Three ditches, one day.
Updated: Mar 4
Due to a lack of internet this post is over a week old. Riding a fully loaded mountain bike uphill on the Carretera Central in the middle of summer is not something I’d recommend to anyone who especially values their life or sanity. The Carretera is an all-uphill, increasingly narrowing, no-shoulder, very busy, highway that snakes through the Andes across Peru. People drive fast, pass often, honk constantly, and leave little room for anyone dumb enough to bike it. The last three days since we left Lima (in a bus to get out of the city, luckily) have been quite a ride.
I’ll be the first to say it—our first night of camping sucked. Along with our favorite bustling highway, there was also a train going by every hour or so, angry dogs growling and barking at our tents, the definite possibility of our entire lives being stolen off our bikes, and a Peruvian rave bumping just across the river. All in all, none of us slept very well.
The second day of riding the road brought us to a little village full of kids so excited to try to ride our bikes, ask us questions, and tell us everything they knew about the surrounding landscape. We had heard there was a good place to camp further up the canyon, but the daunting steep stairway on the trail deterred us. So they brought us to a dry stepped field of camping spots just behind the houses. Not the most aesthetically pleasing spots, but big and open and flat—so we started to unload. The next thing we know one of the kids, Franco, starts yelling about big animals we have to watch out for; we couldn’t quite understand what he was saying until he made pinchers with his hands and mimed a big hooked tail.
Ren was done. She had purposely not looked up the presence of scorpions in Peru because she couldn’t handle knowing ...but here we were in the arid desert with an open floored tent and she wasn’t about to share it with one of those monsters.
We saddled the kids with some of our bags and we all went off to tackle the stairs. In the end the small struggle of carrying our bikes was worth it for the deep canyon and green field we camped in, the waterfall just above it, and the fireflies that came out in place of the stars.
On our third day of riding, Ren was clipped by 1 truck, we found 2 dirt ride-arounds off the highway, we were forced to jump into the ditch 3 times, and we panic pedaled through 4 tunnels. BUT, it was worth it for the views we woke up to this morning in San Mateo. We are finally over the arid side of the Andes; now up at 10,600 ft we have panoramic views of lofty green peaks, precariously perched pine forests, and tumbling alpine blue rivers.
Today, we will ride our last highway mile (which alone calls for a celebration) before heading south on the remote trails of Peru’s Great Divide.