Cañón del Pato
Every_so_often, Bound South embraces its wild side. We leave the ease and surety of pavement for the uncertainty and doubt that coincides with the road less traveled. When we do, we get lost, fall off of our bikes, and endure steep climbs and rotten roads. Adventure is always available in the Andes. Leaving Trujillo and the north coast of Peru, we surrounded ourselves with it, wall to wall.
Cañón del Pato, translated “Duck Canyon”, is the product of two Andean ridges in Peru, the Cordillera Negra (Black Range) without snow to the west and the Cordillera Blanca (White Range) with snow to the east. The valley between contains the Santa River, which winds its way to the coast through the canyon. These two ridges parallel each other from Huaraz to Caraz, where they converge to form the canyon. Near the canyon’s narrowest gap, a mere six meters across with walls rising up to Cordilleras’ crests, the raging waters of the Santa River power the turbines of a Duke Energy hydro electricity plant. The Cordillera Blanca consists of hundreds of glaciers, lagoons, and hot springs. Eight of its peaks rest over 6000 meters, with its highest, Huascarán Sur, sitting at 6768 meters. Its nature is colossal which gives reason for the canyon’s grandeur.
Even more impressive is the road that winds its way through the canyon. Carved into the cliff walls, at times hundreds of meters above the river through tunnels and under overhangs, the road climbs gradually from barren desert at sea level to green mountain valleys above 3000 meters. Beautiful, yes. Easy, no. To this day, the inverse rule has held true. Established in Alaska, the rule reads: “The difficulty of the ride will be inverse to the beauty of the scenery.”
And challenging it was. Mango-sized stones and mud holes covered the single-lane canyon road. Dust coated our sweaty skin as drivers passed by. Shade was in short supply. Simply pedaling wasn’t easy; maintaining contact with each pedal over the bed of rocks was an unexpected challenge. It wasn’t the grade of the road that slowed our pace to 80 kilometers a day; it was exhaustion from riding through a bone-jarring sea of loose rock day after day in the heat. The conditions were tough. A different approach to riding was absolutely necessary.
Each watt of energy we apply to our pedals is work. Slick tires and smooth surfaces allow us to easily build speed and maintain momentum. On rough roads like the one described above, however, each rock or imperfection resembles a hill we must climb, which significantly slows our progress. Pedaling from Alaska to Argentina isn’t easy. I sometimes wish that there was only one mountain pass between Alaska and Argentina (unfortunately, the road south of the equator does not gradually descend to Tierra del Fuego) or that it could be done with a single pedal-stroke. These are impossible, though; I know that.
And I know the realities of the road. Challenges and pitfalls are everywhere. Jagged rocks will puncture your tires and give you a sore butt. Caps will come loose leaving you with no cooking fuel. Tunnel darkness will surround you. The road isn’t perfect. Yet I have learned to embrace all that shapes this experience – both the discomforts and joys – and ride with purpose knowing that what we ride for is good and just.