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Hit it. (Day 20, Part I)

It’s 186 miles to Santiago. I got a full tank of gas, half a pack of Oreo’s, it’s dawn, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

I hit it.

Admittedly, I was not on a mission from God, nor even a pilgrimage to a holy land. Spirituality was loosely defined in the household of my youth, meaning that everyone was free to find their own righteous path with no strong-armed influence from the parental units. Mom and Dad hammered home those core values that are near-universal to mankind, but on matters religious they left us kids to our own devices, let us ask our own questions, let us individually define spirituality. It was one of the finest gifts they ever gave us.

Thus, it may surprise a few people that I was on a damn the torpedoes attempt to reach a sacred gathering in Santiago on this, the final day of my trip. It was the only aspect of my adventure that I’d planned. Three months ago, when I’d been on the fence as to whether or not to attempt a solo South American moto adventure, the fortuitous timing of this event had single-handedly tipped the scales.

Personally, I was skeptical that I could pull it off. Day 20’s agenda looked like this: in addition to the mileage to Santiago, I had three errands that would account for a manic 25 miles of city driving on the crazed traffic-filled winding streets of the Chilean capital. I had to 1) find the office that had my ticket to tonight’s gathering. 2) find my hotel and unload all my stuff from the bike. 3) find my way back to the place that rented me the KLR.

After that, I’d need a cab back to the hotel for a shower and food before a subway ride to tonight’s assembly at 8 PM sharp. Still using 8000 year-old technology perfected by the ancient Greeks, my Santiago city map was the only tool at my disposal, as I certainly couldn’t put much faith in the oft non-existent street signage.

Pulling out from Linares, the KLR’s recently developed clacking noise was noticeably louder, though it still vanished once clear of first and second gear. I had no solution, but the time for half-measures and doubts was over. I rolled the dice one final time as I chugged out of town and back onto the northbound Pan American Highway.

Over those final 186 miles, I was as nervous as Dan Marino on draft day. The KLR was trembling and shuddering like the space shuttle on re-entry, bouncing and skipping along the surface of Ruta 5. Each time I pulled away from a toll booth, the now horrific clattering had me convinced that it was only a matter of time before I’d be stranded roadside with my thumb in the air.

t1000
Say… that’s a nice bike.

Not sure when… it might be next week, next month or next year, but at some point I am going to be due a very bad run of misfortune indeed. Because on those final miles into Santiago, I exhausted my Luck savings account and borrowed heavily against my future. Somehow, I rolled past the city limits with the KLR still running. Like the T1000, it just refused to die.

En route to the ticket office, I inadvertently chose a major street that transmogrified into a mini-expressway, and suddenly I was in a three lane underground tunnel, surrounded by concrete walls with everyone going 70 and a breakdown lane exactly 10 inches wide. If the KLR failed here…

I drifted off to a happy place and held my breath for three miles until an exit ramp appeared. Blissfully, it was the very street I was looking for. I bailed out of the tunnel and breathed again. I was fortunate to find some easy parking, scoot up to the office, claim my ticket, and then ride the few miles to my hotel without too much effort. Though, unloading the bike, getting everything out of the panniers, and securing all my stuff in the hotel lobby (too early to check-in) took the better part of an hour.

By my best reckoning, it was about eight miles from hotel to the rental place. I was babying the bike as best I could, but the constant start-stop traffic on the congested major streets was taking its toll. Consulting my map, I spotted an alternate route that would take me through a quiet residential area. I pulled off the main thoroughfare and was immediately rewarded with empty streets and no traffic, no cars or buses or cabs attempting to murder me. I sedately motored at a vastly reduced speed, determined to turtle my way to the checkered flag.

I putted about eight long blocks through some nice clean neighborhoods, and reckoned I had about three miles to the finish line. At the next four way stop, I looked in all directions and rolled through it slowly, before easily taking second gear and ever so gently getting on the gas.

*SNAP* *GRIND* GRRRRRRRR*

Metal dragging on asphalt. I coasted up a driveway and onto the sidewalk, a slight grin upon my face. It only seemed appropriate that the chain had come off one final time.

Except it hadn’t.

It had broken completely, along with a tooth on the rear sprocket. After 4452 miles and the brutalities of the Carretera Austral and Ruta 40, over wind blasted ripio and two crossings of the Andes, it had chosen this moment to fail, just three miles from home. There could be no quick fix.

I looked at the clock. It was 4:25 PM.

To be continued…

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