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January 13th, 2011 - Patagonia Breakdown Aftermath

As you read previously, my motorcycle broke down in Patagonia after wrestling for two days with mighty winds, and I had to send it to the next town so I could start the diagnosis. Well the diagnosis is in. I took the engine apart and my suspicions were right on the money. I had three pistons with holes on top. To make it worse, debris from the detonations splattered all over the inside of the engine, and destroyed the rod bearings. Mar del Plata, Argentina was the end of this motor.

Although all the parts could be found either in US or Europe, there were virtually no parts available in Argentina for this bike. As I always do, I turned to my abundant faithful Suzuki followers on the GSR and in no time, Matt Hanscom, one of the GSR members generously donated a complete motor out of his own bike, and the rest of the guys gathered up the bits and pieces for the swap. Z1 Enterprise kicked in with all new gaskets and necessary parts to make the replacement engine as reliable as new, and as we speak, there are a few guys working on the engine to get it into shape. The big problem is shipping the motor down south, and although many has pledged donations or already contributed towards the shipping cost, it’s still not clear which route we should take to get it down here economically and quickly.

I’m eager to thank everyone who has helped with this dilemma, either financially or by moral support, but I don’t have the complete list of names here so I won’t mention any until I do. Thank you for all you’re doing and thank you for the encouraging comments and emails, they do make me feel that I’m not alone. In the mean time while I’m waiting for the engine to get here, here’s the aftermath story:

Tati and Facundo took me to the bus station and made sure that the driver knew where to drop me off. I was supposed to get off the bus 40km before Mar del Plata at the Otamendi Junction, and the guys would pick me up to take me to Tati’s farm in Otamendi. He even wrote on a piece of paper for me: I need to get off in Otamendi, in Spanish just in case the driver forgot.

The bus ride was only 400km long and I figured it would take no more than 6 hours, but I guess the Argentine buses are like Greyhounds; it stopped a million times to pick up passengers along the way. I was dead tired and I slept pretty much the whole time. Tati was supposed to call me at 6pm to see where I was to pick me up so I kept the phone on for his call. Around 6 pm the phone rang, and it was Cynthia who hadn’t heard from me in a few days and had no idea yet about the motorcycle motor. I told her that the bike motor blew up, and that I was on a bus and asked her not to call me as I was waiting for a phone call (the phone battery was almost dead) and hung up. She took it as I was blowing her off, and called again. It took 6 more phone calls and precious battery life to literally beg her not to call, and by that time the phone died for good.

At dusk, after 8 hours I got dropped off at Otamendi road, a long country road with nothing in sight with no phone or even knowing where I should go. The clouds started coming in and a light drizzle started as I waited over hour and half at the side of the road for a phone call that I couldn’t answer. I tried turning the phone back on and it started ringing immediately. It was Tati and all I said was that “I’m here,” and it cut off again. As I was preparing myself for a bivouac for the night, I saw a dim motorcycle light approaching me, and that was the Calvary.

Facundo took me to the farm where we had a reunion. Four other guys with their bikes were there and along with a German woman who the guys had seen riding her Suzuki DR400 heading for Buenos Aires and invited her too. The giant grill at Tati’s farm was in full operation with chickens and chorizos roasting away, and the endless flow of wine took my mind off the pickle of a situation I was in, at least for the night. We would go to Mar del Plata after the holiday to see about the bike.

The next day Tati took me to his mom’s house where I could stay. Fortunately they had the much needed internet and I started the search for the parts. Not knowing what was wrong with the bike yet, all I could do was to wait. Finally the holiday was over and we picked up the bike and rented a truck to take it back to the farm. Loading and unloading this beast on back of a pickup truck is not easy as we had no ramps and with the bike not running, even if we had ramps it would be a nightmare. When we got to Otamendi, there were only three of us so we opted for a solution. Tati ran into town and picked up couple of drunk guys from a local bar to help out for $2 each. With five us, we picked up the bike and lowered it to the ground.

I immediately started to dismantle the engine and the further I inspected the worse it looked. Three pistons out of four had dime size holes on top and with further inspection, it turned out that the rod bearings were shot from the debris of the blown up pistons. The engine was beyond repair. It was repairable if I had the parts, a clean place to work, tools and access to a machine shop, but I had none of that. I reported my findings and dismay on the GSR (the Suzuki forum) and went to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, the guys at GSR were already on top of it and were making things happen. Matt Hanscom, a member and a friend, donated a complete engine out of his own bike, Z1 Enterprise, our parts sponsor pitched in with all new parts to make the new engine road worthy, another member donated a complete final drive, and Jared Williams, our public relation director (also a GSR member) lead the whole orchestra.

Despite Christmas closing in and family responsibilities, Jared went out of his way and picked up the engine in Maine, then disassembled the whole thing in his kitchen to fix it up. More GSR guys pitched in and they had a wrenching party at Jared’s house to finish the work. In the meanwhile, many members donated money for the shipping cost, and all I had to do was to stay put. And put I stayed. I stayed at the farm. Alone.

I read the two books I had with me twice, watched every movie I had on my computer, wrote blogs, edited videos and even tried to compose music on my computer, but there was nothing that could cure my boredom. I spent the Christmas alone and the New Year. My only transportation was a lousy ancient bicycle that went flat every day, and heading to the town of Otamendi became my only getaway. I would go to an internet cafe to catch up on the shipping process despite the ungodly slow connection, and busied myself shopping for food. Cynthia served as my only contact many days with the outside world, as even my parents couldn’t get a hold of me.

My only pastime became killing flies at the farm as with a pig farm next door, there was never a shortage of flies in my room. Sometimes there were a few hundred files hanging upside down from the ceiling, and one movement from me sent them buzzing all over the place. The first few days I bought bug sprays to kill them, but it got expensive quickly. Then I learned to spray a few shots, and close the door for a few minutes. It wouldn’t kill them but made them a much easier target for my rolled up newspaper.

With flies came spiders too. All my life I liked spiders or at least I left them alone until this farm. One night as I was watching a movie, I felt something walking up on my foot, and as I looked down, I threw the computer to the side, and jumped up a few feet in the air. I could hear my heartbeat in my head, and I was frozen. The giant tarantula-looking hairy spider was more afraid of me as I was afraid of him, but that didn’t matter. As I hit him on the head with a flip flop and thought that it was over, an even bigger one came out from under the bed, and headed right at me. This time I ran out of the room and headed straight for the town. I came back armed with bug sprays and sprayed the whole room until I was about to pass out myself. I never found the body of the second one, but I’m officially staying out of like with spiders.

Days went by and the shipping situation became a problem. Courier services like UPS and FedEx were way out of our price range, and our only hope was airfreight. After a long search (not me, I only take credit for staying put) the rescue team finally figured out a way to send the motor down here. Jared meticulously packed up all the stuff and built a crate for it and was on his way out to send it off when the worst winter storm of the decade hit the northeastern United States. With snow piled up everywhere, over 7000 flights were canceled, and I had to stay put even longer. A few days later, finally the engine went out of Boston, MA and it’s en route to Buenos Aires as we speak.

I’m deeply indebted to all of you who gave moral backing, hands on assistance and financial support to rescue my ass from Argentina. I don’t even know how to repay you, but I want you to know that I’m blessed and grateful to have friends and supporters like you. Thank you, thank you and a million times more: thank you.

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There are 5 Comments

  1. sean whelan
    January 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I wouldn’t be able for the spiders

  2. Kelly
    January 14, 2011 at 9:43 am

    great job, good luck..

  3. CaddmannQ
    January 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Fresno/Clovis are surrounded by orchards, and there are lots of small spiders here. We usually have a crop of Black Widows every year too; but I haven’t seen anything that hairy since I lived in Arizona, save one time.

    I was riding my KZ900 in the hills outside of Clovis and I saw a tarantula crossing the road. I decided to squash it, and managed to run it over with my back tire. Unfortunately I was also leaned over in a curve, and the squashed spider goo made my rear tire jump a foot sideways.

    That was the first and last time I ever hit anything on purpose while riding a motorcycle.

  4. CaddmannQ
    January 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Yeah, they did quite the packing job on that engine, didn’t they?

    Props to the Suzuki club. That kind of commitment and support to a fellow rider is a rare thing.

  5. Spanky
    January 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Hopefully you will get the new motor into the bike & have minimal problem doing so.

    Keep in mind Chris, the spider eats the fly!

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