I am on the floor of my father’s home office, quietly racing my Hot Wheels on a track scratched into the thick carpet. He is sitting in the chair at his desk, doing paperwork. I dare to interrupt him.
“How did I get my name?”
He looks up, puts down his pen, and swivels to face me. “You…” he begins slowly, a faint smile appearing, “You are named for my all-time favorite motorcycle racer. He was the best of the 1950s, an Englishman who rode a Norton.”
“Though, your mother and I chose to spell your name the correct way.”
This was it. I had today and tomorrow morning to reach Santiago. As ever, 680 miles would normally be a cakewalk, but today’s ride included 130 miles of winding mountain road and I intended to enjoy every inch of it. There was also a border crossing back into Chile to negotiate, and we all remember how much I enjoyed the last one of those.
Oh… and the KLR had a new noise. I first heard it in low gears as I was pulling out of my overnight digs. It was a low clacking sound, only when in gear. I rode down a quiet side street, straining to hear its origin. As ever, I checked the rear wheel alignment, the chain tension, and they seemed pretty good. My fix from two days ago appeared to be staying the course, new sound notwithstanding.
The noise seemed to vanish once into third gear and above 30 mph, so of course my solution was to use the higher gears and stay above 30. Hah! Who says I’m not mechanically inclined!?
Having proudly executed an 8 AM kickoff, I was on the road as the first rays of sun began to descend upon the awakening vale. At the junction about 60 miles before the border, I wheeled the KLR to the west and began my ascent into the Andes. Behind me, early morning light graced the gentle hills and rocky formations. I pulled the bike to the side, jabbed the kill switch, and savored the silence as I took a final look upon the lowlands of Argentina.
The road quickly rose back into the mountains and worked its way around a glassy smooth Lago Nahuel Huapi. The morning stillness, blue waters and blue skies, gentle curves of the pavement, it was like that extra present hidden behind the Christmas tree. There could have been no better farewell to this exquisite region.
Just prior to the border was the beautiful mountain community of Villa La Angostura, about what you’d expect from a ski resort. Personally, I never get tired of these, though the Bohemian RTW riders seem to enjoy ridiculing such towns. To me, the setting and scenery always overcome the overdone touristy themes.
I gassed up and did my usual inspection of the bike. The new noise was slightly louder but still only in lower gears, and my attempts to solicit opinions from the station mechanic proved utterly futile. He looked as baffled as myself.
Shortly thereafter I breezed through Argentine border control before arriving at the Chilean entry. This crossing was much less invasive than the last time, but the entire process still took the better part of an hour. Finally clear of all the border control traffic, I settled in for the final miles of mountain riding.
I finished my traverse of the Andes blessed with endless undulations and high speed bends. This last stretch of tarmac was pure old school road racing gold, the type where men played for keeps on public thoroughfares in heroic places like Spa and the Isle of Man. One magical corner after another, I came plunging downhill, went blasting uphill, through Eau Rouge, through the hamlet of Francorchamps, then through the entirety of Snaefell Mountain.
Of course, I did little honour to the greats who did battle in those legendary places, nor to my famous namesake, as my beat-up KLR was no more up to the task than my ham-fisted riding. Still, there is no value you can put on such memories.
I finished my ride down from the Andes, reached the broad north-south valley below, and linked back up with the Pan American Highway, aka Ruta 5. I was now just north of Osorno and it was already 2 PM. I stopped for gas, food and a map consult. Still 560 miles to Santiago. If I could beat the sundown and make it to Linares, where I’d stayed my first night in-country, that would leave me just 180 miles to do tomorrow morning. I got down to business.
After so many days of uncertain roads and weather conditions, the civilized yet monotonous nature of Ruta 5 was not entirely unwelcome, especially given my haste. Still, I realized by late afternoon that there was no way I was going to make Linares before dark. Not even close.
Since I had managed to get the KLR’s high beam working somewhat more consistently, and given Ruta 5’s four lane divided highway, I figured if I was going to break my “No riding after dark” rule, this was the time to cash in any remaining Luck chips.
For about 90 nervous minutes, I cruised through the blackness, just me and the occasional big rig with barely functioning headlights. O Fortuna was with me, as I safely arrived into Linares and beelined for Hotel Victoria Said, where the same charming woman booked me into the same charming room as before.
It was now 10 PM, and I was drained. Dinner of Gatorade and Oreos before I thudded into bed.