The End of the World

San Carlos de Bariloche proved to be a beautiful little city, nestled in between mountains on the idyllic Lago Nahuel Huapi around which is centred a beautiful national park of the same name. In addition to its natural beauty, Bariloche also contained everything we needed, including a motorcycle shop that sold insurance making us once again legal on the roads. We also took the opportunity to change our oil, though this time the mechanics in the shop did it – for free!

We left Bariloche Tuesday morning geared up for a week of riding along the Andean spine that separates Argentina and Chile. Our first stop was in El Bolson after traversing soft twists and turns that carried us around mountain lakes and past rolling shrubby meadows; the road lined with a taste of bright yellow wild flower bushes. We crossed icy blue streams in and out of small settlements of log homes and barns tucked into small openings between the tall trees. Occasionally a subtle hint of smoke from a far off woodstove would quietly float into our helmets, offering a strong taste of home. El Bolson is a nice small village busy with markets and tourists, hostels and restaurants, but we decided to push on to a campsite, unaware at this point of just how beautiful it would be.

The bikes were soon topped up with gas and loaded with camp-friendly food, and carried us towards El Hoyo where we turned up yet another gravel road. The mood was perfect as men on horseback, clad in colourful floppy berets, trotted across the wide expanses of pristine farmland. We climbed up through the abundance of trees, then twisted along the hard-packed dirt until the lake presented itself, clean and clear, sitting at the foot of rugged rock walls. Along the shore were a series of humble campgrounds, offering many waterfront tent sites, which, after last week’s stretch of roadside campsites, was truly heavenly. We went to bed as the last whisper of light trickled over the dark mountain silhouettes, and a splatter of stars began to emerge through the fog of night.

This is what home looks like for Ben and Howie.

This is what home looks like for Ben and Howie.

Our favourite campsite just south of El Hoyo by day...

Our favourite campsite just south of El Hoyo by day...

...and by night.

...and by night.

In the morning we awoke to a few messages on the satellite phone from loved ones in Canada, which brought news of the US election. We had been following the campaign since leaving Canada with great interest and amusement and were blindsided by the result as we cooked breakfast in our paradise which sat in southern Argentina: far from politics, far from the United States, and far from the implications of the election outcome. The world might have looked different following the surprise victory, but the lake still looked as perfect as it had the day before.

We retreated back out of the rich farmland along the gravel road, the beauty quickly abandoning us as we soon found ourselves again riding through the high plains. Though snowy mountains gave life to the horizon, our local geography was filled with gravel and colourless bushes that lived in the cold gusty air. The riding was cold and windy, but regular stops for tea at gas stations along the way enriched to the passing hours. We encountered stretches of road which were being eaten by their hungry gravel shoulders, and where the asphalt was flooded in potholes. On our approach to Rio Mayo the wind became absolutely ferocious. A relentless side wind forced us to adopt the ‘Patagonia Lean’ for hours on end, and the occasional turn in the road led to inconceivable head winds. The wind was so strong that it had us unconventionally leaning to the right on left-hand curves, and the right-hand curves required extra caution to make sure a gust didn’t sweep the tires from underneath us as we leaned heavily to the side. It was awful. But, in Rio Mayo, we found an unattended Municipal Campground, which was perfect for us, though a far cry from the lakeside heaven we had enjoyed the night before. Our tents were protected from the wind, and we walked through the blustery town, miserably isolated, for a big supper before going to sleep tucked away from the beast that continued to blow outside our thin flapping walls.

Tym and Suzie on a stretch of road somewhere in the Andes.

Tym and Suzie on a stretch of road somewhere in the Andes.

A typical Argentinian beret at a remote gas station in Tres Lagos.

A typical Argentinian beret at a remote gas station in Tres Lagos.

Ben and Dom on a long stretch of mostly empty pavement.

Ben and Dom on a long stretch of mostly empty pavement.

The next day was another battle with the wind. Our enemy had not lost its power or control over the roads and we fought diligently to stay between the lines. Our dismal day was punctuated by stops for shelter in gas stations and deep roadside ditches where the hot exhaust warmed our hands, gloves, and souls. During our stops we discussed our route for reaching Tierra del Fuego, and with the prospect of facing this wind for the days to come we settled on cutting across from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos to expedite the journey.

We arrived in Gobernador Gregores for the night where the best restaurant turned out to be at the gas station, and a local auto shop helped out with a few lingering issues. Dom had his luggage rack welded back together after one of the connections broke at some point during the day’s ride, and Ben had Howie in for some tune ups including fixing the unreliable kickstand, straightening out the bent front end, and making a temporary license plate which is probably better off staying off the bike. A fellow rider talked to us at the gas station, having just come up from Ushuaia himself. He was adamant that the roads would get windier, and that we could not skip these three towns: El Chaltén, El Calafate, and Torres Del Paine – calling it a failure if we missed them! Faced with the news, we altered our recent plans of heading Southeast to Rio Gallegos and prepared for a few short days of hopping between the mountain towns.

It was a good effort, but the outcome wasn't great. 

It was a good effort, but the outcome wasn't great. 

A friendly neighbour helping Dom put up his tent in Gobernador Gregores.

A friendly neighbour helping Dom put up his tent in Gobernador Gregores.

So, the following morning we set out, back on the roads in the face of the ceaseless wind. This day being Remembrance Day, we paused on the outskirts of town, taking a moment of silence to remember the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to afford us the freedom to live our unconstrained lives. We remembered these young men and women who set off blindly into the tight grasp of war. We remembered the families who were broken and bruised by the loss of their loved ones. We reflected on the soldiers still serving who answer the nation’s call of duty. We reflected on our liberty and opportunity as Canadians, which has allowed us to undertake this amazing adventure.

We rode along the rough gravel road, still accompanied by the wind. Alone the wind is one thing, as is the gravel, but together they are a nasty combination. We were pushed laterally into thick ridges and deep ruts, continuing to lean into the strong gusts. Eventually the road returned to pavement just north of Tres Lagos, and we could yet again focus on the strong winds without the added burden of gravel. The animals in this area are hardy and include armadillos, foxes, hares, guanacos, skunks and birds we can’t name. The guanacos are the Andean lamas, and they like to gnaw at the grass on the side of the road, threatening to jump out at any second. We also passed fields of light grey bushes that turned out to be sheep strewn out across the barren land. The animals give some life to the otherwise dreary landscape.

The approach to El Chaltén was windy as ever, and riding west we faced it mostly head on. Despite the wind it was a beautiful ride. The tall mountains got taller, and Lago Viedma watched us roll past it from behind its steely blue face. The famous Mt. Fitzroy can be seen at various points along the drive, and is an incredible sight. Its spiked peaks are powerful but peaceful, and as we rode towards it the mountain shyly peered out from behind a cover of clouds. El Chaltén is a hotspot for hiking enthusiasts with many trailheads leaving from the town directly. We set up our tents in the backyard of a hostel, next to a handful of others travelling on a budget, then decided to take a short walk up to the nearby waterfall. The walk was along a gravel road, unfortunately, but the silver lining was that we were able to catch a ride with a passing van! The waterfall, like most waterfalls, was beautiful and serene and we spent some time there before walking back into town, and making ourselves dinner in the hostel’s kitchen before bed.

Mt Fitzroy appearing from beneath overcast sky.

Mt Fitzroy appearing from beneath overcast sky.

Rio De las Vueltas on our way to the waterfall.

Rio De las Vueltas on our way to the waterfall.

An upclose view of the water, moss, and flowers at the El Chaltén waterfall.

An upclose view of the water, moss, and flowers at the El Chaltén waterfall.

El Chaltén in the early morning light.

El Chaltén in the early morning light.

Dom shows off his beautiul long locks on the way out of El Chaltén.

Dom shows off his beautiul long locks on the way out of El Chaltén.

In the morning we rode out of El Chaltén, this time with a tailwind, which is an incredible experience. Travelling at 110km/h, you can open your visor without a breath of wind in your face. It feels like a dream. Of course floating freely along the highway didn’t last forever, and soon we were back in the tight grip of our now familiar foe. With the stunning mountains only in our mirrors we were left with the desolate grasslands of the wind-battered plains. The winds not only made life more challenging for us, but also our bikes. They were guzzling gas at an alarming rate and Ben and Dom, with regular sized tanks, hit reserve early - less than 300km after the previous fill up. We still had roughly 70km before El Calafate and considered our options if we were to run out. We had about 2L of spare fuel, and Tym riding Suzie with her 30L tank certainly had enough to go into town and fill up, and then double back to rescue the others. In the end, Dom needed an extra litre of fuel and Ben limped into town at low speeds. We filled up, found another campground within the city limits, then rode out to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is an absolutely incredible sight. Lying in the shadow of mist-covered peaks this vast sheet of sharply ridged ice creeps constantly forward, icy blue chunks falling intermittently into the frigid waters below. Cracks and splashes are amplified by the towering wall of ice which stands 40-70m above the water level, and every chunk that falls causes a thunderous roar which echoes through the mountain valleys. Even the road to the glacier was picture perfect with corners flowing around the tree-covered slopes. Definitely a must see for those in the area.

The stunning blue ice of Perito Moreno Glacier.

The stunning blue ice of Perito Moreno Glacier.

Howie and Suzie on a date at the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Howie and Suzie on a date at the Perito Moreno Glacier.

The next day saw us cross into Chile at Torres del Paine. The town turned out to be pretty bleak, but the national park is supposed to be beautiful. Unfortunately, Ushuaia was calling our name and we decided to skip touring the park in favour of making headway further south. The ride was amazing, and though the vegetation remained bland it was slowly greening and now splayed out over the rolling hills which shielded us from the wind. We ended the day in Puerto Natales, a charming port town in the southeast corner of Chile where channels and gulfs create a mountainous maze of wonder on the maps. The city is full of single-storey multi-coloured blocks of classic maritime homes. It was of course windy, rainy and cold but it managed to hold on to its allure and we set up our tents, yet again, in the backyard of a hostel where we could benefit from both the warmth of the lounge and the low tent fees.

In the morning we set out towards Tierra del Fuego, the large island at the southern tip of South America split between Chile and Argentina. The ride to the island was mixed between pavement and gravel, and included all the miseries from rain to sleet to wind. We were reminded that the water bodies to our right were no longer clear mountain lakes but ocean gulfs by the pungent smell of the sea. Upon reaching the ferry port near Punta Delgada, after a few cold hours, we were happy to learn the ferry wouldn’t leave for over two hours – giving us plenty of time to warm up, play cards and rest. When we did board the ferry it was quick and painless, and as the boat set out from the port it was pushed vigorously northeast by the extreme current that connects the Strait of Magellan to the mighty Atlantic. The journey across the water was only about 20 minutes, and on the far side we only had about half an hour before reaching our destination for the night at Cerro Sombrero. The only hotel in town allowed to us to set up camp behind the building, sheltered from the wind, and as the evening hours dissolved into night, it felt like a night like any other, except for of course the Super Moon and the prospect of finally reaching Ushuaia the next day!

The boys hanging out on an old ship that ran ashore as we neared the crossing into Tierra del Fuego.

The boys hanging out on an old ship that ran ashore as we neared the crossing into Tierra del Fuego.

Suzie stands tall in the harsh elements waiting to board the ferry.

Suzie stands tall in the harsh elements waiting to board the ferry.

The threatening skies above our ocean crossing.

The threatening skies above our ocean crossing.

The three amigos crossing from the Chilean mainland to Tierra del Fuego.

The three amigos crossing from the Chilean mainland to Tierra del Fuego.

Dom pauses as we set foot on Tierra del Fuego.

Dom pauses as we set foot on Tierra del Fuego.

Of course the road to Ushuaia wouldn’t be complete without a border-crossing delay This one involved the Chilean customs workers being on strike and only working for one hour a day. Luckily we hadn’t missed the short window, and the wait was only about an hour. It was frustrating but manageable, and after completing the process we rode to the Argentina crossing where we were through in no time. We were now separated from Ushuaia by less than 300km and a few hours of riding. The road took us along the frigid coast, before heading south towards Tolhuin where we found a warm gas station. Our pause was brief. The excitement of reaching our destination was palpable. We were almost there.

The last 100km saw an extreme shift in driving conditions. We rode up through the Garibaldi Pass which is apparently beautiful, but the cold humid air, rife with large snowflakes created a thick fog in our visors that limited visibility to a narrow field of view directly in front of us where condensation trickled down our visors. Soggy snow accumulated before our eyes requiring almost constant finger wipes to mimic the windshield wipers we so desperately needed. Slush on the road made for slow riding on our balding tires, and we were often blasted with the slurry of a passing vehicle. Stopping for pictures at the gates to the city, we were greeted with the same peace that accompanies all Canadian mountain villages when the snow drops gracefully from the sky on to the green trees below. It almost felt like home.

Howie, who has been struggling of late to get going in the cold weather, required a push-start literally through the Ushuaia city limits – a perfect summation of the bike’s months-long struggle to reach the southern destination. Meanwhile, the two Suzukis purred through the gates. Regardless, the three amigos and the three bikes had finally made it!

We paused yet again at a gas station to warm up and coordinate with our AirBnb host before we rode up the curb and parked our three bikes in front of the famous sign which reads: ‘USHUAIA – fin del mundo’. Yes! We had made it to the end of the world. We took photos and celebrated with champagne in front of the sign among dozens of other tourists who had arrived by boat or plane, unweathered by months on the road. We spoke to many interested passers-by and received a few handshakes and congratulations. It was perfect.

We ended the day with celebratory pizzas and beer at our home for the week, the nature of the celebration numbing the pain of the $80 price tag! Over the next few days we will ride to the very end of the road in the nearby National Park. We will tune up the bikes in preparation for the last leg of our journey. We will absorb the sights and sounds of our long awaited destination. And, last but not least, we will celebrate Tym’s birthday as he turns 22 on the 17th.

The fundraising effort continues, and as of publishing this post we have raised the incredible sum of $21,412.  We have been blown away and truly touched by the incredible generosity of our donors. The vast majority have been our close friends and family and we cannot thank you enough. We have also received donations from complete strangers who we have met along the way or who followed our journey online and to you we extend a heartfelt thank you. The money has an indisputable impact on the lives of those fighting through the reality of poverty and your donations will make a difference.

The adventure is not yet over, and neither is the story, as we will have another blog post upon reaching Santiago where Tym and Dom will prepare the bikes for sale as the two Suzukis embark on an extended tour of South America with some Dutch adventurers. Ben will travel west to Valparaiso where we hill pack Howie up in a wooden crate and ship him back to Canada where the adventures and misadventures are sure to continue!

Howie warms Ben's hands on the final approach to Ushuaia.

Howie warms Ben's hands on the final approach to Ushuaia.

The End of the World.

The End of the World.

Argentinian Spring

We didn’t make it to Salta until the late afternoon. Some confusion led to Dom being separated from Ben and Tym for a few hours but eventually we convened in the one spot we knew would have good internet for uploading our blog and finding an insurance office – McDonald’s. However, after almost two hours sitting in the office of a local insurance broker, it became clear that nobody would offer us insurance in Salta! We had no choice but to take our chances riding without Argentinian coverage and stocked up on water and snacks before heading off south out of the city.

Leaving Salta was beautifully evocative. The low evening sun cast long shadows across rugby fields, crowded sidewalks, children on bicycles and the old cars that seem so perfectly at home in the busy streets. These streets are just dirty enough to be charming without being depressing, the city developed yet rich with character. The city streets faded into country roads as blurry farmland, lined with tall trees and overgrown fences, shone in the golden sun as we ventured west down Highway 33 hopeful for somewhere to sleep.

We followed the bright white lines of the narrow single-laned pavement along which there were no shoulders and the high foliage spilled into our path creating a tunnel of sweet leafy aromas – a nostalgic taste of home. The sun faded away as we pulled down a gravel road to the banks of a briskly moving stream. It was our second attempt at finding a campsite - the first was snubbed as it seemed to be a meeting point for devil-worshippers as indicated by the black flags hanging above a dark cage in which a grim reaper figurine stood menacingly in the bright lights of our three bikes. And on Halloween of all days!

These riders from Colombia recognized us from our Instagram page while at a gas station on our way in to Salta. 

These riders from Colombia recognized us from our Instagram page while at a gas station on our way in to Salta. 

Our stream side campsite on Highway 33 south of Salta after Dom took a bath in the chilly water.

Our stream side campsite on Highway 33 south of Salta after Dom took a bath in the chilly water.

In the morning we awoke, free of evil spirits, ready to reach the famed Highway 40. After a brief dip in the chilly stream, we followed a slow-moving ancient-looking teetering tractor up the gravelly road to the highway, a hardened face behind the wheel as his two amigos bounced around on the big rusty wheel well. The morning’s ride was incredible. We soon left the company of leafy greens and re-entered the world of brown barren hills clad with clusters of cacti amongst the fields of gravel and rock. The road warped around the contours of the slopes overlooking the impressive valley of the Rio Escoipe. Our elevation grew steadily as the tight corners presented themselves on the road that had now lost its pavement. The deepest sand lay, of course, in the tightest corners and though our wheels spun slowly our breath was taken away by the view which improved with altitude. A brief stretch of pavement at the top of this mountain pass carried us along the high Andean grasslands towards the pebbly Highway 42 whose wash boards, ruts and bumps carried us to Highway 40.

The twists and turns of Highway 33 that took us towards the 40.

The twists and turns of Highway 33 that took us towards the 40.

Upon reaching Highway 40, Howie’s latest blemish surfaced this time in the form of a sheered off license plate. Great. The three of us doubled back over the washboard, back over the bumps, back through the sandy ruts scouring the road and the ditches for any sign of the small, dirty, Alberta plate. Two and a half hours of searching yielded no results. We didn’t know on which stretch of road it had broken off so the search was widespread, and given the high winds and dusty conditions it was a big task - like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but we couldn’t find the haystack!

Once we began the 40 in earnest, it too was gravel. It was bumpy and sandy and it was slow - a demoralizing continuation of the frustrating day. We stopped as soon was we could for some food, eating our first meal of the day at 3 o’clock. Staying on the gravel we navigated blind corners and got stuck in encapsulating dust storms kicked up by other adventure drivers. We stopped for gas in Molinos where we were forced to fill up out of a local man’s garage as the pumps were closed for the day. The dust and fatigue was overcome by the incredible geological formations that framed the road. Jagged rocks and folds of coloured rocks danced alongside us as the afternoon sun began to run its course. We finished the day on the dry skeleton of a riverbed, hidden from view of the dirt road. A small fire warmed our campsite and we were convinced the next day we would make some serious headway…

Howie, tired and plateless, parked in front of the Police Station.

Howie, tired and plateless, parked in front of the Police Station.

Filling up with gas in Molinos at this friendly man's home.

Filling up with gas in Molinos at this friendly man's home.

One of the sandy stretches along the unpaved northern section of the 40.

One of the sandy stretches along the unpaved northern section of the 40.

Dom gives our campsite his seal of approval in front of the glowing red hills.

Dom gives our campsite his seal of approval in front of the glowing red hills.

We awoke in our desolate riverbed to the sounds of excited birds and angry donkeys neighing in the distance. On our way south to the town of Cafayate, the red hills that were glowing in the golden sun the night before were now shrouded in a thick, foggy cloud of either mist, sand, or a combination of both. Much of the day was chilly and boring as the elusive hills hid behind a constant haze. Their outlines could be seen with some effort, and occasionally we got close enough to make out some detail of the scraggy stone walls. We had rediscovered the pavement, so the riding was good, and as we passed town after town, we noticed they were decidedly more prosperous than those we had grown accustomed to since leaving the U.S. over two months ago. The stretches of highway did little to hold our attention, and the consistent presence of kilometre markers along the way made the painful process of counting progress difficult to avoid.

As we tired of the road in the early evening, our criteria for a suitable campsite grew less and less stringent. We settled on a patch of gravel down a rocky road off to the side of a construction zone. Just as we turned off the bikes, a man in a bright orange jacket began yelling at us from the road. Just what we needed. Between our imperfect understanding of Argentinian Spanish, and our limited capacity to respond, we thought he might be trying to help us so we rode back towards the highway and sure enough, on the other side of the fresh black pavement, was a hidden gem. Flat ground, big trees, rushing water. He explained that this is where the crew comes on Sunday nights to feast and to drink. He helped us amass our night’s supply of firewood and then went back to duty. As the lone night guard of the project he spent the night on the road (probably sleeping in his truck) while we were cozied up in our tents assured that we would not be bothered.

The hum of diesel engines was in full swing at six o’clock in the morning as we packed our things. The morning’s road was again a treat to ride. We rolled along switchbacks to the views of nearby hills, richly painted red, crumbling into dark orange dust as green-speckled hills of brown occupied the background. The hills this morning were less timid than yesterday’s and broke free of the fog, though a thin blue haze poured over the rocks as the pale blue sky was ceaselessly trying to swallow the hills from behind. We arrived in Villa Union for ‘breakfast’ where our growing suspicion was finally put to rest. After asking a handful of restaurants for ‘desayuno con huevos y carne’, a traditional breakfast of eggs and meat, we were repeatedly denied. Instead, the offerings of breakfast were eagerly stated over and over: ‘café, café con leche, té, maté, agua, agua fria…’ each item spoken with its last syllable drawn out as if to emphasize the long list of options. However it was clear only drinks were on offer. That just won’t do for three Canadian boys before a big day of riding so after some convincing we were brought out a big plate of croissants, ham slices and cheese. And it was delicious.

The hardy shrubs that stretched for miles between us and the Andes along another gravel section of the 40.

The hardy shrubs that stretched for miles between us and the Andes along another gravel section of the 40.

We were lucky Diego spotted us and led us to a perfect campsite adjacent to his construction zone.

We were lucky Diego spotted us and led us to a perfect campsite adjacent to his construction zone.

After filling up on our nutritious breakfast we followed the long, undulating road for many miles as we fought to reach its thin, unattainable point on the horizon. Reflective waves of heat rose out of mirages on the road ahead and the monotony led to blurry brains dreaming up incalculable questions. How many litres of road paint have we passed? How many tons of asphalt have we crossed? How many revolutions have our engines gone through? How many houses could we have powered with the fuel we’ve burned on this trip? These tedious miles brought us through San Juan and towards Mendoza. Planning on stopping short of Mendoza for the night, camping options were looking grim as each mile of road was met with two miles of fence on either side, protecting the uninviting land from people like us.

Returning to the camping lifestyle has been a welcome change since mostly sleeping in hostels through Central America and northern South America. The motorcycles stand resolute next to our tents all through the night, and no stairs or elevators complicate the packing and unpacking processes. And, sticking to public land on the side of the roads, the price is right too! However, this night we decided to try our luck at asking a stranger to camp on their land – a first for us in almost 28,000km. Well, after some uncertainty while trying to reach Papa, the Jefe, it worked.

It turned out to be a little farm with a handful of stray dogs, dozens and dozens of goats, chickens, horses and cows. We observed the chaos of feeding time as little billies were snatched by their scruff and thrown under the utter of a doe who had been wrangled up using a long wire hook around her hoof. The billy would repeatedly smash his head into the udder before finally latching on, while the others jumped and bounced in their pen, some even managing to escape. As we boiled some pasta on our camp stove, a cousin from next-door slaughtered and butchered one of the little goats for the night’s slow roast. The dogs feasted on what was thrown to them and the fascinating process was eye opening to say the least.

Parked in the shade at the farm where we spent the night.

Parked in the shade at the farm where we spent the night.

Billy goats are picked up by the head and tossed under an udder. You can see the wire hook used to wrangle the doe.

Billy goats are picked up by the head and tossed under an udder. You can see the wire hook used to wrangle the doe.

Dom always finds the puppy. And this little guy was one of the cutest we've seen.

Dom always finds the puppy. And this little guy was one of the cutest we've seen.

We would later set up our tents under the canopy of this beautiful tree.

We would later set up our tents under the canopy of this beautiful tree.

Ben lets the youngsters play around with the drone.

Ben lets the youngsters play around with the drone.

Here's a small sample of the family that welcomed us to their farm in front of the goat pens.

Here's a small sample of the family that welcomed us to their farm in front of the goat pens.

The golden sky and a thin sliver of moon at the farm.

The golden sky and a thin sliver of moon at the farm.

In the morning we packed up in the midst of another feeding session after which the goat herd stormed through the dusty farmyard, across the highway, and into the fields for a day of grazing on the stark plains. We had planned on a short day to set us up for the self-imposed 1000km challenge we would tackle the following day. We stopped in Mendoza, the capital of Argentina’s wine country, but instead of loading up on Malbecs we instead filled up on gas, breakfast, and snacks to see us through to Bariloche the following day. We encountered another long stretch of gravel after Mendoza, but it was easily navigated and didn’t do much to slow down the convoy. The attendant at the small gas station in El Sosneado confirmed our plans for camping off Highway 222 along the nearby Rio Salado, and we made it early enough to set up camp, touch up the bikes, make supper and go to bed before nine. An early bedtime was crucial as alarms for Saturday morning were set for 3:45!

Our campsite along Highway 222 before our big 1000km day.

Our campsite along Highway 222 before our big 1000km day.

In the dead of night we hastily tore down our tents and prepared a good Canadian breakfast of hardboiled eggs, buns, cheese, salami, avocado, and bananas. Argentina – take note. If we were going to have a big day it wasn’t going to be on an empty stomach… At 5:30, under the veil of darkness, we set out, taking only a few minutes to reach Highway 40 from our campsite. We rolled through Malargüe as the sleepy streets slowly came to life. To the east, our left, the sunrise splashed a thick rainbow across the cold horizon. Dim whites washed out the oranges that swallowed the purples and as the golden glow strengthened the sun itself threatened to conquer the sky. Before the sun had showed itself we had climbed into the hills, twisting through the rocky roads over spring streams pretending to be rivers. High behind the hills we were unable to benefit from the warmth of the sun that now swept over the roads that we had been on only moments before. The time was going by slowly, ribs chattering in the cold, and eyes tired in the dim light until we had hit a gravel road. It was in pretty good condition and lasted about 100km and, by the end of it, we were well and truly awake.

Our first stop for gas was at on old station where the main pumps were out of order but a third pump, sitting precariously on a wooden pallet, balanced on a gravel slope. Our stops were kept short, keeping the time for the many kilometres that lay ahead. We stopped for an Argentinian breakfast of croissants and coffee at another gas station in Chos Malal. While enjoying the rest, a nonchalant motorcyclist popped his head in the door to let us know that our bikes had fallen over. Oh, good. Howie had toppled into Babar the DR, and Dom’s bike lay spewing out gas from a loose petcock. Not good, but it seemed to tighten up just fine. Howie’s fairing had been bent out of shape but a little muscle power soon rectified it to the point that the steering was unimpaired, though it still looked pretty crooked.

After stopping for gas and a quick meal in Zapala, the road wandered west towards the mountains. Finally - the day’s scenery had been pretty boring for many hours as we focused mostly on staying between the lines in the face of a relentless wind. Approaching Junin de los Andes we passed treeless hills covered in an earthy green felt and then descended beneath a flat plateau along the path carved out by ancient watercourses thousands of years before. We reached San Martin de los Andes and filled up for the last time, impressed by the beautiful Banff style resort town with chic timber frame storefronts and perfectly maintained streets in the shadow of snowy peaks emerging above the emerald forests.

As the sun set leaving San Martin, the swollen streams swallowed the shores and connected a string of idyllic mountain lakes on which ruffled blue-grey water reflected the fading sky above. A dim pink glow was unable to warm the brisk spring air in the land of lakes, forests and mountains where the best of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia had all been mixed together. Even the road was amazing, as though it had been custom-made for motorcycles, the twists and turns forcing the sun to dip and reappear from behind mountain tops and slopes as rich lodges, log cabins, and fancy ranches lay tucked away behind corners. The ride was satisfying our Canadian appetite for the trees that had been notably absent in this rich forest context since southern Colombia. The occasional whiff of wood smoke also conjured up images of our northern home, and as the light faded away, the darkness of the lakeside forests consumed the shoreline cabañas and the water blackened with the sky.

Ben and Tym enjoying the first splash of sun 100km in to the big day.

Ben and Tym enjoying the first splash of sun 100km in to the big day.

Suzie turns away as Tym layers up for the last stretch into Bariloche.

Suzie turns away as Tym layers up for the last stretch into Bariloche.

We flowed forward, our string of single headlights uncovering the mysterious will of the dark road ahead. We came across little towns along the way; cabin lights sprinkled cosily into the lakeside slopes, warming the families inside. On the outside we were cold and, ending the day as we had started it, shivered on the roaring engines beneath us. We did finally hit 1000km just shy of Bariloche, though there was no roadside celebration as we were eager to get warm and horizontal. Highway 40 approaches Bariloche from the north across Lago Nahuel Huapi, and makes a big detour to the east of the city. This means the mass of sparkling golden lights taunted us for a good thirty minutes before we completed the diversion and reached our hotel at about 10:45, 19 hours after waking up. Total kilometres: 1,028. It was a long day. And it wasn’t over yet.

The final obstacle was entering our long-awaited lakeside apartment-style room. The reception was nowhere to be found, and the phone outside the office wouldn’t connect. After making some noise a friendly English-speaking voice spilled out from behind a door. It was a girl from New York. “They’re never here, but check above that door for your key. They left ours there.” What an angel. There it was: the key to our room and the warm beds that would welcome us after five nights sleeping on the side of the road.

Yesterday was a sleepy Sunday. The cool spring air was ripe with vigour and the sun was hot. Small peaks of white danced on the dark blue water of the big lake as families busied themselves on the streets. Today we will try, yet again, to buy insurance. We will change our oil and give the bikes a once over before pushing the final 2,500km to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Until now Ushuaia has been a faraway place, a distant destination, an abstract idea. It is now on the horizon, emerging slowly into our reach. We can almost taste it.

Bolivia and Beyond

As we geared up to leave our hostel on Tuesday morning, the owner stopped us for a picture. A stranger on the street then saw us, and he too wanted a shot. This has become a common occurrence for us as we stand out in a crowd with our blonde hair, fair skin, and big dirty motorcycles. It wasn’t long before we began to navigate the border crossing into Bolivia. We entered the country accidentally after making a wrong turn down a main road lined with big trucks waiting their turn for customs, but quickly realized, turned around and found the correct street leading to the border, though it looked far from it. A bustling market spilled out of storefronts, over the sidewalk, and into the street on the doorstep of the Peruvian immigration and customs offices. A kind soldier explained the process to us very clearly, and even offered to watch our bikes while we signed ourselves out of Peru. Once the process was finished, a closer look showed us that this ‘soldier’ was just a guy in an old Bolivian Air Force jacket, the letters of BOLIVIA scratched over with a black pen. He then tried to weasel 10 Soles from each of us for a municipal tax, but when we heard the ticket man say the tax was only 5 Soles, we quickly grabbed our change back from the wannabe solder, making him lose his day’s earnings. Entering Bolivia included the usual activities of discovering the right offices, finding a photocopier, exchanging money all while keeping an eye on our bikes which remained parked to the side of the lively street connecting the two countries, large wheelbarrows of everything from bricks to popcorn flying across the bridge, undocumented exports and imports buzzing past our eyes.

The boys pose with proper posture at Lake Titicaca, Peru.

The boys pose with proper posture at Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Tym on the Peruvian side of the bustling Peru-Bolivia border.

Tym on the Peruvian side of the bustling Peru-Bolivia border.

The fight to the front of the customs line was real. Luckily we had arrived second, but the crowd that had gathered around us was ferocious in pushing and shoving to the front, eager to stick some important papers through the crack in the window whenever it was opened. Our dominant Canadian stature made it possible to secure our rightful place in line and soon our papers were behind the window with the border guard.

Ben and Dom towering over the locals while waiting patiently at the Bolivian aduanas office.

Ben and Dom towering over the locals while waiting patiently at the Bolivian aduanas office.

Tim showing the ladies where we're from and where we're going.

Tim showing the ladies where we're from and where we're going.

It was a couple of hours along wide-open land, watching the sharp, brown speckled hills pass us by at a distance. The road was good, the traffic was light, but the air was sharp as we arrived in the bleak outskirts of LaPaz where empty brick buildings gave refuge to stray dogs, and rickety vehicles kicked up waves of dust off the dirty streets. As we approached the city centre, the traffic was what we had grown to expect: madness. At one point we sat in the middle of a gridlocked intersection for at least five cycles of the traffic lights. With each passing green or red light came waves of honking, each driver attempting to inch forward towards the far side. We were cozied up next to a bus which continued to load and offload passengers young and old who had to squeeze past the bikes.

Some super slick electrical cable routing in La Paz.  Try figuring this one out Bolivian Steve.

Some super slick electrical cable routing in La Paz.  Try figuring this one out Bolivian Steve.

It was no mistake that we had picked LaPaz for the night. Two nights in fact. We had been secretly planning a day trip to Bolivia’s famous Death Road. This, of course, needed to be kept secret from our parents and girlfriends to avoid any worrying. Wednesday morning arrived, and after an improvised oil change in the hotel parking garage, we rode northeast out of the city. The bikes loaded with minimal gear first climbed through the beautiful rocky mountains before descending into the chilly clouds that eventually gave way to a small yellow sign on the side of the highway, marking the treacherous descent to the world famous road which will take your breath away and maybe your life. There are varying accounts of the actual death toll on this road, but one thing is certain: it has dramatically declined in recent years following the construction of an alternate paved highway for the semi-trailers that travel the area out of necessity. That leaves the single-lane, gravel-capped, cliff-topping road open for people like us. With almost zero oncoming traffic, the road is much more enjoyable, and we shared our descent with a few groups of tourists who had rented mountain bikes for the day to conquer the road that way. It was a continuous downhill adventure, the cliffs to our right lined with thin waterfalls that sometimes poured directly on to our heads; the cliffs to our left were shear drops into the jungle below. The tight turns yielded many spectacular views, though they were more enjoyable from a standstill, and we took breaks fairly often to really absorb the experience and take all the mandatory photos. Once at the bottom, we celebrated our death-free day by climbing up to the small town of Coroico, which sits on a big hillside facing both the old, treacherous road, and the new paved highway which we would take home that afternoon. That road was equally enjoyable and consisted of stunning views of deep lush valleys, mist topped hillsides and the snaking roads that travelled across them. The hard surface allowed for a bit more speed and more fun in the turns which, yes, usually had a guardrail to prevent any bad situation from getting infinitely worse. We climbed and climbed, ultimately reaching the clouds. At first it appeared as though it might just be some fog, but it then became apparent that we were in fact in a world of clouds. It was cold, there was zero visibility, and it was wet without really raining. We once again fought our way through the traffic to our hotel, ending the day as we had started it – warm and dry.

A shot of the boys sitting on the edge of a cliff on the famous Death Road.

A shot of the boys sitting on the edge of a cliff on the famous Death Road.

Tim takes pictures of Dom riding while Ben controls the drone.

Tim takes pictures of Dom riding while Ben controls the drone.

The boys sitting on one of the few barriers on N. Yungas Rd aka Death Road.

The boys sitting on one of the few barriers on N. Yungas Rd aka Death Road.

Dom carefully takes a corner on Death Road.  On Death Road, you ride/drive on the left side of the road so the outside driver has an unobstructed view of his tires which are closest to the edge of the cliff.

Dom carefully takes a corner on Death Road.  On Death Road, you ride/drive on the left side of the road so the outside driver has an unobstructed view of his tires which are closest to the edge of the cliff.

A beautiful shot of the valley with the edge of Coroico on the far right.

A beautiful shot of the valley with the edge of Coroico on the far right.

Tim gets his front tire stuck in a ditch after lunch in Coroico.

Tim gets his front tire stuck in a ditch after lunch in Coroico.

Video logs are an effective way for us to capture our moods and emotions in the moment, and are always fun to look back on!

Video logs are an effective way for us to capture our moods and emotions in the moment, and are always fun to look back on!

Bens rides in thick foggy clouds on the way back to La Paz.

Bens rides in thick foggy clouds on the way back to La Paz.

The next day we ate as much as we could of the breakfast included in our rooms from the eighth floor of Hotel Berlina, overlooking the city’s steep hills, burdened with a sea of redbrick homes. It was only maybe an hour later that we found ourselves faced with the prospect of riding up one of these hills, one which city planners had evidently decided did not require switchbacks. Dom reached the top fairly easily and had time to watch the fun that would ensue. Ben was struggling to maintain speed up the incredible hill, and Tym soon passed him, losing a water bottle shortly thereafter. He too soon reached the summit as Ben and Howie came grinding to a halt. Even in first gear, the fully loaded bike could not get enough steam to conquer the incline. After a few more attempts, and even with Tym pushing from behind, the bike died about 50 feet from the top. Dom rushed over to help, but the hill was too much for Team Alaskentina and the boys relied on the reluctant help of a stranger to finish the job. Except the stranger left before the job was done! A scary moment saw the bike roll back towards the boys who each braced themselves, and those who could reached for whichever brake they could find. Tym soon had the wisdom to move to the front of the bike, grab on to the crash bar, and pull from the front. This entire ordeal was made more difficult by the small pebbles of gravel that lay ominously on the hard pavement, like little ball bearings waiting to send the three boys and the big bike sliding down the long hill towards Tym’s water bottle.

Tim gives Ben a push on the steep hill of peril.

Tim gives Ben a push on the steep hill of peril.

With the bike secured on the top of the hill, Tym’s bottle was retrieved and the map reviewed, we were once again on the move. The rest of the journey out of the city was a relative breeze and we had a short day scheduled to the town of Oruro. Along the way we stopped at an old abandoned church which caught our eye from the highway, and shortly after we found our hostel with enough time to spare for us to explore the city. The markets are always a sight to see. All of the items for sale, new and used, are piled as high as possible on unstable tables, quiet vendors sitting on a low stool wrapped in a blanket and clutching a bowl of soup, waiting for a customer. We tried a classic Bolivian desert: jello with whipped cream, but the cream was sour and the jello tasted like cough syrup. A disappointment! The day ended with a rehearsal for the town’s upcoming parade, the music blasting through the hostel walls into our bedrooms as groups of girls and boys danced in the street; jumping, clapping, and chanting to the beat.

Friday came and once again we had a short day lined up, but an exciting one nonetheless! We were heading to the Uyuni Salt Flats. The Bolivian highways continued to surpass our expectations and we were making great time across the high Andean plains. We turned into the town of Colchani, just north of Uyuni, and filled up on gas and egg and sausage sandwhiches before setting off into the unknown. A dirty gravel road led us out of town, and in the blink of an eye the landscape had completely opened up. It was flat as far as the eye could see, and small octagonal ridges of salt offered our only taste of texture. A big black cloud occupied the sky to the north, and barely visible were small funnel clouds lifting sand or salt up into the air. An incredible spectacle that was made all the more enjoyable by the freedom to stare for as long as desired without the need to worry about steering or riding off the road. A web of smoothed and darkened paths across the flats indicated the path of heavy traffic, but riding along the wide-open flats was just as smooth.  As we rode sometimes together and sometimes apart, we were always enthralled by the experience we were living. We took lots of pictures, playing with perspective and playing with the drone in this, the motorcyclist’s playground. It was soon decided that we needed to spend the night on the salt, and made a quick trip back into town for some water and more egg and sausage sandwhices, before yet again venturing out on to the flats, this time away from the storm clouds. The exhilaration of riding never died, like skating on a vast frozen lake in the winter when the ice freezes perfectly and before the snow falls.

A drone shot of the bikes on the Salar de Uyuni.

A drone shot of the bikes on the Salar de Uyuni.

The bikes on the Salar de Uyuni.

The bikes on the Salar de Uyuni.

Tym and Ben enjoying some delicious egg and sausage sandwiches.  Ever since Tym switched from coffee to tea, Ben decided to switch from water to Coca-Cola.

Tym and Ben enjoying some delicious egg and sausage sandwiches.  Ever since Tym switched from coffee to tea, Ben decided to switch from water to Coca-Cola.

The boys with the ladies who cook up the mean egg sandwiches near the Salar de Uyuni.

The boys with the ladies who cook up the mean egg sandwiches near the Salar de Uyuni.

Finding an appropriate campsite was easy, but what was hard was setting up the tents. By now the wind had picked up drastically, and it took the three of us to set up each tent, filling the empty shell with all of our heavy belongings before putting up the poles. Tent pegs were out of the question as the hard packed salt was impenetrable. Instead we tied off corners of the tents to our motorcycles, our spare tires, and the heavy bundle of wrenches. It worked. The tents were up. We had a hasty supper of egg sandwiches and a couple of beers before nightfall. When the vast sky turned black, the openings between the clouds were filled with the wonders of distant galaxies and we stared up in awe. Tym masterminded some amazing photos which required a systematic operation of running to our tents and quickly flashing our headlamps for a prescribed amount of time before running out again to see how the shot turned out. You be the judge! We went to sleep with the tents flapping ferociously in the wind that continued, infallibly, well into the night.

The boys setting up camp. This picture does not do the winds justice.

The boys setting up camp. This picture does not do the winds justice.

One of Tym's cool night shot on the Salar de Uyuni.

One of Tym's cool night shot on the Salar de Uyuni.

We awoke Saturday morning to silence – pure, unbroken silence. Not a breath of wind. Not a cloud in the sky. The bright sun beat down on the infinite mass of salt under our tents, under our feet, and under our bikes. We leisurely packed up camp without fear of tents or belongings blowing off into the distance. Dom brewed up a batch of coca tea – now a morning ritual whenever possible, and we sipped happily as we prepared to venture about 300km south towards the Argentinian border. One more easy day before reaching the country which until now has been an idea. A destination. Now we could smell it.

The camp during a tranquil morning sunrise.

The camp during a tranquil morning sunrise.

Chef Dom brewing up some mean coca tea.

Chef Dom brewing up some mean coca tea.

But then, Bolivia’s highways disintegrated and disappeared. Immediately after Uyuni, the road turned to gravel. It seemed to be an average construction zone for a while, and we skipped onto the unfinished asphalt behind the barricades whenever possible to enjoy the smooth sailings that it offered. However, this did not last. We were forced onto the temporary roads, over and over again. We constantly tried to avoid the detours, and sometimes we were successful, and other times we were not. And then there was no trying to be done – the main road disappeared altogether. Our GPS and Google Maps showed us miles away from the yellow line indicating a main highway that did not exist. The side roads were tricky and got trickier. We fought to maintain control of the bikes in heavy sand; we faced teeth-chattering, spine-crunching, rib-wrenching washboard; and we skidded and slid through pockets of deep gravel. Thick dust was a common enemy as we passed innumerable trucks and pieces of equipment headed in the opposite direction, ostensibly to finish building this godforsaken road. The construction zone lasted about 200km and eight hours. There were a couple of falls, a bit of aggravation, some merited frustration, some laughs and a lot of head shaking. We met a couple of riders heading the opposite direction late in the afternoon. They were planning on reaching Uyuni. “Not a chance, amigos. Lo siento!” Hopefully they got to wherever they got to safely. Despite the unexpected difficulties of the day, the road led us through some incredible mountain passes. High in the Andes we looked out over amazingly colourful rock formations. Blues, reds, and purples poured out of folded rock faces against the backdrop of infinite other unique pieces of mighty rock in the arid landscape. Towards Tupiza, the rock had been washed away in floods of biblical proportions, leaving pillars of deep orange in the canyon walls. When trees began to reappear, the long unseen green seemed almost fake against the red backdrop. The amazing sights to behold were enough to momentarily ease the muscle and joint pain from the day’s test of endurance.

Ben takes a spill in some sand during our unexpected day of off-roading.

Ben takes a spill in some sand during our unexpected day of off-roading.

The stunning views we were privileged to enjoy during our ride from Uyuni to Tupiza.

The stunning views we were privileged to enjoy during our ride from Uyuni to Tupiza.

Tupiza was a welcome town of liveliness, helped by the big parade underway as we arrived. The music was reminiscent of the late-night street practice in Oruro, and the stompers, jumpers and chanters were the same but this time dressed up in fancy bell-clad boots and blue velvet suits. It was a sight to see, and to hear!

Overnight the firm mattresses realigned our spines and we were ready to venture to Argentina. We had numerous sources verify that the road south was in impeccable condition which was a wonderful piece of news. First we needed gas. Our last fill up in Bolivia and we have yet to fully understand the process. There is a local price, and an international price. Some gas stations won’t serve gas to international plates, some will ask for double the rate. Some attendants will entertain a back and forth of bargaining, others blame security cameras for not reducing the price. If you forego a receipt, there is a better chance of reducing the price, but not guaranteed. All to say every fill up is as mysterious as it is entertaining. This morning’s fill up was no different and a quick drug-deal style payment was made behind the cover of a booth away from the nosy eyes of the camera.

The quiet morning streets of Tupiza.  Our hotel can be seen on the right.

The quiet morning streets of Tupiza.  Our hotel can be seen on the right.

This is the jerry that Dom bought a few days ago and was planning on carrying for the remote stretches of Ruta 40 in Argentina.  It was unfortunately stolen off the back of his bike as this blog was being written.  I hope the thieves enjoy their 84 Octane Bolivian fuel.

This is the jerry that Dom bought a few days ago and was planning on carrying for the remote stretches of Ruta 40 in Argentina.  It was unfortunately stolen off the back of his bike as this blog was being written.  I hope the thieves enjoy their 84 Octane Bolivian fuel.

Well, our sources were right and the road to Argentina was excellent. A series of wide-open stretches of flat straight road, interrupted occasionally by gentle twists and subtle hills, led us to the border shortly after 10.

The first immigration stamp came quickly and painlessly. Next, however, was the mission we were hoping to avoid – finding a photocopier to exit Bolivian customs. Dom and Ben marched up the busy market street, leaving Tym to keep an eye on the bikes. The two pals poked their heads into every shop that looked promising and asked for a ‘copia’. The resounding answer was ‘no’ followed by a dismissive point or nod up the street and a muttered ‘mas arriba’. Many photocopy shops lined the streets but, being Sunday, they were all closed. Eventually, after a good twenty minutes the two found an internet café with a scanner to get the important documents copied, then splurged on a taxi back to the border. A slight delay, a minor inconvenience, but now we were set. Cleared out of Bolivia, our next step was Argentinian customs, where we were missing a very important form: a reciprocity tax charged to Canadian tourists! We had seen this once before, entering Colombia from Panama, but Captain Ludwig had taken care of the paperwork for us. The form we needed this time was different. We needed to complete an online form and present the printed receipt of the $78 USD tourist tax. At least we knew where the internet café was! This time we took the bikes, each settled in front of a slow, Spanish computer and Googled our way to the right page, made an account, filled out the form, made the payment, printed the sheet and returned to the border crossing. Is it over yet?

Next obstacle was the insurance. To date we have bought motorcycle insurance when necessary at the border. This time, of course, was different. Nowhere to buy insurance; it was Sunday, remember? We were facing the prospect of being denied entrance to Argentina… after all the miles we had come! Worst case scenario we would have to wait until the following day, but our friend with the green glasses got the go-ahead from her boss to let us in if we promised to get insurance the next day. Of course, we promised. We were then asked to take off all of our luggage for the x-ray machine. Great. How could this border crossing get any slower! It didn’t take that long, though, and after a picture next to the sign indicating 5121km to Ushuaia, we were on our way. Finally. We had made it to Argentina.

The boys made it to Argentina!

The boys made it to Argentina!

The boys unloading their luggage so it can be x-rayed in the portable x-ray machine (see Dodge Sprinter in the background).

The boys unloading their luggage so it can be x-rayed in the portable x-ray machine (see Dodge Sprinter in the background).

The boys with two Argentinian border agents that helped make the team's border crossing as pleasant as possibl.

The boys with two Argentinian border agents that helped make the team's border crossing as pleasant as possibl.

We were welcomed to Argentina by pale yellow grass fading into the soft brown-speckled hills, topped with the enormous light blue sky. It was perfect riding weather. The roads were great. The bikes had survived. We had survived. Despite thousands of kilometres remaining, entering Argentina felt like a victory.

Our plans for riding Ruta Cuarenta, the long scenic route along the western edge of this enormously long country, would have to wait as we needed to set ourselves up to buy insurance. We stopped for the night in the nice, quiet town of Humahuaca. Today we will search for insurance in Salta, and then wander over towards Ruta Cuarenta where we will spend the next couple of weeks camping our way down the country towards Ushuaia. We expect gas stations and internet access to be inconsistent, so please forgive any delays in uploading photos or blog posts! 

The Lost City

We were scooped up Monday morning at 4:30 bleary eyed but excited for our adventure. Our bus took us west from Cusco to the town of Mollepata where we ventured north along the twists and turns of a gravel road, climbing steep into the mountains, the sun now illuminating the precipitous slope beside us. With mules tethered to thin shrubs ready to carry the bulk of our gear, we offloaded from the bus and began our four-day trek. The first day started out quite flat, following a well-worn path and an old irrigation ditch in the shadow of many rocky brown peaks. After a couple of hours we had reached our first campsite – a short day to begin the trek. After lunch we followed our guides from the camp up to the Humantay Glacier that feeds a beautiful glacial lake, blue and crisp, which shines brightly under the occasional offering of sunlight. It was a steep and slow climb but worth every step to witness the isolated magnificence of this powerful scene. The shores of the lake were busy with tourists who had also clambered up to catch the view, but the cold waters were emptier. Olek and Ben had brief dips in the icy runoff before the team slowly descended back to camp to warm up, eat supper and head to bed – all before 8PM.

Hiking along an old irrigation channel with the ice-capped mountains in the distance.

Hiking along an old irrigation channel with the ice-capped mountains in the distance.

Our campsite as seen from the path to the Humantay Glacier.

Our campsite as seen from the path to the Humantay Glacier.

The frigid blue-green water of the glacial lake. 

The frigid blue-green water of the glacial lake. 

Our night spent at 3700m was chilly but beautiful as the big moon illuminated the glacier that stood tall above our campsite. The stars were out and the air was sharp, and we slept soundly through the night until being awoken at 5AM to our friendly helpers greeting each sleepy tent with a quiet “Hola! Hola! Coca tea, coca tea.” A generous hand then reached into the tent offering a hot cup of coca tea - a perfect start to the day. This, the second day, was long – a total of 23km. The first three hours were straight uphill and we were carried up by our slow, short, deliberate steps numbering in the thousands. Deep breaths drew oxygen into our heavy lungs out of the thin mountain air. Our last push to the summit of the Salkantay Pass was along a series of steep switchbacks populated by hundreds of trekkers and strong mules, horses and donkeys carrying our gear and the occasional tired hiker. We took numerous breaks to adjust our layers of clothing, drink a splash of water, nibble on a snack, and snap a picture of the mesmerizing scenery that could only be fully appreciated from a standstill. And then, around 9AM, we reached the stunning Salkantay Glacier.

Salkantay Glacier

Salkantay Glacier

Alaskentina, Olek and Josh with our group and our guides before the last push up to the Salkantay Glacier standing tall behind us.

Alaskentina, Olek and Josh with our group and our guides before the last push up to the Salkantay Glacier standing tall behind us.

At 4600m the air was thin but our hearts and eyes had plenty to feast on. The incredible view of ice and rock can only feel better after conquering the journey on your own two feet, and we took all the mandatory photos before snaking down the far side of the pass, eager to get to our lunch spot where we found our cooks who had made the journey and conjured up a hearty meal without breaking a sweat. After lunch the scenery changed significantly: trees and waterfalls replaced snow and rocks, and the air grew thicker and warmer. We finally reached a small settlement, complete with a few small building and many tents perched on a steep river valley where we had a little stretch to ease upset joints and tired muscles. Another feast appeared, prepared by our amazing cooks who juggle pots and pans over small propane stoves, squatting over dirt floors in dark concrete shelters. The delicious food was enjoyed along side our boxes of wine which had emerged from our backpacks beaten and bruised but their contents unscathed.

Wednesday morning began with another cup of coca tea enjoyed from the warmth of our sleeping bags. We hiked a short while along a dirt road before venturing down the steep Urubamba River valley to cross the rushing water, and continue our trek along the far embankment. The path was ‘Peruvian flat’ our guides told us, meaning not really flat at all. Lots of steep ups and downs took us through plantations of all sorts: granadilla, avocado, orange, banana, squash, potatoes and more. These crops lined our route, and vendors spaced strategically along the trail offered us the delicious snacks that kept us happy and energized throughout the day. Puppies and donkeys were a common sight at these small villages and they were eager to sniff out some of the snacks tucked away in our backpacks: a donkey was caught red-handed nibbling on Josh’s bag before being shooed away, where it went to another group of hikers begging for food. We finished the morning with a bus ride to Santa Teresa where we found our tents set up in the backyard of a restaurant. Our cooks made use of the well-equipped kitchen and we enjoyed a big lunch before taking the bus once again to a nearby hot spring - a perfect end to the day as the warm water soothed our muscles and bug bites. After dinner we sat around the campfire and watched the nearby hillside burn into the night, preparing the land for the next crop to be planted.

There were two options for the following morning: a three-hour hike along the road, or three hours of zip-lining back and forth across the lush river valley. Option two won resoundingly, and we enjoyed the break from walking and sweating as we flew across the steel lines. There was still some walking to be done, though, and after a bus ride to Hidro Electrica, a small town in the shadow of the Machu Picchu mountain, we walked along the railway and roaring Urubamba river for a few hours until we reached Aguas Calientes where our hostel awaited complete with a warm bed and hot shower. The prospect of visiting the Lost City the next day was exciting and outweighed the unfortunate news that the visit required a 4AM wake up in order to join the long line for the bus that would take us up the mountain.

Dom flying through the air.

Dom flying through the air.

4AM arrived quickly and we joined the already lengthy line by 4:30. When the buses began to leave at 5:30 it wasn’t long before our turn came and soon enough we were perched at one end of Inca ruins, the view unspoiled by the waves of other tourists that were quickly crashing into the old mountain top city. The history of the city is as mysterious as it is impressive: the stone walls hold the secrets of the Inca civilization that did not have a written language. Many questions remain unanswered, but it is known that the city was abandoned, unfinished, sometime before the year 1500. The infrastructure is incredible with hundreds of terraces – constructed for agriculture and slope stabilization – surrounding the dry stone walls that have remained largely unaffected by hundreds of years of neglect. Built with anti-seismic properties, the walls were smoothed to perfection, the seams straight, and tight. Various temples are built into the city, their windows designed to align with the sunrises and sunsets at the solstices, and various important constellations.

By 8AM we found ourselves, yet again, hiking a steep path. This time it was a near vertical set of stairs, built by the Incas to the summit of Huayna Picchu – the tall peak that sits famously behind Machu Picchu. It was an incredible climb, and offered an even more spectacular view of Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu is thought to be the residence of the city’s priest and local virgins. Only a handful of buildings were built on the mountain, and its terraces are glued to the impossibly steep slope. It is a soul-satisfying experience sitting a top the abrupt peak, looking back in time at the incredible work of the Incas.

After a circuit around the mountain and some more exploring of Machu Picchu, we hiked back down to Aguas Calientes, crossing the many switchbacks that we had driven up in so early that morning. We spent a few more hours in the busy town, eating lunch and buying some souvenirs. At 6PM our train pulled out of the station, the light of the locomotive visible through the side windows illuminating the riverbank and the mouth of at least one impressive tunnel carved into the rock face. By 8PM we had reached Ollantaytambo where we traded the tracks for the pavement and completed our journey back to Cusco by shuttle. It was an amazing few days that exercised our bodies and our minds, and opened our eyes to the incredible history of the Inca people.

Our final approach to Aguas Clients along the railway.

Our final approach to Aguas Clients along the railway.

The classic Machu Picchu shot... (if you turn your head sideways the mountains behind resemble a face)

The classic Machu Picchu shot... (if you turn your head sideways the mountains behind resemble a face)

...And the less common picture of the Lost City.

...And the less common picture of the Lost City.

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu.

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu.

Back in Cusco and back to reality, we explored the city’s markets and restaurants on Saturday and Sunday before Josh and Olek had to fly back to Canada. It was a pleasure having the two additional members to the team over the past week to share this adventure that will be remembered for a lifetime. Ben picked Howie up from Jose Luis who gave him the Patagonia guarantee – he is confident that the KLR will make it to Patagonia without spilling another drop of coolant or burning another ounce of oil. Time will tell, but the news is encouraging.

This morning we were back on the road as we fired up the sedentary machines that lay dormant as we trekked our way through the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu. Shortly after leaving Cusco we were back in the empty Andean highlands, where the yellow grassy fields could be the Alberta prairies if they weren’t 4000m above sea level and sloping upwards towards the dark grey crumbling peaks that met the cloudy sky with a stark familiarity. We saw many old bodies hunched over their long wood-handled tools as they tended diligently to their rugged crops, and many more who strongly strode down the lonely highway, heavy bundles fastened to their shoulders by means of tightly knotted colourful blankets. These characters lived in the mud-walled buildings that, topped in either a thatched roof or clay shingles, blended seamlessly into the baron landscape. It is a wonder how these families survive the weather and seclusion without a tree to cut for firewood and hours away from any services.

The riding today was cold, and after escaping the threatening weather for a few hours we were eventually swallowed by the black clouds that occupied the full extent of the mountain sky and finished the day in a downpour. After crossing through the unremarkable city of Juliaca it wasn’t long before we descended into Puno, sitting on the northeast corner of Lago Titicaca. The city is overwhelmingly brown as mud walls cover the steep slopes that descend towards the bay. We scraped our way through the narrow corridors of tonight’s hostel ready for a hot shower and good night’s sleep. Tonight we will review the map and our plans for entering Bolivia and then Argentina – the final frontier.

Jose Luis, Howie's latest saviour, helps out Michael, our Air BnB host take the newly repaired machine out for a test ride in Cusco.

Jose Luis, Howie's latest saviour, helps out Michael, our Air BnB host take the newly repaired machine out for a test ride in Cusco.

Ben and Josh in Cusco's craziest market where brass knuckles, nunchucks, stolen phones, and much much more go for sale every Saturday.

Ben and Josh in Cusco's craziest market where brass knuckles, nunchucks, stolen phones, and much much more go for sale every Saturday.

We bought a kilogram of coca leaves from this vendor on the street.

We bought a kilogram of coca leaves from this vendor on the street.

A small farm high in the Andes on our approach to Puno on the shores of Lago Titicaca.

A small farm high in the Andes on our approach to Puno on the shores of Lago Titicaca.

Peru-sing Around

Our border crossing from Ecuador to Peru did not go as planned - to say the least. We had woken up early to beat the rush, only to miss the Immigration Office tucked away to the side of the highway as we left Ecuador. After doubling back and waiting in every possible line before finding the correct office, we were stuck behind at least two full tour-bus loads of travellers also travelling south. The entire process took about six hours. Our longest crossing yet. But, on the bright side, we were finally in Peru and only a few long days away from Cusco where the Kubickis would link up with their third brother Olek and good friend Josh, and Ben would get a chance to see his girlfriend Steph.

We rode through the town of Tumbes, which welcomed us with possibly the craziest tuctucs drivers we've seen yet. Speeding three abreast down two dust-covered lanes, the three wheeled taxis honked, weaved, and bounced their way through us and around us, doing their best to disrupt our Canadian convoy which, by now, has abandoned all stereotypical politeness and honks, weaves and bounces right back.

Due to the lengthy immigration and customs process, we had a short day of riding along the North Western Peruvian coast. The weather was surprisingly mild, and the riding was easy along the mostly truckless single lane highway. The only excitement on the roads that day was the first military checkpoint that asked for papers. Of course our documents checked out, and we were soon gliding into Mancora for the night. After many dreary coastal towns comprised of low-lying tin-roofed shabby-looking buildings either clumped together or scattered apart, Mancora offered a much more lively atmosphere. We shared the bustling beach with tourists and locals alike, and got a good night's sleep in preparation for a few long days down the Peruvian West Coast. What we didn't know was how long and boring those days would be...

Hungry after the lengthly border crossing, we stopped for a quick but delicious Peruvian meal preceded by the traditional Ceviche appetizer: raw fish topped with onions.  Tym is not a fan of onions.

Hungry after the lengthly border crossing, we stopped for a quick but delicious Peruvian meal preceded by the traditional Ceviche appetizer: raw fish topped with onions.  Tym is not a fan of onions.

Tym capturing the perfect shot during our first day in the desert.

Tym capturing the perfect shot during our first day in the desert.

Long miles and heavy winds make for tiring days in the desert!

Long miles and heavy winds make for tiring days in the desert!

 

The next day started with a beautiful ride through some desert hills, the baron slopes framing the bulging twists and turns that crawled up and down land with the early morning sun casting long desert shadows across the sand as if to indicate the long day that still lay ahead. Unfortunately, we soon left the beauty and excitement behind, entering what we now know to be the Sechura Desert, a rare coastal desert and one of the driest on the planet. We passed oil fields and pumpjacks, as well as wind farms. Evidently there is energy to be harnessed here, though the landscape does not lend itself to a very friendly work environment. In the distance to the east, our left, lay the mighty Andes. Ever-present, the grey misty ridges void of contours or detail at such a distance, gave some relief to the flat desert landscape and to our tired eyes straining for something to look at.

A short but beautiful stretch along the Pacific Coast.

A short but beautiful stretch along the Pacific Coast.

 

We passed many awfully sad towns where crooked and unfinished buildings stood alone in the sea of sand, often without a human to be seen for miles and miles. At times, fences built of long branches and flimsy sticks provided some shelter from the wind for the poor animals that call this place home. Unfed horses pulled carriages comprised of large metal drums built into a shaky wooden frame between two wobbly wheels. Some towns were built on the wide, almost dry riverbeds of the mountain streams flowing off the Andes. This scarce water supply provided drinking water for the animals, and bathing water for the locals. Many of the inhabited areas felt like recently war-torn villages, leaving us feeling dejected and eager to carry on our way. The road was long, straight and wide, so the miles were easy enough to come by, and in between towns, the vastness and emptiness of the desert carried with it a unique attraction; maybe not beautiful, but certainly powerful, absolutely impressive, and undoubtedly unforgettable. Our first day in the desert came to an end in Trujillo, where we parked our bikes in the cramped auto-shop next-door to our hostel. It had been a long day, and naively we thought that we were nearing the end of the Sechura.

A small snapshot into the conditions of a one of the small villages we rolled through.

A small snapshot into the conditions of a one of the small villages we rolled through.

Dom riding through the Sechura Desert, the hills painted on to the horizon.

Dom riding through the Sechura Desert, the hills painted on to the horizon.

It was a tight squeeze for our bikes in Trujillo.

It was a tight squeeze for our bikes in Trujillo.

As we packed our bikes in the morning, we received some warnings, a bit late, about the dangers of Trujillo. Ignorance is bliss though, and we had felt no insecurities the night before as we explored our street for dinner. We set out again to conquer the desert, and whether the landscape had grown on us or it had faintly improved, there was a growing appreciation for the infinity that we were crossing. Windswept hills emerged, marbled with a darker sand, as if dusted with cinnamon. Other mounds presented themselves; some smooth, soft, and sandy, others sharp, menacing and rocky. But they all had an alluring quality to them. Maybe the desert was beautiful after all…

We continued battling the uncompromising desert wind, which surprisingly cause very little sand to be swept across in front of our cavalcade of leaned over bikes, fighting to maintain a straight course between the lines. The Pacific Ocean appeared throughout the day, and it was a remarkable experience to be riding on the very boundary upon which the endless sea of blue water crashed relentlessly onto the immovable immensity of gritty sand, neither element giving way to the other.

Of course, the terrible towns continued to interrupt this unprecedented experience, none worse than the slums on the northern extremity of Lima. We had planned to stop for the night on the North side of town, and battle the city traffic in the light of day, but upon stopping in the heart of the devastating slum to assess what turned out to be an hourly ‘love’ hostal, we decided to brave the dark and the traffic, and treat ourselves to a nice hotel in downtown Lima. What had we got ourselves into...?

Navigating the slums meant avoiding the lane-splitting busses that, full to the brim with passengers, rode across curbs and along shoulders. We managed to stay together throughout the ordeal, fighting our way through the bumper-to-bumper of rust and horns. Upon approaching one of the tolls, we decided to follow a few other motorcycles off the main road to beat the long line of traffic. We almost instantly lost our local leads, and were soon unsticking Dom’s bike from the narrow confines of a footpath between two concrete walls. The three bikes once again mobile, we squeezed through some concrete barriers past the tollbooth and continued our nighttime adventure into Lima. Soon unpaved paths of sand had been replaced with divided well-lit cobble stone sidewalks, the incessant noise of honks had been replaced with no-honking signs, and plumes of black smoke had been replaced with esteemed fountains that supervised well-behaved traffic circles: we were downtown Lima!

Unimpressed with Lima's 'love hostals' we decided to venture downtown for the night.

Unimpressed with Lima's 'love hostals' we decided to venture downtown for the night.

Our hotel of choice was an unaffordable $230USD per night, but a well-clad gentleman peered above his nosey spectacles to let us know that there was an affordable hostel down the street. After a few laps of the neighbourhood we found the hostel, found parking for our bikes, and were settled into comfy couches with a cold beer and a couple of pizzas in time for the exhilarating second round of Trump V. Clinton. The debate left us feeling foggy headed and proudly Canadian, and we went to sleep in cozy beds far away from the flashing red lights of the love-hostal.

Leaving Lima was much easier than the way in, and we stopped for breakfast at a café on the side of the highway. We were approaching the end of our time in the desert, this confirmed by a glance at our maps, but it wasn’t over yet. More sand, more wind, more sad towns. Ironically, the depressing towns inflicted more of a sense of emptiness in us than the vast emptiness of the desert itself. The thought of living in these areas is totally unbearable – the burning garbage, homeless street dogs, desolate streets, abandoned homes – all surrounded by the lifeless desert.

Our approach into Nazca came with a distinct change – the hills. We wound up and down through the hills that were distant shadows only minutes before, chasing each other around the endless curves. The hills flattened out before reaching Nazca, but we soon found a beautiful hotel for a relatively low cost. The bikes were parked in the locked hotel parking lot, and visible from our first floor bedrooms – absolutely perfect.

The locals maximizing the passenger capacity in the commonly seen motorcycle-pickup trucks in the Nazca area.

The locals maximizing the passenger capacity in the commonly seen motorcycle-pickup trucks in the Nazca area.

The following day we enjoyed the limitless hotel breakfast, and set out on our two-day journey through the Andes to Cusco – almost there! Unfortunately the desert wasn’t finished with us, and the day began with a wrong turn that led us through the stretched sandy landscape for a good hour before it was finally detected! So, we doubled back and filled up with gas, now really ready to attack the pavement and work our way skywards, up through the Andes. More desert hills, more zigzags and U-turns, more S-curves and hairpins. What a feat to build this stunning road, and what an experience to ride it! We passed indigenous areas, some small villages, other settlements comprised of a single wind-battered hut, alone against the elements. We passed some old ruins, and many miles of wobbly stone walls that stretched out of sight into the distance, as if to reach back in time and connect the current indigenous people with their ancestors who certainly built most, if not all, of the walls that are still being used to delineate pastures and crops.

High in the mountaintops, some of these old ruins are topped with a 'new' roof.

High in the mountaintops, some of these old ruins are topped with a 'new' roof.

Susie standing majestically at the top of one of many switchbacks on the way to Cusco.

Susie standing majestically at the top of one of many switchbacks on the way to Cusco.

Leaving Nazca we were treated to magnificent desert hills and twisting roads.

Leaving Nazca we were treated to magnificent desert hills and twisting roads.

It’s nothing short of incredible that even fighting the hardships of the Andes, the people here seem so much better off than their counterparts living in the impossibly harsh desert. While the mountainous region sees rain to support crops, the isolation from major transportation routes presents in itself a challenge to prosperity. It is certainly safe to say that no life is easy in this part of the world, except for maybe Lima’s elite.

At a stop for gas in Puquio, or timing coincided with that of a busy tour bus, one of the many that has presented a challenge to us on the blind mountain corners. This tour bus was filled with children and adults alike, most of whom were eager to have a picture with us. Ones and twos approached us for pictures, and then little groups and big groups. This is it – our fifteen minutes of fame. And it lasted closer to thirty!

Tym taking a selfie with a few of Alaskentina's new fans in Puquio.

Tym taking a selfie with a few of Alaskentina's new fans in Puquio.

 

Riding through the Andes was impressive, exciting, daunting, and cold! We would wind up a mountain pass but instead of winding back down again we would cross immense plains floating in the sky with only mountaintops visible around their extremities. Eventually we would weave our way down again, catching glimpses of the resilient road appearing and disappearing in and out of itself like a length of yarn stretched out and released, snapping into a convoluted squiggle.

The day was coming to a close and we had decided to camp out instead of counting on one of the unpredictable towns to appear before the sun went down. We were cold and tired, the elevation affecting our bodies and bikes as we approached 4500m at times throughout the day, and we set up camp hidden behind a knoll on the side of the road as the setting sun put another day of adventures to rest.

Sunset at our roadside campsite.

Sunset at our roadside campsite.

Despite our best efforts to sleep well, altitude headaches and cold weather kept us up throughout the night. We emerged from our tents groggy and unrested, and sipped on some coca tea that we found surprisingly helpful. Ahead of us lay a projected seven-hour ride to Cusco. The bikes struggled to start in the cold weather, with Howie requiring a bump start to finally fire up. As fate would have it, five minutes past our impromptu campsite lay a hostel and restaurant. Howie was left running over the course of the breakfast, after which a substantial leak was noticed emerging from the weep hole of the coolant reservoir. With a mechanic already lined up in Cusco to address the oil-burning problem, all Howie needed to do was make it another 400km…

We rode through gorgeous river valleys, more steep switchbacks, and many thriving agricultural communities throughout the day. Howie continued to bleed coolant, requiring water top-ups at regular intervals, and Tym was struck with the team’s first flat tire of the trip. Not to be outdone, Howie’s gear shifter then broke, leaving him stuck in 2nd gear to navigate the busy streets of Cusco. But, after 11 hours, we made it – three boys and three bikes got to Cusco on Wednesday night in various conditions, ready for some rest.

The road. The hills. The Andes.

The road. The hills. The Andes.

This is the nail we pulled out of Tym's rear tire. We have managed to ride over 25,000 km without a single flat - this one was long overdue!

This is the nail we pulled out of Tym's rear tire. We have managed to ride over 25,000 km without a single flat - this one was long overdue!

Over the following few days, we all felt under weather at some point. We visited the shelter where Steph had spent the last three months volunteering to help rescue and rehabilitate Cusco’s street dogs, we explored Cusco’s historic city centre, Tym got a luggage rack welded back together again, Dom made some long-overdue improvements to the comfort of his seat, and Ben found a mechanic to work on Howie over the next week.

Steph bringing the doggies some food at the Soy Callejerito dog shelter in Cusco.

Steph bringing the doggies some food at the Soy Callejerito dog shelter in Cusco.

Dom with one of the many dogs still fending for itself on the streets of Cusco.

Dom with one of the many dogs still fending for itself on the streets of Cusco.

As Ben said goodbye to Steph after a brief but wonderful two days, Dom and Tym welcomed Olek and Josh to the city for a couple days of exploring before Team Alaskentina Plus embarks on a five-day four-night trek of Machu Picchu – the famous ruins of a 15th century Incan citadel. That adventure begins tomorrow… at 4:30 AM!

 

 

Visiting the Villages

We loaded our bikes in Salento with the company of a few dogs who were sniffing our luggage and our bikes, curious of the smells we had brought with us. We left the dogs at the hostel, disappearing behind us along with the gorgeous green gullies that descended out of the hilltops consumed by clouds and fog. The night before, lonely lights could be seen scattered across the slopes, while the concentrated illumination of a distant city disproved the easily held notion that our view from the hostel contained nothing but wilderness and remote farmland. We wiggled our way back to the highway out of the picturesque town, our bikes leaning left and right and rolling up and down the well-paved road.

We stop-and-go’d our way through Armenia, where everyone was staring at our bikes, pointing and smiling. A few interested passers-by asked us where we were from and where we were going from a rolled down window or from the seat of their own bikes. One couple even asked us if we wanted to stop and have a coffee! ‘Lo siento! Sorry! We’ve gotta keep going.'

After Armenia we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at times on a wide two-lane highway, and, cruising through flat plains that we hadn’t known existed, we were making better time than expected, having thought we would spend the day craning our necks out from behind wide trucks on the steep winding roads that we had navigated for the previous few days. Soldiers continued to have a continuous presence on the highway, young men and women grasping long barreled shotguns or rifles, standing in the shadows of the roadside foliage. Though it sounds somewhat off-putting, we were more often than not given a thumbs-up and a smile as they nodded us onwards down the road.

In the afternoon the rain started and didn’t stop. It followed us through Popayàn and didn’t let up as the roads lost a lane and we forced back into our previous routine of passing our way through long lines of traffic stuck behind massive trucks, sometimes along the wide shoulders and sometimes when an opportunity presented itself in the on-coming lane. This continued until about 5 o’clock, as the light began to fade behind the dark grey clouds that continued to rain down on us. We had made it to Rosas, a small town that even now remains a bit of a mystery, and stopped at the first hotel we found. Not a single store or business in Rosas takes cards for payment, and there isn’t a bank within two hours of the isolated town. This presented a slight problem for us as we only had enough Colombian Pesos to buy dinner. The prospect of going hungry only to save enough Pesos to pay for half of the hotel was not an option so we bought supper and went to bed hoping that we could find a solution in the morning. There had been rumors of a small bank machine in town that might work for us…

The morning came and the bank machine turned out to be a card-reader in a stationary supplies store that only accepted Bancolombia cards. So, without a miracle cash solution, we dipped into our stash of USD and pleaded with the hotel owner to accept the cash, which he of course did, though not without charging a healthy premium.  We donned our soggy gear that hadn’t come close to drying overnight in the cool and humid mountain air. Twisting our way out of Rosas, the sky had cleared and we were drying out. It was warm and sunny, not hot, and perfect weather for riding. We stopped for breakfast at a small restaurant that, like most of the small restaurants that have kept us fed through Central and South America, consist of a few plastic chairs sitting in front of a private home. The usual chaos ensued as one child ran down the street for the bottles of water we had ordered, while another was tasked with bringing us our flimsy set of cutlery wrapped in the thin square of a napkin. Waiting for our ‘huevos con carne’, we were offered the usual items – hammocks draped over thin forearms, iPhone cables strung between fingers and fruit stacked delicately on shoulders. We listened to the incessant honking that, quite honestly, seems ineffective at best, and watched stall keepers flog their piles of melons, overflowing out of crooked wheelbarrows leaning on cracked cinder blocks. Our food came, and we listened to chickens crow from the shadows of the greasy auto shop across the street as we ate a fulfilling meal that set us up for another long day in the saddle.

The charming cook who made us breakfast on our way to Las Lajas.

The charming cook who made us breakfast on our way to Las Lajas.

Around breakfast time, we were surprised to see a distinct change in the geography and the climate, which had really dried out. We were back in the desert: baron hills with only small shrubs and cacti lined the road, and just in time for October some of the leaves that remained had yellowed and fallen to the ground. We ended up riding along amazing desert cliff sides with fully-fledged canyons below us. Landslides had left trails of rock and gravel strewn across the pavement at irregular intervals and larger boulders had smashed into retaining walls. Some survived the onslaught intact while others bulged, the rebar struggling to support the weight of the rock above; and others still had failed, the evidence lying in scraps of concrete and rubble on the road. Occasional crews of no more than three swept and shovelled the mess into barrows and pickups, though it seemed like an unwinnable fight.

Dom riding up a gentle slope in the beautiful Colombian countryside.

Dom riding up a gentle slope in the beautiful Colombian countryside.

Ben stopping to take in the scenery as the conditions abruptly changes from green to brown.

Ben stopping to take in the scenery as the conditions abruptly changes from green to brown.

The end of this desert stretch was the most spectacular as the immeasurable valleys had opened up and the grey ribbon of asphalt, only barely visible against the sandy hillside, was lined with toy-sized trucks slowly winding their way on and off distant bridges, in and out of faraway tunnels. Rural life had still made its mark on the landscape as splashes of green squares fed by brown dirt paths occupied some space along the otherwise empty slopes. At the top of one of the more significant passes, clouds of blue, black and grey collected along with a firm wind and a storm was unmistakably imminent.

It poured and poured, and as the peculiar thought of a big rainstorm in the desert began to develop, the landscape had suddenly changed again and we were back in a rich mountain forest. The desert crossing had almost been a dream, out of place and out of context. Its hills had been gradual and its turns wide. The sun hot and the air dry. And just like that, it was over. The hills now steeper, the turns now tighter, the traffic now truckier, we were once again peering out from behind rain speckled visors looking for opportunities to pass left or right along the single lane of wet pavement.

Through the flooded streets of Pasto we rode, and then back through mountain passes until we reached Ipiales. The final stretch into the border town had been a joy to ride. Sheer cliffs and sharp hills remained, somehow, covered in a quilt of crops. A closer look revealed isolated buildings, small and lonely on the slopes – no doubt home to the ranchers that toil the slanted fields. We entered into Ipiales only to find a much sought after bank machine, then made our way to the small town of Las Lajas, famous for the impressive church that is built into the steep cliffs above a rushing mountain river. We wandered the town, visited the stunning church, and explored the museum before supper, then made our way to bed only ten kilometres from the Ecuadorian  border.

Ben making Howie fit through the door of our Hotel in Las Lajas.  Our motorcycles like to sleep indoors if at all possible.

Ben making Howie fit through the door of our Hotel in Las Lajas.  Our motorcycles like to sleep indoors if at all possible.

The beautiful Las Lajas Sanctuary.  Built between 1916 and 1949, this basilica sits in the canyon of the Guaitara River.

The beautiful Las Lajas Sanctuary.  Built between 1916 and 1949, this basilica sits in the canyon of the Guaitara River.

Our friend met us on our way down to the Las Lajas Sanctuary.  He followed us into the museum that's located in the basement of the basilica, but was politely asked to leave by the museum staff shortly thereafter. He reluctantly complied.

Our friend met us on our way down to the Las Lajas Sanctuary.  He followed us into the museum that's located in the basement of the basilica, but was politely asked to leave by the museum staff shortly thereafter. He reluctantly complied.

Llamas hard at work in Las Lajas. Humans make animals do strange things.

Llamas hard at work in Las Lajas. Humans make animals do strange things.

The crossing into Ecuador on Sunday morning did not go as planned. The gates to the immigration office were closed, and guards looked down on us from the elevated terrace with unforgiving eyes. The message was simple: the border was closed. The reason was not so simple: it was because of the vote! The Colombian government had decided to close its borders on the day of the historical referendum that would decide whether or not the country accepted the government’s peace deal with the FARC rebel group. Our time in Colombia had been bookended by this monumental deal, our arrival having coincided with the signing of the treaty on the previous Monday. We didn't have a choice so we went back to the beautiful town of Las Lajas, took our luggage back upstairs, and had an unplanned day off. We did some trip planning and some relaxing. And in the evening we watched the Colombian people shock their government and the world by rejecting the proposed peace treaty with the rebels. Evidently they are looking for justice as much as they are looking for peace, and the treaty in its existing form did not provide them with the closure they were looking for after so many years at war, so many crimes committed and so many lives lost at the hands of the group now looking for power and respect as a political party. A difficult choice, and a close outcome.

Monday morning we had better luck at the border and after three hours of line-ups and stamps, VINs and registrations, we were once again in unchartered territory. As a kind American had mentioned in one of the line-ups, the roads in Ecuador are better than in Colombia. More reasonable speed limits too, he told us, and we had better respect them: he warned of us three-day jail terms for speeders, and explained that once out of jail your bike would almost certainly have disappeared.

We enjoyed the two-laned divided highway for most of the day, though at times it was missing or under construction for future generations of Alaskentinians to enjoy. At first, Ecuador offered a much different experience riding through the hills. It felt as though we were closer to the hills, the details of the crops and the texture of the land magnified by our proximity. We passed through another stretch of expansive desert, where green crops had been forced out of the dry ground; and in the forested hills, rectangular farm crops had been shaven out of the natural vegetation, separated by straight lines of fences or hedges.

We skirted Quito, impressed by the big city’s sprawl within the confines of its mountain location. A thin layer of squat buildings, built of grey stones and bricks, flooded the contours of the valley floor and swept up the surrounding slopes. Though we could only catch quick glimpses of the country’s capital, we were hugely impressed by its sheer size and impression on the land. We now know we crossed over the equator somewhere along our journey past Quito, but if we want a picture next to the ‘Middle of the Earth’ monument it will have to be on another trip...

The weather that followed us throughout the day was mild and gloomy and we escaped another downpour as we followed the line of volcanoes that cuts Ecuador in half. Somewhere between Quito and Riobamba we lost the sun, and with it the mild warmth that it had given off from its position behind the clouds. When darkness had fully descended upon us we only had about 60 kilometres left until Riobamba and before long we had found a hostel with a secret entrance through the back of a barbershop. After unloading our bikes we took them to a secure parking spot a few blocks away. On Tuesday we took a day off and were able to do a few errands, a load of laundry, and an expedition to an alluring rope swing above a precipitous cliff near Baños.

Tymek hanging out on the Top of the World swing near Baños.  

Tymek hanging out on the Top of the World swing near Baños.  

Dom and Tym looking over the Ecuadorian countryside as the sun sets.

Dom and Tym looking over the Ecuadorian countryside as the sun sets.

Wednesday arrived and it was time for our long-awaited visit to the villages partnered with Free The Children. We were picked up by two amazing women: Angelita and Eli. Angelita, the first ever Community President in the Chimborazo Province of Ecaudor and a Free The Children veteran is an indigenous Kichwa herself and works directly with the communities to ensure that each party can maximize its investment with the other. Eli has worked for Free The Children for five years and is an invaluable source of information on the workings of the organization. Together, they know anything and everything about Free The Children’s work in Ecuador, and though we were only able to spend one day with them, we were thoroughly impressed with the work that has been done and continues to take place in Ecuador. We were able to visit three of the five communities in Chimborazo Province, and each one taught us something different about the communities, and the impact of the organization on their residents.

1. The Partnership: Our first stop was a village called Shuid. Located high in the mountains far from the nearest town. Free The Children arrived in this location when there was only a pair of run-down buildings in 2008. The school now has 300 students and about a dozen well-built classrooms. Upon walking into the Grade Six Social Studies class we were welcomed by smiling faces shouting a coordinated ‘Buenos Dias!’ We had the same reception in the Grade One class where we were treated to a beautiful song about corn, in all its glory, to which we responded with a rather impromptu performance of the Hokie-Pokie. Dom, who had ridden his bike from Riobamba, gave each of the kids a turn to sit on the bike, while the growing crowd was amazed at the drone that we sent up for some pictures. The kids, smiling from ear to ear, were mostly oblivious to the difficult conditions that they face as it compares to countries such as Canada: the children here have up to an hour-long walk to school along difficult mountainous paths, and, because there is still a lack of classrooms, the older children don’t finish class until the evening and have to make the long, treacherous walk home in the dark – a prospect that would give any Canadian parent a nervous breakdown. Thankfully, Free The Children is working with the community to build another two buildings to provide enough classrooms for all of the children to go to class during the day, and walk home in the daylight.

Around this time Angelita and Eli explained the backbone of the Free The Children’s Adopt A Village philosophy: the partnership. Communities seeking help must provide 10% of the project cost as capital, building supplies or labour. This ensures they are invested in and committed to the project that they will be responsible for once the organization has left. In traditional Kichwan fashion, the community tends to come together in a ‘minga’, a volunteer work party, to accomplish the work at hand. We saw this first hand as Kichwan women, dressed in their long skirts, colourful shawls, and elegant hats lugged stacks of ceiling boards up the stairs. The project superintendent added that the community would soon meet to decide where the next building would go in. The community’s involvement in decision making is crucial to ensuring the efforts are being directed where they are needed.

Caesar giving the boys details on the construction methods of the new school.

Caesar giving the boys details on the construction methods of the new school.

Dom showing the Grade Six class where we are from, where we currently are, and where we are going.

Dom showing the Grade Six class where we are from, where we currently are, and where we are going.

The kids surround Babar, amazed to see such a big bike way up the hill at their school.

The kids surround Babar, amazed to see such a big bike way up the hill at their school.

The obedient kids clearing the way for takeoff.

The obedient kids clearing the way for takeoff.

A shot of some of the kids, teachers, and local community leaders one of the school yards.

A shot of some of the kids, teachers, and local community leaders one of the school yards.

2. Empowerment: The second community was the first in the region in which Free The Children got involved. The school is now in full swing, and Free The Children was recently able to provide the community with running water to eliminate the need for families to collect water from contaminated streams running off the surrounding farmland. In this community, Angelita runs a women’s group on Thursdays in the school’s lunchroom. Even though it was Wednesday, some of the girls and women came around to show us how they make ‘facas,’ using the traditional Inca technique. A ‘faca’ is a hair wrap that has other names and other uses, and thanks to Free The Children the women now have access to broader markets to sell their products and earn an income necessary to keep their kids in school instead of working for the family. Maybe the most inspiring part of the women’s group was hearing that they are taught about women’s rights and self-confidence, and the path to becoming strong, independent women.

A beautiful story emerged from this community that showed how the program has taken hold, and empowered the community to better itself. A few years ago, the community approached the organization asking for help in building another schoolroom. Unfortunately, Free The Children was unable to fund the project at the time, and apologetically told the community leaders. The leaders then rephrased their question, and informed Free The Children that they had in fact raised all of the money for the new building, and were seeking help with logistics and planning. Seeing how beneficial the schools had become, the community had come together and looked inwards to make additional improvements instead of expecting the foreign organization to solve their problems for them. That is the change that Free The Children works to achieve with all their projects, and to see it shine so brightly was incredibly heart warming.

We were treated to a lesson in traditional Inca 'faca' making at the Women's Club in San Miguel.

We were treated to a lesson in traditional Inca 'faca' making at the Women's Club in San Miguel.

The Alaskentina Boys with the Kichwa Girls in their beautifully colourful clothing. Angelita, the heart of the Women's Club, can be seen in the back row leaning against the door frame.

The Alaskentina Boys with the Kichwa Girls in their beautifully colourful clothing. Angelita, the heart of the Women's Club, can be seen in the back row leaning against the door frame.

Our wonderful guide Eli speaking with the girls, somewhat apprehensive about riding Dom's bike!

Our wonderful guide Eli speaking with the girls, somewhat apprehensive about riding Dom's bike!

And they're off!

And they're off!

3. Community Commitment: The third community has only recently partnered with Free The Children and the work to expand the existing school is just beginning. The new building is well underway though, and as we were arriving late in the afternoon, Eli and Angelita had expected the workers to have gone home. However, when we arrived, the foreman and handful of other workers were still hard at work, shivering in the cold mountain air after a flash hailstorm. Like the previous community, these workers understood the value in their work and were committed to completing the project so that their children, their neighbours, their friends would have a school.

The early evening sun came out for the workers who were working long hours in the chilly breeze.

The early evening sun came out for the workers who were working long hours in the chilly breeze.

We spent a day with two amazing people who work diligently to better the lives of those who need the help. We witnessed countless other remarkable children, mothers, fathers, teachers, and principals living their daily lives which was now easier thanks to the work of Free The Children. We finished the day with many questions answered, while many more would come to us lying in bed and sitting on the bike. The experience was incredibly powerful and will unquestionably be long lasting. Thank you to Free The Children: we are truly impressed with your work and extremely grateful that we chose your organization to support along the course of our journey.

Ben and Dom say goodbye to Eli in Riobamba.

Ben and Dom say goodbye to Eli in Riobamba.

Yesterday we carved our way down from the chilly highlands towards the coast. We had a new appreciation for the small villages perched on the hillsides, and we reflected on all we had seen and learnt the day before. The roads were good and the traffic was light, and we made it to Huaquillas, in the South West corner of the country by late afternoon.

Today, as we set foot and wheel in Peru, we are poised to surpass 22,000km travelled since leaving the Alberta foothills on July 13th. As we inch towards Ushuaia, so too do we inch closer to our goal of raising $22,000 for the inspiring organization with immeasurable impact that we witnessed first hand on Wednesday. Many of you have generously donated, and for that we thank you. If you haven’t donated, and you are able to do so, please follow the ‘Donate Now!’ link above: the money raised doesn’t just buy bricks and concrete, it provides the opportunity for eager communities to envision their future, employ their people, and enlighten their children for generations to come.

Mind the Gap

We left Panama House B&B with a small contingent of other Stahlratte-bound riders. Our ride to Carti, Panama was fairly uneventful, but was certainly highlighted by the incredible road from the highway to the coast through the San Blas Hills. We were treated to a well-paved road winding through the steep twisting hills, something we haven’t seen much of up until now on our journey; most of the mountainous roads have been washed out dirt and gravel roads. The slow hairpin turns led us to an alternating view of wide-open vistas of perfectly green wilderness, the occasional ranch or herd of livestock, and dense jungle bush that towered over the road.

We arrived to the port about twenty minutes late for the Captains 11:00 A.M. timing. This isn't the army though, right? What's the worse that could happen! We quickly unloaded all of our luggage off the bikes and watched as a few of the Kuna indigenous people hurried back and forth, carrying all of our possessions to the little putt-putts that would take us and our things to the Stahlratte, which was anchored a few hundred metres offshore.

The Stahlratte herself was soon alongside the concrete pier, and Captain Ludwig directed a fine crew from behind his winch that lifted the bikes one at a time on to the vessel. Built in Holland in 1903, the boat measures 126 feet in length and easily accepted its load of 14 motorcycles. Now, we could breathe. We made it.

After an evening spent swimming and relaxing on one of the nearby islands, we 'set sail' Friday morning with an additional few passengers on board - bikeless backpackers catching a lift to the southern continent. By lunch we were diving into the beer fridge, flipping off the gunwales, and rope swinging from the same winch that had lifted the bikes aboard. Playtime continued through Saturday; snorkeling through corals, free diving to the anchor, and swimming in the warm bioluminescent water once the sun had long since faded. Along with another guitarist, Dom and Tym took the opportunity to treat a crowd to some old favourites from the 90s and early 2000s.

The boat was often visited by local Kuna people in their hollowed out canoes and hand-carved paddles to deliver lobster, octopus, drinks and ice - obviously there is a good relationship between Captain Ludwig and the indigenous people, helped along with a few greenbacks... We thoroughly enjoyed our time off the pavement, and gained lots of valuable insight into the lives of the other riders on board. It became quite apparent that five months was fast for our trip, though all but one of the other riders were well seasoned with the time to permit their lengthy adventures and probably deeper pockets! We decided we liked our trip - we're young and impatient and the constant deadlines suit our thirst for adventure. Sure it would have been nice to spend more than a night in some of these areas, but for us that wasn't in the books. Anyway, it's the adventure in your days, and not the days in your adventure that count! That's what we tell ourselves anyway...

Sunday morning we were rudely awoken at the break of dawn by the big, old, inefficient and incessant diesel engine. Bakataka-bakataka-bakataka-bakataka... the four stroke, four cylinder 88 litre engine shook us to the bone from our cabin adjacent to the hot engine room. Far from seasoned sailors, we (mostly Ben and Dom) felt the ups and downs of the swollen seas deep in our bellies and the day was mostly spent trying to keep the First Mate's rum cocktail from the previous night below deck. 

While we suffered on board, back on land the dubious Daríen Gap was sitting in its mysterious, dangerous, and impassable glory. The stretch of land was settled at various times with disastrous results, and is now only inhabited by the Kuna people. It serves not only as a barrier for transportation, but also for diseases such as foot and mouth, which have not been able to cross this border. The gap is also a valuable environmental sanctuary, which biologists long to preserve. Time will tell if the road will be completed, though it is certain it will bring much controversy as the completion of the Pan-American Highway would mean a choice for infrastructure and commerce over rainforest destruction and indigenous preservation. And then there's the drug smuggling. Needless to say, we were happy skirting the wild narrows of the Darien Gap aboard the trusted Stahlratte.

By late morning on Monday we were on our final approach into Cartagena where tall skyscrapers sparkled in the bright sun, towering above the old stone-walled city founded in 1533. Our arrival coincided with the signing of a historic peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels, ending a 52-year conflict. Roads were closed down, police lined the streets, and alcohol was banned from the old city centre during the ceremony which saw the government welcome the FARCs to democracy as a political party in return for a promise that the rebel group would turn in their weapons and move their fight to Congress. What amazing luck to be in Colombia, not to mention Cartagena, for such a momentous occasion. Several heads of state from surrounding countries and members of the UN were in attendance for the signing, and we even caught a glimpse of John Kerry strolling through a park, surrounded by sunglasses and earpieces, on his way to the big event.

The following day we made our way back to the Stahlratte where the immigration process was completed before bakataka'ing for half an hour to where we would unload. In the hot sun we winched the bikes off the deck, and manhandled the luggage on to the dock. Back and forth we went between the shipyard and the dock, all the bikers bustling past each other with loads of gear, like ants carrying scraps of leaves and grass back to the colony. It was hot work and we were once again ready to get back on the bikes and put in some miles. In true Alaskentina fashion we were feeling right for time, with only 18 days to make it almost 5000km to Cusco, Peru. And then we received the wonderful news that we could visit our Free The Children programs in Ecuador, and meet the kids that you, our readers, have been so helpful in raising money for. The date was set for October 5th, and the city was Riobamba, about mid-way down Ecuador. We had work to do!

Our first day in Colombia was a pleasure. The roads treated us well and we made good time. Colombia picked up where Central America had left off, with infinite agricultural potential and a lot of hard workers that live off the land. The living is tough, and the many faces we saw, though concealing their age could do little to obscure the hardships they had endured. Their houses of mud seemed to struggle at times to stay standing, however their doorless frames, like their hearts, remained open for all to see.

By early evening we were just leaving the small town of El Viajano when we spotted a small hotel that seemed open for business. The building stuck out from the rest of the village, shiny and new, and the man in charge was proud to show us around. A slight oddity presented itself rather quickly when we noticed that the hotel was still under construction! Some rooms didn't have beds yet, ours were still unfinished: the windows and doors lacked frames and the mattresses were still wrapped in plastic. We were each treated to our own room, fully equipped with AC and a bathroom for less than a tent fee in North America. Perfect! As we went to bed a lighting storm brewed off in the distance, low in the sky, as stars flickered above the dark clouds that lit up often with sharp flashes of searing light.

Leaving the hotel in the morning we quickly began our ascent into the prominent Colombian high country after passing a motorcycle vendor ladling milk out of his large aluminum containers, a cart of pigs towed behind a wobbly motorcycle, and a man on the roadside holding up a hand-sized puppy for sale. Once on the steep roads, we followed their tight path, made more treacherous by the continuous convoy of semi-trucks and loads of motorcycles weaving in and out of place along the one-lane highway. Blind corners were a common adversary in the battle to pass the long 18-wheeled vehicles that occupied both lanes around the curves. We fought our way up into the fog, and as the temperature dropped so too did our average speed, giving us some brief opportunities to peer out over the endless green landscape and many inaccessible ranches that were sprayed across the valleys and slopes. Our travels took us down again along the muddy waters of Rio Cauca, next to which the untameable springs poured out of hoses plugged strategically into the rock. These hoses sprayed water in all directions, and most of them were unmanned but before long the secret was unveiled as motorcycles and semi-trailers were pulled over into makeshift lanes where the hoses were put to use cleaning those vehicles that opted for a wash. It was quite inspiring to witness the resourcefulness of these people who use whatever offerings the land gives them towards making a living.

We climbed for a while again and then equally steep hills and tight turns carried us back down again, into the once infamous city of Medellin. At one point in the 1980's the city was considered by some to be the most dangerous city in the world, however through consistent efforts to improve the safety and prosperity of the people, it was recently recognized as one of the most innovative cities in the world and has seen a dramatic decrease in homicides and poverty. What we noticed was a lively valley draped in thousands of red brick buildings, homes and shops for the 3.7 million inhabitants of the old city, and utter chaos on the streets as swarms of motorcycles split lanes, rode the shoulders and darted through the heavy traffic. We did our best to fit in with the small 250s buzzing along through their daily commutes though our big bikes and wide loads made the experience all the more interesting!

We made it out of the Medellin area unscathed despite a couple of Howie scares: A loose rear rotor bolt locked up the KLR's rear wheel in the heart of the busy city, and a pressurized gas tank blew a stream of fuel two feet in the air at one of our fill ups. Other than those oddities, the bikes handled the day’s roads beautifully and sometime around 5 we stopped for the night at a lonely Hotel & Restaurant perched on the steep hills of the Colombian countryside. Watching our delicious meals cook over a long open fire trench was a treat, and we slept soundly in the mountain air, no fans or air conditioning required at these temperate elevations. 

Feeling confident in our progress since the Stahlratte, we planned a short day today to the mountain town of Salento. Despite accidentally splitting up in Pereira, the one-way capital of Colombia, we regrouped and made it to our hilltop hostel by lunchtime. Dom and Tym braved the elements for a three-hour horseback tour of the local waterfall and the boys' belongings are now safely tucked away in one of the many tents that overlook the coffee rich slopes below, currently being treated to a healthy watering after a lengthy dry spell.

With Riobamba and Cusco calling our names we have our work cut out for us over the next two weeks. As always, we are enjoying the ride, the surprises, and the people who continue to welcome us with eyes that smile and ears that forgive our lacking Spanish vocabularies. Next week: stories from the children, and our efforts to make it there in time!

The San Blas Islands from above. We played and swam in these waters for a couple of days before sailing to South America.

The San Blas Islands from above. We played and swam in these waters for a couple of days before sailing to South America.

The Stahlratte in its natural habitat.

The Stahlratte in its natural habitat.

Unloading Babar on to South American soil!

Unloading Babar on to South American soil!

Team Alaskentina with Team Stahlratte before parting ways in Cartagena. 

Team Alaskentina with Team Stahlratte before parting ways in Cartagena. 

Rio Cauca and the bridge that took us across its muddy waters. 

Rio Cauca and the bridge that took us across its muddy waters. 

Officer Luis Miguel helped diagnose the loose rotor bolt - all in a day's work for Medellin's finest.

Officer Luis Miguel helped diagnose the loose rotor bolt - all in a day's work for Medellin's finest.

The view from the Popa Nova Hotel in Santa Barbara, Colombia.

The view from the Popa Nova Hotel in Santa Barbara, Colombia.

Our bikes enjoying the sunset in Santa Barbara, Colombia.

Our bikes enjoying the sunset in Santa Barbara, Colombia.

This long open ended woodstove heated about a dozen pots and pans, and kept us warm in the cool air of the Colombian mountains.

This long open ended woodstove heated about a dozen pots and pans, and kept us warm in the cool air of the Colombian mountains.

Sea Bound

San Juan Del Sur provided a refreshing taste of young travellers exploring one of Nicaragua’s best surfing beaches and a world-class late-night burrito stand that had us coming back for more. Ometepe was a wonderful place, and it was an adventure just to get there on the busy ferries. The bikes were squeezed in beside stubborn trucks and pushy 4x4s but were safely delivered to the island.

Ometepe Island is the tenth largest fresh water island in the world, and has a distinct shape created by the two volcanoes that form the land mass. One road circles the island in a figure eight and about half of it is paved. The fertile volcanic soil supports rich jungle forests and farmland, the latter crucial to the livelihood of the island’s residents. Like on the mainland, cattle roam the streets with little concern for the traffic. Chickens cluck and skit as they cross the road, though none told us why. Big pigs and little pigs prod around on their pointed hooves, ducking under fences and along ditches, equally prone to darting out onto the roadway. We found a peaceful hostel run by María and her family where we shared a cozy room and enjoyed several meals, large in size and flavour, each one highlighted by delicious fried plantains.

We wanted to see the Waterfall of San Ramón on Volcán Maderas, so after an energizing breakfast we headed off counter clockwise around the smaller volcano and opted to ride our bikes up the first two kilometres of the four kilometre path, not knowing what it held in store for us. In hindsight we should have expected the hugely steep, single track, rutted out path, but we didn’t even think about it. As we got closer to the dark clouds that dared us upwards with a light rain, we navigated banked corners paved with thin flat stones that were slippery with the light coat of water. Feathering the clutch up this path, it was a constant battle between maintaining speed in second gear, and avoiding obstacles in first. We parked under the cover of leafy apricot trees that protected us slightly from the rain but created its own hazard, namely falling apricots that Tym discovered with his head.

So we began our hike up to the waterfall and it didn’t take long before our lack of recent cardiovascular exertion became painfully troublesome and we started to question our decision to hike up Machu Picchu over five days in mid-October. Soon we were absorbed by the narrow jungle path, the sunlight splashing through the thick canopy on to the murky forest floor littered with various decomposing fruits and plants offering a peculiarly sweet smell. At the end of a particularly steep section that required us to climb up big muddy rocks we arrived at the waterfall met by the sun, which had timed our arrival perfectly. The waterfall had snuck up on us, offering only a whisper despite the 50m drop, and while it is light in volume it is full of splendour as the stream trickles and mists overtop of the cliff, cascading down the vertical green-dotted wall on which vines and ferns are washed in the fresh water fed by the lagoon sitting atop the volcano. The water was revitalising and after showering at the foot of the falls we descended the volcano; down the narrow jungle path and down the steep winding road that, now dry, was an easy ride coasting down in neutral.

We treated ourselves to a heavy snack at a wonderful lakeside restaurant that also serves as a hostel and an English-language school. Funded by the profits of the business ventures, the school continues to build new schoolrooms out of recycled plastic gathered on the island. Our next and final stop for the day was the natural spring water pools called Ojo De Agua. The day had grew gloomy and the pool was full of tourists from near and far as many local Nicaraguans had come to the island to celebrate the country’s Independence Day, but we still had a nice dip enriched by a handful of howler monkeys that showed up, swinging between the branches, yet keeping their howling to a minimum.

After a few days of standing still we were once again eager to continue the journey southwards and we left the hostel early Sunday morning. We said goodbye to María who had been a wonderful presence in the restaurant over the past several nights. As we left she showed her infectious smile once again, her teeth lined with slivers of gold and gave us each a kiss on the cheek. She must have said a prayer as she pointed to the heavens while uttering some Spanish before sending us on our way.

In an attempt to catch the 7:30 ferry we showed up to the port in decent time at about 7:15. However, after some confusion as to why the ticket office wasn’t open until 8, it became clear that we were at the wrong port and had to backtrack about 15 minutes. The race was on. It was us against the cattle and the pigs, the chickens and the dogs, the speed bumps and the beestings. We got to the town, turned down the first street and got to the bottom. Good news: ferry is still here. Bad news: it’s way over there! Back up the bumpy street and down the next one. The few workers onboard were in the final stages of organizing their ropes and checking their knots but the rope barrier at the ramp was down so on we rode. It wasn’t smooth, but it worked. We squirmed into place scraping our mirrors against an immovable truck on one side, brushing our luggage against mopeds on the other side. Two of us had our bikes tied into place but Tym, inaccessible to the crew, was asked to sit on his bike for the duration of the hour-long ride.

We sputtered back to the mainland and upon disembarking we were soon on our way south once again, and in less than an hour we were crossing into Costa Rica. After a passport stamp, exit documents for the bikes, and a small exit tax we were cleared to leave Nicaragua and began the process of entering Costa Rica: a long maze of photocopies, offices, waiting rooms and line ups. Despite the long wait times, all of our documents were in order and the process went smoothly. Leaving the border we were struck by the mass of temporary housing in raggy tents that were clustered just south of Nicaragua. Rumours and a brief Google search suggest a surge of African refugees attempting to reach the U.S. have bottlenecked at various borders in Central America. Whatever the reason, it was certainly gut wrenching to see, and even more so knowing there are currently far more extensive refugee crises across the globe.

That afternoon we planned on reaching Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast, and were making good time until we hit a line of traffic that put the border crossing to shame. We weaved in and out of the lurching vehicles and relished the rare and short-lived stretches of open road between log jams. Costa Rica was nice, and on the surface more put together than Nicaragua and the other Central American countries that we had travelled over the past ten days. Hay bales were evenly stacked and wrapped along the roads that were home to fewer stray dogs and loose livestock. The ranches seemed more prosperous as the buildings seemed less likely to fall over and the fences more likely to stay standing. Of course there were still a lot of poverty-stricken areas, where patched-together sheet metal wall encircled dark rooms as innocent children still laughed and played, living in the present, blissfully unaware of their difficult futures. As our first and only afternoon in Costa Rica came to a close we were treated to distant hills of green so pure and so alive that even under the dying light, black clouds, and thick mist they held on to their colour and allure.

Monday morning we were on the road by 6:15, the hard rubber of our tires whirring down the pavement towards Panama, and our final border crossing in North America. The thick Costa Rican forest was interrupted occasionally by encounters with the sea, the heavy ocean air carrying smells of fish, seaweed and salt right off the water and into our helmets. The smells were accompanied by stunning views of waves crashing onto the near shore, while distant hazy hills held up the growing clouds. We rode past short animated hills that were full of texture colour; leafy greens building up towards sharp ridges and slipping into steep valleys which held pockets of wispy white clouds only visible early in the morning through the day’s first streaks of sun that cast wavering shadows on the road ahead. In contrast to the previous day, the distant hills struggled to hold on to their colour under darkening clouds and thickening sea air. We passed small hillocks on top of which sat stilted homes for the Costa Rican rich, the clean structures staring towards the coast, boldly taunting the ever imminent storm… it is rainy season after all!

Approaching the Panamanian border we continued to ride in our t-shirts, not knowing whether we would bare the brunt of the looming weather. But fortune sometimes favours the brave, and in this case the rain was no more than a sprinkle. We rode through endless miles of palm tree plantations, watching lines of the tropical trees extending far into the hills on our left, and towards the coast on our right; each line a momentary convergence of the dark emptiness that occupies the space between the arrow-straight human-made rows of the thick trunks. The Costa Rican roads had also been notably absent of a military presence, as you might expect from a country without a military. Costa Rica abolished their military in 1948 following the end of the Civil War, and a year later passed legislation banning a full-time standing army, putting an end to the country’s previously held military character. Costa Rica does, however, maintain a national police force, border control personnel, Coast Guard and other para-military organizations in order to maintain internal peace.

Leaving Costa Rica was another blur of paperwork, another test of patience and another hours-long struggle to keep important papers and documents tucked away and zipped up. There was another presence of refugees, mostly sitting and waiting – what more could they do? Mothers held their wriggling infant children up in front of white sheets so that impersonal cameras behind thick glass could take photos for temporary identification documents. Seeing their faces that held onto looks of boredom and helplessness put our border battles into perspective and all things considered it was a breeze.

Canadian OH&S specialists would have had heart attacks witnessing some of the construction practices, though, as unharnessed workers leaned over gaps 20 feet in the air to weld steel rebar brackets on to a concrete wall, holding the welding mask in one hand while showering our bikes in sparks with the other. The spectacle was a nice break from the boring lines, and we shared a smile with the workers on more than one occasion.

Upon entering Panama we were pleased that the rumours of the two-lane divided highway were true and our pace and morale were boosted as we approached the long awaited and much anticipated sail boat. Continuing to tempt fate against the capricious weather we wore only t-shirts, our jackets strapped on to the top of our luggage to hold down a growing number of loose items. We faced some light rain which stings against bare skin at 110 kph, but the drops never materialized into anything substantial.

As luck would have it, Panamanian infrastructure officials had decided to time the year’s major roadwork projects to coincide with the Alaskentina Adventure and our two-lanes quickly became one and we were directed back and forth between alternating sides of the highway, shared with the oncoming traffic. The minor irritation wasn’t cause for concern and we clipped along the Pan-American watching the varying views with absolute satisfaction.

The Panamanian mountains run more or less East-West along the country, paralleling our travels. Near the Costa Rican border, the Cordillera de Talamaca range stands tall above the jungle. Void of any light, the spiny ridge lay dark against the bright overcast sky that held tightly on to the afternoon light. Loosely constituted clouds refused to leave the black slopes throughout the afternoon, but their light nature was easily pierced by the mighty rock summits. This wonderful distant view was at times enhanced by a bright green foreground in the form of pristine pastures dotted with hungry livestock.

We met a curious character at one of our stops along the way. An American man, 58 years old, with a sleeveless shirt, loosely worn necktie and a beard more frazzled than ours had parked his little bicycle with six-inch diameter wheels, a garden chair affixed to the top in which sat a small dirty curly-furred dog. He warned us of impending doom in Panama City. “Not to scare you guys, but they will kill you down there. All three of ya. And the canal? It’s contaminated with nuclear waste and the steam will burn your skin. Nobody will tell you about it, they don’t want you to know. Seriously. Don’t go down there.”

He repeated the dire warnings for a few minutes, trying to convince us to alter our travel plans northward back into Costa Rica. We politely tapered the conversation to a close and then continued on our way giving little weight to the man’s dubious claims. The reduced two-lanes carried us through the afternoon into the coastal town of Playa de Lajas where we opted to stay in what could most aptly be described as a yellow concrete bunker. The incredible sunset lit up the beach that continued to play host to crashing waves throughout the night.

In the morning the rush had subsided, and all that was left was a few hours into Panama City. We backtracked along the narrow road out of Playa de Lajas, under and beside the broad waxy leaves characteristic to the tropics of Central America. Back on the highway our journey took us up and down soft undulating foothills that continued to support the constant mass of trees that grew steadily into the distant mountains. We were treated to an equally picturesque view of Panama’s spine that had regained some colour since the blackness of the day before and browns now penetrated the sea of green.

We were stopped at one Police checkpoint, the first such instance since the beginning of the trip, and presented our passports and our bikes’ Panama Papers that were all in order. The officers could not have been friendlier and the stop lasted no more than a couple minutes. The final leg into Panama City took us across the mighty canal that was notably free of mist – toxic or otherwise.

The U.S. built canal was completed in 1914 and continues to serve as an invaluable transportation line between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, eliminating the need to take the dangerous voyage around the violent waters of Cape Horn. The construction efforts faced many obstacles including mountainous terrain, troubled equipment, and yellow fever and malaria killing many workers and scaring away many more. Each of the obstacles were overcome and the canal’s design evolved over time, engineers settling on a series of three locks, lifting vessels up to 85 feet above sea-level, and the man-made Gatún Lake reducing overall construction requirements on the north end of the project.

We found a perfect place to stay, the PanamaHouse B&B, which was recommended to us by none other than Captain Ludwig himself, the man who will steer us through the San Blas islands on the Stahlratte in the coming days. We will take the opportunity while in Panama City to catch up on laundry of mounting urgency, oil changes and other personal and motorcycle items in order to waste little time in Colombia upon arrival. Once on South American soil we will hustle towards Cusco, Peru where our five-night trek to Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca ruins, begins on October 17th.

Isla de Ometepe as seen from the mainland. Vulcan Concepción, on the left, is still active having erupted 25 times since the 1880's, the latest in 2010. On the left sits the smaller Vulcan Maderas which is not active; a lake sits in the mountain top crater.

Isla de Ometepe as seen from the mainland. Vulcan Concepción, on the left, is still active having erupted 25 times since the 1880's, the latest in 2010. On the left sits the smaller Vulcan Maderas which is not active; a lake sits in the mountain top crater.

Concepción on approach to the island seen through a rare break in the clouds.

Concepción on approach to the island seen through a rare break in the clouds.

The San Ramón waterfall is as tall as it is spectacular.

The San Ramón waterfall is as tall as it is spectacular.

Jungle Dom in his natural habitat climbing down from the falls.

Jungle Dom in his natural habitat climbing down from the falls.

Howie taking a break on the pedestrian footpath along the island road.

Howie taking a break on the pedestrian footpath along the island road.

A last shot of Concepción with the typical clouds that envelop the summit.

A last shot of Concepción with the typical clouds that envelop the summit.

Leaving the island we squeeze on to the ferry. Two bikes to the right of the big truck, and one to the left. Dom can be seen sporting the mandatory life jacket.

Leaving the island we squeeze on to the ferry. Two bikes to the right of the big truck, and one to the left. Dom can be seen sporting the mandatory life jacket.

Dom patiently hearing out the 'volunteer' border crossing assistants as we crossed into Costa Rica.

Dom patiently hearing out the 'volunteer' border crossing assistants as we crossed into Costa Rica.

Our yellow shack we called home our first night in Panama.

Our yellow shack we called home our first night in Panama.

This beautiful sunset captured a lifetime of beauty in a few short minutes.

This beautiful sunset captured a lifetime of beauty in a few short minutes.

No caption required.

No caption required.

A tight squeeze in beside our Panama City hostel where we managed a few oil changes among other maintenance items. A few other bikes have taken refuge here in preparation for the San Blas crossing.

A tight squeeze in beside our Panama City hostel where we managed a few oil changes among other maintenance items. A few other bikes have taken refuge here in preparation for the San Blas crossing.

On the Pan American Express

So we did wake up in Los Amates, and despite the mixed reviews of the town’s safety we really enjoyed the atmosphere of the busy market street, bustling with activity, noise and traffic. It was incredibly humid as you might expect, so the air-conditioner in our room was a welcome bonus, but as we packed our bikes sweat poured off our faces and the cool, fresh feeling was just a memory. We left Los Amates en route to Honduras along the well-paved highway, passing a steady stream of semi-trucks also heading south between an equally consistent flow of the massive machines heading north. Unlike Mexico, the trucks in Guatemala have not been helpful in signalling to us when it was safe to pass, forcing us to be a bit more tentative in sniffing out our opportunities by slipping back and forth across the yellow line that has so faithfully followed us (for the most part) over the past two months. As the line sped past our feet, alternating between long lines and quick dashes, we watched hundreds of acres of Chiquita banana trees fly past, bunches of bananas hanging from the trees, bagged to protect them from hungry wildlife.

Exiting Guatemala was straightforward, signing the bikes out of the country at one booth and signing ourselves out five kilometres later. Shortly after getting our passports stamped in the cool comfort of the border guard’s small office, we arrived at the Honduran border where things got interesting to say the least. We lined up at the first window to have our passports stamped and fingerprints scanned before sliding over to the second window to undergo the motorcycle importation process, all the while doubled over trying to absorb as much of the sweet cold air that seeped out of the guards’ windows to help ease the discomfort of the unrelenting humidity, made worse by the Goretex riding pants and high riding boots that could not be as quickly and conveniently strapped on to our luggage as our jackets. After importing each bike, the guard held 60 Honduran Lempiras ransom and sent us over the border and into the first Honduran town to get a significant stack of photocopies in order finalize the border crossing process. The young guards at the gate signalled us through without so much as a look or a nod, nevermind checking our passports. We eventually found the pharmacy that apparently owned the only photocopier within a reasonable distance of the border, after navigating down dirt roads, and through a narrow 6-inch gap between a big gravel pile and high cobblestone stretch of road under construction.

Of course the photocopier broke about 10 pages into the required 45 page job we had sprung on the young lady, but the room was cooled and a couple of great little kids kept us entertained playing with drums and toy cars all while laughing and smiling at these new faces that looked a bit different than their own. We doubled back along the bumpy road, back through the gates and lined back up at the second window. With a smile the man in the chilly room behind the small window handed us back our 60 Lempiras and gave us the all clear to enter his country. Back through the gates, this time showing our passports to the guards, we were in our third country in as many days and feeling good about our progress after the Puebla episode.

Crossing over many bridges that spanned clear creeks and muddy rivers, descending off the eastern slopes of the jungle hills, we watched cattle drink from the running water and passed old concrete pillars, long having since been required to support a bridge, stand moss-covered disrupting the flow of water that trickled towards the Caribbean Sea. We could catch quick glimpses of the lush shallow valleys that held the jungle run off, offering enough of a view to spark wonder in what lay beyond the most distant, dark and rock framed turns in the streams.

The Caribbean Sea then presented itself, at first beyond the buffer of gated hotels and fence-in properties, one little blue peak at a time. We stopped when it opened up, bordering the road beneath a short but vertical cliff, at a snack shack standing on crooked stilts under a tinder-dry thatched roof that channelled the cool salty breeze as we ate a delicious breakfast from the kitchen that didn’t believe in menus. As we ate, the grey-blue water had only the slightest bit of movement, the small waves only frothing at the shore’s edge leaving the infinite remainder with the dented waxy finish that only gently disrupted water can offer, the sun glinting quickly and often off the surface, impossible to focus on, like spots in your vision once you close your eyes after looking at a light.

The morning had required us to alternate between jackets on and off, stopping periodically to adjust clothing as the rain stopped and started, but leaving our breakfast stop the sky had cleared and we rode along the ocean briefly enjoying the abundant beauty. We turned inland, stopping for a drink in San Pedro Sula, a surprising city, with a really American feel to it. While leaving the city, the rain started, and the roadside was once again occupied by cinder block homes with strings of colourful laundry sagging between a series of alternating anchors in dusty courtyards and alleyways. Seeing more pockets of prosperous and ‘Americanized’ communities, we were intrigued by the change that we hadn’t seen in Mexico and Guatemala.

Passing through the Honduran capital of Teguciga we noticed a distinct shift from San Pedro Sula. The streets were congested and dirty, black smoke pouring out of many of the vehicles that drove by our side. Passing by the Honduran Central Bank perfectly summed up the inequality that is so prevalent in this part of the world. The bank was a big pristine building with a team of labourers and groundkeepers sweeping and cleaning, dusting and washing, trimming and fixing. The prominent windows were highlighted by chrome coloured trim that reflected the sun’s bright rays. Adjacent to the high, gold pointed fence that surrounded the bank, make shift walls of sheet metal nailed to crooked posts gave shelter to families living on dirt floors. We passed this scene three times, in fact, as a missed turn took us for a loop around the city.

Nearing the end of the afternoon we momentarily contoured the edge of Lake Yojoa, catching brief glimpses of the lake, vegetated islands sharply breaking through the fog, the far shore barely visible under the dark sky giving off a mysterious aura. As tempting as it was to stop and spend a few days exploring the lake and the islands we pushed on, stopping a short while later just outside Siguatepque at Hotel Amercanito. It was cheap, run down and rough around the edges – a perfect Alaskentina spot. The guard dogs were cute and enticing at first, but after one bit Tymek in the hand, we decided not to play Rabies Russian Roulette and kept our distance. We went to a nearby restaurant for supper, and had a classic Honduran dish – deep fried fish without the hassle of any preparation… See the picture below! We then stopped by a little hut that sold beer bottles, and about half way through our beer we were told that we had to leave! It was Sunday and if the police saw us drinking we would get in trouble. Confused as to why we were served in the first place, and wondering if that law could possibly be true, we walked back to the hotel to finish our beers and kick our feet up for the rest of the night.

The next day, we made our way to the Nicaraguan border, riding a few hours along wide, sweeping turns up gentle slopes up and down the hills. We were back on track and rediscovering a rhythm, though it was slightly more fast paced than before. Howie was still thirsty for oil, but now that we were monitoring it closely it did not hamper progress and we were well on our way to Panama and our four-day vacation!

We got to the Nicraguan border around noon, unsure of what to expect after reading mixed reviews online. We were swarmed by people offering to help us through the lines and change our money as we laboriously stepped off our bikes, careful how we parked them on the sloped pavement. The disorganized arrangement of the Honduras check-out process was made easier by the gentleman who had started working for us. Ok, we’ll take it. Leaving Honduras was simple despite the long line up, but entering Nicaragua was a process. Fumigation, passports, fees, motorcycle importation, insurance and a toll were all taken care of along a circuitous path between different buildings and shacks. At one point our temperature was even taken! Maybe for Zika we thought…

We left the uncomfortably hot border crossing relieved that the process was over. It had easily been the most disorganized border crossing so far but had also been the quickest! Passing through small towns that punctuated the rural landscape of farmland, motorcycles and bicycles shared the road with cattle, pigs and donkeys. We were in Nicaragua, ticking off countries as fast as we could, feeling better and better about making it to Panama in time for our sailboat and decided we could have an early night and spend a few nights in Nicaragua, stopping to smell the roses. Esteli was the first town we came across, and we found a nice hostel with a courtyard big enough for our bikes. We spent the night wandering the town and chatting to some fellow travellers whom we shared the hostel with.

In the morning we took our time getting ready, a nice change from the early mornings that plagued us since Puebla. We had a short day, less than 200km to the beautiful colonial town of Granada. On the way we drove though flat plains that made for beautiful farmland. More free-range chickens, and more locally grown pigs wandered the roadside. More horses tethered by homemade bridles to tree trunks and fence posts with long lengths of twiney rope through the long thick grass. More cows with long drooping ears pinned to twisted pointed horns, following each other in lines along the ditch with sombrero-clad men whipping and prodding the big beasts with long knotted sticks. We were never too far from a town or settlement, and at one point came across a young kid riding a bike, clutching to the back of a big truck for a free ride. After the truck had to make a funny manoeuvre, he had to let go. Dom tried to pick him up but it didn’t quite work. Tym and Ben each had a turn pulling the youngster for about 15km, at one point reaching 70kph when the unorthodox passenger indicated he’d like to pass the truck that was slowing us down!

We continued to pass roadside vendors, wooden crates spilling over with lemons and limes and bounties of other melons and fruit until we reached Granada. Another early day! We had time to have a beer by the small pool and speak with a handful of Montrealers who ran the place. We wandered the streets, finding a nice restaurant which lost power minutes after we sat down. It didn't stop them from cooking a delicious meal that we ate, sharing a few bites with the street kids selling bracelets and necklaces.

We woke up slowly Granada, totally relaxed as we had an even shorter day planned. We packed our bikes in the street outside the hostel as an old man of many years and few teeth sat on his doorstep watching the process with a cigarette loosely held between his knuckly fingers. He watched us back out of the narrow gate, across the sidewalk and down the steep curb. He had a calm face, kind eyes and the beginnings of a gentle smile that curled up the corners of his mouth. He watched us a while, for at least two cigarettes, patiently observing the three of us load our gear without breaking his gaze. As we pulled away he gave us a two-finger salute, still half smiling and almost certainly reflecting on his youth those many years ago. We left him along with Granada behind us, watching them disappear into our small round mirrors as we made our way about 100 kilometers to San Juan Del Sur, a lively town known for parties and surfing.

Over the next few days we will surf in San Juan Del Sur and explore the Ometepe Island which sits in Lago Nicaragua in the southwest corner of the country. We plan on passing through Costa Rica quickly, getting in to Panama by September 19th to leave us plenty of time for unknown delays before we set sail on the 23rd and hop across the Carribbean Sea to South America.

Tym posing beside a tuc-tuc, the taxi in guatemala and honduras.

Tym posing beside a tuc-tuc, the taxi in guatemala and honduras.

Dom making the most of the A/C at the Guatemala-Honduras border office.

Dom making the most of the A/C at the Guatemala-Honduras border office.

The three bikes patiently waiting for the paperwork to get into Honduras. Dom still visible with his head soaking up the cool A/C breeze.

The three bikes patiently waiting for the paperwork to get into Honduras. Dom still visible with his head soaking up the cool A/C breeze.

we got lost trying to find the photocopier in honduras, so we turned around and sent tym back to the police checkpoint at the border to find out where exactly this infamous machine was located.

we got lost trying to find the photocopier in honduras, so we turned around and sent tym back to the police checkpoint at the border to find out where exactly this infamous machine was located.

This hardy photocopier just barely survived getting us through the border in Honduras.

This hardy photocopier just barely survived getting us through the border in Honduras.

Tym sitting outside the pharmacy in honduras and chatting with alejandra, whose english was the best we have come across in the past month! she goes to a bilingual school where they learn both spanish and english.  amazing!

Tym sitting outside the pharmacy in honduras and chatting with alejandra, whose english was the best we have come across in the past month! she goes to a bilingual school where they learn both spanish and english.  amazing!

Our first stop in Honduras. Breakfast in paradise.

Our first stop in Honduras. Breakfast in paradise.

The tropical view from our breakfast shack.

The tropical view from our breakfast shack.

Tym contemplating his dinner in Honduras. He made a point of asking before ordering if the fish was a fillet deep fried in batter, and he got a resounding 'yes'.  lost in translation i guess. (He switched plates with Dom seconds later)

Tym contemplating his dinner in Honduras. He made a point of asking before ordering if the fish was a fillet deep fried in batter, and he got a resounding 'yes'.  lost in translation i guess. (He switched plates with Dom seconds later)

us and our waiter at the honduran fish restaurant.  clearly another case of "lost in translation".

us and our waiter at the honduran fish restaurant.  clearly another case of "lost in translation".

Our bikes parked in front of the hotel americanito.  20 bucks a night with one of us sleeping on the ground. Beware of the deformed mattresses, cold water, and the over aggressive guard dogs. perfect!

Our bikes parked in front of the hotel americanito.  20 bucks a night with one of us sleeping on the ground. Beware of the deformed mattresses, cold water, and the over aggressive guard dogs. perfect!

Getting fumigated in Nicaragua.

Getting fumigated in Nicaragua.

The Fumigator Gun looks like it was acquired from the set of Ghost Busters. 

The Fumigator Gun looks like it was acquired from the set of Ghost Busters. 

Volcan Concepcion in its natural state under a thin cloud.

Volcan Concepcion in its natural state under a thin cloud.

the boy getting a free ride.  he held on for 15km with speeds reaching 70 km/h.  what a beauty.

the boy getting a free ride.  he held on for 15km with speeds reaching 70 km/h.  what a beauty.

in granada, the power went out in our restaurant, so the waiter gave us a nice candle.  of course, tymek rolled up a paper napkin, soaked it in the melted wax and threw it in, turning the brightness up just tad.

in granada, the power went out in our restaurant, so the waiter gave us a nice candle.  of course, tymek rolled up a paper napkin, soaked it in the melted wax and threw it in, turning the brightness up just tad.

Dom in line for the best burrito in San Juan Del Sur.

Dom in line for the best burrito in San Juan Del Sur.

The beach at San Juan Del Sur: a perfect spot to relax with a beer and enjoy the water.

The beach at San Juan Del Sur: a perfect spot to relax with a beer and enjoy the water.

Problem Solved, Onwards to Guatemala!

Last Sunday we went to sleep confident that friendly strangers would extend a helping hand come Monday morning, but we had now idea just how lucky we would get. We showed up to Kawasaki Puebla for 10 o’clock on Monday, when it was due to open. About 15 minutes later, a beautiful BMW GS650 cruised down the sidewalk and off hopped a kind-looking man, mid-forties with a twinkle in his eye. Dom had ridden his bike to the shop; Ben had walked. The man rattled off a sentence in Spanish, incomprehensible to the boys, but we soon figured out he was asking what was wrong with the bike. Good – he seems willing to help! We explained the situation and as he fidgeted around for the right keys to open various locks that kept the dealership safe, he muttered to himself as we searched for words in Spanish to ease the communication. 

Upon entering the shop we were stunned to see an old KLR in the back corner, a 1994! How lucky was this. “Puedo pagar por esta?” The grammar wasn’t perfect but he understood that Ben would be willing to pay for that one. He explained that it belonged to a customer but he would call him and ask if only he could find the number, jotted down somewhere on one of the giant cardboard boxes, used to ship motorcycles, that lined the shop walls.

This man was named Carlos, and as he was flipping boxes over and running back and forth to stacks of paper on a shelving unit, in walked his amigo Alberto. Alberto, or Beto, spoke good English, so his timing was perfect. He explained that the secretary usually working for Carlos hadn’t been around recently, explaining the unorthodox filing system. Carlos and Alberto gave us their undivided attention as we explained that we would like to get a used KLR, and swap the engines out, to avoid issues with VINs, registration, and importation documents. A bike in Puebla would be ideal, and we explained that time was of the essence in order for us to catch our sailboat to Colombia on September 23rd.

"If we find an engine,” Ben asked nervously, “will you be able to help us with the work?”

“Que dise, Beto?” Carlos asked the translator. Without hesitation Beto responded on behalf of Carlos, “Yes we will help. We will take the bike to my business.” 

Not sure what his business was, or what credentials these strangers had for fixing motorcycles, it seemed like we were off to a good start. We left them alone to call their contacts in Puebla and scour Mexican Kijijis and EBays for the replacement bike.

By the late afternoon, our two amigos had found a 2006 KLR in Mexico City just an hour away. Beto generously offered to drive Ben in the following morning to facilitate the transaction and inspect the bike. Amazing. Later that evening, the boys towed Howie through the city, following Beto on a convoluted convoy to his business, which just happened to be an auto shop! Carlos showed up a short while later, arriving on a scooter this time and wearing a Canadian Tuxedo! A good omen indeed. The two of them spent the night taking the bike apart to investigate the problem. Once the top half of the engine was off and apart, the extensive damage was on full display. “Ya valio madres!” 

The direct translation is uncertain and likely inappropriate for the blog, but they conveyed that the damage was bad. And that catch phrase was a common theme over the next few days. There was good news though, they didn’t think the damage extended below the piston so it would be a quick fix and we should be back on the road by Thursday.

In the morning, Ben set off with Beto, and Dom and Tym were left to ferry the team’s belongings to a different hotel. The bike transaction went smoothly,  as Ben handed over the same amount of money as he had paid for Howie in the first place. Ouch. Luckily Beto was there to have a good look, listen and feel to the engine to ensure the money wasn’t being spent in vain. They convoyed back to the auto-shop, Dom and Tym arriving a short while later with food for the team. Carlos was also on hand, taking a two-hour lunch break from his duties at the Kawasaki shop. 

They toiled with the care and attention you might expect from an expert mechanic to give to the restoration of a classic for a hefty sum of pesos. Over the course of the three days, Carlos and Beto swarmed over Howie, and were also on hand to help out Dom and Tym who capitalized on the shop space and expert help to clean their carburetors, and air filters, and take care of some other lingering issues. 

Carlos was back and forth between his real job, and the Howie job, while Beto gave the three of us his full attention from Monday morning through Wednesday night. Incredible generosity. The duo worked until well after midnight on Tuesday, accomplishing the main transplant, and the bike was back together by Wednesday evening. The two men, seemed to enjoy the process, laughing and joking the entire time. 

"Beto! Ya valio madres!" Carlos would say, earning a similar response. At one point the two cleaned Howie for over an hour. Degreaser, rinse, soap, rinse, scrub, rinse. Ben stood by, not even allowed to help with the cleaning, for fear his efforts might not stand the scrutiny of Carlos the 'Ultra-Clean'.

Once all the bolts were back in place, oil changed and re-changed, coolant added and minor adjustments made the bike was up and running. It felt great. Most certainly better than before the incident and as good or better than when it was purchased in 2014. Carlos took it for a spin to get the feel for it, and gave it the nod of approval. We thanked them profoundly and asked what we owed them for their time and shop supplies. 

Nothing.

These two had dedicated the better part of a week and a combined 30 hours of labour to help us out and wanted nothing in return other than to see us off. They put their full time jobs on the back burner, provided parts and pieces, sent employees to run errands for us, ordered in food, and provided us with a wealth of information, help, and memories. And they wanted nothing back, and in fact they gave us a gift! A Suzuki shirt each for the Kubickis and a Kawasaki shirt for the Apedaile. We insisted that we at least pay for the consumables, parts, and food, and they reluctantly agreed. We couldn't have asked for better people to stumble across in all of Puebla, Mexico, or Planet Earth.

When early morning light spilled into the city of Puebla on Thursday, the boys were itching to get some miles in after a frustrating delay. Meeting Carlos and Beto had not only saved the trip, but getting to know the two kindred spirits had been thoroughly enjoyable. But time was ticking to get to Panama… 12 days to be precise, with all of Central America standing between us and a four day cruise through the San Blas islands.

Despite the time crunch that weighed over us, we wanted to stop in and see the family who had helped us at the muffler-shop-corn-stand that dreaded Saturday. Unfortunately, they weren’t open yet, but as Dom and Tym pet the little dogs that sniffed around the shop, the owners of the neighbouring business, a small family restaurant, sparked a conversation and offered us breakfast. ‘Good timing’, we decided and we sat down around the table with the husband who joined us for a hearty meal. We enjoyed a nice conversation with the man who had very good English, and shared a lot of nods and smiles with his wife of few English words. When we asked for the cheque, they shook their heads and said there was no need to pay – they had just enjoyed talking with us. The generosity continued in spades. Again we insisted.  

At that same time, Marhy and her husband from the muffler-shop-corn-stand had showed up, and had brought to the table a little tip we had left with a thank you card under their garage door. She was incessantly insistent that she would not take the money, and told us to donate it to our Free The Children cause that we had explained on Saturday. 

We hugged our new friends goodbye after a couple of pictures, and rode off with our faith in humanity affirmed. 

A little while later, there was a problem. Yes, Howie. Under strict orders from Carlos, Ben was checking the oil at every stop and mid-way through the day the oil was empty. How could this be! Carlos and Beto had sent us off with a spare litre which was great, but at the rate Howie was guzzling oil it wouldn’t last the day. We stopped in Minatitlan to stock up on oil, buying 5 litres to cover us for the rest of the day, and to complete the oil change that had been prescribed by the Puebla boys.

Limping into Tuxtla-Gutierrez for the night, Howie's morale was down after such a high leaving Beto's auto-shop. However, the ride was spectacular. We rode up and down stunning mountain passes, twisty roads disappearing behind bumps in the landscape only to appear again from where you would least expect it. The air thickened as we dropped in elevation and we arrived at our hotel under a dark and muggy sky. 

The question lingered with us all, would we be stopping every 100 miles to fill up Howie's oil reserve? A quick call to Beto, who in turned called Carlos, yielded a few suggestions to ease oil loss. Top of the list was an additive, and the Auto-Zone that stocked the miracle goo was only two blocks away.

Friday morning came and we left shortly after dawn. Oil and additive topped up, we climbed for most of the morning through small towns that grew into legitimate cities high in Mexico's mountains, strung between impressive peaks. We were rushing to make it to the Guatemalan border, expecting the regular delays that come with filling out crucial paperwork in a foreign language and sub-optimal operating conditions. It was sad to leave Mexico, and as we reflected on our weeks of adventure dating back to the Baja, we couldn't help but realize that the country's beauty had been exceeded only by the kindness and generosity of its people.

After checking out of Mexico, it was a short drive to the Guatemalan border town of La Mesilla where we drove right trough the rickety gate before stopping ourselves to go through customs and vehicle importation procedures on the sidewalk of a bustling market street. 

Like much of Mexico, the small town was alive with activity, but also contradictions. The buildings were colourful but faded, the streets vibrant yet grimy, and the life seemed simple while terribly chaotic. Altogether a charming welcome to the country, and it only took a couple hours to get us through the whole process. The change in landscape was subtle yet profound. We rode along the bottom of near-vertical valley walls  bordering a thin river that continued to carve out the rock beneath its rapids. The roads were complete with all of Mexico's disorder but somehow more. Yes there were still families crammed into the back of pickups, but there were now teenagers clinging to the top of busses, their body weight helping to hold down loosely packed cargo. Tiny red tuctucs, three-tiny-wheeled taxis without doors, raced people and their luggage to and from the border crossing, and as we would later find out, across the entire country.

Last night we made it to Huehuetenango in time for a walk through the fun town. Our arrival coincided with the end of the work week and as we walked to dinner, the evening's comings and goings were in full swing. Kids piled onto scooters and motorcycles screeched down the steep cobblestone, while others honked and yelled in anger, salutation, or both. During our walk to dinner, we heard a child's voice from a passing car excitedly shout: "Mama, gringo!".

A late night drum solo outside our hotel, and a rooster who mistook 2 a.m. for dawn had us feeling a bit sleepy this morning, but we were still on the road by 06h30, tearing up the empty streets that had been full to the brim last night. An elderly man tipped his hat to us as he swept the last of Friday's litter into a bin, only to free up space on the ground for Saturday's doings.

Today was packed with adventure. The morning was spent climbing and climbing higher into the mountains through little towns and big towns, farmland and wild land. The vistas were outstanding, with wide open views of sweeping valleys and tall green mountains dotted with the fleeting glisten of impossibly remote tin roofs scattered across the slopes. The towns were clean, and the roads were good. We had ventured away from the Pan-American highway for no other reason than Google said it was shorter. After a late breakfast, signs of trouble began to show themselves. The pavement was buckled in areas, folded like an accordion, and completely washed out in others leaving only a crust of asphalt above the plummeting valleys below. Soon the road was all but gone. Deep ruts, continuous bumps, and big rocks leaped out at our front tires, punching them to one side or another to dictate the route we would take up the continuously steep, tight corners. Somehow trucks of all shapes and sizes were coming towards us, adding to the excitement. We bumped along for an hour or two, stopping now and then to breathe, sip, and take a photo of the views that we had been ignoring to focus on staying alive.

Hitting the pavement again was a welcome feeling, as we had been riding for eight hours with only 200km to show for it. Damn. Time to make up some time! The roads this afternoon were in great shape, and with our ever-growing confidence we were passing trucks like locals, only slowing for the speed bumps or 'tumulos' as they're now called in Guatemala. 

At our last break this afternoon, a local biker came up to us to invite us to a party with free dinner and a spot to camp. A kind offer, but we were set on getting closer to the Honduran border. He explained that all the towns between us and the border were a bit sketchy and run by drug lords. Other locals didn't share that view so we continued on, stopping for the night in Los Amates. We found a nice hotel, and the city seems friendly and safe. We will know for sure tomorrow when, or if, we wake up.... But we do know one thing: despite an undeniably rushed crossing of Guatemala, this country will be remembered for its roads, which is somewhat fitting for a motorcycle trip; and we are pleased to have taken the road less traveled by which has, of course, made all the difference.

Carlos diagnosing Ben's engine.

Carlos diagnosing Ben's engine.

carlos is quite a character. he rolled into alberto's shop on his moped wearing a canadian tuxedo, skidding his way through the main gate during working hours. He wasn't too worried about it.

carlos is quite a character. he rolled into alberto's shop on his moped wearing a canadian tuxedo, skidding his way through the main gate during working hours. He wasn't too worried about it.

ben picking up the donor klr in the suburbs of mexico city.

ben picking up the donor klr in the suburbs of mexico city.

carlos working late into the night, cleaning the top end of the donor engine, preparing it to be transplanted into howie.  

carlos working late into the night, cleaning the top end of the donor engine, preparing it to be transplanted into howie.  

all three carburetors were stripped, cleaned and reassembled during our time in puebla.  on the left is Tym's mighty keihin fcr-mx carb, and on the right is Ben's Mikuni bst carb.  

all three carburetors were stripped, cleaned and reassembled during our time in puebla.  on the left is Tym's mighty keihin fcr-mx carb, and on the right is Ben's Mikuni bst carb.  

on the right: howie the kawie. on the left, the donor klr. 

on the right: howie the kawie. on the left, the donor klr. 

carlos and alberto cleaning and lubing howie's chain.

carlos and alberto cleaning and lubing howie's chain.

Carlos, alberto and the alaskentina boys pose for one last photo before taking off to guatemala!

Carlos, alberto and the alaskentina boys pose for one last photo before taking off to guatemala!

 marhy and her husband with the alaskentina boys on their way out of puebla, for the second time!

 marhy and her husband with the alaskentina boys on their way out of puebla, for the second time!

tym and ben enjoying a delicious breakfast with our new friends, marhy's neighbours.

tym and ben enjoying a delicious breakfast with our new friends, marhy's neighbours.

dom looking over tuxtla gutierrez on our way out of mexico.

dom looking over tuxtla gutierrez on our way out of mexico.

the team with our latest fans, in teopisca, mexico.

the team with our latest fans, in teopisca, mexico.

in order to clear out of mexico, we had the return our temporary vehicle import permits.  here is ben verifying his vin with the customs clerk. Good thing it matched!

in order to clear out of mexico, we had the return our temporary vehicle import permits.  here is ben verifying his vin with the customs clerk. Good thing it matched!

dom hanging out by the border  in guatemala while the tym and ben get their motorcycle import permits.

dom hanging out by the border  in guatemala while the tym and ben get their motorcycle import permits.

the bikes parked by the guatemalan immigration office.

the bikes parked by the guatemalan immigration office.

ben topping howie off with some oil, roughly 50km into guatemala.

ben topping howie off with some oil, roughly 50km into guatemala.

tym taking a picture of some friday night bustle in huehuetenango, guatemala.

tym taking a picture of some friday night bustle in huehuetenango, guatemala.

dom ripping up a mountain pass, just outside of san cristobal verapaz, guatemala.

dom ripping up a mountain pass, just outside of san cristobal verapaz, guatemala.

Trouble in Puebla

We slept soundly throughout the night in Mascota with our bikes safely within the confines of our hotel's courtyard. It rained throughout the night, a common occurrence at this time of year in the Western Sierra Madre mountain range. In the morning, as we woke up early to get a good start to the day, we were treated to a symphony of church bells ringing out of synch for a prolonged period of time. One bell rang a staggering 28 times.

We were treated to a well-paved winding road up out of the valley, a grid of farmland and livestock below us, as the day's first light splashed over the mountain tops around us before the sun itself finally broke the elevated horizon. Small puffs of cloud hung in the heavy air above the small colonial town spread among the valley floor - reds and whites sitting in a green sea of agriculture. 

We climbed and climbed further into the mountains, the sun unable to burn off the cloud cover and we had a pleasantly cool ride past brick archways that guarded dark entrances to storage areas and courtyards as dogs, horses, cows and goats wandered amongst lopsided tractors, piles of old tires and aging pickup trucks. The theme of old vehicles continued, passing many 60's era VW beetles and hippie vans, as we continued up and down cloudy valleys with mottled green slopes that held our gaze. This stretch of road had a pleasant European flavour with many stone stables and mazes of roofless brick walls that occupied the rural communities on our way east towards the main highway that would take us through Guadalajara.

The rest of the day was spent picking up the much-needed miles. We had just under three weeks to make it to Panama for our sail into Colombia, including numerous border crossings, twisty mountain roads and a few days soaking in the Central American culture. Not to mention some buffer days for the unknown... We made it through Guadalajara without a hitch, and continued through the elevated plains of central Mexico that were spread out between the mountains and the vegetation had thinned out significantly since the jungle we had left by the coast. 

The road narrowed at times when it cut through big slabs of rock, the unstable walls either draped in massive chain link fence or sprayed with a thin layer of concrete to protect the motorists below. Alternating layers of oranges and browns folded through the walls representing millions of years of geological activity, witnessed in only seconds. Outside the confines of the rock, towns were a common sight in the distance, spread out like a spider webs crawling up the hills, or tiered on outcrops of rocky land. Primarily red from a distance, each town had a large prominent white church that stood out among the other buildings - a focal point for us from the road, and certainly for the villagers as well.

The numerous tolls increased in price as we approached Mexico City, and the day was nearing an end so we stopped for the night in the uninspiring town of Atlacomulco before the rain and darkness set in. We crunched some numbers before bed, and decided that we would be able to make our previously reserved date of October 17th for climbing Machu Picchu in Peru. Confirming this meant that Tym and Dom's brother Olek, and their friend Josh, would book their flights for the excursion. That would leave us two and a half weeks to travel almost 5000km through northern South America from Colombia down to Cusco, Peru. But first we needed to get to Panama...

We woke up in Atlacomulco early and eager to have another big day on the two-lane highway. Mexico had been a blast but it was time to shift our focus to Guatemala, and we planned to be there in two days - just before our Mexican insurance expired. Ben's morning started off poorly, discovering that his passport and other important paperwork had gotten wet sometime in the past couple days and were in rough shape. He spent a few minutes carefully pulling apart the delicate pages of registration, insurance, Mexican border documents, and more; and dried them as best he could with the heater in the room. Ben's day was only going to get worse...

The three of us rode from over two hours before finally stopping for a 'breakfast' of gas station hot dogs, soggy sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate. We took the time to figure out our route towards the Guatemalan border which would affect our day's travel plans. After a quick map study our route was set and we stepped off, back onto the fast-paced highway where we could pass trucks with ease and make some great time.

We had all noticed a significant increase to our fuel consumption since climbing into the elevated highlands of central Mexico and the bikes were sluggish going up hills due to the elevation. We had expected that and there were no additional red flags - just a need to stop more often for gas. Shortly after passing Puebla, however, there was an unplanned stop when Ben's bike began to make an odd noise: 'taka-taka-taka-taka-taka'... There was a decent shoulder, and after a quick once over it became apparent that the oil was low. Well actually empty. Uh-oh. But we were carrying some extra, right? Wrong. Tim and Dom set off, having to travel the extra distance to find suitable exits to cross the divided highway, separated by a barricade. They turned around at the exit for the small town of Tecamachalco, doubled back and found a motorcycle shop that sold oil. An hour later we were topping up Howie and the noise seemed to have disappeared. We were back on the road thinking the one-hour delay wasn't too bad in the grand scheme of things.

Well the delay was about to get longer. Five miles after the emergency oil fill, Ben was passing a bus when the bike suddenly died. Having just enough time and space he cut in front of the bus, avoiding a collision with the car behind him that was also passing the bus at speed. Luckily the shoulder was in good shape, and he was able to pull on to it, still travelling at highway speeds. As he rolled to a stop, a brief look down was all it took to realize something had gone wrong. Oil was everywhere.

Dom and Tym pulled over and came back to help diagnose Howie for the second time in as many hours. 'Maybe the oil was overfilled?', 'Maybe some hose blew off and just needs to be reattached?', 'Maybe we can get this thing back on the road?' A lot of maybes. We rolled the bike to a patch of gravel off the side of the road and removed all the luggage, the seat and the gas tank. The top end of the cylinder had a big hole in it, and we were all thinking the same thing: 'It's f#$%ed'.

"To put it bluntly, you need a new bike or a new engine." Tym said, looking at the bike, but talking to Ben who was staring at the bike hoping it was a bad dream. The wet passport was now a distant second on Ben's list of the day's problems. Waves of thoughts and emotions poured through his mind as he continued to stare at the gaping hole that was most certainly not supposed to be there. 'Will I finish the trip?, Of course I'll finish the trip! What if I need a new bike? How do I do the paperwork? Can I find a used engine to go in here? This sucks! This is what the adventure is all about. Are we going to make the sailboat to Colombia? At least you aren't hurt.' Each thought was a blur and none ever fully materialized, the words were inaudible over the blood pounding in his ears.

"Let's try to flag down a truck to get this thing to the next town." Dom said thinking about the next steps. Ben came back to reality, "Ok, let's get it put back together first so if we find a truck it's ready to go." 

With three pairs of hands the damaged bike was back together in no time, but the busy highway was not a friendly place to flag down fast-moving pickups, and of course now it had started to rain. Pick-ups continued to flew by, most carrying either tires, fruits and vegetables, or people. The police and Mexican army fly by in pickups as well, with a soldier on a machine gun and one or two more sitting in the back. Something you don't ever see back home. We eventually decided to put the tow straps to use and with one stretching out from either side of Dom's license plate, Dom pulled Ben down the highway for about 5km to the exit for Tecamachalco, riding along the shoulder and coordinating steering and breaking over the bluetooth headset.

Dom left Ben in the gas station parking lot. While Ben set out to ask for help and talk to some locals, Dom returned to Tym where three bikes worth of luggage needed to be assembled onto two bikes. Ben first spoke with a nice gentleman who was looking under the hood of his old truck and explained the bike was broken. The man offered his condolences and Ben set out to find a mechanic that Dom had spotted earlier. The 'mechanic' turned out to be half muffler shop and half corn-on-the-cob vendor. The family who ran the businesses could not have been friendlier as they called their english-speaking daughter numerous times to translate information to Ben over the phone. Meanwhile, Dom and Tym made use of the spare ratchet straps and bungee cords to lock in the team's luggage and made it back to Ben's location.

It was now about 5 o'clock, and the next 2 hours or so were a bit of a blur as the three boys spoke to various locals and each other to figure out a plan. It was Saturday, so shops would be closed to tomorrow and we were an hour outside the large city of Puebla so that was where we would have to be to get Ben back on the road. Dom's girlfriend Marie helped out again in a big way by finding a hotel right across the street from the Kawasaki dealership. We would try to get to Puebla that night or the next day, and figure the bike out on Monday. A lot of unknowns still, a lot of confusion, and a lot of broken Spanish. 

The gentleman with the old truck Ben had first spoken to offered to drive us back to Puebla either that night or the following morning. But he wouldn't take us to our hotel because his truck was in rough shape and his plates were not allowed in the city. That was an option but not ideal - how would we get the bike into the city for the much needed repairs? 

Marhy, the lady who ran the corn stand, was able to communicate to us that our toll-booth tickets entitled us to a free tow truck! We thought that was perfect and hurried to get everything organized as they would only pick us up if we were on the side of the highway and she told us they would be there in ten minutes... and we still had to sort out the luggage and push or tow Ben's bike back to the highway! As we rushed to get it done, however, a policeman told us the free tow-truck service would not take us to Puebla, but only to the next toll booth. A big let down and we were back to square one. As we sat down to one of Marhy's delightful ears of corn, another corn customer offered to drive the broken bike to a local hotel if we wanted to spend the night nearby and figure out our journey to Puebla the next day - how nice of him, we had some thinking to do.

A lot was happening. A lot of friendly people trying to help. A lot of generous offers. A lot of unknowns. In the end, as we leaned towards spending the night in the nearby hotel, the gentleman with the old truck had a change of heart. After speaking with a friend he decided he would risk driving us right downtown to our hotel, illegal plates and all. What a generous offer. All he asked was that we pay the toll (about $4 CAD) and give him some gas money ($15 CAD). Incredible. 'Let's do it', we agreed.

We lifted the heavy bike into the back of his tiny pickup with a homemade cover, adjusting and readjusting his dusty tools and plastic bins until the bike fit. Next we loaded Ben's luggage and closed the tailgate. It fit. His friend was coming along for the journey, and hopped into the two-person cab, straddling the gear shift leaving enough room for Ben if the door was given some encouragement to close. The truck led the way back to Puebla. The dark red Ford bounced down the highway on loose suspension, wobbling from side to side. The passenger side window was broken, loosely sitting in place with old napkins wedged in place to prevent further movement, and a collection of old packaging, elastic bands, and dusty papers lay sprawled out on the dash over a worn out picture of a Saint that was stuck to the air vent. Joacin, who had a dozen sets of windshield wipers in the back of his truck, had only one wiping his windshield while Rodrigo, his friend, furiously wiped fog from the inside.

Soon it was raining again, heavily this time, and as we entered the city limits it got dark instantly - as if someone had switched off the lights. Remember the rules for driving in Mexico? Don't ride at night, and stick together. Well, it was definitely dark, and the boys were barely together. Dom and Tym followed behind the truck through congested traffic and deep puddles. They were soaking wet, water limiting visibility through their visors, but managed to stay behind the truck despite a series of wrong turns and orange lights. In the cab, Ben tried to navigate the rural duo through the city that was unknown to the three passengers. GPS to the rescue!

By 9, the conveluded convoy triumphantly reached the hotel after one hell of a day. Bags were unpacked and the concierge helped stack heaps of wet, oil splattered luggage on to the trolly that would deliver our life's belongings to our room which we would call home for a still undetermined amount of time. We sat down to dinner, and as the waiter poured a beer into a tall glass, the huge amount of foam was a perfect symbol for our day: could have been worse, but definitely could have been better.

Today we did some research on the cause of the problem and our options moving forward: we decided that our best bet would be to find a used KLR and take its engine. That would save us from the hellish paperwork that would come with buying a whole new bike and leaving the old one here. But that may not be possible, only time will tell. Tomorrow the shops open and a lot of questions will be answered, no doubt leaving many more to be asked. But one thing is certain: tonight in Puebla there are a handful of people going to sleep completely unaware that tomorrow they will meet three Canadians in need of their help. And they will do just that.

This is the town of Mascota nestled into the Mexican mountains as we left early Friday morning.

This is the town of Mascota nestled into the Mexican mountains as we left early Friday morning.

We rode through the beautiful hills most of Friday morning as the sun fought to break through the clouds over the mountains.

We rode through the beautiful hills most of Friday morning as the sun fought to break through the clouds over the mountains.

It's not all tacos and salsa...

It's not all tacos and salsa...

Topping Howie up with oil after the first scare. We thought it was fixed!

Topping Howie up with oil after the first scare. We thought it was fixed!

It wasn't fixed. If you look close you can see the damage on the cylinder head.

It wasn't fixed. If you look close you can see the damage on the cylinder head.

An up close view of where the valve cover exploded.

An up close view of where the valve cover exploded.

Dom and Babar towed Ben and Howie for 5km to the nearest exit.

Dom and Babar towed Ben and Howie for 5km to the nearest exit.

Dom arrives with his luggage and half of Ben's. Tim rolled in shortly after with an equally high and unstable load.

Dom arrives with his luggage and half of Ben's. Tim rolled in shortly after with an equally high and unstable load.

Marhy with her daughter and husband stopped everything they were doing to try to help us out. Truly amazing people.

Marhy with her daughter and husband stopped everything they were doing to try to help us out. Truly amazing people.

The family's dog investigates Dom's bike by the muffler shop.

The family's dog investigates Dom's bike by the muffler shop.

Joacin and Rodrigo look on as Ben and Tym heave and twist Howie into the back of the little truck.

Joacin and Rodrigo look on as Ben and Tym heave and twist Howie into the back of the little truck.

The boys with Joacin and Rodrigo. It was a dicey ride in to Puebla but we made it!

The boys with Joacin and Rodrigo. It was a dicey ride in to Puebla but we made it!

Across the Sea of Cortez

After a wonderful few days with Mike and Cholie in San Juanico it was time to go. The two were so welcoming and helpful, providing all the beach necessities and some needed tools, equipment and parts to get the bikes back together again after the Baja episodes. They also shared some insight on the ‘wild wild west’ way of life in the Baja which was really fascinating to hear. Living among the locals, albeit briefly, was nothing short of delightful and we will remember our time in San Juanico for years and years to come. We left the town to the ever-present sound of chickens clucking, dogs barking, and a distant yet powerful sound of Mexican music. We topped up on gas at the local station, which syphoned fuel from one of the many massive jerry cans stored on shelves in a small shed.

How nice was it to be on pavement! We maintained our focus to avoid the consistent potholes and sink holes that have bitten into the now legitimately described highway, and where there was no drainage along the ditches it was almost guaranteed that part of the the sandy base was washed away leaving a crust of asphalt hanging in the salty breeze drifting in off the sea. A local had explained to Tym previously at the beach that seasonal hurricanes frequent the area, taking little time to wreak havoc on the infrastructure still being patched up from the previous downpours.

We left the San Juanico area with a view of the ocean over the sandy horizon until it faded away behind us. The rest of our journey to La Paz was relatively uneventful as we motored down the main highway through the thinning cacti. Approaching the port city, we noticed an increase in humidity that came with the changing climate that allowed for more and more vegetation to break the surface of the sun baked soil and sand. There was also a significant increase to the length of fencing running alongside the road, however there was still more livestock in front of the fence than behind it and we honked our way passed numerous bulls and cows.

La Paz is a touristy town, though many of the visitors seem to be Mexican, so the need to fumble our way through hotel rooms and menus remained unchanged. We got there in time for a dip in the pool and to put our feet up before supper. The next morning we decided to recce the ferry terminal that was 15 km outside of town. A brief discussion with a lady at the office made it seem as though the process would be easy enough: show up at 5PM to buy tickets and go through the boarding procedure before our scheduled 8PM departure.

We went back to the hotel to pick up some laundry, go to the bank, and pack our things before pausing for lunch and a swim at a nice beach we had discovered on our morning recce. We couldn’t relax for too long though, and we were soon back at the ferry terminal and were pleased to see we had beat the line up! But our smiles didn’t last long as we went from office to office for photocopies of documents, importation papers, stamps and tickets before a vehicle inspection and a weigh-in! Good thing we got there early – this was a full-on border crossing! Seriously, the Baja has different entry requirements than mainland Mexico so there was a rigorous paperwork maze to crawl through before boarding the boat (surprisingly more rigorous than air travel). At one point in the line-up, karma struck again. While Dom was inside the waiting room, he met a 21 year-old Canadian named Liam travelling by bicycle from Vancouver to Mexico City. We had booked a 4-bed cuarto on the ferry and Dom kindly offered him our empty bed. Meanwhile, Ben and Tym met a Mexican outside who was also named Liam and also 21-years old! He and his girlfriend Tellula were heading home after finishing school in California, and after asking us about our trip he offered us a place to stay in Puerto Vallarta! Amazing.

We finally boarded the impossibly hot and humid cargo hold, and once the bikes were directed and redirected where to park, we unpacked our essentials and headed upstairs into the air-conditioned sanctuary of the dining room and lounge. Tonight would be a wonderful chance to gain some mileage with somebody else behind the wheel, and the only thing that could go wrong would be if the un-strapped bikes tipped over in the nights. We spent the evening talking with Liam, Liam and Tellula and then drifted to sleep as we inched South East through the Sea of Cortez, closer to Mazatlan and the unknown adventures that awaited us as foam frothed outward from the sides of the mighty ship.

The following morning consisted mostly of sitting around the lobby of the ferry waiting to unload the ship. Walking into the cargo hold was like walking into a sauna – except we weren’t wearing towels at a nice ski resort or country club, we were fully clothed carrying all of our luggage in the belly of a ship listening to the clanging and banging of cars and trucks driving over steel ramps. Our passports and paperwork were checked one more time after we unloaded, and we sped southwards, having left it with Liam and Tellula that they would send us a message online with our rendez-vous point in Puerto Vallarta.

We navigated easily through Mazatlan, past storefronts, market places, and little restaurants where small groups congregated, usually including a wrinkled face lazily poking some type of fire and smiling through a reduced mouthful of teeth. A dusty refrigerator usually sat with cardboard or Styrofoam taped to the broken glass door, and cartons of beer or Coca-Cola waited in front for space to cool off and escape the humidity – much like us. At most of the small towns school children could be seen in groups of white knee-high socks running past a group of navy blue ties – laughing and playing in front of a dreary backdrop of windowless concrete homes. Wooden frames were common too, draped in cloth, canvas or cardboard to shade the bags of shrimp and crates of fruit that vendors tirelessly waved in front of passing vehicles.

Between the outcrops of human activity lay vast stretches of prehistoric rainforest. Rolling hills, jagged peaks and steep cliffs were all covered by a thick blanket of textured greens – light and dark, bright and dull – from which we could catch the odd glimpse of grey-brown rock that broke through the thick jungle canopy that strongly held on to the unstable slopes. One could almost expect to see a long-neck dinosaur feeding on the rich canopy that filled the steep valleys which seemed to travel as far into the horizon as they did back in time.

Approaching a coastal town called San Blas we stopped at a small roadside shop. From behind the barred windows we exchanged pesos for cold bottled water as the water bottles strapped to our luggage were hot to the touch. We enjoyed the company of half a dozen truck drivers who had stopped for a cerveza break. Health and Safety reps in North America might find the notion cringe worthy but it all seems to be part of life in Mexico. One ice-cold beer seems reasonable on a hot day no matter what your profession, and we were looking forward to our own. The drivers suggested spending the night in San Blas to avoid risking a dark arrival into Puerto Vallarta, which is when the bandidos like to operate… As we hadn’t heard from our ferry friends, we agreed that that ship had sailed and moved on, forging new plans.

‘San Blas it is’, we decided, and we arrived in time to touch up the bikes including cleaning air filters, fix chain oiling systems, and tighten a few loose bolts – before some more tacos. The town seems really cool and has a lengthy beach front lined with restaurants, boat tours of the jungle river and more. We, however, spent only the one night and were lucky enough to find a small hotel with a pool and air conditioning. We decided to have an early morning to try to make a dent in our schedule that was growing increasingly tight. We have a concrete date of September 23rd to sail from Panama to Colombia, on Captain Ludwig’s Stahlratte. A four-day cruise through the San Blas islands, motorcycles strapped on the deck of the 100 foot boat – the trip sounds amazing. But first we need to get there!

This morning we sat down with our host, Pepe, and discussed our route to Guatemala, which was largely unknown. One option would be to pass through the States Guerrero and Michoacan along the coast, but that would be quite long and there are some travel advisories against the two States due to violence in the area. The second option was to head north, and cut through central Mexico. This route would be quicker and safer as long as we avoided Mexico City… We opted for option 2 but included a brief coastal tour via Puerto Vallarta.

The road to Puerto Vallarta was lovely and we passed workers clad in sombreros reaching from the back of their pickup trucks to pluck the low lying fruit to fill the baskets and boxes that will soon be at a grocery store near you. We continued to alternate between jungle foliage and small towns where countless street dogs scoured the streets and alleys for food, water and love – a yearning to feed their bellies and their souls. As the towns faded back into jungle, we travelled under a perfectly squared canopy, trimmed either for or by the tour busses and semi-trucks that occupied the lanes. We hit a brief squall at one point, the large raindrops hitting our skin like hail and forcing us to pull over and put our jackets on that had been left off to give our poor bodies a chance to compete with heat and humidity. We exited the mountain pass, and the rain cleared up along the approach to the beautifully manicured Puerto Vallarta area. Given the recently realized time crunch, we passed through only to catch a glimpse of construction-induced traffic. Turning East we climbed upwards, through more twisting jungle roads that bordered and crossed steep valleys thick with trees, ferns and leaves that led thin streams towards the sea.

Pepe had mentioned San Sebastian Del Oeste, an old colonial town allegedly 5 minutes from the main road but worth the visit. It was an old mining town, founded in 1605, which supported the gold, silver and lead mines in the area. ‘Why not’ we thought, as we followed the road sign pointing us North. 5 minutes was 15, but nonetheless it was a splendid ride up the steep hills, with more twists and turns, that opened up on remote farmland sitting below a veil of white mist before reaching the town. Colonial it was – and we handled the wobbly cobblestone roads with relative ease, at one point meeting an unaccompanied mare and foal, clip clopping down the street beside us.

Our whirlwind tour of the great town was over and we kept moving east. Nearing Mascota, our eventual stop for the night, we passed an unforgettably beautiful sight. Having just crept out of a steep and foggy mountain pass, a wide-open set of fields appeared on our left. A few hundred metres away from the road beyond a healthy crop of corn and the terra cotta roof of a long squat barn sat two perfect knolls draped in grass as green and smooth as a billiard table. Atop one of the hills stood a proud wooden cross – its white paint weathering to a dull grey before our eyes – and it overlooked a herd of cattle – brown, white and black bodies flicking their thin tails and taking unconscious steps as they trod through the magical fields feeding on the plentiful pasture. How wonderful to be greeted by a prosperous wealth of farmland after so many miles along dusty desert roads.

Mascota was another colonial delight, with more ‘wobblestone’ that led to a now-regular tip over. Our hotel owner swung his gates wide open for us to ride into his courtyard, over the sidewalk and up the step, where the bikes are now parked for the night. Mascota tonight is much cooler and drier than San Blas which is a great relief, and we should be well rested for tomorrow and the next few days which will be busy as we aim to make good mileage and regain an important cushion of time in our back pocket.

Until next time!

Mike's dune buggy in San Juanico. A 1964 beetle that's been Baja-fied! 

Mike's dune buggy in San Juanico. A 1964 beetle that's been Baja-fied! 

One more picture of our San Juanico beach.

One more picture of our San Juanico beach.

Tym filling up with some quality fuel at the san juanico gasolinera.  Susie enjoys mexican fuel so much that she drinks an extra 2 litres / 100 km.

Tym filling up with some quality fuel at the san juanico gasolinera.  Susie enjoys mexican fuel so much that she drinks an extra 2 litres / 100 km.

Enjoying an ice cream during a brief break in ciudad constitucion, on our way to la paz.

Enjoying an ice cream during a brief break in ciudad constitucion, on our way to la paz.

La Paz during the last sliver of daylight.

La Paz during the last sliver of daylight.

ben and tym sorting out their motorcycle importation documents before boarding the baja ferry.

ben and tym sorting out their motorcycle importation documents before boarding the baja ferry.

A behind-the-scenes look at a video log as we get set to board the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan.

A behind-the-scenes look at a video log as we get set to board the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan.

A blurry island through a portal window of the ferry.

A blurry island through a portal window of the ferry.

Packing the bikes in the hot muggy depths of the ferry.

Packing the bikes in the hot muggy depths of the ferry.

Home for the night in muggy San Blas.

Home for the night in muggy San Blas.

Dom on a stretch of highway between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Dom on a stretch of highway between Puerto Vallarta and San Sebastian Del Oeste.

The same stretch of road, another cool shot captured by Tym

The same stretch of road, another cool shot captured by Tym

Peace in the hills of San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Peace in the hills of San Sebastian Del Oeste.

Tym riding into the hotel courtyard right off the street.

Tym riding into the hotel courtyard right off the street.

The three bikes will sleep here tonight.

The three bikes will sleep here tonight.

We Didn't Make it to Punta San Carlos

It was difficult leaving the comfort of Brenna and Devon’s last week, but we had been looking forward to camping in Big Sur. Our GPS led us astray and we missed the exit in Oakland that would take us back to the scenic Highway 1 and we were left to battle traffic on the sterile highway through San Jose. The long lines of stop and go traffic were demoralizing at first, until we decided to try our hand at lane-splitting. The practice of riding between lanes of traffic on the white lines is common in this part of the world, and seeing a few bikes pass us by, we decided that we wouldn’t sit around all day waiting for the traffic – we would take the matter into our own hands. Despite our wide luggage and inexperience, we made it without incident…. Although there were a few close calls, of course!

Much of the day was spent in mist and gloom, with an almost ghostly feel to the road untouched by sunlight. Ongoing wildfires in the area have been devastating and it was sobering to see the temporary firefighter camps on the side of the road. As the afternoon went on, State parks came and went, closed indefinitely due to the fires. ‘But Big Sur should be fine, right?’ Well, not exactly. Some private campsites were open but full – after all it was Saturday and there was a shortage of camping due to the closures! So now we had passed Big Sur, and had no idea what lay ahead of us. We did take the time to stop in San Simeon to have a look at the amusing collection of Elephant Seals, all piled on top of each other sleeping on the beach, blowing sand into the air with each exhale from their long snouts.

We finally found a reasonably affordable motel in Cayucos, pulling up in the dark and missing our chance to order a much-needed meal at a local restaurant so we settled for chips and kit kat bars from the corner store… definitely missing Brenna and Devon’s!

The following day we would continue south with the hopes of getting through Los Angeles, which is known for its terrible traffic. On the way we passed by the beautiful Lake Chachumo which is nestled in the desert landscape surrounded by hills of orange and brown dotted with short stubby shrubs. It is also a valuable source of water and we saw helicopters swoop down to fill their buckets. We soon saw why. Stopping at a vista point overlooking the Los Padres National Forest we saw big flames roar atop a distant hill, while thick clouds of smoke emerged from other hills that occupied the stunning view.

Our approach to L.A. took us through Malibu where the beaches had more people than sand and money was stacked in house-shaped piles on the hills. College tuitions rolled down the streets in the form of Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris. We did some more lane-splitting, careful now not to scratch wing mirrors worth more than our bikes and continued riding the white lines on and off through L.A., at times riding in between two sets of double-yellow lines separating the two carpool lanes from the other six lanes of traffic. Overall our trip through the city went very smoothly, and we made it to Orange County just in time to meet with Manali, a Kubicki family friend, and her husband Ash for a brief dinner.  Manali has worked for Dom and Tym’s father’s land surveying firm in Mississauga for a few years, managing to balance school and work full time. She spoke highly of her time there, and is excited to finish school and move down to L.A. to live with her husband. It was great to reconnect with her and to finally meet Ash.

After supper it was a short ride through cookie-cutter suburbs with terraced roofs and perfectly shaped hedges to Casper’s Wilderness Park that felt surprisingly remote given its proximity to such a massive metropolis. That evening, a scorpion skittering through the site was enough to convince Dom to set up his tent as he had been planning on sleeping under the stars.

The next day we made it to our campsite outside San Diego really early, giving us some time to run some errands before crossing into Mexico. We got some Spanish phrasebooks, some cash, and a few other odds and ends before putting our heads down and preparing for the next border crossing.

In the morning we got to the little U.S. border town of San Ysidro, got our Mexican motorcycle insurance and topped up on gas. The road turned in towards gates at the border crossing and we followed the line of ‘Nothing to Declare’. We could have gone straight in to Tijuana without stopping had we not stopped ourselves knowing we needed some documentation for our bikes. It was our first test of Spanish and a slight test of patience as we bounced back and forth between two offices but the whole process took less than an hour. We were in Mexico!

There were a couple of rules we had heard about riding in Mexico. Don’t ride in the dark and stick together. As for the Baja, we had read it is best to travel quite far south the first day, and so we had booked a motel in El Rosario – a rare moment of foresight for us! First we needed to leave Tijuana and as we rode parallel to the border, the tall barbed wire fence stared at us menacingly from the right, while fragile homes seemingly banged together with scrap material stuck to our left. The roads were in very good shape and we made good time, stopping only to pay a few tolls.

The road became a highway and took us through a cool city called Ensenada that was bustling with people on the dusty streets. Vendors walked through lines of cars stopped at streetlights and there was a fair amount of prosperity, from our Canadian perspective, but also many homes that appeared to be crumbling away under the weight of poverty and neglect.

The roadsides grew more deserted as we travelled south into the desert, and we went through little towns, which usually consisted of a farm at either end, and a single sandy street framed by concrete and plywood homes covered in dust. The farms varied between small family owned setups and large industrial operations, but seeing the sombreros bob up and down between the lines of crops was quintessentially Mexican and a delight to see. As the workday ended, hundreds of farm workers could be seen piling on to big school busses that would take them towards their home from the big farms, while workers from the smaller farms walked or rode bicycles along the dirt streets.

About half an hour outside of Ensenada we took a break under the only shade we could find – that of a big road sign. Just as we were about to leave an SUV rolled up and a guy jumped out of the driver side door. He introduced himself as Scotty, the man behind the Baja Rally, an annual off-roading event that attracts people from across the world. He was extremely friendly and went over our maps with us, telling us the must-see spots in Baja. He took a look at our bikes and assured us we would be just fine. What good luck that he found us! He left us feeling great about the Baja, reiterating time and again how nice the locals were. “Nobody’s going to hurt you here,” he would say, “if anything they will kill you with kindness. And those tough looking guys in the restaurants – they don’t want to rob you. But they might steal your hearts.” He had been coming to the Baja for ten years and had lived here for five. He then assured us that our hotel in El Rosario was the best in town and told us where to eat. We made it to the hotel, clad with beautiful tiles and two comfortable king size beds, and ate at Mama Espinoza’s next door. With Scotty’s recommendation of a nice easy day trip that would ‘be a total failure if we missed’, we decided to leave the bulk of our gear at the hotel the next day, and travel light – enjoying our first day off-roading in the Baja!

The morning arrived, and after a few bike adjustments we were on the trail, expecting to arrive at the halfway point in the loop – Punta San Carlos – at about 11. We would have a snack and a beer there, hop in the Ocean and come home. What could possibly go wrong? Mistake #1: We didn’t bring any food, relying on us reaching Punta San Carlos for our snack. The first stretch was easy enough, taking us through rough sandy roads, the conditions manageable and the bumps easy to avoid. We thought we were making good time, and Scotty’s words were never far from mind, “Just hug the coast, you can’t get lost!” Well Scotty, yes we can.

Every little path we took towards the coast took us down impossibly rough washed out roads, most leading to dead ends. One did take us to a fisherman’s beach access and after a pleasant, though one-sided, conversation we rode along his beach expecting to make it a good distance down the coast on the hard packed sand. The tide interrupted that plan, and we doubled back to our friend the fisherman taking his path back up to the main ‘road’ to continue our futile search for San Carlos. We found more dead ends, got stuck in deep sand, fell off the bikes, and got every bone in our bodies shook out of place and back in again. It was fun – but it was hard. We eventually made it to a crossroads where right would have taken us to San Carlos and left would have led us back towards the highway, but it was 4 o’clock already and our empty stomachs were speaking loud and clear. Turning left we passed through fields of classic desert cacti and as the roads improved slightly so did our speed and we raced the sun home. We saw totally secluded Mexican ranches, passed horses running through the sand, and watched our shadows lengthen as they jumped along the bumpy ground beneath our feet.

We finished off the day with 20 miles on the pavement of Highway 1. What a relief. Gliding over the asphalt after a day on the rough stuff is comparable to few of life’s great pleasures. We were back at Mama Espinoza’s for more great food as soon as the bikes were parked and we sat together reflecting on our first big day in the Baja… If Scotty said that was an easy ride we would have to rethink the rest of our Baja travels.

The next day was easy – we stayed on Highway 1 all day, with only the goal of reaching Guerrero Negro which sits somewhere along the border between Baja California and Baja California Sur. The scenery was beautiful and constantly changing, alternating between combinations of wide open vistas, tabletop hills of orange sand speckled with shrubs and rock, cacti waving at us from the side of the road, massive round boulders, and more. We took a few breaks, lying in the shadows of our bikes on the side of the road. More abandoned buildings came and went, some alone on the roadside while others were grouped together in little ghost towns. Many buildings were old and run-down while some appeared to be new, though unfinished, with paneless windows overlooking nameless streets. Occasionally you could catch a glimpse of movement as a lone inhabitant went about their business, or a dog ran off chasing a rabbit. We arrived in Guerrero Negro through one of many military checkpoints that are supposedly looking for money and weapons heading south and drugs heading north - but they have yet to be too concerned with us and simply wave us through the stop signs.

Friday’s journey began innocently enough as we set out along Highway 1 to San Ignacio. The town is a wonderful oasis of wetland alone in the desert, with a picturesque town square lying in front of an old church shaded by beautiful palm trees. The plan from there was to turn off the main highway on to what the map describes as an ‘Improved Road’ that would take us to San Juanico – recommended by many locals we had spoken to. We expected to be there for lunch, but brought with us a modest snack after our last off-road adventure. After a quick lap of San Ignacio looking for the road, a friendly shopkeeper pointed us down a sandy alley that quickly turned to pavement and we were impressed by the quality of the road. For now! We took advantage while we could, leaning into sweeping corners that meandered through the undulating sandscape. ‘Could this last?’ we wondered, ‘will we be sipping a cold beer on the beach by lunch?’. ‘No’ and ‘no’ were the resounding answers. After 30 miles of pavement the road turned to sand. At first it was fairly hard packed and manageable, and we were able to swivel our heads around to absorb the flatness and emptiness that surrounded us. Among many remarkable sights, there were some purply-red ponds of water that somehow had not evaporated and must have been dyed by whatever minerals had accumulated there. Very cool to see!

We passed a few small towns, and then the roads really deteriorated. The sand got looser, deeper and sandier and was interrupted only by big rocks that appeared out of nowhere. ‘But this is only temporary, right? We should be back on pavement soon enough.’ The sand didn’t dissipate, though sometimes it disappeared momentarily and we navigated stretches of loose rocks the size of grapefruit trying to maintain a decent speed to keep our balance, which made reading the terrain and anticipating obstacles that much scarier.

It may be a good time now to remind our readers of how little experience we have riding motorcycles, especially off road. Some stretches on the Dalton were difficult and Northern BC and Alaska had their share of challenges, but being alone in the desert was new. Our thermometer reached 49 degrees Celcius, the few locals we did see could not have spoken less English, and we ended up navigating the deep sand for over ten hours.

So here we were: forcing ourselves to think about how much better this is than sitting in an office or a classroom, but still dreaming of beers on the beach. Between the three of us we dumped the bikes and got back on over a dozen times, got stuck and unstuck on many occasions, and felt elation and frustration throughout the day. The most difficult stretches required low speeds which meant no breeze in our jackets, and there was the constant choice between the visor closed which could melt the skin off our faces, or open which ensured a healthy dose of sand in our mouths, noses and eyes.

The struggle continued up and down the deeply rutted ‘road’, along mile-long stretches of potholes and bumps, and did we mention the deep sand? We forced ourselves to stop around 4 o’clock after a series of falls that came in close succession, and looked at the map: another 15 miles to a T-intersection where we would meet a road that connected two towns on the map – San Jose de Gracia and San Juanico. We let ourselves hope that this would be paved and held on to the dream as we continued our journey stopping only to help a fallen member of the team get back on two wheels. During one of several push-starts, an SUV pulled up alongside us and we were able to understand that they were offering us to charge the dead battery at their ranch that was a kilometer away. We politely declined, not having the time for a charge and hoping that it would charge itself once we got going again.

About five minutes later we came to a gate blocking the road. Not knowing the customs in this area, and not wanting to intrude on anyone’s private land we backtracked to an intersection and took the other road that took us right to our new friend’s ranch! They gave us cold water, took a photo with us, and opened up the gate for us with a smile. From what we could understand, they told us the road was bad for another 20km and then it got slightly better.

The journey went on and on and we continued to deal with the same obstacles, more falls, and more push-starts until there, from the top of a rocky hill, we could see the T-intersection. From a distance it looked like it could have been pavement. ‘Was this the end of our short bumpy ride that had so far lasted eight hours?’ Of course not!

Turning right at the T-intersection we considered camping, remembering the rule about riding at nighttime. We estimated about another hour of riding and figured we had time to make it in the dark. The road had improved, but as our speed increased our reaction time to the inevitable obstacles decreased and we had to slow down suddenly to handle the sections of washouts, boulders and sand that were now fewer and further between. The cows along this stretch of road liked to stand right in front of us and their actions were difficult to anticipate. An hour later the sun was down, we were still far from San Juanico, and we were breaking the first rule of riding in Mexico. We tried to maintain a good pace as we peered out over our headlights to look for obstacles and cows obscured by the darkness. Around a bend there was a stretch of streetlights ahead and we wondered if it could be San Juanico. Nope! It was Cadeje, but we were getting close. After another fall, a close call with a pickup drifting around a sandy corner, and a surprising river crossing, we were finally there. Not at one o’clock as we had planned, it was now 9PM, but we were still there. San Juanico! We made it. We found a hotel just closing their doors for the night where a friendly American couple named Mike and Cholie graciously opened their gated courtyard for our bikes, showed us to our little casitas, and told us where to get some grub if we could make it by 9:30. We hadn’t eaten anything all day other than a packet of peanuts and a granola bar so the meal would have been great no matter what, but it was better than great. Not only was the food a delight, but a friendly chica sat nearby and offered to teach us to surf the next day! How could this place get any better? Well the stars were out and there was a slight breeze as we slept so it was truly the perfect end to a long, hard, sandy day.

Saturday we woke up late, had a late breakfast and met our friend Karina. We spent the day surfing, swimming, drinking beer, practicing Spanish and living the dream on a beautiful beach without the buzz of tourists or all-inclusive resorts. Paradise. And then, to top it all off, we were invited to a fiesta last night. We arrived at the town hall around 9, and immediately felt out of place. Everyone was dressed to impress and seated at big tables around the spacious room, and behind the head table was a beautifully decorated display lights and flowers, with the name ‘Constanza’ illuminated behind it. At the head table we could see a baby in a special white gown being held and kissed and passed between the large family. We had crashed a baptism party! Our surf instructor showed up a little after us, and invited to sit down at the only empty table… which was right next to the head table! We felt extremely out of place but eventually more family sat down next to us, fed us tequila and assured us that it was fine for us to be there. The people of San Juanico could not have been friendlier or more welcoming and though we had been told the party would last until 5 AM we headed home around midnight so that we could get back on the surf boards this morning. Life here isn’t too tough and it is a wonderful break from the bikes. If you never see any of us again in Canada, come looking for us in San Juanico.

The Pacific Coast Highway was truly amazing. In the distance you can see one of the many impressive bridges that span across deep valleys feeding the ocean.

The Pacific Coast Highway was truly amazing. In the distance you can see one of the many impressive bridges that span across deep valleys feeding the ocean.

These Elephant Seals are curious creatures. They flap around, crawling slowly along the beach until they find a nice spot to lie down - usually on top of each other! Then they snort and honk, blowing puffs of sand into the air while they sleep.

These Elephant Seals are curious creatures. They flap around, crawling slowly along the beach until they find a nice spot to lie down - usually on top of each other! Then they snort and honk, blowing puffs of sand into the air while they sleep.

The wildfires of Southern California have devastated much of the land and closed many State Parks in the area.

The wildfires of Southern California have devastated much of the land and closed many State Parks in the area.

Dom's sleeping setup under the star lit sky.  his tent replaced this arrangement minutes after he saw a scorpion sneaking around the site.

Dom's sleeping setup under the star lit sky.  his tent replaced this arrangement minutes after he saw a scorpion sneaking around the site.

Stopping for a water and leg-stretching break on the baja highway.

Stopping for a water and leg-stretching break on the baja highway.

This is Scotty from Baja Rally. He saw we were on adventure bikes and pulled over to help us out with our Baja plans. Thanks Scotty!

This is Scotty from Baja Rally. He saw we were on adventure bikes and pulled over to help us out with our Baja plans. Thanks Scotty!

Ben needed some help to get out of this loose gravel and sand.

Ben needed some help to get out of this loose gravel and sand.

puppies!!! we ran into this gentleman living on a remote beach in an old airstream trailer.  his dogs barked at us at first, but were reluctant to get too close and kept their distance from the strange newcomers.  only after we shut off our motorcycles did they curiously approach us and eventually shower us with kisses. from what we understood, the gentleman told us to ride along the beach for 20 minutes, but the incoming tide cut us off and we were forced to turn back.

puppies!!! we ran into this gentleman living on a remote beach in an old airstream trailer.  his dogs barked at us at first, but were reluctant to get too close and kept their distance from the strange newcomers.  only after we shut off our motorcycles did they curiously approach us and eventually shower us with kisses. from what we understood, the gentleman told us to ride along the beach for 20 minutes, but the incoming tide cut us off and we were forced to turn back.

Dom getting to the top of a steep hill after finding another dead end along the Pacific Coast.

Dom getting to the top of a steep hill after finding another dead end along the Pacific Coast.

Tym looking out over the expansive desert landscape.

Tym looking out over the expansive desert landscape.

This rickety fence did little to keep the toros off the road!

This rickety fence did little to keep the toros off the road!

Dom ripping past a huge cactus!

Dom ripping past a huge cactus!

Tym and Dom cruise through a sun baked canyon.

Tym and Dom cruise through a sun baked canyon.

These big cacti are all over the place.

These big cacti are all over the place.

Dom leaning into a curve as we made our way through a little mountain pass on our way back to the highway after our first Baja off-roading experience.

Dom leaning into a curve as we made our way through a little mountain pass on our way back to the highway after our first Baja off-roading experience.

Dom seeking shade in the only place he can on our way to Guerrero Negro.

Dom seeking shade in the only place he can on our way to Guerrero Negro.

One of the purply-red puddles we would see on the roadside on our second Baja off-road day.

One of the purply-red puddles we would see on the roadside on our second Baja off-road day.

A fully loaded bike doesn't help in the deep sand! 

A fully loaded bike doesn't help in the deep sand! 

These wonderful people gave us water and opened up their gate for us on our way to San Juanico.

These wonderful people gave us water and opened up their gate for us on our way to San Juanico.

This is an 'improved road' on the map.

This is an 'improved road' on the map.

Approaching the T-intersection we had hoped would bring pavement. From here it seemed possible!

Approaching the T-intersection we had hoped would bring pavement. From here it seemed possible!

The sun was beginning to set as we came to this water crossing on our approach to San Juanico.

The sun was beginning to set as we came to this water crossing on our approach to San Juanico.

racing the setting sun on our way to san juanico.  the day was much longer than anticipated, and we ended up riding in the dark for about an hour.  dom and tym's bright aftermarket lights lit up the road extremely well!

racing the setting sun on our way to san juanico.  the day was much longer than anticipated, and we ended up riding in the dark for about an hour.  dom and tym's bright aftermarket lights lit up the road extremely well!

This was the little beach where we surfed, swam, ate tacos and drank beers for three days in San Juanico.

This was the little beach where we surfed, swam, ate tacos and drank beers for three days in San Juanico.

Avenue of Giants

We worked into the afternoon finishing up the last blog post in Portland, eating local artisan bread and jam at the hostel and then packed the bikes to leave the city. After just about a month on the road, the vast majority of our nights have been spent in our tents, with our bikes by our side... home is where the bike is! While in Portland, however, we had left our bikes on the street and carried our luggage into the hostel - up staircases and down corridors before spreading out all of belongings on the floor of a shared dorm. The difference was notable and it felt bizarre to be out and about, far away from our bikes that had been so consistently within our sight. Packing the bikes involved several trips to and from our room, trying to carry as many items as possible while maintaining a free hand to manage door handles and key cards.

All was under control and the bikes were almost packed when Ben's bike went toppling over, knocking into Dom's bike which in turn fell ever so slowly into a brand new BMW GS 650 parked slightly too close to the Alaskentina circus on the slanted city street. Tym called out "The beemer, the beemer!" as he grabbed onto the handle bar of Dom's bike while throwing his hip into Ben's bike, stalling its journey to the asphalt dotted with old chewing gum and oil stains. Ben was able to grab onto the BMW before it lost its balance and the two boys, hearts pounding, stood awkwardly supporting three bikes under the blistering sun until Dom came slowly wandering back from returning keys and filling up water bottles. Despite the shaky start, we were back on the road, jackets unzipped to let the warm wind come in and circulate around our wet t-shirts, damp with sweat.

We would ride west for a couple of hours back towards the coast, passing through inspiring farmland lined with perfectly straight rows of grapevines and lines of mown crops complementing the handsome hills, softly undulating against the horizon: an elegant intersection between mankind and the once wild landscape of the Pacific North West. Old barns dotted the agricultural oasis, crumbling back into the soil in the shadow of new buildings poised to take on the future of cultivation.

Once on the coast again, the temperature dropped suddenly and drastically. The mist returned to the road, hanging over us and our bikes, giving an almost eerie feeling to the cliffs, trees, and water that were muted in colour by the stubbornly thick grey-white vapour. Our speed decreased with the visibility and the S curves and U turns of the spaghetti-like roads grew in number and intensity. The sun did break through occasionally revealing fantastic cliffs covered by windswept shrubs and the bright sea of pastel blue that crept up in shallow waves onto the shore. It felt as though we were riding along the frame of a painting that we would never be able to afford.

Small towns came along a dime a dozen, and we settled on a campsite at Alder Dunes where we stumbled upon vast sand dunes in the middle of the forest, at least a kilometre in from the shoreline! Pictures were hard to take over the course of the day as the vistas were so brief between the cold stretches of mist, but it was a stretch of road that will not be forgotten.

The next day was our last in Oregon which had been full of beauty and amazement. We really could have spent at least a month exploring the state. With the farms, the rainforest, the cliffs, the sand dunes, the green ferns, the grey water and blue water, the long bridges and high bridges, the hot sun and cold mist, the small towns and the big city. It has it all. 

We stopped at Gold Beach, venturing down past a gate under the elegant Rogue River Bridge. Tym and Ben took the thin dirt track past the gate, almost tipping over as their saddle bags scraped the posts and shrubs bordering the narrow path before Dom quietly pushed open the unlocked gate. With age comes wisdom. Dozens of low lying fishing boats mingled in the foggy bay, as we lined up the bikes for a photo and spent a minute soaking in the beauty of the coastal town. The next stop was in a town called Brookings, the last in Oregon along Highway 1, for a big supper before reaching the Golden State where we camped among the redwoods - our first taste of the famous evergreens. The redwood species is known for its towering trees which are the largest and tallest in the world and live for thousands of years. Yes, thousands. They have a thick corduroy texture that runs up and down their enormous trunks and they stand together shoulder to shoulder in the forest providing a cool climate under the sky-high canopy.

Our first morning in the California was as cold as Oregon and we were beginning to wonder if the state would ever warm up. The highway then turned inland and the heat was unbearable. Even at 100km/h the air was hot and did little to cool us down. A taste of reality for the next chapter in our journey south. Along the road that day we saw signs of the devastaing drought and wildfires that have been affecting the area. On the roadside were numerous water-use advisories and firefighters putting out hot-spots in the dry undergrowth. A stark reminder of reality for the locals as our care-free journey continued through their homeland. Still wearing sweaters and long johns from the chilly morning, we stopped at the first town for an ice cream and to shed some layers before turning on to the 'Avenue of Giants' which is a spectacular secondary road through the redwood forest. We stopped for pictures now and then and really enjoyed the ride, finishing the day with a swim in the South Fork Eel River.

Taking you back now a few weeks to Northern BC, we had met an energetic American boasting about Highway 101. "Where the 101 meets the 1," he told us, "there is a town called Leggett. It's f@#$ing epic bro! You're dodging redwoods going around twisties all day. You might get stuck behind minivans checking out the view but I just double-yellow pass those f@#$ers!" Well, we were approaching Leggett and his voice echoed in our heads - we needed to get on to this road! We were now prepared for the heat, without any sweaters or long johns, and after a stop by the drive-thru Chandelier Tree, a 2400 year old Redwood that you can pay $3 to ride right through, we followed his advice and took Highway 1, also called The Redwood Highway,  back out to the coast. Well, our friend was absolutely right, and described it perfectly - nothing more needed!

We got back to the coast, hitting another wall of frigid air on the way and once again a stop was in order but this time to warm up. Highway 1, now dubbed The Shoreline Highway, put us back in the mist and the fog along the rugged coastline. Giant jagged rocks were partly plunged in the froth of the shallowing ocean appearing to have been plucked from a prehistoric time as age-old sea birds swept down to feed on the barren rock. Where farmland was feasible, the crops held on to sloping plateaus that tilted towards the abrupt edge of the cliff. This stretch of road had more twists and turns and from various hilltops the road could be seen weaving in and out of view behind hills and through trees. Just perfect. It really felt as though the road was custom built for us... except for all the other drivers!

We crossed lush valleys, stopped at a beautiful lighthouse, and watched webs of tangled tree branches pass us by through the autumnal weather before stopping at Salt Point State Park for the night. With a hot campfire burning the local hardwood late into the night, we sat together reflecting on many topics that have crossed our individual minds throughout our journey thus far. In particular, we discussed our society's growing addiction to technology. We all reluctantly agreed that although this trip has taken us away from screens for most of the day, we were still reaching for our iPhones at every stop, checking with waitresses for the wifi password. Much of our time online was spent ordering spare parts, updating our website with photos, and keeping in touch with friends and family, but there was still enough mindless social media browsing that we agreed to reduce our technology time, and to spend more time actively absorbing the local cultures and people.

We packed our gear in the morning, cell phones buried deep in our pockets, with San Francisco set in our sights. We ventured east, away from the coast, and the heat increased along with the traffic as rural communities condensed into urban suburbs. Crossing over the lower deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, we leaned into a heavy cross wind that rushed in off the San Francisco Bay. The steep hills and split-level streets of the Bay Area welcomed us to El Cerrito where we would spend the next few days with Ben's cousins. Tires and oil were changed, a gasket and fuel filter were replaced, and some electrical gremlins were settled on the street in front of Beebo and Tom's house in Berkeley where sandwiches made with love were generously brought to us and required tools were made available. The work was done between delicious feasts of Italian pasta, Mexican tacos and artisan pizzas, and cold local beers were never far from mind or mouth as we enjoyed a continuation of the brewpub culture of the west coast. We would like to extend a sincere thank you to the California Cousins, in particular Brenna and Devon, for making our stay here so easy, so enjoyable, and so unforgettable. Your generosity is much appreciated and our stay has been incredibly comfortable. Thank you!

Today Dom's bike will be put back together again and a few supplies will be replenished as we prepare to leave English North America and begin our journey into the land of cervezas, surfing, and siestas.

The Rogue River Bridge in Gold Beach Oregon.

The Rogue River Bridge in Gold Beach Oregon.

Looking out over the foggy bay in Gold Beach, Oregon.

Looking out over the foggy bay in Gold Beach, Oregon.

A slight break in the mist along the Pacific North West coast.

A slight break in the mist along the Pacific North West coast.

The view inland from one of the many bridges along the California Coast.

The view inland from one of the many bridges along the California Coast.

Suzie the Suzuki among the perfect Redwoods of Northern California.

Suzie the Suzuki among the perfect Redwoods of Northern California.

Riding past Redwood after massive Redwood was a beautiful experience.

Riding past Redwood after massive Redwood was a beautiful experience.

This road was amazing to ride.

This road was amazing to ride.

So was this!

So was this!

Capturing the coastal road from the sky.

Capturing the coastal road from the sky.

Dom can be so silly sometimes.

Dom can be so silly sometimes.

Spending the night in the forest never gets old. Thanks to Tym for capturing this great shot.

Spending the night in the forest never gets old. Thanks to Tym for capturing this great shot.

One of many rugged farm buildings nestled in the coastal hills.

One of many rugged farm buildings nestled in the coastal hills.

This is 'Doyouhaveamir'. He was very interested in talking to us about our trip and singing Neil Young's 'Born in Ontario' to us every time we mentioned the province. His beard is a decade old and can usually be found tucked into his sleeveless shirt.

This is 'Doyouhaveamir'. He was very interested in talking to us about our trip and singing Neil Young's 'Born in Ontario' to us every time we mentioned the province. His beard is a decade old and can usually be found tucked into his sleeveless shirt.

Mandatory lunch at In-N-Out Burger.

Mandatory lunch at In-N-Out Burger.

Dom exploring an alternative for the next Pan-American road trip.

Dom exploring an alternative for the next Pan-American road trip.

The tiniest coffee shop in San Francisco.

The tiniest coffee shop in San Francisco.

Laurel and Brenna, Ben's beautiful cousins, with the boys!

Laurel and Brenna, Ben's beautiful cousins, with the boys!

This is how to take six used tires...

This is how to take six used tires...

...and 7.5 litres of used oil to the recycling depot!

...and 7.5 litres of used oil to the recycling depot!

Devon and Brenna were all-stars for hosting us all week in San Francisco. They even took us out to the ball game!

Devon and Brenna were all-stars for hosting us all week in San Francisco. They even took us out to the ball game!

West Coast Best Coast

9,366 km - 10,102km

Our time in Vancouver was full of excitement including laundry, errands, and emails. The chores were well balanced though and we had time to watch some movies, download some new music and relax. Dom and Tym's middle brother Olek was our gracious host, and his apartment was centre stage for the Alaskentina bomb that blew up, leaving our tools, clothes and riding gear covering every inch of floor space. Dom took advantage of the local hardware stores and plastic manufacturers to create an upgraded mounting system for his saddlebags, and picked up a fresh tire that the three-man crew mounted in the parking lot under the hot sun. Ben had to resort to ordering a replacement for his broken odometer that the boys would pick up near Seattle, as it proved to be a challenge to find one in Vancouver. Tym went to Britannia Composites, a motorcycle fairing manufacturer in Langley, to repair the light that had come loose in his fairing.  Ian, the owner of the small business, was more than generous and replaced Tym's fairing with his newest model, which included updated styling along with the latest and greatest LED lights on the market. Ian noted that Tym's old fairing was one of the first models he had ever manufactured, dating it back to circa 2008.  He also gave Dom and Tym a tour of his workshop, and shared his story of working in the sailboat repair business before transitioning into manufacturing composite motorcycle fairings.

The time off the road was a valuable opportunity for the three of us to spend some time with family. The Kubicki brothers enjoyed a couple nights on the town and an excursion to Whistler for a hike and a dip in Lost Lake; and Ben spent some quality time catching up with cousins and playing with the energetic youngsters, kicking around rugby balls, hiking in Minnekhada Park and sharing great food and conversation.

We left Vancouver at midday on Monday, moving south through a painless border crossing into Washington. Farmers' fields of yellow and green welcomed us to the Evergreen State, and we were once again in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Our first destination was to pick up the odometer for Ben's bike west of Seattle. To get there we took well-maintained secondary highways through lightly populated rural areas, where hay bales, cattle and sheep provided a refreshing dimension to the otherwise thick darkness of forest.

After acquiring the odometer we continued our journey through small towns and rustic countryside until we reached Twanoh State Park. Of course, after almost a week of dry weather in otherwise rainy Vancouver, the skies became somber and began to rain as we approached our campsite. Luckily the rain didn't last and we enjoyed a quiet night under the towering moss-covered trees and next to the rushing rainforest creek.

Tuesday we had an easy day planned, about 200km to Cannon Beach, Oregon which would take us along the famously scenic Highway 101. The pristine pavement hangs on to the steep hills following the contours of the coast, and the unmistakable smell of the sea lingers over the road. We crossed state borders on the impressive Astoria-Kegler Bridge. With a long multiple span steel truss deck bridge leading us out of Washington, the bridge deck quickly turns upward to a highly elevated cantilever through bridge under which lies the navigable channel. We crossed the bridge in awe as little fishing boats floated among the massive cargo ships along our side. Upon arrival to the Oregon side, small multi-coloured maritime-style homes clung onto the sharp hill ahead of us, with a grey sky perfectly suited to the coastal view hanging low over head.

By mid-afternoon we had reached Cannon Beach and set up camp in the centre of the chic resort town, known for its art galleries, brew pubs, and its long sandy beach that fades into the vast Pacific Ocean. We left the tents behind and strolled through the pretty town, settling on a brew pub serving ice cold pints of their home-brewed ales. We then walked along the beach with our eyes locked on the spectacular Haystack Rock - an intertidal monolithic rock, meaning it is a single massive rock and accessible by land at low tide only. Its surrounding tidal pools are home to many creatures and its magnificent presence above the surface of the water has made it a popular sightseeing destination. We were there at high tide and decided to spend our evening sitting on sand covered logs as the sun set behind the thick cover of clouds with Pacific waves crashing in front of us.

When Wednesday rolled around it was time to make our way into Portland, a city that has come highly recommended from fellow travellers since the beginning of the trip. On our way to the big city we took a minor detour to the Ecola State Park known as one of the most beautiful sites in America. A mix of arrow-straight pines and gnarled moss-covered stubby-branched Sitka spruce, each as tall as the sky, lined the roads and Tym set up on the narrow shoulder to take photos of Ben and Dom between the procession of other tourists rolling up the road, cameras and maps in hand with doggy tongues hanging out of their back windows.

The ride to Portland was less spectacular than what our spoiled eyes had become accustomed to as we ventured away from the coast and focused our gaze on the unpredictable cars, vans and trucks that grew in number as we approached the city. Arriving in Portland we checked into the Portland Northwest Hostel, quickly showered and changed then set out to explore the city.

Portland is a vibrant city, situated where the Willamette River meets the powerful Columbia River. The city grew as a result of the profitable timber industry combined with the city's position on the river providing accessible transportation. It is now a liberal leaning urban metropolis with a multitude of industries to support the population of almost 2.5 million. We spent our time experiencing more local brews and watching the eclectic mix of people pass us by. The sun was out while we were in the city - shining brightly on the stones and bricks that, when stacked on top of each other, made up the historic infrastructure that lined the busy streets.

We are now looking forward to continuing south on the 101, treating our senses to the aromas of spruce and pine, the vistas of green and blue, the sound of crashing waves, the sensation of flying around full-bodied corners and the taste of rich flavourful lagers when they present themselves to our thirsty travelling bodies. 

At the time of publishing this post, we are sincerely greatful and truly humbled to be able to say we have reached $13,552 in our efforts to raise $22,000 for Free the Children. That is an impressive 62% of our fundraising goal towards the Adopt-A-Village program that works to break the cycle of poverty in developing countries and give children around the world a better chance at success and prosperity. As a reminder, the money we raise is being channeled to the organization's programs in Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is thanks to the generosity of our family and friends as well as the strangers we have met on the road and online that this remarkable progress has been possible.

If you haven't done so, please consider donating to our cause which is covered more in depth on 'The Cause' page of our website. We realize that many of you do a lot to support the causes near and dear to your own hearts, and that this charity may not be suited to you. If that is the case please help us spread the word and share this adventure with your friends and family that may be interested! And finally, to the many of you who have already donated your well deserved earnings to this cause, we extend our warmest thanks and heartfelt gratitude. The difference we can make to the lives of anonymous children in foreign countries is real, profoundly important and achievable with the support of people like you.

Much Love,

Team Alaskentina

Tymek, Olek, and Dom at the Olympic Rings in Whistler, host ski town of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

Tymek, Olek, and Dom at the Olympic Rings in Whistler, host ski town of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

The Kubicki brothers cooling off in Lost Lake, Whistler BC. 

The Kubicki brothers cooling off in Lost Lake, Whistler BC. 

Ben and his cousins, the cutest kids this side of the Pacific Ocean.

Ben and his cousins, the cutest kids this side of the Pacific Ocean.

This is what home looks like in Twanoh State Park.

This is what home looks like in Twanoh State Park.

Tim looks out on the water, with the Astoria-Kegler Bridge spanning across the mouth of the vast Columbia River.

Tim looks out on the water, with the Astoria-Kegler Bridge spanning across the mouth of the vast Columbia River.

Downtime at the end of the day in Cannon Beach.

Downtime at the end of the day in Cannon Beach.

Dom and Ben riding into Ecola State Park.

Dom and Ben riding into Ecola State Park.

This. Is. America. Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland. 

This. Is. America. Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland. 

The Burnside Bridge is one of many that span the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

The Burnside Bridge is one of many that span the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

Do yourself a favour and make your way to Portland to sample the many local beers. 

Do yourself a favour and make your way to Portland to sample the many local beers. 

Desert Dry and Ocean Blue

7,724 km - 9,366 km

After camping the night at Kitwanga, we rode south and met up with Sam from Eyecandy Customs Cycles who had provided us with the bearing the day before. He has a great setup in Smithers, BC and was really kind in having a look at our bikes and give us some helpful tips.

We continued southeast along Highway 16 through Burns Lake and Prince George, noticing a growing population and increase in settlements. Wild valleys had evolved into a quilt-pattern of cultivated farmland maximized to produce crops even on the sloped soil that seemingly disappeared into the canyons below. The fertile land was now fenced in, creating pastures for hungry horses who now happily feed on the abundantly rich grass. As we continued on the road, small groupings of remote homes would appear out of blind corners and quickly vanish again behind us, their inhabitants' lives and stories remaining as mysterious to us as ours did to them.

We had organized a stop for the night in Quesnel, BC where we were graciously hosted by Jim and Barb, the parents of Ben's good friend Deane. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and great conversation about their lives in BC, learning about the geography and geology, climate and history, people and culture. They live on a wonderful property with four lovely horses, overlooking Dragon Lake which is invaluable in spawning fish for freshwater BC lakes. 

After a hearty breakfast and some valuable insight on our route to Vancouver, we were once again on the road watching the miles rush by our feet. A short day saw us pass through Williams Lake before turning west on to Highway 99 and arriving at our campsite in the very unique Marble Canyon Provincial Park.  An excerpt from the information sign reads: "Situated in the Pavillion Mountain Range its 335 hectares protect a sample of the dry interior ecosystem. The rainshadow effect of the Coast Mountains creates a warm dry climate here." Wonderful! A pleasant surprise of desert like conditions in otherwise rainy BC. We had no idea. Just one more sleep in the tents before Vancouver for a few days and we were guaranteed a dry night, right? Wrong!

Starting sometime in the middle of the night the heavens opened up and the rain was relentless well into the morning. Our wettest night yet, by far. We packed up our soggy tents, barely shaking them dry as it continued to pour down on us. Knowing we would spend that night in the comfort of Tym and Dom's middle brother Olek's condo our spirits remained high and we rode on into Lillooet for breakfast. The approach into Lilooet is spectacular. The highway hugged the hillside as the railway tracks criss-crossed above and below us on wooden trestle bridges and dark tunnels through the massive rock walls that frame the Fraser Valley, carved deep over time by the continuous flow of white capped rapids. The day would only get better when we left Lillooet, entering the Coast Mountains on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Multitudes of plucky pine trees were perched precariously on the steep rocky slopes that were cloaked in a patchwork of low lying clouds. We rode through a consistent mist, watching beads of water trickle to the side of our visors, allowing us momentary views of our breathtaking surroundings. 

We sped along wide-eyed, watching pencil-thin lines of water trickling down the near vertical rock faces, feeding the emerald green glacial rivers and lakes of the Coast Mountains. The twisting road would snake upwards towards the sky only to slither back down again crossing the numerous creeks on narrow wood-planked bridges. Notional knee-high concrete barriers were few and far between leaving the view and potential plummeting fall very much unobstructed. Ascending from the depths of the valleys to the heights of the mountain tops encompassed by clouds and fog was an experience to remember as the fragile seam between land and sky is not often felt so closely.

Before long Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish had come and gone and we were on the final approach to Vancouver. Traffic and speed steadily increased as we blended into a population of humans who, unlike their northern cousins, were late for this or that - rushing between work, family, and friends trying to live their lives within the tight grip of urban life. Towering rock dissolved from view as towers of concrete and steel occupied the skyline and the fresh air that we once took for granted developed a prominent city taste. There had been a distinct shift: the grey of asphalt that was once a small human scar on the otherwise infinitely green wilderness had become the overwhelming norm as brave trees and bushes planted in planters and parks had become rare sources of shrubbery, and the sounds of scurrying squirrels and blissful birds were now drowned out by angry drivers and broken mufflers. Having been living the same busy and noisy city life only weeks ago, it feels like the northern solitude had instilled in us already a lifetime of change.

The next few days will be a chance to repair some lingering issues with the bikes such as a broken headlight, malfunctioning odometer, and a balding tire; and reset our minds as we gear up to say goodbye to Canada and hello to the next chapter of excitement and adventure.

A pensive owl contemplates his next meal at one of our beautiful BC campsites.

A pensive owl contemplates his next meal at one of our beautiful BC campsites.

After Sam generously helped us out with a new bearing last week, we tracked him down to say thank you!

After Sam generously helped us out with a new bearing last week, we tracked him down to say thank you!

The team with Jim and Barb in Quesnel, BC. 

The team with Jim and Barb in Quesnel, BC. 

Charlie chowing down on some freshly picked and locally grown organic free range gluten-free vegan grass at Jim and Barb's in Quesnel BC.

Charlie chowing down on some freshly picked and locally grown organic free range gluten-free vegan grass at Jim and Barb's in Quesnel BC.

Tym is our team photographer and is beginning to take on night shots. Stay tuned for more!

Tym is our team photographer and is beginning to take on night shots. Stay tuned for more!

A little piece of paradise taken from Jim and Barb's dock on Dragon Lake. 

A little piece of paradise taken from Jim and Barb's dock on Dragon Lake. 

The beautiful winding roads along the Fraser Valley as we arrived at Lillooet for breakfast.

The beautiful winding roads along the Fraser Valley as we arrived at Lillooet for breakfast.

Sometimes the kickstands misbehave. Ben and Tym were happy to help Dom out after a quick photo of course.

Sometimes the kickstands misbehave. Ben and Tym were happy to help Dom out after a quick photo of course.

Ben on the Sea to Sky Highway somewhere between Lillooet and Vancouver. 

Ben on the Sea to Sky Highway somewhere between Lillooet and Vancouver. 

Binos, Bearings, and Beautiful British Columbia

5,163 km - 7,724 km

Having been out of cellular service for a few days now we haven't had the chance to keep you, our faithful followers, up to date. Here is the much anticipated next chapter in the Alaskentina adventure.

After a much needed maintenance day in Fairbanks including a load of laundry, a rinse of our riding gear, a real mattress and a warm shower we were ready to put some miles between us and Deadhorse.

On our way into the a local diner for breakfast, we chatted to some very nice Americans. After a brief description of our trip and the cause, one of them put $20 in our hands before we could say no to help with breakfast. A very kind gesture indeed, and much appreciated. 

We made our way towards Denali National Park intending to lay our eyes on the tallest peak in North America. Denali, formally known as Mount McKinley, is known for being one of the most isolated peaks in the world and has claimed the lives of many who have attempted to conquer it.

When we saw Denali on the map it didn't cross our minds that it may be harder to see in real life. We turned up Denali Road and rode for about eight miles before we saw a cluster of people peering through binoculars into the distance at what appeared to be pretty average sized peaks. We pulled over and, after picking up Ben's bike that tipped over and almost took out a fellow Denali onlooker, discovered the big rock was hidden behind a wall of clouds. A charming couple from Pennsylvania told us this was fairly common as the mountain is obscured from view two out of three days during the summer months. They offered their fancy Swarovski binoculars to us, ensuring of course that they were properly tethered to our wrist with the trusty lanyard, and tried to explain which shades of white were mountains and which were clouds. After a while, we lost hope and figured that we would have to come back later in our lives to see this majestic mountain.  We decided to cut our losses and hopped on our bikes, when all of a sudden there was a brief flurry of activity and the Denali enthusiasts hurried for their binos to catch a glimpse of the emerging peak. There it was. A very real sense of urgency remained, and we were quickly invited to peak through the Swarovskis, and given what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime pass on the wrist lanyard rule. The mountain, although still partially obscured, was much higher and more powerful than expected. The entire summit was revealed and it became clear to us why summiting this mountain is such a feat. 

We left Denali behind us, continuing into a chilly night along the Denali Highway. We are learning that the term 'Highway' is used loosely in this part of the world, because like the Dalton and the Robert Campbell, this was little more than a dirt road.  We enjoyed the beauty of riding through the lush valleys south of the Alaska Range and ended the day at a remote campsite on the Brushkana River with soft sounds of rushing glacier water lulling our tired bodies to sleep.

The sleep lasted well into the morning and we polished off a dozen eggs and a pack of bacon before we set off on the day. As much as we enjoyed dodging potholes and greasing around the gravelly corners of the Denali Highway, it was nice to return to pavement and take the turns with a bit more speed on our way back to Tok, where we had stopped briefly on our way north only six days before.

At one point along the way, we decided to only fill up part way as the gas prices were high and we would be in Tok soon enough. Well, we ended up a bit tight for fuel and rode for about 30 minutes at 75kph to conserve fuel until we came across an unmarked gas station where we made sure to fill them up right to the brim! Lesson learned.

We camped for the night down an unnamed gravel road east of Tok not far from the Tanana River. As much as we have enjoyed the freedom of having light late into the night without need for a headlamp to set up camp, we are noticing the days shorten as we continue southwards. The newly discovered darkness has been refreshing and has helped improve the quality of our sleeps in the translucent tents.

The following morning we were set to return to Canada after our brief Alaskan stint. After a couple hours we were back to the land of kilometres, litres, faded road paint, and unlocked fuel pumps. Home sweet home. We enjoyed a big lunch just past the border and soon enough the Canadian customs officer wandered in to pick up lunch for his team.

As we approached Destruction Bay, named after the heavy winds that destroyed many of the buildings as the town was being built, it is not surprising that the wind arrived in full force. It was relentless in pushing us to the side during a long stretch of loose gravel, slapping us with heavy dust for a good 30km.

The wind eventually subdued and as we approached Whitehorse we were on the lookout for a secret campsite up an 'old dirt road' that 'Shelley from the Yukon', who had sent us down the Robert Campbell Highway to Faro, had also pointed out to us on the map back in Fort Nelson on July 15th. Well, there were a lot of 'old roads' in the area and none jumped out at us. Before we knew it we were 50km from Whitehorse and decided to push on to the city where we would be changing our oil the next day.

The hostel we had chosen was full, and the motels were more expensive than we were comfortable with so we camped in a campground on the east side of town.

Another dozen eggs came and went the next morning, as well as an expired frozen pack of ten dollar bacon that we bought at a gas station in Destruction Bay the day before. We packed up camp and stopped by the local shop for a new odometer cable for Ben's bike. The KLR is the only bike in the trio capable of tracking mileage and the odometer cable had snapped when the bike fell over at the Denali lookout. Once the new cable was installed, we bought some oil and Ryan at Jiffy Lube was happy to let us use the shop and some supplies to change our oil. He was very friendly and keen to help us out in any way he could. These are the kind of people you hope to meet on trips like this and we slipped him $20 for his efforts. We also got chatting to a very nice group of Americans from Johnson City on their way to the lower 48 who gave us $20 for gas. Karma moves quickly sometimes... Pizza Hut was calling our names from across the parking lot, and soon we had filled our bellies on the $12 lunch buffet and made our way towards Teslin for the night.

We arrived early enough to put our feet up and enjoy a nice fire and some tasty dehydrated meals before having a good night's rest. Friday saw us ride through some chilly rain and eventually turn on to the beautiful Stewart-Cassiar Highway. We stopped in the cool little mining town of Jade, BC where 90% of the world's Jade is produced. The pretty green stone makes for beautiful jewellery and ornaments but we didn't buy anything on this visit. 

We were lucky to meet Tina and Thomas from New Zealand who have spent the last two and half years travelling North and South America on their old BMW motorcycles. They provided invaluable advice to us regarding routes, border crossings, and methods for crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. 

In the morning we said farewell to Tina and Thomas and continued our journey south. 50km into the day we had a problem: Tym's bike blew the same bearing Dom's had on the Dalton a week ago exactly. This time, however, there was no replacement part and no quick fix.

Tina and Thomas emerged a short while later and tried their best to help but their spare bearing wasn't quite the right fit. They were very kind and left wishing they could have seen Tym get back on two wheels.

As we were hours from any cell service, we used our satellite texter to contact Dom's girlfriend Marie back in Ontario. She was soon on the hunt for a replacement bearing in our area. Amazingly, she found one a mere 600km away and called the shop owner who, without hesitation, gave the spare part to a fellow biker who was heading our way. Only one catch: he wouldn't be in our area until about 2PM the next day. 

We decided we would try to flag down a truck, get Tym's bike hauled down further south and intercept the needed piece at an agreed upon location with the mystery delivery man. All this hinged on contacting this mystery man, if not we ran the risk of travelling south while he passed us travelling north with our very important bike part!

Before long the man was contacted via the satellite communicator and the plan was in full swing. As Tym rode in the pickup, Ben and Dom continued down the Stewart-Cassiar highway, slightly rushed for time as they needed to make it almost 500km to Kitwanga, BC, pick up the part, fix the bike and find somewhere to sleep - and it was already well into the afternoon.

In a way the time crunch was a shame as we were too busy riding to capitalize on the picture perfect scenery. But it also provided an escape from the camera which never captures the true power of any view anyway. Instead you will have to take our word for it.

Riding along the windy road we experienced tight corners around large outcrops of heavy rock, and at times we were seemingly within arms reach of the rivers, streams and lakes whose paths we shared through the Cassiar mountains. These mountains were magnificent, at first emerging blue-grey from the horizon over the tired pavement, then coming into focus as the tall forest-green walls gave way to the jagged peaks dotted with snow and ice, breaking through the low lying clouds as they reached for the sky above. Alongside the bikes rushed lush ditches of mottled greens, punctuated by pockets of purple wild flowers that covered wide swaths of the roadside. The deep yellow and bright white petals of shorter plants seemed to mirror the lines on the pavement, almost signifying a seamless transition between road and wilderness. At times the tall forest all but encompassed the road, as if we were riding through a long corridor of wavering green. Though the weather was calm, above in the treetops there must have been a firm breeze as fading green leaves and the first touches of yellow fluttered to the ground in front of us, only to be kicked up by the speeding rubber by our feet. Our pace was aggressive but our hearts were at peace and the partially obscured sun cast light perfectly on the dancing leaves and rugged peaks for a brief moment in every turn. The day had had its challenges, but none of that mattered while the road swept us up in its charm. Along the way we saw at least four black bears, two of which were on their hind legs play fighting on the shoulder of the road. Beautiful British Columbia.

We soon made it to the Petro-Canada  where Tym and his bearing were waiting for us. The piece fit and Tym was back on the road after we all enjoyed a much deserved ice cream.

Last night we shared a fire with some nice girls on a road trip from Alaska to California. The people we meet continue to be a highlight of this adventure. 

The next couple days will see us work our way towards Vancouver for a big reset before reaching the U.S. mainland in about a week's time.

Thank you to everyone reading these posts, and we will try to update the blog a bit more often as we re-enter land with more regular cell coverage. Until next time!

Tym with a load of freshly harvested firewood at a campsite off the Denali Highway.

Tym with a load of freshly harvested firewood at a campsite off the Denali Highway.

A morning pit stop along the Denali Highway. 

A morning pit stop along the Denali Highway. 

At the tail end of the Denali Highway. 

At the tail end of the Denali Highway. 

Filling up after almost running dry near the end of our time in Alaska.

Filling up after almost running dry near the end of our time in Alaska.

Our new pal Ryan was most generous in lending us a helping hand at the Jiffy Lube in Whitehorse. 

Our new pal Ryan was most generous in lending us a helping hand at the Jiffy Lube in Whitehorse. 

Home away from home, this is a typical setup for us.

Home away from home, this is a typical setup for us.

Jade, BC. A lovely gift shop and the coffee is free! 

Jade, BC. A lovely gift shop and the coffee is free! 

Tina and Thomas stare at the wheel with us, hoping our gaze will somehow solve the problem.

Tina and Thomas stare at the wheel with us, hoping our gaze will somehow solve the problem.

Our only picture from the breathtaking Stewart-Cassiar Highway.  

Our only picture from the breathtaking Stewart-Cassiar Highway.  

Two of the three musketeers at a pit stop somewhere between Denali and Kitwanga, BC. 

Two of the three musketeers at a pit stop somewhere between Denali and Kitwanga, BC. 

Fitting in the new bearing after a long day. 

Fitting in the new bearing after a long day. 

The James W. Dalton

2,864 km - 5,163 km

The James W. Dalton Highway was built in 1974 as a supply road to support the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that carries crude oil from Prudhoe bay to be refined further south. The highway, 414 miles (666 km) in length, offers various challenges for motorcyclists including many fast-moving semis, deep gravel and mud, tight corners and steep hills. With only one permanent settlement along the way, the road is very remote and bikers need to be ready to deal with their own breakdowns or medical emergencies. 

We arrived at Mile-0 of the Dalton on Thursday morning after a foggy and wet ride from our campsite. The wet weather had created greasy conditions interrupted periodically by stretches of pavement. We had planned on camping at Coldfoot, the only settlement along the way, and having a big day on Friday going from Coldfoot to Deadhorse and back to Coldfoot. 

We crossed the Arctic Circle on our way to Coldfoot and were sitting down to a delicious burger a short time later. After speaking with some other bikers who had just come south from Deadhorse, it became clear that we would have to change our plan. The last 36 miles of the Dalton were being worked on and could take up to two hours to get through. We made the call to push on another 100 miles Thursday night to a campsite at Galbraith Lake, just north of the beautiful Atigun pass that crosses the mighty Brooks Range.

We reached the campsite tired but in awe of the tall, snow-topped peaks splashed by the late-night sun. With rich green valleys between the mountains, it was a beautiful place to lay down our heads. It was a chilly night at the northern extent of the Brooks Range and there was a strong wind. Somehow the mosquitos were unphased and as hungry as ever. The new plan was to reach Deadhorse the next day and make it back to Galbraith Lake for bed, 200 miles shorter than our previous Coldfoot plan.

Friday arrived and we stepped off leaving our tents to dry off in the wind that continued to beat down on the campsite. We soon hit a wall of fog and bitter cold, accentuated by the need to open our visors that had clouded over. With awful visibility we were moving slowly, stopping occasionally to warm our hands by our engines.

Soon we were out of the fog, continuing to dodge gophers, potholes and semi trucks.  Then we reached the construction. We were off to a rough start as Tym's bike wouldn't start after one of the construction delays. He also noticed fuel had been leaking on to his riding pants, his headlight was broken and some bolts had fallen out leaving his muffler and luggage racks hanging on by a thread. Tym was having a bad day.

The deep gravel sections were the most difficult times along the Dalton, but we managed to stay wheels-down, despite a few close calls - especially for Ben. After taking 3.5 hours to complete the first 100+ miles of the day, the last 36 miles took another 2.5 hours! After topping up Dom's tank when he ran dry, we were eating lunch at the Aurora Hotel by 3PM.

The Aurora Hotel is a great facility with delicious food, spacious rooms and comfortable beds. It is the perfect place to regroup overnight at the top of the Dalton Highway and enjoy some much deserved rest and a hot shower. It's just too bad it would have cost us $430 USD to spend the night! 

After a stop at the hardware store, a few pictures by the Deadhorse sign, and a few minutes fixing Tym's starter, headlight and muffler we were ready to turn around and truly begin our adventure. We were finally heading south! The second time through the construction was easier with some newly gained experience and now that some loose stuff had been compacted. The light was on our side and we made it back to camp by 11.

Another chilly night went by and we set off back through the Atigun pass. Heading towards a threatening sky we were crossing our fingers for dry roads on the southernmost leg of the Dalton. After another tasty meal in Coldfoot and a fresh tank of gas, the end was in sight and we were picturing the warmth of a real bed. Tonight we would treat ourselves. 

The Dalton, however, was not quite finished with us. After helping two friendly Brazilians fix a flat tire, Dom blew a bearing. Having the right replacement part was incredibly good news, and with a little thinking outside the box we were able to get the job done pretty quickly. All the while, Sydney the Brazilian was not too concerned about Dom's bearing and was instead eager to show Ben and Tym pictures of the grizzly bear he had just seen and confirm the correct spelling of Caribou. He produced some delicious cheese, pepperoni and crackers, and before long we were on the move. Another few miles went by before we needed to help out the Brazilians one last time as the flat was back and the BMW's battery was dead.

We finished the Dalton as we started it - tired and in the rain - but it was over. After another couple hours of riding through the rain we were back in Fairbanks and rented rooms for the night at the University of Alaska.

Today was spent washing the bikes, doing laundry, and other maintenance items that can't get done easily on the road. Tonight we will take a look at the map and plan out the next few days as we shift our sights southwards to British Columbia and beyond. 

At the foot of the Dalton Highway. 

At the foot of the Dalton Highway. 

Warning signs near the start of the highway. 

Warning signs near the start of the highway. 

Entering the majestic Arctic. 

Entering the majestic Arctic. 

Fueling up in Coldfoot. This is the type of truck you have to deal with on the Dalton.

Fueling up in Coldfoot. This is the type of truck you have to deal with on the Dalton.

Dom cruising up the start of the Atigun Pass through the Brooks Range.

Dom cruising up the start of the Atigun Pass through the Brooks Range.

The campsite at Galbraith Lake. 

The campsite at Galbraith Lake. 

You need to get close to the engine to warm up your hands. This was on the final leg towards Deadhorse. 

You need to get close to the engine to warm up your hands. This was on the final leg towards Deadhorse. 

Deadhorse: the end of the Dalton Highway and the start of our journey south. 

Deadhorse: the end of the Dalton Highway and the start of our journey south. 

Fixing Dom's bearing took some improvisation. Ben and Dom are heating up the hub with the jetboil to remove the busted bearing. 

Fixing Dom's bearing took some improvisation. Ben and Dom are heating up the hub with the jetboil to remove the busted bearing. 

Howie the Kawi, worth about $2000, helping out the $20,000 BMW GS 1200.

Howie the Kawi, worth about $2000, helping out the $20,000 BMW GS 1200.

Heart of the Gold Rush

762 km - 2,864 km

We had a beautiful ride from Faro, YT to Carmacks, YT but the skies clouded over shortly after. We continued the rest of the day in gloomy weather with the occasional rain shower but not enough to give us or the bikes a good cleaning so everything is still pretty dusty. 

The people of the Yukon are quite unique. One lady touching up the flowers at the Carmacks gas station was quick to remark that she didn't like Faro because it was in the middle of nowhere. When prodded she reluctantly agreed that Carmacks was also in the middle of nowhere, though closer to the main highway.

We reached Dawson City in the late afternoon and settled on setting up camp in the RV park in the middle of town to facilitate enjoying the bustling night life. That is no joke, the town was full of activity into the early hours of the morning when dusk took over the threatening skies. Dawson City is an amazing town; once the capital city of the Yukon with a population of 40,000 during the peak of the gold rush, it is now home to roughly 1,300 people year around and can reach up to 5,000 during the summer months.

That night we enjoyed some local Yukon beers, had the famous Dawson City Sourtoe Cocktail (Google it!), and played pool at 'The Pit' as the local bartenders and waitresses who had served us elsewhere earlier in the night trickled in.

The following morning was a bit slow and we took advantage of the information centre wifi to update the website, send a few emails, and call home.

Ben took the opportunity to visit his dad's old friend Gerry Couture and his wife Jan. They've lived in the Yukon for almost 50 years, spending the first 20 years in what was supposed to be a temporary home deep in the bush.  They had been collecting logs to build a more permanent home but they were unfortunately swept away in a flood. During their time in the bush, Gerry worked as a trapper, freight barge operator, commercial fisherman and more. Life was tough and Jan had the challenging role of raising three children and keeping the home fires burning. They shot, caught and grew most of their food and were proud to say that they were never short on grub. They spoke too of the challenges of living through the winters, acknowledging with an understated sense of pride the resiliency they gained from it. Gerry warned that 'once you drink water north of 60, you never leave', and noted that those who do leave shouldn't sell their belongings because they will come back.  

Speaking with them reinforced a common theme in the Yukon - those that live here permanently love it, and  are extremely proud of their home. It  truly is a magical part of the world.

Still feeling a bit tired from the previous night we set off on our agreed upon journey to Chicken, AK not knowing what lay ahead of us. Travelling across the Top of the World Highway was an unforgettable experience that we were happy to cross of our bucket lists before we even knew it existed. No words or pictures can capture its power or beauty and we hope that all of you reading this can one day experience it for yourselves. We attemped to capture it's beauty with a proper photo shoot a kilometre shy of the Alaska border, complete with DSLR and tripod. Stay tuned for the photos!

We crossed the border into Alaska and were pleased to see the roads were paved on the American side. This didn't last long and we were soon on roads rougher than the ones we had had in Canada. The day ended in Chicken, AK - an extremely cool little town where the bar doesn't close until you leave and you're able to camp in the backyard for free. 

Today we continued on to Fairbanks, stopping in Tok to top up snacks and oil. We put the spare fuel bottles to use as Ben and Howie went dry a kilometre outside Fairbanks. A quick supper at the Safeway hit the spot and we were off to a campsite 20 mi North of the city.

We weren't the only ones happy to be setting up camp as the mosquitos had an absolute feeding frenzy. Tym and Dom took the opportunity to change the cush rubbers on the rear hub of Tym's bike, and as you could have guessed the rain started shortly after they did and is steadily picking up. Ghe tents are getting soggier every day, but it will take more than a bit of rain to wipe the smiles off our faces. Tomorrow we will reach the Dalton Highway and stop for the night in Cold Foot. If we don't get cold feet we plan to have an early morning on Friday and get up to Deadhorse and back later that day. Stay tuned to see if we made it!

Ben with his dad's old friend Gerry Couture. 

Ben with his dad's old friend Gerry Couture. 

Home for the night in Chicken, AK. 

Home for the night in Chicken, AK. 

Teepee Creek Stampede to the Float Plane Campsite

0 km - 762 km

Grand Prairie was our last taste of civilization before we were consumed by the vast wilderness of northern BC and The Yukon. We made the most of it by enjoying the Chuckwagon Races at the Teepee Creek Stampede, a few beers and one last night in a house. Dom's old friend Paul hosted us and generously sent us off with a big McDonalds breakfast that kept our bellies content well into the afternoon.

Ben's bike wouldn't start in the morning as the side stand safety cable was caught on the tank bag strap but that was quickly rectified. What followed was a beautiful day for riding which saw us reach the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek. We camped at Fort Nelson and got some tips from our neighbour Shelley from the Yukon.

The next day had a bit of everything: sun, rain, hail, mud, and dust greeted us periodically throughout the day. It was also a good day for wildlife as we saw a black bear, several moose with their young , mountain sheep, and tons of Buffalo.

The unique Liard Hotspring was a welcome stop along the way and was quite soothing for our tender behinds... Even after three days!

We ended up finding a campsite next to the Hyland River at the BC/Yukon border. It was an old bumpy hunting road to get in there but certainly worth the effort.

Yesterday was a new adventure. After checking out Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake,  Shelley from the Yukon's advice led us down 500km of gravel, dirt and mud through stunning scenery. We went 375km without a gas station but luckily we all made it without even needing to go into the reserve tank. Good to know our range! Not much wildlife today other than a porcupine and the odd chipmunk. When we fuelled up in Ross River, YT we were struck by the harsh realities of living in such a remote northern community with little access to services. Businesses were boarded up and the town felt quite somber. We continued on to Faro, YT and had a big supper at the hotel prepared by an ex-army cook and served by a lovely Austrian lady who moved from Europe to the Yukon to have a bit more space and fewer people. She has certainly come to the right place.

We set up our tents by Johnson Lake next to an old float plane just before the rain started to fall. We hope to get to Dawson City today which, if you trust Google, is 13 hours away, but the locals say it's closer to 6.

 

Chuck races at the Teepee Creek stampede

Chuck races at the Teepee Creek stampede

The Alaska Highway! Too bad Alaska is still a few days away. 

The Alaska Highway! Too bad Alaska is still a few days away. 

The campsite along the Hyland River. 

The campsite along the Hyland River. 

The Boys at Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake YT

The Boys at Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake YT

Mud and dust make the bikes look tough. 

Mud and dust make the bikes look tough. 

Last night's campsite, complete with our own private float plane. 

Last night's campsite, complete with our own private float plane.