Stage 3, Part 3 covers the period starting from my time back home in Seattle for a friend´s wedding and ending at my arrival, some 1,100 miles later, in Cusco, just shy of the Bolivian border. My flatulent riding buddy, Brook, also decided to rejoin the trip near Cusco and will continue to ride with me until mid-December. He will be writing an update about what it´s like to be back on the bike soon. Pictures from this stage are online in the Gallery section of this Web site.
The beginning and end of this stage felt more like scenes from Back to the Future than a bicycle trip. To kick things off, I traveled 50 hours by bus and plane to Seattle from Huaraz for my best friend´s wedding, re-entered the world of my old life in Seattle for a week, and then sling-shotted myself back to the Central Andes of Peru. From there I cycled 1,100 incredibly difficult and beautiful miles along the Inca Road to the Inca capital of Cuzco. To complete the stage, I reunited with Brooks just outside of Cuzco. He´s decided to endure my company for the next two months while sending reports back home on whether or not I´ll be fit to rejoin the real world when I reach the end in Tierra del Fuego.
During my travels, I´ve discovered a new passion for photography and have started to hawk some of my pictures to magazines, Web sites, and bicycle-related companies. The problem is that I really have no clue about how the business of taking pictures works. Chris from Cafe Andino
in Huaraz offered to introduce me to Brad Johnson
, Patagonia photographer and Author of ¨Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca¨. On my first night back in Peru, I had a great time peppering him with questions about how the biz works over a few cups of organic Peruvian roast.
In the Cafe that evening, I also met Tom (road name Don Thomas), another US cyclist heading south, and re-united with Wouter, with whom I´ve pedaled with since the border of Ecuador. Wouter informed me that while I was back in Seattle, he had met a rather attractive Peruana and wanted to stay in Huaraz for another week to work on his Spanish. Tom was ready to hit the pavement and we decided to leave the Belgian luva´ behind and spun out of town the following morning with the intention of riding 1,100 miles to Cuzco together. A that time, I had no idea of the adventures that laid ahead with my new companiero, ¨El Don Thomas¨.
In Huaraz, I also befriended John, owner of Pedal Peru
, who helped us concoct a truly epic route plan to Cuzco. The first challenge along our route was a dirt road traverse through the Pumpapampa Valley at the southern end of Parque Nacional Huascaran, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. For two days we rode past large stands of Puya Raimondi plants, multi-colored lakes, and the rapidly receding Pastoruri glacier. From there our map indicated that we had to climb two 16,000 foot passes before descending to another road that would eventually lead to the pleasant town of Huanuco. The problem was that there were actually four passes rather than two and the cycling was much more difficult than we anticipated. At 6:30 pm we thought that we were cooked as we found ourselves riding in the company of a wild Andean Fox, at the top of the 3rd 16,000 foot pass, in pitch darkness, in the middle of a blizzard, with 30 miles of riding left to descend to the next village. As we cruised the dark windy road down to 11,000 feet, the snow turned to hail and then to hard rain. In a twist of fate, we met a German NGO worker in the plaza of the next village. She put us up in her house and offered us a nice glass of Chilean wine as we chilled out to Dave Matthews on her comfortable sofa. The next day we visited the high pampas ruins of Huanuco Viejo and soaked our achy bones in the underground cave hotsprings of La Union.
One of the most important things I look for in a cycling partner is that he or she can provide ample fodder for conversation during the countless hours of time in the saddle together. In this vein, Don Thomas is the ultimate cycling companion. After a leg-skinning, 20 mph wipe-out on the 40 mile dirt road descent to Huanuco, El Don, numbed his pain over one too many beersks with the Governor of Huanuco State at the Cheers bar on the Plaza De Armas. At midnight, we took over the bar and the Governor and his friends started buying us shots of the local poison. A great time was had by all until 3am when the party came to an abrupt end after the Governor started humping Don Thomas´leg on the dance floor.
More adventures ensued as we headed over several high passes through the mining capital of Peru en route to the beautiful colonial town of Ayacucho. Highlites included sharing a 6-pack of beersks during a 2 hour cab ride to the jungle town of Tingo Maria with a 20-something Arequipan monk. Donning a traditional hooded maroon robe and full beard, he fully divulged his mental tactics for living a life of abstinence. Don Thomas and I found this conversation particularly interesting as we both agreed that the sex life of a traveling vagrant cyclist is probably not far from that of an Arequipan Monk. El Don, fueled by his chat with the Monk attempted to put an end to his slump at a discoteca in the small town of Jauja. Unfortunately, he swung big and missed bigger. He left the discoteca with his dance partner at 5 am to discover that her husband and a death squad of his friends were waiting for him at the door. The conditioning gained from the past few weeks of cycling paid dividends as he outran the posse through the plaza and a half mile of cobble-stone side streets to the safety of our hotel. The next day we left town through a carefully planned back-door route to avoid being killed. His bad luck continued as he woke up a few days later with a severely swollen face.
In Ayacucho, we met up with Wouter, who took a bus to catch us, and David and Crystal, two American cyclists heading south from Ecuador to Chile. From Ayacucho, we cruised the last 5-days of dirt roads to Abancay, where Brooks was nervously waiting to experience his first taste of cycling in the Andes. The route to Abancay covered the most difficult terrain of the trip to date. On several days we climbed over 8,000 feet in less than 50 miles. The local people were incredibly pure and for the first time since entering Mexico, I cycled for an entire day without being called ¨Gringo¨ or being begged for money. Along the way, we added a French cyclist, Jamon, to our crew. Jamon first passed us in the back of a dump truck screaming ¨I ride with you guys soon¨ and then appeared on the side of the road in a small village two days later. Abancay is visible from over 30 miles away from atop a 13,000 pass. However, those 30 miles looked like 5 to us and the punishing, 7,000 foot dirt road descent to town took well over 3 hours. We rolled into Abancay at 9 pm in the middle of a huge rainstorm.
After a much needed rest day, the seven of us embarked on the butter smooth pavement of the Pan American Highway leading to Cuzco. In his first day of cycling, Brooks got to enjoy climbing over a 13,000 foot pass, a hail storm, perfectly clear skies, a 7,000 foot uninterrupted downhill to a tropical river-side hotspings, and a few hundred bug bites. We were also interviewed on the local radio. Just another day in the Peruvian Andes!
Two days later, our newly formed, multi-national cycling band rolled into the spectacular Plaza De Armas in Cuzco, overran the local dive bar, and all passed out completely exhausted by 10 pm (except for Don Thomas who hit the discotecas and couldn´t find his way back to the hotel). Both my body and bicycle were completely trashed by the time I got to Cuzco. The Geoduck and my list of ailments included: one bruised rib, one bent front rack and broken front pannier clamp from a crash, one broken chain, one frayed shifter cable, one completely busted bottom bracket, a bent front rim, two broken pedals, a cracked front rain fender, and 4 brake pads worn to the nub. But none-the-less, it was great to be in Cuzco in the company of good friends and my old riding partner!
Next up, a tour of the sacred valley of the Inca leading to the ruins of Machu Picchu and crossing the Bolovian border to the birthplace of the Inca at Lago Titicaca. For the next 1,000 miles, our elevation along the Altiplano that stretches from Southern Peru through Bolivia will not dip to below 11,000 feet.
Stage 3, Part 3 Stats
Miles: 1,055.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 88,342 ft.
Flat Tires: Gregg 1
Overall Expedition Stats
Miles: 12,104.3 miles (not including around town miles)
Flat Tires: Gregg 14
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