Day 1 of this Rescue Mission Impossible entailed riding from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos -- that's 356 miles and two border crossings (Argentina to Chile to Argentina). Rides under 400 miles long aren't too difficult, but the border crossings and the extra breaks required when transporting Suri add at least another four hours to my timeline. Also, it rained for the two days leading up to my departure and it was forecasted to rain for the remainder of the week, so I extended my timeline to account for this as well. If my math was correct, I needed to leave Ushuaia between 5 and 5:30 am in order to reach Rio Gallegos at a reasonable time.
I was running about 20 minutes late when I discovered that one of the straps I use to secure Suri's cage to the motorcycle was busted. I left it too close to the heater the night before, so when I ran it through the cage it snapped in half. Losing or breaking those ties can be a ride deal breaker, because, unless I can safely secure her cage, my bike isn't moving. Russ and I came up with an alternative that was just as safe, so I was able to leave only an hour and a half late.
When I pulled out of the parking lot I was relieved to finally be on the road, but I also felt an overwhelming sense of loss. I felt as though I was completely alone in the world. During our rides Russ and I maintained constant radio contact, so whenever one of us spotted a potential hazard, we'd warn the other. As I rode out of Ushuaia this morning I found myself calling these potential hazards out, then my helmet would respond with "not available," and that made me feel even more alone.
When I left it was raining and the temperature was in the mid 40s. The landscape looked completely different than when we arrived, not only because of the contrast between sunny and rainy, but also because all of the mountains were snowed in. As I began to wind my way up to the first pass I noticed a blinking light on my dashboard. It was the thermometer letting me know that the temperate had just dropped below 37 degrees. This was the first time I thought I might need to postpone my departure. The rain combined with freezing temperatures would make those mountains impassable on a motorcycle. I thought about turning back, but decided to slow down instead and keep a close eye on the temperature. The temperature dropped to 34 degrees and I remembered that one of our thermostats is off -- Russ' and my bike both get different temperature readings by a few degrees. That's enough variance to make ice on the road, so which motorcycle was correct? I did a quick body check and realized that for the first time on this adventure my feet were actually cold. Although I was wearing my heavy duty winter gloves and the handgrips warmers were on high, I couldn't feel my fingers.
Luckily the lowest temperature at the highest point of the pass was around 34 degrees, and it rose by 2 degrees as I made my way back down the mountain. By the time I got to Rio Grande, my first refueling stop, the temperature was in the upper 30s and the rain had stopped. I had hoped to let Suri out at the gas station, but the place was packed and there was no place to park. I pulled out of the gas station and tried to park on the side of the road, but the gravel was too unstable and I nearly lost my footing. The bike tipped within millimeters from the point of no return, but I got lucky and my boot was planted on solid ground. Though barely, I was able to recover and averted the fall. These falls aren't a big deal -- we've fallen many times during this adventure -- but it takes two people to get one of these bikes off the ground. If I dropped the bike in the middle of nowhere, it could be hours before anyone would come by to help me lift it. I decided to wait to let Suri out until I reached the first rest area in Chile, since those tend to have much better surfaces.
At the border I was able to get through Argentina's side in about 15 minutes, but when I got to the Chilean side things got complicated. First, they were concerned that Suri's Chilean health certificate expires within 6 days. I didn't want to antagonize these people, so I kept my mouth shut and let them figure it out. I'd speak up if they tried to turn me back. Once we got the dates worked out, they asked me if I had dog food with me. If so, they couldn't let it through. Right in front of me they took Suri's brand new bag of food, dumped it into a container, and sprayed it with what I imagine must be poison. Again, I just wanted to get through the border so I kept my mouth shut. I was finally waved through.
For the next couple of hours or so I rode on a dirt road. On the way to Ushuaia the road had been very dusty, and now that it had rained it was very muddy and slippery. When we finally reached pavement I was very relieved, and felt even better when I saw the first rest area. Suri had endured cold temperatures and a very long ride without a break, so I was eager to get her out of that box. When I finally came to a stop I attempted to put down the kickstand and tilted the bike too far to the right. That's when I dropped it.
I attempted to lift the bike using the recommended techniques, but 600 lbs of bike and equipment aren't that easy to move. I realized that I wasn't going to get the bike upright quickly enough, so I decided to remove Suri's cage and set it aside while I worked on the bike. But her cage was pressed between the bike and a guard rail, so there was no unlatching the cage. The next best thing would be to let Suri out of the cage, but the door was jammed and I couldn't get it open. Now I started to get desperate. I walked around the bike, trying to find an angle that would allow me to lift it, but the guard rail made it almost impossible for me to get a good grip and use my legs to lift. All the while I kept an eye out for cars, but no one was coming. I grabbed my phone to look for the nearest anything on the map. I figured I'd call and ask for help. That's when I realized that my phone had not been charging throughout the ride and it was now on less than 10% charge. I had to get the bike upright by myself and I had to do it now. I planted my boots on the guardrail and after testing its sturdiness, I pushed. It didn't seem like the bike would move, but then I felt it give a little. I needed a quick break and tried to hold it in place, but it was too heavy and the bike fell again. I pushed again and this time I kept going with no breaks until the bike was upright. The moment I finally put the kickstand down I felt like I was going to pass out. I let Suri out of her cage and we both sat there for a good while.
I set my phone on airplane mode and plugged it in to make sure it was charging, but it seemed today was the day my cable decided not to work at all. As we rode toward Rio Gallegos the charger would come and go, just enough so that we'd have some maps to get us to the apartment. When we finally checked in at the apartment I shared some of our adventures with our host. He offered to take us to the store to get a new cable and dog food, which was great because otherwise I have no idea how we would have gotten those things. I bought a new cable and plugged in my phone, but the phone wouldn't charge. It looks like the problem is the phone and not the cable, which is a big problem. Without the phone I have no GPS. If I was going to move forward I needed a new unit, but there was no way to get one tonight. It'd have to wait until after we arrived in Comodoro Rivadavia. Since there was nothing to be done tonight, I decided to take a look at the phone to see if there was anything I could do to fix the connection problem. Using the sewing kit that Karie put in my bag, I started scraping the connection receptor on the phone. I couldn't believe how much stuff was coming out — it didn't seem physically possible to fit all that stuff in such a little spot. I felt hopeful that this might have been the problem and was elated when the phone started charging again.
I'm just now starting to get the feeling back in my fingers. My back is stiff and in pain. And Suri insists that since Chile will probably throw away her dog food when we go through the border again in a few days, we should instead just buy enough food for each day. Wings will do. Yeah, nice try. Oh, and she found another dead bird today.
Tomorrow we're off to Comodoro Rivadavia and hope that things will go a little better than today.