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Riding to Base Camp Atacama 5,256m (17,244 ft) !!

Riding to Base Camp Atacama 5,256m (17,244 ft) !!

“I’ve ridden enough with you to know your skills more than anyone else.  I wouldn’t ask you to do something I don’t think you can do.  You’re riding.. ”  (I’ll pull my head in now.. 😉

Sheez! That was Walter and I’ll never forget those words.  Today we transfer from Camp Murray 4,527m (14,852 ft) to base camp Atacama 5,256m (17,244 ft), and he still has big trouble with his eye.  It doesn’t look infected, but we are still not sure exactly what has caused it to turn red and swell shut.  They decide to move on up to base camp Atacama anyway, which is our last acclimatization stop as well as our home until the world record is complete.

So the comment from Walter came from me voicing my fears as I had mentioned.. maybe a couple times. Just being able to ride a bike I have never ridden in my life on one of the most difficult tracks you can come up with on the PLANET!  The bike is so tall, the terrain they’ve told me about.  A lot of it is a river bed.. just sand and rubble, no road at all.  For real??? I have to do the one leg lean just to sit on it. And the other big fear is damaging HIS bike BEFORE they need to make a WORLD RECORD on it!!! ????  However, I need pull my head in.  I’m here to help, I just didn’t expect this.

After Walter said what he said, I did just shut up. He is right and the one person I learned to trust completely and thoroughly. I got through Russia on a motorcycle with zero experience because I followed his instructions and advice, hopefully this will be the same.  He is going to drive the truck, and I’ll ride along Barton and Lukas.  They will be there to help as I expect to fall over a zillion times.

There is no gear to carry, it’s all in the truck.  So it’s just a bike and me.  Even so, when you fall over in this altitude and minimal oxygen, it takes every bit of energy you have just to pick it up again, no matter how light it is.  It’s hard to see in a photo, but if you have never experienced this elevation, to simply walk a few meters has me out of breath completely hunched over as if I’d run a marathon.

The three of us are lined up.  Walter will catch up with us later in the truck.  We start the motors.. “Oh ____ ”  I decided in my head that no matter what just do it (and whatever you do, don’t fall over!)

There are not many photos from here, just words.  Lukas and Barton ride fast ahead of me showing the way.  Walter has to go slow in the truck and he is out of sight.

Once both feet were on the pegs and I was riding, I immediately felt good on this bike.  Who’da thought!?  The road isn’t tough yet, so I was cruisin’! Woo hoo!!

I kept my eyes on the boys ahead of me and did what they did.  Then we came to the river bed.  They stopped their bikes and gave me lots of advice.  It’s deep sandy rubble, really soft so keep the throttle on.  Keep your body loose, knees soft, and TRY not to stop for anything.  OK!

We squirmed and swailed all over the place (well I shouldn’t say WE, I only know what I felt).  There were pure sand/rubble ridges made by when water did flow here.. take those head on like little jumps.  There were patches that are softer than others and when going top speed, you don’t know it until you hit it!!  “It’s taking me down!!!.. No.. Nooo.. NOOOO you’re not!!” ;-)))))

I was going down a few times, but never hit the floor.  Each time I recovered with the throttle.  The river bed lasted for several kilometers, turning, twisting, throwing up hazard after hazard.  When we got out of it and on a bit of hard dirt, Barton stops me.. crap don’t stop!  But it’s ok, I’m getting used to this one leg lean.  He gave me a high five.  He was praising the fact he saw me nearly down.. at such an angle, but my brain hit the throttle even harder and pulled myself back up.  He said, “You were so determined not to lose it, unbelievable!”  The good words coming from these guys means a lot to me.  This time in my life is the epitome of Sherri Jo’s Because I Can World Tour.  To remind, I only called it that because my reason for taking this trip ‘because I can’, is not because I’m a skilled moto rider, but because I don’t have anything tying me to home to keep me there.  So when things come up where I don’t think “I Can”  and then I actually can, it brings a whole new meaning to my own journey.

We continued on a somewhat track.  Dodging boulders, through gulleys, etc.  I followed the boys into a pure sand gully.  Barton was stopped inside at the bottom.  No photo, but I’ll try to describe.  It was a white’ish sand and they went down about 3 meters out of sight, and I followed.  Another three meters of the floor, still pure sand and to get out the other side, shaped a bit like this –\__/–  Crap!  I nearly hit him, but I stopped next to him, it must be important.

He wanted to give me instruction on how to handle this sand gully.  It’s short, straight up to get out and difficult.  Even more so now that we have to get out from being stopped at the bottom.  I was on pure adrenalin.  He was telling me what I should do, and I just kept focusing on getting out now.  While he was talking, I cranked the throttle and popped right out before he finished instruction!  It was so funny!  Luke was out there with a thumbs up.  Barton was cracking up, he couldn’t believe I did that, I can’t believe I did that. But it worked, so let’s move on!

The whole ride was exciting.  So much better and MORE FUN than I ever expected.  Thanks to Walter, Barton and Lukas.

We arrived Camp Atacama.  Parked the bikes and waited for Walter to show up in the truck.  I was worried he could be stuck in the river bed, but we could eventually hear the sound of the motor making it’s way.

We all made it. Barton has us checking our heart rates and blood oxygen levels.

While the guys are sitting around, they decide I should go for a world record now.  WHAT??  They have been telling me they want me to get a world record too.  I’m truly just here to help, but they have been pushing this idea for a while, even before we got to Chile.  I tend to brush it off, because…

Anyway, Walter has researched the heck out of high altitude world records, and he feels confident I can ride that motorcycle higher in elevation than any other woman has recorded doing.

Now that we’ve successfully ridden the funky track, I think it would be fun to give it a go.. but now?  Right now?  Gee whiz.  Let’s get you guys the world record first, and if we have time and energy left afterwards, I can try.  Nope!  They want to do it now.  But I put my foot down.  Have a rest, get used to the new elevation, and let’s talk about it in the morning.

First, we need to set up our tents. That white-ish bit is not snow, just really soft sand.

Other people have made these rock shelters to protect against the wind. This will be my home for the next few days.  Thank goodness we got that done, here comes those afternoon dark clouds..


Camp Atacama has two permanent tents provided by the park. The next thing I want to do is set up my little kitchen. There was a group of German mountain climbers who have been here for 10 days, just leaving when we pulled up.  Their cook used the white tent.  And all of us agree.  We are not sure what they were cooking in there, but it left behind a strong heavy smell.  I think it’s the grease from cooking a lot of meat.  It was unbearable for us, so we used the red tent.  (I think some of the Germans slept in there)

So between the 2 tents, I put together a couple tables and chairs, a cook top, and stockpiled the food and cooking gear.

If living at 17,244 ft in elevation is not surreal enough, living out of a red tent will convince you’re on another planet!

Outside, that dark cloud is releasing itself.  It’s starting to snow and after 3 pm, the temperature drops dramatically.

Back in the tent, and I’ve got these three to live with.. Lord have Mercy!

We were warned by the Germans to be careful with our food.  There is a fox around.  So I’ve got this nice big tent, but I actually have to put all the food back in the truck each night.  It’s a real worry.  If the fox gets into the food, we don’t have an option of going for more.

Camp Atacama base camp elevation (17,244) is nearly the elevation for base camp to climb Mt. Everest.  There are two base camps there, each on opposite sides of Mount Everest. South Base Camp is in Nepal at an altitude of 5,364 mt (17,598 ft), and North Base Camp is in Tibet at 5,150 mt (16,900 ft). Walter explains there are no base camps in the world higher than this. Wow! It is thought to be impossible to acclimatize to heights above 5500 meters (18,000 feet). The oxygen is so thin that you actually cause damage to your body at this level.

Anyway, on to my routine.  I usually wake up just before sunrise.  It’s my favorite part of the day.  And what a lovely snow we had!

It was a very cold night.  I have two sleeping bags of which both are tied over my head with only my nose sticking out.  And I still freeze!  I can not tell you how hard it is to maneuver one arm out the nose hole of both bags to undo the zippers in order to get out.

In the morning I go to my red tent and start boiling water.  It takes over an hour to get it to boil, which is a worry for the amount of white gas we brought for the cookers.  But I’d like to have it hot by the time the boys get up so they have something warm to drink.

The guys were tinkering inside, and I notice the infamous fox!  I love animals, and it was so funny to watch the fox try to figure out what the motorcycle is.

Walter jumped up and said we have to get rid of the fox.  Aww.. I quite like seeing a bit of life up here!  But they are right, like I said, we’d be in trouble if he got into the food rations.

So in his funny Russian hat and an ice pick, he goes after the fox.  Run, fox, run!!!

This fox has no fear.  It was so funny, he’d always come back to Walter.  I think it wants a friend!

But Walter wouldn’t let up.. “Get outta here!”

He did eventually give up, starts walking back to the tent, and you gotta love that fox following him.

UNTIL!  Barton fired up his bike and chased it away. ;-((((

I can’t help but to wonder what the fox eats up here.  Ah well, back to my little tent and then a bit of cooking.

We call it “Sherri Jo’s Witches Brew.. ” :-))

And the guys have decided that I am for sure heading up the mountain to attempt a female world record this morning.. ?????!!!!!!  What have I got myself in to?

To be continued………………….

Originally from America. Proud citizen of Australia. Currently riding my motorcycle around the world. 44 countries so far and counting. ;-)

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