When I last wrote I was expecting to spend just few days recovering from a chest infection in Chivay. It turned out to be a little more serious than that involving making use of Peru’s rural medical services, somewhat chaotic initially but very helpful, and a course of intravenous antibiotics. Despite the obvious impact to riding plans it is not always an entirely negative experience being unwell in such places. It is when one needs help that is reinforced the knowledge that no matter where you are in the world people will do their best to assist. It can be quite heartwarming. I collected dengue fever in northwest Sumatra many years ago. The fever was shit but my experiences with the little Islamic hospital that helped me remain a cheerful memory.
Bridge over the Rio Colca near Sibayo. In Sibayo, I was invited to stay with a local family here. I spent a lovely evening tucking into a hearty alpaca stew with Benita, her husband Caesar, and ten year old son Ciamillo. The following morning Benita sent me packing up into the rarefied air towards 5000m with a hearty breakfast of quinoa porridge, eggs, bread, coffee.
So ultimately my bike collected dust in Chivay for more than two weeks, and while I would rather have been riding in the mountains it meant I had time to build some meaningful friendships in the village which helped enormously with the frustration. As I write I am back on the road but my ongoing plans have been somewhat curtailed due to the lasting effects of the infection. Aside from a persistent, chesty cough I find I am not recovering as well as I need to from hard days in the saddle so rather than a long, linear journey north with long, committing stretches I’ve decided to make a loop, ultimately returning to Arequipa, with more options for rest and recovery and with no stretches of more than 4 days away from towns and villages where I can stop if need be. It does mean however that I must return to Peru next year.. unfinished business and all that.
From Sibayo it is straight into a dirt road climb to 4700m
Leaving Chivay, as I cruised uphill along the banks of the Rio Colca I met an old gent on a Chinese-made bone-shaker bicycle heading in the opposite direction. As cyclists so often do we stopped to exchange greetings. I mentioned where I was headed to which he sucked his teeth, rubbed the finger and thumb of one hand together and jabbed me in the chest with another pair of fingers, twisting them as he did so. The implication being that travelling solo in such places I was sure to be robbed and killed. I have found it to be the same the whole world over; cycle through a valley and the people there, otherwise very welcoming, will often tell you that by travelling into the next valley you are sure to be robbed, or worse, because that valley is full of bad people. Arrive in the next valley and the people will express shock that you were able to travel through the previous valley without being robbed or killed, because, of course, that valley is full of bad people. The reality I have discovered is that the more remote the places travelled the stronger the communities and the more friendly the people.
At around 4700m the scenery opens out. Stunningly beautiful
A few remote and tiny pueblitos dot the highlands. The people are invariably friendly and keen to chat.
Views are stupendous. The riding is hard, especially in the afternoons when the winds howl and rain and snow flurries often sweep in.
This is Caylloma, a remote outpost on the puna at about 4300m. It feels desolate, especially in the afternoons when dust devils rule the streets in the icy winds and the harsh, high altitude sun bleaches the colour from the landscape. It is a handy stop over however for some rest and resupply.
From Caylloma the track climbs straight to 5000m...
It is a steep, switchbacked climb on rough dirt. It took 3 1/2hrs. Makes those European passes in the Alps and Pyrenees looks a bit silly...
Above 5000m is a desolate prospect. A thin, icy cold gale with snow flurries...
... but if you don't mind some hardship and isolation it is a sublime place to go riding.
I was able to hook into into a remote goat track for an afternoon, overnight and morning to get me towards Espinar. It was a hard climb back up to above 4700m. Soft, boggy, rocky and technical in spots.
Remote, bitterly cold, and with darkness just an hour away it was a case of descending a couple of hundred metres to find a camp spot. The Surly ECR is brilliant in such terrain, very sure footed when its rider is particularly shagged from a hard day in the saddle.
As always with the loss of daylight the temperature plummeted to negative double digits.
Sunshine to thaw things out in the morning. I was 'discovered' by these two chaps while cooking breakfast. They said they were camped nearby, prospecting for gold.
Descending to meet the dirt road to Espinar. This track was very sloppy in places...
Mucky bike. I am really very fond of my Surly ECR, it has taken me to some fantastic places.
Back down at a somewhat more hospital 4200m or so. some fine riding enroute to Espinar.
If interested in reading more there are stacks of words and pictures over at my personal blog, http://www.seasurfdirt.com.
I promised Ash I'd post a few updates from the road in Peru over the next few months. I've been meaning to come back here for a while now to explore the vast network of dirt roads and trails, many unmapped, that criss-cross this part of the Andes. Purely by chance I was able to link up with an old riding buddy here for a few days which was super.
Climbing out of the 'burbs of Arequipa in southern Peru. The city sits at an altitude of 2300m, this track is just the beginning of one of many relentless 'mega-climbs' all the way to a somewhat breathless 4500m.
Arequipa: New tyres look rubbish... too clean. i'm riding my Surly ECR (on the right) which is a simply awesome dirt road touring bike but with 29+ wheels it's a big bike which can make travel with it on airlines and buses a little awkward at times. I use it at home for trail riding but with a low BB and essentially touring geometry it's a compromise. My friend, Cass, brought his Surly Ogre. It's a bit more versatile and can be used with standard 29er wheels or set up, as here, with 27.5+ wheels. The smaller wheelsize makes packing it easier but still with the benefits of plus-size tyres. As with the ECR it's bristling with braze-ons for carrying stuff. It is also a handy trail bike. (by the way, Ash can get Surly stuff in the shop :-)
There is a terrific global community around 'adventure cycling'. I met Cass all the way back in 2003 riding through Ladakh. Check out bikepacking.com for more inspiration from his keyboard and his awesome cycling flavoured instagram at https://www.instagram.com/whileoutriding/
It's a long, hard climb gaining some 2000m in altitude around the flanks of Nevado Chachani (6057m) with fine views of Volcan El Misti (5822m).
A bitterly cold, windswept campspot high on the puna at around 4500m altitude. It's getting dark around 6pm here at the moment. By 8pm everything is pretty much frozen solid...
.. it is hard work but when the terrain looks like this so very worth the effort...!
Anyway, that's enough for this evening, hopefully a little bit of inspiration to get out and do more on your bike than the usual 'local loop'. More soon! In the meantime there are more words and pics over on my own blog here.
P.s. Just as an aside... as far as route finding goes Google Earth is a terrific resource for finding 'interesting' lesser travelled routes to explore. ridewithgps.com is another superb resource. Wifi is readily available in most towns around the world these days. It makes life very much easier when researching roads to travel although in mny respects I do rather miss the sense of adventure that comes with the 'suck it and see' approach, navigating village to village based on directions from the locals.
I promised Ash I would guest post on his blog from time to time, something I'm more than happy to do, so here is the first of an irregular series of posts on a variety of topics that hopefully will make you want to ride your bike even more...
We're very much still in the depths of winter but spring comes early to west Cornwall so now is a good time I reckon to start thinking about all the things you can do with your bike when spring does get here. I'm very much a fan of using my bike to have adventures, and contrary to popular belief it isn't necessary to book time off work, leave your family, and fly half-way around the world to have an adventure (although that is fun..)... instead stay in Cornwall and have some weekend, or even midweek micro-adventures... Leave after work, ride somewhere amazing, sleep out, ride back, shower at work (if you can) and get on with your day feeling particularly smug about how good your life is while your colleagues chatter about what was on the telly last night. Cornwall has some cracking spots to spend a discrete night out, just be sure to leave absolutely no trace of your occupancy.
By the way.. that which follows is not intended to be a comprehensive how to.. rather it is intended to perhaps give you some ideas for enjoying your bike in ways that go beyond the Sunday cafe ride or usual post-work loop.
Make the most of your bike in 2017
Minimal kit is required, you don't even need a touring bike, any bike will do.. the best bike is the bike you've got... and it doesn't need to be able to take a rack. With the rise in popularity of bike-packing there is now available an enormous variety of bags specifically designed for carrying stuff on bikes without racks. I know that Ash stocks a decent range of bikepacking bags from Blackburn Design and Carradice (possibly the original bikepacking bags, and with a touch of traditional British class) and can get Altura stuff too. Pop in to the store to find out more. The reality is however that while all the different flavours of bags are really useful and well worth the investment you don't absolutely need any specialist stuff at all... a couple of stuffsacs or drybags and some webbing straps can go an awful long way, particularly if the forecast is good and you leave your tent at home and either kip out under the stars or carry a tarp just to keep the dew off.
Bike-specific bags are useful but not essential for a quick overnighter.. a dry bag and couple of webbing straps can go a long way. This has my sleeping bag, liner and mattress. Bike is my Surly Cross Check which is just awesome for this kind of messing about as well as bigger adventures. Ash can get hold of all things Surly for you :-)
Traditional Carradice bags are great and age wonderfully. They do need bag loops on your saddle but if yours doesn't have them accessory ones that attach to the saddle rails are available for a few quid.
By way of keeping the gear required to a minimum you can leave the stove at home too, instead stop for fish and chips on your way out, a couple of muesli bars for the morning to get you to the nearest cafe are pretty much all you need... Having said that a small stove is really great for a leisurely mug of coffee while watching the sun rise. Small gas canister or meths-burning stoves are really cheap - check eBay, alpkit.com for example.. or if you feel a little more 'bushcrafty' pick up a miniature woodburner, you can find examples for around a tenner on eBay, or make your own. There are plenty of 'instructables' on the web for making both meths stoves from a soft drinks can, or wood-gasifer stoves from old tin cans.
Leave the stove at home and instead find a pub or chippy on your outbound ride.
This is my little woodburner. It folds to smaller than a pack of cards... Be careful not to set fire to stuff if the weather is dry.
Another wood (or leaves, heather etc etc) burning alternative.. a few quid from eBay.
So.. what do you really need to carry with you.... if the forecast is good then a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat - not just for those slightly less 'ard - it will help keep you warm, some snacks, and a warm layer. A headlamp is useful as is a knife.. and I like my woolly hat, even in summer. After that if you're taking a stove then some sort of pot is handy... cheap mess tims off eBay are a good place to start on a budget. One other thing before I finish... I don't really want this post to turn into an instructable on how to poop in the wild in an environmentally appropriate way so instead here's an article for your perusal. Or just wait till you get to the cafe :-)
Take your fishing rod and catch your tea... might be a good idea to have an alternative source of nutrition on hand however...
If the forecast is good keep your clobber to a minimum and just kip out under the stars. It's great. If you don't have, or don't want a bivy bag then a synthetic sleeping bag, or down bag with a water-resistant shell is a good idea in the UK because of overnight dew fall on clear nights.
There, hopefully that'll give you some ideas to begin with...
Happy riding, Mike.
Good for spending quality time with your mates