“How is it out there?”, Megan yelled.
The long silence after her first waking words made me realize that she was talking to me and not Ren, who was still sharing a tent with her.
“I don’t know, I haven’t been outside yet”, I replied.
We were all too cozy and too nervous to check on the storm that had set in the evening before and prevented us from cresting over the pass. Nature’s call finally dragged me out of bed after dilly-dallying for a good half hour. As I unzipped the tent, a dusting of frost fell on my sleeping bag. I peeked my head through the flap and was pleased to see a clear sky and sun against the mountains that had been engulfed in a thick fog, just 12 hours earlier.
It’s amazing how motivating the sunshine can be after a cold, wet night. We shook off the tents, shoveled some granola into our mouths, and set off over the pass. Rolling through remarkable moonscapes, we passed herds of vicuñas (high alpine llama relatives) and pedaled into more thick clouds before dropping 14 miles (22.5 km) into the small town of Yalagua. Bursting with corn, potatoes and prickly pear cacti, Yalagua’s terraces are perched above the Moquegua river system in a deep canyon with a revitalizing Mediterranean climate. We continued up this river canyon, heading towards our last major pass before the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We passed through one quaint village after the next, camping on a terrace outside of Yunga, crashing in a family run hostel above a hardware store in Ichuña, and escaping yet more rain in a warm and clean classroom in Juncal.
Juncal was the last town before our 16,100 ft (4,907 m) pass. We rolled in, exhausted, through the only intersection in town and were greeted by multiple locals, eager to show their hospitality and talk with the dirty, smelly strangers that we are. I explained that we were headed to Puno, but stopping to rest for the night and looking for a meal to eat. One woman, walking by with a toddler, was quick to tell us that she had a restaurant and we should follow her. After eating, we set off to find the school which we had heard sometimes offered a dry room and a roof to bikers. Just as the next storm was letting loose in a fury, we managed to slip into the school grounds and found a lit up classroom. We knocked on the door and caught the attention of a sleepy eyed teacher who must have been in the middle of his Sunday slumber. After informing us that all doors were locked due to weekend hours, he managed to find a key that opened a door to a warm and clean classroom. We settled in and cooked a quick dinner of lentils, veggies and dried alpaca jerky and fell asleep listening to thunder and pounding rain. We could only hope that the rain would ease up before our climb over the pass.
While the pass was steep and snowy, the weather was only slightly overcast which seemed like a kind offering from Pachamama. We all gasped for breath as we pushed through slush to the top, quickly scarfing down some summit snacks before our reward of downhill decent. We covered close to 45 miles (72km) from our cold mountain exit to dry pavement entering Puno. It was quite the push, but we made it to Puno in time for a late lunch and our routine calorie resupply.