Cycling for the planetLima – Ticlio – Lima
June 09 and 10, 2012
It is 16:00 on Saturday June 09, we are in Matucana town, 75 kilometers from Lima and 2,400 mts (7,800 feet) above sea level, we are delayed because of my fault, I feel bad, very weak, I have chills, I could not even eat lunch ... really I felt bad since we left Lima at 6:00 a.m. and had been getting worse with every mile added to the odometer and every foot to the altimeter. Aldo Poma, a co-adventure partner, and actually a coroner, knows well the face of the illness; he looks at me and recommended me to return back to Lima. Resigned, frustrated and upset with myself, I called home warning of my state, I took the bike and almost dragging it on the street, along with my pride, I went to find transport back home, but...
At that time, Aaron Heredia, the third and last member of this expeditionary group that seeks to climb 132 kilometers from Lima to Ticlio by pedal force, and reach 4.818 mts (15,800 feet) above sea level, where fighter pilots often ask for oxygen, asked to Aldo:
- Where is Carlos going?- Well, I think he is going to swallow their pride and give us a lesson of sageness
Sageness, sageness... where have I heard that word before?... uhmmm... I may have read it in some old book, but… anyway my pride is too large and indigestible to be swallowed without getting a severe stomachache, so ... let’s keep cycling!
5 miles later I was feeling a little bit better, enough to hope to achieve the objective and to write this post. I never knew what made me sick, but whatever it was, seems to be cured with altitude illness ... paradoxes of road! But better I will tell you the story from the beginning:
I've lost count of how many paths I have ridden on my bicycle, as many as allowed me to publish a book last year, all those miles just by a simple personal satisfaction. Now, thinking of the rewards that our own efforts and contact with nature have brought to us, we thought; why not get more involved this time? Crossing the line of indifference, and giving back something to the planet; let’s ride hard for a good cause, or two if possible!: The first one, and for anyone reading this post, the message is simple:
"If we can cross the Andes on our bicycles, you can go to work on yours, stop the global warming”.
The second reason is to promote Traidcraft, a NGO that practices the principle of fair trade and sustainable development in third world countries, like ours.
Anyway, as already mentioned, after a month of training we left Lima on Saturday June 9 at 6:00 am riding our home assembly human-powered single-seater vehicles on the way to the Peruvian highlands.
Except for a brief stopover in San Ignacio gas station, at Km 21, for the almost ritual visit to restrooms, hydration and fluid recycling, the first official scale, with a punctured tire preamble by Aaron, was in the city of Chosica, Km 34, for the inevitable cycling fast food stop to breakfast, based on quinoa, for S/.0.70 a glass you get energy recharged ... but come on, if the route is important you have to drink it with the solemnity of the event and following the proper “bikeborne” protocol; drink it in step on the sidewalk.
The next stops; Corcona Km 46, Tornamesa Km 55, San Jeronimo de Surco Km 67, there were already some delay in the schedule but without further comments. Except for a punctured tire on my bike and an involuntary run over a cactus by Aaron, on the side of the road, adding to his front tire 7 new punctures, and these three lines to the travel logbook in the same act.
Whatever happened in Matucana, where we arrived at 14:45, but from where we could not resume the trip until 16:00 hours, is told in the first paragraph of this chronicle and I will not mention again my ailments, which I have well deserved for going on this kind of adventure at a mature age (“mature” is a debatable concept), because I know very well that those excursions, with physically demanding suitable only for biomechanics without much use or abuse, are for who turns 16 for the first time not for the third one, and also I know that the manufacturer's warranty expired at 40 and there is no revalidation form available.
I do remember the stop at Km 81, Aaron patching his tire, just to break the monotony, and I feeling a little bit better. It was the first time in the trip, being a photographer, I decided to take out the camera; the one which the manufacturer says is the world's smallest DSLR (but not necessarily the lightest) and added unnecessary weight to the already bulky backpack because, as you may have noticed, this was an adventure in self-supporting mode, with no logistical assistance or escort of any kind, each one of us had to carry on his equipment, orders, food, liquid, clothes, parts, guilt, misery, fear, shame and tools on his own back all the way. Today I see the backpack here lying on the floor, beside me, and it still hurts!
San Mateo de Huanchor, a city situated at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) above sea level, rises with the first shadows of the night in front of us, it is the km 94 of the route. We actually, in only one day, have just ridden, uphill, over 100 kms on our bikes since we left home this morning. It is time to find some food and shelter for the night, the first was easy, the second not so much, a trekking group have reserved half of the rooms of the town and the other half, well ... it's Saturday night! We only found accommodation available at the municipal shelter, where we were allowed for S/.5.00, overnight in common barracks, sharing tin roof with the all cast of drunk of the town plus some other neighboring jurisdictions idlers. But three men wearing lycra and helmets (brightly colored lycra indeed), like comic book superheroes and coming up from a hundred kilometers away, by their own muscle power, impose enough respect and nobody bothers. The traditional gathering prior to sleep, is replaced this time by a long and silent session of patching tires. The bathroom does not work at all, cold seeps everywhere and rain redoubled tin drums in the metal roof, as a prelude to the chorus of thunderous snores, that rival any storm outside, from the parishioners of this brotherhood of pre-payment roof. No one bathed, no one changed clothes, we got slept as we arrived, each one in his own cot but all in the smell of the same crowd.
Aldo's flashlight in my eyes and the protests of Aaron are the alarm clock announcing 5:30 a.m. Time to get up and get out to the frozen outside world to find breakfast ... Damn!, all coffee stalls, like hotels, are taken by the group of trekking... no way; anticipated departure and postponed breakfast for the next stop. Once on our single-seaters vehicles and ready to leave the town where it is still dark, we saw, in a corner, a familiar figure beckons us, is someone non-stop jumping in the same place to keep warm himself, is he ... Dubert?, yes, Dubert Diaz and “Rodando Peru” boys (Rolling down Peru), they have come from Lima by bus bringing their bikes to climb with us from here to Ticlio. Good!
Once on the road again, we regrouped in the Infiernillo (Little hell) creek, Km 99, at the gates of Cacray, that “dark truck eating tunnel” according to Aaron, with its 580 meters of darkness inspires respect for a cyclist who does not want to end up like a colored sticker on the bumper of an 18-wheeler. Here, looking at the cave of Infiernillo, supposedly haunted, at the top of the creek, when I thougt to leave there, when coming back, the poem that Fiona, a friend of mine from Traidcraft, asked me to take it up to Ticlio.
We arrived Chicla, Km 106 and located at 3,800 meters above sea level (12,500 feet), early. Each of us riding in his own style; Aldo boasting of his physical fitness, and me with my bad mood, while Aaron patching tires and, in between, being pursued by all and every dog in the way which wants to drive its ivory into young flesh. Margarita and Samuel, do not stop. Dubert, Rubi and all other partners, stop in town for a "Green Soup" for S/.1.50 that served us like breakfast. What is a green soup? ... therefore no idea! And I don’t know neither what taste is it, because we add enough lemon and chili to "adjust" the taste.
From this point the trip was hard and the 100 km of climb of the day before sent the muscular bill, C.C. to the dept of altitude, and taxes included. I did not feel pain, I did not feel my fingers.
- Aldo, you are a doctor, tell me why are my fingers getting black?- Put them in the ditch and shake them, if they got their color back it is dirt, if dropped it is gangrene.
- Carlos, there is a nail through your foot and shoe!- Sure?, it should be my talisman
While the climbing was infernally hard; I hated every little down the road since I knew that I was not only losing a few meters, but would have to go back up. When we arrived Casapalca, km 116, at 4200 meters (13,750 feet) above sea level, where the snowy peaks escort the road and the oxygen necessary for cycling is got by the force of the stubbornness of the rider from the rarefied atmosphere, a mutton soup for S/.6.50 and a long rest is necessary.
11:00 am, when attacking the last stretch of 15 kms that would lead us to the summit, Ticlio! We knew that Margarita and Samuel are a little ahead, the others come behind us. The cold, fatigue and lack of oxygen hurt, a truck passed too close, almost hitting us, like kids playing a prank, Aaron and I held the truck, but the metal monster shakes itself in an irregularity on the road and dispose Aaron like a little parasite, I clung a little bit harder with my frozen fingers and I managed to get tow several hundred meters up the road. Yes, I do confess; I am a sinner, but ... it was funny!
Km 122; just what we needed, a snowstorm blocked the road, no pass (motor vehicle) and the endless line of trucks is stranded several kilometers on the way. It is very difficult to progress this way. On the right; trucks and buses stopped no room for pedal between the road and the ditch, mountain or cliff (as you tap back luck with each curve). On the left vehicles come down the hill in the opposite direction. Like playing hide and seek between this kind of inert metal snake, where each vehicle is a heavy metal giant vertebra, we have separated ourselves, sometimes we find each other sharing shelter on a ledge of the road, or walking, riding in the gutter, by land, waiting for a space between buses and trucks, sometimes clinging to a bumper or rail to truck, under a hopper, moving towed only a few tens of meters, it is hard, complicated and dangerous, at least three times I finished with my head on the bottom of the ditch.
I meet Aldo while resting a kilometer before reaching Ticlio, with the road unblocked, we finally reached the summit at 13:15 hours and we both started to yell like children under the sign that says:
4,818 meters (15,800 feet) above sea level
World’s highest railway crossing
(I think the highest is actually in Nepal)
There we meet Carlos Gomez, who had climb, from La Oroya city, riding on the other side of the mountain to arrive on time to the summit cycling meeting. Then arrived Margarita and Samuel a few minutes later, we shook hands and…
… what happened to your knee, Margarita?
- Well, it seems to lack a piece of skin and clothing that covered it this morning
I shot a few photos, I was feeling like a zombie due to exhaustion and lack of oxygen, we expect Aaron to be here any minute… At 14:30 without news of Aaron, we care and began the way back down the hill. We found Rubi still climbing to three kilometers from the summit and knew nothing of Aaron, she was happily accompanied by herself, her own loneliness and perseverance that come with the basic kit of any adventure rider. Two miles below Dubert was coming up under the same conditions. Both crowned the summit while later.
Ready to start collecting tissue samples from the tires of the trucks in search of at least one DNA fragment of Aaron; we continue down the hill at a good speed, dodging cars, curves and practically taking ownership of the road and looking for some sign of the missing partner.
Before the gate of the Cacray tunnel, Km 99, we ride on a forgotten path by the former route of the Infiernillo creek, the enchanted grotto and abandoned bridges, a couple of pictures, I leave Fiona's poem in a crack in the cave, where according to local legend it will live forever, and lose my glasses in another crack while keep looking for the “missing in action” Aaron.
It was finally in San Mateo, about 16:00 hours where we got communication with Aaron by phone, he was in the way to Lima. Then he told us, altitude sickness, cold and exhaustion overcame him at Km 127, only 5 kms to the summit. He dropped on a ruined wall and knew a big black dog named "Oso" (Bear), who was the only one in all the way which did not try to bite him. Oso gave him its coat and showed him a llama he (Oso) was watching and introduce him to his master. Then a recovered Aaron (without warning us!) turned back and went down the hill by the highway to Lima.
Aldo and I, with a little remaining need for adrenaline yet, went down the road like kamikazes dodging on our single-seaters fighting bikes, we had lunch in Chosica at 18:00 and I had dinner at my home at 20.00 hours on Sunday 10, 278 km and 38 hours after leaving the previous day and having reached the 4818 meters (15,800 feet) of altitude on our human propelled vehicles.
Just I would like to add the following, as I said in the announcement of the event: Folks, do not try this at home... try it outdoors! Believe me, it's more fun to burn calories than oil, and the planet will appreciate it.
Story & Photo: © Carlos Garcia Granthon