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Away from the Andes

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I_like_mountains.  Having grown up on the flat, windswept Upper Great Plains, the mountains always captivated me growing up. I’ll never forget the first year I ever saw the Rockies, when I was in 7th grade, after sitting in our family’s Suburban and driving 12 hours to reach Bozeman, MT.  Sitting in a bucket seat and looking out of the window, it seemed otherworldly to see majestic, snow-capped peaks rising out of the Earth.  To this day, the scale and grandeur of mountains has that effect on me.

One of our last high altitude views of the Andes in Ecuador

Low lying clouds and dramatic light are the cause for this other worldly scene.

Needless to say, the Andes of South America have certainly impressed us.  Yet we have left them for a time, trading long climbs through alternating cool rain and blistering heat for the consistent headwinds of the Peruvian coast.  The gateway to Peru from Ecuador in Macará brought us to a new country and people but also to a new climate and terrain.  Lush mountain vegetation turned to a lowland jungle of sorts, flat as a plate of glass aside from the ominous spine of the Andes that stretches beside us to the East.  Moving south of Tambo Grande, the soil soon turned to sand and the trees to sagebrush and chaparral.  Soon we were in Peru’s long coastal desert, fighting strong headwinds from the south and with no apparent end in sight.  It is amazing how quickly a bicycle can transport you between different natural environments.

At face value, it doesn’t seem like riding through a flat and windy desert would hold much appeal.  Why trade the cool mountain air and spectacular mountain vistas for a hot headwind?  A simple answer would be: “it’s easier”.  We fought all day, every day to maintain our pace through the mountains, climbing over consecutive mountain passes and breathing a sigh of relief if we managed to get 100k done in a day.  In the flatlands outside of Chiclayo, even with a headwind, we got a 9AM start and rode in a motivated paceline throughout the day, with the front rider rotating and breaking the wind for the others.  We had nearly 100k done by lunchtime, and 180k done by the time darkness fell and we found a cheap hostel to shower and sleep through the desert heat.

Terraced rice patties in northern Peru

The desert flatlands are conducive to a different kind of bicycle touring.  It’s about more than just how easy the miles are.  Mentally it is almost a totally different riding experience with my brothers.  In the mountains, it is as if each of us are fighting an individual battle against gravity and wind.  We are thoroughly alone with our heavy bicycles and the sound of rhythmic breathing and the feel of sweat and exhaustion.  It is as if the mountains put your mind and body in isolation, not only from the world but also from one another.  In the mountains, Bound South is an ensemble split into rooms of overworked soloists, working alone, together.

Straight, flat, quiet, and calm conditions equate to new speed records. 180 kilometers

We had to leave the mountains to regain that feeling of a choir again.  Suddenly the miles come easier, and the hum of the tires and the whistle of the wind molds three bicycles into one organic whole.  The effort of one on the front is the shield of the two behind, with each pull an individual strength that is sacrificed to move the group forward more quickly than we could ever accomplish individually.  It’s kind of cool and a luxury that most bicycle tourists cannot afford.  Yet the flatlands are about more than the speed of the riding as well.  We are afforded more time to talk by the loosened constraints of miles and time.  In Tambo Grande, we met a wonderful and gregarious woman named Gloria who soon introduced us to her accomplished nieces and nephews, all studying a variety of engineering at the local university in Piura.  We had time to sit and talk for hours and over lunch the next day.  She begged us to stay another day so that we could meet her other niece, the one with “strong, muscular legs and a thin waist who made all the men go crazy when she danced the samba (and her overprotective mother).”  Unfortunately, the time had come to go.  The experiences we have with people are made richer when we can afford to spend more time with them.

The desert around Trujillo

We won’t be here long.   A remarkable canyon road to the highest mountains of the Andes will take us soon to Huaraz from the coast.  But for the time being, we relish the togetherness and the speed that comes from bicycling through lowlands.

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