Going solo in quiet places.
The most incredible riding and stunning surrounds, even a dog bite and a snow storm could not taint this ride in my memory . I’m not quite sure how bike touring could get better than this. Here is the Pikes account of the route.
8th June – Marcapomacocha to trout farm just off the Carratera Central
After some rest it was time to get back on the bikes. A pretty forgettable day of riding as we rode up hill for a few hours before rolling down through some mining works and on to the Carratera Central. We would follow this autopista for around 15km and had heard that it was pretty hellish, although we were not quite sure what to expect. This is one of the main roads cutting through the country, and down to the capital Lima. Sure enough it was horrible, we saw more than double the amount of traffic in half an hour of riding than we had passed in the previous two weeks, the road was narrow and the trucks blew fumes into our faces. The only saving grace was that it was downhill the whole way.
We then took a turn off, passed a couple of trout farms and then started climbing again on the ripio. We were about an hour up the hill when Jukka began to get some problems with his rear hub, he tried continuing but it was only getting worse, to the point that he could no longer ride. He realised he would have to abandon the route and head down to Lima for repairs. He was actually incredibly lucky to be close to the Carratera Central, which meant that he could get down to Lima without too much fuss. It was already late afternoon so we made the plan to head down to the trout farm where we could get food and camp.
And that was how quickly things changed, and I was making plans to go ahead on my own. My only other option was to possibly go down to Lima with Jukka and wait there, or to take a main road south; neither of these seemed like real options and I was determined to experience the beauty and small roads which lay ahead. I was quite apprehensive that evening, there were lots of logistics to sort out in my mind I needed to copy down the route instructions from Jukka’s computer and take photos of his maps and elevation profile. Then there was the issue of kit – I had been expecting to ride this whole route as a 3, Nathan, Jukka and me. Our group of 3 had turned into a pair in Oyon due to Nathan’s illness, and now the pair was turning into a lone ranger. Because of expecting to ride together I had sent on my stove, map, and first aid kit. First of all Jukka offered to lend me his stove and steripen, but during the night we decided that maybe this was not a good idea, he would need it and we just could not guarantee when or if we would meet again. I would manage drinking cold nescafe and eating oats and bread and eating in restaurants when in the villages. I could also use the water purification tablets that I was carrying for emergencies. I had also been relying on the boys odometers, altometer and Jukka’s GPS to help navigate these small roads that do not appear on maps. I would therefore be relying on written instructions alone.
9th June – trout farm to camp
All about the ride / Going Solo
The logistical challenges that I faced were occupying my thoughts more than the impending prospect of riding solo. I had ridden on my own before, through half of Central America but in retrospect I feel as though I left myself down during that time – I was always on a mission to arrive somewhere, to meet my friends for a holiday in Nicaragua, or to get to Panama City in time for the boat to Colombia. I had been focused on arriving places rather than enjoying the ride and the solo experience, I also let thoughts about being on my own become an all consuming in my head. This time I wanted things to be different, I wanted to enjoy the ride for the ride, with the same confidence I have when surrounded by others.
Jukka and I said our goodbyes, not such an emotional affair which was in part due to Jukka’s nature and in part due to becoming so used to parting ways with people.
What is that feeling when you’re riding away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too huge universe vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies.
I slowly but surely made my way up Punta Ushuayca, stopping at a lake for lunch.
Not too far before the top of the pass it began to hail. I have been so lucky in Peru, riding in dry season and this was the first adverse weather I had ridden in so far.
hail beautifully embedding it’self in the rocks
I made it to the top of the pass in the late afternoon, by which time the hail had thankfully stopped.
I was chuffed to make it up my first solo peak so I put a rock on top of the kern like a good adventurist.
The descent was cold and frost remained on the road, the temperature not being high enough all day for it to melt. I met several construction workers with their diggers who asked me where I was going and if I was on my own. I never really know how to answer this, especially as I was planning on wild camping just ahead. I think it might be best to lie to these groups of men, so I told them that I was meeting my boyfriend in the valley below and he was taking in his car back to the next village.
I cycled down to the valley below, eyes peeled for a decent camping spot, when I saw 3 tents already down in the valley. This was the first time on the entire trip that I had found other people camping in the wild. I called out and waved to the camp and they beckoned me over. They were a group of mountaineers – an American guy – Frank, his guide and another friend of his whom were basing themselves here for a few days to climb some of the nevadas. They had a good thing going as they also had a resident cook with a communal tent they used as a kitchen and dining room. They invited me to camp with them and share their dinner. And so I did – Luigi one of the mountaineers later joked that it was like I had fallen from the sky.
That evening I had expected to be eating crackers alone in my tent but instead I was treated to a 3 course meal, cups of coca tea and lovely company. I slept so well that night knowing I had completely lucked out.
10th June – camp to Tanta
A relaxed breakfast over coffee, eggs, porridge, and bread with peanut butter and excellent conversation with Frank. Turns out he is an environmental scientist and is monitoring climate change (snow levels) on some of the mountains in the Cordilleras.
I left later than planned due to having such a great time.
I set off singing to myself I was in such a great mood, taking pictures of the valley and the wild flowers….
I was cycling past a small estancia, which was a small dry stone building and space for grazing sheep. The dogs were obviously there to protect the sheep from being rustled, they are trained to be scary and I think just seeing a cyclist would have totally confused them. It all happened so quickly. My happiness levels dropped just like a huge decent on the elevation profile picture. I just burst in to tears, not due to the pain but due to the implications of having to seek medical treatment for a bite, and how this may mean abandoning the route.
I thought about going back to the mountaineering camp, but it was up hill and did not want to regress, plus I felt a little embarrassed. I knew there was another village below in the valley but I did not know its size. So instead I opted to stay on my route and begin a steep climb on a bad surface.
I wasn’t very happy with myself, I had no first aid kit so washed the wound in a river. It felt like a personal failure somehow, these thoughts I quickly rationalised until they disapated. I did miss company at that point, someone to absorb anxiety in to.
tramatised about the dog bite – I could still enjoy this incredible view
If I had seen any vehicle pass I would have asked for a lift, but there wasn’t so there was nothing else to do but keep on keeping on. I finally made it to the top, drank in the views before a gentle descent into the village of Tanta. I was seen in the health centre straight away, where through tears I explained I had been bitten and I was a little worried about Rabies and other diseases. There was no waiting, the wound cleaned straight away, and I was given an injection and anti biotics. My only gripe here is that the nurse did not tell me what she was injecting. We are drilled so much about communication in the NHS that this seemed bazaar. She said it was Tetanus, when I asked about the Rabies she said ‘oh yes, that too’ but it was only afterwards, doing some research that I think she fobbed me off with that one – Rabies is a separate injection and to be effective a number of jabs need to be given over a course. When I arrived in the next city I realised this so sought out some treatment.
It was only lunch time but the nurse said I should stay in the town that afternoon and return the following morning for the wound to be dressed and cleaned again. All of this treatment, the only thing I needed to pay for were the anti-biotics which set me back around $2.
I found a cheap place to stay where I made friends with a man and woman who were from out of town but worked here in the municipal building, they spent the night grilling me about home.
11th June – Tanta to Huancaya
Back on the road I had returned to the joyful mood of the previous morning. It was stunning, the sun was shining and the only traffic were llamas and sheep.
After around an hour or so of riding I followed the instructions to turn off onto a different track, a 14km ‘hike and bike’ which meant avoiding 2 high passes and a 50km detour. For the first 7km the road was pretty motorable, before the road stopped and turned into narrow single track. The initial part was so narrow that I had to take my panniers off to pass, to the left of me was a pretty steep drop so I was pretty afriad. The valley was stunning, a turquoise river with a series of waterfalls below.
This hike and bike took me several hours before arriving in the village of Vilca and continuing up, down, up, down to Huancaya via the most incredibly beautiful series of waterfalls and lakes. In Huancaya I found a cheap place to stay, the lovely lady made me an excellent vegetable omelette before I passed out.
12th June – Huancaya to camp
Starting the day on a descent down to another valley, more incredible river scenes and a stunning lake before an easy up hill on a paved road to Laraos.
In Laraos I stocked up on food for the following two days, and some lunch and then waisted my time in an internet cafe that was too slow to even send emails, it was the first internet in 2 weeks though, so I tried my best to be patient with it.
Leaving Laraos I continued uphill, the road unpaved again. There was some traffic from the mine but things quietened down in the early evening so that I could find an disturbed camping spot.
It was a comfortable night in my dry stone wall home, it wasn’t too chilly, and I felt fine on my own. I only spooked myself out once. I suddenly became afraid when I thought some headlights were shining on my tent, only to discover that it was the full moon coming up from behind a mountain, haha. The moon was so bright I slept with my buff over my eyes.
13th June – camp to camp
I woke early and got on the road – I had the brutally steep climb of Punta Pumacocha ahead, and I had hoped to get to the top of the next pass, Paso Don Mario that day too. I creeped up and up, eating my sublime extremo chocolate supply. Some parts of this pass were pretty steep and because I wanted to keep some energy for the next climb I got off and pushed. I got to the top without too much fuss and ate jam sandwiches, my only meal for 2 days that was not oats.
Slowly I made my way up the easy Paso Don Mario. Towards the top of the pass in the late afternoon it began to hail, this wasn’t causing me too many problems until I made it to the top of the pass. I had hoped to find a derelict building to sleep and shelter, but I couldnt see with the hail storm, and my glasses had broken.
It was so bleak and exposed up there that I decided to continue to try and find a better place to sleep below. By this point it had begun to thunder and lightening, and it was getting dark. I did not want to be riding in the dark but I was so afraid of being the only metal object on top of a mountain during a thunder storm that I kept going. The illumination of the full moon provided me with some much needed light behind the clouds, my head torch coming into its own. The top of the mountain was flat and I did not begin to descend for several kilometres, the hail had now turned to snow which was coming straight at me.
I want to be honest about how I felt. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, what on earth was I doing alone, riding in the dark on a desolate bleak mountain, no one in the world knowing where I was, I thought about how disappointed people might be to know I was up there. I wished so much I was in a beer garden drinking cider surrounded by people I love. I did not feel lonely or afraid but just a sense of being so so alone. I call this my Dorothy moment – I just wanted to click my heels and go home.
I had escaped the thunder storm so it was now safe to stop riding and set up camp. I cycled past some small estancias where I could hear dogs barking, so continued for a while more until I thought I was far away from the dogs. I methodically set up camp whilst the snow was coming down. I was systematically found my towel so that I could dry myself, I kept my bags in the porch of the tent and just got out everything that I needed for sleeping and eating oats for dinner. I had just made myself comfortable when some dogs surrounded my tent and started barking. I considered that this might attract some human attention but assumed that no one would want to come out during a snow storm. I simply turned my head torch off and willed the dogs to leave. I really was not having much luck with dogs this week!
14th June – camp to Acobambilla
It seems that it continued to snow over night, I slept pretty well, on waking I got to actually see the valley I had spent the night in. It was then I missed my stove; cold coffee and oats is not what you want in your snowy camp spot.
I continued down hill before beginning climbing again, nothing too challenging, another bowl of oats at the top before descending into the village of Acobambilla. This was the first village in 48 hours, it was only around 3pm but I decided to call it a day. The snowstorm had zapped my energy and I wanted to spend the night in a village.
In Acobambilla I chatted away to a lady who owned a shop, getting probed with all the usual questions – about being alone, about my country. I attracted a crowd of local women whilst I showed them some of the pictures on my camera. I wonder how these sights look to them, if they are so used to mountains and lakes that it doesn’t seem so impressive? A bit like a foreigner excitedly showing me pictures of fenlands and suburban housing estates. My tent was still wet from waking in the snow so I laid it out to dry on the football field. I was told I could sleep in the municipality. Here there was a mattress, and I got my first shower after 3 days of riding. One of the local shop keepers also served food. I ate whilst watching England play.
15th June – Acobambilla to Huancavelica
I had wanted to fully enjoy this ride but by the final day I was over it. I was ready to arrive at my destination, Huancavelica. I decided to wake early to do Abra Viñas and Abra Llamaorgo in one day. I woke up at 5.30am, ate my sugar puffs (this sugar puffed wheat is a really popular snack here, like popcorn), I did not want to eat oats again for a while. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself due to the early start until I left the municipality to see that half the village was already up and working even though it was Sunday. They were pushing wheelbarrows, herding animals up to the countryside, and opening their shops. I soon got over myself.
I had found my energy again – fueled by coca cola I was up at the first pass within a few hours. Down in the village of Viñas, I had hopped to find some cooked food to see me through to Huancavelica. With it being Sunday no one wanted to cook for me. I managed to convince a lady in a shop to cook me some eggs, with I ate with crackers, then followed by several packets of biscuits.
I made my way up this final pass, with some beautiful views and interesting rock formations.
I was then ready to descend, the road was in great condition all the way to Huancavelica.
16th – 17th June Huancavelica
Huancavelica is a relaxed, comfortably sized colonial city with friendly locals, great street food and cake shops.
I was tired and ready to relax and enjoy Peruvian city life, which I love as much as the wilderness. The past week had been physically tough – 7 high passes in 7 days, and all the other drama. It had been incredible.
View all photos in the set here.
- Riding the Great Peru divide, the beginning
- Memories of riding the Dunwich Dynamo