My motorbike to me is many things. She’s so much more than my trusty steed; she’s my home, an unbelievable icebreaker, a ‘Get out of jail’ free card and sometimes a swift little lifesaver. She is decidedly my ticket to travel, enlightenment and empowerment. Without Pearl, I’d have a gaping hole in my soul, a chunk eaten away like the hungry bite of a sandwich. It suddenly dawned on me astride the saddle – my moving world – that on English soil, my view of the planet was constantly narrowed by the media’s perception. On the road, my outlook is shaped by a world of perspectives, constantly evolving because I am continually changing where I am. Travel for me is the one thing you can buy that will make you rich.
Packing up our ‘Dome Sweet Dome’, we meandered back from our intensive little visit to Mano del Desierto. Back in the saddle I cruised at an unrushed speed, not overly aware that Jason was feeling the fatigue a shade more than me. Seconds pass and unbeknown to either of us, he fell into a micro-sleep. At 50 miles per hour.
To his horror, he wakes up to the jolting realisation of what had but more so could have happened sending a 240-volt shock through his core. In less than 20 metres, he pulls over under a ‘no arguments’ instruction from me after which Jase passes out on the roadside. He is soundly snoring seconds after his head hits the ground, assuming the stance of a slumbering starfish. It was a wake up call needed to shock us both into realising we were overdoing it. Best not let that happen again. Seeking refuge in Pearl’s shade and on bike watch, it seemed silly not to utilise the time in defuzzing my abandoned brows. A job long overdue!
It was time to leave San Pedro de Atacama, third time lucky. We’d probably be back, the place had gotten under our skin. Our aim: hit the Ruta del Desierto and ride the 145 miles on route 23 up to Paso de Sico. It was our exit plan from Chile on a more interesting road, a dirt one under construction. A sound plan being that our last border crossing at Jama – to get to San Pedro de Atacama – was a straightforward ‘Exit Argentina’ and ‘Enter Chile’ dual process.
As someone unseasoned in sand riding, I wasn’t exactly crazy over route 23’s abundance of sand and deep corrugations on our way to Paso de Sico. For some reason, I’d stopped advancing on the learning curve. In fact, I think I’d fallen off the damn thing. I was stuck on a skill level plateau having taken one step forward, two steps back. I was simply unable to take that incremental but crucial leap of faith astride Pearl; she and I felt every bone shaking, back jarring and suspension killing corrugation.
Trying gamely to be strong fluttered off on my radar leaving my stomach cramped with frenzied butterflies; why couldn’t I ride this stretch of sand and all its unsavoury accomplices? The sand was insurmountable and I was task loaded. My confidence was shot, I was on a serious ‘off day’. I arrived at the border broken, saddle sore and sour. The border official’s first question was, “Where is your exit stamp from San Pedro de Atacama?”
‘You are kidding me senor. QUE?’, we both wondered as our grave mistake dawned on us. Pearl and I had just ridden the most gruelling off road riding to date and it had been a royal waste of time. I had to face the return ride the following morning, we were going nowhere. The error was all ours in not being aware about a ‘No man’s land’ of 145 miles between this particular border crossing – the size of some countries! We’d encountered a 20 kilometre long No man’s land between each of the country’s customs before now but not one of this distance. The Argentinian customs official at Paso de Sico explained that it costs too much money to run both the Exit and Enter processes at that particular border.
I was out of sorts with my rainbow of riding issues and waded deeper into a destructive thought pattern, blindsided by anger and frustration. In my mind’s eye, it was simple enough to process what Jason had been urging me to do while off roading but the physical application of such advice was hindered by waning confidence and clutching onto fear like a ragdoll.
Jase sat down and dropped a truth bomb on me. The bomb landed, exploded and after a delay I did quick search for mortal wounds. Finding none, I was left unscathed at least physically anyway. He gave me the pep talk of my riding career, spoke some harsh but necessary words and drilled into me where I was at. It brought home the magnitude of our undertaking, as well as the serious implications of riding slowly all day in desert isolation. Because of me our susceptibility of: being stranded in the middle of nowhere, provisions running dry and bikes failing from overheating and dangerously slow desert riding, was soaring. I didn’t want to hear it but needed to. We slept fitfully in sub zero temperatures at over 4,000 metres.
Dawn broke. I unwillingly awoke to feeling fearful of repeating the day on a fractious note of frayed nerves. I had spent the night jumping hoops through the 300 circus rings of my irrational imagination. After an acutely progressive ten minute warm up, Pearl tuned into my muscle memory kicking in. It was she that decided to take things into her own hands. I trusted her implicitly and have found time and time again that Pearl ends up saving me from myself. An hour’s ride into the return journey, unbeknown to me I’d lost my front mudguard, a crucial bolt off my sub-frame and one of my panniers had incurred a porridge explosion. Pearl had a different day in store for me, she showed me that opening up our shared potential was safer, less strenuous and put me in a heightened state of control. Despite the biting cold, I was warmed by the thought that a great deal of angst had been purified from my soul.
Jason yelled down the helmet intercom to slow down and said, “Lise, you’re riding like a pro today and I’m act-ually trying to keep up with you. See, you can do it.” It motivated and inspired me to keep forging ahead with the help of Pearl’s riding prowess although I do hope Jason abstains from calling me ‘Captain Slow’ again. I dared to dream the dream in a moment of unbridled ambition and thank Pearl, it paid off.
I looked around me for the first time. I was inside a pastel watercolour painting of soft textures, the landscape intermingled by a myriad of harmonious hues on the colour wheel. Chiefly creamy mochas, milk chocolate and swirling dark browns. I was staring fondly at an appetising arrangement of Guylian Belgian truffles longing to be savoured by my sweet-starved tastebuds. I was on a natural high in a slice of heaven and hungry for more of this sugar. Thanks to our unplanned blunder, we chanced upon Laguna Miscanti & Miniques. Two sparkling salty lakes, one was a blue curacao liqueur and the other starkly beautiful in its crystallised white but beckoning us by its inky midnight blue.
Not satisfied with luxuriating us in such phenomenally featured landscape, Karma took us next to Salar de Talar. Another glittering salty lake in the same aquamarine blue found in the Indian Ocean. Musing how far I’d come, I dangled my legs over the edge of iron red rocks, perfectly rounded and smoothed by the blasting winds. If these gleaming colours could be prescribed as treatment, medical bills would pail into insignificance.
The same route back was velvety; it was a breeze to skim over the corrugations, glide over the sand and flash over the coarse gravel. Where was that vexing road that had me in bits? I had no idea what had gotten into Pearl, she was flying me forward in a way I never imagined possible, not if the previous day’s standard was anything to go by. Jason asked me to “calm it” a couple of times; Pearl and I had never really ridden ‘hard’ before and it was fascinating to experience how it felt at a notch more speed. I was on the edge, for me anyway. It was easier, less taxing on my body and a purge for the soul. Pearl thanked me no end for keeping up with her desired pace. The pleasure was all mine. It put me on a new peg of riding contentment. It deepened my understanding – my skill level had reached a plateau and I finally claimed a right to pass it.