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Cycling to Machu Picchu

In a splendid fiction one could easily pedal to the edge of the ruins at Machu Picchu and circle and photograph its majesty by bike, just as one might at Angkor Wat or Palmyra. In reality the tourist town that supports MP — Aguas Calientes — is so remote and small, and the concentration of visitors to it is so great that access is highly controlled. Indeed, there are no roads to AC. Many cycletourists simply ride to Cusco and leave their bicycles there, getting to MP the usual way by bus then train. I did not want to go to Cusco and backtrack, nor did I find the usual way aesthetically appealing at all. I contemplated skipping it altogether.

But there is an alternative that includes high mountain pass bikepacking, weather, minor drama, and a bit of cycletouring nostalgic history in that a fair bit of it is on train tracks. Thus, it echoes in a tiny way the style that the likes of Sachtleben & Allen or Frank Lenz traveled in when a railway link was the only path between cities.

The plan assumes travel from the west, i.e., headed south through South America. It is possible to do what is described here backwards, but it appears to me that starting from Cusco likely offers different options. The route is substantially based on a trek that has been adapted into a multisport multimodal trip involving hiking, biking, luxury eco lodges, donkey porters, vans and trains. Obviously, Pfft! on all that. This is how to do it all by big pedaling. A very capable off-road bike and minimal weight are essential.

First Bikepacking Trip

We boarded the train in Rensselaer, New York and dug into our paperback novels and paper sacks of sandwiches, ahead of us forty-two hours of rumbling clacking where first we’d see rust belt towns inside out through neighborhoods where the tracks pass through, then, after dragging our bike boxes across the station in Chicago to make the switch to the Zephyr, where urban density fell away to plains to the pearly grin of the Rockies. We had booked a stop in Thompson, Utah, which at the time you could do. I have an image now of stepping off onto that concrete platform at 2am, being handed my gear, then the train evaporating, leaving darkness, crickets and an electrical hum from the one courageous bulb overhead. My first trip out west, my first cycling vacation.