After a great few days in Huanuco and Tingo Maria celebrating my birthday, it had now come the time to get back on the bike. First up was a 2000m, dirt track climb out of the valley. I’d left it late to get going for the day after seeing Naomi off on the bus and the temperature was already rising high. To set things back a little further, after an hour’s riding I reached a road block where a team of diggers were removing the remnants of a landslide from the road. After adding another hour of waiting on to my late start, I was finally able to spin my wheels in some soft mud in an attempt to gain some ground on the mountain. More roadblocks and many more wheel spins later, I was ready to call it a day. I stopped in a small village to devour some chicken and rice (a Peruvian staple dish that has thrown my vegetarianism to the wayside in search of deliciously good cycling food) before spotting a football pitch down below. It was one of the few bits of open flat ground I’d see all day, and asked the locals if I could camp there?
Shortly I was shown down to the pitch by two young girls, who introduced the strange cyclist to a group of kids hanging out and plying football. After they got bored of watching me set up my tent, the older kids invited me for a game of footy. It’s been couple of years since I last played, combine that with the tiredness of playing at high altitude and riding all day, you can imagine what sort of state I was in afterwards. It was a good laugh having a knockabout though, and small things like this are what it’s all about really. Unsurprisingly I slept like a baby that night.
An early start meant I crested the pass in good time, where the road turned to a smooth tarmac, providing me with some extra speed to outrun the packs of dogs that chased me along road as I went. The view from the top was just stunning, small, quaint mountain huts and fields to my right, and a huge monolith of vertical rock that protruded from the grassland to my left. Straight ahead I could see into the low lying clouds and the mountain peaks that broke through them. I was at 4000m yet again, feeling lucky to be up here, to be riding my bike that morning. It’s these snapshot moments of realisation, realisation that I don’t want to be anywhere else in the world at this precise moment that are unforgettable. It’s is why I am still so happy to be riding my bike almost two years on. These moments of clarity and genuine appreciation I find sometimes hard to uncover in normal life, yet here in the mountains, where you spend many, many hours in discomfort, they seemingly come frequently.
I stated my twisting descent with a smile on my face. After a few kilometres I spotted a tent pitch on an exposed brow and stopped to check it out. As I approached, I spotted a tall European looking guy, spinning around with a drone in his hand. I had to do a double take to check what I was seeing, yes, he was still spinning around. ‘Buenos dias’ I called out and he looked up to where I was with a big grin on his face. I’d just stumbled across Ruslan, who invited me to join him for breakfast. From Ukraine, he’d been cycling around the world, 6 months at a time, for the past four years. Every summer he goes back to work in Ukraine, before flying out to cycle throughout the winter months. He has a large following on youtube and instagram, and when I saw him madly spinning around, he was attempting to recalibrate his drone to get a shot of his awesome camp spot.
We chatted about our adventures over a nice breakfast of oats, trading contact details and information about the roads we’d ridden. He looked at my mud-covered bike with wide eyes – ‘yes, this is what the road ahead is going to be like mate, I warned him.’
A descent, a sunshine climb before another descent brought me down into the town of La Union. Here is started bucketing down late in the afternoon, so I called it a day, getting ready for what I knew would be some tough climbing the following day. I wound my way 50 km up through the valley, starting gently at first before breaking into switchbacks to 4600m. At the top I spotted a dirt track climbing further still and decided to explore after checking it came out in the right direction. It was very loose, and riding up a further 200m require a good amount of effort to keep going. The views were killer however. These harsh mountainscapes and glaciers just opened out before me between pockets of dense cloud. The track looked like a beauty too, I could see it stretching along the face with a good amount of exposure to one side.
The issue of exposure became quickly evident however, as a storm materialised out of nowhere. Whilst I was taking a series of stills of me riding along the dirt road, a strong gust blew over my camera – snapping my tripod – and started viciously hailing. The hail stung my skin as the temperature seemingly dropped 10 degrees in seconds whilst my visibility vanished. By the time I’d put my waterproof trousers and on packed the camera safely away, most of the road was now white with hail. Lightening began hitting the peak above the road and started to become concerned. The road ahead descended 300m before climbing that same amount over the next 20 km’s in the direction of the weather front. Do I try and warm up by riding hard along the track, or do I descend the way I came, hit the tarmac road which will take me down and way from the direction of the front.
Whilst I briefly pondered this I had began to get seriously cold. I hadn’t been quick enough in spotting the front and getting layered up and was paying for it. I was getting flashbacks of New Zealand – ferrying my bike and bags along the ridge of deep snow as darkness fell. I decided to play it safe, to descend 10km’s to the road and just get the heck out of this front. Down on the tarmac, but still at 4600m, I could warm my hands and feet so that they started to sting horribly and the blood rushed back into them. I knew then I had made the right decision, yet it didn’t stop me from thinking ‘what if I carried on…’ Maybe I would have found a shelter, maybe it would have got better… I had plenty of time to brood over my decisions later in the day, but as I watched the peak intently whilst descending the tarmac switchbacks, it remained concealed in thick cloud and snow covered the ground far below the ridge I had been riding. I didn’t fancy swapping places.
To add insult to injury, instead of a beautiful camp spot out in the mountains that I’d been sure to find off the dirt road, I ended up camping next to a hydroelectric plant that whirred away noisy through the night. The next day I had to make up some kilometres as my change of plan had added a further 70km’s and 700m of climbing onto my route. I wasn’t particularly pleased with my decision as I spent two hours working hard climbing, yet I could hardly fault the scenery for not being stunning. Up at the top, more plains and fun fast riding greeted me at 4000m. I was able to put the hammer down a little bit, and by mid afternoon had knocked out 110 high altitude kilometres that brought me close to the city of Huaraz. By this point it had begun to rain, so I pulled into a nearby petrol station. Here a gaggle of small dogs began yapping, just like what seems to happen every 10 minutes here in Peru. As I was slowly rolling across the forecourt to a place to stop, a small fluffy white dog bit into my left calf. I let out an instinctive yelp and set about assessing the damage.
There was barely anything there, expect the fact that one tooth had managed to break the skin – marked by a single drop of blood. Damn. I knew what that meant – I was going to need some rabies injections. I chucked a load of Savlon on the tiny cut and cursed the fluffy white bastard of a dog. I knew the chances of it having rabies out here were low, but being stray, and as I looked over to see it staring back at me with one gammy eye, I knew what the right decision was. As I got sorted in a hostel over in Huaraz, I had the receptionist call the hospital to check that clinic had the correct medicine for me. The woman, nonchalantly told said for me to come the following morning, which was definitely not what I had read to do online. I checked a few websites and realised that I could get a night bus out the city that night, putting me in Lima at 6am the following morning, where I’d be able to get the best care no worries.
So I packed a small bag for an all-nighter bus journey back to the capital, where Naomi kindly picked me up from the bus station before we got some breakfast together. We visited the first clinic but it was an absolute nightmare, people all over the place without a clue what they were doing and no one with any idea if they could treat me. It was the kind of place where you were scared to lean against the radiator for fear of contracting tetanus. After this it was already lunchtime, which made me slightly jittery over what should’ve been a nice meal. I knew I was meant to get the injections yesterday right after the bite. Time was ticking on in my head, there were only a few hours in which I could get my jabs before the clinics closed for the day and then I really would be pushing it. Thankfully Naomi’s grandma came to rescue, a retired nurse herself, she knew a place that would give me the injections for free no problem.
After dashing over to the new clinic, we had to jump through a load of hoops before getting the actual injection. I was so glad to have a Peruvian there with me, as my terrible Spanish skills weren’t deciphering any of what was going on. I needed to be weighed, measured, have a file (a literal paper file) created for me, before I could have an appointment with a doctor, who, fingers crossed, would agree I needed a rabies injection and refer me back to the nurses who weighed and measured me to administer it. Between appointments there was a lot of waiting around, in which I had plenty of time to attract the bemused looks of locals also waiting. I was desperate just to have the injection at this point as it was now approaching 5PM, and perhaps didn’t have the best sense of humour for the nurses jokes. Naomi would laugh when one of the nurses asked (in Spanish) where she could ‘find herself one like me’, if Naomi went to England to find me, or that now I had a file we could use the same file number for when we needed family planning! With steam almost coming out my ears as I saw the doctor clock off for the day, they finally gave me my injection, before handing out the schedule of vaccinations I would need to have, stretching for the next 21 days!
Oh dear, this wasn’t what I had read online. Because I had completed my course of rabies inoculations before leaving back in the UK, I had assumed I would need a further two doses after a bite – one on day ‘zero’ and the other on day three. I was sure there had been a mistake, but when Naomi’s grandma and doctor uncle confirmed the five injection, 21 day schedule, I started to panic. Cue a chain reaction of calls back to the UK, I had to get my Dad to check with Boots pharmacy back home for their advice on what to do. They came back with the same advice that I had read online, although, the caveat was if the inoculation they had just given me was incompatible with those I had previously in the UK, then I would have to complete the whole course.
The next day was me back to the clinic, asking whether I could read the labels on the bottles to find out what it was they’d injected me with. As you can imagine, there were plenty of strange looks, a little confusion, then, eventually I got what I wanted. The active ingredient was compatible with my injections, therefore I would have my second injection on day three before heading back to my bike – what a palaver!
Now, I could breath easily. I spent a lovely two days seeing more of the city, visiting the cinema for the first time in years and getting my haircut. I left Lima on the bus, picked up my bike that evening, before riding north. My cousin, Rhodri, was flying out to Quito to meet me in less than two weeks time. Looking at the elevation profile, I didn’t know if it was possible to make it even across the border in that time frame. It was time to get riding. With the famous Cordillera Blanco road passing me by to my right, huge glaciers looming up above me, I promised myself I would come back to this incredible country to ride those roads. For now, I continued north, riding down the the first of four sections of the world famous Cordillera Blanco loop. The road was stunning and the air warmed whilst I went down further and further. From 4100m the day before Huaraz, I was now looking at bottoming out at 300m, that left me with a lot of climbing to over the next few days.