Bikepacking the Yungas in Bolivia

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Mountain passes, one usually doesn’t, but when one pauses, the weather fluxing clouds low grey and high white, shuffle to searing sun that I look up eyes closed worshipfully. Can’t see La Paz anymore, a three hour climb to here from its traffic tangled wall street. A spell of hail, gloves on to protect my hands against the sting but it’s just as well, a few more minutes and squares of chocolate then the descent aiming to lose a bit under ten thousand feet in the next 45 two hour miles. Recovering it from the jungle deck back up to the altiplano will be a three and a half day future project.

To get to the La Ruta del Takesi I incidentally pedal down the The Worlds Most Dangerous Road, El Camino de la Muerte, The Road of Death: it is pleasant and lovely and completely unalarming in the tilting late afternoon light, Fat Bike in flight on the gravel and wet narrows. The full faced helmet downhill bike thrill seekers covered this ground in the morning after getting shuttled up. I wonder if they were disappointed. A kid with dreadlocks and thickly German accented tones who’d already ticked it off his list, is he smirking at the Pugsley? “…you should have protective pants and elbow and knee pads.” “Uh, I don’t even have a helmet (dude).” Looking at each other across a blinking silent steppe of incomprehension.

Steep rolling terrain from Coroico to Coripata, a meteoric descent to Puente Villa, then a daunting pedal to lovely sleepy colonial Yanacachi. Pass the mining operation, always up. Hard to know what to expect from the Caminos Precolombinos.

* * *

I mentally trace the path of the searing heat from the prismatic sky to the dirt ribbon in front of me to the underside of the brim of my ballcap to the bridge of my nose. Greybrown butterflies, berries trailside, broad leaf trees trying to reclaim the rocky path, magenta flowers spiders moss, frightened birds that sound like I thought monkeys did. And that ancient path, geometric edged stones laid in lunatic mosaics, lift carry push lift. Until a straining granny gear ridable section, the sweat steady off my brow, shoulders into the grips. Ants make it challenging to sit during lunch, so I don’t; laying on top of my bedding, I wake in the company of ticks. Not used to jungle travel but I like it well enough. Gather my things and set off into the heavens.

On a narrow trail, above an impossibly far below valley, in a misted morning, in an absented other world of mere movement where the mood is not having one at all, I am ratcheting upward and startled by a woman bent under her blanket wrapped load, hat, walking stick that seems part of the superstructure of her 75 years. We smile into the moisture, we exchange words about the mountains, she is so beautiful, she looks over the bicycle doesn’t comment on my madness. Hemingway writes, “In those days it was no disgrace to be crazy, but, on the other hand, you got no credit for it.” Maybe it’s like that. We part.

Reach Takesi, I’ve just trekked 20k in fifteen discontinuous shattering halucinatory hours and have yet to close the loop. There will be time for onward, I crawl into my sleeping bag.

There was a little Code in my imagination all days, my smile.