Motorcycle trip Part 5:
We woke in San Buenaventura to another rainy, cloudy day. There was no sign of the sun and the wet chill went all the way to the bone. We walked a block down the muddy street to the restaurant we had eaten at for the last few days for breakfast. We didn’t waste any time eating that morning as the conversation revolved around the condition of the water crossings we were about to encounter on our journey that. We were all concerned about the depth of the rivers and creeks. The locals all suggested we wait a day or two to travel, but Grant had to be back in Santa Cruz on a certain date so we could not wait for the weather to break.
After breakfast we loaded up and headed for the ferry. I had spent the last several days dreading the ferry ride. I was actually quite scared of our boat capsizing, and while I could swim, the thought of going into the river fully clothed and losing my glasses didn’t appeal to me. And life jackets did not exist in the country that I had ever seen. I put on a brave face and didn’t let anyone know what was going through my head.
Once again, we crammed the four motorcycles into a small boat and made an uneventful crossing in the drizzling rain. I watched the muddy water and gripped the side of the boat in fear until we finally reached the east side of the swollen river.
The concrete street ended at the edge of town and our adventure began as we started to fight the thick red clay mud on the road. The foothills of the Andes Mountains, which rose sharply from the jungle, were obscured by the low water laden clouds just to our right. The rain over the last few days had taken its toll on the rivers, streams, and dirt roadway. The road was extremely slippery in some spots. I sat as still as I could to help my dad keep us from falling. Not far into our ride we came upon the first water crossing. The small river was deeper than a few days before but cross-able so each motorcycle carefully navigated the crossing without an issue. The next crossing was deeper and the water was moving more swiftly. I was soaking wet by this point so I offered to wade across the muddy water to find a smooth route. This became my job for the rest of the morning. Each time we came to a water crossing I would hop off the back of our bike and wade into the water and show the men where to cross. If the water was deep Efrain would wade across also letting Steve ride alone. I enjoyed my job because I felt like I was contributing to the team that day. Of course, “Are we having fun yet?” was asked at just about every water crossing over the sound of the motorcycle engines.
In between two of the crossings our motorcycle started to spit and sputter. After a little investigation my dad determined that the rain was running down behind the gas tank and shorting out the ignition coil. Grant decided to give us a tow and off we went again. We arrived at yet another river crossing. This one was about 10 yards wide and the water was moving swiftly. I sprang into action, jumping into the cold mountain water feeling with my feet for the best line to cross. The water was over knee deep and almost to my waist. The opposite bank was fairly steep with two foot deep muddy ruts from the crossing trucks. Steve was the first to cross while Efrain joined me in the water. Next Grant tried to tow my dad across and the swift current pushed my dad downstream. When they reached the opposite bank Grant was in the right rut and my dad in the left. The side force of the tow strap yanked Grant and his motorcycle to the ground and slamming his knee into a rock pinning him under his motorcycle. Efrain and I jumped through the water to rescue Grant as my dad watched helplessly since he had to hold his motorcycle up. With our help we managed to get both motorcycles to the top of the river bank. My brother crossed after with little trouble.
We took a break after the wild crossing to assess Grant’s knee. He was in pain, but could move it so we didn’t think it was broken. The rain had ceased at this point and everyone talked about the close calls we had that day in the mud so far.
Dad took the opportunity to remove the fuel tank from our bike and blow out all the spark plug wire and electrical connections. Our bike fired right up upon reassembly and by this time Grant’s leg was feeling better so we all started riding again.
We continued on our way through the deep mud, slipping and sliding. Often times we were completely sideways in the road and dad would put his feet out like skis desperately trying to keep us up right. We were motoring along well when I heard my dad mutter an “Oh no” from under his helmet. I asked what the matter was and saw his throttle hand moving but the engine was not revving up. Our throttle cable had snapped leaving us stranded. Many motorcycles have two throttle cables. One cable opens the carburetor and the other closes it to ensure the rider can always return the engine to an idle. So once again the fuel tank was removed to access the carburetor. Dad quickly exchanged the two cables, and while they were not an exact copy of each other, we were able to continue on our way shortly.
We still had a few more creek crossings and I continued to scout them out for the bikes. As my dad and I slowed for one crossing our clutch cable broke. Our engine died as we came to a stop and I wondered what we were going to do now. I was beginning to wonder what else could go wrong that day, but there wasn’t much we could do but repeat the motto of the trip, “Are we having fun yet?” After scouting the crossing I got back on the bike and my brother and Efrain gave us a push to start our motorcycle. Without the ability to stop we crossed the creek and rode the rest of the way to the town of Yucumo.
We were all cold, wet, and muddy so we gathered in a restaurant in Yucumo to dry out and eat a hot lunch. After refueling the motorcycles Steve and Efrain gave dad and I a push to get us going again. Once we were rolling dad could shift gears without a problem, but we couldn’t stop without killing the engine. Dad and I were now the lead motorcycle as we made our way to San Borja and our friends the Johnsons. The sky was still cloudy, but the rain had stopped. We were still fighting the muddy road, slipping and sliding occasionally in the greasy muck. Then we came upon another cattle drive. This one was headed to Yucumo so we were forced to stop and let them by. After the cowboys pushed the cattle past us we realized the others were not there to push start us. So my dad formulated a plan. He would start the bike in neutral with the kick starter, and then I would push him while he popped it into gear. Once we were rolling along, I would then climb onto the moving motorcycle while not tipping us over. I wasn’t particularity fond of the idea and knowing my dad was a bit of a practical joker I seriously thought he might just ride off and leave me for my brother to pick up. I didn’t have much choice and did as I was told. My dad didn’t ride off and I somehow managed to get my foot on the foot peg of the moving bike and climb on without tipping us over.
About an hour later we rolled to a stop at Horeb on the outskirts of San Borja. The other guys didn’t catch back up to us and we assumed someone had gotten a flat. Bruce came out to talk to us and ask about the trip. We were telling him of our adventures when we saw Grant riding up. Behind Grant was a great big mud ball on two wheels that resembled my brother Neal on the end of a tow strap. It turns out that after lunch my brother’s bike didn’t want to start so Grant gave him a tow all the way to Horeb. With the muddy road condition, he threw a rooster tail of mud the whole way and there was not much Neal could do. He was covered in mud from his head to his boots and his bike was completely covered as well. We all had a really good laugh, especially when we found out that about half way Neal put his bike in gear and unbeknownst to Grant, he pull started his engine. However, Grant was concentrating so hard on not falling while towing that Neal couldn’t get him to stop, so he had to relinquish to being towed the whole way. Steve and Efrain arrived without incident and we all had a good laugh at my brother’s expense while we hosed him off with a garden hose.
Everyday around 7 am and 4 pm the different bases the mission operated in the country would communicate via ham radio. Someone from every base would listen in to any news or issues that were transpiring around the country and in the US. It was also a time for those out in the remote areas to request supplies from the city. We took advantage of “radio time” to let our families know we were safe as no one had heard from us for a few days. Bruce also helped us set up a day trip for the next day to the native village of La Cruz where a classmate of mine and his parents lived.
The rest of the day was spent washing and repairing the motorcycles. Dad was able to repair both the clutch and throttle cables and we were able to get our muddy clothes washed. Once again my dad, brother, and I crashed at the Johnson’s house.