Short Stories
Entry No. 48 February 25-26, 2005

Going Through Hell to Get to the Heavens... By Choice

The story starts in Quito, where Susie and I met a biker Alex. He told about the Trujillo biker house and was good friends with Lucho, the owner. He brought his Peru map along with him one night to show us some routes into Peru from Ecuador and some places to see in Peru. He mentioned the Cordillera Blanca in the province of Ancash, Peru. As he showed us a dirt road that led up into the mountains, I saw something in his face that told me I should go too. I kept this road in the back of my mind.

At the Peace Corps meeting in Piura, Peru, I asked about the roads that led up into the mountains from the coast. I wasn't hearing anything like, "Oh yeah, great roads up into the Cordillera Blanca". Oh no. If anything, I got raised eyebrows when I mentioned that I wanted to cruise up into the Cordillera Blanca from the north end.

I started to get used to the idea that I wouldn't be getting a close up of the mountains this time around in Peru. I was becoming OK with this as time was running out; we were behind schedule for Ushuaia, Argentina where winter was fast approaching. As well, Susie was going to Lima, and would be waiting there until I reached Lima to continue on together.

The Cordillera was far from my mind at this point. I was surprised and happy to see Will and Orian in Trujillo when I arrived. We continued on from there together. I had this little pamphlet on different tourist destinations in Peru. While watching the bikes one morning, I pulled it out. Mount Huascarán and the Cordillera Blanca jumped out at me. Orian had mentioned he wanted to do a good hard climb and so I showed him this pamphlet. He liked it. After some talk, we decided to go for it. We had passed the route Alex suggested back in Quito, but saw a few other roads leading up into the range.

After replacing Will's smallest chain ring (for the 7th time on this trip- he has a really bad history with bike repair and maintenance), we left Chimbote with the intention of making a left at Rio Nepeńa to head up into the clouds to Caráz. My senses heightened quite a bit when we started asking about the road to Caráz. We wanted to know where the road was but many were more intent on telling us that just wasn't a road to be going up this time of year with the rain and all. Hay mucha lluvia, es muy peligrosa, y difícil.

At this point, ladrones no longer worried me, but mud puddles knee-deep going uphill certainly did. I looked over at Will and Orian as we were being told this information. I was hoping to feel some kind of comfort, some look in their face that said, yeah, maybe we shouldn't do this. However, I only noted smiles and lip-licking. The very words that scared me excited them in kind of a disturbing way. What the heck was I getting into.

As we made our left turn, I thought, "Here we go. 0 meters to 4500 meters (14,764 feet). Rainy season. Oh, did I mention it was ALL DIRT?

The first 30 Kilometers weren't too bad. The climbing hadn't started just yet. We biked until pretty late and camped just before reaching the town of Moro and just before the road turned to dirt. The next day, we slowly wound our way up and over a small mountain into a small town called Laria. Upon entering town, I asked how far to Pamparomás, our halfway point. After hearing the old man say, "ohhhhheeeee" and take his arm and snap it out forward then bring it up far behind his head, my heart sank. That meant a helluva far. Even Mr. T In My Pocket was taken aback. I realized this was going to take a lot longer than I thought.

As we looked east, we tried to guess where our route would take us. At every switchback, we were surprised at our change in direction with the only consistent factor in all of this was that it was always up. We slowly wound our way around this maze of mountains, seeing and feeling the change in landscape and climate. It wasn't too bad as we pedaled up the dirt, but I was elated when Orian got a flat. It was a nice break. The entire day, I wondered just when it would get too tough to bike. I had heard that after Pamparomás, the road just gets steeper and less dirt and more loose rock. As we settled in for the night on the side of this desolate road, I wondered about the logistics of hitching a ride for the rest of the way. I hadn't seen any vehicles
going up...

Just after daybreak of day 2, we ate a bit of breakfast but with a low stash of water, we kept it light, hoping to chow down in Pamparomás. For the early part of the day, the sky stayed clear and the views were magnificent. We were only at 2,700 meters. We arrived in Pamparomás and inhaled some coffee, bread and jelly, apples, anything we could get our paws on. Once I had my share of that plus two fried egg sandwiches, I sauntered over to the minibus to get some information about the road conditions and just how often he transports people to and
from Caráz.
You're going to Caráz in bici? He asks.
I'm going to try. I said
Oooohhhhhh... He said with raised eyebrows.
He proceeded to inform us that we would be climbing to 4500 meters and then come down a very fea bajada(1) into Pueblo Libre. Now I was worried about the up and the down...

I asked him about his schedule and he said he would be leaving at 10:30am and comes back in the afternoon to do it again the next day. This was the only ride out. It was 9am or so and I said, let's go so I can see if I will need this ride or not.

We readied our bikes, filled our water and headed up and up. The sun was already hiding in the fog and the road already felt steeper. Within three switchbacks, I felt the 2 fried eggs, all that bread, and coffee just get burned up. Each little descanso(2) was forced as I would get stopped by a mini boulder, gully or deep sand in the road or my back tire would just slip as I stood trying to go up the gravel. At that point, I just pushed my bike until it got flat enough so that I could push off from my tread-less shoes and mount the bike. Sometimes, I would just keep pushing as it actually felt like a rest from riding yet kept me moving forward. I wondered what the heck I was doing as I heard Orian and Will daintily heading up the hill, chatting about bikes and bike parts.

All of the sudden, I heard the bus. This was my last chance until tomorrow, same bat time. I hoped they wouldn't stop to ask if I wanted a ride as they passed because I might just say yes. As they passed, I waved and gave a "cheers" with my water bottle. They quickly disappeared into the fog. That was it; next bus was 24 hours from now. I would make it there by then, I hoped. I crossed the line. Come hell or lot of lluvia I would make it to Caráz by my own force.

Getting to 3600 meters with my own 2 legs on a dirt road made me wonder how the hell I would ever work in an office again. Maybe it was the altitude, but I started thinking about a temporary job for the summer and then start prepping for another tour in November.

By early the next morning of day 3, we ran into a downhill. We were dreading it, thinking that we would just have to go back up. Nevertheless, this was the downhill. I was so elated as we kept going down. and down. and down. My elation was soon erased as the fea bajada pushed me in all directions down the road. Things got pretty out of control on many occasions and stopping wasn't much of an option. On this day, I felt like a separate brake for the BOB trailer would have been a good idea. After 4 flats and a slightly strained tendon in my foot, I made it down, back on to paved road. I was smiling at the end although I just endured the most difficult and strenuous 2 and a half days of my life. It makes the Cordillera Blanca that much more beautiful for me.

(1) Fea Bajada is ugly downhill which means that it is not smooth by any means.
(2) A Descanso is a break or rest

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