The road up the side of Cayambe was also the most difficult of the trip. Twice we were ready to turn around, our bikes mirred in loose rocks. We couldn´t get any traction because the slopes were so steep, and the road was covered with rocks the size of soccer balls that would roll down in an avalanche behind our rear wheels when we tried to gun it. However, both times we were ready to give up, people driving 4x4s stopped to help, telling us it was beautiful on top and that the road would soon get easier.
The first guy to help us was a self-described lover of motorcycles. He had Ted and I push him while he rode my bike. Even with both of us pushing, he nearly fell several times. Finally he got going fast enough to outrun us, and a few metres up the rode, dropped my bike on its side. I was thinking that I could have done that just as easily.
Next was Ted´s bike. Again, our helper rode and Ted and I pushed. There were no mishaps. After he had stopped the bike in a safe spot, he said that Ted´s bike was much easier to ride. I´m sure this is because Ted´s bike is lighter. Hmmmm, do I have an excuse?
The sun was just dropping over a ridge when we hit a second extremely challenging section. We were now so high that there was snow beside the road, and we were both feeling the effects of the alititude. I had a mild headache, but Ted was feeling dizzy. I was following Ted, who lost traction and ended up stuck in a rock-filled rut. He dropped his bike trying to get out. On this section of road, as soon as you stop, you´re finished. I came to a stop when Ted fell over, and then foolishly tried to gun my bike up a bit further to help him out. I made it fine for a few meters, but then I lost traction and started sliding backwards in a mini avalanche. It was probably a good thing that my bike tipped over, because she had been starting to build speed.
So there we were, both of our bikes down, the sun setting, the temperature dropping, and we couldn´t camp anywhere near where we were because the road was cut into a steep slope and there was nowhere to pitch the tents. But then a couple of guys driving a 4×4 truck came up behind us. They couldn´t get past our bikes lying on the narrow road. Ted and I righted first his, and then my bike and moved them off to the side clearing a path for the truck. Instead of driving by, however, the driver got out with a tow rope in his hand. Ted and I looked at each other. What kind of hairbrained scheme did he have in mind? He wrapped the rope around Ted´s steering column and attached it to the back of his bumber, and motioned for Ted to get on the bike. It looked like a gong show waiting to happen. Ted´s bike might get dragged up the slope, but it might not be rubber side down as it went.
Luckily, the rope broke almost instantly. We reverted to plan B. Ted rode the bike, and two guys from the truck and myself pushed him as he rode. After getting his bike past the treacherous section, I went back for mine. After getting a push off, I was able to gun it the rest of the way. It was hairy. Several times I thought I was going to lose it, but I didn´t dare slow down. Slowing down would almost surely end with my bike on her side.
I drove past Ted’s bike and rode up a few more switch backs. I didn´t want to stop for fear that I wouldn´t get her moving again. Finally I hit a flat area covered in snow. With the back end fish-tailing, I blasted my way through the slush covering the track. I finally found a sandy spot where I could stop and wait for Ted.
By now the altitude sickness was really affecting Ted. He had dropped his bike again further down the slope. The guys driving the 4×4 had helped him get it up. Now he rode by me and attempted a steep slush covered hair-pin turn. The bike went over (I was taking an action shot as it happened too). Ted staggered after he picked himself up. He didn´t want to go any farther. There was a flat area where we could pitch the tents.
Just then the guys in the 4×4 caught up to us. They said that there was a refuge just a little further up the road. I was all for trying to make it the rest of the way up. I had a feeling tenting in the snow would be damn cold. I mean, we thought Amarillo, Texas was cold. This was a whole other league. However, Ted was in no shape to ride anymore. I proposed to first ride my bike up, and then walk back down and ride his up.
Unfortunately, my engine died every time I put her into gear. This had happened a few times earlier in the day, but eventually I had always been able to get her moving. Not this time. I suspected that the kickstand engine kill switch was starting to fail. I remember Mike (the fellow KLR rider we met way back at the Grand Canyon) telling us that he had disconnected his. The trouble was I didn´t know where to disconnect it. We decided to camp where we were, and try to fix my bike in the morning.
The moon came up, bathing the snowcovered cone of Cayambe in white light. We cooked instant noodles and crawled into our icy tents. I was wearing a shirt, two big wool sweaters, and my gore-tex jacket inside my sleeping bag. I had a sleeping bag liner as well. I still felt like an icicle. I wondered what hypothermia felt like. Maybe I would find out. At some point in the early morning hours, the wind picked up. I thought my tent was going to blow right off the mountain. I don´t think I slept more than an hour all night.
Packing up in the morning was a painful process with frozen fingers and fighting the wind as we took down our tents. Worse, my bike´s engine cut out every time I put her into gear. Why did the kick-stand kill switch have to fail at the coldest, windiest place of our entire trip?
Luckily Ted MacGyver Macher came to the rescue. He used the needle nose pliers to cut the cable. Then he unscrewed the plastic housing, and then by trial and error got the switch fixed in a position where the engine wouldn´t cut. Nice work.
Getting down involved both of us dropping our bikes in the tricky section. We walked Ted´s all the way down. Stubbornly, I wanted to try riding it. I was doing well. Like Homer when he jumped Springfield gorge on a skateboard, I started to think “I´m going to make it”. Then I hit some rock filled holes. By bike started bouncing. There was nothing I could do to control her. She crashed hard onto the left side. I hit my knee on a boulder. The left peli (which had been attached with zip-ties) came off. The left tank pannier fell off as well because one of the straps had ripped right off.
After getting the luggage sorted, I am pleased to say that I managed to ride the rest of the way down without any further mishaps. It was an exhausting 24 hours. But Volcan Cayambe is without a doubt a major highlight of the trip