2011 Trans Americas
We rise to clear skies, sunshine and the sun and an almost full moon still in the sky. We are leaving early to ensure we get in to Buenos Aires before the rush hour. We are starting out from Sierra De La Ventana park. The tarmac has a strange sparkle to it as it catches the low sun. It is like stars on a carpet of tarmac darkness showing us the way home.
And so this is the final proper ride for Trans Am 2011. All that remains is to get the bikes through the bureaucracy of the freight process and take them to the agent. Then we are going to the best Tango show in Buenos Aires, eating one last superb steak and washing it down with some fine red wine.
If you want to experience this epic ride and be part of the adventure then there are places available Trans Americas 2013. Just contact us through www.globebusters.com
Thanks for following the blog. We hope you have enjoyed reading it as much we all enjoyed the experiences that we wrote about. Back to top
Ushuaia – Buenos Aires
We rode out of Ushuaia the next day in some light drizzle which soon cleared as we re-traced our steps across Tierra Del Fuego. After an overnight stop we crossed back to Chile, boarded the ferry to cross the Straits of Magellan, crossed back to Argentina on the other side and headed for Rio Gallegos. This was our final land border crossing of the trip and the 9th time we had cross between Chile and Argentina.
From here we have a few days heading north on Ruta 3 which is the main all tarmac route to and from Tierra Del Fuego. A stop off in Viedma presents us an chance to visit the Horizons Unlimited South America meeting which is on. It is a small gathering with mainly locals but some English, Scottish and German travellers as well. The travellers are mainly heading south to be in Ushuaia for Christmas. At our hotel we also meet some more travellers heading south. A huge group of Dutch registered Volvo’s are outside. It is a two month endurance event and they are just on day 4 out of Buenos Aires. Some of the cars are recognisable as quite recent models and some are proper classics. Many are stickered up from their previous event to Beijing in 2008. They are all full of enthusiasm for the road ahead. However when they mention that many of the vehicles have fuel tanks of only 35 litres we are shocked. With their fuel economy and the lack of fuel in some parts of Patagonia we think they are going to run into some big problems!
We also get caught up in another Argentinian celebration as they are re-investing President Cristina Kirchner for another term. Again the street party runs and runs. Latin Americans from Mexico to Ushuaia certainly know how to celebrate and party.
And so here we are in Sierra De Le Ventana Park with just one days riding left to take us to Buenos Aires and our final hotel. We have 300 miles to run to Avenida 9 De Julio, according to some the widest road in the world.
We will let you know when we are all in. Back to top
Ushuaia – Fin Del Mundo
We disembark and remain in Chile for our first evening. The Island is divided between Chile and Argentina and so the following day is once again a border day as we cross to the Argentinian side. A few of the group take the opportunity to visit the Tierra Del Fuego, Falklands Conflict Memorial on the sea front in Rio Grande. Sadly it looks tired and unkempt.
The next morning the skies are overcast but it is dry and relatively warm. We ride out at 9am and make our way gently over the Paso Garibaldi towards the most southerly city in the world. However to remind us it is a small world we are catching an Iveco overland truck. It has UK license plates, and even a Welsh flag on it. We may be a long way from GlobeBusters home in South Wales but we are not the only people making this epic journey!
At Ushuaia we stop at the town sign for photos and then on into the National Park and to the end of the road. “Here ends Ruta 3” proclaims the sign and 20 metres further on is the ocean. Pacific or Atlantic? Fed from the Antarctic? The Southern Ocean? The debate wends on and we all hug, congratulate each other and the Champagne corks fly. We have 17 riders here, 11 of whom have ridden all the way from Alaska. From the Dalton Highway to the end of Ruta 3 in Ushuaia, but all have completed an epic journey whether from Alaska, Tucson or Bogota.
There will be a celebration this evening. There will be hangovers tomorrow. The next day we start 7 days more riding covering over 2,000 miles to get to Buenos Aires and our ultimate destination for this ride. We have reached the end of this road but the road ahead is still calling for another week or so.
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More time on Carretera Austral the following day takes in vistas of incredulously blue lakes and for contrast the Laguna Verde, the greenest of green lagoons. The road continues to challenge and reward as we head further south. Our destination for the night is more cabins but this time on the lake shore of Lago Buenos Aires. The white capped waves roll in with the snow-capped mountains providing the backdrop behind them. As the evening dusk draws in the wind subsides and the waves ebb into gentle swells.
The next day provides a change from the dirt roads as we ride through the mountains on pristine tarmac, with the snow lying on either side, and occasionally actually on the road. We are treated to some great twisties and a fantastic set of hairpins to descend to a small town for coffee.
After crossing back in Argentina we are heading for Ruta 40. This iconic road stretches the almost the length of the southern continent but this Argentinian dirt section is perhaps the most famous. We will probably be the last Trans Americas group to enjoy it as a dirt road. There is much more tarmac than previously and there are large sections being worked on. What hasn’t come with improved roads is improved fuel supply.
We plan out which bikes could make it into El Calafate 100 miles further on, where we are promised there are supplies. We then distribute the emergency fuel from the support vehicle to maximise the number of riders who can make it in. However this means leaving 5 bikes at the fuel station while we ride for El Calafate at 55mph to ensure maximum economy, to re-stock the support vehicle and return.
One rider runs out en route but we have a last 1.5 litres emergency stock and this gets them into town. In El Calafate we find queues at the stations and only one with diesel which the support vehicle is now also desperate for. We re-fuel the 70 litres of containers in the van, and the van itself, and are quickly on the return journey out of town. However 30 miles out of town we meet the remaining riders heading in. Bill a retired Canadian Policeman had gone into the local town again and at the police station called in a few professional favours and secured 30 litres of fuel between the bikes. This had been done by syphoning it from the towns fire engine! We just hope there is not a fire in town in the next 20 days or we are going to feel really guilty!
When the riders meet the support vehilce at 30 miles out, three are running on fumes having had the fuel gauges reading zero for over 20 miles each. Re-fuelled from the support vehicle they ride the last stretch with the comfort of knowing they would make it in. As we say – It’s not a holiday, It’s an Adventure!
The next day will take us across the Straits of Magellan and onto the Land of Fire, Tierra Del Fuego. From there we are just two days from Ushuaia and our furthest destination south. Having been heading south since the 9th August we will have to stop. If not we will be in the ocean.
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Snow and Ash nearly stop play!
After a brief stopover in Santiago, the bikes are all freshly serviced and fitted with their new knobbly tyres and we are ready to head south to the Argentinian and Chilean Lakes and on to Patagonia.
We ride on through the Lake District for two or three days, covering the entire length of Great Britain just in the Lake District. On the third day we are heading for San Carlos De Bariloche, the famous Argentinian Ski resort. We know that it has been adversely affected by the June eruption of Volcano Puyhue in Chile, however we are still surprised by the scenes that greet us.
Bariloche is known as the chocolate town. On our lake shore hotel they are washing the ash off the streets in the early morning. It is an out of season ski town with a truly alpine feel and every second shop is a Chocolatier. However it has been badly impacted by the ash. The airport has been closed for months and so the ski season was devastated and the off season is also very very quiet. We have the town almost to ourselves and the normally packed steak restaurant which is an established favourite is disturbingly quiet. However the Bieffe de Lomo and Chorizo are still superb and the service is better than ever. To be fair the staff to customer ratio was 1:2 at one point during the evening so the service should be good!
It takes us out to the pacific coast where we stay in a small village of under 500 people. We are lodging in a house built by one of the original German settlers families built in the 1930’s and still owned by the great granddaughter of the original owners. The pacific inlet is calm as the day fades away to evening. Dinner beckons and will definitely have a German flavour to it, as the only restaurants in town are all run by other German descendants. Bratwurst here we come! Back to top
The Real Peru and on to Countries 12 and 13!
It is all Souls Day the next day and the feeling is much more sombre. Every one of the road side shrines (said to hold the soul of the departed and placed where they departed) is adorned with fresh flowers. You cannot find one that has not had some attention lavished on it. Of course up at these altitudes the grass is pretty sparse as is the other vegetation. As a result Liz spots a Donkey happily feasting on some poor soul’s remembrance flowers. I suppose it makes a tasty change!
The children’s home is full of kids who need a safe place to be. For many of them unfortunately their own home is not a safe place. It is educational and very moving. On the way back one of the team stands up, teary eyed makes a speech and passes his hat around the bus.
Arequipa is also the home of Juanita the Ice Maiden. An Inca girl taken up to one of the surrounding peaks maybe 600 years ago and sacrificed to the gods. Her body has been preserved in the snow and ice on the mountain and is almost perfectly preserved. It is a strange story as it is believed that the victim was, from a young age groomed, to be sacrificed and went largely willingly to her death, with the help of some local herbs.
And so after being in the same country for two whole weeks we are heading for Chile and our penultimate country. Not the penultimate border crossing as we will criss cross the Andes all the way to the tip of the continent. A nice easy smooth border and the days ride takes us from 3500m to just 30m as we are staying on the Chilean Coast with the Pacific lapping at our toes. A few hardy souls brave the ocean and a few more sensible ones brave the heated infinity pool in the hotel. We ride on down the coast with the drama of the Pacific crashing on our right and an ominous 300 metre high sand dune on our left. If either one is inclined to take the road we would be powerless against them.
We turn inland and across the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. Some of the river beds have been dry for 120,000 years. Our route takes us through the Valley of the Moon. I am sure if you use your imagination you won’t need me to describe it for you?
Deeper into the Atacama and we ride to the Gringo town of San Pedro De Atacama. It is definitely on the tourist trail but this does mean some nice bars, cafes and a few other bikers. In fact 24 hired BMW’s as we meet a French group doing a one month tour from Antofagasta to Ushuaia. This is their second day on the road. “Where have we come from?” one asks. Well it would be rude not to tell them so we did. Hopefully we did not leave them too deflated! San Pedro exists partly to allow you to get up very early and visit the Tatio Geysers and bathe in the volcanic thermal pools. It is worth the trip, but as one rider said “Once you have seen Old Faithful blow against a red sunrise, then most other geysers are a bit of a waste of time!”
Our ride takes us from San Pedro and across the Paso De Jama to our final country – Argentina. It seems incredible but we still have 6 more border crossings to do before the end of the trip and yet this is the final new country, We ride on to the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats. These huge natural basins of salt are hard and dry and we can ride across them. They provide great photo’s. Tim is desperately trying to get the “perspective” shot of him standing on his crash helmet or his bikes screen and is wandering back and forth and back and forth but does get some that work really well.
We re-group 20 miles outside of Santiago and ride into this vibrant city as the same team that left Bogota all those weeks ago. We have two people leaving us here as Mike is on his way back to the office having completed his Northern Andes ride and Margaret who came out for 5 weeks with Alan is also on her way back to the real world. For the rest of us it a few days off and then the End of The World for Ushuaia is known as Fin Del Mundo. To get there we will ride Ruta 40, Caraterra Austral and the Ruta Interlagos some of the best dirt roads in South America. There is plenty of adventure ahead on this epic top to bottom ride. Back to top
We split the ride to Cusco with a stopover at a mountain side retreat where we are once again the only guests. A number of people comment that the separate cabins and the pathways between them are reminiscent of Bell II Lodge that we stayed in on the Stewart Cassiar Highway so many weeks ago.
The following day is a full one visiting Machu Picchu. The ancient city which remained undiscovered by the Conquistadors is in its centenary year of discovery by Hiram Bingham. However as our guide is adamant that all the locals knew it was there all the time and refers to Hiram’s “discovery” with distain. Machu Picchu never fails to impress despite the long train and bus trip to get there. This is made even longer by a truck getting stuck in Ollantaytambo on the return journey and the place becoming grid locked. The upside however was as the traffic did not move at all for over an hour and a half we all got off the bus and had Pizza’s and beer for dinner.
After a free day in Cusco to explore the many sites we are heading towards Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The town is in full carnival swing as we arrive, on the first day of five to celebrate the founding of the city on 4th November. There are thousands of people on the streets in costume, swaying to the bands and making their way, very very slowly down the main street and through the plaza. The celebrations are so big we assume that this must be an important anniversary like a 500th or 1000th year celebration. In fact the city was founded in 1668 and so this is the very significant 343rd year. It transpires they do this every year. I struggle to think of any-where in the western world where people would take this much pride and effort in celebrating the foundation of their city.
The following day we visit the Floating Reed Islands of Uros. The Uros people have been living on their home made islands on Lake Titicaca for hundreds of years and still sustain their lifestyle from fishing, reeds, hunting and a little tourism. They moved onto the water and created their floating homes either to escape enslavement by another tribe or to escape slaughter by the Conquistadors, the historians seem unsure which. There are 50 islands today and 15 are visited by tourists. The islands are squidgy under foot and the water line is just inches below our feet. They are made from reeds and their roots. The Uros people build their islands from the reeds, build their houses from the reeds and even eat the reeds, they are truly a multi-purpose plant. They have a simple and relatively unchanged life, except for seeing us, and seem to be very happy with it. It is their own Peruvian Paradise. Back to top
Lord of Sipan Museum or a beer at the pool and a Chinese?
Our departure from Quito is a bit fragmented. Alvares Barba BMW have two of our bikes and are working furiously on them. Repairing one with some minor crash damage and also sorting a recurring flat battery problem on another. So the rest of the group set off south while these riders hang back for a day to get the bikes finished. However within a couple of hours another rider manages to lose their passport, credit cards and temporary import document for their bike. This could be a trip stopper!
As a result all the riders who had hung back are running just two days behind the group and catch up over just 48 hours in Chiclayo. The moral is, if you absolutely have to lose your documents do it within a day’s ride of the capital city. Do it elsewhere and your trip could be in jeopardy!
We head off down the coast to Huanchaco to visit another important site and stay at the sea side. Local fishermen are out on their reed boats that are more akin to surf boards and the beach is busy with Peruvian sea side visitors. The unexpected thing in the scene is the pier. It looks just like a typical Victorian English sea side pier. I suppose that is because it was designed and built by a Victorian Englishman over 100 years ago.
After a night in the small town of Caraz (only town to survive the 1970 Earthquake) we are riding still higher and higher. From our overnight stop at 2,500 metres we ride on through the morning to over 4,000 metres and our first taste of real altitude. But we are there only briefly as tonight we sleep on the coast. The road down is one of the finest tarmac rides to be found. Over 70 miles we descend from 4,000 metres back to the shore of the Pacific, through twists, turns, goats, villages and hairpins. Yes goats! The easiest way to get your livestock from one place to the other is obviously straight up the nicely surfaced tarmac road, so why go another way? It is no bad thing as it does keep every-one alert and on their toes so to speak.
From here we are back up onto the Altiplano and then onto Cusco and Machu Picchu. We still have 10 days in Peru and a lot to fit in. Back to top
We have a few free days to explore Bogota. As the capital of Colombia Bogota’s reputation as a dangerous city is overshadowed by that of Medellin. But two term president Alvaro Uribe instigated huge reforms and the security situation improved dramatically under his tenure. As a result the group are surprised by how welcoming, friendly and peaceful Bogota is. The city, indeed the whole country, has a strong Police and Army presence and there is still sporadically trouble but this is far less than it is past. Zona Rosa is the heart of the cities bars and restaurants. Formerly the home of a certain other sort of entertainment the “pink zone” was where the ladies of Bogota’s night plied their trade. Now it is upmarket shops and some great restaurants.
Medellin is also home to the Foundation Botero and to many of Botero’s sculptures which are on display in the museum and also in the Plaza named for him. If you are British, much of it is reminiscent of Beryl Cook’s paintings of fat ladies, but maybe that’s just because I am a philistine!
With new tyres we are off from Medellin to the coffee growing heart of Colombia. We are staying on a little Coffee Finca with rooms and the opportunity to go zip lining through the canopy. For half the group this is a must do activity. For the other half the opposite! Colombia is already providing plenty of excitement and great scenery without having to hang 70 metres above it.
In fact Peter has suggested that we should adopt Latin American road quality at home. He feels the conditions would reduce speeds and accidents significantly, and he is probably right.
As we ride on we drop from the coffee growing mountains for a day onto the plains which is sugar territory. You can smell the sugar from the bike. You also need to keep your wits about you when you meet a “cane train” The sugar cane is harvested and loaded into mammoth trailers, which are then coupled together in trains of 5 or more behind a truck. If the first trailer hits a pothole it shimmies down the line and the last trailer drifts around 4 or 5 feet left and right. To pass you need plenty of power and space. We spend a couple more nights in Colombia enjoying the hospitality and are soon riding for the Ecuadorian border.
The ride down to Quito takes us across the Equator. For all but four of the group this is a first land crossing of the Equator. From here on all the waypoints start with S for South not N for North. We have passed the middle of the world and the middle day of our trip was in Bogota, so we are definitely now is the second half of the ride.
So here we are in Quito exploring this fantastic city which was one of the first two places to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site, enjoying the coffee and the idyllic surroundings of our little hotel. Another coffee I think…. Back to top
Back to Reality
The Nicaragua / Costa Rica border is as always chaotic, exciting and all different. They seem to move the offices round the border compound at random to make sure that you won’t know where anything is and will need help. Our crossing is eased by our regular fixer who knows how to speed the process through. While working our way through the Costa Rica process Pete gets out his camp stove and cooks up some lunch. By the time the last of the riders are away it is mid afternoon, but we only have a short ride up into the mountains of Rincon De La Vieja. Our stop for the night is well off the beaten track. In fact about 15 miles along a track that has not been beaten in a long time. The hotel is a welcome sight clinging to the side of the mountains. Thunder rolls around the hills for several hours in the evening with distant flashes of lightening providing an atmospheric back drop to our evening.
We are in Costa Rica for a few nights and visit Volcan Arenal which is obligingly clear of cloud and smoking gently in the background. From here we head to the Caribbean Coast via Limon. Ironically Limon is the major fruit export port of Costa Rica and the road to the town is lined with tower blocks of Sea Containers with the names of fruit companies on the side. Trucks, customs and police are everywhere and a few guys get stopped but mainly for a chat about the bikes and where they are from.
Once in Panama we have a beautiful twisty mountain ride through low cloud and light drizzle to our first night stop over. From here we are down to Panama City to arrange the freight of the bikes to Bogota and the start of the Northern Andes section of the ride. It is a straightforward ride and we arrive in the stunningly different Panama City. It is a skyline dominated by sky scrapers and tower blocks. This is the first time we have seen anything over five storey’s since we left the USA. It feels like we are back to reality. The city is busy with taxi’s, multi coloured buses and cars everywhere. Our first day in the city is spent at the airport arranging the export of the bikes. The second day is spent exploring the city and visiting the Miraflores lock and the Panama Canal.
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Country, Country, Country
The smaller states of Central America seem to come in a quick succession of borders and changing landscapes.
We have several nights in Guatemala and enjoy local markets and a couple of days in the former capital of Antigua. Short days riding, plenty of time to speak and interact with the local people, leaves us all with great warmth for the country. It is poor and life is tough but the people are genuine, friendly and seem only to keen to share whatever they have with you. We have been blessed by a Shaman, stayed in an old monastery, watched as the local people burn incense on the steps of the church and leave the aisles strewn with petals. We all feel blessed to have been here.
We leave Guatemala on a Sunday and find that the customs officers have gone for lunch at 11 in the morning and will be back about 2. Or maybe 2.30. So we walk through the border and go and see the Honduran guys who are quite happy to let us do all the paperwork to enter Honduras before we exit Guatemala, as long as we promise to go back 50 metres and exit Guatemala afterwards. Of course we do and are through the border relatively quickly. The timing was in fact perfect as there was a full tropical rainstorm, while we were in the border post for an hour, and it has passed when we leave to ride the short distance to Copan.
Riding across Honduras provides a huge variety of landscapes and roads. Dirt, Tarmac, Concrete, Swoopy, Straight, Rocky, Mud, it has it all. From tiny villages with kids with no shoes to the capital city with Burger King and MacDonald’s scaring the view.
And all too soon we are heading into Nicaragua and the old Colonial town of Granada. Exciting, beautiful and at times seedy it is a town with interesting architecture and people. The Cathedral, like our hotel is on the main plaza which is lively and bright by day and shady and dusky by night. We are looking forward to visiting an old friend in town. Three Finger Jimmy runs his Alabama Rib Shack in town and won an award for the 7th best ribs in the whole of the USA. Our American Cousins, sometimes not great at geography, failed to notice that Three Finger Jimmy’s Alabama Rib Shack is in Nicaragua, not Alabama! However he is not in Granada and the story is he has slipped town to Managua with outstanding debts to some Canadians. You couldn’t make it up!
From Nicaragua we will be heading to the most chaotic and busiest border of the trip. The border compound is over a mile long and full of trucks, officials, fixers and “others”. The trucks are queued in 2 mile long slots for 8 miles before they are even let into the compound. We just hope that we do not have a repeat of the 2009 Trans Am when a truck tore down the power lines and left us stranded for 10 hours! Fingers crossed. Back to top
Party, Party, Party
We ride from Zacatecas to San Miguel Allende a beautiful small town, which is firmly on the tourist route. The town is even more lively than normal as it is approaching Independence Day just before the weekend. There are Mariachi bands, folk dancers and school children performing on a make shift stage in the plaza. The back drop is Allendes unique brick built church. The party atmosphere goes down well with every-one and runs and runs.
On to the coast for us and a stopover on the Gulf of Mexico for a night on the beach. A nice quiet place on the beach to relax in? Of course today IS Independence Day and the rest of the hotel is full with one large extended Mexican family making a long weekend of the holiday and very much in party mood! A few of the group who have the energy join in and are welcomed to the group as if long lost cousins. Once again the party runs to the small hours on the beach.
Fortunately (for us at least) the celebrations appear to have reached their peak. The next few days take us down the coast and then inland and while there is still plenty of bunting and Viva Mexico signs the nights are quieter allowing the group to recover and relax.
We are in the heart of what was a 1000 years ago the Mayan Empire and we have the chance to visit several ruins on the route. El Tajin is one of the largest remaining sites of Mesoamerican ruins originally built by the Totonac Indians. We also take a day off at Palenque to visit the ruins there which are some of the best preserved, with temples and ball courts remaining almost perfectly intact. The ball courts are subject to some speculation as to the rules and rewards for playing. However the consensus appears to be that defeated soldiers from opposing armies were made to play against each other and the losers all got executed. The winners got a day of paradise with wine, women and song….. and then all got executed. Some-one suggested this might be a good incentive for their local football team although it seems a bit extreme!
Only another day and half’s ride away to our south is the border with Guatemala, and the section of Central America where the countries are small and the borders come thick and fast. So does the humidity as we are deep in the tropics and rain forest and jungle await us. The heat was certainly turned up in Mexico, and it’s going to get hotter. Back to top
We are all up pretty early as we set of for the Mexican border. We leave Tucson after a few days rest and getting the bikes serviced and new tyres fitted. We are joined by some new riders, five who are with us for the rest of the trip and one just doing the Central America Section of the ride. Leaving Tucson in the early morning gets us to the border in a few hours despite a road closure on the way and a 10 mile diversion.
The first days ride takes us through two military checkpoints. The army is made up of young men with M16’s and camouflaged pick-up trucks and they have an air of menace about them, but in fact are friendly welcoming and extremely courteous. They have a difficult and dangerous job to do, but can tell a group of bikers from the bad guys and wave us through after a brief chat each time. It is off putting to see Police and Army all wearing balaclavas to hide their identities but this protects them and their families from retribution and reprisal.
We venture briefly into Copper Canyon. The road now has 14 miles of tarmac since Trans Am was last here in 2009 and there are signs that there is more to come. We go as far down the track as we need to get a view of the canyon. Bigger than the Grand Canyon it is green and red giving it is name and it is layed out before us.
We are heading south through the central highlands when approaching us on our side of the road is a Police Pick up with all the lights going and we are being waved down. We stop and greet the two officers who seem to just want a chat and look at the bikes. The usual questions; where are we from and where are we going. When we say Zacatecas they tell us it is great town and seem to say there are plenty of girls there especially at the Teleferico (Cable Car) in town if we ride our bikes up there? A few of the single guys check this out but it seems it may have been a mis-translation. However the views are stunning – maybe that’s what he meant?
As the sign says Viva Mexico. Back to top
Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona in a week.
Having followed the Green River for many miles as it winds though valleys of sandstone we arrive in Moab. Adjacent to the Arches National Park it is a lively and friendly town with a distinct aged hippy feel about it. No cowboys here! A day off gives time to explore the park and to catch up on laundry and bike maintenance. Moab does have the best laundry of the trip as it I connected to a bar called the watering hole. Wash, Beer, Dry, Beer, Fold, Beer, oops spilled beer on this shirt – start again.
The park also has an unusual weather system sitting high on its green plateau. It very rarely rains as the heat evaporates the rain as it falls and yet it is subject to an average of ten lightning strikes a day. It has had some massive fires in its history and so keeping watch from Park Point and other sites is a full time job. I am not sure the park ranger peering through her binoculars really appreciated the face pressed against the glass of the lookout tower as she scanned around, but she didn’t through the culprit out of the park so she must have seen the funny side.
Heading on we enter the desert proper for the first time. This won’t be the only time we ride through desert and scrub on this ride. We visit the four corners monument where four states meet at a single point and manage to put a foot and a wheel into New Mexico as well. Although we are not 100% sure as they have moved the monument in the last two years and there are still arguments about if it is in the right spot! We take a circuitous route to ensure that we ride two of the best dirt roads in the region. The Moki Dugway is a gravel descent of four hundred metres done in three miles of gravel hairpins. The views from the precipice at the top are once again enormous and will not be truly captured by our cameras, although that does not stop us trying.
Once we have all safely negotiated its twists and turns we head though the Valley of the Gods. Aptly named as the mountains of weathered red rock tower over us like Gods. The road is thoroughly enjoyable gravel and a bit of sand with dry creeks and washes providing a whooping rollercoaster effect in places. This sets us up in a small town ready for Monument Valley the next day. Nearly all the group are up and out for sunrise. The red rock monoliths are dark and sultry when we arrive but behind us an orange strip of light is spreading across the horizon. Over the next hour in the quiet of the desert the sun appears and the sky, clouds and rocks change colour and change again, as they are hit first by the beams of daylight and the shadow line of the horizon moves down the rocks. Then the clouds start to cast shadows, while they themselves still have an orange tinge to them from the early morning sun. We ride back for breakfast full of awe for mother nature. Some-one commented that you hear the word “awesome” a lot in the USA, but this morning it was apt.
Then back through the valley in daylight and on further into Arizona proper. “The Grand Canyon State” the signs proudly proclaim and this is where we are heading. Not to the touristy south rim but to the north rim to stay in quiet cabins tucked away in a haven of tranquillity in the woods. Our location allows us to ride out to the canyon either on a tarmac route or on a challenging but rewarding 120 miles dirt track to a remote and un developed view point.
Then all too soon we are on our final days ride for the first section of Trans Am 2011. A big, hot, long day into Tucson where we are resting up for a few days while John and his great team at Iron Horse BMW service the bikes ready for the adventure ahead. It is time for a service, new Metzelers, re-stock on red Scottoil for the hot days ahead, pack all the cold weather gear right at the bottom of the panniers and bring out the short sleeve Craghoppers Nosquito shirts and shorts.
Central America is on our doorstep. First we must cross the Mexican border and put some fast miles between us and it. The border is the scene of frequent altercations between smugglers and authorities. The temperature will rise, the humidity will rise and the challenges facing the riders and their bikes will rise. I am sure they will all rise to it! Back to top
Sunshine, sulphur and flying white water
White water rafting down the Yellowstone River is a great way to start a day. After an overcast start the sun comes out and soon we are paddling our way along an American Icon. White Water is flying in over the front of the boat but we are confident in our guides ability to navigate the river and keep us safe even if very wet. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours before setting off for a day exploring the park itself.
The first National Park in the world Yellowstone covers 2.5 million acres. It contains such a variety of wilderness that you would need weeks to see it all. In our little time staying in the park we have time to visit some of the highlights and some of them visit us. Herds of Bison are visible clearly from the back of the bike. Grazing and obligingly swimming across the Yellowstone river, which makes a great photo. The Bison wander across the road without any care for the cars and RV’s. Deer are more cautious taking their time to choose when to leap across.
The timber built Old Faithful Inn dates from 1904 and was constructed to provide a first class hotel in the park. In 1904 this did not include en suite bathrooms, and the hotel remains unchanged today. It is our overnight destination in the park, and it sits right next to Old Faithful herself, the highly reliable geyser which erupts about every 90 minutes expelling thousands of gallons of boiling, flying white water up to 150 feet into the air. It provides a unique back drop to our post riding beer.
The ride down the far side of Beartooth is a real tester and reveals just how capable the GS is in all circumstances. The twists and turns lead us back to the valley and a stop for “World Famous Banana Cream Pie” and while world famous might be a bit of an over claim it is certainly excellent and well worth the stop. Some of the team then take the turn for the Chief Joseph Highway as if Beartooth isn’t enough and take on the extra 90 miles of road up to Dead Indian Pass and back.
At Cody we are in the real west. The home of Buffalo Bill is awash with Stetsons, cowboy boots and pick-up trucks and a fair smattering of “Howdy’s”. In the UK “You are a complete cowboy” is not a compliment, but here it is met with a “Why thank you sir” We have time to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Centre and the Cody Fire Arms collection which has the largest collection of Winchester Rifles in the world before spending an evening at the Rodeo.
All the bikes are running well with only a small list of minor jobs to be done in Tucson. A few sets of rear brake pads have been changed (Dalton dirt tends to wear them prematurely), Scottoilers topped up meaning no need to adjust any chains yet, along with engine oil on a few bikes and we have had one puncture to deal with. Beyond this the bikes have behaved perfectly so far. Long may it continue.
From Wyoming we are heading into Utah and Red Sandstone Canyons and then on to Arizona. Back to top
If you have had enough stunning scenery and visiting world heritage sites there is always the World’s Biggest Truck
The Mountie is intrigued with our journey. To be fair so is nearly every-one we meet. A few ex-pat British recognise the number plates, but most start by asking where we are from, then where we are going. At this point one of two things happens. When you say Argentina or Tierra Del Fuego either
a) they look blank, either unable to comprehend the journey or not sure what US state Tierra Del Fuego is in
b) they say WOW! and follow up with a whole host of other questions: “How did you get the bikes here?” Flew them into Anchorage: “How long are you on the road?” 19 weeks: “Do your tyres last the whole trip?” No – Our Metzelers are good but even they need changing en route: “Are there any ladies in the group?” Yes one riding pillion and one riding her own bike: And one rider was asked “Would you like any more ladies in the group?” However this was with a big chuckle and what appeared to be a brief nod to a wild and mis-spent youth. The lady concerned had also just explained that she eats at this particular restaurant because she and her friends get the seniors discount.
And so we are already at our last night in Canada. With some symmetry our Trans Canada Expedition has also just had their last full day in Canada before arriving in Halifax. For them it is the culmination of an exciting and successful ride, but for us it is just the first country of many to come. A short ride in the morning takes us in to the USA at a quiet and sleepy border post. Sleepy until the final rider is asked to “Step into the office, Sir”. A few years ago he crossed from Canada to the USA at a land border similar to this one. Despite being admitted with no problem, somehow the US Immigration have recorded him as refused entry! They are therefore not that keen to let him in this time. However an explanation, the production of his old passport, a little Irish charm and after 15 minutes he is in. Hopefully this is not an omen of borders to come.
We ride on through the Glacier National Park on the famous Going to the Sun road. The road is lined with wild flowers and despite overcast skies and cool temperatures we are treated to uninterrupted views of St Marys Lake (Bit of a film star the lake – The Shining, Blade Runner (Directors cut) and Forest Gump) and of Logan’s Pass at the peak of the road. We meet two fellow Brit’s from Leeds on the road. They are cycling the circuit of the USA having started in New York travelling anti clockwise (I think?) They were as surprised to see us as we them. As they pedal away up the steep incline some of us feel a bit humbled, but it doesn’t stop us firing up the bikes and overtaking them on the hill with a cheery wave.
In our pattern we are continuing to head south now towards Yellowstone National Park, where we have two days to explore the park, see Old Faithful perform and maybe even get to do a little White-water rafting. Back to top
Black Bears, Grizzly Bears and Smokey Bears – It’s a Bear thing
Having entered the Yukon we get a real taste of why they say it is bigger than life. Everything about it is vast. The rivers, mountains and vistas all defy description. Signs saying “Next services 200km” are the norm. After a night in Whitehorse, named for the rapids that the gold rush settlers couldn’t sail through, we are heading east along the Alcan Highway. It stretches ahead of us for a 1,400 miles but we are just going as far as the Sign Post Forest at Watson Lake.
We have a day off in Stewart which is a true old frontier town. It is at the head of the Portland Canal which is the most northerly ice free port on the west coast. Stewart is a mile from the border with Alaska and Hyder, another tiny frontier town. Looking almost like a Disney recreation it is in fact the real thing, with wooden sidewalks, dirt roads, a few old shops selling guns and feed a bar and a great welcome sign that reads
“Welcome to Hyder, Home to 200 happy people and two or three old S…t heads”
So as a group we are properly bear’ed out. The next days is then over kill as the best spot was SEVEN bears and most people saw at least another two or three as well as Elk and Moose. How fickle we are that two days ago we were desperate to see them and filling the camera memory cards with blurred photos of what could be a bear or more likely is a rock, and now we stop smile and think well that’s not a very big bear and ride on!
The ride takes us back to a bit of civilisation and Prince George. Two separate groups of riders also get close encounters with bears of another kind. This time its Smokey Bear, CB slang for the Police! Having been warned about US and Canadian Police cars having forward facing speed radar in their cars three riders are stopped. Fortunately some shared Irish Heritage, Military Service and a bit of eye lash fluttering and they all get let off with warnings. Obviously I am not saying who was fluttering their eye lashes as all the stoppee’s were male and all the police were male, but whatever works in these situations is good.
In Jasper we are taking a day to ride Mailgne Lake, the Cable Car and photograph the Deer wandering between the cabins. This is the only night where we stop in the same place as our Trans Canada trip, and we had been promised that they had left us something here after they passed through a few weeks ago. Our anticipation is slightly dampened when we find it is two bags of crisps, six beers and a bottle of mayonnaise.
Which reminds me I must go and light the Barbeque. Back to top
Isn’t North the wrong way?
For most of this epic ride the route is South and More South. But on a few occasions North is actually the way to go. Leaving Anchorage on an overcast but dry morning is one of those days. We ride out of the city as a group with Fairbanks our destination for the night. The group sticks together to mark the start of the ride as far as Sheep Creek Lodge where we stop for coffee and riders set off at their own pace in smaller groups. Two years ago the whole area was wreathed in smoke from huge forest fires, so it is a relief to have uninterrupted views of the Denali National Park and Mount McKinley.
From Fairbanks we continue to head north to Prudhoe over the next few days. The Dalton Highway is the only road to take us up to Deadhorse and the most northerly road in the Americas. The Dalton is, as always, tough and terrifying when wet and stunning and rewarding when dry. We have a mixture of both on the ride north. Our overnight stop is Coldfoot Camp, now made famous by the Ice Road Truckers TV series! Their gift shop is now adorned with Ice Road Trucker branded tat, but they say tourism is slow even with the TV series. At Prudhoe, we are short of time and only a few riders make the Oil Field Tour with the chance to dip their toes in the Arctic. Otto climbs three steps to get a better angle for a photo and as always some-one shouts “jump”. He does, and lands on the uneven surface twisting his foot and heel. In some pain he is taken to and checked out by the Prudhoe Bay Medical facility. “Rest for a few days and see how it is” is the advice so he is in the van!
We take a new turn for 2011 on this ever evolving ride and go to Chicken and on to Dawson City in Canada riding the Top of the World Highway. This magnificent dirt road starts in the valley’s following the river and then climbs to a ridge which it runs along for miles to the border. You really do feel on top of the world. The ride would not be complete without a stop at Boundary (site of the original border) for “The best coffee in Boundary”. Boundary actually only had three buildings to the whole place and so it’s not that big a claim! The coffee stop is decorated entirely in stickers and business cards of previous travellers, on the walls, the door and ceiling. Hardly an inch of space to spare.
We make our first border crossing, which couldn’t be easier or more courteous thanks to the Canadian Officials and ride on to Dawson. To get into town we must cross the Yukon River on the small ferry which chugs back and forth non-stop in the summer. Dawson City looks like it has just been dragged out of the Wild West of the 1800’s. Boardwalks on the sides of dirt roads and bars with swinging saloon doors are all authentic and not a Disney recreation. Getting in the spirit of the town most people visit Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall for the Can Can show, which is highly entertaining. Breaking with the theme there is also a very good Geek Taverna in town!
So we are one week into our mammoth journey. Challenging and eventful, we have another 18 weeks to come. Bring it on!
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The Starting Line!
We have 14 riders and two pillions undertaking the complete expedition and we will be joined by other riders in Tucson and Bogota down the road. It is an eclectic group for 2011. American, Canadian, Italian, Hungarian, Australian, Dutch, Scots, Irish and a few English as well. While there is a wide variety of nationalities every-one has chosen to ride a BMW for 2011.
So with the bikes already flown into Anchorage and the support team flying in a few days, the 2011 Trans Am is nearly upon us. We hope that you will follow the riders and the highs and lows through this blog which we will update weekly throughout the 19 weeks on the road. Back to top