Interviews
Halfway Down: Checking in with Two Wheels South journal image

Halfway Down: Checking in with Two Wheels South

Posted in: Interviews, Ride Report

Matias Corea and Joel Estopa left Brooklyn back in October bound for the end of the earth—Ushuaia, Argentina. Their two mid-80’s BMW R80 G/S’s have so far fared brilliantly, with 14,000 miles down and another 6,000 to go. One of the bikes even recently survived a spectacular high-side crash in Boliva. We phoned up our favorite Spanish Evel Knievel impersonator to get an update.

Where in the world are you at the moment?

We got a room in San Pedro [Bolivia] for a few days because we just needed rest. We’ve been above 12,000 or 14,000 feet for more than 12 days straight. It gets you really tired. Your body sort of adapts but you don’t rest so well at night. We came down to 2400 meters, almost half.

Can we talk about the crash now?

Yes, only because I talked to my parents first, so they don’t freak out when they read this.

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What the hell?!

We were on this DAKAR rally road and we were all super excited and we were going pretty fast, which I shouldn’t have been because the bike is so loaded down. There are these sandy patches that come up in between the harder road surface and I couldn’t’ see them, and I hit this stretch of sand and then the handlebars started slapping and then the back end went out.

I sort of braked at that point and the bike went sideways and then it just spit me out. I think the bike did two full flips but I don’t really know.  If you look at that picture of the bike upside down the front fairing is already destroyed and it looks like it’s going around again… so I don’t know.

Looks worse than it is! Bike patched up in a day, Rider OK too...

Looks worse than it is! Bike patched up in a day, Rider OK too…

I went to the hospital to get scanned and everything was fine, but I was definitely knocked unconscious.  When I recovered I saw lights and stuff. The GoPro camera fell off the helmet but it was still on recording sound, and you can hear Joel talking to me but I don’t remember any of that. I keep asking him the same questions.

We were all surprised you were back on the road a day or two later. Has the rest of the trip been so “lucky?” You guys left on October 12, it’s now the first week of March. Minus the crash is everything going as planned?

Yes, mostly. You learn to cut corners in some places, and you have to chose, these countries are so wide and long you quickly realize you can’t do everything.

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Ferry crossing in Nicaragua

We have one month left – we are set to return on April 4th. We are more than halfway through South America. We have two countries left, Chile and Argentina, and we’re hoping to make Buenos Aires by April 1.

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Most of the things that stopped us have not been motorcycle related, but things outside of our control. Border crossings for example. We had our bikes impounded for 5 days the day before Christmas and we had to wait because absolutely everything was closed—and all because someone forgot to give some papers back to us at a previous control point.

What were the motorcycle delays?

We’ve had a few flat tires and were luckily always able to fix them on the spot, always in less than an hour. We’ve also had to replaced a coil on Joel’s bike, and a starter relay for me.

My charging system failed after the crash because the dash smashed to pieces and I didn’t have the little 1.4-amp generator bulb in the circuit that tells the rectifier to charge. I made it two days before the battery died and I realized what happened. Joel towed me 16 miles with climbing rope back to the town of Uyuni to fix it – all in the rain, on a dirt road at 12,000 feet. It was a miserable day.

And then in the middle of the [bleeping] Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, the very next day Joel’s bike wouldn’t start after we stopped to take a picture.

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It turned out it was the coil, which we had an extra on hand to replace, but we had to do all the testing while standing in 2 inches of water to figure that out.

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Otherwise we’ve been maintaining the bikes pretty well. After 14,000 miles things start to break down, and with Airheads it’s usually little electrical things. We have 6,000 miles left and we’re feeling good. I’ve made a lot of calls to Peter at Moto Borgotaro along the way!

What are some of the other physical challenges of the trip so far?

Temperatures have been everywhere from 25-30, which while riding which feels much colder, to over 104. In the north of Mexico I was literally falling asleep in my helmet it this bubble of heat. But you couldn’t open the helmet because it was like a hair dryer in your face. We’d soak ourselves with water, then put on our jackets and open up all the vents – it would act like air conditioning once we were under way.

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Pallasca, Peru and an aquamarine freshwater lake worth stopping for

Elevation wise we’ve gone from sea level all the way to 4,850 meters (15,290 feet).

We got stuck riding at night last week, in Bolivia, in the middle of nowhere. We just had Google Earth and we were following a non-existent road. Not really even a path. It was like if you take a 1,000 sheep and make them go down the field. That’s what we were going through.

“We were following these paths that go in and come up and then divide by five and then there’s three and then one and then it disappears, and you have to just Boy-Scout your way through it.”

Finally after two hours in the dark we finally found the place we were looking for, almost by chance. It was at 13,000ft elevation, so if we would have had to camp would have been very cold.

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It just rained for two months, through la nina, the name for hurricane season here that was supposed to end in January, but we had rain in December until just now. Now it’s stopped because we’re in the Atacama desert.

How about mental highs and lows?

When a guy pulled out a machete on us on a mountain pass – that was not a highlight! But I haven’t talked about that with anyone yet.

One of the best parts for me personally was when we were in the mountains of Columbia. Mountains in general give me a lot of peace, and we were riding slow and enjoying the landscape and I just had this moment when I cried in my helmet, and I didn’t know why. I was feeling at peace with my friend, I was doing what I wanted to do, and I was in this landscape, taken from a drawing in a Lord of the Rings movie—it was just surreal. I don’t even know if I could find that road again but it was very peaceful—very beautiful.

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Speaking of peace with your friend, how’s the Roomate situation – You and Joel have spent every waking moment together for six months. Has Joel tried to kill you yet, or vice versa?

People worried a lot about this stuff, but Joel and I have known each other since we were both 16.

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We’re very different and that’s the best thing—we have complementary skills. Certain things he does better, certain things I do better. When we get into a new town he navigates and finds food and gets us sorted out, and I follow him. When we’ve had to deal with the bikes, finding parts and stuff, he’s learning but it’s been my responsibility.

Matias earns his keep

You spend a lot of time in your helmet. We have Sena communicators and we always have them on, but honestly we probably only talk 10 percent of the time.

Then when you get to a place, sometimes we got to a room, shower, chill in our own beds, and just don’t talk. We’re on Instagram or emailing or reading. And we can spend by ourselves, alone together. We haven’t had one fight. I don’t’ know what we would fight about.

Whether we’re freezing to death or we’ve been in the rain for four hours straight we just have to laugh about it together.

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Joel and Matias are scheduled to fly back to New York on April 4th. Stay tuned for the scheduling of a Ride Report presentation at the store for a full account of the trip—including the full video of the crash and the back-story behind that machete wielding hombre.