Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arizona Bound

I only rode for a few hours after I left Gastons, but cutting through the everglades was cool, saw a few Alligators poking their heads up out of the waterways and some people doing tours on airboats, but no time to dilly dally. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there (as the song goes) nigh on 4000 kms in 3 and a bit days. Sammys chain was a concern, I had 4 notches of adjustment left and the last few notches always go quick as the chain gets even more stretched out. If I had to, I might be able to buy a new chain set (chain and sprockets) in El Paso.

I found a cheapish hotel and got breakfast included so I could hit the road early the next morning. Sammy had been running a little rough since the last day in Barranquilla, Id been putting a couple of litres of gas in him at a time, just enough to run around town and get to the airport on the last day and he had been running badly after that - it  felt and sounded like Id got some bad fuel and some crap in the carburettor, but the last thing I did was the valves and the simplest explanation is normally correct, so I was concerned that I might have not cinched up a lock nut on a valve or something. I was up at stupid o'clock in the dark and outdside with a head torch, whipped the tank off and double checked the valves and plugs and put fresh dielectric grease over the plug leads, everything looked good, the plugs had done 6,000 kms and looked ok, everything was back together for sun rise, a quick brekkie and I hit the road. He was still not running perfectly, so I found a local motorcycle shop and bought some new plugs, chain lube and proper air filter oil - but I still needed to make some miles, so I rode all day, just over 1000 kms and left Florida, crossed Alabama before I found a place in Gulfport Mississipi. Another early morning start and I swopped the plugs out for new ones and more tinkering, still he was a little rough - but slightly better than he was though. A long day in the saddle from Mississipi, through Louisiana and into Texas.

Texas is always an eye opener - I ended up working my way through Houston traffic at rush hour, I lost count of all the huge Texan and USA flags flying - literally hundreds of them, combined with the ten lane Freeways and an Apache helicopter gunship flying along the freeway low above me it was fairly surreal after the modesty and poverty of South America. I fought my way out of Houston eventually and scooted North West out of San Antonio and by about 11 pm Id had enough. There were lots of deer around by the roadside and I ended up getting a deal on a room in Segovia Tx as it was so late - the lady in the hotel said it was a good idea not to ride on as there are lots of road accidents with deer locally.

The next morning was chilly, Sammys heated grips got some use and sure enough there were dead deer on the roads everywhere, well over a dozen within 60 miles, good job I parked up when I did.

I managed to pick up some fuel additive/carb cleaner from a NAPA store, everything else on the bike was good, valves and plugs ok, air filter clean and oiled, good  91 octane V-power gas, electrics all ok, which left one thing - dirt or buildup in the carb. I pulled the fuel/air mix screw and sure enough there was some grey powdery deposits on the needle, so in went the fuel additive/carb cleaner and straight away he was running better. I dont mind stripping down the carb and cleaning it at home, but I still had some miles to make first.

Stan was going to wait an extra day for me in Phoenix, that mean't I had to push out nearly 1400 kms on the last day of riding. The engine was running much sweeter, the next issue was the chain. Id made the last adjustment possible on the chain, I lubed it up to squeeze the last miles out of it and hit the road early. I was making good time and made it to El Paso in the early afternoon, the last 20-30miles into El Paso weren't so good, the chain was starting to slip on the sprockets. I was 430 miles from finishing - painfully close, I made the decision to look for a new chain set, I tried two Suzuki dealers and an independant motorcycle shop and no one had sprockets for a DR650 !!! one dealer said it would take two weeks to order sprockets in....Streuth.

It was now 3 pm and I had to hit the road and try and make it, I filled the tank and set off slowly and gently on the throttle - top speed of about 50 mph - it was looking like a late night, sure enough the chain got worse and it was slipping more and more, it got dark and chilly, I turned off the Interstate I-10 and took the back road on the 70, which was nice and quiet and a bit safer at my reduced speed and also slightly shorter distance than going through Tucson. I also had to climb up over 1300 metres for the final push into Phoenix, the chain was really screwed by now and going up hill it jumped off the sprockets and got caught up between the wheel and swingarm - pretty dodgy as it could potentially lock the rear wheel up as it jumps off the sprockets and cause the bike to skid. I was lucky this time, just lost drive but I wasn't  in a good place, lots of fast traffic and  pitch black. I levered the chain out with a screwdriver, got it back on again and reduced my speed even more, I limped into Phoenix at 45 mph - its a big city, over 40 miles from the outskirts to Paradise Valley where Stan was and the traffic was going 75 mph, so I didn't enjoy the ride much, the chain jumped off one more time, but I was able to make it to the shoulder OK and pop the chain straight on again. Id originally told Stan Id be arriving at about 1030pm, but hadn't updated my time after the chain issues, I eventually met up with him at 1130pm, after 1388 kms today and 3901 kms in just over 3 days.......

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back in North America

I got through US Customs after a few questions and in Miami it was a refreshing 28C - welcome after the sweltering humidity of the Caribbean coast of Colombia,  I met up with Gaston who has been helping me out with sorting out the shipping, he was good enough to meet me at the airport and  he graciously offered to let me stay at his place - we were hoping that the bike would arrive on Thursday and that I could hit the road Friday. We sank a few beers and had a good chat, then headed back to his place to meet his wife Patty and his daughter Camille.

Gaston comes from Santiago in Chile and Patty is from Lima in Peru, which is an interesting combination as the two countries have spent a considerable amount of time either at war or disputing territory over the years. In the middle is Camille, who was always giggling at my British accent every time I mentioned to Patty that her cooking was 'lovely', throw in their 2 dogs and the cat and it was a busy house!

On Thursday morning Gaston called up Tampa Cargo, no good news though, there was no flight today, so Sammy was going to arrive early Sunday morning - not leaving me much time to scoot the 4000+  kms from Miami to Phoenix to meet up with Stan who was due to head home to Canada on Wednesday.

Patty fed me up really well, lots of yummy meals including arroz con leche - rice pudding, my favorite! and I hung out with Gaston as he was doing some other work, we managed to go to the local bikers meet held in a shopping centre car park, with several hundred bikes there - everything from Harley Davisons with flourescent lights illuminating the engine and wheels to tricked out sports bikes and BMW 1200GS adventure bikes. There was also a Triumph motorcycles semi trailer from Georgia, touring around with the latest offerings including the new Triumph Tiger 800 XC - which looked rather nice and sounded even better,  I nearly had to prize Gaston off it !!!

On Saturday Gaston checks with Tampa again and finally we get the good news that the bike is on its way, arriving at 0130 Sunday morning. Gaston wants to save the crate, so he rents a small trailer and we head down to Tampa to pick the bike up. We have to head over to US Customs and get them to sign the paperwork to release the bike, however the Customs lady says that they only process perishable goods paperwork on Sunday's...... I tell her that I am hoping to leave for Arizona today and would they be able to help me out, she hesitates for a moment and finally agrees to do the paperwork - which takes her about a minute. We head back to Tampa and the guys fork the crate onto the trailer, we head back to Gaston's place.

It takes a while to uncrate the bike, the carpenters used a nail gun and lots of nails so it is slow going pulling it apart and trying to salvage the wood for re use in the future.

Gaston, Camille and Patty with Sammy
By the time the bike is back together, the crate stored and my gear packed up its gone 5 pm, a bit later than I was hoping for, Patty makes us a lovely meal and we snap a few photos and say our goodbyes before I head West over the Everglades and then North towards Tampa.

Gaston on his immaculate BMW
I must say a Huge Thanks to Gaston, Patty and Camille for their hospitality, you guys are always welcome to stay with us in Canada!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Miami Bound.....but not for Sammy

Monday morning arrived and I go back to talk to the shipping agent, she speaks some English too which makes things much quicker, but we are still a little tight for time as the cargo plane leaves tuesday evening.
I want to get the bike crated on Monday afternoon, but one word you get used to in Colombia is 'Tramites' - paperwork or buerocracy.

As I am not known to Tampa Cargo, they need more copies of all of my identification -drivers license etc etc etc, before they give me a yes or no on whether they will accept me as a new customer - of course mix in a long lunch break and before you know it, its 2pm. I keep pushing to get the crate sorted, but you hit that threshold where you get the word 'manana' and nothing is going to get done today.

At 8am the next day I am at Tampa Cargo at the airport to meet Jose, the Masterfreight agent.  The crate is supposed to arrive soon, we wait for a while and a couple of phone calls get made to hurry up the carpenters with the crate - it arrives at 1030, then another 45 minutes waiting while the crate paperwork gets approved by the airline - they have to be made from certified/ stamped kiln dried wood so there is no transfer of wood borne bugs between countries and as the carrier Tampa are responsible to make sure the crate is up to scratch.
The Police inspection is at 2pm - supposedly, they check everything for narcotics, so we have a few hours to get things sorted out and I am not too concerned, after this I can crate the bike and everything will be sorted for Sammy to leave at 830 pm.

In the mean time, I have been getting the bike ready to crate again, front wheel ready to come off, front mudguard and screen off, top box removed, battery disconnected and the gas tank drained completely -Tampa havent flown many bikes, the rules are normally less than a quarter  of a tank for flying - depending on the airline, but they insist its competely drained, I only have about 3 or 4 litres in the tank, so the 3 young shipping agent guys that all have small motorcycles in the parking lot are very happy - their 125cc or smaller bikes all leave that day with nearly full tanks!!!

So at midday I go to see what is happening, I ask the girls in the office and one of tham says that they do not have the original copy of the shippers declaration - a fairly important piece of paper, until we have it we cannot crate the bike - so after a while Jose shoots off to the office to get the original. I tell the girls that I need to get the bike crated up right after the Police inspection as I wanted to go back downtown and thank Neudith, Eilyn and Nelson for helping me out.

At this point they drop the bombshell that the plane is going to be early - its going to arrive in an hour - just after 1pm and leave at 2pm.  Another 'I can't believe it' moment, I ask them why I havent ben told - I have been working 10 metres from their office all morning and nobody bothered to let me know - not impressed. They only found out that morning after 9am, apparantly one of their aircraft is getting repaired, so they had to change the schedule. The next flight is due on Saturday, but there may be one on Thursday.

Now, there is no way to get the narcotics inspection done and the bike crated in under 2 hours, the Police are heading for lunch, as are the Tampa staff  - watching the latest plan swiftly heading down the pan was not much fun....

Tampa Cargo's 30 minute lunch break turned into well over an hour, In the mean time the aircraft Sammy was supposed to catch that evening arrived and the pilots scooted for a quick lunch, they come back after 30 minutes and they ask me where the bike is going - I tell them that it should be on their aircraft, going to Miami that evening - but they are early, so we chat for a few minutes and I ask them when the next flight will be, they are in the dark too and say that Thursday is possible. They wish me good luck and I get to watch the Airbus taxi and take off without the bike on board.....Streuth.

The cops didnt want to come and do the Narcotics inspection -they were busy having a little siesta I guess, Jose was back so I got him to chivvy the cops up and get going - it was around 230 pm before they wandered over to look at the bike. I had everything laid out ready, they checked in the gas tank, air box, and in the engine and had a good poke around through all my gear, wiping everything down with small papers which change colour if they touch any trace of narcotics, eventually they signed off on the paperwork an hour later.

Its 330 pm and the bike isnt even crated, the flight is missed and my morale is at rock bottom, a couple of airport guys give me a hand to crate the bike up which takes a while, the 'carpenters' got the width of the handlebars wrong and the crate is a half inch too tight, a quick bodge later and its sorted out. Sammy gets fork lifted into a secure storage shed and I talk to the airline girls who assure me that the bike will get put on the next available flight. My flight to Miami leaves the next morning and I am a bit hesitant about going ahead of the bike, potentially having to return to Colombia to sort any further problems out, but I know Gaston in Miami is on the case and he can sort out most eventualities.

Nearly finished
I head back to town, sort out my gear and head to the airport the next morning bright and early. The flight is only a few minutes late and as the Airbus takes off, Im hoping Sammy makes it out too.

I have really enjoyed Colombia, the people have been super friendly, the countryside spectacular and apart from the accident the other week has been a great end to South America.

Sammy sealed in clingfilm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Barranquilla or Bust....

So after a pleasant but not overly productive week in Cartagena, a few jobs done on the bike and some sight seeing,  I packed up the bike and headed to Barranquilla early Wednesday  morning and straight to an appointment with Coltrans Shipping Company in the commercial sector. The air conditioning in the office was cold and the coffee was hot, which was nice and the  temperature along the coast has been a rather toasty 32 ish degrees today, factor in the high humidity and it feels like 38 C - the riding gear does get a bit warm.

Luckily for me - and them,  one of the girls in the office speaks excellent English. My Spainish, though improved on this trip is still rough and I still tend to miss some of the details in a conversation while generally getting most of the information.

Flying the bike looks feasable, though more expensive than sea freight, it will however put me back on track to meet up with Stan in the Southern USA in a reasonable time frame. We are aiming for a flight this weekend or early next week, Ive still yet to find out if the bike needs to be fully crated or if it can just be put on a pallet and strapped down, Im hoping for the latter which is both cheaper and quicker, both here and in Miami - ride on and ride off the pallet 5 minutes, job done.

Straight after the meeting, I head to the Suzuki dealer in town (the one that actually opens in the morning!)
and buy a new Pirelli rear tire/tyre for a very good price,  I head down to the closest tire fitting shop and get it fitted  in about 15 minutes for another bargain at  $2.66 US.

I didnt hear much back on Thursday, so Friday I got hold of the girls that were helping me and got some bad news - their head office in Bogota had told them that they were not to handle 'personal' dangerous goods - only larger consignments linked to companies....great, another dead end.

The girls in the office were a bit put out with their orders from Bogota, especially after promising me they would be able to help. Also I have been getting some help with getting  from the bike out of Colombia from  a guy in Miami - Gaston, who runs a company called SAmericaXlplorer, he is Chilean, but has been living in the USA for quite a while now. Gaston was on the case straight away looking for another agent and I went to see another agent with Neudith, one of the girls from Coltrans - no go with this agent, but we ended finding one in the same building as Coltrans - just four floors below!

Johanna with MasterFreight said that she should be able to help out, so more photocopies of the bikes papers were taken, its back on currently for a flight on Tuesday - lets see if this time it will work.

There was still some other jobs to get sorted out, Neudith took me along to the DIAN (customs) offices, and we spent quite a while there trying to push through getting the bikes temporary importacion cancelled before the flight on Tuesday. If I had been on my own I would not have got very far, luckily Neudith used to work for DIAN and knows pretty much everyone in the office!!

It turned out that I needed a letter explaining that I was going to export the bike, with the frame number and my details on it,  thinking that I'd have to split back into town to an Internet cafe and bash something together in my dodgy Spanish, Neudith just sat down and used a DIAN computer and typed up a letter in 2 minutes and printed off three copies!!! Nice!

We then headed off to a carpenters shop to sort out a crate, after some discussion we arranged that I would come back on Saturday and the guys would make up a crate - they would also deliver it to Tampa Cargo on Monday, so we can put Sammy in for his trip to Miami.
Sammy Gets Fitted up for a Crate

Saturday comes and we get going with the crate, I take the bike apart - just as we had done for the flight from Edmonton to Santiago, front wheel and mudguard, windshield, mirrors, top box and Lisas pannier off while the base is made, we lift the bike on and the guys take some measurements, then take the bike off again and then they make up the frame for the top while I put the bike back together again.

It was cheaper getting the crate sorted out in Canada, but the guys here made it up from scratch and its going to get delivered to the airport, so I cant complain.

Sunday morning I was up early and did some more jobs on the bike, I adjusted the valves, cleaned the spark plugs,  put on the 15 tooth front sprocket so the bike cruises better on the US Freeways and did some more cleaning and general tinkering.

Lets see what Monday brings.......

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Cartagena Historic City

After arriving in Cartagena a day late due to the accident in Barranquilla, I ended up missing the cut off for the ship departing Cartagena for Miami ,which was our next option to get the bike out of Colombia. The third option is to fly the bike to Miami. The  problem is, the flights do not leave from Cartagena - only Barranquilla on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the end of this week tying to get anything sorted out has proved difficult due to the Barranquilla  Carnival starting on Saturday and finishing next Tuesday night! Both agents that were contacted hadn't come back with prices before the getting anything constructive done there before Wednesday probably won't happen.

I managed to get a couple of jobs done on the bike, I went to Dario Marcas Motos - a small moto shop I had read about on the HUBB and talked to Dario and his wife Claudia about getting the front wheel trued up, In their shop is a brand new KTM 950 getting some work done on it and the workshop is small but well organised. Dario takes a look and walks down the street shouts at a guy who was asleep on the sidewalk and calls him over. It turns out the guy is the local 'guru' in the city at straightening wheels and 10 minutes later the wheel is as good as its going to get - I ask him how much he wants for his work - $3 usd! he heads back off for another nap and we take a look at the front fork alignment, one of the 2 main bolts that secure the handlebar mounts is bent -its a fairly beefy bolt, so I just spin it 90 degress and put it back in - not perfect by any means but better, at least the bars are not turned way to  the right when the front wheel is straight.
Dario and another guy loosen and check the front forks - they look OK by eye, a couple of tweeks and everything gets cinched up, should be good.
Historic City and Commercial City

I am in the shop with Dario and the guys for about an hour and so I ask him how much for his time, he waves his had and says 'nothing' - a word that you dont tend to hear when you are in Blackfoot Motorcycles in Calgary!!!
If you need some work done on your bike in Cartagena  go and see Dario  - knows what he is doing and himself and his wife Claudia are genuinely lovely friendly people

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pick up Truck 1 : Sammy 0

Oh me and my big mouth - 'my riding has improved' well maybe it has, but it still wasnt good enough for me to avoid some muppet nearly badly injuring me and nearly destroying the bike on Sunday.

What should have been a routine 'last riding day in South America' turned into a fairly crap day. Id left Santa Marta and was riding very cautiously on my own, I had to go through the city of Barranquilla, and there is lots of road construction currently. So riding down the road I see a blue old pick up waiting in a side road on the left wanting to go straight across in front of me, Im in second gear and theres sand all over the asphalt, the truck pulls out a few feet as I approach and stops.

I am a gringo on a (now very clean) white motorcycle with its headlight on, wearing a shiny silver helmet and a jacket with bright yellow flashes on the sleeves - hard to miss you'd think? Apparently not.

As I get within 10-15 metres away or so he just pulls straight out in front, doesnt even look - I cant believe it!! -  I'm just about to T bone this truck and go flying over the bonnet I jam on the front and rear brakes - on any normal road surface I might have been able to stop - not with the sand though, the front wheel locks and the bike goes down hard on its right side and slides until it hits the (still moving) trucks front right wheel and bumper. The old boy driver doesnt even realise that he just pulled out in front of someone and keeps going - starting to drive right over Sammy's front wheel - I pretty much got off the bike while it was sliding ran a couple of steps and ended up at his passenger window - yelling at him to stop. Sammy's front wheel is partially under his tyre and the forks are twisted in the triple trees, handlebars are twisted and the bash plate took a pounding from the trucks bumper. The front braided stainless brake hose is sliced clean in two, as is the cable for the digital speedo, brake fluid leaking out onto the road.

Another beating for Sammy...
I tell him to back up and a couple of guys help me pull the bike out from under the front of the pick up. Though the handlebars get caught up on the bumper and Sammy gets dragged back with the truck some more as we wrestle him out eventually.

The truck driver then starts to drive off.... I yell at him to stop, but he keeps going, so I write his licence number down, a few guys on bikes have stopped to help and one chases after him and tells him that I have his plate and to come back which he does.

I give him some choice words in Spanish and English with the liberal use of some internationally recognised sign language and I think he eventually gets the message that hes not going to be on my Christmas card list......

Well its a fairly quiet Sunday in the Suburbs of Barranquilla, so fairly quicky theres a crowd of 20-30 people around the bike, Transit Police arrive 10 minutes later and an Ambulance - who I wave away with a thumbs up,

Helpful Local Guys
Its clear that the bike cannot be ridden to Cartagena today, so after the cops take our details, draw a diagram of the accident and measure my skid marks - 3 metres skidding before the bike went down and another 3 metres of sliding on its side before the truck hit it, take some statements from witnesses, who were very helpful and were actually giving the truck driver a hard time about pulling out in front of me. I set about fixing the bike up as best I can - basically loosening the forks and pulling the wheel till its straight(ish) - with the bike on its centre stand I spin the front wheel - it doesnt look straight/true but I have to ride it on the highway to test it properly. All this took a good 2 and a bit hour in 35C heat with me in my riding gear.... I ask the cops if there is a hotel close to the Suzuki bike shop and they helpfully escorted me on there bike, blue lights flashing a few kilometres away, bearing in mind I have no front brake we took it quite slow and I very nearly ran into the back of them once!

So the next morning I walk to the Suzuki shop to find it only opens from 2-6 pm!! - I quickly find another small shop with 2 young guys, David and Carlos who specialize on Suzukis and have the contract to service all the police DR650's locally.

They said that it will take at least 3 days to get a front brake hose - not what I want to hear, so I ask them if anyone can make one up, after some head scratching and phone calls,we jump in a taxi and head to another Suzuki dealer who is open - yep, 3 days minimum wait, so we head to see the guy in a small shop who says he can cut off the pipe fitting on each end of the broken hose and solder them onto a new pipe - the hose he has though is not very good quality, but better than 3 days + waiting, so an hour later I have a temporary brake line. I head back to the hotel and fit it, fill and bleed the brakes - It feels like someone holding 2 wet sponges onto the brake disc when I pull the brake lever - not good, too much flex in the hose.

I had been down to the Police station twice during all this to get a copy of the police report, but the cop at the accident was not around both times and I kept getting the old 'come back in 2 hours' routine. I heard from another cop that the guy who was driving the truck said he had no money to pay for the damage to the bike and that it would go before a judge in 3 to 6 months - or even maybe a year....... not good news, so rather unhappily I just split and headed out of town, I have the cops phone number so I may chase it up when Im back home, but Im not expecting anything.

I was going over the accident in my mind and I would not have taken a different line, what I did not do though it beep the horn - which I have been doing a lot in South America in situations like that - when someone nearly pulls out of a side road, also the thin layer of sand on the asphalt was super slippery to brake on, also I assumed the guy would actually bother to look both ways - wrong!

The front brake was pretty bad, with the lever pulled all the way it was not doing too much, so I rode to Cartagena very cautiously and as I suspected the front wheel is buckled from the truck driving onto it....anything over 80-85 kms and I can feel the vibration starting.

I got into Cartagena late afternoon and found a hotel, pizza and a beer later and a quick chat with Lisa on Skype. Her flights had all been delayed in Colombia, so she had missed her flight from Toronto to Edmonton and eventually got routed through Winnipeg!!!! So, 27 hours later she got back to Stan's place near Edmonton, the next day she drove home to Banff, with lots of snow and ice on the highway and its currently -30 C! There were accidents and delays..... but she is home.

Semi truck and trailer blocking the main highway - icy roads covered in snow
 I have to meet with a shipping agent on Tuesday and see if we can get Sammy to the USA......