Saturday, February 20, 2010

Grabbing A Handful Of Throttle : The Race to Costa Rica begins...

With news of my brother Ben and girlfriend Kaitlin being in northern Costa Rica until mid-January, I chose to light it up and rally to catch them.  To give me a few days with them, I set a January 10th deadline.  As it was currently 7 a.m. on Monday, January 4th and I was only in Antigua, Guatemala, I had to cross three countries and four borders in 6 days.  Oh yeah, and I woke up with a wonderful head cold and building sinus infection.

El Salvador here we come!  We raced through the coffee country of southern Guatemala, working our way east heading for Ahuachapán.  Our plan was to ride the Avenida de Flores, a wonderful winding mountain road known for its beautiful landscape and surrounding coffee fincas.  Then push further down to the coast.  After a few weeks of mountain living in the highlands of Guatemala and my building head cold, nothing sounded better than being on the beach that afternoon.

It was really fun riding with Ben and now Charles.  Charles was riding a KTM 640 Adventure.  So finally I wasn't the only rider sporting a KTM.  Charles is also a stellar rider, coming from a serious track racing background, we had a blast rocketing through the curvy landscape.  Getting to the border was a breeze.  Checking out of immigration and customs in Guatemala, effortless.  But when we rode across the bridge into El Salvador, our luck took a quick turn...  We had all prepared as well as we could for the border, arranging our documents, discussing our procedure and agreeing that the only way to be successful is with a sense of humor and tons of patience.  Something I knew would be difficult for me especially with the pressure in my head and the constant drip from my nose.

I felt like we might be in luck though since everything went so smoothly checking out.  But we'd missed the customs officer by five minutes and would need to wait an hour sweating in the heat and sun, for him to return from lunch.  No big deal.  El Salvador is a tiny country and we'd still be lounging in the sun at the beach soon.  Until...

A gust of wind kicked up and put Ben's KLR swiftly on its side.  We all cringed at the sound of the impact and rushed to help him wright the packed bike and get it firmly on the centerstand.  Ben looked pale and sick immediately.  Who wouldn't when their baby is swiftly dropped on its side by a rogue gust of wind waiting at a hot, sweaty border crossing in Central America?  But it wasn't a concern for cosmetic damage that was causing his nausea.  He noticed immediately that his handlebar kill switch had broken off in the fall, effectively rendering his bike dead.  The lack of the switch meant the bike was permanently set in the "off" position.

We scratched our heads and discussed how we would start to jumper the wires and get around this roadblock, when the border officials whistled and waved us over.  The customs guy was back, so Charles and I headed down to do the paperwork while Ben worked on the bike.

I don't want to overemphasize this... but my head was killing me.  Simple tasks like standing around and waiting for paperwork to be printed out and processed required all of my energy.  I felt lifeless but somehow my language skills were sufficient enough, and soon the paperwork was done.  Now just to get Ben's bike running.  I sat down with a cold Gatorade.  Charles and I traced through the wiring diagram in Ben's manual.

We tried all the combinations we could think of.  We got to the point of restoring the power.  But no matter what we tried, we couldn't get it to fire.  The starter was turning and we were looking good, but no spark, no pop, no funciona la moto.  As it got later in the afternoon, we realized that our chance of making it to the beach had passed.  Our resources here at the border were limited to the Chilton's manual and our tool kits.  But our ideas had run dry.  My nose was raw.  My head was throbbing.  Charles was scratching his head.  We'd both bounced every idea we had off each other and felt that something else had also been damaged in the fall.

What are we going to do now?  Towing a moto is a pain.  We needed a truck.  Luckily it didn't take long to procure one.  Within 15 minutes, Ben's bike was loaded and with him in the bed to stabilize the bike, we were off for Ahuachapán.

We found a good hotel, some good cold medicine, some cheap and tasty food and some wireless internet.  The evening was spent drinking new brands of beer and troubleshooting the KLR online.  Ben would spend hours of time working between, and HUBB and then would exclaim, "got new info!" and we'd rally out to the bike in the courtyard and give the new solution a try.

Finally at 10:30 pm, I hear Charles yelling with exuberation, "We got a spark!"

Yet no matter, we still couldn't get the bike started in the morning.  So another truck for Ben.  This time to San Salvador, and the help of the Kawasaki Factory dealership in the capitol city.

At this point I gotta say I'd have been downtrodden.  But Ben, man this guy has the best attitude in the world.  If there is anyone that will succeed in this quest of motorcycling to the end of South America, I am certain Ben will be there in Ushuaia.  He may be pushing, dragging, carrying his bike, but regardless, he will be there and he will have this smile on his face.  The guy is a rock.

He told Charles and I to push on through the Avenida De Flores and down to Playa El Tunco and wait for word from him there.  What a guy!  Cheers Ben.

I had found some high grade flu pills that were even said to be good against H1N1.  I had a good laugh when I opened the foil packaging and found a peculiar grey and KTM orange capsule.

Charles and I lounged around a bit in our comfy hotel room knowing that our ride would be pretty short down to the coast.  But when we hit the streets, Charles let me lead and was right on my back tire no matter how hard I pushed it.  We had ear to ear grins on our faces as we cruised through the beautiful green coffee and volcano landscape.  The land of the sweeper turn.  Not a single turn on the whole Avenida de Flores was a decreasing radius turn.  A welcome relief after so many scary surprises in Mexico and Guatemala.  

Once we got to the coast, the riding was just as dreamy.  Nice and curvy road with five dark tunnels. Very beautiful scenic coastline.  It reminded me of back in Mexico around Michoacan.

Even though my cold was a bit subdued from the KTM pill, I was struggling.  The great road and great pace that Charles was pushing combatted the lousy feeling in my head.  When we rolled into El Tunco, we opted for the good looking slightly more expensive accommodations with the ladies laying around the pool.  I instantly laid down for a nap.  Later that afternoon, I walked down to the beach to check the surf.  Pretty much flat, but this beach, Playa Tunco is known for going off pretty big.  Ate some tasty and cheap tacos and had some nice fresh juice. 

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