- Tim Notier
♫ Raindrops on helmets while riding through jungles
Bright sunny days that make us feel humbled
Tight gravel roads that twist through hillsides
These are a few of our favorite rides. ♫
Marisa and I have had the wonderful opportunity of riding through some fascinating places. And as we look forward to our next journey into a far away land, we are taking a glance back at a few of our favorite places that we have already explored. And I think the number one contender, in a very particular order, is our ride through the Bolivian Salt Flats!
We hope that you enjoy the ride down memory lane alongside us!
The Bolivian salt flats are the largest in the world and can be seen from space. But we were ground level to the wonders that they held and were excited to ride across such a surreal landscape. This adventure had been long awaited, and Marisa and I were in good company with our newfound friends Brendon and Kira that we had met while traveling through Peru.
The four of us headed to an entrance to find that the salt flats were surrounded by a wide moat of salty water. Just beyond our reach, across our newest obstacle, was a view to what seemed to be an endless stretch of flat, dry salt spreading all the way to the horizon.
Thousands of tire tracks spread out in every direction, but there was no way to determine where to go once out in the open. We wanted to find the mirrored section, where a thin, one-centimeter layer of water collects on the surface, transforming it into a massive reflective mirror that makes for jaw-dropping, dreamlike photos. But once out there in the endless landscape, it was hard to navigate anywhere, and our routing apps weren’t much help as there were no roads to guide us from point A to point B.
We just had to pick a cardinal direction and follow it. There was a large area to cover, more than 4,000 square miles, but we hoped to get lucky as we rode across the hexagonal patterns of salt on the otherwise featureless surface.
There are a couple of “islands” in the middle of the gigantic region, and we all agreed to make our way towards them. So, we picked a mountain on the horizon and kept it between the handlebars until we were close enough to adjust our bearings.
I watched the needle of my dash-mounted compass bounce around as we maintained a northwest course. A warm feeling of comfort overtook me when I glanced at the compass to verify that we were still on track. It was a gift from a fellow world traveler, Christian Vogel, who had stayed with us in our house near Chicago five years prior. Our dreams of adventure were only in their infancy at that point, and over the course of only five days, Christian shared his tales, troubles, and all the ups and downs of traveling the world by motorcycle. He urged us to set everything in motion and to dream big, never to second-guess our choices, and that we didn’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to do it.
While sharing stories of our own brief travels, it became apparent that I got lost frequently, and that Marisa absolutely hated the cold. So, on the day of his departure, he gave us his compass, which also had a thermometer.
“This is so you never get lost, and so that Marisa doesn’t get cold,” he stated.
It was tear-jerking stuff.
Now here I was, more than five years later, looking at his gift, using it to guide us in the direction of complete bliss. And like the golden compass it was, it led us to an area that was completely mirrored.
The horizon ahead of us was cut directly in half in a perfect mirror image. We entered the thin layer of water, and I pulled over to stare out in astonishment. I could barely tell where the land began, and the sky ended.
“Okay, this is pretty cool,” I said.
This was another time when riding with another couple proved invaluable. We traded cameras and took pictures of each other riding on what seemed to be marbled glass.
It felt like we were floating in oblivion, skating on a fantasy of ice and sky as we splashed through the dream-like landscape. It was a magical experience as we rode in wide figure eights through the mirror of clouds. We took our time in the abyss of reflection, jumping, skipping, doing cartwheels, riding in circles the entire time, never wanting the dream to end.
But as with all dreams, this too had to come to an end. We knew the salt water could not be good for our bikes and could see it already crystallizing over the engine. In fact, as we rode farther through the mirror, Brendon pulled us over to tell us that our exhaust pipe had completely crystallized over in salt. I looked at my tailpipe in shock as there was only a pinhole left for the exhaust to escape through. I took out my pliers and pulled the salt out like brittle teeth, trying to avoid having it fall deeper into the exhaust.
“Okay, let’s get out of here please,” I said after realizing that the dream was turning into a potential nightmare.
The water got deeper and murkier as we made our way towards a different exit. The last two miles was the equivalent of riding in ankle-deep sludge that was 99% salt. I slid around the muck, trying to keep the bike straight while praying I wouldn’t drop it. Everyone had enjoyed their experience, but now we all desperately wanted it to be over.
A tour bus drove ahead of us towards the exit, and it created deep gouges that I tried to keep my front tire between. I bounced around the ruts of the bus’s tracks and was completely terrified of wiping out at any moment.
The growing stress forced me to pull over, I had been white-knuckling the handlebars and just needed time to collect my nerves.
“This is really bad,” Brendon said as he pulled up next to me.
“I thought we were riding through heaven, but this is hell,” I replied.
“It looks like the exit is just over there,” Brendon said, pointing to where we could see cars parked in the distance.
A few miles farther, a peninsula of land emerged from the water, and I knew that the end of the pain was near, so we set off to get to dry land. Brendon and Kira were in the lead, and I was only concentrating on what was directly in front of me. When I looked up ahead, I noticed that the Haks had made it to dry land and had parked the bike. Brendon hopped off and ran towards me mouthing something while waving his hands above his head, but all I could hear was Axl Rose welcoming me to the jungle via the speakers in my helmet. I figured something was wrong, so I came to a stop and turned off my music as my front tire sank two feet into a massive trench of salty sludge.
“What were you saying?” I asked Brendon as I panicked.
“I was telling you not to go this way,” he replied. “But it’s too late now, there’s no going back.”
As Marisa jumped off the bike, she found herself nearly knee deep in salty sludge. The water was nearly up to the tailpipe as I entered the deepest part of the pool of salt. I gunned it to keep momentum, but the bike was sinking as I progressed forward. If there was one place in the world not to drop the bike, this was it. Marisa pushed from behind as I rode out of the cesspool that was an electronics-eroding and metal-corroding pond.
With both Marisa and Brendon now pushing, we successfully made it out of the salt pond and out of the Salar de Uyuni.
“Car wash,” I said more to myself than to anyone else. “We need to get to a car wash as soon as possible.”
“I’m beginning to think that wasn’t a good idea at all,” Marisa said.
The Bolivian Salt Flats had lived up to everything I could have imagined, and the memories will stay with us for the rest of our lives. One of the pictures that Kira Hak took is the cover of my last adventure motorcycle book, “Blood, Sweat, and Notiers.” We did encounter a few mechanical issues because of the ride, but like many of the struggles we had along the way, we wouldn’t alter any of our decisions. True adventure is trying, sometimes failing, seeing magical places in this world, and getting through the difficulties that all build up to a lifetime of memories!
It has been fun looking back at some of our favorite rides as we are in the final preparations of our next adventure. There has been so many wonderful memories made, and we are confident that there are just as many ahead of us.
Marisa and I can't thank you all enough for being a part of our journey, and we can't wait to share more memories from around the world!
Tim and Marisa Notier
Our newest book!
Join the Journey from Colombia to Ushuaia!
Blood, Sweat, and Notiers
Ride with us from Chicago to Panama!
2Up and Overloaded
Get inspired by the tale that started it all:
20 author's tales of exploring the world!
The Moment Collectors
Travel bible for two-wheeled adventurers.
ADV Motorcycle Handbook
Help us get 40 miles further down the road with a gallon of gas!
Become a Patron for early access to our YouTube Videos!
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel!
Subscribe to our Blog by Email