3am Tracks

2:38am, the alarm set to chime in seven minutes, funny, waking up just before it as one sometimes does. I close my eyes again for a minute. Then I’m lacing up my shoes, open the window to a warm moist night, a concrete village in a jungle night. Lightswitch, no power, doesn’t matter, headlamp. Bike is ready to roll, drink a bottle of Coke opened just before bed to get flat, reflexively brush teeth, quietly close the front iron bar door and into darkness, clouds bouncing enough ambient light to flick the headlamp off.

To follow the tracks, this last bit, this last piece of the puzzle, I’m ascending a crooked holed dirt road by feel, river below echo crash off the wall to my right so it sounds as if I’m surrounded by water. I have two hand-drawn maps, one on paper towel, one on a child’s ruled notebook paper, reassuringly they agree in spite of their wildly divergent styles, I memorized them over dinner last night. My informants have indicated that I’d likely be stopped by security from riding, or taking a bike at all, on the train tracks from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, even if walkers routinely pass. I’m inclined to believe Edwin, since his old job was to stop stupid gringos like me from doing just that, now he guides in the mountains. He said that, if they’re doing their job, they’ll be serious about preventing me. But lots of security don’t do their job, he admits, so I could risk it. He shrugs then we talk through the alternative plan, the plan I’m following, to reach Hidro before 4:30am, before the first shift starts. Sneak through the hydro electric plant and depot in darkness.

I’m bare headed and in short sleeves but sweating up the final turns, there’s a floodlight across the road right after the bridge where the guardhouse is, dark with a green LED blinking inside. I lean into the cranks, my breathing sounds loud to me, no one to see my smile. There’s a truck backing up somewhere, I stop for three minutes looking for movement, I crunch gravel past a lit office shack, to the end of the lower track to where it switches to back the train up, there’s supposed to be a stairway. Now my tee is soaked, lifting the bike up the last broken boulder steps in the small cone of illumination, emerge at the upper track. Edwin’s grin two days ago: once I’m there, I’m “as good as in Aguas.” I point the bike east into the valley, stammering suggestions of sunrise, and — still in my mind midway between sure that no one gives a crap and concerned about being sent back to have to take a train or cab — I put my head down and twist the throttle full open.

The tires float over crushed rock and railroad ties, another thing Fat Bikes do exceedingly well. Tears in the wind, more light from the continuous function increase, mist and enormous butterflies, sometimes only the sounds I make, sometimes jungle sounds like cartoons when we were kids. More light, the diffuse brighting grey of later sunshine, eat a banana, bread, chocolate while moving. Hop clearing the rails to switch sides, a long iron bridge with a narrow slick clanking walkway, I don’t brake.

In an hour of a burnished morning I am under the towering mystery greenclung granite; it’s hidden from me, but I’ve arrived at Machu Picchu.