Post edited by Vasile.
We got to Santiago late in the day and we were looking for a place to stay, when the adventure pulled right next to us on the KTM 950 Adventure. It was Cristobal, a Chilean dude who after a few minutes of chatting with us invited us to his place.
The next day me and him went on a ride to the “cordillera” (Andes).
Just outside Santiago we started climbing a nice twisty gravel road going up to almost 4000 m altitude through some of the most beautiful landscapes the area has to offer.
Once we got on the ridge we could see glaciers and deserty valleys all around us. Like always, I was extremely excited and always looking for and taking all the single tracks around me.
When we got to the top Cristobal asked me which way we wanted to go back. He gave me two options: one full enduro (for 450 KTM) and the other one a two hours’ fast gravel road. Any day I would have picked the enduro version but because he said the gravel was more scenic and I didn’t want to damage my bike in this trip, I chose the easy way out.
For the next half hour everything was fast, until we got to a bulldozer that was stuck, trying to clear out a washout. We looked around for options and I decided to go straight through it to the other side, which turned out to be pretty easy and we were both very excited that we made it to the other side. Before we attempted it, the guys who were trying to get the bulldozer out were looking at us skeptical and they were pretty shocked that we actually made it.
Thinking that was it we jumped on the bikes again and after only five minutes of riding we got to a way bigger washout.We were still very excited about it so we carefully planned a route to cross it and we successfully made it to the other side. And so it happened with the next 10-15 washouts, until I decided to walk ahead a bit to check how the road was. We walked for about 1 km through some washouts way bigger and more dangerous than the ones we’d been through. Also, in one of them, we saw a 10 km mark. That’s when I decided that, knowing what’s on the side we came from, it would be better to turn around. We calculated that we had about 4 hours of daylight and it would be enough to cross all the washouts we’d been through already. After only 10 minutes and two washouts crossed we met two local Chileans riding on horses and Cris asked them how the road was down the valley to the main highway. They talked for about 10 minutes and I probably understood 50% of it, but I could see on Cristobal’s face that he was getting pretty confident to turn back around and continue on the road we didn’t know. Pretty much the locals told us that all the washouts should be the same like the ones we just crossed, with a good section of 6 km without washouts. Then we would get to a collapsed bridge where we would have to get our bikes down in the river and back on the other side. But they offered to help us with that. After that, within 500 m we were supposed to be on the highway.
So we decided to turn around again. At this point we were at least one hour in without water. As far as food goes, I only had two hot-dogs in the morning.
We crossed about four washouts again and at this point both of us started to feel very tired. Cris is a small guy who weighs just over 60 kg. He is one of the best riders I’ve ridden with. For a guy that small he was riding like a Tasmanian devil. The drops between the rock were so big that the bikes didn’t have enough clearance so I was always looking for the best path through. He was just flying over-top of them. At one point I realized that it was way longer to get out than we had thought and we needed to hydrate. I told Cris that I was going to the river to fill out my camel-bag. He told me not to do it since the water in these mountains if full of minerals. So I didn’t. We continued on over washouts and rock avalanches. Some of them were so dangerous that a small mistake could cost you not only losing your bike, but your own life. We pushed ourselves through levels of dehydration that I had never experienced before. I could feel my throat dry all the way down to my lungs. At this point I realized that if I didn’t hydrate I was going to injure myself pretty soon. So I told Cris “That’s it, I have to go to the river and get some water”. The water wasn’t too muddy but it wasn’t crystal clear either. I jumped in the river, washed my face over and over, and started drinking water like a race horse. I immediately felt like somebody blew life over me. I filled up my backpack just in case Cris wanted to drink some, and started climbing back up to the road. Back on the road I asked Cris if he wanted to drink some water and he immediately reached to my camel-bag. Right away we both had a positive attitude. I was even singing while pulling and pushing the bike.
We went over two or three rock avalanches where there was no room for mistake and then it got completely dark. In the dark we had to pass a few difficult steps, then we got to the 6 km stretch of good road. At this point even after drinking lots of water from the river and riding a fairly easy road compared to what we’d been through, we still had to stop to take a break and encourage ourselves to keep going. In my mind I was re-winding all the events from the day and started to feel safer like it was all over. Everything changed dramatically at the scene of a collapsed bridge, a bit passed 10 pm. There were few moments in the day when I was thinking to push the Help button on my SPOT device. But then I thought I was going to panic all my family and friends back in Canada. At this point I just wanted to let Camelia know that I was not injured but I needed help. So I decided to press the check in OK button, thinking that everybody else but her would think that we were camping and having a lot of fun.
We left the bikes on the road and Cris had a flashlight, the weakest on the face of the planet. Knowing that the locals are riding their horses through here, I knew there had to be a way down to the river and up on the other side, so we started looking for it. After a little bit of walking through the night, through boulders 4-5 m high, we found the way through. We came back to the bikes and took my bike across first. We manged to get the bike down to the river, over the river and some of the big boulders, but the fatigue took its toll. We were facing a 3 m steep slope that usually, with a lot of momentum, it would be easy to clear, but at that time I could only hear Cristobal’s voice “With speed, with speed”. Unfortunately I didn’t even have enough energy to twist the throttle. I stepped off my bike and it was the first time I told Cris “We need help”. Thinking about the two guys on horses that made us come this way we decided to start walking towards civilization to find help. Five minutes into the walk, our jaws dropped. Another collapsed bridge that looked way more difficult than the other one. We got down to the river and Cris said “Maybe we can take the bikes into the river and ride the river”. I pointed the flashlight to the right and showed him the 4-5 m waterfall. At this point both of us were very confused about what was going to happen. We decided to go back to the bikes, pick up our helmets and keys and walk to the next village. When we got back to the bikes we could barely stand on our own two feet. So we decided to sleep for a little bit. We were super warmed up from all the effort and immediately it felt very cosy and relieving. After about half hour Cris woke up and said “Vasile, if we sleep here we should make a fire or we should walk to the highway”. I said “Let’s walk to the highway” so he walked to the other side of the river to pick up the helmets and his motorcycle keys. I was getting extremely cold so until he came back I tucked underneath the bike and wrapped my hands around the exhaust pipes which were still warm.
When he got back we started walking down the river and I was getting more and more concerned about getting the bikes out, looking around the places we had to go through. About a km later, at the bottom of the valley, we would see some light pollution. We knew it had to be the village or the highway. I think I was asking Cris over and over again the same question: “How are we going to get the bikes out?”
Finally we got to the rail crossing where there was a guy working the night shift. He was very kind and gave us water and Cris and I were trying to switch sim cards so we can call and let people know that we were ok, as his phone battery had died. Apparently sim card from an I-phone doesn’t work on an Android so we started walking to the highway to take a bus or hitch-hike to Santiago.
Walking down on the gravel road I heard Cris saying “Mi papa” (my dad), looking at some guys around a car in the middle of the road. I thought he was just trying to be funny after all that happened. Getting closer to the group he started shaking their hands. Being so tired, even at this point, I couldn’t realize what was going on. But then I saw Camelia next to me talking to me.
Turned out she got the message exactly as I intended it. She was relived that I was ok, but seeing that we have not moved for a few hours (she checked the SPOT) she realized there must have been something wrong with the bikes. At the same time, Cris’ dad was trying to reach him on the phone and as he was not answering, he got worried and he went to the house to check what was going on. There he found Camelia. Together they looked at the SPOT, put the pieces of the puzzle together and they decided they needed to come for us. Cris’ dad knew the road we were on very well, as he was a biker himself, so he knew where to come find us. His dad and his partner were just coming back from a fishing trip 1000 km away from Santiago, and now they were driving with Camelia in the middle of the night to find us.
We were so happy to see them! We jumped in the car and headed to Santiago. As we were starving, we stopped at a gas station on the way to grab a bite to eat. Camelia asked Cris “Are you sure you are going to find your bikes tomorrow and no one is going to steal them?” And Cris’ answer was “If anyone gets it out of there, I’m gonna pay him” 🙂
We got back to Santiago around 3 am and went straight to bed.
The next day we woke up and proceeded the rescue mission. Cris called his cousin Francisco to drive us there and once there we started asking people for help, and especially looking for somebody with a horse. After a bit of walking around we came across some people willing to help. We started heading towards the bikes and the scene was just as I expected: very difficult to go through. It’s amazing how positive you look at things when you are hydrated and have enough food in your belly. Compared to the other night this time I had no doubt in my mind, I was going to make it through to the other side.
We started going over stuff, carving roads, shifting rocks and towing the bikes with the horse. But soon enough the horse got spooked from the sound of the engines and starting jumping and kicking, throwing off the boy who was riding him. Nothing happened with the boy, except a few scratches, but unfortunately I cannot say the same thing about the horse. The boy’s father made sure he gave the horse a lesson, totally unnecessary if you ask me.
After this, the only power we used was human power, making it through all the difficult steps with a lot of caution and teamwork. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon we had the bikes out of the valley.
The next day in Santiago I washed both bikes and did some work on my bike, had an amazing dinner with Cris’ family and overall I think it was an experience I will never forget and I also made a friendship that I hope it will last a lifetime.
Here is a video to sum up some of the stuff we’ve been through.
Thank you very much Cristobal for everything and I have no regrets for what happened. If I had to do it again I probably would:) Remember, you always have a friend in Canada.