Tag Archive for 'accidents'

Take me home, country roads…

Kilometers this post: 311 biking, 0.05 bikes falling down the mountain, 216 in a pickup, 124 in a bus.

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Once again, we find ourselves with a place to be and a time to be there. The importance of family and friends in the US wins again, and we are flying from Lima to Colorado so we can be at Aran’s best childhood friend’s wedding. Faced with the question of how to get to Trujillo (a city north of Lima, where we knew we could leave the bikes for our week in the US), we were quite sure that after visiting the ruins of Kuélap, the plan would be to bus back down the canyon we’d ridden through. We thought we’d get off at the crossroads, and ride the rest of the way to the coast, and then deal with a few hundred kilometers of the good ol’ Panamericana and be in Trujillo.

But, on our last night in Chacha (as locals affectionately call it), Aran was reading one of her favorite bike blogs written by a French couple with a similar touring style and pace to ours. She discovered that they had ventured south through the mountains and had had an excellent adventure. The next morning, we also discovered that the right bus at the right time back the way we’d come didn’t exist. So suddenly, we found ourselves planning for a week on dirt roads that would take us south through the mountains instead of backtracking on the pavement. We thought, if we ran out of time, we could hop in a bus or the back of someone’s truck later to make sure we arrived on the coast in time. The decision to ride the unpaved back roads was an unusual one for us, since our experiences with dirt roads so far have been often frustrating, but knowing the mountainscapes would be unforgettable, and feeling a deep trust in the reasonable gradients of Peruvian roads, we plunged southward.

A very, very good decision. The first day, getting a late start, we bumped along a mercifully hard-packed dirt road up the Utcabamba river canyon (which we had followed for several days into Chachapoyas) into the little town of Tingo, where we called it after only 38km thanks to the encouragement of an extremely friendly puppy dog. We took an early evening walk, ate a typically delightful Peruvian dinner, and went to bed, wondering how soon our dirt road would deteriorate into loose sand and large rocks.

But the next day wasn’t bad either. 50 more kms of incredible mountain-river scenery later, we rolled into the mountain town of Leymebamba, where we knew there was an awesome museum displaying some mummies found in an archeological dig in the area. We checked into an hospedaje (all $10 of it) in time to take our first mototaxi ride 4km up the road to the museum. It was one of the best laid-out and most impressive we can remember. We saw incredible examples of pre-Incan weaving and pottery, and learned about an Incan method of recording history that involves knotting different colored string together in different patterns. But of course, the highlight was the chamber full of 219 mummies, some still wrapped in their burial cloths, some not. The archeology scene in Peru is really exciting. We have never visited a place where there seems to be an active buzz about current findings. There are an enormous number of excavation projects happening that involve both teams of foreign historians and the work of locals.

The next morning, we got an early start because we had about 1500m of climbing to do in order to reach a pass at 3,680m of elevation. The hoped was to arrive with daylight enough to descend down the other side where we could camp at a lower, less chilly altitude. But it was not to be. First of all, the views were stunning and required that we stop to take many a photo on the way up. Also, while the dirt road continued to be supremely ride-able, it was still dirt, and therefore slower, and near the top work crews were repairing the surface, leaving loose, wet, and slow. So, when we reached the top it was after 5:00. Luckily, we discovered a seemingly abandoned, very sturdy concrete “house” (four walls and a roof, no more) just below the pass, and promptly moved in for the night. Our bikes and tent installed, we also took a walk up to the pass itself where we watched a spectacular sunset over the Cordillera Negra.

It was a rough night. While it would have been a LOT rougher with the tent outside, Aran tossed and turned with the first hints of a cold, and in the morning, neither of us felt very well rested. Still, we got ourselves together without too much dawdling, anxious to see the first rays of sun come over the spectacular mountains. Thick fog and a cold drizzle. That’s what the morning offered us. And we headed down the mountain, eager now for the warmth below if not the views above. Luckily, we only had to descend 20 minutes before we came out of the cloud and caught some of both. So excited, Aran decided a great idea would be to perch our bikes at the edge of the road to take a picture of them with the mountains behind. Tip: don’t do that. Not worth the risk that 10 horrible seconds later, a startlingly powerful gust of wind will have blown your bikes over the edge of the road, and the things will have rolled and tumbled down 150ft of sheer hillside, and collapsed in a mangled heap with bags and belongings strewn all over the damn place.

Yeah. That happened. And after sharing a terrified hug with thoughts that our tour might be over there and then, Andrew scrambled and slid down the cliff/hill to assess the damage, while Aran flagged down some incredibly kind and concerned Peruvians, who promised they’d be right back with help and rope. They were back soon with some locals who knew exactly how to handle mountainsides. In the meantime, Andrew had gathered bottles of bug spray and sunblock, our stove, sunglasses, one (not two) of our gps’s, clothes, food, etc, etc. The Peruvian super-dudes climbed down the mountainside in their sandals, slung bikes and bags over their backs, and had everything up on the roadside in under an hour. Almost crying with relief, we babbled our thank-yous in our Spanish that had also been severely damaged by the fall.

The bikes were not rideable, nor the bags attachable. Aran’s brake lever was broken, and Andrew’s cables had been stretched so hard that they had snapped a yoke piece clear off, and we couldn’t find it. The plastic mounts on a couple of our paniers had cracked or torn off completely. Luckily, a couple of Spaniards in a pick-up truck had stopped to marvel at the scene. When they saw the condition of the bikes, they offered us a ride down the mountain, which we gratefully accepted, sad though we were to be deprived of our hard-earned descent down to the river 2,600m below. When we reached the tiny town at the bottom, the Spaniards and their driver insisted that we continue to ride in the pick-up until Cajamarca, the next large-ish city, where there would be bike shops equipped with what we needed to repair the bikes. Reluctant to miss out on another 3 days of our adventure that had been going so well, we accepted again for lack of better options, and spent the rest of the day in the truck, regretting the speed with which we passed through the incredible mountains.

In Cajamarca, we collapsed, bewildered, into a tiny and overpriced hotel room, and decided that while the bikes and bags were reparable, it was a task for the next morning. We spent the next two days roaming the city for the parts we needed for temporary fixes. We found a brake lever for little-a and a yoke for big-A, visited a hardware store with a helpful, drill-equipped fella who helped us put holes in our panniers so we could re-attach their hooks, and spent lots of time in an internet cafe, ordering replacement parts (handlebars, decent levers, etc.) to be shipped to Colorado, where we’ll be soon. We got to know Cajamarca pretty well through our wanderings, and managed to enjoy our surroundings quite a lot.

Finally, off we went with our bikes and our spirits in better shape than we would have guessed in the hours that followed the spill. 3 days of biking later, and here we are, safe and sound in Trujillo. We did end up taking one more bus for the final 100k, along the coast, because compared to the incredible peace and beauty of the highlands, the obnoxious traffic and exhausting coastal wind of the PanAm was just too depressing. In 5 days, we fly to Colorado, where there will be friends to hug and replacement parts arriving in the mail. (thank you, Sara and Spencer!!) In the first days of October, we will return triumphant to Trujillo, and set off to ride some more Peruvian mountain roads.

Mexico City to Acatlán

When we looked for routes out of Mexico City, and Andrew saw that we could take a pass between two volcanoes, it became the obvious option. That was before our legs knew what bike touring would really feel like. So, off we went with Oscar to the town of Amecameca, where we spent the first night. Our first day of riding included a small climb, during which Oscar expertly hitched a ride with a giant truck, first making eye contact with the friendly driver who slowed down, then grabbing onto a rope and hanging on all the way to the top. We huffed and puffed our way up.

The following morning, we said goodbye to Oscar and turned East to ride up the Paso de Cortes. We spent 6 and a half hours riding 21 kilometers, at which point, still slightly below the pass, we stopped in the rain, because our legs just couldn’t go anymore. Our first night of wild camping was wet and cold, but still had a great view when the clouds cleared a bit at sunset. We cooked dinner under our tarp, fiddled around with gear, and then crawled into our tent.

The descent down the other side of the pass the next day was equally torturous, but for different parts of our bodies. We found ourselves on a road that was more like a mountain bike trail with deep sand, roots, rocks, ditches and very steep, slidey parts. Our hands (especially little a’s) cramped and ached from the exertion and the cold. Nevertheless, we managed to ride 54 km to Cholula, the city of 365 churches. By the time we got clean and left the hotel, it was dark and things were closed, but we did find an open polleria, bought a whole roasted chicken, and brought it back to the hotel to make dinner on the floor of our hotel room.

We did not leave Cholula in a hurry, but wandered around the next morning, visiting the market and looking at the churches. We climbed to the top of one that was built on top of an ancient Aztec pyramid, which seemed an odd place for a church, but then, where didn’t they put a church in Cholula? And what better way to displace a religion than to build right over it? We descended all afternoon, and by the time we arrived in Izúcar de Matamoros, it had become very easy to believe that it was downhill the rest of the way to Peru. (Not so.)

Day 5, legs still tired, we got another late start. A few kilometers outside of Izúcar, we realized we hadn’t pumped our tires in a while, so we stopped to do some bike maintenance. As Aran was getting ready to pump her rear tire, her bike began to topple over, and in an attempt to save it, she grabbed a very sharp fender stay, which tore a chunk out of her hand. It bled quite a lot, but thanks to a very well equipped medical kit, she stopped the bleeding, cleaned it, pinched it closed with some butterfly strips, and we were on our way again. At around quitting time, we turned off into the tiny town of subsistence farmers called Los Amates. It was the first experience we’ve had where people not only thought we were strange, but couldn’t possibly conceive of anyone doing a trip like this. When we asked if there was a place to set up our tent, we were offered the basketball court next to the school. We bought some water and politely declined, opting instead to turn back up the road a ways and find a wild camping spot next to a little river among some thorny bushes. Yes, it rained again, which made dinner a bit unpleasant, but once again, our tent kept us dry as a bone.

Wednesday, we woke up early, wishing to be out of the way in case we were on someone’s land. For 66 km, we wound our way through the Sierra Madres, which at this time of year are very green since the rainy season just ended. There were some beautiful views of cacti sticking up among the trees on the mountain sides. It was a draining ride because it was so hot, and because we kept spending 30 minutes climbing and 4 minutes descending, over and over again. It looked something like this:

We finished the day, exhausted again, in Acatlán de Osorio. While trying to find a hotel, a family in a pick-up truck approached us very purposefully, and the father came over to shake our hand, smiling and speaking English. Before we knew it, we were in the back of his truck with our bikes, driving off with Hugo, his wife Doris, his mother Maria, and his 1-year-old son Hugito to their home, where they offered us a spare bedroom, a shower, and a hot meal, which Maria cooked. Thanks to their generosity, we are enjoying two days off, resting, drying out our gear, and planning the next 260ish km (depending on whom you ask) to Oaxaca. Hugo owns a company that primarily manufactures and packages peanuts in many forms – bars, paste, chili-covered, etc. He is a man of ideas, and therefore at his factory, he also has a million spin-off businesses: With the extra flour and peanut skins from his peanut products, he makes a mix of organic animal feed to sell to farmers. He also uses that feed to fatten goats, which he feeds to the dobermans he breeds and sells. He breeds chickens for cock-fights, too. He wishes that instead of handing out money, the government would create more jobs for families to support themselves. Hugo seems like a great boss, and is invested in his community and in providing as many good work opportunities for as many people as possible. We’re so lucky to be here.