantastic time in Colombia.
How can I describe Colombia? A country which retains a bad reputation, despite how security has improved over recent year. Two Colombians, Mauricio at Ruta 40 and his good friend, Carlos, accompany us on our ride through Colombia. They want to show us some of the smaller roads and some of the great places to take a break. Having such local insight is a massive bonus, as most stick to the main Pan American. There is no doubt that you do see a heavier military presence than in other countries, but this is good. It means that they are maintaining security.
The countryside and roads are some of the best we have ridden on. There are full days when the road are constant bends, tight, swooping through lush jungle landscapes, then as we push south through pine trees and then in the end, barren, brown desert. Everyone in our group is ecstatic at riding here. The landscapes, the people do not disappoint. The infrastructure is good, hotels are excellent, food is delicious.
We could not have had a better time here. We have been one the first of overseas motorcycle adventure companies to come back to Colombia and no doubt others will follow. . . .
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Picture - Bike freight
The first challenge of Panama is the second banana bridge. We ride around the corner and it is gone! There is a new bridge and the old one has been left to rot alongside it. Riders have a mix of relief and disappointment. So breeze over the new bridge and travel the beautiful road through Northern Panama, with sea views of Bocas del Toro and past tiny jungle villages. With only one night en route, we hit Panama City on Monday and get straight into the swing of bike freight.
The ride into Panama City takes us by surprise. Since we were here two years ago, the Panamanians have claimed around 300 metres of land into the sea, by building a completely new road into the bay! The Balboa Monument no longer looks over the sea but is in the central reservation. It takes some quick thinking to try and divert back to the hotel!
Freight is always an unpredictable beast. This time we have so many bikes, we have chartered our own plane for Bogota. But still it takes a hot and sweaty afternoon at the cargo airport to complete all paperwork and get Customs clearance for the export.
Panama City is always a milestone. We celebrate our achievement by going to a Panamanian folklore show and get ready for our flights to Bogota. There is palpable excitement. This would be the first Trans Americas group to ride in Colombia and we would be the first UK motorcycle tour company to take riders back into Colombia after a long period of overland travel being deemed too dangerous. Back to top
Beautiful and tropical Costa Rica. More developed than it's neighbours, and "americanised", with Burger King, KFC etc in many towns. Cars are more modern, but the roads are not. CR has some of the biggest potholes so far. Maybe its the heat, wet and humidity that plays havoc with road maintenance. Our first night is back on the beach, sandwiched between the palm trees and the ocean. The border had been horrific, with long delays issuing bike permits, so it was good to relax to the sound of crashing waves.
We then head for the central highlands and volcanoes. Arenal hides behind the clouds this year and it continues to be wet. And then we are stopped in our tracks again. An earthquake back in January had taken out the normal mountian road we use and so we had to do an impromptu diversion. Even this took us through the earthquake stricken region, as we slithered through roadworks, trying to rebuild the second road.
Costa Rica was proving to be more of a challenge than usual! But we all m ake it to the jungle lodge and more torrential rain. That's why it is the rain forest! The jungle clicks and buzzes around us and tiny brightly coloured poison frogs are dotted along the tropical walks. Most riders use their free day to go white water rafting or taking a swing through the jungle canopy.
Then it is border day! Everyone knows that the crossing involves two banana bridges - they have all seen The Ride DVD! These two rickety railway bridges always seem to claim a rider! Richard and Karen become the first riders to cross two up. Julia follows straight after (in 2004 she went down here, but now she's through!). Everyone tackles the challenge. Jim is the only one who struggles but he also makes it and we are all buzzing.
Its now Panama and the second banana bridge! Back to top
It's tropical and sweaty in Honduras. We have a day off in Copan to visit the Mayan ruins, whilst Paul heads off to La Esperanza to return to a school that he helped years before as a charity project. Alas for Paul, his bike lets him down before he gets there. He manages to find local help and stays in a local hostal in San Juan, before being able to sort out the problem and meet us the following day.
Most of the dirt highland road in Honduras, has disappeared, except for a short 20 mile section of sharp rutted rocks. We bounce along it. Then its back to the Pan Am, a short stop for pizza, before the border town of Danli. The facilities aren't great and the hotel is basic. Three days in Honduras and despite the political instability, we see very little trouble. More military seem to be about than normal, but not giving us any hassle.
PS - The day after we left, ousted President Zelaya re-entered the country and all the fireworks kicked off again. We got out just in time! Back to top
Chichi is as delightful as ever and the riders wander through the Sunday market, but our departure the next day is delayed by the start of Independence Day parades closed the main road out of town. So we chill and watch the bands and dancers go by. It’s only 75 miles to Antigua anyway.
The main road is good. It’s been extended to dual carriageway and has perfect bends, but they are still working on it in places and you can find yourself back on the gravel. Antigua is beautiful. Lines of pastel coloured colonial houses, narrow cobbled streets all against a volcanic backdrop. We have two days rest here. The first day is spent joining in even more parades. The whole town is out waving flags, dancing, running the streets with flaming torches. It's a group evening meal tonight, which degenerates into a lining up shots of "Aguadiente de Guatemala" - the local firewater. At US$1 a bottle, it just couldn't be ignored!
Today some are nursing hangovers, the more energetic are climbing the volcano and others are just relaxing and getting done the jobs of the trip – laundry, emails, post. Honduras tomorrow. Back to top
Soaked to the Skin
Guatemala! The change is immediate at the border. It feels more intense, chaotic, poorer, colourful and happy. There a blue and white flags strung up everywhere and kids selling Guatemala flags – we will be in Guatemala for Independence Day. There have been changes at the border. Passports are quick and there is no tourist card to complete. Even the two guys on Customs rip through our bike paperwork. You could almost describe it as quick!
Everyone squeezes up through the narrow streets lined with busy market stalls and onto our first ride in Guatemala. The view is incredible. Jagged green mountains with bands of cloud and mist. Then wet season kicks in again. The rain pours down and the fog over the mountain tops is thick – we can barely manage 20mph and pass numerous accidents where locals have overshot a bend and ended up in a ditch. Even Aaron ended upside down in a ditch – by trying to squeeze past a huge truck that had come to a standstill. We all arrive in Pana, wringing wet!
We have found out that the highland road we take from Chichi to Coban is probably impassable. A result of a previous mountain collapse and that the detour is treacherous, closed again by recent torrential rains. As the weather has continued to be very wet, we take the decision to ditch the highland route and from Chichi head to Antigua. From here, we have to cross Guat City – not a nice prospect. We normally avoid the big cities. Back to top
Before we know it the end of Mexico is in sight. We’ve spent the past few days sweltering in bright shine and high humidity, we’ve eaten fresh shrimp in beach front restaurants, wandered through the Palanque Mayan ruins, drank margaritas by the pool, bounced over a frustrating and irritating number of topes, tangled with the city traffic of Villahermosa, been bitten by mozzies and even had a small crash on a left hand bend in the mountain (nothing serious).
Currently notorious for swine flu and drug shoot outs, what we saw of Mexico was nothing like the media hype. Sure, we got the wet season a little earlier and heavier than normal, but that just made the landscapes lush and green and not like “desert and cacti”, which had been some riders expectations of what Mexico would be like. Back to top
Our border crossing is pretty efficient and we are in Nicaragua by midday and riding towards Granada. The police saw us coming and had a field day. We were in small groups spread out over a few hours and one by one we were picked off, fined for technicalities and fleeced of our dollars. It was only by the time we reached the hotel that we realised the full extent - over US$260 had been handed over to the police between the group! One nameless person simply paid the opening gambit of US$80 by the police!
The small Pacific beach town of San Juan delivered us the best sunset of the trip to date, combined with great strawberry daiquiri cocktails and the best seafood you will ever taste. We're all melting from the humidity, but some dive into the ocean to cool off and some stick to the naked theme - on a public beach - really! Back to top
Cabanas and coconuts
By the time we come to leave San Miguel, riders are falling like files with Mexican belly. Nick is doubled up and can’t move from his bed and Ed “Rigsby” also spent the night up and down to the porcelain. Luckily Gerald feels recovered to ride and Ed, despite being weary wants to soldier on to get to Huejutla. Kevin has already dashed on ahead – Huejutla is not the sort of place that handles hotel bookings well! – and Julia, Al and Aaron stick with Ed for the day.
Ed manages valiantly, courtesy of Miss Jones’ homemade rehydration drink (8 parts sugar / 1 part salt in a ½ litre of water) and even eats a banana mid afternoon. The van carries Nick and Danielle rides pillion with Chris. We all make Hue before nightfall.
It’s a Sunday and we are in a small Mexican town not used to tourism. Most of the restaurants are closed, so half eat at the street taco bar, some manage to find take away pizza and others have a picnic on the hotel veranda.
Today is a landmark – we reach the ocean for the first time since leaving Anchorage. The rain in Huejutla was torrential. The sort that soaks you to the skin in a matter of seconds. Over breakfast, we think about sitting it out, but the skies are black and, if anything, it gets even more like a raging waterfall, so we just get on with it. The mountain roads need great care. There are a load of trucks, split diesel, tight bends and unsigned topes.
But the skies lighten, the roads widen and before we know it, the sea appears on our left. It’s the Caribbean! A row of white cabanas await, fronting the beach and the crashing waves of the Pacific. Fresh coconuts welcome us to our first tropical beach night.
Andy – our Australian – having ridden 9,000 miles to get this far and having just decided to continue the trip to Ushuaia (he was to go home in Panama) almost ends his trip prematurely by running out of breath trying to swim to the sand bank just off shore to play in the waves with some of the others. Luckily three came to his rescue and pulled him to safety. It would have been a bad way to end a bike trip! Back to top
Margaritas at Mama Mia's
It’s the morning of Day 7 in Mexico. Mexican Delhi Belly has started to strike at the group. Gerald has spent all night up and down to the loo and is too weak to take his bike off the centre stand. He goes into the support vehicle for the day, along with his bike. It’s a snug fit but two 1200GS’s are squeezed into Charlotte (our name for the support van). Danielle decides to ride pillion with Chris, her other half, leaving Gerald and his belly to sit in misery. At the same time, one of our American riders, Jim, is suffering from a trapped nerve and is finding riding miserable.
Despite all this, we crawl into San Miguel. This is no mean feat, given the amount of road works and diversions we had to contend with today, along with some poorly signed but essential turnings that the group had to make and some inaccurate mileage on the notes (our fault – sorry peeps!). It’s great to have a group that can think on its feet and still make the destination when things conspire against them.
We love San Miguel and spend the first night in our usual haunt “Mama Mia”. Even more tequila, margarita and beers are consumed. The music blasts and we are all on a roll – we have a day off here and so no need for an early start! Back to top
There is no rest for the wicked! We celebrate our Copper Canyon victory with a couple of bottles of tequila and the following day have 410 miles to ride to get to Zacatecas. It is only a few miles down the road when Danielle and a cow have a brief meeting. Enough for the cow to shit itself over the front of the bike and shunt a few bits out of place. Somehow Danielle keeps the bike upright, but in the process sprains her right wrist badly and cannot ride. So we now have one bike in the van.
Getting to Zacatecas is donkey work. There’s too much long straight road! Once we get to the city, it is party night and a huge fiesta is being held in the main plaza right outside our hotel. Some manage to get into the show, others watch from the hotel balconies. It gives a real insight into the Mexican fiesta! Back to top
Up and downs in Copper Canyon
From Creel, the destination is Batopilas, deep into Copper Canyon. This is a first for Trans Am. There’s no doubt that Copper Canyon is risky. It’s a small single track road descending steeply into the canyon and running the valley. In some places is pretty good and in others just loose stones and rocks, lumps and bumps. It’s very narrow and there are plenty of steep drops to mess with your mind. At the top, there air is fresh and we ride through pine forests. At the bottom, it’s humid and sticky, almost tropical.
Danielle (our only lady rider) valiantly gets her bike to La Bufa, only 15 miles short, before she is too tired to keep her R1200GS going. It’s a wise decision for her to go in the van. The rest all make it to the bottom, but not without a few mishaps. Thankfully nothing too serious and involving wounded pride more than anything else. Jeff bangs a few panniers straight and we have a day off in the canyon to explore ready for the ride out. However, despite all making it down, there is an underlying tension about making it out again!
We leave very early, whilst it’s cool. Even within the first half hour, three riders have already dropped their bikes. Kevin is doing one to one coaching and chasing back and forth to check on everyone. Andrew drops his bike in the fresh ground up earth laid on the road (thanks to a busy bulldozer on our day off), Paul ends up in a ditch (still upright), “Rigsby and Miss Jones” (Ed and Lorraine, so nicknamed because he was her landlord when they got it together!) come off three times and twice in one muddy patch, Gerald goes down twice, Nick is down (but just the once this time!). But we do all make it out, a bit battered but all on a high. Back to top
Land of Latino
Everyone is happy to leave Tucson. We are off at 6am and head to the Mexican border. The US border officials blink a couple of times when we tell them we are not coming back as we headed for Panama and tell us “to be safe”. Only the day before, the police chief in the Mexican border town had been gunned down – we don’t tell the group this as some seem nervous enough. The formalities are pretty efficient and all of us are through within a couple of hours, negotiate the back streets and find Highway 2 to Casas Grandes. It’s a smooth run, with a roadside stop for our first “real” tacos, before arriving for our first night in Mexico. So far, so good!
Our second days ride is superb, plenty of beautiful twisting mountain roads and warm sunshine. Creel is a small Mexican town and although used to having some tourists starts to give all a flavour of what’s to come in Mexico. Everyone bounces over the railway line that cuts the town in two. Our hotel has a lovely small courtyard and is perfect for drinking Tecate and putting the world to rights. Back to top
End of the Northern Section
The final ride in to Tucson was a 470 mile day. It’s the end of the North American section and we have to get there to our first planned bike service of the ride. It’s our last opportunity to make sure that the bikes have a good going over. Latino mechanics just are not quite the same. 20 miles before we reached the dealer and in the midst of the most torrential rain storm we have encountered to date, we had our first bike failure. Aaron’s F800GS pulled over to the side of the road. It was a failure of the rear wheel bearing. The only good is that at least it has happened in a place where it can be sorted quickly and easily and under warranty. It will be interesting to see how well these bikes cope with a big trip compared with the big GS bikes.
Last night we briefed everyone going forward. The general feel of the group is that the holiday is over and the serious business begins. Some cannot wait to have a change of scene. It’s true that the North America section is for the most part, an easy ride. The roads are fabulous, the scenery is spectacular, food and drink are familiar, as is the language, and the weather has been as good as it gets. We cannot have notched up more than 8 hours of wet riding. But this section is important as it does give the group a chance to bond before the tougher stuff. They all know now that they need to look out for each other in the months ahead. Back to top
In Valley of the Gods, the riders conspired to do a Naked Ride – given the road is so rarely used by the public. Of course as with many ideas, bravado chat is one thing; getting down to the business is something else. Kevin and Ed are the only ones who, with only boots, gloves and helmets, scoot along the Valley of the Gods, only to meet with the one white family saloon coming up behind them! They both ducked into a small lay-by, and the car drives past and waves to them, as if nothing is amiss!
At Grand Canyon, half the riders chose to visit the narrowest point of the Grand Canyon, by riding 60 miles on a little known dirt road right to the very edge of the canyon. There are no barriers, no tourists, no cafes but there is the best view you can get. The dirt road is tricky towards the end, the last 4 or 5 miles is first gear stuff over tight bends, slick rock, some sections of soft mud and steep rocks. Everyone did well, challenged themselves and were rewarded by the most spectacular views at such a remote spot. Back to top
There must be a God
The next day, we have more opportunity to wind up Gerald – he is the oldest boy on the trip at 67 and has had a double hip replacement. Gerald is raising money from his trip for the Devon Air Ambulance, and if you want to look at his personal website, check out www.geraldstransamericas.com) – and in Mesa Verde NP he became the first bike to be stopped for speeding at 55mph in a National Park. Tut tut! Luckily for him, his accent means no American can understand him and he flirted with the young blond lady officer and got away with a warning. He's still got that twinkle!
In Mesa, most of us visited the ancient puebloan cliff dwellings. We’ve incorporated this new national park into the Trans Am for the first time and most agreed that the ride to get was one of the best so far on the trip. Mesa was a big hit.
And it is closely followed by another hot favourite ride of the trip; Mokee Dugway & Valley of the Gods to Mexican Hat. You just have to be there. Describing these small dirt roads do them no justice. The view from the top of the Mokee “makes you think there must be a God”, as one rider said. Back to top
Would you believe that the Americans let a crowd of about fifty kids age 2 to 12 into a huge arena with three lively calves with red ribbons on their tails and told the kids they would win something if they pulled the ribbon off the calves?! The kids ran; the calves ran harder, bucked their back legs, kids fell over and finally three ribbons were retrieved. Then we had displays of kids under the age of 12, racing on horses around barrels and the lads being strapped to small bulls and practising their rodeo skills. How refreshing, considering many horse schools in the UK are closing because of so many claims and not being able to get insurance. The Cody Rodeo had other displays of bravery and sheer madness. Cody is true cowboy town and everyone got into the mood of “howdies” and soaked up this last frontier atmosphere.
From Cody it’s a 400 mile riding day to our next destination. The team are coping with these longer days with remarkable ease. Most are eager to set off early and relish the ride through the amazing back roads and small town America. The final run into Moab blows everyone away. The transformation of landscape to the deep burnt red cliffs, the lovely twisty road alongside the Colorado River and the weird shapes of the rock formations (“looking like Gerald’s fingers or knobs” says Karen), are breathtaking. (To explain, Gerald has big hands and big fingers and when someone winds him up, his centre finger curls uprights to the word “tossers” in a deep Devon accent – we all double up laughing; it’s all good banter). Back to top
We rolled into Cody today and are immersed in gunfights and rodeo! It's our 4th day in the USA already and we have already ridden through the volcanic boiling pot of Yellowstone, and drank beers under the wooden vault of Old Faithful Inn, celebrating Paul's birthday - he'd reached the grand old age of **! Yellowstone was awash with animals (and unfortunately RVs!) and many got to see bison close up on the road.
Glacier National Park was not as kind to us and the normal magnificent views were masked behind banks of swirling mist and heavy rain. It was still easy to get an impression of the sheer mountain landscapes, with a little imagination!
We came through Canada with barely a hitch. Jeff the Van Man has been pretty quiet - mended a puncture, banged right a few panniers (one rider came off on a slow tight wet turn in a golf course . . . . ), changed a few tyres and carried Jim, one of American riders, in the van after he upset a waiter (so he says) and ended up with 24hr food poisoning.
From Yellowstone, the Beartooth Pass was open. It is almost 3,500m with many switchbacks, hairpin bends breathtaking views from the top. The road is still recovering from the landslide in 2005, so over the top remains a graded gravel road. At the top, there was snowflakes, and almost freezing temperatures and within 20 minutes of steep descent, it was boiling!
The team have got well into daily riding routines and the practical joke side of a few is coming out. The "FOR SALE" sign on the only Suzuki in the trip was a bit mean, but Jim, the American owner holds up well to the merciless teasing. As yet, everyone is good humoured, but as we say there is a long way to go. It's Moab and Arches National Park tomorrow. Back to top
Moose and mojitos
It's hard to believe that we have clocked up over 3,000 miles already and we are at the end of Week Two. The weather continues to be amazingly good. Wildlife sightings started off very slow - even at Fish Creek, we waited over 3 hours to get bears and 5 minutes after most riders left, two arrived. Since then, bears and moose abound. Big bears, little bears, baby bears, brown bears, black bears have all been roadside to give the riders a wave as they gave through. Along with caribou, moose and elk. Not one rider can say they haven't seen the animals here!
We also got our first sightings of some other rare species - firstly, Mojito Man! This creature protests sobriety and then 3 mojitos later is doing the funky chicken with the waitresses. Mojito Man has been sighted on two occasions so far and has caused much hilarity with the group. Mojito Man is also sadly deficient in great chat up lines for the ladies, but tries hard.
Naked Man made an appearance in vast numbers at the Arctic Circle but since then, there has been the rare glimpse of Solo Naked Man on the icefields above Stewart (although apparently only done, because, our leader, Kevin, would have done it . . . .). Nearly Naked Solo Man, another older variety, is now often seen wandering around the log cabins just in his grey undies. And there has also been talk of Naked Hoover Lady, but as yet, no sightings!
Thirdly, The Sage appeared in the evening at Prince George. The Sage had lots of drunken words of wisdom (after a Birthday Mexican BullDog cocktail) to impart to the ladies on how to improve their appearances. Needless to say, as our first trip with five ladies on board, this type of behaviour was less than welcome and won him the First Prat Hat Award of the trip.
I am sure we will have more sighting of other unusual species as the trip progress and riders reveal a little bit more about themselves.
The first week in Canada has been some great riding. Everyone is settling into life on the road with ease and all have taken to our philosophy of "riding their own ride", without the need to hang around in convoys. Riders have done so much stuff off the bikes too - fishing, helicopters over the Salmon Glacier, cycling, bear watching, lake swimming - it's mostly about bikes, but there's loads of time to do other things as well as riding.
We finished Week Two, with an outdoor barbecue in Jasper, under the pine trees next to our log cabins. Kevin & Jeff (The Van Man) cooked up a feast of marinated chicken, steaks, burgers, spicy sausages and a vast array of salads and we all sat under the stars putting the world to rights.
With only 4 days left in Canada, the Trans Am is really moving apace. Why don't you join us in 2011? You can book online now! Back to top
A one horse town
There is no knowing when the Dalton will strike. The Brazilian rider, who we all met in PB, left the day before us and never made it to Coldfoot. He was air lifted out after coming off the road and going into a ditch. He may be paralysed. We are all hoping that he pulls through. This horrific news did not reach the ears of our group that evening, who seemed nervous enough at the return leg southwards the next day.
On our day leaving PB, most were up and ready to go well before the official start time, and some didn't even get any sleep. They needn't have worried as the conditions returning back to Coldfoot were better than ever. But we all had to pass the twisted and battered Harley Davidson which remained in the ditch where it had dumped its rider the day before, a grim reminder not to take the road lightly.
At Coldfoot, the mood was considerably better than it had been that morning, helped on by Chris buying everyone a cold beer. His wife, Danielle, had completed the days ride without a hitch, when she had been considering not riding that day, fearful that she had used up all her luck. Luckily Kevin is a good "bully" and rode with her the whole way down to Coldfoot.
From Coldfoot to Delta Junction, the group splits; Julia gets the first punture of the trip in her rear wheel; Nick heads off to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital to get his wrist checked out for good measure (it costs him $780!); Andy heads to Fred Meyer to buy books to read; many take their bikes to the car wash to spray off the dirt from the Dalton or to find food. Delta Junction consists of a main street and not a lot else - your typical one horse town. But from now until Prince George, it's just small towns each night and thankfully that means very little traffic.
We are all ready and raring to cross our first border into Canada. Week One is already over and our second country awaits. Back to top
We'd had a great send off from Anchorage. Biker gang, Team Pterodactyl, organised a great gun shoot for us (and on which some of us contracted "machine gun grin"!) and a wild salmon BBQ. We could think of no better Alaskan Welcome. Except that some topped it all off with a trip to the Alaskan Bush Company. Good ol' Alaskan entertainment. Say no more.
The first stop on the Trans Americas trip was Fairbanks, some 360 miles north of Anchorage. It remains a consistently pleasant first day, although Mnt McKinley remained out of sight behind dense cloud and there was a drizzle for the first two hours. In Fairbanks, we get to meet John Binkley - a local politician and ex Alaskan State Senator, he also ran against Sarah Palin in 2006 for the Governeor of Alaska (but as we all know Palin won that). But more importantly, some 40 years ago he rode an R75 from Prudhoe to Ushuaia, leaving in December! Fascinating guy with some amazing tales!
Fairbanks to Coldfoot, was an unusually balmy sunny day. Dry conditions had created a number of large forest fires that reduced visibility and probably added to the uncharacteristic humidity. It also meant the dirt road remained dry. Added to that new stretches of tarmac, leading up to the Yukon River and everyone happily rolled upto the Arctic Circle, where the sensible team members donned their ridiculously looking mosquito head gear (the little buggers were out in force).
Everyone enjoyed a cold beer at Coldfoot and looked at the trucks coming from the north trying to guess the condition of the road, by the amount of mud that was caked to the sides. A south bound F800GS rider rolled in and told of the road works that were a bit dodgy.
It was an early start to Prudhoe Bay and the weather had stayed dry overnight. We passed more bikers than ever on Dalton (maybe up to ten or so in one day and that's without our group) - it seems that the road to PB is more like a biker highway than the old Haul Road! It's great to see so many of us out there enjoying the dare of the Dalton, but it's clear that it sits uneasy with the traditional truckers, who bend Kevin's ear at one stop, complaining at being overtaken by bikes.
The Atigun Pass was the first sign of a slight chill in the air and a road that refused to be dried out, with many creeping slowly down the muddy slope descending through the Brooks Range. Visibility was still hazy from the fires, but it was impossible not to get a sense of awe at the remote wilderness we were riding through.
It was road works that brought down our first rider as Andy, on the F800GS, had to tackle a freshly laid mound of dirt and rocks, which plonked his bike sideways - he was unscathed. Just 20 miles short of Deadhorse, we had our first sighting of caribou. Two massive herds of thousands of animals. No one had ever seen anything like it and we all pulled off onto a small track towards the river to get closer to the beasts. Hunters were also present, with bows and arrows but shot at nothing. Kenny, one of our American riders, told us that by law, they could only shoot very specific animals and no females or calves.
As always when you think you are safe home, the last few miles throw the most challenges. The half kilometre of muddy quagmire was totally unexpected and caught out Nick who spun his bike to face the opposite direction and ended on the floor. Once again, luckily this time, bike and rider were fine and rode into PB. In PB, we meet some of the other bikers - a Brazilian on a Harley Davidson and a bloke from Neath (only 10 miles from us in Wales!), travelling on a KLR with his daughter riding pillion!
As usual in PB, we all took the Arctic Ocean trip and most (but not all), took the skinny dip, ladies and men together! The water felt warmer this year! We are keeping our fingers crossed that the dry weather stay with us for our first miles heading south. Because from now on it's south for the next five months. Back to top
All Set For Trans Americas 09!
Excited riders are arriving in Anchorage. All bikes have been cleared and are waiting at the hotel and other than a flat battery, they are in great condition. Before leaving Anchorage, thanks to the AMGA, riders will head up to the gun range and blast off machine guns, AK47s and M16s, to name but a few, and local motorcyclists, Team Pterodactyl, who have participated in the start of the Trans Americas since its inception in 2005, are welcoming us to Anchorage with a wild salmon BBQ and pitchers of Alaskan Amber.
The first week on the trip is one of the hardest, with long days and the infamous Haul Road (Dalton Highway) ahead to Prudhoe Bay. It's not a road to be taken lightly, every year, many riders struggle to make it to the furthest point north without a slip. At Prudhoe Bay, we'll watch the midnight sun, take a skinny dip in the Arctic Ocean, before turning south for 19 weeks and 22,000 miles of adventure. Spirits are high - many riders booked to do the trip two years ago and they find it hard to believe that finally they are in Anchorage, at the start line. For GlobeBusters, this is the biggest expedition yet and for the third time, Kevin Sanders will lead a group of riders on this epic journey. "Alaska is one of the last frontiers of adventure motorcycling and riding up to Prudhoe Bay is the only true way to say that you've ridden the Trans Americas. For our riders, reaching Prudhoe Bay is their first big goal. . . and it's my job to prepare them so that the very best chance of getting there!"
GlobeBusters is the only overland adventure company to have successfully led riders on the Trans Americas route and as Sanders says, "it gives us a wealth of accumulated knowledge and expertise to ensure that riders get the very best experience" Back to top