The big day came and I peeled my tent from the now properly rotten patch of lawn I’d lived on for the last month and strapped my things to my bike, it had taken last month or so to get this far, the unstoppable research-and-getting-things-done machine that was me was now ready to launch – as soon as my keys would turn up. Rodolfo came around, we found the keys and took the obligatory pre trip photos then he was the first of many who would hopefully sign my bike.
I got directions to the highway and because of the blistering pace I’d got everything packed and done that morning, I reached it by the crack of just 1PM. By 5 past I was getting a feel for the bike with the backpack and tank bag on it, and by a ten past I was certain it was the wrong one for the trip.
It was only a minute or so onto the first truly open kilometers of highway I felt that cough and splutter anyone who’s ever run out of fuel knows – It turned out that after a short time on the highway above 70% throttle the engine would hesitate and surge, it would become worse and worse until it couldn’t hold 5th gear, and it would die any time the engine got close to idle, I knew the symptoms, but it couldn’t be right – had the designers really given the bike a carburettor that drains empty at highway speed? I told myself off for being so stupid that I had actually bought a bike without test riding it, This is why! See?! You complete idiot! shaking my head. I pulled over to check things out, sure enough the spark plug was showing signs of the engine not getting enough fuel, but soon I found a kink in the fuel line where I’d hastily installed a second fuel filter, I change the hoses around and feel glad no one will ever know about this.
But the designers weren’t off the hook yet, the users’ manual that came with this machine claimed in block letters on the first page that the top speed was 130kph, while here I am feeling a vibrating and asthmatic little engine scream at what the lazy and ever-understating tacho calls about 5,500RPM and the speedo with great generosity points to 80 or 85kph, while the GPS takes about 10-15kph back off that. I remember the reputation of these engines for spontaneous pyrotechnics, so soberly I back off the throttle before the piston gets a chance to come flying through the fuel tank, now having to average a more ‘engine safe’ speed of just 65kph. But it didn’t matter, I was a travelling motorcyclist now, I was all frightening and wild like you see on TV – danger had been given a new name then fitted with knobby tires and yellow fairings. I even have a big protective jacket with a little bit of dirt on the sleeve to prove how dangerous I am! King of the road I decided, yeah! and while climbing a hill two fatties on a scooter whipped past me as if I was stopped, adding the special condition of ‘as long as no one else is around’ to the title.
And it still didn’t matter – see speed’s not what it’s about, the point is that together my bike and I ate up entire kilometers of freedom at a time! though it is true that after only 150 of them we were caught embarrassingly short due to being threatened by the fearsome and unpredictable voyage stopper that is the gently fading light of late afternoon, and dutifully surrendered without question – but in a badass kind of way.
It was time to find somewhere to set up camp, so after an hour of riding around in the sparsely populated spread of a rural town trying to find the most ruthless spot to pitch a tent without getting in trouble, I decided that in lieu of anywhere sufficiently wild or dangerous, the city’s designated camping area was going to have to do, although in keeping with my new unruly biker image I must admit that I pitched my tent almost 50M from the normal camping area on the edge of a field and a small forest (sorry mum). Unfortunately after dark this place also attracted both security guards and young lovers, and the night featured disturbances from both.
The next day I rose very early, I won’t say what time because I am too wild and free to measure my day by such things anymore, but it was so early that there were probably some people who hadn’t even arrived at work yet. I packed the bike and was back on the highway before the sun had even got to its highest point in the sky, by the time it had set I had smashed out another 200KM onto the odometer, and who knows how many metal filings from the inside of the engine. I’d now done less than 400KM in two days, and that was without anything breaking or even having so much as noticed a single corner in the road, I started to have a relapse of the common sense that had left me in Ecuador, and it did not feel good.
It’s fun to write about now that it was a week or so ago, but this was that low point where any logical person, and also myself as well, must come to the conclusion that this is going to take a lot more time, and because of that, money than expected, I started thinking about how much I’d already spent to get here, and scolded myself for having chosen a completely ridiculous bike for this trip, and on top of that, the only other owner of one of these that I’ve spoken to had recently told me that after only 8,000km his engine had completely without explanation melted into an expensive, totally over the top paperweight. This bad idea was already starting to look worse.
I started processing in my head the more likely than not possibility that I’m going to have to sell everything I have for enough cash for a plane ticket back to Australia and enough to live again until I get a job. I also considered the likelihood that my future is going to involve a lot of eating two-minute noodles and also that having to get my sauce for free from other peoples’ unused Mc Donalds sachets is more than just ‘high’
This kind of thing can really start to get a person down, especially if you’re going to be alone for a while, and even more so if you’re might live where they only sell those ‘maggi’ noodles that come in the yellow and red packet, damn they are the worst.
But with all the most well deserved regrets, there was a silver lining. 20 hours later I was enjoying some of the fruits of my stupidity in buying this particular bike when after a 3rd day of boring straight roads I deviated and happened upon a track too good to believe had even been mentioned by my GPS.
This was too perfect to come second to my frontal lobe’s nagging about soon needing eat and a place to stay the night. It was just me, my bike, some things I needed and nothing I didn’t, all on a road so perfect it was probably copied from a computer game. The afternoon sky was lit up sideways from the side by the nearly dormant sun, and was awash with a swirl of dense blues and purples like you see on the faded tie die shirts that the baby boomers wore in the 60’s.
Mammoth clouds rolled over spare spaces in the sky with colour and slowly changing edges like spilled ink on a wet page, and Kings of Leon’s because of the times album in my new fangled noise cancelling headphones, if there was a time I’ve wondered if I might actually be in a music video, this was it.
I scrambled over the very type of rocks, sand and mud that dreams are made of, riding into parts of road made it seemed only of sections of muddy water, whose depth remains unknown until totally committed. Pull back – power on – hope to come out the other side, once diving into a puddle and half disappearing into the water deep enough to kill most bikes’ engines, just for this little moment I emerge victorious and think ‘yeah! that’s why I bought this bike’
It wasn’t long until the bike began dancing beneath me with increasing enthusiasm for life, and indicated by feeling my face make “oops!” and “ooh.. that could have gone either way!” expressions more and more often, I noticed I was starting to ride closer and closer to the edge of my ability. My pace was cut down to size when I came up behind a dump truck lumbering its way down the one lane track which has now turned to mostly sand and potholes, a perfect opportunity to assess the pace I’d just been making and issue myself a well deserved telling off complete with mandatory 30 second “Chill the f*ck out and think about what you are doing before passing” period.
Up ahead I could see that the sandy track widened from somewhere around just wide enough for the truck up to being pretty much wide enough to pass, ‘especially if he sees me and slows down’ I reassure myself. The extra width appears on the right hand side of the truck and I roll on as much throttle as I feel I can control then let the bike wander to the right and down from the raised centre into what I find to be the somewhat softer sand of the edge of the road. Completely contrary to any input I can give, the front wheel swings like a naughty horse shaking its head left to right as if to say “No! Not down here!” But I’m already committed now and try to act on the tip I read on the internet that time about how you should stand up and give more power while riding a motorcycle on sand because it gives you more control, so in acknowledgement of my insurance situation and out of courtesy to my friends and family back home I rise from my seat and feel good about myself for negating much of the risk I’d have otherwise been taking. The bike straightens up and submits again.
Just an arm’s length away the truck’s heavy wheels thump and shudder through the ruts and holes we share and my relative size and weight are given perspective as the mighty 229cc engine does its best to try and propel me a meter at a time towards that safe zone ahead where I will be past the front of the truck and no longer being next to this shaking and rumbling juggernaut which is likely to not even yet be aware of me. We get almost 3/4 of the way past the truck before I am reminded that In times of risk and excitement there often comes a moment of clarity which forces one to take that step back and say “oh, so that’s what, and this is why” – And in the time of making my decision to pass I had been focused almost entirely on what was directly in front of me and had only given the quickest of glances at this free section of ground I could use to pass to make sure it was long enough, but hadn’t seen one of it’s most important features -it was a drain and was increasing in depth. “Huh, so that’s what this is, and this is why the truck isn’t driving in it”
I chose this point to make use of any power I hadn’t yet employed and notice myself making another silly face as I wondered if it would be enough. The drain would soon deepen and stop abruptly in a soak hole, a point which was now closing in fast.
A small space had begun to open up between the truck’s wheels and the edge of actual usable road surface, now a meter and a bit to my left and at a level roughly in line with the top of my tiny front wheel. So with this decision better made sooner rather than later, I position myself on the bike to climb diagonally up the sandy edge, give everything to the plan, and hit the sand hard.
The impact knocked the wind out of me for just a second but the truck rolled it’s weight right past my helmet with plenty of centimetres to spare and was stopped 20 or 30 meters up the road with the driver leaning out of an open door probably yelling something like “¿todo bien?” I gave him a thumbs up, and quick to prove it was nothing, lifted the bike to remove my leg from beneath the bike, jumped to my feet and dragged the front around by the handlebars to point out of the drain and kicked it alive. The Kings of Leon on keep playing through my headphones, the song is “Camaro” and I let it play on.
The front wheel had ‘washed out’ meaning that it simply didn’t have the grip to do what I’d asked it and instead gave up, dumping the bike there and then. I felt some twisting pressure on ankle and wondered what it might have been like with only the hiking shoes I had originally intended to ride in, I remembered my friends back in Foz Do Iguaçu and wondered if I should give them the satisfaction of knowing they were right about buying these motorbike boots.
With both myself and the truck driver having an increased awareness of my actual riding ability, I was carefully let past second time lucky and the road eventually regained some sensibility then joined with a stretch of tarmac, leading me to a village where I could buy supplies and have an opportunity in peace to tell myself off some more – I was lucky to get away with just a story, and had now to find a way to remember this as something other than ‘a win if there ever was one’ so as to discourage more of the same behaviour in the future.
I was the centre of attention until what looked and sounded like the local primary school dropout turned up, a long-haired 40 something, sporting a flat deck ute and some concert sized speakers strapped to the back. He was announcing his arrival to the quiet 3 street town by circling the block and blasting us with the most abrasive house music he could figure out how to burn to CD, and once sure everyone had noticed, he pulled up outside the supermarket and went inside to disturb the few people he knew who had jobs, but not before regaining himself some serious street cred by changing the song to Berlin’s 1986 hit “take my breath away” for him to listen to from outside during his visit. An undercover champion if there ever was one.
I took a photo of this eccentric old man standing on the street corner just surveying the scene, the privilege cost me 50c.
I rode off into the now almost finished afternoon breaking almost the last of the commandments I’d set out for myself, ‘Thou shalt never ride at night’ leaving only Don’t crash too badly and don’t die yet to be broken.