On the Road Again!
After a month of time spent in Cuenca, due to the conflux of the motorcycle breakdown, parts having to be shipped from the US and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I was spent from the stress and expenses. My timeline to reach Ushuaia in February before the bad weather begins was now compressed, meaning I would not have time to explore many areas as I wanted.
I will admit to considering ending the trip entirely in moments of depression and frustration, and due to the complexity of the repairs by a mechanic who had no experience with such a task, I doubted whether the motorcycle would ever run properly again. BMW’s are notoriously complex and computerized, and aside from a thousand potential problems due to improper torque, vacuum hosing, multiple fuel and electronic connections and more, the chance of all of these systems working properly and requiring computer analysis seemed impossible. If it did get running again, and the repairs worked, I didn’t know if I’d feel safe heading deeper into the Andes and far more remote areas.
In addition, each time the bike was due to be ready, the repair shop had either taken another day or two off or had some excuse as to why they couldn’t work that day. In Mexico, it’s “mañana”. In Ecuador it’s “tranquilo”.
Cristobal, the mechanic finally sent me a message on WhatsApp that the bike would be ready on a Tuesday. Cristobal had been chosen based on his experience in large bikes, rather than the local shops who only knew how to service small Chinese motos. There was actually a BMW dealer in Cuenca, however a visit there showed them to only sell motorcycles, not repair them. Unbelievable! Dealers in other cities were similarly uninterested in helping and only independent mechanics were available. My preference was to have had the work done in Quito by a reputable and experienced shop, however they were 10 hours away or more and would require truck delivery. They’d recommended Cristobal and that made the logistical issue solved.
In the meantime, I’d enjoyed some of the time in Cuenca between worrying at night, having met several expat’s and been invited into their community lives. One man I’d met at the moto repair shop was Phil, an ex-pilot who lived in Cuenca and rode an adventure bike. He’d given me a ride from the shop and his contact info. We met again several times and in the process he told me a friend was riding his bike from Colombia to Ushuaia and due into Cuenca in a few days.
Phil was bandying about the idea of riding with him the Ushuaia and wanted to see if we could travel together a bit. It was fine by me, with the understanding that I would travel alone and follow my own route, interconnecting with them at points.
Ward, a Canadian from Toronto arrived and we met up, also about the time two guys from the US hit Cuenca. Ken and Chip were from Virginia and Colorado respectively, having previously ridden around the world on BMW’s. Ken had experience in BMW repairs and had read of my troubles on another website, wanting to see if he could help. I really appreciated their coming by and we had a good time that evening discussing travels and solving world problems. Since the bike was in the shop, he couldn’t do much and they continued on the next day.
I was due to pick up the bike and wanted to test it out thoroughly before heading south for Peru, understandably, and Phil agreed to escort me on a 4 hour ride the next day. I walked to Mojeron Motos, and the bike was sitting outside, assembled and freshly washed. After seeing it in pieces for so many weeks it was a wonder to behold. The bike started and ran okay, but was a bit rough above idle which wasn’t normal, but I could live with it until reaching Lima and a BMW dealer to have it put on a computer and properly analyzed. With some trepidation and excitement I headed for the hotel, but decided to run around town as much as I could before the afternoon rains hit. It began sprinkling soon after and I stopped at a coffee shop just before the monsoon hit.
Hours later it slacked enough to make the hotel for the night. The next morning, Phil arrived at my hotel and we set out for the loop to see if the bike had any leaks or issues. I noticed the motorcycle didn’t have the same power on the highway, and worse, the mpg was only 17 when it should have been in the mid 40’s. Something wasn’t right but I hoped it would improve with running. About 30 minutes away from town, as I made a turn for the mountains, the bike sputtered and died, barely running after I started it while rolling. It would only run with the throttle open wide and I had to keep restarting it. My heart sunk and I realized I was having big problems again.
Phil followed me back to my hotel and I parked the bike under an awning, where I tried to check what I could and run my computer analysis to reset anything I could find wrong. I finally gave up as the heavy rains started and hit my hotel room, despondent and angry. My options were all extremely expensive if Cristobal couldn’t sort the problem. Shipping it to a dealer somewhere, shipping it home or bringing my mechanic and his BMW analyzer from Texas to Ecuador were all costly. I didn’t sleep well that night.
It was January 1, and the shop wouldn’t open until the next day. Phil and Ward were anxious to leave and I told them to go ahead since I had no idea what the future held now. They agreed to wait a couple more days to see what the results were.
The next day, I started the bike and it idled fine, then after 5 minutes began the same sputtering as I rode it to Cristobal’s shop. He was distraught at the sight of it, and began checking what he could initially. The spark plugs were terribly fouled and he felt that was the problem, but I told him the problem caused the fouling. He disassembled the bike to a point to check all hoses and connections while I spoke much of the day with my mechanic friend MotoHank by phone. Spark plugs were unavailable for my bike in Cuenca and had to be shipped from Quito by bus, not arriving until late the next day. Despondent, I sat on his couch trying to decide what to do yet again, since his efforts weren’t working. Just before closing, he came in and said he’d remembered another bike like mine that was having a similar issue a couple of years earlier and it was water in the Throttle Position Sensor unit, Upon disassembly he indeed found the waterproof unit with a lot of water in it. He admitted using a pressure washer on the bike and felt he must have gotten it too close and forced water past the seal. After trying to dry it out, it still ran a bit rough but better. Another disassembly and drying made it sound even better and he hoped it was solved. The next day and new spark plugs would answer it. The next day was also the day of leaving and Phil and Ward were anxious to get on the road.
I was feeling pressure, not only for the bike, but from them as well. I wanted to ride with someone if possible since the bike was untested and would like the help if it failed. I’d decided to cancel my original route through some spectacular mountains and take the highly traveled route in case I had to have the bike trucked upon breakdown. They both wanted to leave at 9 am, but I told them I couldn’t possibly and had no idea if the bike even be running, much less time for a test ride, loading my gear and then hitting an ATM and paying the hotel and such. I really had no desire to head for another country without testing the motorcycle thoroughly but prayed the bike would work. They asked about a time and I told them absolute perfect case scenario would be 12 noon. They said they’d be packed and waiting.
A final night in Cuenca
The next morning I walked to the shop and Cristobal had received the plugs and installed them. The bike was idling and sounded much more like itself. With a knot in my stomach I headed down the street for a test ride and after 15 minutes it hadn’t started stumbling, a miracle. Everything seemed much better than before and I headed back to the shop. When I arrived, Cristobal spotted and oil leak and my heart sunk, as did his since if the new main seal had begun leaking again it was a total disaster. After a few minutes he traced it to a clutch seal and retightened it. I hoped it didn’t leak and asked him to give me a quart of mineral oil to carry in case it did. Finding motorcycle mineral oil is almost impossible, especially in the countries in South America.
I swallowed hard and made the decision to head out on the bike, desperately hoping to make Lima and a BMW dealer in case of failure again. I just needed to desperately get out of Ecuador and the situation, feeling trapped and watching my finances and and time going away.
It took a while, but I settled up with Cristobal, thanked him and raced for my hotel. I’d prepacked the night before and after multiple breathless trips up the 4th floor stairs had the gear on the bike. I left and found an ATM for the hotel bill and travel money, then settled up with the owner, rushing to get to Phil’s place and made it by noon. My arrival was a dud as they weren’t ready at all. By the time they’d finally gotten loaded, it was 2:30 pm and I knew we’d be riding in the dark to make our goal of Macara near the Peruvian border.
One thing I’d learned about traveling anywhere on this trip, is that it’s best to double your travel time and you’ll be correct. If Google says 4 hours travel time, count on 8. Macara was officially about 4 or 5 and I knew it would be very difficult to make it before dark. Riding in the dark is an absolute no-no anywhere south of the US. Terrible roads, bandits and large animals free range on the roadways.
When we finally got going, the bike felt good and the mileage slowly climbed to the high 30’s and finally broke 40, a great relief which told me the water had been the issue. At a few stops I triple checked the potential leaks and was happy to see none. Though tense and still worried, it was a good sign so far. The engine idle wasn’t perfect, still telling me something wasn’t right, but at this point all I wanted to do was make the Peruvian border, a mental safety net as if there was a failure, at least the bike wouldn’t have to deal with cargo problems from Ecuador to Lima where the reputable dealer was.
After about 3 hours, we stopped for a break to warm up and grab some food high in the mountains, and as we left gain, the rains began. It was as the darkness came that we had several hours to go yet and the rains stayed steady. I’m used to running in the rain, but Phil and Ward were not. Phil’s lights failed him and Ward was terribly unprepared, having only a cheap plastic rain suit, an open face helmet and safety glasses. In drenching rain and in the mountains, you need serious gear and Ward had none. My motorcycle is equipped with super bright LED lights for just such moments and I tried to get them to stay near me to be able to see ahead, slowing tremendously so they could stay near. However they continued to slow and drop back, the effect bringing us way down on time. The road was high, twisty and dangerous with sections fallen away from landslides. It was a difficult road and at such a slow pace it dragged out. By the time we finally made it through the endless fog and rain to Macara, it was nearing 10 pm. I wasn’t happy to be delayed and forced to ride in the darkness for so long, but we made it.
My new friends Ken and Chip had ridden the road earlier in the day, and informed me we had done a you serious stunt, as they said the road had required all their concentration even in daylight and there was no way in hell they would have ridden it at night.