Saturday, May 19, 2007
Today began like many other days on the trip. Kevin and I woke up early after a good night's sleep in the small town of Challapata. We had eaten well the night before and had even attended a "revolutionary" meeting of local famers who were organizing a protest to demand sovereignty, power, and dignity among other things. After the rally we headed to the only hotel in town and made our travel plans for the next day with the help of the hotel owner, Raul.
So the plan for the day was to ride hard until we reached the tourist town of Uyuni situated just miles from the famous salt flats. But what is the saying about the best laid plans? Anyway, ride hard we did but not in the way we expected!
The day's ride began a bit iffy as we rode from dirt road with huge holes to perfectly paved road and back to dirt road with loose gravel and intermittent sand pits and small creeks within the span of an hour. In fact, I am using the word road very loosly here as evidenced by the fact that at one point we briefly lost the tracks and had to be directed back to the "road" by a worker who happenned to be nearby.
About an hour and a half into our morning ride we went over some train tracks that were protruding quite high from the dirt and as I crossed as slowly as I felt I could I heard a loud clang. I thought that I had hit my kickstand again as I had done one time in a similar situation back in Ecuador so I thought nothing of it and continued. However, not five minutes later I noticed that my bike was pulling to the left and I was having a difficult time stearing. I rode like that for the next ten minutes or so thinking that it was maybe the wind that was giving me such difficulties. But when we reached a tiny town I slowed down to tell Kevin about the trouble I was having and that is when he noticed that my front tire was flat. Kevin's bike had already lost a part as a result of our rough morning ride and now this! We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere in a town with about 10 houses, half of which looked deserted and only a brief glimpse of a campesino here and there. Kevin wasted no time getting to work on diagnosing the problem and trying to fix it, but about one hour later he concluded that there was nothing he could do to completely fix the tire or even rigg it so that I could safely ride it to our final destination. So after assessing our situation: middle of nowhere, long way to go on very bad road, no one to seek help from (one truck had passed our way in the last hour and the driver had refused to help, and the one man in town willing to help was asking for an outrageous amount of money that I refused to give on principle), and precious time ticking away; and considering all the options, we decided to take the tire off the bike, store the bike and some of our stuff in the small courtyard of one of the few inhabited houses (with the owner's permission and after having to assure her a number of times that we would be back for the bike) and ride to our original destination with hopes of finding a friendly hotel owner we had been told about and getting the tire fixed.
So this was the scene for the next three hours: Kevin riding his bike with me as a passenger holding on for dear life to my tire. Kevin rode like a pro on the challenging path but it and his load proved even too challenging for him at times and on three occasions Kevin, his bike, his wife and her tire all ended up opn the ground. The first spill hapenned after crossing a stream and trying to maneuver up the sandy and rocky embankment. The bike tipped over to the right sending me and the tire flying. I landed smack on my left shoulder and heard a "pop" and felt a sharp pain, I immediately sat up and heard another pop and felt another sharp pain. Kevin rushed to my side as tears were streaming down my dusty hemet covered face. He asked me if I was OK and I told him that I didn't know so he sat there and held my had and told me that he loved me while I assessed my physical situation. Within a minute the sharp pain had subsided and my fears and panic dissipated as I moved my shoulder about. We both took a breath, picked ourselves up, drank some water and hopped back on the bike to continue our 100 mile ride at about 30 miles per hour.
The other two falls came courtesy of deep powdery sand and resulted in minor bumps. After each, we just dusted off, re-arranged ourselves on the bike and continued on the dusty, rocky, sandy road to Uyuni.
About 10 miles from the city we finally ran into a trucker going in our direction. At this point my arms were tired from holding the tire steady and my legs sore from supporting it so I was very happy when the driver agreed to take me and my tire the rest of the way...even if it did take us 30 minutes to get there!
Kevin had driven ahead of the truck after stopping for gas and we had agreed to meet at the first tire repair shop in town. However it took me so long to get there that Kevin actually had time to go to the hotel we had been told about (Tonitos), find the friendly American owner (Chris) and ask him for some help. By the time I rolled into town in the truck, Kevin and Chris were waiting for me at the edge of town.
I jumped out of the truck after thanking the truck driver and his wife for their kindness and giving them a monetary thank you as well. We took the tire to get fixed and decided that the best course of action would be for Kevin to take the 8pm bus back to the town where we left the bike, spend the night there in his tent and drive the bike to Uyuni tomorrow morning.
So right now Kevin is on the way to fetch my bike and I am in bed at the hotel. It certainly wasn't the day we had planned, but there was fun, beauty, drama, intrigue, excitement, and even some woohoos, and on a trip like this, sometimes it just doesn't get any better.
I miss him and I love him and on days like this, he is my hero!
Tomorrow, the salt flats...or, who knows!!
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