Portachuelo Pass stands at 15,465 feet (4713 meters), our second highest mountain pass in three days. The scenery of the Cordillera Blanca was absolutely spectacular. The turquoise colored lakes of the Lagunas de Llanganuco were extraordinary. Riding beneath the glacial clad Huascarán, the highest peak in Peru, was humbling. Mother Nature at her best.
old stone house old stone house
old stone house
old stone house
At the top:
But behind the scenes of all this natural beauty is the most difficult riding we’ve encountered. We’ve been in Peru for a month and we’ve only been averaging 30 miles/day, a painfully slow progress. It’s not so much the grade of the roads, our legs are trained for that. It’s the horrible road conditions; the uneven terrain, rocks, loose gravel, sand.
In these conditions, I climb at 3mph and at that speed, with no suspension on the bike, I feel EVERY rock I roll over. Going down is not much better either. The terrain makes falls more likely so we have to keep it under 10mph, taking away a lot of the fun of a descent. And it’s impossible to sit in the saddle, so we stand for the descent, our weight shared between the pedals and handlebars. Sometimes we remain in this position for hours. It’s a back-breaker.
Hours of bumping, jarring and rattling everyday is taking a toll on our bodies. By the end of the day we ache all over, discouraged by knowing we have to wake up and do it all over again the next day.
Today, on one of the many switchbacks, my wheels spun out on the loose rock and my momentum stopped. The incline was too steep and the rock too loose to start again from a standstill. I’d have to get off and push until I found a better surface to start from. I had already had to do this a handful of times.
But instead I just stopped, crossed my arms over the handlebars and rested my head in the cradle of my arms. I was frustrated and exhausted. I felt like crying but knew at this altitude I’d only cause myself to hyperventilate.
Instead, I softly whispered into the wind…I can’t do this.
As if acknowledging a surrender to the mountains would grant me some kind of reprieve. The dominating landscape of these mountains have a way of making you feel small, insignificant.
I wasn’t quitting though. I just needed to air my negativity and self-doubt. I needed a time out, a break.
And after a while, I put my big girl pants on, got back in the saddle, and rode to the summit.
These roads push us to our limits, to the breaking point. The mountains stand in challenge to cyclists: Do you have what it takes to ride the Peruvian Andes?
We’re doing it for the amazing scenery and to experience the remote places of Peru. And it’s places like the Cordillera Blanca and Llanganuco that renew our enthusiasm. We’re just not sure how much more we can take.