There they were in El Calafate, Argentina on a Patagonia Motorcycle Trip and trying to fix a leak Mark's bike suffered after having a tie-down strap get caught up in the rear axle seal. The town of El Calafate is only a town of about 20,000 people, so BMW parts & service aren't an option.
We continued communication with Mark as closely as possible, trying to help where we could but again: "Patagonia," almost by definition, means you're nowhere near today's modern infrastructures and conveniences like motorcycle parts, next-day courier services, or solutions. To ship him a new bike would take 2-4 days, and even just flying the parts to him would take another day or so. They were on a schedule though, with hotels all pre-reserved and international flights waiting for them at the end!
"While Joe stayed at the hotel, I ran down to El Mono's shop to get a diagnosis. That began a long and frustrating day of waiting for the rear of the bike to be examined, disassembled and re-assembled and filled with fresh differential fluid. El Mono didn't have a new seal to replace the one that was damaged, but thought I could limp back to Puerto Natales and, then Punta Arenas. I had sent Joe ahead to Torres del Paine in mid-afternoon -- no sense in both of us falling off the itinerary -- and didn't hit the road myself until 7:30 pm (ten hours after arriving at El Mono's shop). And, unfortunately, the bike now ran extremely poorly (earlier in the trip, it had periods of running a little rougher than normal). I wasn't sure I was even going to make it to Puerto Natales and wasn't thrilled about the prospect of spending the night by the side of the road in the middle of the Argentinian Pampas. Doing a quick cost-benefit analysis, I opted to go off-pavement and take the 70-km ripio shortcut to Tapi Aike, knowing that it could be a long wait for help if I got stuck out there. But I also had a bike that was leaking oil at a not-insignificant rate. After dodging lots of wayward sheep, I made it back to the main road only to find that the gas station at Tapi Aike was closed. I had no choice but to make a run for the Chilean border and get gas in Cerro Castillo.
I made the border as it was turning dark and before it closed down for the night. With the bike running worse and worse -- but consistent with the way the rest of the day had gone -- I then discovered that there was no gas in Cerro Castillo either. With the help of a kindly old store owner, I dumped the contents of the spare tank into the bike and set out for a run in the pitch black down to Puerto Natales. Once I got there, at 10:30 pm or so, I grabbed the first hotel I saw and crashed for the night. Because there is no cell or wi-fi service in Torres del Paine National Park, I could only assume that Joe made it to Hosteria Pehoe without incident.
I began the day by chasing down a motorcycle mechanic named Samuel -- my Spanish is improving immeasurably in dealing with all of these mechanical issues -- to examine the bike to see if it still had enough oil in the differential for me to make it down to Punta Arenas. Samuel is a great guy and we hit it off immediately. After removing the rear wheel, draining and measuring the remaining oil and re-filling the reservoir, I hit the road (after Samuel confirmed that I was now operating on one cylinder and after he fixed the bad kickstand sensor that had operated intermittently the whole trip). Amazingly, Joe and I ran into each other just as I was leaving town. We agreed that he would stay on schedule and head to Tierra del Fuego on his own while I would do whatever I could in Punta Arenas -- if I made it there -- to get a new bike or, if needs be, a car and catch up with him down the road.
To make a long story short, I made it to Punta Arenas by early afternoon and met with yet another mechanic, Alejandro Lagos. While he had been quite gruff when I originally called him from El Calafate, he turned out to be a good guy. He told me that it would take 2-3 days at a minimum to get a replacement seal for the rear differential, that the fuel injector on the mis-firing cylinder might also be bad and that they had no other bikes for me to use. But, as I was deliberating what to do, he told me that a friend of his, Anibal Vickacka, was the owner of another tour company, and might be willing to rent me another GS. After an amazingly quick turn-around, I was soon on a new bike and off to Cerro Sombrero to meet Joe. Leaving Punta Arenas at 6:45 pm, I made a very quick run down the coastal road, caught the ferry and pulled into Hosteria Tunkelen just as it turned dark. Finally, despite some momentary setbacks, we were back on schedule (despite the mechanical issues, the weather has stayed spectacular, with no significant winds or rain) . . . ."
We'll have the final stages of Mark's amazing recovery from this situation coming up soon, including news on what it meant having to miss the amazing site of Torres del Paine National Park!