As of today, I´ve been on the road for 1 year. It´s been the most intense, action-packed, engaging year of my life and I wouldn´t trade this experience for anything. For $6.00, I rented a rooftop patio and kitchen with this view of the highest mountain in Peru to celebrate.
Thank you for your emails and to everyone who has helped me along the way!!!!!!!!!
I´ve learned that rewarding myself for accomplishing these little adventure markers makes things more fun and this morning I decided to hook-up an 11-day, 120 kilometer, trek through the Cordillera Huayhuash. This is where Touching the Void was filmed and has been ranked as the second best trek in the world by National Geographic Magazine.
I´m off to arrange two donkey transports, a guide, and supplies for 11 days of bushwhacking through the Andes!
From the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.
*This stage covers my departure from Panama and crossing of Ecuador and Northern Peru. I decided to continue using photos that are NOT in the Gallery. The complete gallery for this stage is online in the Gallery section of this Web site.
In Stage 3, Part 1, after a streak of bad luck, I made the jump from the sweltering lowland tropics of Central America to the high altitudes and unspeakable views of the Andes in Ecuador and Peru. Sadly I left my new friends, Horst and Ruth and Panama City but chased down Harald, my old traveling companion from Canada, near the Peruvian border. Record breaking became the norm and in this stage I set my highest and lowest speed, altitude gain/loss, and overall trip elevation records. Already, South America has proven to be the biggest, baddest, and most exciting continent of the trip.
This stage began in a Panama City hostel where I celebrated Ruth and Horst´s ¨one year on the road¨ anniversary with 7 other cyclists from 5 countries. The next day I hopped a plane to Quito, Ecuador to kick off my pedaling in South America. During our 50-odd days of traveling together, Ruth, Horst and I had become dear friends and I missed their company terribly during the coming weeks.
Hauling a bicycle on an airplane is always a pain in the arse. The Geoduck was custom built with a space-saving coupler system which allows me to unscrew the frame for shipping. I gloated over this design add-on as I packed my entire bicycle, ALL of my pannier bags and luggage into one bicycle box and handed it over to the COPA airline official at the Panama City Airport. That evening at the Quito airport, my gloating changed to despair as the hours ticked by and the bicycle box never turned up. At 10 pm the clerk told me that it might take several days to locate my luggage. I did my best to contain my anger at the thought that my trip was likely doomed if this box was lost by a klutsy luggage handler. Bad, went to worse as I checked the contents of my carry-on man purse and realized that for the next few days I would continue to enjoy the company of the same pair of underwear, socks, shirt, and pants that I had already worn for 3 days straight in Panama City.
The bike box did eventually turn up two days later and I made so many trips to the airport searching for it that I became best buddies with my taxi driver. Between ¨status runs¨, he gave me a grand tour of Quito which included 6 churches, 2 museums, 5 plazas, 2 equatorial lines, a handfull of big statues, coffee shops, and countless roadside empenada slinger stands.
With my bike assembled and back on its wheels again, I made a quick stop to the Virgen de Quito statue on the way out of town. I was hoping that a visit to a Virgen who sits on top of a globe of the Americas and overlooks one of the most spectacular colonial cities in South America might bring a bit of good luck back to Stage 3. Unfortunately, if weather is any indication, my luck ran short about 15 minutes after leaving the Virgen as the clear sky clouded over and it started pouring down rain. The rain continued for the next 3 days as I rode in a misty solitude on the Pan American Highway.
After the storm thwarted my attempts to climb Volcan Cotopaxi I decided that a quick detour to the resort ¨hotsprings¨ town of Banos was in order. I dropped below the clouds at 6,000 feet and my field of view finally increased to beyond 100 meters. The rain continued but I did enjoy some time in the soaking pools and descended 30 miles down a perfectly paved road lined with waterfalls to the jungle state of Oriente. At that point the Ecuadorian flag that my taxi driver in Quito gave me started paying dividends. It was world cup time and Ecuador was in a frenzy over their country´s recent victories. On game days, I enjoyed climbing the steep sections of the Pan Americana to consistent fist pumping and chanting of ¨Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador¨ by roadside onlookers who had taken notice of the flag fastened to my bike frame.
At the hostel in Banos I met a fun group of backpackers who were on their way to ride on the roof of a vintage train that loops through the Andes over a section called the Devil´s nose. I decided to join them two days later in Riobamba. I had heard reports of theft in the luggage compartment of the train so I crawled inside to secure my bags with zip ties before climbing on the roof. A few minutes later my heart sank as I heard the clank and clink of the sliding door being shut and locked behind me. It was pitch dark and I crawled on my hands and knees over a mass pile of backpacks to where I thought the door was. The train whistle blew to signal it´s departure and I started banging madly on the walls to let someone know I was trapped inside.
A few minutes later, the door slid open and an embarrased train official exclaimed, ¨I´m terribly sorry Senor...perhaps you would like to buy an extra seat cushion, special price, only one dollar¨. The skies cleared for the first time since leaving Quito and the train journey provided some, as one guidbook claimed ¨mind boggling views¨. To add to the adventure, in a narrow canyon section the train came off of it´s rails and skidded into the dirt. Two hours later, with some good ol´ elbow grease, picks, hammers, and lifts, the crew had us back on track, over the Andes and into the town of Aluasi.
From Aluasi I crawled up and down over the Andes to Cuenca where I joined forces with Wauter, AKA ¨The Mad Scientist¨, a Flemmish cyclist who´s bicycle is a compilation of parts that have either been scrapped by someone else, homemade, or fired by a small village metalsmith. We continued south together on the Pan American for several days, pushing wildly ahead to meet up with my old friend Harald. At 9 pm on Harald´s 45th birthday, we rolled into his hostel in Loja and yanked him out of bed to a neon-lit karaoke disco bar. We watched in awe as the German from Stuttgart got the party started by pounding three 24 oz beersks without breaking lip. It had been nearly 10-months since I had last pedaled with Harald in the north of Canada and we had a great time catching up and trading stories. While scouring a map and GPS coordinates of our planned backdoor dirt route from Ecuador to Peru Harald pronounced ¨the road ahead has mucha adventura¨, coining the general theme of this stage.
In Loja we also met up with two Dutch cyclists, Jeannette and Gerrit who planned to take the same road to Peru. The next day, 5 of us set out together to Villacabamba where we traded clean asphault for a rocky jeep path. For 4 days we cycled passed rainbows, waterfalls, Podocarpus National Park, small villages, coffee farms, and over the Andes to Peru. By day two, our group had spread apart and Harald and I found ourselves on top of an 11,000 foot pass in the middle of a rain and windstorm. A few miles later, we reached a river that had flooded across the road and it was impossible to pass without forging though it. In Costa Rica, I crossed many rivers via bicycle and charged ahead without pause. My, overconfidence got the best of me as the river´s depth and current were stronger than I anticipated. Half-way through the river my front tire hit a submerged rock and down I went. I watched in horror as the Geoduck bobbed downstream while I was soaked to the bone by the river water. I sprinted after my bike and dragged it to shore. Over the howling wind and rain I could hear Harald hooting like Santa Clause from the other side of the crossing, ¨Hoh, hoh, hoh MUUUUUCCCCCHHHHHAAAAA AADDDDVVEEENNTTURRRAAA Gregorio!¨. I managed to crack a smile despite the fact that I was 30 miles from the nearest village, in the freezing cold rain and wind, in the middle of the Andes with all of my belongings soaking wet.
After de-thawing I continued on to the Peruvian border. The crossing was easy and the border post had seen so few gringos that they actually asked us if they could take our pictures. Culturally, there was an immediate difference between Peru and Ecuador. The people were much more curious and at rest stops we were often surrounded by groups of 10 or 20 locals asking questions or just plain staring. In Jaen, Harald and I stopped to ask directions from a moto-taxi driver--a few seconds later, his friend showed up in another moto-taxi, and then his friend´s friend showed up and so on and so forth. After 20 minutes over 50 moto taxis had circled around us until they decided that it would be best for them to ALL escort us to the hotel. Red lights were ignored and speed limits exceeded as we raced through the streets of Jaen and looped round the Plaza de Armas with horns and sirens blazing.
In Jaen we also experienced the hospitality of Miguel, the local bike shop owner who got our bikes running smoothly again and put us up at his house. From there, we climbed over the Andes one last time and descended 9,000 ft to the coast of Peru via a dreamy butter-smooth asphault road. There, I broke my trip speed record as a huge gust of wind pushed me to an effortless 52 mph. The final few hundered miles of this stage were spent crossing the Sechura Desert, a barren expanse of shifting sands and depresing shanty towns.
This section included the town of Paijen, notorious for armed robbery and rip-offs of passing bicycle tourists. I had been warned about this place by several cyclists heading north and contacted the President of the local bicycling club for more information before passing through. He told me that the situation had improved and a group of 5 cyclists traveling together would have no problems. Several police officers stopped us on our way into town to let us know that they had been working hard to clean up the situation and that we would have no issues. Still, I got a bad feeling and several cold stares on my way through town and would not advise solo cyclists to travel through this area.
In Trujillo, we spent some time eating churros in the beautiful Plaza de Armas before wrapping up the stage in the Casa De Cyclistas. The Casa, run by Lucho, is a mecca for world bike travelers. During the past 20 years, Lucho has hosted over 700 bike tourists--most write personal accounts of their journey and leave pictures in an extensive library of journals and posters. It was the perfect place to unwind and enjoy my stay in Trujillo before venturing back into the Andes and Cordillera Blanca for Stage 3, Part 2.Stage 3, Part 1 Stats
Miles: 958.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 79,365 ft.
Flat Tires: Gregg 0Overall Expedition Stats
Miles: 10,720.7 miles (not including around town miles)
Flat Tires: Gregg 12
Sponsored by: Co-Motion Cycles, Outdoor Research, Ortlieb, Rudy Project, ThinkHost, eRoi, Schwalbe North America, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt