Spooning strangers

Bolivia's brutal beauty

Bolivia’s brutal beauty

Spooning strangers

Slow-going but not technical,” was to be our desired 237-mile route from Uyuni through the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, crossing into Chile—according to the online forums. Count me in. Having just met KLR-rider Canadian Matt, ‘Vamoose!’ was the order of the day.

Departing after the sun’s first smile, the ride was hard-going but we were fresh. Full of beans. I forged ahead with confidencebuoyed up by the positive group dynamic. And looked upon my comfort zone from afarobserving a gulf between my previous sand-riding skills and nowflying through space over the thick soft stuff. Blinking sweat out of my eyes, I freed more potential from Pearl, my unwavering wheels. We set out for excitement, this was immense.

I endured three increasingly spectacular crashes, barging past my limits with a hungry gusto. Energy reserves and conviction nosedived. We were getting sand dunes more than we bargained forbeach-size. I should’ve felt euphoria in descending upon the splendour of the Stone Tree. The effort sustained at 4,500 metres was like quarrying stone beneath a blazing sun, hour after hour just to see a lump of stone shaped like a tree. Revelation wasn’t always fun, the day was far from over.

Under stress and strain and deadline, my body became the enemy; nothing had prepared me for the battle with it. With all the internal grit I could muster, I dug deeper to keep a hair’s breadth within Matt’s urgency to “Keep GOING!” The sky like my mood was darkening. Matt’s ex-military experience kicked in, imploring me to remember the feeling I’d harnessed earlier.  Man, must you be so cursedly pragmatic?  His eyes, which gleamed with a dogged determination were taking the measure of the chert-hard look in my own. I’d been in the saddle for 12 hours off-road.

Not making it to Laguna Colorada, we emergency-camped. “I don’t have any camping gear but I’ve got whisky,” Matt casually remarked. You’re kidding?! It wasn’t a night to be ‘out there’—gusts shook the two-person tent while temperatures plummeted to -22. As honourable Brits, we layered Matt with every insulating thing available, including ourselves. Spooning the guy front and back with all the body warmth we had for whom we’d known 48 hours. Packed in like sardines while redefining the concept of ‘cosy’, we all burst into helpless laughter. “Goodnight John-Boy, goodnight Jim-Bob, goodnight Elizabeth.”

By sunrise a sheet of ice formed inside the tent. We awoke puffing white and as condensation developed, droplets began to rain down on us. After another ludicrously long day, we trudged our way into Chile. Kissing the asphalt, we’d made it. I owed Matt a world of debt or a world of pain…I still can’t decide.  Our intense stint in Bolivia had been brutal yet blindingly beautiful. A whirl of emotionsjoy and shock at what we’d undergoneswirled within me like mixing floodwaters. I erred on the wistful. Having wanted the challenge of an adventure, it was enough to know we’d realised one.

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