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Published: August 11th 2015
Distance driven last two days: 347 miles / 558 km
Cumulative distance driven: 14,298 miles / 23,010 km
Last two days’ trip: Mendoza to Laboulaye, Argentina
Change of plans (again) and more bike trouble: yes
I had struggled for months to come up with a good title for my last article in my doctoral thesis in the early 2000’s. I was looking for a metaphor that could explain a process though which a team had managed to construct a shared mental understanding of a complex situation, its origin, causes and implications. And then I read an article about combat operation centers of U.S Navy ships and found what I was looking for. Those who man these naval command and control centers use the term “having the bubble” to indicate that they have been able to construct and maintain the cognitive map of the combat situation, of the various onboard information systems, the performance of the various weapons systems, and that they have created a single picture of the ship’s overall situation and operational status. They are simply on top of things and in control, or as they would say, they are in control of things.
It is believed that term originates from the days when naval officers used navigational instruments with a spirit level, and the expression reflects the situation when things are in balanced, i.e. the bubble is balanced in the middle of the fluid in the spirit level. To “have the bubble” is a good thing and has since become synonymous with having full situation awareness of the situation and being on top of things. But today “having the bubble” became a really bad thing because it appears that we now have air bubbles in the hydraulic line that connects the clutch handle with the actual clutch. During the final riding hour yesterday Sunday afternoon into Mendoza, I noticed that the clutch handle become very soft, and occasionally would turn extremely stiff. This behavior was reminiscent of what I experienced in Guatemala and month and a half ago. Well at our hotel in Mendoza, I did extensive research on various online forums, and learned that this behavior is almost always due to air having gotten into the special mineral oil in the clutch cable. While “having the bubble” is normally a good thing, in our case “having the bubbles” in our hydraulic clutch
line has become a really bad thing.
I also read that the air bubbles could sometimes disappear by themselves as a result of variable atmospheric pressure, or if the bike was exposed to rapid changing altitude. So naturally, I did what all lazy riders would do; I hoped that the problem would go away, all by itself, over the night! After about an hour’s riding this morning, it was evident that the problem had only gotten worse, to the extent that I could completely squeeze the clutch handle without disengaging the clutch the least. The clutch handle felt like squeezing soft cheese. After brief conversation at a gas station stop, Zoe and I agreed that it was not suitable for us to continue riding southbound, into rural and remote areas towards northern Patagonia. The bike had already become hard to drive as it was, and the clutch was unreliable and unpredictable, neither of which properties you want to be dealing with when riding in Patagonia. Also, folks at the gas station told us that part of Ruta 40, which is the road headed southbound from Mendoza along the Argentinian side of the Andes, was closed due to heavy snow fall. Given our time table, and prior experiences with various mechanical and logistical challenges during the past month, we decided to instead turn around and head for Buenos Aires. We know that there is a major authorized BMW motorcycle dealer there. Our goal now is to get to the dealer so that the mechanics can flush the whole hydraulic system, and replace the mineral oil and check for any leaks.
Bu what about the time table for the remaining trip? When will Zoe have to fly out to Seattle? Is it possible to o drive over 1,000km / 650 miles to get to the dealership in Buenos Aires? Is there enough time to drive to southern Chile to Ushuaia? Where, when and how will I be able to ship the bike back to the US? Oh my, so many problem to solve at once! Which problem to deal with first, and how to prioritize? That’s when a simple lesson from Jan Eliasson comes in handy.
Jan Eliasson is a prominent Swedish diplomat who has for decades worked towards resolving some of the toughest international wars and conflicts, successfully negotiating peace among the opposing stakeholders. After having left his post as undersecretary general of the United Nations in the mid 90’s, he decided to become a guest professor for a semester and teach young students. As luck would have it, that was the very same semester that I as a young undergraduate took the introduction course in political science and peace and conflict research at Uppsala University in Sweden. It was a true privilege to have somebody who is arguably one of the most experienced diplomats at an international level, and somebody who held the second highest office at the UN, to be our teacher that semester. During his many lectures, Jan used to often talk about how working for the UN meant that you were in constant crisis-solving mode. He told us that there was a conflict or a major humanitarian crisis going on somewhere in the word constantly, all the time, 24/7. As soon as he woke up every day, there was a crisis waiting for him and the general secretary to be solved.
One day a classmate of mine asked Jan how he could possibly cope with a job (and a life) that consisted of constant crisis and never ending problem solving. That’s when Jan said to us: “You simply deal with one hell at the time. You cannot be effective if you tackle more than one problem and one hell at the time.
” Those were the words of wisdom from one of the most experienced and accomplished crisis and problem solvers around, and those words have stuck with me ever since. Today, Zoe (who btw has heard this story too many times during our PanAmerican adventure) and I plan to deal with one problem at the time. Our one and only goal right now is to get (at all) to Buenos Aires and have the oil in the clutch line flushed and replaced. We will then deal with the other problems after that. Thank you Jan Eliasson for a simple but effective approach for coping with tough situations. If you are reading this, by all means, don’t hesitate to advise us on all the other problems we still have to deal with…
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