Bahia Blanca, Argentina 11 Mar 06
Odometer 26,941 m 43,357 km

I miscalculated. I thought for sure that when I left Santiago, Chile en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Tierra del Fuego, I would travel no more than 3000 miles (4828 km) in between. This number was important because my chain and sprockets were nearing the end of their lifespan and soon would need replacement. There were other parts and fluids that were also at the limit of their useful life, but none as critical as the drive-train.

The actual distance, after various side trips to explore the mountains of Patagonia and look for wildlife along the Atlantic coast, turned out to be 5600 miles (9012 km)--more than the old girl could handle. So yesterday, while trying to scratch a few miles further north on sprocket teeth worn down to finely sharpened points, they began breaking off--tink, tink, tink--one after the other. It was a wonder the sprocket didn’t strip clean, sending the chain flying off to likely destroy my engine case.

I discovered the extent of the damage on one of my routine hourly inspections after entering the city of Bahia Blanca. Though I was only about 450 miles south of Buenos Aires, where I had waiting a package from home full of spare parts, I deemed El Viento no longer safe to ride.

The Honda dealer might be able to help, as sprockets and chains are often interchangeable, but as is typical in Latin America they are not open on Saturdays or Sundays. As I sat out in front of their store on a warm Saturday afternoon, I examined my map and tried to formulate a new plan.
El Viento is tired. Though she continues to start and run well, she needs virtually every expendable part replaced: tires, tubes, oil, oil filter, coolant, brake pads, brake fluid, spark plugs, air filter, and of course, rear sprocket, counter-shaft sprocket and drive chain. All of these items are now sitting in customs at the airport in Buenos Aires just waiting for me to pick them up—if I could only get there.

I pushed El Viento to a hotel across the street from the Honda dealer since there was nothing I could do until they reopened on Monday. The hotelier helpfully suggested that I try an alternate Honda dealer some five blocks away.

“I think they’re open on Saturdays, so if you hurry you might catch them before they close,” he said in Spanish.

I took off on foot in hopes of finding their doors still open. Although I held out only slim hope that they would have the parts I needed, even if they were still open, it was worth a shot. Unfortunately, they were already closed and no hours were posted. Dejected, I slowly walked back to the hotel not knowing what would happen next.

It’s true what they say. In an instant your entire life can be up-ended. One minute you’re walking down the street minding your own business, mindful of the signals and crosswalks, and the next minute--
WHAM--A car runs you over.

I was struck from behind at speed. The red sedan was just tall enough for the front bumper to intersect my knee joints. The force was sufficient to launch me into the air before I came crashing down on top of the hood and windshield. As the car’s driver slammed his brakes, I was thrown forward, face down on the pavement. His tires screeched to a halt--18 inches from my head.

Luckily, in my haste to get to the alternate Honda dealer before they closed, I was still wearing much of my riding gear: tall boots and padded pants specifically designed for hitting the asphalt. They worked. As I lay there in the busy city street in front of the still idling car, I did a quick mental body survey to assess the damage. My right elbow hit hard and was swelling, but everything else seemed in working order. Though shaken, I stood up.

The nervous guy behind the wheel was full of apologies, but that was of little consolation. Two young lovers on the street corner saw the whole thing and suggested I call the police.
The remaining teeth on El Viento's rear sprocket are worn down to sharp points.
Police? Down here? Man, that was the surest way to turn my toothless sprocket ordeal into a never-ending nightmare. No thanks. I admonished the driver in no uncertain terms to look where he’s going next time, and staggered off.

Later, with ice on my elbow, I emailed the local motorcycle club to see if anyone could offer some advice on my sprocket problem. Within hours a gentleman named Sebastian replied. He suggested a number of motorcycle shops in town that carry some parts, and then asked what I was doing for dinner. Turns out he and a bunch of the Aguilas del Camino (Eagles of the Road) club members were meeting that night for a barbeque, and since I was in town, I was invited!

Sebastian picked me up at the hotel on his Yamaha, since El Viento was down for the count, and away we zipped to Fabio’s house. About 10 bikers showed up for the feast and what a feast it was! Like my experience with
Pipo in Panama, I’ve come to realize that motorcycling is the only club that you don’t have to officially join. If you straddle two wheels--regardless of brand, size or style--you’re an automatic member.

Well, soon the wine was flowing and so were the ideas on how best to solve my problem. Latin American countries, even relatively modern ones like Argentina, simply do not stock spare parts. For anything. So, these guys have spent years coming up with ingenious solutions to keep their machines running. By the end of the evening everyone is certain that, one way or another, El Viento will roll again.
Sharing food & friendship with the Aguilas del Camino in Bahia Blanca.

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