To Ushuaia – The end of the Earth!

Our late departure from Rio Gallegos was a complicated one. First, I had to find a police station, explain to them that my wallet had slipped out of my pocket on the bike and then get a letter to say that I had lost my drivers, a huge mission to accomplish first thing in the morning before a long ride. One good thing about this was that this move was that it completely removed me from the seat of responsibility when it comes to paying for things. Megan is now the money-lady, leaving me to be the ‘talent’ and general clown.

And we were off, with a howling ±100km/hr cross-wind to keep us awake, we blasted through Argentinian Patagonia at an acute angle, destined for Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, the end of the Earth or ‘Fin Del Mundo’. We passed our first border crossing without a hitch, we declared some apples, had to eat them, and successfully smuggled through a very expensive piece of salami/chorizo, which we sneakily got past a sniffer dog and briefly into Chile. Getting to Tierra del Fuego involves a ferry over the Magellan Strait, as it is not part of the mainland. The first ferry we came across was a short one, but being our first, we were overcome with excitement to finally ride our bikes onto a boat, however sad that might sound. Everyone knows its not a real motorcycle adventure until you’ve ridden onto a boat right?

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Our first border crossing on the bikes, the first of many

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Boarding our first Ferry

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Meg is chuffed

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Welcome to Tierra Del Fuego

As we left the ferry, the weather started to turn, the sky darkened, and the heavens slowly opened, before we knew it we were riding dark, windy, whooping mud roads at 4 degrees Celcius in the wet. I was having an absolute ball, and Meg was on the verge of tears, they say opposites attract. Just to be clear, for any non-bikers that may be reading, 4 degrees on a bike is not 4 degrees standing still, wind chill with rain will turn you into a block of ice, its cold, its miserable, your helmet fogs up, and your hands stop working. Being overcome with school-boy levels of excitement, I was blasting along the dirt roads grinning from ear-to-ear, the cold didn’t stand a chance. Meg on the other hand was struggling, she was very worried about the mud and due to her being lady-person she was freezing as usual. Meg has been known to put on a down jacket when one cloud rolls in front of the sun on a summers day or occasionally as she walks through a shadow or opens the fridge. I can only imagine how cold she got under these conditions. The ride and the stress was made much worse by the trucks, big numbers of huge, long-haul trucks had to be overtaken the whole way to the border, and with night approaching fast, it was getting dangerous.

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A row of trucks waiting to cross the border, not always fun sharing the road with so many of these monsters

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Yet another border crossing on Tierra Del Fuego

On reaching the 3rd border of the day, to cross out of Chile, we were tired, cold, and wet. The roads were bad and full of trucks so we decided to call it a night, much to my disappointment, but as the old saying goes: ‘night doubles traffic troubles’, and Meg wasn’t having any of it. We were lucky enough to be given hot chocolate on the house at the border crossing, as well as directed to a hostel, right at the border by a great, friendly guy called Roberto, who we have since become good friends with.

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Us with Roberto at the border – this is a good man!

There is something special about arriving at a warm, comfortable place when you are cold, wet, gatvol and the weather is awful, its nearly worth the unpleasant ride just to feel the relief of sanctuary, and, oh man, it was good. The Hosteria La Frontera is clean, well-kept, warm, and friendly. Best of all, they have a kick-ass restaurant attached to it and don’t even care when you track mud through their shiny foyer. After showing and putting on some comfy, dry clothes we headed into the restaurant for a bite to eat, where we were immediately offered “menu?”. Being gringos, and displaying amazingly poor Spanish skills, we said “Si!, por favor!” and expected to get a menu, which is actually known as the “Carta”. What we had unknowingly ordered was “THE Menu”, the whole shebang, which, let me tell you, was awesome news for me. Starters, soup, drinks, mains, sides, and dessert, plus coffee, I went to bed a happy boy.

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Our ‘Menu’ kicking off – including such specialties as pickled lambs tongue

This morning, come hell or high water, we were going to go to Ushuaia. No more nonsense, and apart from a short hiccup at the border, where I nearly got arrested for quickly speeding back over the border and 1km into Chile to fetch a pair of goggles I had left behind, we were making great progress. Two months in and I had already crossed a border illegally… win! With great relief we watched the landscape change, and as the pampas got smaller in the rear view mirror and the snowy mountains rose up to meet us, our moods began to lift. With the mountains in the distance, we were confronted with the weirdest landscape, like something out of ‘Lord of the Rings’. Forests of spooky, dead trees lined the road. What looked like long, wispy, light green foliage, was actually ‘Old-Man’s Beard’ covering the trees, a sort of fungus/algae cross that will only grow in the most pure, clean air, it was magical.

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Being chased by a storm into Ushuaia

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Mountains in the distance

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Our monsters, just because they look so damn sexy

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Meg happy to be in the mountains at last

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I’m pretty chuffed myself…

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Reached Ushuaia

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FINALLY!

Before we knew it we were right outside Ushuaia, in snowy mountains and green forests, with Cape Horn in the distance, we rode the windy road up and down through the mountains, all the time marveling at the changes in our surroundings, we were somewhere special, and finally, somewhere different.

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More about Ushuaia next time

How to pack a tool kit for adventure biking

OK, so lots of requests have come in for more packing lists and practical advice. Although advice is sometimes hard to give, and should always be taken with yourself, and the adviser in mind, it is essential to have.

We have already posted a very popular and well received medical kit packing list which can be found >HERE<, and we are both medical doctors so that one is  a goodie, give it a read. What follows below is the packing list for our tool kit, now I am not a mechanic, but I am also not shy to work on the bike, for this, YouTube is also included as a vital component of the tool-kit. Please also remember, that when you make up a tool-kit for your bike, make it up for YOUR bike. Every kind of bike has its own little niggles and needs its own specialised parts etc. A tool-kit should also be shaped to the length and location of your trip in order to keep weight and volume to a minimum

So here it goes! Let me know if you agree / disagree / or have any suggestions.

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Our tool-kit

  1. Spare inner tubes: Only one is pictured here, but you need a spare for each tyre. These spares can be normal inner tubes, as then they will then take up less space. We travel with enduro tubes on the front and rear that are 4mm thick to prevent punctures, but these land up being MASSIVE if you try take them as spares. They are put in a plastic bag and then wrapped in duct tape and labelled. This has the advantage of keeping the size down, protecting the tube, and always being an emergency source of duct tape.
  2. Go chain wax: This is amazing stuff: Minimal fling, water-based and solvent free, compact, easy to apply, doesn’t pick up grime, and it is 100% biodegradable. The squeeze bottle application also prevents you from spraying chain lube on your tyres, brake discs and the like. I always carry a little bottle in the tank bag or on me so I can top up when we put in petrol or stop for a break, really convenient. Check their products out >HERE<
  3. Tie-downs / straps: We always carry some spare straps and tie-downs, and they always come in handy, for carrying anything from shopping, to firewood, to spare-tyres. We have used them to put up a tarp in the rain, keep the F800GS upright when removing the front wheel and I have even used them to keep my bike in one piece after being hit by a taxi in Lesotho.
  4. Rag: Ya gotta have a rag. What mechanic doesn’t have a rag!? Seriously, this is actually really useful,  so many uses that I wouldn’t even dare go into it.
  5. Insulation / Electrical tape: Apart from insulating electrical connections, its can be used to waterproof things and containers, etc. etc. Its tape… use it as such…
  6. Strong double sided tape / No More Nails: I have needed this more times than I can count, useful for a wide variety of repairs and tweaks
  7. Gaffer tape: Strong as all hell, this stuff is duct tape on steroids
  8. Hella to 12V cigarette lighter port converter: Used to plug into the Hella port next to the key socket so we can charge gadgets if need be, used with a GoPro USB to cigarette lighter port converter
  9. 12V Compressor: Have you ever tried to pump up a rear bike tyre with a hand pump only to find the puncture is leaking… again…? You will use up every foul word in your vocabulary, possibly give yourself a heart attack and land up with one massive bicep. I don’t travel without one of these on any trip. But a hand pump is a good idea as a backup NOTE: These babies will not run off the Hella port on your BMW F800GS, the ECU limits the amps, and therefore it wont run. To combat this you need to install a 12V converter kit which runs straight off the battery, bypassing the ECU. You can get a good kit from Wild@Heart
  10. Duct tape: An old classic, used by plumbers, mechanics, adventurers, DIY men, and the revered by kidnappers and criminals worldwide. The uses are endless, take enough.
  11. Work gloves: Call me a sissy all you want, I will always have a pair of these on me. Its amazing how painful your hands and fingers can get whilst trying get a tyre off a rim at -1°C. Also used extensively from collecting firewood to using as glorified oven mitts.
  12. Rubber gloves: For the dirty work, especially out in the field where its difficult to clean grease and oil off your hands before sliding them back into your riding gloves
  13. The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, by Chris Scott: The Bible for adventure bikers, it has everything in it, everything. Its a great read and it makes me feel better to carry it.
  14. WD40: If it moves and it shouldn’t, use masking tape, if it doesn’t move and it should, use WD40. I always carry a can, the uses are endless, also a great degreaser.
  15. Tyre fill: Only in dire emergencies, I haven’t used it yet and I really hope I never do
  16. Spare fuel hose: I think this is pretty self-explanatory
  17. Tow-strap: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER travel without a tow-rope. NEVER!!!
  18. Jumper leads: Also very important, sure, you can bump-start a bike… but not in deep sand you can’t and you can’t bump start an F800GS, it’s a long story but I refuse to believe it’s possible, I have tried my arse off and never gotten it right. So if you can, you are probably a high-warlock of some sort and you need to send me a video or I will never believe you.
  19. Siphoning hose: You really don’t need a specialised siphoning hose, but you do need something that will do the trick, getting it from the fuel pump does not work in all cars. Try get a clear one so you can see the fuel, unless you like a mouth-full of delicious petrol.
  20. Spare chain links: You need at least  three spare links to fix a chain.
  21. CO2 cartridges or ‘bombs': These generally come in 2 sizes, the smaller can give you some extra pressure if you need it, but I prefer to carry the big-boys that the 4×4 guys use, they will completely fill up any motorcycle tyre in a hurry.
  22. God only knows what that is: I packed it, so it must be useful, but I cant remember what it is for the life of me from that picture
  23. Plastic lubricant: This minute little bottle came with my Arai helmet, its meant to be used for the hinge on the visor, I could think of lots of other applications, and it’s really small, so I brought it along, you can never have enough lube.
  24. Patch kit: For punctures, make sure you have some good (fresh) glue, Tip Top is a good brand, also plenty of patches, large and small, with some sandpaper. Another good idea is to cut a large strip off of an old inner tube, this can be used if you need a larger or longer patch than what you have available.
  25. Hose clamps and rubber bands: Also self-explanatory, hose-clamps for repairs and replacements to the various piping on the bike, and elastic bands because why not.
  26. Spare brake pads: Front: Only essential for longer trips obviously, it can be a huge problem to be stuck without brakes.
  27. Spare brake pads: Rear: As above
  28. Piece of wire: Wide variety of uses
  29. Spare oil filters: Only needed for longer trips into remote areas
  30. All purpose glue: Very strong, for sticking things that need to be stuck
  31. Loctite: Very important for securing screws in place, essential when riding long stretches of bumpy, corrugated gravel.
  32. Pratley Steel: For sticking metal that needs to be stuck
  33. Rubber cement and super-glue: See above
  34. CO2 cartridge valve: Used with the bombs
  35. Spare split pins for brakes: Maybe I’m paranoid, but I wanted spare, losing one of these and not having a replacement seemed like a bit of a ‘mare to me.
  36. Spare screws, bolts and washers: Specially for bikes, with hex-key socket and the right size for all the holes in the fairings etc.
  37. Leatherman Supertool: If you ride an adventure bike, you need to own a leatherman, and the Supertool is my favorite, used every single day
  38. Leatherman Crunch: This Leatherman is unique in the fact that it has an adjustable vice-grip instead of needle nose pliers. A vice grip is a big, heavy thing to carry, so having a nice compact one that also sport a variety of other uses is a win in my book. A vice grip is a really really nice tool to have, and has been used on a number of occassions
  39. Cable repair kit: To repair cables.
  40. Small(er) cable ties: Another essential item, there are ALWAYS cable ties on my ride, no matter how long or far the ride. I’m convinced you can actually build an entire motorcycle from these things
  41. Very fine metal strainer: For straining fuel, necessary when filling up out of a canister or bottle in dodgy areas with low quality fuel. This can prevent massive headaches down the road. What we also use are ATG Kahawa coffee filters, very fine mesh, they work amazingly as fuel filters and as coffee strainers (just not the same one!)
  42. Ratchet Sockets: With small ratchet (54). Carrying a smaller ratchet will also prevent you from over tightening everything, which 90% are prone to.
  43. Small tyre iron: For sorting out flat tyres, find which ever shape suits you, the spoon shape (next tool) I find is probably the best, carrying the least chance of pinching the tube and causing another puncture. Smaller irons can also be carried as welding shrapnel. Also used to keep brake calipers open when taking the wheel out etc. Handy tool for a bunch of different stuff
  44. Size 17 spanner with spoon tyre iron: Size 17 spanner for removing the front wheel
  45. Size 24 spanner:  For removing rear wheel and as a general whacker / hammer
  46. Long tyre iron: Its huge, very long and doesn’t fit into a tool roll, but you wont notice it at the bottom of a pannier. Very few people bring such a huge iron, and I suppose it’s not really necessary, but I really like it, it has great leverage, and hooks easily under the disc when removing the tyre, making things a bit easier
  47. Large cable ties: You can never carry enough
  48. BASIC electronics kit: Just for testing the completion of circuits and checking charge. I am upgrading though to a proper multimeter. It seems like overkill, but in a remote environment with no mechanics, you can check like your alternator, battery health,  stator etc etc. It can be a very useful diagnostic tool. Otherwise, the easiest thing to carry is a small bulb connected to two wires to test a circuit, it can also be useful
  49. Allen / Hex keys:  In sizes to accommodate every socket on the bike
  50. Torx keys: In sizes to accommodate every socket on the bike, these are much better than the hex keys as they are much harder to strip, so its better to have all the screws on the bike as Torx rather than hex. You can also unscrew a torx screw with a screwdriver if you are desperate, which is much more difficult when using a hex key
  51. Screwdriver heads: Yup, that’s about it
  52. Chain tool: For breaking the chain and replacing links, this is a nice compact one
  53. Spare clutch lever: I have lost count how many clutch levers Megan has cruelly destroyed, we normally carry two just because of this. Now with proper hand guards, it has become rare for her to break levers. So get yourself a decent set of hard guards to prevent the vast majority of lever hassles
  54. Small ratchet: as explained above in (42)
  55. Size 13 spanner: For adjusting chain tension
  56. Size 10 spanner: Some of the bolts require this size too
  57. Tyre pressure guage: Very important, especially if you are going to be doing any off-road or sand riding that requires you to drop your tyre pressure
  58. Spare ring antenna: OK so this is quite an important piece of kit for an F800GS, and I now carry one because I learned to the hard way, stuck for 4+ hours until 1:30 in the morning in the freezing cold because this thing decided to just stop working. Its a common occurence with F800’s and if it malfunctions, the ECU activated the immobiliser and you are going NOWHERE. No amount of tinkering, tools, push starts, jump starts, prayers or soul-selling is going to get that bike to start. If you have one of these, it is as easy as opening up, plugging the spare in, starting up, and riding away. Its also actually surprisingly cheap, just the name “ring antenna” made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but the bill only came to under US$ 50, not too bad.
  59. Spare air filters: One for each bike, important to carry a spare.

Not pictured above:

  • Size 6 and 7 spanners or even better, spoke tools: For adjusting spoke tension, can be essential for wheel / steering wobble or after denting the rim or losing / bending another spoke
  • Shifting spanner: Because it make me fell better. Also good for whacking things, and has already come in useful on the trip
  • Tooth-brush: Useful for cleaning things, e.g: chain, brake pistons, sprocket etc.
  • Fuel pump: A spare can be useful, it is also reported as failing in a few of the F800GS’s. Luckily it is very small, very cheap and very easy to find, so only necessary to carry if you will be spending a long time in the middle-of-nowhere. It is the same as the fuel pump for a 16V Nissan Sentra (pictured), which is also the same as for a lot of other common cars: (correct me if I’m wrong) Toyota Corolla and even the Toyota Hi-lux or so I have been told

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    The fuel pump for a BMW F800GS is exactly the same as the one in a 16V Nissan Sentra, small and cheap

  • Spare head-light bulb: Also very easy to find, and the same as the majority of cars, but also very easy to carry
  • Tool roll: I got mine from Kriega, its a great, one, also very popular and I am really happy with it
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    Kriega tool roll
    (note the shifting spanner, toothbrush and size 6 & 7 spanners in there too)

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    All rolled up:
    Some of my tools are a little long, but it rolls up nicely, with a strong velcro fastener

What we would really like, but can’t afford:

  • GS 911 diagnostic tool: You can pick up and clear error codes from the ECU, making working on the bike way easier, an absolute pleasure to have. >HERE<

Tips:

  • Colour coded insulation tape: As you will see in the tools above, I have colour coded them. This helps me to always know which tools are mine, which comes in handy when helping someone else at the roadside. I have already lost tools to others in the rush and stress of packing up on the side of the road.
  • Markings on the tyre irons: Also visible in the picture is where I have marked the levers with the exact distances for the correct chain tension on the bike, this makes checking and adjusting the chain much easier

Once again, I am happy to hear any recommendations or personal experience you may have, its always nice to learn something new. Drop a comment if you agree with the above or not.

~Poodle

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Learning the hard way to bring the right tools, working gloves included. I just wish there was a tool that could fix a bald spot…

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Me trying to fix yet another clutch lever Megan has destroyed. I think I used about 10 cable ties here

Broken clutch lever

Yup… that’s another clutch lever

Axe murderers and Dumpster diving

We packed up what had been our home for the past few days and set out on the bikes, with overcast, grey skys, cool air and a constant threat of rain we rode along the coastal road from Rada Tilly to Puerto San Julian, our stop for the night. The coastal road is beautiful, running right along the beach, it offers some spectacular views, which are all the better to murder you with. Every time you look at the view, you have a near death experience provided by the innumerable potholes, terrible traffic and homicidal truck drivers. The closer we got to Puerto San Julian, the colder and windier it got, until we were once again, blasting through the open, flat, empty pampas of Patagonia on a dead-straight highway.

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Our Campsite in Rada TIlly

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Our lunch spot

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Motorcycle travellers have a habit of tagging everything and everywhere with their stickers. Stand still for long enough and you’ll also get tagged

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Some of the stickers

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And some more

On nearing the town, the GPS showed one campsite, and we rode through town, past the totally awesome fighter-jet war memorial to get there. Whilst on our way to the campsite we noticed we had a tail. A white hatchback had seemed to be following us since we got into town. To confirm my suspicions I took a cut-back just before the campsite, and sure as anything, there it was, still right behind us. Being a sceptic I went around the block once more, and so did the hatchback. This was getting creepy. I decided to take my luck and pull into the campsite and get off my bike, where he would be forced to make a move. On pulling into the campsite, the car drove straight on, but not before slowing down, with it’s lone occupant giving me a shifty stare. What the actual shit was that!? To make it even better the campsite was completely empty, not a soul around. How the hell was I going to be able to fall asleep tonight whilst being on a possible axe murderer’s to do list in an empty camping site no-where near a main road!?

Having reluctantly picked out a campsite in, what had now become, the blistering cold, Meg went to go and look for any sort of administration or management she could find. Maybe if we checked in it would make the missing persons search easier. We were absolutely exhausted at this stage, and the temperature was already 4°C and dropping rapidly. It was my job to start unpacking, so naturally I procrastinated by feeling sorry for myself.

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Patagonian flat-ness, miles and miles of it

Whilst procrastinating like a champion and shivering like a leaf, I saw the white hatchback pull slowly into the campsite. Ok Matthew, it’s on, you’re from Africa, you’re made tough, you can do this. I desperately and quickly tried to pull myself together, there’s nothing that will make you look weaker than shivering like a little girl on holiday after she’s just climbed out of the sea. The car stops right next to the bikes and out climbs a tall, muscular man, he walks straight over to me and sticks out his hand. Well at least the formalities are not lost, he is going to shake my hand before bludgeoning me to death, I can appreciate a guy with manners. So we shake hands, and in Spanish he goes on to tell me he’s a biker, and a mechanic, he loves our bikes and wants us to come and spend the night at his house up the road, he has space for us in his workshop. He is absolutely appalled that we were thinking of camping in the horrific cold. Done! I was completely chuffed, my situation had gone from terrifying to terrific in record time.

As it turned out, his name was Sebastian and he would go on to offer us a place in his home, a hot meal, and a heated room to sleep in. Sebastian has two magnificent children, a great wife and most importantly 2 really nice motorcycles. Once again we had been bowled over by the hospitality of the Argentinian people, and Sebastian was to be the proudest Argentinian we would ever meet, a truly good human being. Thanks for the hospitality Sebastian, We really appreciate the warmth and friendship you showed us.

Us with Sebastian

Us with Sebastian – Megan what the hell are you wearing??

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At Sebastian’s place in Puerto San Julian

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Getting ready to leave for Rio Gallegos

And just like that we were on the road again, this time to Rio Gallegos, where we were going to meet Dan. Just to jog your memory, Dan is a cyclist going around the world, his journey is called Cycle Earth. We first met him in Buenos Aires where we became good friends while we were both waiting for our bikes. Ours came way sooner than his, a full 3 weeks earlier. I have never heard of anyone waiting as long as Dan to get a bicycle before, but in the end he waited over 5 whole weeks, the last week he spent alone in Rio Gallegos, slowly going out of his mind. By the time we arrived, he finally had his bike. He had packed his stuff, after having thrown away half of it. We took a good deal of what he couldn’t carry, (Meg is a hoarder) including dumpster diving for an old coat he had thrown away in the box his bike was in. You haven’t lived until you’ve worn something you found in a dumpster.

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Packing for Tierra Del Fuego with Dan

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Packing gets easier once you’ve done it enough times

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You would swear he was a gangster…

On the way into Rio Gallegos we also had a friendly encounter with another group of adventure bikers, a bunch of 4 friends from Rio Grande, who, like all good friends, gave each other endless amounts of uphill. The cherry on the cake was that one of the riders had come off his Kawasaki KLR on the open highway when his gearbox locked up. What was left of the bike had been towed and the signs of the accident could be seen in his torn, burnt up riding gear, although he was not injured it looked severe. To our surprise there was no sympathy. None. He was now riding ‘bitch’ on the back of a KTM 990 and I doubt he will ever hear the end of it.

“Who rides a Kawasaki in Patagonia!? It’s his own fault!”

“Just because he sits on the back, now he thinks he can complain as much as my wife!”

etc. etc. very funny and very refreshing.

The KTM rider, Paco, was kind enough to invite us over with the rest of the guys for an Asado or Parilla at his place, an offer which we took him up on a week or  so later on our way back North. But more about that in a later post.

All in all we had a great time with Dan, we caught up, relaxed and we all got ready to leave again, Dan for the first time on his bicycle. We were getting ready for Ushuaia, one of the poles of our journey, which is actually meant to be Ushuaia to Alaska (thanks for noticing). We were really excited about our next stop, and funnily enough, I thought we could make it the same day after only leaving Rio Gallegos at 13h00. And they call me a pessimist…

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“Next stop” – my optimism

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