Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 3 May 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970503.rpt
Wednesday April 30 74260
In the morning I found a laundramat and did a load of laundry. More and more
stains on my pants are becoming permanent. It was US&2.20 for the washer and
the same for the dryer, plus 50 cents for a small bag of soap. What does a
coin-operated laundramat cost in the Staates these days?
At Carlos' shop I changed the fork oil and retorqued the oil pan bolts,
several of which were a bit loose. The oil pan gasket had been leaking a
bit. The oil pressure switch is leaking again and I applied more silicon in
a futile attempt to slow the leak.
Carlos was not going on the ride and at 2:15 he led me to the gas station
where the other riders were meeting. We left Mendoza at 2:30 - 6 bikes, 6
Beemers. Marcelo and Gonzalo on R80G/S's, Flaco on a '90 R100GS, Daniel and
Rafael on R100/7's, and me on my mongrel G/S. An hour later at a small cafe
where we stopped for coffee, Fabian caught up to us on his '94 R100GS,
bringing the total to 7 Beemers. Marcelo is an independant insurance
salesman, Daniel owns a sound company (music and sound systems for events),
and Fabian is a lawyer.
We rode south on Route 40, the same Route 40 as when I experienced the
hellacious winds further south, but here it was paved. At Pareditas, where
Route 40 continued south as a dirt road, we followed the main, paved highway
as it veered southeast towards San Rafael, then turned back southwest to the
small town of El Sosneado, where it rejoined Route 40. Along the way we
gassed up in the town of 25 de Mayo.
Between >5 de Mayo and El Sosneado the wind began picking up. The famous
Patagonian winds again. When I had left Argentina the last time at Chile
Chico, I had thought I had seen the last of these winds. Now I found myself
in them again, though strictly speaking I wasn't in Patagonia. By the time
we got to El Sosneado they were gail force and we stopped in the protection
of some trees to don some more layers of clothing. Leaving El Sosneado the
winds were, at times, I think worse than I had experienced north of Tres
Lagos when I had dropped the bike. Here, however we were on pavement, which
allowed us to insanely press on, the bikes weaving wobbling down the road in
the gusting wind. Several places the wind kicked up huge dust clouds and you
lost sight of the bike in front as you passed through. We were not far from
our night's destination of Malargue, and fortunately the road turned south
putting the wind at our backs for the last 30 miles into town.
We get 3 rooms at the Hotel Reyen on the main drag in Malargue. Daniel and I
split a room for US$13 per person. Later we go out grocery shopping for
supplies for the weekend. Three huge plastic bags of meat will provide the
asados for the weekend.
Thursday May 1 74518
We leave at 10AM after breakfast at the hotel. 70 miles from Malargue we hit
the first gravel, and the road alternates between gravel and pavement for the
next 20 miles, then is dirt for remainder of the 120 miles or so to
Barrancas is on the northern border of Neuquen state, and crossing the bridge
into Barrancas there was a police checkpoint where our documents were
checked. Junin de los Andes, the first Argentine town I encountered after
entering Argentina for the first time back in March, is located in the
southern part of Neuquen state.
We gassed up in Barrancas and Flaco gives me a piece of gum (remember this).
Out of Barrancas we picked up a newly paved road, but after 30 miles or so a
detour sign diverted us off it onto a dirt detour. Much of the road was
marble-size pebbles, my least favorite surface. Following Gonzalo, a corner
sneaks up on both of us, I see him get loose going through, and I get on the
brakes as much as I can, but can't scrub off as much speed as I would like
and go in faster than I liked. I lost the front end and went down on the
right side, probably the hardest crash of my trip. The side of my helmet took
a glancing blow on the road surface, enough to see stars momentarily and rip
the plastic faceshield pivot plate off the right side of the helmet, and
crack the left-side pivot plate as well. No damage was done to the bike,
other than popping the windscreen off, which was easily reinstalled.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on ones perspective), after getting
loose himself, Gonzalo had seen me go down in his mirror, and had turned
around, and Flaco soon caught up from the rear, so I couldn't recover from my
mishap undetected. They helped pick up the bike, and after assuring everyone
I was fine, and applying some duct tape to my faceshield, we resumed the
We eventually regained the newly-paved road, and rode into Chos-Malal on
asphalt. At the gas station I can sense that the guys are not quite sure how
to treat my get-off, so I joke that it is Flaco's fault for giving me the
piece of gum, that I can't ride and chew gum at the same time. That produces
the desired laughs, and thereafter I'm subjected to the typical,
good-natured, riding buddy jokes about my get-off. I also get offered gum at
most subsequent gas stops.
We stop at the town park for a late lunch of bread, cheese, salami, ham, and
wine. The town police, for lack of anything better to do, check all our
papers and bike documents, and fill out some kind of police information form
on each of us. That's the first time that's happened to me during this trip,
in the middle of a town. It reinforces my belief that travelling solo is
much less likely to attract attention.
At Chos-Malal we leave Route 40 and head northwest towards the Andes, towards
the hot springs north of the town of Varvarco, but late in the afternoon we
stop for the night at the ACA Hotel in Andacollo. It's dirt and twisty the
rest of the way and still more than 130 miles to the cabana by the hot
While waiting for them to prepare our dinner at the hotel restaurant, we find
a pool hall in town and play a couple of games. As if to show our
incompetance at pool, all 5 games are lost when the eight ball is put in the
wrong pocket, or the cue ball is scratched after sinking the eight ball. I
don't think you could do that if you tried. The highlight is when a drunk
gaucho, comes out of the bathroom and then stumbles and falls into me when my
back was turned. As he was being picked up off the floor I see a huge knife
tucked into the waistband of his pants. Good thing he was too drunk to use
it. He spent the rest of the evening slouched against the wall.
Friday May 2 74777
In the morning, before the other guys are up I replace my brake pads. I
managed to get 11634 miles on the Ferodas, but the brake rotor shows
significant wear and thinning. I'm not sure how much was from before and how
much is from the harder Ferodo pads. The new pads are Galfers, which wore
rapidly earlier in the trip. I have no more brake pads and this set won't
get me home so I'll need to have new material affixed to some of the old
backing plates I've saved.
Over breakfast I "fix" my face shield, "drilling" a hole in the shield with
my Leatherman, then using a 6mm bolt to affix it to the helmet. It even
pivots up and down! Good as new. Almost.
30 miles north of Andacollo, riding along a straight stretxh of dirt road, my
bike quits suddenly. No spark. I coast to a stop and have my tools out
before the next bike, Flaco, catches up to me, followed shortly thereafter by
Daniel. The four other bikes were ahead of me, and over the next hour they
would return as well.
Upon seeing the black, rubber-coated BMW plug cables I was using, the guys
immediately say my ignition control unit (black box) must be fried, because
one or more of my plug cables must have failed. The black rubber-coated
cables are resistor cables and they do not like them, claiming they are very
susceptable to failure, which can then damage the expensive ignition control
unit. We first visually confirm that there is no spark on either side. I am
not carrying a spare ignition control unit with me, but Gonzalo is. Despite
my cables checking out OK, compared to their original resistances, the guys
want to swap them for the cables on Daniels R100/7, which uses points, and
install Gonzalo's spare control unit. We do this and voila! No sparks still!
Next we install new spark plugs. Still no spark. I test the resistance of
the primary and secondary sides of the coil and both agree with their values
when new. I disconnect and clean all the connectors in the ignition circuit,
put everything back together, and still no sparks. By this time the jokes
about providing the match to torch the bike and about "Adios, gringo!" have
begun. I joke I'll wave to them as they pass me going the other direction on
The only other major component is the ignition timing unit, the aluminum
cannister, under the alternator cover, at the bottom. Amazingly, Flaco is
carrying a spare! So I pull the alternator cover, clean as much of the dirt
away from the timing unit as I can, and remove it, then carefully install
Flaco's spare and reconnect the cable. Before messing with the
pain-in-the-ass spring retaining clip on the connectors, we test for sparks
and voila! We have sparks, we have ignition!
How's that for good fortune. To happen to be riding with other G/Sers at the
time, who happen to have spare ignition control and timing units with them!
The timing appears and sounds to be as good as it's going to get by ear, so
we don't fiddle with it. Installing the spring retaining clip on the timing
unit connector proves to be as impossible as ever. There is no slack in the
cable and no room to get your fingers. At one point Marcelo asks to try.
I've been delicately using the blade of my Leatherman to help coax the
retaining clip into place. This is in the vicinity of the diode board and I
haven't bothered to disconnect the ground cable from the battery. I warn
Marcelo "cuidado" (caution) not to touch the diode board with the knife
blade. As he works, several more times I warn "cuidado." Then as he
continues to work on the spring clip, he touches part of the diode board
while simultaneously touching the frame and sparks fly. At this point I yell
"Cuidado, cuidado!" and grab the Leatherman back from him, a bit pissed at
his having ignored my instructions for caution. The other guys are laughing
at my sudden outburst and shouts of "Cuidado." In the end, no damage was
apparently done to the diode board and for the rest of the trip, shouts of
"Gringo, Cuidado!" would be shouted at random intervals.
Several hours after my bike quit, we finally get it back together and get on
our way again. Just before Varvarco, we take a side trip into a lake high up
in the mountains. On the way we stop for lunch at the Gendarme station
controlling the border with Chile in this region. In short order a fire is
going and when the coals are ready the asado starts cooking. In the
meantime, bread, cheese and ham, salad, nad wine are enjoeyd. After lunch we
continue on towards the lake, but at the first bridgeless river crossing
discover it is too deep to cross. It is more than wheel deep, the water is
strong and cloudy, and several rocks can be made out in the middle. After
failing to find another alternate crossing up- or down-stream, we turn back.
About halfway back to the main road south of Varvarco, Fabian gets a flat
rear tire. When I first saw his bike I had been surprised at how little
tread he had on his rear tire, but I didn't know at the time just how far
this ride was, or how much dirt there would be. Now having come this far, I
was even more surprised he had left with such a tire. The cord was just
showing through at one place. Several guys stayed behind to help with the
repair, while the rest of us continued on towards the cabana and the hot
The road traversed high grass-covered mountains, with beautiful views of the
snow-covered peaks of the high Andes to the west and north. Finally the
cabanas come into view, and just before crossing the stream, steaming from
the hot water temperature, Rafael gets a flat rear tire on his R100/7.
Rafael was probably the fastest and best rider of the group and was, for the
most part, out front on his R100/7. This despite its being shod in street
tires, the front having a classic street tread profile of circumferential
grooves. It was classic testimony that the rider makes the difference, not
the bike. By the time we get his tire fixed, Fabian and the others catch up,
and we all arrive at the cabana at more or less the same time, at dusk.
There were 5 or so A-frame style cabanas, each sleeping 7 or 8. They were
run by the state of Neuquen and could be rented. The nearby Termas de Domuyo
were natural, with natural pools, of varying temperatures, formed at several
places in the stream. By the time I got my gear off the bike and inside it
was dark outside, and Marcelo and I found our way to the hottest of the two
pools, where we soaked our muscles under a starry sky.
They had hired the local caretaker to prepare the asado, and it wasn't long
after returning to the cabana and taking a hot shower that we sat down to
another big feast of roast beef. After a long ride, it really hit the spot!
Saturday May 3 74891
To get back to Mendoza by Sunday night, meant leaving this morning, so in the
morning we packed up and left by 9AM. It got colder as we rode on and we
stopped in Andacollo at the ACA Hotel for coffee.
Then on to Chos-Malal where we gassed up and had lunch. Leaving Chos-Malal I
kept my Aerostich fleece jacket on and was glad I did. The trip back north
offered beautiful views of Volcan Domuyo to the west.
This time we ignore the detour signs at the two locations and ride on through
on the newly paved road. I'm not sure if they had asked about the detours or
just took a chance. At each there was a bit of road work going on, but
getting through was not a problem. Avoiding the second detour meant I missed
passing the scene of my crash on Thursday.
We stoppped in Barrancas for coffee, where I finally took off my fleece
jacket and gloove liners. Fabian's rear tire has cords showing through at
two places and he leaves before the rest so he can go a bit slower and start
working on the tire if he has a problem.
We stop for a break at a bridge over a deep gorge cut by the river in
volcanic rock. The gorge is 30-50 feet deep.
We catch up to Fabian just as we enter Malargue, and his tire goes flat 2
blocks from the hotel. He manages to find a used tire for 10 pesos. We
spend another niht at the Hotel Reyen.
After dinner, we find a pool hall for several games of pool and some fusball.
They're surprised to learn I played a lot of fusball in college and Marcelo
and I win most of the games of fusball. Rafael and I were not so lucky at
pool. We won one game but lost two others.