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Published: July 18th 2015
Distance driven today: 177 miles / 285 km
Cumulative distance driven: 8,776 miles / 14,124 km
Today’s trip: Caucasia to Medellin, Colombia
Almost squeezed between two trucks on the switchbacks over the mountains towards Medellin: yes
Our first riding leg in the morning was pretty uneventful, and we drove along the Cauca River at an elevation of 30-100m / 100-300ft. Once we hit the town of Valdivia, the road started to suddenly climb. Steep gradients, an infinite amount of switchbacks, a narrow road with only one lane in each direction, and ample of overloaded buses and trucks (many of which are definitely way past their operational date) resulted in endless vehicle caravans. Usually, the oldest truck is also the heaviest loaded one, thus causing the bottle neck. Switchbacks full with hairpin turns, combined with steep ascends or descends, make it practically impossible to overtake the old truck at the front of the caravan. If you add another 5-10 trucks, with minimal separation between them, stuck behind the truck at the front of the caravan, you get the picture.
The good news is that these truck and bus caravans literally move at a snail pace, usually at
a speed of 15kmh / 10mph. Overtaking them goes very quickly, something which is especially true when riding a motorcycle with a powerful engine like ours. That is assuming that you get an opening in the oncoming lane to overtake. After a while I got comfortable starting to overtake buses and trucks without really having clear sight of the opposite lane and oncoming traffic. The road over these mountains can be so filled with hairpin turns and switch backs that there literally isn’t a single straight stretch of road with enough visibility of oncoming traffic for hours and hours. Waiting for a clear stretch of oncoming traffic, or for that matter for a short and straight patch of road with enough visibility ahead, before overtaking, would mean that you may never overtake.
However, at one instance, as we were overtaking several trucks at once (they drive to close to each other in an ascending caravan that there isn’t enough room even for a motorcycle to squeeze in between them!), we almost run out of luck. The oncoming truck was driving downhill unusually fast, i.e. maybe 25kmh / 15mph, and we practically got sandwiched between the truck we were overtaking
and the one descending in the oncoming lane. Just before our motorcycle and the oncoming truck came to a standstill, I felt the side of the oncoming truck grazing our left pannier (aluminum box) on our motorcycle. It got very close, but we were never in any danger.
The low driving speed behind the truck caravans, combined with the steep 2,500m / 8,000ft ascend over the coming hours meant that our motorcycle engine got overheated. If you are technically interested (I know who you are!), you may know that the BWM GS 1200 engine is oil cooled. To keep the engine at normal temperature a constant flow of cooling air must hit the radiator. At 15kmh / 10mph, with a load of two passengers, full tank, fully packed panniers boxes, two duffel bags on top of the panniers, steep ascending roads for hours, and rare opportunity to use anything but the 1rst and 2nd
gear, it is inevitable that the engine will get overheated. In our case it happened no less than three separate times. I guess you could call this a version of altitude sickness for motorcycles. Turning the engine off and waiting for it to naturally cool
down was not an option, since that could take 1-2 hours; time that we could not afford to wait. Instead our mitigation plan was to find a water hose, and to slowly spray water onto the cylinder heads and the main engine block, thereby trying to cool those parts down. Too much cold water poured at once on these overheated surfaces could risk cracking the cylinder heads, why we had to be careful and do it gradually. In addition, the amount of super hot steam that is produced when pouring cold water on overheated cylinders blocks should not be underestimated.
At 1,000m / 3,300ft of elevation we found a guy along the road with a hose. 3,000 Colombian pesos, which is about $1, got us a good 10min of water supply from his hose, which was enough to cool down the engine to normal temperature. Two hours later, and a gazillion switchbacks and hairpin turns, we had reached 1,500 m. / 5,000ft of elevation and we had to repeat the while process. This time we found a little wooden hut along the road, and the owner happily lent us his cooking pot (!) to fill at a
stream nearby. Even though he did not want any money, we felt that he should have 5,000 pesos (about $2) for saving us in the middle of nowhere on the mountainous road. The third time the engine overheated, we had reached 2,500 m / 8,000ft of elevation. This time we got lucky, because we had just reached the very pinnacle of the road towards Medellin. A short 5 minutes riding break, and a descending road on the other side of the mountain saved us from having to repeat the whole engine block cooling process all over.
Tot: 2.465s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 8; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0208s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb