Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 26 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970426.rpt
Sunday April 20 73707
I was in a semi-funky mood in the morning and couldn't seem to get going,
even though I had planned to adjust the bike's valves the first thing in the
morning. I spent the morning reading the newspaper I had bought last night
for purposes of covering the floor under the valve covers. I think some of
my funk was the uncertainty of what I'd find when I adjusted the valves, or
actually, the certainty I had that I'd have to have work done on the head in
Santiago in a day or two, and all the headaches that would entail. Where to
have the work done, how much it would cost, would the work be up to snuff
(though I guess it couldn't be much worse than what I had done in the States
before the trip; after all it was that work which was now causing me this
grief), would I get screwed in the process?
With noon approaching I blew off adjusting the valves this morning, and
packed up the bike and left. Santiago was only 120 miles north, but I wasn't
in the right frame of mind to deal with the city and the bike hassles yet, so
rather than head directly there on the Pan American Highway, 50 miles north
of Curico at the town of Pelequen, I headed west towards Lago Rapel, the
largest artificial lake in Chile, which feeds the Rapel hydroelectric plant.
There was camping along the lake and a night or two of camping would be good
therapy for my funky mood.
I was feeling lazy, tired and a bit blue, and even getting on the bike did
not cure it. My thoughts were on the upcoming bike problems, and my
fantasized optimal solution was to be home on the couch with Sweetie, with
the bike parked out in the garage where I could forget about it for awhile.
For a fleeting second or two the thought of just shipping the bike home from
Santiago crossed my mind. I stopped at a roadside confiteria to buy a coke
and eat my bread and cheese sandwiches and feel lazy and blue in the warm
The road to the vicinity of the lake was paved and went through the small
towns of San Vicente de Tagua Tagua and Peumo. While this area was a popular
vacation/camping spot for Chilenos, it was not on the Gringo-trail, and it
was clear from the looks I got as I rode through the towns and past the
roadside houses that it wasn't often that a bike outfitted like mine passed
To get to the camping sites the last 5 miles or so were on dirt road and with
reluctance I turned off the paved road towards the lakeshore. I had just
washed the bike to get it clean in preparation for working on it and I knew
that the dust would cling like static to the oil mist which covered much of
the outside of the engine.
The last couple of mornings I had had to wipe small puddles of oil off the
floor under the bike when I left the residencias I had been staying at.
When the bike had been dirty, the dirt had absorbed the oil and kept it from
dripping on the floor. Also, now that the bike was clean, the toe of my
right boot glistened from the oil mist directed at it from the right-side
base gasket leak.
After only 91 miles for the day, I stopped at Camping Los Acacios near the
very small village of Las Balsas. Camping cost P2000 and there was a small
well-stocked store. When I arrived there were two other parties camped there
but by 6pm they had both packed up for the weekend and left. One group
appeared to be a father and 6 sons, 4 teenage and 2 younger, and they were
crammed into a small car when they left.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday April 21, 22, 23 73798
I had a reasonable campsite all to myself, overlooking the lake, and while it
was not a site with spectacular scenery, it was nice to relax without feeling
pressured to go anywhere or see anything in the area, and I decided to just
hang out a couple of days, do some bike maintenance, catch up on my journal,
and just relax.
Monday was a beautiful sunny day and I spent the better part of the morning
and early afternoon sitting in the sun doing some reading and writing in my
journal. If it seems like I'm always trying to catch up with my journal
writing it's because I am. I've been behind since over a month ago when I
met the 3 bikers from Mar de Plata on the Atlantic coast of Argentina, and
I've been trying to catch up ever since. I still have days from 3 weeks ago
which only have short notes to myself jotted down.
At mid afternoon I took a break from such intellectual activities and
adjusted the valves on the bike. I'm basically at the end of the line with
respect to the adjuster screw on the right-side exhaust valve. It has less
than a 1/16th of a turn left. I'm going to have to do something in Santiago
in a day or two, but I'm still not sure what.
I thought of another possible temporary solution while I was adjusting the
valves. If I could come up with a temporary fix which would get me back to
the States without having to pull the head or do a valve seat job, I'd take
that route. I might be able to put some shims under the rocker towers for
that valve and that might give me enough extra clearance till I return to the
States. I think I could probably use the BMW shims used to adjust the
endplay in the rocker arms. I don't know if they are available in Santiago,
however. A possible problem might then be the clearance with the valve
cover, but I could probably use a second valve cover gasket in that case.
I'll have to get some second opinions when I get to Santiago. That should
test my usage of Spanish.
One of the centerstand bashplate clamps I made out of hoseclamp back in
Northern Peru, had broken and needed repair.
Tuesday was overcast all day with intermittent light sprinkles of rain and I
read and worked on my journal most of the day. I made toasted cheese
sandwiches for lunch.
I had actually planned to leave Wednesday morning, but it was pouring down
rain when I got up, and continued for most of the morning, and then on and
off through the afternoon, so I stayed another day rather than pack up and
ride in the rain. What a softy.
At one point during the afternoon, a squadron of 8 military helicopters flew
along the lakeshore, just above the treetops. I could hear them approaching
from some distance away and they buzzed right over my tent.
Thursday April 24 73798
I took some time in the morning before leaving to go over my finances. The
computer failure I suffered last time in Santiago back in early March had
wiped out the information on my account balances in my computer. I had
received subsequent updates via fax but hadn't really looked at them.
The dirt road continued along the lakeshore for 10 miles or so before
rejoining the good paved road north to Melipilla. This area consisted of
low, arid mountainous terrain. At Melipilla I got on the expressway
northeast to Santiago and this road reenterred the lush Central valley where
bright green fields lined the road and numerous stands sold cheese, fruit and
vegetables alongside the road.
In Santiago I went immediately to the Entel phone office downtown, which was
where I sent my last email from back on March 5 or 6. Given all the problems
I had in southern Chile and Argentina, I was beginning to think there might
be a problem with my modem. On previous visits I had gotten to know the
supervisor who had been very friendly and had told me to just go ahead and
hook up my computer and AC adaptor in one of the small booths. So this time
I went in and began to do the same. While doing so, the supervisor walked
by, however he was not the same man I dealt with last time, and he asked what
I was doing. I explained I was hooking up my computer, so I could send email
using my Sprint account. He said I couldn't do that, that it wasn't
permitted. I thought to myself, "Not this line again!" I explained I had
been here 3 or 4 times before, had talked with the supervisor on duty then,
and had done this very thing each time. It took several iterations of me
explaining that I had done it before, and him saying it wasn't permitted,
before he finally relented and permitted me to proceed. Once that hurdle was
crossed, the phone call went through, the modem connected, and I once again
had my fix of email. 55 messages. Ahhhhh!
>From there I rode over to Avenida Portugal and tracked down the BMW dealer.
This location only dealt in parts, primarily car but also some bike parts.
The main BMW showroom, with which this store was associated, was located
elsewhere, and evidently they had more stock there, for several items he said
he could have by tomorrow. I did manage to buy an oil filter, and some valve
cover gaskets. I had two spares with me, but I intended to replace the ones
currently installed, since they had some cracks and were leaking a bit. I
struck out on a front brake switch; the duct tape fix I had done in Ushuaia
had failed again and I had decided to buy a new switch if they had one. No
such luck. He said he could have a spoke nipple by tomorrow. I was still
running minus one rear wheel spoke after the clod at the tire place in Punta
Arenas had broken the spoke nipple.
The small BMW repair shop of Senor Marco Canales, was only 7 blocks away at
Avenida San Camilo 185 and I rode there next. He immediately remembered me
from my visit in March when I had parked there while buying tires. I
described the problems with my valves, and explained I'd prefer a temporary
fix, if possible, rather than do major headwork. Even before I could mention
my proposed solution of putting shims under the rocker arm towers of the
affected valve, that was exactly the suggestion he had! But we agreed it
would also be a good idea to look at the problem valves to assess the problem
and decide if the proposed "fix" would be sufficient to get me back to the
States. Sr. Canales said I could do most of the disassembly/assembly work
myself there at the shop, but it was too late in the afternoon to start, so
I'd return in the morning.
I then made a couple of phone calls to find a place to stay for the night. I
first called the number Margaret Mercado had given me for her brother here in
Santiago. I had forgotten she had said it was actually her mother's number,
but that she would know how to contact Cristian. Cristian's sister, Susanna,
answered, but said that Cristian was in Germany at the moment, and that a
friend of his was staying at his place. We agreed that if my other contacts
failed to produce a place to stay, I'd call back, and we'd see what could be
worked out. Next I tried the number of Sergio, the truck driver I had met
last time I left Santiago, and who had invited me to stay at his house.
There was no answer, but he had said the best time to call was in the
evening, so it was probably a bit early yet.
Rather than wait to try that avenue later, I called Lois Campbell, one of the
two Canadian women I had met at the gas station several days earlier. I
caught Lois just as she was heading out the door, so called her back a half
hour later. I asked if I could stay there for 2 nights, that I would be
working on my bike here at the shop tomorrow, and she said I was welcome to.
We agreed I'd show up around 8PM, after she returned from some shopping, and
she gave me directions to their home in the Los Condes suburbs east of city
center. Lois said if I liked lasagna, I was welcome to have dinner with them
I hadn't eaten anything all day since early in the morning, and was beginning
to get a headache as a result, so on my way out to Los Condes I stopped at a
McDonalds for a burger, and while eating and waiting for 8PM to approach,
began going through my email I had received that day. A couple of the email
messages from Sweetie, which had supposedly been "lost", were there, dated as
being sent after I had left Santiago on March 6. That would explain why I
hadn't received them when we talked by phone in Ushuaia.
I arrived at the house and rang the bell outside the driveway gate in the
security fence. Lois and the kids weren't home from shopping yet and the
maid, who was home at the time, was understandably reluctant to let me in. I
assured her it was no problem, and I'd simply wait outside. The neighbors
German Shepherds raised a ruckus at the grungy biker hanging out at the front
gate. In about 10-15 minutes Lois and her three daughters arrived home from
The youngest daughter, Hillary (about 7) immediately offered me the use of
her bedroom, despite my protests that all I needed was floor space, so I
ended up with a nice bedroom, a teddy bear on the bed, and my own bathroom.
I always feel a bit self-concious about entering someone elses nice home in
my somewhat dirty-grungy biker clothes, so I immediately took a nice hot
shower and changed into some clean clothes.
While the lasagna was cooking, Lois, Jeniva, and I chatted in the living
room. Jeniva and Sarah, the two oldest daughters, were twins, and Lois later
described how, at their recent 16th birthday party here at the house, 150
kids showed up. She had asked the two girls who they had invited and they
replied that they didn't really make a list, but said anyone could come as
long as they respected their house and property. The 3 girls go to the
International School in Santiago which has a mixture of Chiliano kids and
ex-pat kids from various other countries. Lois said the party went on
without any problems and even some kids who walked by on the street came in.
Lois' husband Jamie is a mining engineer, and he was visiting the mining site
in north-eastern Chile, so it was just Lois, Hillary, Sarah, Jen, and myself
at the dinner table. The lasagna, salad, bread, and wine were fabulous, a
welcome change from my spagetti and tomatoe sauce dinners.
They have a beautiful Chow puppy, though it's grown about as big as it's
going to get. Very friendly, and still almost a ball of fur. It was an
in-and-out dog, constantly going back and forth between the house and the
back yard, where there was a nice swimming pool. If the sliding glass door
happened to be closed, she would stand up on her back legs and paw at it with
her front paws, until someone let her in. Unfortunately, as I write this a
week later, I can't remember her name. They also had a cat, and the Chow and
the cat were best friends, often play-fighting with each other. The Chow
would grab the cats legs in it's mouth and the cat would paw back at the
Chow. Funny to watch.
After retiring to the bedroom for the night, I read and reply to email until
3AM in the morning before finally turning out the light.
Friday April 25
Lois says if I have some laundry I need washed, to leave it in a basket in
the bedroom and the maid will do it. I even get maid service on this trip!
After the late night, and chatting with Lois over breakfast, I get to shop at
10:15, later than I planned. I remove the valve cover, carb and intake
tract, and the exhaust header from right-side cylinder. While waiting for
the cylinder and head to cool sufficiently for removal I clean up the items
I've removed. Once the engine has cooled I pull the head and cylinder and
then Sr. Canales uses his valve spring compressor to pull the two valves.
The exhaust valve is clearly shot. Its circumference is tapered to a
paper-thin edge and at three places around its circumference razor thin
grooves are worn axially through the valve. The intake valve appears normal,
with the seat taper ending a millimeter or so before the bottom surface of
the valve. Both seats appear normal as well. It's pretty clear that to
continue to use the exhaust valve would very likely result in a burned valve
and more serious problems.
We debate both the causes of this bad valve and the "best" fix for the
problem, where "best" is a function of part availability, cost, time, and the
ability to get me home. It's the opinion of Sr. Canales that the exhaust
valve was not new but was reworked and that it had the wrong angle cut on its
face. All I can reply is that I paid for 4 new valves, seats and guides just
before leaving on this trip, and as far as I know that is what I got. But
clearly something was not right with the exhaust valves right from the start
of the trip since every maintenance interval the exhaust valve clearances
shrank from .1 to .2 mm and that is what ultimately led to running out of
threads on the adjuster nut. We debated how much of the problem was wear and
how much was from the original bad face angle, if indeed that was the case.
I'm not sure I picked up all Sr. Canales arguments due to my limited Spanish,
but I argued that the continual shrinkage of the valve clearances indicated
to me that something was wearing, and now looking at the paper thin
circumference and the small step farther up the valve face, it seemed clear
to me that the valve face had worn. Now why or what caused this wear is
beyond me at this point. Any head experts who read this and have opinions
are welcome to email me.
It seems clear to me that simply shimming out the rocker arm towers to give
me more room on the valve adjuster threads, while working in the near term,
would not address the ultimate problem of the worn valve face, and I doubted
if I could go another 10-15 thousand miles with this valve. Sr. Canales
agreed. Sr. Canales scrounged around his shop and came up with a valve which
would work, but would probably require installing a new valve seat due to
slightly different angles, as I understood it. My complete understanding was
a bit limited by the language barrier and my own minimal experience in
working with valves, seats, and valve angles. We called the local BMW shop
to see if they had any original valves in stock but they didn't. I could
have conceivably ordered a valve from the US, but if we could could use this
valve it would be both cheaper and quicker, so I decided to go ahead with the
repair using the valve Sr. Canales had found.
Sr. Canales, donned his open-face helmet, bungees the box containing the head
on the back of a small Honda 250, and with his blue shop coat flapping in the
breeze, rides off to the shop where the head work is to be done. While he
does that I start to pull the left head. I suspect the same problem with
that exhaust valve, since its clearances have been continually shrinking as
well, though not quite as bad as on the right side.
Sr Canales comes back 45 minutes later and says the shop had an original
valve and that the seat will only have to be reconditioned, not replaced. It
will be done by 4:30 today! By that time I have the other head off, and we
remove its valves. The same problem existed on this exhaust valve, though
not quite as bad. The face was worn to a thin edge at its circumference and
there was a noticable step in its face farther up the face. My guess is that
it would eventually reach the same point as the other exhaust valve. The
intake valve was fine as were the seats.
I decide to replace this exhaust valve as well and Sr. Canales again rides
off with the other head. He returns later at 3:30PM with both heads finished
and I begin the process of putting the bike back together again. I replace
the head gaskets on both cylinders, but elect to replace the base O-rings on
the right side only, which is the side which had been leaking oil. The left
side was fine, and I hoped that removing the head on that side hadn't
disturbed the base seal too much. I had brought a complete set of gaskets
and O-rings with me, so didn't even ask if Sr. Canales or the BMW shop had
them in stock. I suspect they wouldn't. Sr. Canales' shop dealt primarily
in vintage Beemers.
They keep the shop open past their normal 7PM closing time as I finish up and
I finally roll the bike back out onto the street at 7:45PM, with two new
exhaust valves. The bill came to US$350. I had established the price before
the work was done, and had thought that price steep, especially since I did
all the disassembly and assembly work, and had expressed that opinion, but he
stuck by that price and I was not in a position to negociate or realistically
go elsewhere, so I resigned myself to that price. I had a couple more
miscellaneous things I wanted to do on the bike tomorrow and he says I can
pay tomorrow. My emergency stash of money is buried under the starter cover
on the bike and it would have taken more time tonight to dig it out.
I return to the house grungier and oilier than yesterday, to be greeted at
the front door by Lois and Jamie. who had returned from his business trip.
Again I made a hasty retreat for a hot shower and some clean clothes. Later,
presentable in public once again, Jamie offers me a beer and we chat in front
of the fireplace in the living room while dinner is being readied. The
administrative offices of his company are here in Santiago, the operations
office is in Iquique, on the coast in northern Chile, and which I passed
through on my way south, and the mine itself is in northeastern Chile, near
the Bolivian border. If I remember he visits the mining site about 1 week a
Later we adjourn to the dining room where Lois, Jamie and I enjoy a
wonderful, relaxing, leisurely dinner. The main course was a delicious
chicken dish, and with the salad and wine, and coffee afterwards, we lingered
around the table till 12:30 before we called it a night.
They graciously allowed me to use the phone in their upstairs rec-room for a
bit of privacy, though I said it was probably they who would want the privacy
since my calls to Sweetie often were marathon affairs. I knew that Sweetie
was somewhere on the west coast, either in San Diego at a conference, or back
in Sunnyvale, so I called her text pager service and left the phone number of
the house here, complete with the international access and country code
prefixes needed from ther US. In less than 3 minutes the phone rang and I
picked it up and had my Sweetie on the line! I had managed to catch her in
her hotel room in San Diego. We talked for over 2 hours! I'm glad it's on
her bill not mine! :-)
Saturday April 26
I get another late start and don't get downtown till almost 10:30. Calle
Lire is THE street for motorcycles, parts, and accesories. Over a span of 10
blocks are numerous shops selling motorcycle paraphenalia. I go to a good
many of them in search of Castrol 20W/50 oil, 15 weight fork oil, and air
filter oil. I strike out on all accounts. Several shops were Castrol
"distributors" with huge Castrol signs out front. They only had 10W/40 oil
and 5 and 10 weight fork oil. I finally gave up and decided I better get to
Sr. Canales shop before he closes for the day at 1PM. I got there just
before noon. He probably was thinking I had skipped town without paying.
With so little time left before the shop closed, I limited my work to making
a more permanent repair to the front brake switch, which I had "repaired"
with several layers of duct tape in Ushuaia, but which had again failed
several days ago. This time instead of using duct tape I epoxied a thin
piece of aluminum to the brake lever to activate the worn switch plunger.
My "emergency" money was tucked under the started cover in a waterproof
pouch, held in position with duct tape. I removed the tank and the starter
cover, and extracted the pouch encased in a mass of gooey, melted duct tape.
The pouch closure itself was partially melted. I guess it gets a bit hot
under that starter cover! I held up the pouch and told Senor Canales that I
think his money is inside, and he laughed. The money indeed was fine and I
paid Sr. Canales the US$350 for the valve jobs.
Shortly before closing 3 Argentinians arrived on 2 mid-80 Beemers and a
Honda. One of them, Gabriel had lived in Canada and the US for numerous
years, getting his graduate degree in Canada. He now worked in the financial
industry in Buenos Aires. He was 29 and a stunt pilot and had actually flown
with the Blue Angels and the Canadian team when he lived up north. He was
contemplating applying for an astronaut position with NASA, but would have to
go back to school to get a degree in a technical field. He gave me his
address, phone numbers, including his cellular number, and email address, and
said he would email me. We took some parting photos of each other and the
shop personnel out front of the shop before leaving.
I stopped by one of the many shops which replace the friction material on
brake pads, since I would soon be installing the last set of new pads I had
with me. The Harrison caliper has 3 pistons and each piston has its own pair
of small pads. They wanted US$15 per pad, for a total of US$60 for a
complete set! That's almost as much as a new set in the US, so I postponed
having them resurfaced.
I stopped off at the Entel office downtown and sent out a batch of trip
reports and GPS data, then stopped off at a restaurant on the way back to the
house for a late lunch and to read some of the email I had just received.
That evening there was a dinner party at the house for some of their Canadian
ex-pat friends living in Santiago. Madeline, who I had met with Lois at the
gas station was there, and two other couples were there as well.
Unfortunately, as I write this almost two weeks later I can't remember their
names. Madeline's husband also worked for the same mining company as Jamie,
while one of the other guys was a mechanical engineer for an oil and gas
company, and the other guy worked for a bank. The wives, since they didn't
have working papers for Chile, couldn't work, and somewhat joked about
letting their minds go to waste, while taking advantage of their free time
for such things as tennis and piano lessons. Dinner was a lively time with a
bit of good-natured USofA bashing by the majority Candians of the solitary
American. I think we finally adjourned from the dinner table about 1AM.