A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Monumental Ride

Our latest adventure was monumental in a number of ways. First, we rode our longest single-day ride yet: 160km / 100 miles. Second, it was my (Kirsten) first ride over 14,000ft and finally, we have decided to move to Santiago, Chile for an English teaching job at Craighouse international school. Woo Hoo for all three!

We left the dusty, sand-fly ridden city of Huanuco, with our cycling friend Japhy, for the high mountains and central Peruvian altiplano. We climbed slowly and steadily over 100 kilometers, taking in the breathtaking scenery of the green hillsides and the rushing river that guided us up to where the air is thin and the alpacas roam free.
But by far, the best part of the trip was meeting the incredibly generous Peruanos that greeted us with smiles, curousity, questions and gifts galore. About 60km up the canyon, we met our first overwhelming welcome in the small town of Huariaca. Three cyclists, loaded down with gear is a sight not to be taken lightly in a small mtn town. The minute we stopped, we were surrounded by dozens of curious onlookers, old and young. Some were confident enough to ask a lot of questions, some were drunk enough to slur out some responses and others were just too shy to spit out a word, but their eyes remained transfixed on us and the seemingly-foreign machines we were riding. By the time we left, we had to find innovative ways to strap on the steak dinner, juice, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant they offered to sustain our trip.

As the ominous clouds appeared over the horizon, we decided to hit rubber to road before the rain fell. We made it a few kilometers before we took shelter under the eave of a house on the side of the road. There, we met a number of neighbors and conversed with them at length while we waited out the rain. Amazingly, early the next morning after we had climbed 20km from our riverside campsite, we ran into Denise again, a woman that we had met during the rain rendezvous. She wanted us to wait a few minutes and came back with two heaping bags of bread that she had just baked. She was further up the canyon, selling her bread to the small towns that dot the roadside. She insisted that when we return, we stay with her at her house.

With gracious smiles, we grinded out some more climbing until we reached the pueblo, 30 de Agosto. During a water break, a few kids yelled out ¨hola gringos¨from their school courtyard. We returned with a ¨hola Peruanos¨which they thought was hilarious and pretty soon, dozens of children were filing up the hillside to get a closer look at us. Their teachers joined us too as we celebrated Japhy´s 13,000th km on the road. We took one great big picture together, shook eachother´s hands and shared our curiousities with one another. By the time we got to Cerro de Pasco (4333m/14,298ft) we were smitten with the incredible friendliness of the people we had met. We stopped to catch our breath and use a little internet. One of us hung out with the bikes, while the other two were connecting with the outer world. Every time we switched, the crowd grew bigger and so did the things in our arms. We met extremely generous adults that took it upon themselves to make us feel welcome and playful kids with curiousity and questions. It seemed that the adults were trying to out-do eachother with gifts. First, it was bread, soda, then fresh, hot apple juice, yogurt, candy, cake and crackers. It was absolutely amazing. They had fun taking pictures of us with their cell phones. One woman, I remember, being so cute had gold caps on her front teeth, but they were cut out in the shape of hearts!

By this time, we had hit the altiplano, the highland landscape that leveled out into a more or less flat, wind-swept, grassy plain. We continued to receive warm welcomes and friendly smiles as we traversed across the land. The fourth day brought us to the begining of our downhill to Huancayo. We rode steadily all day, clocking in 160km as the landscape changed all around us. By 5:oo, we rode into town, found a comfy bed, a huge $2 meal and crashed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The High Life

Here are some photos of my most recent ride. Four days from Huaraz to Huánuco through some of the most desolate, lonely and yet breathtaking land I have encountered. The riding was difficult and exhausting but rewarded me with mountain vistas I have only dreamed about.

Mount Huascaran towers over Huaraz as I roll out of town. It was cloudy every day riding into town and for all the time I was in Huaraz and as a result this was the first good look I got at the highest peak in Peru as I rode off amid glorious sunny skies.

The approach to Huascaran National Park. If you look closely, to the left of the road, there are several small woven huts. They were consistently scattered throughout the valleys as I rode, the humble abodes of sheep and alpaca herders. Though their homes were modest, their landscape was not and I felt privileged to be passing through their homeland.

These were perhaps the most picturesque outhouses I have ever seen, however they seemed out of place as this was a barren road with no traffic and few people.

Puya raimondii. This unique plant is the largest of the bromeliads and is endemic to the Andes of Bolivia and Peru. They have flowers that reach upwards of 10 meters (33ft) and only flower at around 100-150 yrs of age. I came across a large group of them on my second day riding through Huascaran National Park.

My first nights campsite in the shadow of 5418 m (17,775ft) Nevado Huarapasca. I woke to frozen water bottles and a thick layer of frost on everything.
Me celebrating reaching the top of Huarapasca Pass at 4884 meters (16,023 ft). This is the highest I´ve ever been! It was frigid cold and I was racing against a vicious hail storm that caught up with me a ways down the road. The air was thin and forced me to stop every few hundred meters to rest before riding again.

Riding towards the base of Nevado Cajap. Every turn brought another extraordinary view of another unbelievable mountain. I got several views of this peak from all different angles as the road wound its´ way around to the backside.

I finally reached the turnoff for Postoruri Glacier, the only reason anyone travels this road. It was the first landmark on my map and the only way I knew where I was (or that I was making any progress). Beyond here, it was a day and a half before I saw another car. The only people I saw were solitary sheepherders that I would see high up on the mountainside spinning wool and watching their crew. Then their dogs would attack me.

Nevado Tuco reflects her beauty in a small alpine pond.

My second nights campsite overlooking Yanashallash Pass. It was a long night. At about 4700 meters (15,450ft), it was not an ideal spot for camping, but I arrived here late in the day under dark, ominous clouds that were showering me with large hailstones as I put up my tent. The altitude left me throwing up with a pounding headache and no sleep. The view kept me inspired though and it rivaled any other place I have been for its beauty and solitude.

From here it was another 2 days riding through less picturesque landscapes to Huánuco. The dogs were the most aggressive I have ever encountered, several grabbing hold of my panniers and pulling me off my bike (they got swift kicks to the head) and there was a hostility among some of the people I haven´t seen in Peru. I had trash thrown at me several times, a first for me, and often felt unwelcome passing through small rural villages as people would glare at me, eye my bike up and down and spout a growly ¨Gringo¨. The road into Huánuco was 60km of winding downhill on a dirt road that left me feeling as though I had spent the last several hours strapped to a jackhammer. I had a glorious reunion with Kirsten the next morning.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mountain Mania

With a heavy heart, I left our new friends at the Casa de Ciclistas and Kirsten behind, bound for Huaraz nestled deep within the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. I rode off with Japhy, a Nepali-American that has been riding for 11 months from Los Angeles, CA. We had a short stint on the PanAmerican, battling the customary traffic and gruelling headwinds that made progress a significant struggle. The high point of this stretch was early on the second morning outside the small town of Choa when we encountered the Toyodas, a Japanese family that had been riding for 7 months from Ushuai, Argentina bound for Quito, Ecuador. Tsuyoshi and Midor, along with their 12 year old daughter Akane had bottomless smiles and their enthusiasm was truly inspiring. Soon after we were thrilled to leave the PanAm behind for good for a meticulously maintained private dirt road. We quickly found ourselves surrounded by desolate moonscapes of huge rocky peaks conspicuously lacking in vegetation. We followed the road past a small shanty town where, despite what we had been told, there was no way to cross the mighty Santa River to the enviable paved road visible on the other side. We were told we had to follow the road we were on for another 28km before we could cross, so on we went on one of the finer dirt roads either of us could remember riding. By the time we reached the bridge, we had passed most of the paved section and enjoyed a mere 8km to the small village of Chuquicara where the pavement ended abruptly in a pile of rocks that in other worlds would be considered just that, a pile of rocks. Here though, to our dismay, it is the main road and our path for the next 75km or so. As is so often the case here, the desire to put a road between point A and point B is overcome by the ability to adequately put it there and we were caught in the middle. No worries though because we were surrounded by a landscape that would give Ansel Adams the willies. Towering mountain vistas painted in palettes of pastels slashed deeply by the thundering chocolate brown snake of the Santa River offered a constant distraction and resulted in painfully slow progress as we stopped every ten minutes to snap photos and stare in awe at the magnificence surrounding us. Fine camping was in abundance and we found ourselves at home for the night behind a giant boulder alongside the river.

Day 3 was by far the most challenging. Large, loose boulders mixed with sand and gravel made riding an unstable venture at best, us trying our hardest to defy gravity and remain upright while barely inching along. A light afternoon drizzle thickened to saturate an already troubled road adding masses of mud to our already overloaded bikes. At one point, hours from anywhere, an ancient man appeared on the road, hefting an enormous sack on his shoulders. As I approached, it became clear he was blind. He told me he had been walking for three hours from a village far off a side road. Incredible. On a road that would be a strenuous walk for most well-sighted persons, this man was doing it blind, by himself with a huge load, a weathered stick his only guide. We assisted him with several difficult sections before leaving him to try and find a ride.
We soon found ourselves in coal mine country. Dozens of mines littered both sides of the river
and wound deep into the mountainside in spooky, pitch dark, claustrophobia inducing tunnels. We explored as far as we dared (not very) before moving on. On the far side of the river, the miners were just getting our of work for the day. A line of pitch black men wove down the trail as they wandered slowly to the river to wash themselves. We soon ran into Segundo, a miner from Trujillo, on the road hefting an enormous chunk of coal to who-knows-where. Despite the undeniable difficulties of his job and the sacrifices he made to work while leaving his family for extended periods of time, he was incredibly friendly and spoke freely of life in the mines. When I took his picture, he asked if he could see it. I showed him and he was shocked at how dirty he was. Theirs is a hard life.

After a night in Yuramarca surrounded by the curious peering eyes of local youngsters, we were thrilled to encounter a somewhat nicer version of our road. Up a steep set of switchbacks and we were in the grandiose Cañon del Pato. Steep rock walls gave way to a nauseatingly raucous Santa River 500 or so feet below. The road wound through a series of 35 tunnels that offered hair raising stretches through the pitch black, the occasional blaring of a horn announcing our impending death by crushing if we didn´t scoot through to the other end. We had a couple close calls.
Halfway through one of the tunnels we found a small opening that led to an elaborate ledge system that hugged the canyon wall and offered a close up look at exactly where you would end up and how far it would be should you fall. It was an incredible spot and would have offered spectacular camping had we been there at the end of a day. As it was, it was lunchtime so we munched and marveled before heading off for Caraz and much awaited pavement.
Caraz was a beautiful, bustling mountain town filled with elaborately dressed indigenous women selling huge bundles of flowers of a thousand colors. Supposedly, the town is flanked by enormous snow capped mountains but they remained hidden behind low banks of thick clouds. The next morning we rolled through Yungay, a small mountain village that was completely destroyed in an avalanche in 1970 that killed 25,000 people. Only 92 survived. We visited a somber memorial that included remnants of a bus that was crushed, a church and beautiful rose gardens remembering those who perished. It was a crowded site and we got the feeling that most people there had a personal connection to the disaster.

A few hours more hours riding from Yungay found us in our mountain destination of Huaraz. Another town flanked by huge mountains, it is a mecca for mountaineers and trekkers(gringos...), offering the full gamut of outdoor activities from climbing and trekking to rafting and canyoning. Once again, thanks to low clouds, I have yet to catch a glimpse of a single mountain.
I am here for a few days of much needed rest before I make the next 4 day ride to the town of Huánuco where I will meet back up with Kirsten. More on what that lucky woman is up to on the next post!