barton returns from scouting the riverbed and gives me the thumbs up. deep down this was what i was a little afraid of, and not even that deep and certainly not that little.
“i think you can do it, but it’s lots of rocks, lots of big rocks… but if you’re not sure we can go back, i dont want to pressure you…”
an hour earlier the track we had been following descended into a ravine and then disappeared in a riverbed without coming out the other side
we parked the bikes and walked, first up stream and then the other direction, but we couldnt find where the road left the river again, although we could see the track cut into the mountain another few km away.
barton is on a husaberg 570, a true enduro bike, 115kg light, built for riding in riverbeds, so off he went to see if he could find where the road came out of the river, and an hour later he came back, flushed red and sweating hard.
“i found it, the road comes out about 2km from here…”
“ok then lets do it” i say, internally wondering how many times i’m going to fall trying to ride it.
barton goes first and picks his way through the rocks, bouncing and crashing his way forward. i select first gear, say “fuck” out loud and drop down into the rocks.
riding a 250kg bike in big rocks like this takes courage, actually no, it takes lunacy, blind lunacy. it also requires total commitment. so off i went, feet on the pegs, balls first into a pile of stones and water.
my only real tactic at that point was to maintain momentum, regardless of what was in front of me, just keep the throttle open and try to keep moving, while we are moving we havent fallen over yet… right?
at this point i need to give full credit to ktm who somehow have built a 190kg bike that can be loaded with luggage and still ridden in a river bed over enormous stones. Hard work though. I have a bit of a moment and need to stop to avoid a fall, at which point the weight of the bike is really telling.
I’m stuck between 2 rocks, pointing directly at the river a metre in front of me. i cant turn the bike and i cant get off. the obvoious thing to do is get barton to come over and help me turn it a little, but i’m now really hot and a bit angry… actually a lot angry.
every adrenal gland in my body opens simultaneously as i drop the clutch and fire the bike into the river, across the river, into more rocks, across them, into the river again, then soft sand, more rocks, more water, more rocks… i feel something hit me in the back and it all gets a little easier all of a sudden
“must have lost the spare tyre” i think, but cant stop now (yes i have/had a spare tyre strapped to the bike). another 100m of this and i pull up on a bit of level ground, satisfied at having travelled a few hundred metres without falling.
barton is laughing and picking up the bits and pieces that came loose, 3 litres of water, a spare tyre and luggage net.
it’s about 2km to the point where the road comes out of the river so we set off again, i think this is the hardest stuff i have ever ridden, or at least, it’s the hardest riding, as betsy is full of fuel, luggage and a spare rear tyre too. I fall once and then again hurting my ankle a little, but we’re making progress…
“the end is just around that corner” barton says pointing a few hundred metres ahead.
the front tucks in some soft sand and i fall again. this time betsy is right over on her side and it’s all i have to get her up again. the bark buster has twisted on the bars but the rest looks ok, i’m swearing some more as i bash at the bark buster to get it out of the way to continue, but then pull the front brake and it hits the grip. bad. the bark buster has broken the front brake line.
i motion to barton that betsy is dead, and he comes back to take a look. we were headed to a remote town making our way north but this puts a spanner in the works as i cant really ride too much without a front brake. i’m a bit pissed off, mostly at myself for the stupid fall and crappy end to the day, we decided to turn back and so without much more fuss i get on and do it all again in reverse… this time without the brake.
cue more falling, eventually a big dent in a pannier and another bruised leg and finally we’re out of the river and back on the track headed back to fiamballa. it’s 80km to get back and the sun is setting so we speed back to avoid riding in in the dark, a deep river crossing has us both drenched just to make things worse but we make it back to town and a warm room.
we’re both limping badly as we enter the hosteria, wet and filthy, the poor argentinian woman looks a little scared but doesnt tell us she’s full. it’s been a really hard day and we’re in the same town as last night, now with a broken bike.
but this is the stuff that dreams are made of right!? this is why i’m here so once the swelling has subsided a little and we’re on to the 5th beer i say dryly
“what a fantastic day”
“yeah what a bruiser huh!”
we both laugh and order another round, now i just need to find a new brake line 🙂
many of the pics below are from the Paso San Francisco, where we crossed from chile to argentina. amazing scenery, really thin air and not many petrol stations!!!