Dizzying._It_is hard to fathom just how many places we have seen since leaving Alaska. These aren’t necessarily hotbeds of international culture or tourism; simply the view beyond the next bend in the road, or perhaps the mundane spaces between where we are and where we are going that are suddenly lit up by the sun or by a joke or a kind word. There’s an index of thousands in all of our brains now. Riding through a Latin American street at night can remind us of everything from Los Angeles to the first time we rode through the darkness in British Columbia. Sometimes I wonder if we’re harder to impress now that we’ve been at this for so long.
Huaraz was up to the challenge. Nestled in the most spectacular Andean valley in Peru, between the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra, Huaraz is a jewel among Peru’s cities. The city itself is hardly beautiful; a devastating Ancash earthquake of 1970 has left the city scarred to this day without most of its beautiful colonial architecture and urban vibrancy. It’s still a gem of a city, however, because of what lies outside of it; breathtaking glaciers and snowcapped peaks lie in wait for anyone with the time to trek through them. The next time we are in Huaraz, we will not leave before trekking at least a week through Huascarán National Park. The rigorous schedule of a bicycle expedition such as ours unfortunately permitted only a few sojourns in the mountains around Huaraz.
After overcoming a daylong bout of food poisoning, we went on a mountain biking loop near the entrance to Huascarán. We were guided by Julio Olaza of Mountain Bike Adventure. Julio was a godsend for us. Not only did he lend us his shop tools to do some needed repairs on our Trolls, he also shared his story with us. “Mountain biking saved my life,” he said. He was battling alcoholism as a young man, decades ago, and he took a chance as tourism was just beginning to pick up in Huaraz and “mountain biking” was just recently born in the late 1980s. Years later, he is clean and a successful businessman, not to mention an animal on his mountain bike. Muscling our bicycles over the stones of pre-Incan trails above Huaraz, we could barely keep up. For the most part we embarrassed ourselves and found ourselves pining after a front suspension fork. David flipped over his handlebars once. We had a blast.
The finale to our mountain biking adventure was our arrival at a high altitude field above Huaraz where a crowd gathers every Friday to play ultimate frisbee. We joined Peruvian kids, European trekkers, American volunteers, and a host of colorful characters for some exciting play. There are many disadvantages to a bicycle expedition, among them tan lines and diminished cleanliness. But a nice advantage is that our cardiovascular systems are borderline Olympic. We could run all day up at the high 12,000 feet+ of Huaraz, which made frisbee somewhat unfair to a few of our competitors. In the end, we all had a blast and enjoyed the fellowship of a good meal at the California Cafe when we were done. There are a few rare, restorative places on this bicycle expedition where we can forget the pressures of our pace southward and enjoy the richness of a place. Huaraz, you will be missed.