With my left shirt pocket stuffed with toilet paper and the right one filled with rocks, I feel prepared for the majority of emergencies we face daily. Toilet and dog related instances can spring upon cyclists without warning so full preparation is required.
But neither of these pockets help to prepare us for the decisions we need to make as to which routes we ride. The choices are many and usually involve deciding between the hard route or the even harder one.
Peru. Many cyclists take the PanAm along the coast for a swift traverse of the country, while others head into the mountains for the cooler climate & some beautiful punishment. It’s a much longer route to ride, but there is so much to see here with the landscapes, people and their lifestyles changing constantly. It’s constant climbing to altitude and rolling back down 1000’s of meters, only to have to ride back up it all again. But the incredible changes of scenery are mind-blowing and we often say it wouldn’t surprise us to see a dinosaur roaming through some of these valleys.
As you know, we have had a few problems with our bike along the way. So it can be tempting to stay close to ‘civilisation’ with the belief that sticking to the paved roads will spare Falkor more pain. But let’s be honest, of all the problems we have had (spokes, the frame crack, blow outs, rim failure, brake failure, handlebars snapping etc) none of them have happened because we wandered from the principal highway. In fact, nearly all of the Falkor major happenings have occurred while ‘main stream’ riding. So to deny ourselves the gorgeousness of riding the dirt roads though the mountains with the ambiguous hope that less will go wrong, it’s just blind optimism. Lets face it, stuff is gonna break wherever we ride.
It’s been over a month since the last blog we wrote from Huaraz and believe it or not, the riding has been more intense than ever. How it gets harder is a TotalSurprise to us. You’d think that with 18,000km under our riding belts we would be so strong that no conditions could faze us. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, just when you think it can’t get harder you should slap yourself ferociously as it most certainly will.
900kms seems to be a pretty magical number for us in terms of spoke breaking and after leaving Huaraz (where Bren once again rebalanced the rear wheel) we made it just over that before the first spoke broke. Getting quality spare parts in Peru is not an option, and even though we thought we arrived with plenty to see us through, we just didn’t expect the great toll the roads would take on Falkor.
It’s about 1500km from Huaraz to Cusco and that distance saw a total of 5 broken spokes, 3 tire side-wall blow outs, 4 punctures, 2 broken rack mounts and 2 brake failures. Oh and a good stack through a river crossing. Ah yes, it’s been interesting!
But actually, it really has been great fun. We expect everyday that something will go wrong and so its no great set-back when it does, more of a huge celebration when it doesn’t. Well, a quiet whispered type celebration because as you know, when we congratulate ourselves out loud it just seems to jinx everything.
Bike touring is incredible. You are so free and your plans so fluid that it doesn’t really matter what happens. When you have the right mixture of wind & sun, life is just awesome. With enough supplies to make it through to the next stop, you find yourself in a constant grin while wonder rotates behind your eyeballs. I realize that I write a lot about the problems we experience, and while they definitely affect the shape of our journey, they don’t stop us from finding the good bits and getting lost in the awesomeness of it all. It is imperative to laugh in the face of adversity and we do a good amount of chortling at all the craziness that springs upon us. So even when things go terribly wrong for us, we feel incredibly lucky for the immeasurable greatness that manages to overshadow everything else.
Well, that was a bit nostalgic wasn’t it. But with only 3500km left to ride in South America, it really does feel like the journey is coming to a close. 3 countries left which means probably only 3 more blogs. Time indeed doth fly!
In Huaraz we did a day hike to Laguna 69 (you can see the video here) and then planned to do a 4 day hike along the Santa Cruz trail. But after a brief bus trip to Lima to meet Kev the Irish cyclist, the weather had turned from grey rainy skies to magnificent blue where all the surrounding 5000m snowy peaks were visible. Seeing this abrupt change of weather and the impact it would have, we decided to ditch the hike and make a dash for Huascaran National Park and ride to the Pastoruri Glacier.
Riding to 5000m, we knew it was gonna be tough and that the weather would make or break us. Decisions like this take hours of discussion, usually laced with several meals and much debate. But it surely was an excellent choice and riding through the incredible beauty of this landscape was one of the highlights of the entire journey.
Arriving at the base of the glacier around 4pm, we set up our tent among the deserted tourist kiosks and boiled up some cocoa tea to fight of the incredible tension headaches that throbbed behind our eyes. Altitude sickness is hard to describe and I think the symptoms are felt differently for everyone. We had a glimpse of what it felt like to exercise at altitude in Ecuador at our previously high pass of 4440m, but even just setting the tent up at 4850m was really tough.
I describe the feeling of altitude sickness like this; when you know that your hang over is going to kick in, and its gonna be a ripper, but you know that you are still not exactly sober and that you have a very limited time to take the appropriate measures to fend it off before you quickly jump back into bed and hope for the best. That’s what it felt like to me anyways; that I had to take tablets & eat, all the while moving slowly enough so that I didn’t spew or cause my head to explode.
It was a quiet night with little sleep due to the freezing temperature, the head pounding and the stray dog that tried to snuggle into me from the outside of the tent. But still, in the morning we packed everything up and set off to hike the glacier before the tourists arrived. It’s a relatively simple hike following a trail but with the pressure of the altitude, it was slow going. Luckily, my pockets this time were stuffed with chocolate. My survival skills are stunning. Glacier Pastoruri was our highest pass yet riding to an altitude of 4848m and hiking to 5004m.
The pros of being at altitude; its peaceful, there are no bugs, you get to wear all of your clothes and snuggle down in your sleeping bag, chocolate doesn’t melt, you don’t sweat and stink as much, it’s easy to keep your water cold.
The cons of being at altitude; its hard to stop your water freezing, it takes ages to boil water and cook anything (an extra minute per 1000m for egg boiling), the air is really dry and harsh on your skin, you feel like a sausage wearing all of your clothes and stuffing yourself into your sleeping bag.
We would have loved to spend a few more nights camping in the national park. It was one of those places that everywhere you looked, you omitted an involuntarily ‘wow’. It was hard to retain a chain of thought surrounded by this outstanding landscape. But Bren had packed some flu symptoms when we left Huaraz, and with more unstable weather on the horizon, and our previous experience camping at altitude in the freezing rain, we were keen to avoid more bouts of hyperthermia. So we made a dash for it. And a good thing too as on our final ascent before exiting the park, we got hail and then snow. It’s pretty exciting riding in the middle of a storm like this in the mountains. You feel completely exposed. At these moments you start to understand the immensity of where you are and a crazy mixture of strength and vulnerability. It’s awesome.
We have met a few other couples cycling through Peru and each of us have taken slightly different routes. It comes down to how much you want to climb, how you cope at altitude, the continuously changing climates, and what the suspected road conditions are. We decided to ride through the Amazon to get to Machu Picchu and through the Sacred Valley. It was a stunning ride of complete contrast and plenty of surprises. The route that we took is evidently famous for cocaine production. The things we find out in retrospect! Although I doubt this would have altered our route, it would have ensured many sleepless nights, so in that case, sometimes it is best not to know. Our Spanish is pretty decent now and we have certainly received fair warnings in the middle of nowhere from men with guns about ‘deliquencia’ (thieves), but at no point have we been warned about the drug ring we rode through. I guess the cocoa plantations should have been a good-sign but with so many people sucking on the leaves, we innocently assumed this was what they were farmed for.
As with much of Colombia and Ecuador, when asking the locals about the forthcoming road conditions they almost always assure us it is ‘todo piste y todo plano’ / all paved and flat. Obviously, this is rarely the case but still we find ourselves asking. Peru is undergoing huge infrastructure developments and so the roads are constantly being resurfaced and widened. Add to that the joys of ‘hundimiento’/landslides, and you can come across some pretty knarley stretches of road. What is paved for 15km, can be a complete disaster for the next 70km. In the past we have been stopped by ‘trabajandos’/workers on the road where the road is completely closed for hours at a time.
“No passé nada”/ No one can pass. Normally we can charm them with talk of our humble bike and how slowly and carefully we will navigate their road works, but sometimes you meet with a trabajando so serious, that we have found ourselves waiting for up to 3 hours. These kinds of obstacles change everything. You can no longer make the distance or town you planned to reach that night – or even for lunch! – and often once the road re-opens, we are left cold and hungry in the middle of the mountains with no choice but to ride through the dark in crazy conditions. It’s scary and annoying. But mostly frustrating when we discover once the road reopens that just 100m of road works has kept it closed for hours. And we could have easily navigated it safely by walking the bike through. Obviously it makes us mad. On one occasion having been forced to wait for 3 hours, we ended up arriving very late into a tiny little town with nothing more than a school and a few houses. We had to beg the headmaster to let us sleep in the school after being mobbed by the 100 students who attended, and thankfully, she obliged and we fell straight to sleep in a class-room as small faces peered at us all night through the windows. The Bremma zoo.
But like I say, usually the road workers let us through. And the ones that don’t, well, we don’t really give them the chance to stop us anymore. There was this one time though that we road straight past a lady with a sign who yelled at us to stop but we were having none of it. Within minutes we found ourselves face-to-face with a huge truck spraying new asphalt over 2 lanes and subsequently, all of us. Perhaps that time we should have heeded that particular warning and waited the 3 hours while they resurfaced 1km of road. Nah, it was way more fun to push Falkor through the muddy ditch beside the road and spend an hour de-asphalting ourselves and all of our gear. And we think that the fresh asphalt may actually be the one thing now holding Bren’s cycling shoes together. After 18 months on the road, all of our stuff is officially TotallyFallingApart!
You are all familiar with our little mate ‘Goober’; our GPS Garmin. We love him and hate him in equal amounts and in Peru he has been overwhelmed with both. Finding correlating paper maps for Peru is impossible. Some maps show roads where others show nothingness. And Goober has been playing both sides of that coin so there is now a phenomenon called ‘Goober Surprise’. It’s when you ‘strongly believe’ there is a connecting road from studying other maps, but on Goober there is just emptiness. Its pretty daunting putting your faith in a map you saw online a few days ago, while the GPS in your hand assures you that you are riding into no-mans land. The only line that appears is the trail that you leave behind you. Will we be riding a straight road? Dirt? How many hair-pins are there? Will there be much climbing? The only thing appearing on the screen is the connecting road on the other side of the abyss that we have decided to ride through. For the 1st 40km it is quite thrilling as we assure ourselves that the road will connect. But rolling down into a huge unexpected canyon starts to calculate dread as we realize this uncharted road could be a lot longer than predicted.
“It’s all about adventure! We are having a great adventure!” I nervously try to soothe myself. But with aching legs, overall weariness and long visible climbs, it’s hard to decide when to keep pushing and when to start the search for camp-site.
But that is part of the Goober surprise! Because, just when you think there will surely be another 10km of riding in the wilderness, a tiny town appears along with some lovely options for flat grassy camping. Like the day we found a cool dilapidated house to camp at under some gum trees. It was off the road and just hidden enough so that we could set up there undetected. Or so we thought. That’s the thing about Peru, you are never really alone and people appear seemingly from nowhere to come and have a chat. That’s how we met Ecelia. A beautiful 87 year old native woman who came over to see who was hanging out near her crops. She had never met any ‘extranjeros’/foreigners before and was bewildered by our bike and our story (even though we gave her the edited story of how we were only cycling Peru). She had never heard of Australia or kangaroos and had never in fact ever watched TV. It was the first time we had met someone who was solely involved in the things that impacted her daily life. It was shocking and refreshing and she was an absolute delight to talk to. She shared much of her incredible life story with us and incessantly offered us cheese & milk from her cow.
To see a woman of 87 bending over in a field and furiously hoeing the ground was astonishing. When we began to pack the bike in the morning she shuffled over and sat on the ground to get a front row view of our normal routine. She was baffled by our many things and asked about the purpose of it all. Laughing like a little girl, she agreed that we had ‘todo es necesito’/ everything we needed, and even made some off-side comments about how our tarp would be put to better use in her hands. And as much as we would have loved to have gifted it to her, it is unfortunately one of those things we can’t do without. In fact that is true of everything we carry. Offering her a little money for her hospitality she immediately launched into a God praising song and the dance of hugs and kisses commenced.
It’s these unexpected connections that change everything. It’s impossible to describe what it feels like when you find yourself in such unimaginable circumstances but for sure, notions of fate flood our minds.
Along our route through the Amazon we have taken several deviations from the roads that Goober recognizes. And each time we are rewarded with unanticipated happenings. It is easy to feel sometimes like we are the first white guys to ride a bike through some of these places, but we know it can’t be so. However on several occasions we have been met with wide-eyed gaping to be told in fact, that we are the first white people ever to have passed through their village. Of course it doesn’t mean we are the first ones ever, but its pretty intense to certainly be the first white dudes for some people. Imagine not only how hilarious we must look in our dirty old riding gear but what we must look like arriving on Falkor. Aliens much?
As we are coming close to the end of our 3rd month here we will definitely have overstayed our visas by a good 2 weeks by the time we roll across the border into Bolivia in mid January. This last month of cycling has been so action packed there is just too much to include in this one blog. Hiking Machu Picchu for example, could be a blog unto itself. So that will just have to come later and we will share some pics in the mean time.
This blog comes to you from the gorgeous city of Cusco where we had to get a lift for the final 80km after a major brake failure. We were super disappointed not to be able to ride those final kms into what has been a major goal destination for us. But after loosing all braking power in the Sacred Valley (and when I say all braking power, I mean a complete and TotalLoss of anything that would stop us while negotiating 30km of downhill) we thought it a safer option to load Falkor into the back of her 3rd truck in Peru. Still, all car rides of the entire journey add up to around 400km. Not so bad considering the amount of things that have gone wrong.
So no more hydraulic disc brakes for Falkor. They are officially dead and have been retired. We are very lucky to have the support of a legendary bike mechanic – Super Hero Matt Falon of Black Mountain Bicycles in San Diego. He rebuilt our rear wheel for us way back in October 2013 and we have stayed in touch with him over the journey for his advice about all things Falkor.
With Matt’s help, we were able to get in touch with SRAM about our Avid hydraulic brakes, and they very kindly sent us an entirely new mechanical brake system. Unreal!
So Falkor is reborn with a completely new brake system (thought that would make our Mums happy). No more issues with hydraulic fluid overheating. No more having to employ the ‘emergency braking system’ which almost set my shoes on fire in the last episode. Seriously. It’s a true marvel that Bren managed to keep the bike upright while unclipping at high-speed and slowing us down with his feet dragging on the ground. And both of my shoes clamped to the front wheel. I am not joking. I felt the heat through my waterproof socks on that one. There was much celebratory disbelief when we finally came miraculously to a full stop and even more when I discovered that my shoes would ride another day.
The box of love that Matt sent us to Peru is a complete cyclists wet dream. The new brakes, spare rotors, disc pads, tubes, SPOKES! and countless other treasures would make any cyclist drool. We are so lucky to have the support of so many incredible people like Matt, we just don’t know what we have done to deserve such kindness and generosity. We made a wee vid of ‘opening the box’. You can watch it here. It was THE BEST Christmas present ever!
So the great news is that with all of this new kit, Falkor truly is re-born. With our new super strong spokes, Bren rebuilt the rear wheel again yesterday (its 6th rebuild of the journey) and we feel a quiet certainty about the next 3000km. Of course we expect more of the unexpected but at least we believe we will be able to stop now. It’s an immense feeling of relief, to say the least.
A full 10 days off the bike in Cusco has allowed for re-cooperating of bodies & minds, and after the intensity of the last 1000km, it has indeed been essential. Huge thanks to my big Sister Kylie and her family for putting us up in fancy digs here. Luxury has never seen a doona as fluffy as this one!
After another excellent ‘Navidad de Ciclistas’, we feel chilled, restored and ready to ride again. This certainly was NOT the case when we got here. I for one was ready to book flights home from Cusco. Its amazing what a good rest, and great friends, can do.
So looking ahead? It’s about 9 days straight cycling to La Paz on the border of Bolivia where we intend to cross around January 12th. We think we will spend 3 weeks riding to the Argentinian border and cross to Chile around mid March. From there it’s just a few 100 km (todo bajado and todo pista?), which might actually be true in Chile, to Santiago where we expect to arrive around March 15th. And – thanks to the awesomeness of brother Michael – we are even on the verge of having our flights booked to Oz. Crikey! Is that an end date in site? (update that! The tickets are booked and we arrive in Brissie on March 26th!) Woohooo!
We are TotallyStunned by the astonishing support we have received for our fundraiser with World Bicycle Relief http://fundraise.worldbicyclerelief.org/totallytandem and honestly cant thank you all enough for your kindness and generosity.
It is the most wonderful feeling to see this tally climb and think about the difference we are all making by working together and believing in the same thing. Working with World Bicycle Relief has been the most life changing experience and has enriched our journey immeasurably. Congratulations to you all for your generous participation in a movement that has already enriched the lives of so many.
Feliz Ano Nuevo/Happy New Year to you all! Its been an incredible 12 months on the road and though at times we feel so very far away, all of your messages have made it possible for us to keep going.
Can’t wait to be cycling the East Coast of Oz in 2015! Make sure YOUR bike is ready to come and ride a few kms with us!
As always, here are some extra pics of the last 1000km. Enjoy!
Well done! You made it all the way to the end!