The competitors will once again become mountaineers to cross the Andes mountain range. They should also make sure to take a camera to immortalise their journey along the road section on route 60, after crossing the border at the Paso San Francisco pass. After these moments of freshness and relaxation, the riders and drivers should expect heat shock. During this season, it is always very hot in the white dunes of Fiambala. The visit will be shorter than in previous years, but after ten days of racing, this section can in particular prove to be decisive for amateurs who start to show signs of tiredness.
As you can remember, the pass to Chile, over the Paso de Jama, a few days ago, was a gruesome adventure. We rode, with the Dakar convoy, through rain and freeze, in a tough journey that took us through 600 km and cost us two bikes and a lost team member ( who was later found sound and well…). learning from our previous experience, we have decided to start the day early, and be over the pass by early afternoon. The San Francisco pass is harder and longer ride, with over two hundred kilometers (over 125 miles) of dirt road. Jim took a leisurely pace in the morning, and four hours later, we covered only 100 miles, just starting to meet the challenges of the pass. We then stopped to help a stranded biker with overheating issues and by noon, the majority of the pass still had to be tackled. Bad news for our team. At that time, the cars and trucks of the race liaison, were tearing their way through the dirt road, pulverizing the sand into this dust, obstructing vision and making the ride extremely technical. I got frustrated with the slow pace, and decided to take off ahead of the group. 50 km later, we took our first nose dive of the trip. Getting into a turn, following a very dusty Dutch truck team, we found ourselves in a triple, deep rutted curve, with two feet deep powder. With no visibility, I decided to drop the bike, to avoid collision or getting of the road into a trench or ravine. We are at a 15,342 ft (about 5,000 meter) elevation at this point, chewing coca leaves to fight altitude sickness, and gasping for air. As the bike drops, Danielle bolts off the dusty scene, and a truck comes hauling around the corner. After he barely missed our bike, I pulled the little breath I had, stood the bike up, and rode it to the side of the road. It was a very soft fall, thanks to the deep powder, but very scary, none the less.
Needless to say, we were relived we came out of it in one piece. Danielle, the bike and I were all OK. As we were gathering our wits, another biker took a nose dive in the same spot. We later learned that most of our team mates, shared a similar experience. One of whom fainted, as result of the action and lack of oxygen.
We went on riding till we liaised with Nacho and his truck for lunch and re- fueling, so that we can make our way to the Argentinian border. We then learned that Jim’s support truck lost it’s air suspension, and is driving at a slow pace down the road.
Being at high elevation for extended period, started taking it’s tall on us. Danielle fainted and was offered a a ride with the BMW support team, to the border. I decided to take off so that I can join her and get to lower altitude to get some much needed air and avoid similar fate. I got on the bike and started riding down the pass, with trucks, cars, bikes and all. The scenery was amazing. Salt rich lakes with icy looking waters, made for a stunning backdrop. I soon joined Danielle at the border post. She got Gatorade from the BMW team, and oxygen from the border medics, and was feeling somewhat better. We decided to wait for Nacho, and when he got there, he offered to take her in the truck through the remainder of the day’s journey.
Adventure kept messing with us. The paso de san Francisco, was bound to be a long day. We had to do 700 km of riding with 200 dirt through high elevation, and get to Chilecito, the next stop of the race. At 6:30 pm, after hanging out in the desert for two hours, with Glen who run out of gas, we rolled into a small town with still a hundred miles to go. The first of which were 20 km of dirt.
While we waited to the rest of the team to get off the mountain, a group decided to make a head start to the camp site in Chilecito. An hour later they were back, refusing to do one more km in the dirt for the day. Emotions and exhaustion kicked in, and we had something going on edging on mutiny.
At 10pm, we decided to stay in the town we were in, and catch up with the race in Chilecito, the morning after. The local tourist office, helped us find a family, who cleared part of their house for us, so that we have a place to sleep. By midnight, we had dinner and a shower and a room full of bugs as our night stop. It was a challenging day, both physically and mentally. Long live adventure. Danielle was tired, but back to her old self, after getting nourished, hydrated and oxygenated.
But where is Diego? We just found out that he went through to Chilecito, not knowing that we would not follow. Nacho called and arranged a place for him to sleep, since his luggage was with us, in the support truck.