Bike Touring Northern Peru

Look up, pyramidal peaks black or craggy tan, occasionally snow-covered, sometimes glacier fingered, snick pow whoomf, with signs of losing hold retreat, proud flags of cloud frost streaming from the crest, a declaration, a challenge, a statement, this is high Peru. Rows of flinty arrows sharp arrayed for mayhem with time, even in the consuming inevitable defeat at a scale beyond perceiving.

Look down, twenty four or three dozen cramped radius road reversals, the switchbacks themselves effortful, a sheepish try, slow ratchet clink tink higher to where one doesn’t belong. Axiomatically a river, its earthquaking tumult superseded by wind howl so only in memory’s echo now, a gorge, a canyon, elemental forces on a different stratum of magnitude.

Look in, cold hungry hypoxia aching exhaustion, headachy lightness wobble, all these like the proprioceptive unnoticed background of being, breakpoint expanding to meet the beauty. Cyclic pedal tock ticks to breath count where drawing in it might well be as much in astonishment as pleading with the thin air, where letting go might be as much out of harmony with the perfect stillness.

Self and bicycle less than a pico quantum against a galaxy, the landscape bothering not even a Planck time’s flicker of notice. So eventually look out and no boundary, you are the mountains water wind eternity.


(A Tom Walwyn photo)

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Between Celendin and Cajabamba, end of pavement in Jesus, winch up the two day track, in a few hours conifer sentinels and extrusive rock and icicle cold peach watermelon sunset. Dirt from Cajabamba to Huamachuco, then between Huamachuco and Mallapata, a track that rivals any known way of moving between places, heaven scraping iron chocolate cones showing bands of caramel and rust, crushed rock bed and sand, black flint, mountain tarns and horses grazing wild on rolling gold green grasses. Perfection on our wandering lost route, never finding Tambora but finding sublimity, frozen fingers, speechless horizons. Mallapata skydrop to Chuquicara to ride along the river, pebbly grey clinging to the wall with whitefleck braids below out of a geology textbook, crossing thigh deep cold, shepherding bikes across. Now upcanyon to Canon del Pato into the Cordillera blanca, Yungay Chacas loop, Huaraz to Pachacoto camp just past Lago Patococha then over Haurapasca and Yanashallash alongside the Cordillera Huallanca. 15,000 foot after 15,000 foot pass.

For me, this thousand plus k makes the short list of candidates for the metaphysical essence of bicycle travel. Actually useful directions can be found in Walwyn’s excellent notes.