Stage 3, Part 2 - Trujillo to Huaraz, Peru
Friday, August 18, 2006

The scenery from this stage justifies two separate Gallery photo albums, one from my time on the bicycle and another from the three weeks I spent trekking and climbing in the Andes. However, this trip report only covers my experience on the bicycle, I will publish a journal of my experiences on foot in a few weeks.

In Stage 3, Part 2, I left the desolate Peruvian coast and traveled from sea level through a series of incredible tunnels, canyons, and high passes to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of the Andes. From there, I set out for the town of Huaraz, the trekking and alpine climbing mecca of South America. In Huaraz, I lost myself for 3 weeks as I hiked over 200 miles through some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. I capped off the stage by summiting 18,900 ft. Mount Pisco before traveling for 50 hours back home to Seattle for my best friend´s wedding. If the remainder of my trip provides only 10% of the experience of the past month, I will be a happy man.

This stage began with a whirlwind cultural tour of the Peruvian coast which included the desert ruins of Chan Chan, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and a day lounging in the beach town of Huanchaco to watch the fisherman surf on their traditional Caballitos de Tortora, or reed rafts. Lucho, our host and head of the local bicycle club asked if we would help with his annual community bicycle race and I had great time photographing the event. The next day, I pedaled south out of town through a bleak coastal desert with my Dutch, German, and Flemish cycling companions.

Our adventures began as we traded the smooth asphalt and heavy traffic of the Pan American Highway for the bumpy solitude of a private hydroelectric dam access road and defunct 1930´s railway line operated by Charlotte Carolina based Duke Energy. For 4 days, we climbed non-stop from sea level over the Cordillera Negra through a series of 38 tunnels that carved through the Canon de Pato along the Rio Santa. This route was incredibly scenic, remote, and bone-jarring.

In the small village of Huallanca, the local hotel proprietor exclaimed ¨yes, many tourists come here, my hotel is always full¨. I snuck a peak into the hotel logbook and discovered that we were only his second group of guests in the past month. In ¨a small world afterall¨ moment, I recognized the name of his last guest, Colin Champion from England. I traded emails with Colin almost 3 years ago after pouring over his Web site that chronicles his bicycle tours around the world. His trip reports were a key inspiration for Ribbon Of Road.

Two days later, I bumped into Colin at the local ice cream slinger´s stand in Caraz town, he was in the middle of a three week cycling tour through the Andes. Later that evening, Colin, his wife Tracy, Harald and I enjoyed beersks together in a dimly lit posada bar on the outskirts of Caraz. Colin unleashed an arsenal of maps and route guides--German maps, Peruvian military maps, general tourist maps, topographical maps. He must have sensed my awe over his level of preparation, ¨Gregg, you have been cycling for 12 months, I have been planning for 12 months¨ he said with an ear to ear grin. His route included a punishing dirt road circuit that cut directly through the Cordillera Blanca, with 22 peaks over 19,500 feet, the second highest mountain range in the world.

The next morning, Harald, Wouter, and I decided that Colin´s route plan sounded like fun and we pedaled out of Caraz with the Cordillera Blanca on our minds. That evening, I found myself camped in the middle of a cow pasture, at 13,000 feet, in a frozen tent, with a terrible headache, dry heaving from altitude sickness, and thinking ¨oh shit, this isn´t so much fun¨. My nausea finally passed at 3am and a few hours later I began the long, zigzagging ascent to the top of 15,600 foot Portachuelo de Llanganuco Pass, one of the highest in the world. This shattered my old altitude record by 3,500 feet and I was so dizzy at the top that I could barely hold my bike upright. For the next five days, the landscape and my cultural interactions along this circuit exceeded my wildest expectations for what this trip could be. As a cyclist, traveler, and wanna be photographer, my passions were fully engaged and I experienced some of the more perfect moments of my life.

A few days into the circuit, I wandered into a small adobe house of an indigenous family. The matriarch, appalled by my shabby appearance, offered to give me a haircut. Word of my arrival spread quickly and the house soon filled up with single indigenous women from the local village. For an hour, while the scissors snipped away, I watched Donald Trump´s Miss America Pageant in English, dubbed in Spanish, in a room full of gossiping indigenous women who couldn´t speak Spanish but rather Quechua, the traditional language of the Incan culture. The matriarch was our translator and I was bombarded with the same question over and over again, ¨why aren´t there any Peruana women in your Miss America Pageant?¨. I surprised myself with my knowledge of international beauty competitions as I explained that the winner of Miss America would qualify of Miss World where there would likely be a nice Peruana to compete against. My answer didn´t satisfy the chatty gallery but did lead to some entertaining responses;¨no, they do not let the Peruana women compete because your pasty gringas have no chance against us¨, and ¨our homes and villages my be dirty with garbage but the love of the Peruana woman is too clean and strong for the Gringo...that is why they do not let us compete!¨. The matriarch put down her scissors and dumped what felt like a gallon of gel into my hair, greased it back and exclaimed ¨now you are handsome and I will let these women will rob your heart¨. At that moment, I realized that this whole thing was a set-up, I leapt up out of my chair and dashed back to the village to find Harald and Wouter.

At dinner that evening, I met another indigenous woman and told her about my nausea at altitudes over 12,500 feet. She disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a large plastic bag full of what looked like tea leaves. ¨These are Coca leaves¨ she explained. ¨They are the traditional plant of the Inca and we use them to give energy and prevent altitude sickness¨. We practiced chewing them together and I felt no effect whatsoever. (no mom, Coca leaves are not cocaine, cocaine is the end product after they are chemically processed) The next day, while cycling up and over 16,200 foot Punta Olimpica Pass I started to get a headache and thought, what the heck, and stuffed a huge handful of Coca into my cheek. About ten minutes later something really strange started to happen. I began to notice that all of the men along the roadside were chewing Coca too. They went out of their way to acknowledge and cheer me on. They spoke to me in Quechua and I understood them. My vision got wavy and then the mountains started speaking to me. Everyone was saying the same thing, ¨we are the children of the Inca, this is our home, and now you know¨. My pace increased and I cycled effortlessly up a long ascent that would have normally left me completely exhausted. Thirty-minutes later, I snapped out of my trance and pulled off the road to lie down on a soft grassy patch. Wouter caught up to me, ¨wow, you just took off back there, what happened?¨. The Coca leaves¨, I answered, ¨either I´ve gone completely mad or I think that I just got really stoned off those Coca leaves¨.

Six days after leaving Caraz, I hobbled in to the tourist center of Huaraz with a sprained thumb and bruised hip from a crash while coming down from Punta Olimpica Pass and a scraped knee from tripping over a completely random hawk while making an early AM bathroom run. My body had seen better days but my curiosity was peaked, my new fascination was this incredible mountain range and I wasted no time booking a 10-trek through the Cordillera Huayhuash to further explore the region.

I spent the next three weeks hiking over 200 miles through the Andes and summiting the incredible 18,900 ft. Mount Pisco. My experience in the Cordillera off the bike justifies it´s own journal entry but that will have to wait until after I return to Peru from my best friend´s wedding in Seattle on the 26th of August.

Stage 3, Part 2 Stats
Miles: 328.4 miles (plus 200 miles on foot)
Elevation Gain: 32,047 ft.
Flat Tires: Gregg 1

Overall Expedition Stats
Miles: 11,049.1 miles (not including around town miles)
Flat Tires: Gregg 13

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

Up Town Baby!!!
Thursday, August 17, 2006

If at first you don´t succeed then dust yourself off and try again.

Last week, I tried alpine climbing for the first time in my life. I decided to attempt the summit of Mount Pisco, smack dab in the middle of the Peruvian Andes. The view from it´s summit is considered to be the most beautiful in all of Peru. Though it is not a very technical mountain, at 19,000 feet in elevation, it´s not to be taken lightly. After 4 hours of climbing on my first summit attempt, a huge storm blew in and kicked my arse so bad that the guide called for a high speed retreat to base camp.

After a few beersks, I decided to wait out the weather try again. Five days later(yesterday) the weather changed for the better and we made the summit! We left at 1am and got back to a dirt road at 3pm where we caught a bus back to Huaraz.

Climbing high altitude mountains is harder than riding a bicycle and I have a new found respect for climbers. Altitude sickness really sucks too. Now, I´m going to sleep for the next few days.

Children, Children, Everywhere!!!!!
Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In all of the Americas, children have always been curious when I roll up on my bicycle. However, in Peru, this phenomenon is much more extreme. I can be out in the middle of the desert or on a remote mountain pass with seemingly nobody around but if I stop to take a drink of water or fix a flat, within a few minutes it is 100% guaranteed that children will appear. Most of the time I have no idea where they come from--out from behind a tree or under a rock maybe? When I ask where their homes are they always point in some far off direction and say ¨one hour that way¨. One thing they all have in common is that they are dirt poor and always ask tons of questions. If I´m in a tourist or missionary area, they usually beg for candy, money, or pens first and then ask questions. If I´m off the beaten path, then they just stare or ask questions about how my bicycle works.

Here are some pictures of the children of Peru as encountered from the seat of a bicycle.

High Altitude Sessions and the Road to Cusco, Peru

I´ve just completed my Cordillera Huayhuash circuit through the Peruvian Andes. I´ll write about it in more detail in my next update but in short, it was better than fantastic! In fact, it was so fantastic that I´ve decided to give Alpine Climbing a try and signed up for a summit attempt of 19,000 Mt. Pisco under the full moon on the 10th of this month!

I am currently in Huaraz, Peru. To get here, I bicycled from sea level on the Pacific coast and over two mountain passes that were 15,800 feet and 16,200 feet. Next, I trekked over 8 more passes on foot, they were between 15,500 and 16,800 feet. To put the elevation of these passes in perspective, the tallest mountain in the continental US is Mt. Whitney, it is 14,500 feet.

The ¨mostly dirt¨ road ahead to Cusco from here is approximately 1,000 miles. There are approximately 20 passes between 14,000 and 16,400 feet. By the time I reach Cusco, I will have climbed the summit equivalent of Mount Rainier or Mt. Whitney 30 times in about 2 months. Also, between here and Cusco, I am returning to the US for 5 days for my best friend´s wedding.

Hopefully, after reading this update, my friends and family will understand that the road behind and the road ahead have been and will continue to be REALLY, REALLY hard, the most difficult section of the entire trip by 10x, and that´s why I might sound tired in my email and on phone. But don´t get me wrong, I´m not complaining--I love this stuff!!! These last few weeks have also been the most spectacular of the trip leaving my jaw on the floor 24/7.

For all of you bike nerds out there, I´ve posted a route profile for the last 1,100 kilometers from here to Cusco. For comparison, I´ve also listed the elevation profile of the two (former) toughest climbs of the trip to date, Beaver Slide in Alaska and The Devil´s Spine in Mexico. Also the elevation of Mt. Whitney on the right and Mt. Pisco on the left.

I´m off to climb Pisco and will be back with a summit report and trip update in 4 days.


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