Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oil Slick Aftermath

I leave the army checkpoint for the second time. Let's try this again. I start off slow. And go even slower when I pass the place where I went down.
I snap some pictures of the scene. Time to leave it all behind and get to a good place to spend the night. I was hoping for a major road but there are a lot of small towns and a lot of stopping and going. My neck is not loving the heavy helmet on my head. I can't wait to get off the bike and lay down. The sun quickly goes down. I should not be riding anymore, especially after the accident. I hide behind a truck for "safety". Hopefully it will guard me from animals and it will cover my headlights so any bad guys out there won't see two headlights coming that say "Big Bike on its way". The truck takes me all the way to Coro. It took forever but I am finally in the Unesco World Heritage colonial town. This should mean tourism and a good hotel. The first two places are closed but one of the owners makes a phone call to see who is open after she sees the state of my bike and myself. She directs me down the road. This place is also closed for the season and the owner of Posada La Casa Del Mono is rebuilding but he opens up the gate for the bike and quickly makes up a room for me. His two beautiful dogs give me looks as if saying "don't worry man, we'll look after the bike". I unload my stuff and go to bed. The owner has a friend over and they agree to wake me up every two hours to check on me.

[​IMG] The nice part of the Unesco World Heritage city, Coro
And this must just be outside of what Unesco deems World Heritage...

I haven't stayed in bed this long for ages. My neck feels a bit better but my body is as stiff as a plank. It takes a lot of effort to get out of bed. In the afternoon I go for a short walk through the historical center. It is beautiful but I don't really enjoy it. My head is not in the right place. I just want to get back to Colombia, store the bike and fly back to Azure in Florida. The phone call we had was very emotional and made me relive it all. I wish she had been there but then no. She would have gone down as well...

[​IMG] The owner of Posada La Casa Del Mono finishing a paint job just before we get into fixing my bike.
A pull construction to straighten out the box... did not work.

The owner offers to help me fix my bike. He is from Colombia and his brother taught him how to weld. Now that comes in handy! Aside from recovering, my body is sore and I am really tired, we spend a few hours each day bending back parts of the pannier frame and engine guards and welding where necessary. And it was necessary. The bike frame was not bent because all the connections of the pannier frame snapped off. I wonder how we are ever getting it all back into shape but the owner is full of energy and can't wait to fix up the bike! Miraculously it all starts to come back together and we even bash the Zarges case back into shape. It's not waterproof anymore but hey, not bad!

[​IMG] The 2017 Honda Scrambler. (notice how both the the front and rear tires have been marked by the dogs!)
My windscreen shattered but my "spoiler" that I was given back in Nepal survived the crash. Not a perfect fit but it will do for now. Also in this picture my homemade contraption to be able to install my Hepco & Becker Tank Bag. The magnetic Locking device works great! The handlebar is pretty straight again but I can't completely bend it back. It needs to be replaced.

[​IMG] There should be one of these on the left as well...
More welding...

Pre-accident damage got fixed as well.


[​IMG] After hours of bashing, the Zarges case has it's shape again... sort of.
After 3 nights I feel a lot better and the bike is as good as it is going to get without new parts. The throttle is still kind of stuck and everything is strapped to the bike but I can ride again and I even go reasonably straight in the direction I steer. Duct tape saves the day by holding up one of my mirrors. This was the worst part of riding after the accident. No mirrors and a sore neck and shoulders. Good luck checking your mohassive blind spots in city traffic! But I am ready to go. Fully packed I make a little test ride in the morning to the sand dunes North of town. How much fun would that have been to actually ride around on...

[​IMG] Ready to go and all packed up again. Hard to leave my guard dogs. Such sweethearts!
[​IMG] Would have been fun to play in had the bike and I been in better physical state...
[​IMG] Yep, Venezuela has it all!
It is already getting late but I want to make it to the border today. Hopefully before sunset. The land is dry and there is not much there. Before long, I ride pass the first love hotel I stayed at in Venezuela and ride over the bridge into Maracaibo. I get lost in the busy traffic and somehow end up in let's say, a poor neighborhood. I have not seen such poverty for a while. There is garbage everywhere and there are people everywhere. And that is when you find out that the road dead ends. Great! I ride back past the same people. They were already expecting me back and they wave. Although they are friendly, I feel vulnerable. I could easily disappear here and no one would ever know. 10 minutes later I find my way out of the maze and find an ongoing road that goes in the right direction. On the muddy side road a young girl and her mother push a man in a wheelchair forward. It makes me sad to see this poverty and I want to turn around and give them my remaining money. I don't do it and feel bad about it for the next hours.

[​IMG] Garbage everywhere and people lined up to get into the supermarket...
One more gas fill up for $0.001 and just after it really gets dark, I make it to the border. I can't wait to go back to the USA but leaving this amazing country with it's jaw dropping natural beauty and beautiful people is hard. I would have loved to spend more time here but it is time to go. The guard tells me the customs office is closed and that I can just slide my permit under the door and they will take care of it in the morning. Did I mention I love this country!

[​IMG] Why you don't want to ride at night.


Minutes later I check into Colombia where the music seems to come from everywhere. What a contrast but it feels like coming home in a weird way. The bike is staying in no mans land. Lady Chachi is sitting in front of her gate. She allows me to camp in the backyard while I prep my bike for storage. I ask her where I should go for a bite to eat and I walk out the gate. I am walking around in one of the most dangerous border crossings of South America but I am having a great time and the food is so good!

[​IMG] Reunited at last!
[​IMG] Let's hope this gate keeps our bikes safe for a while.
The bikes are reunited again. Covered and locked I leave them with Chachi. Her whole family was there in the morning and her son offers me a ride into town where I catch a bus to Cartagena. 12 miserable hours later, I am back in one of my favorite cities. Two days later I fly out. Back to the USA. Back to Azure. Time to recover, time to source parts for the Twin and time to prepare for the journey South. Ushuaia is waiting...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Crashing Hard in Venezuela

I open my eyes. I am sliding on my chest. I quickly close them again.
What's happening?!? Something tells me to keep my eyes closed and wait out whatever it is that is happening. It all goes so fast. I'm tumbling now. Is this ever going to stop! I'm on my chest again. My head is sideways. It takes a second for it to sink in that I'm not moving anymore. Wow! What just happened?!? I open my eyes. I can see dry grass and some bushes around me. I've crashed... How???

I am trying to think of what happened but there is a black hole in my memory. Not a clue! Am I hurt? I don't feel any pain. Ok, calm down. What to do? If I were in a western country now I would not move a muscle. I am not in a western country. I'm in Venezuela. Far away from a big city with a hospital. Well, let's see how bad it is. I move my fingers. No problem there! That's a relief! I try to move my toes. Fully functional! Great! My arms, my legs. All in one piece! I slowly move my head. OW! That hurts! I can move it but it hurts my neck. Moving my shoulders is very painful too. I should stay down and not move at all. I am in Venezuela. These people don't have much. They might take everything from me while I'm down here. It is a terrible thought and I know it's not true, but there is a lot going through my mind.

OK. Let's get up. I slowly get on my knees. So far so good. I put my feet down. Slowly, slowly I stand up. I'm dizzy. Apart from my shoulders and neck I don't feel any pain. This can't be right. Not after rolling and sliding for what seemed like forever. I check myself from top to bottom. I feel my bones. I feel my joints. It all seems to be ok. Again. I apply more pressure to my body this time. Nothing. No way! I check myself at least a dozen times. My KLiM pants are badly damaged on the side of my upper leg. I check for bleeding. None. I check my jacket and my chest. My chest is a bit sore but nothing is broken. I see the chest protection in my jacket. Thank you! I check my knees and legs yet again. Thank you! My arms, elbows and shoulders. All good. Thank you. Thank you guardian angels and thank you KLiM. I look at my hands. They work perfectly. The Racer Gloves have done their job! The slider blocks on the palms of my hands wore down quite a bit but they did what they are supposed to do. My right pink-finger is a bit shaky. Shock? Thank god it was attached to the ring-finger, otherwise I'm betting it would be broken. Thank you!

I turn my head and see my bike tucked under a bush. I look away. A terrible thought goes through my mind. I wrecked my bike. I wrecked my buddy. I wrecked my first bike that has taken me all over the world. A tear roles down my cheek. I can't look at him again and walk away. I walk towards the road through what looks like a yard sale of all my belongings. My Gobi cases, my big Zarges box, the Mosko's. There is stuff everywhere. I can't look at it. I slowly walk to the road. My vision is a bit blurred. A truck and some cars have pulled over. People are walking towards me. They look like they see a dead man walking. A man asks me if I am OK. With tears in my eyes I tell him I'm alright. They just stand there looking at me. I walk down the road. I want to know what happened. 150 Feet down the road there is a big scratch in the tar. I walk to the middle of the lane. My right foot slips. Damn! An oil slick! It is not visible at all but it feels like I'm skating on ice. That explains a lot! I still can't recall what happened. I'm just missing a few seconds of my life.

[​IMG] This is some seriously slippery tar! (picture taken later that day) Sorry, no pictures of the crashed bike as I did not feel like taking out a camera.
Is that sun reflecting off the tar or... The twin left his signature on the road before getting off the beaten path.

I walk back towards the bike. I start picking up some stuff. My GoPro is one of the first things I find. It must have snapped off the helmet. The people that have been staring at me start helping me collect my stuff. What if... Whatever. They are helping me. A army vehicle arrives on the scene. The guards from the checkpoint a mile down the road. How do they know? Did they hear the crash? I realize that I have no memory of any sounds during the crash. It must have been loud. They ask me if I need an ambulance. I tell them no as I don't want to leave my bike and my stuff here. They too start helping to gather my stuff. Everything is being put in a big pile on the side of the road. Then it's time to face reality. My Africa Twin.

There he is, tucked under the bush. The soldiers push the bushes to the side and then help me lift my bike. My neck hurts. But I stopped caring. The bike is a mess. The handle bar is completely bent, the mirrors are gone, the windscreen has broken off, the indicators snapped off, the pannier frame is cracked and bent, the riding lights are broken. We push the bike out of the bush. At least the wheels and the forks are ok! The soldiers start pushing the bike towards the road but I stop them. I want to know if he is still alive. I put the gears in neutral and push the start button. The starter is working. And then... Vrooooom! The V Twin is alive and kicking! What a relief! On engine power we walk the bike up to the tar. The soldiers offer to take me and my stuff back to the checkpoint. We load up the truck and I insist riding my bike there. I quickly check the bike and with the steering positioned at a 45 degree angle to go straight forward, I think I am ready to do this. I thank everyone for their help as two boys come over with some plastic parts and a lip balm. Literally everything came out of these bushes and was given back to me. I doubt any of them will ever read this but I want to thank everyone there for showing me yet again how much good there is in this world and I hope they can forgive me for some of the thoughts that flashed through my mind earlier.

The throttle is stuck. Whatever. Just go slow. The bike starts moving. No wobble. That's great! Within the solitude of my helmet the tears start flowing freely. I don't know if it is sadness, about the state of my bike, or happiness because I am riding. Back at the checkpoint they ask me again if I need to see a doctor. I tell them no but after we unload the truck and get everything in a shady spot, I lay down. After 10 minutes I get up again and start assessing the damage. The bike needs a lot of welding and bending. The Hepco & Becker Gobi Cases did their job again. They took the initial impact and then the locks snapped off, as they are supposed to do in case of a big crash so as not to bend the frame. Everything inside the cases is perfectly intact. The Twin seems to have flipped over a few times during the crash. The broken windscreen and my Zarges case tell me this. The back of the Zarges case looks like an accordion. I open the box and check my stuff. My laptop was right under the "retractable part" of the instrument. I hit the power button and a familiar sound tells me it is still working and it was well protected. The Mosko Moto Scouts are damaged. They took a beating and came off during the accident but the mounts are still perfect and the bags slide back on without a problem. The inner bag is still waterproof. Great work Pete!

[​IMG] Not so straight anymore... Racks bent and indicators broken.
The impact was so hard, the USA was completely wiped off the face of... my map.

Find the 3 problems with this picture! ... Bent handlebar, cracked windscreen, no mirror.

The new handlebar setup makes for an interesting riding experience. The stuck throttle makes for some real adventure riding.

[​IMG] And then there was... no light.
[​IMG] The Mosko's took the first impact. Although badly damaged from sliding over the road, they are still operational and the inner bag is still waterproof.
Why you always wear a helmet...

Shattered memories.

Libby, the black dog from Black Dog Cycle Works, puts a smile back on my face.

The pants are damaged but my leg is not. Thanks KLiM!

The abrasion resistant fabric did it's job.

The Gobi's are slightly damaged as well but an aluminum box would have had an entirely new shape after a crash like this. Love these cases!

[​IMG] What's left of the slider blogs on the Racer Gloves.
Behind a building I find a metal rod and I start bending back my handlebar. I put some force into it and all of a sudden my vision blurs completely. I can't see sharp at all. I blink my eyes but nothing changes. I get dizzy again. I lay down and close my eyes. Take your time man. 20 minutes later my vision is back for 90%. I don't want to spend the night here. I need to be in a bed tonight and I need someone to come and check on me now and then. I get up and start strapping everything to the bike. I get in my gear and get on the bike. The soldiers wish me good luck and I am on my way.

I want to take this opportunity to thank a few people for supporting us with some of the best gear in the world. I always heard about how good KLiM gear is but walking away without a scratch from a 50/60 mile/hour crash, sliding over tar and off the road into the dirt, seriously attests to the safety features of my Badlands riding gear. I'm especially thankful for the chest protection and the D3O armor for keeping me in one piece. The abrasion resistant panels hardly show a scratch. A big thank you to Lee from Racer Gloves USA for insisting that I ride in the High Racer Glove. The palm sliders and the built-in bridge from pinky-finger to ring-finger kept my most important tools intact. Thank you to Hepco & Becker for my engine guards and my Gobi cases that act like a roll cage and take the initial impact in crashes like this. I also want to thank Honda for creating the perfect travel bike for me. After 160.000 Miles and many smaller and bigger crashes it is still going strong. I am incredibly thankful for walking and riding away from a crash like this. I guess guardian angels do exist...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

There's No Candy-Coating Reality

After a refreshing and beautiful morning dive it was time to hit the road again. As I am riding up the mountain, Mochima is getting smaller and smaller in my mirror. What a beautiful area. Via Barcelona I ride along the coast towards Caracas. There is a lot of industry along the way. It is sad to see in this dry but beautiful region. I want to bypass Caracas at all costs. I have not heard anything good about that place.
At Caucagua I get off the main road and turn inland, onto a great road loaded with twisties. I am surprised by how high the road climbs. I take even smaller roads through Santa Teresa and in Cua I get back to the main road. It's nice to break up the highway miles. At Maracay, I turn off for Puerto Colombia. On the map the road already looked promising but I wasn't expecting this: there is not one straight stretch of road as I ride up the mountain.

[​IMG] Another road for the bucket list for those who love twisties!
[​IMG] Now imagine an old, big school bus coming around the corner... And breath in the fumes! :)
[​IMG] Loving the road... not seeing the clouds up ahead.
I look at the map and I am excited about the roads to come. Seconds later, I ride into the clouds. The kind of clouds in which you get soaking wet. Ugh. The road gets slippery and there is a lot of traffic coming from the coast. Lots of cars and motorcycles but also buses that need to back up a couple of times in order to negotiate each hairpin curve. Everyone is coming back from a weekend at the beach and this absolutely stunning road turned into a nightmare. I am hoping that the weather will clear on the other side but it rains all the way down and what's worse, it is getting dark.After crawling down the long road I arrive in a colorful colonial town, but the darkness makes it a bit creepy. I ride around in search of a place to stay. Many places are closed and others don't have any safe parking for the bike. I end up staying in a fancy hotel for about $10. Not my style but I would rather be safe than sorry.

[​IMG] I had to splurge for one day. Camping on the side of the road was simply not possible along the road into town.
In the morning I walk around town. It's a relaxed fishering village that gets bombarded with tourists on the weekend. The area is known for its exquisite chocolate which I have a hard time finding. Like everything else in this country, there is nothing left.

[​IMG] The very well guarded "harbor" of Puerto Colombia.

[​IMG] Venezuela is such a colorful country.
[​IMG] Did I mention colorful... The colonial center of Puerto Colombia.
After a few hours of running around I decide to get the show on the road. And what a show it is. The weather is perfect today and I am like a kid on a playground.

[​IMG] On the way down I met our friends from UPACHALUPA with their 4x4 running on old cooking oil. Yes that's right, sunflower and olive oil! (check the oil filter on the back of the truck. We met them on the ferry from Panama to Colombia. We exchanged some info while we held up traffic and got on our ways again.
In the town of Maracay I stop at a shop. I accidentally leave my helmet on the bike for a minute (I never do this). I am not even through the door when a guy comes after me to tell me I can't do that and that it will be gone in no time. He says I should not even park here because they will come and steal my bike. Wow. I take my stuff inside and enjoy talking to the owner of the shop. Outside again, a lady comes over and spills her anger with the government. She is very educated and nice but very frustrated. People really are at wits end here and anyone who seems to want to change the situation is getting locked up. Something tells me change is near. It is the same frustration that I saw in the Iranian people. They wanted change too but it's a long hard road. With pain in my heart, I get on the bike again. These people deserve so much better.

I manage to find a chocolate museum before I continue on to Chichiriviche, known for flamingos and white sand islands.

[​IMG] This man taught me everything there is to know about chocolate!
[​IMG] Had to make a selfie with my mate Chavez!
The road is boring and by the time I get to town I am exhausted. Posada Alamania was recommended to me by Upachulupa........... but nobody seems to know where it is. I ride all over town and ask again. A nice couple offers to show me the way and before long a German lady welcomes me in. The Posada is very spacious and comes with a pool and a nice guard dog. I feel at home right away. The town itself is deserted. There are tours to the islands but I am not tempted to go.

[​IMG] Real Flamingos... Finally!
The next day I do my laundry and start riding to Coro, A Unesco World Heritage town with sand dunes to the North of it. Although there are many small towns and army checkpoints I am making progress and I am looking forward to spending the afternoon checking out the first Spanish settlement........ Another army check point. "Where are you going and where did you come from"? I still mix these questions up in Spanish. The wrong way round answer is always greeted with laughter by the heavily armed soldiers. As long as it gets me through... I pick up speed again. A few nice long curves, one right after another. What a joy...

I open my eyes for a split second. I'm sliding on my chest. I quickly close my eyes again...