The bikes are heavy. Wrestling mine over the washboard surface of the road and through the sand is not my idea of a pleasurable ride. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The plans to return to the States from Lima were delayed. After our two pannier excursion on the Cordillera Blanca, Punta Olimpica, and Lagunas de Llanganuco loop, we vowed to take a hard look at what we were carrying and shed a few pounds. The intent was to bring the front panniers from both of our bikes, along with miscellaneous stuff, back to USA and leave them there. I conservatively estimated that we would each drop approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
When we weighed our bikes in Missoula, Montana (stocked up with food for a backcountry excursion on the Lolo Trail), Sarah’s bike (bike + bags) weighed 100 lbs (45.4 kg) and mine was 110 lbs (49.9 kg). We still roll with approximately the same weight. When we anticipate not finding water, we fill our Dromedary Bags and are heavier.
I knew that the route to Colca Canyon would be unpaved but I expected to be much lighter venturing off-road again. It was dry, dusty and hot. There was no shade to seek refuge from the sun during breaks.
The road conditions, constant climbing and heavy bikes made our progress painfully slow. These factors combined with our dwindling water supply and no immediate prospect of finding water had me so frustrated I was a hair-trigger away from losing it. Our maps showed blue lines, indicating rivers and streams. There were none. We left the last town off the Pan American Highway with what we expected to drink for the day but none for camping (dinner and breakfast).
I was nearing a full-on three-year-old, fall to the floor, dead weight, thrashing, in the middle of a crowded restaurant, screaming at a volume of 11, melt-down. I no longer wanted to be on my bike. I welcomed an alien abduction, complete with anal probe, just to be anywhere else at the moment.
We were still three days of riding away from Huambo, the next town.
Around a bend we spied a patch of green along with agriculture fields in the middle of the desert. That meant water, somewhere below us, in the valley. I waited by the road with the bikes and Sarah took our two water bags and hiked below. The two bags would at least get us through today and cover breakfast in the morning.
Evidence of terraces farther up the valley. Either there was more water in the past or water was carried up the valley.
We continued to climb and about a mile up the road, at the other end of the green patch, we met some friendly road workers who indicated that this small settlement was the only water available until Huambo, still two and a half days riding away. We did not want to carry three days of water and sought confirmation of the water situation.
We’ve learned that depending on how we ask a question in Spanish, the response can change. For example, when checking out hotels we can ask the questions”Do you have hot water?” and “Do you have wifi?” to which we may receive an affirmative response to both. However, once we’ve checked in, we learn that the water is not working that day and the wifi router is functioning but the whole town’s internet trunk is down.
Over time, the questions have become “Do you have hot water?” , “Is your water working today?”, “Will it be working tomorrow?”, “Does the water work in the particular room we will be staying in?”, “Do you have wifi?”, “Is the internet working?”, “Do you know the password for the wifi?”, “Does the wifi work anywhere beyond the immediate vicinity of the office?”, “Is the router stored in a Faraday cage?” …
With multiple lines of questioning about the availability of water, the workers confirmed that this little oasis, was, in fact, the only source of water for us over the next three days. An old lady that had climbed up the steep valley side to sell us delicious wheels of fresh cheese also confirmed what the workers relayed. Depressingly, this meant we needed to carry more water. The road ahead, with the exception of the last few miles into Huambo, was an all uphill slog, peaking at 14000 feet (4270 m).
We gulped down the remaining water in our bike water bottles. While Sarah waited with the bikes, I climbed down the donkey path to fill our bottles. On the way down, I found an empty 3 liter soda bottle to fill at the spring. We needed the additional capacity.
Leaving the fertile valley, our bikes were loaded with a total of 17 liters of water weighing 17 kg (37.5 lbs). We still had approximately 7000 ft of climbing. I was not in my happy place.
My hair-trigger now had split ends.