Huandering around Huaraz: A Meeting of Mountain Minds

8/2/2016

Huaraz, Peru.

I have been working my way along this journey for nearly 27 months now. Looking back I remember the initial planning and research stages as they unfolded back in Seattle, early 2014. I started with an internet search of off-road bike tours from Alaska to Argentina, and made my way to the website of a guy named Nicholas Gault. He’d begun his journey back in 2012 and kept an active blog of the journey the whole time. A fantastic source of information and inspiration, I began writing Nick immediately to clarify many specific details, and he was always generous with his responses. He had reached Southern Costa Rica at the time of my embarkation so I assumed our paths would never physically cross. But we’ve kept in touch nonetheless. At some point in Ecuador I began to realize that I was getting closer to him. He’d needed to take time off of his tour for various reasons giving me ample time to catch up… 

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 And somehow, to my amazement, I actually got to meet him upon arrival in Huaraz! I arrived at Jo’s Place in town and was greeted not only by Nick but also by Dang and Dean, my now old Canadian/Philipino bikepacking friends. After a compulsory gear and route discussion for a number of hours at our hostel (Jo’s Place), Nick showed me around to his favorite restaurants and ice creameries. Such a pleasure to bring a 2+ year online friendship into the physical world!

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 While searching for repair supplies in a local bike shop I met Albert, a Spanish mountain biker living in Huaraz over the last year. It only took moments to recognize we’d be spending more time together during my time in town. He kindly took me and Nick on a few fun single track explorations into the fantastic terrain of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. 

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Fun to see another full rigid bikepacking rig bouncing down the technical Peruvian trails!

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A little hike-a-bike and route finding is a healthy part of any good mountain biking excursion.

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One day Albert and I decided to tackle the climb up to Punto Olimpico, a nearly 10,000’ climb and 170km out-and-back from Huaraz that follows a windy mountain road just past Huascaran, the tallest peak in Peru. Seeing it tower over the local hills it is quite a sight to behold. 

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There are 2 routes to pass through Punta Olimpica. One is through the tunnel, the other is a high dirt road over the top which reaches nearly 5000 meters elevation. We decided to ride through the tunnel then return back over the high road. All well and good but that tunnel is looooong and dark. Plus my bike light was unfortunately malfunctioning at that moment.  About 2/3 of the way through the tunnel as the distant daylight began to illuminate my dark surroundings I heard crunching as my tires crushed some chunks of fallen ice. I looked up to realize there were icicles hanging from the tunnel’s ceiling. 15’ tall death spears naturally sharpened to penetrability over time. I’d not have been concerned if I didn’t see remnants of fallen icicles all around me. This was NOT a safe place to be. I bombed out of the tunnel praying for safe passage. All good. 

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 Gazing east from the tunnel exit. 

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Reaching the high dirt pass above the tunnel and gazing out over an enormous valley to enjoy a late afternoon view of Huascaran. At 4890 meters (16,043 feet) it was the highest point I’ve ever ridden on a bike. The air was thin. After nearly 10,000′ of climbing I was exhausted and very excited to enjoy some descending. Yes. It was a long day all in all. We reached Huaraz just after dark and Albert informed me that it was the longest distance he’d ever ridden in a day. Didn’t show, he is an extremely strong rider. 

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A package of replacement gear reached me via Dean and Dang’s family who flew down to meet them in Cusco. Among the parts was a warranty saddle from Brooks. I was sad to say goodbye to my old saddle which has accompanied me through all my bikepacking adventures since early 2013, but the leather was tearing and I couldn’t risk a full rip. Amazing to revel in the effects of time, tough conditions, and yes, less than ideal maintenance.

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Huaraz is a great place to get gear fixed. There are those specializing in camping gear repair and even hiking shoe repair. This was “the guy” to see in town for getting my bike shoes fixed. About $10USD turned my torn, abraded and otherwise decrepit old shoes into fresh newbies!

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Lots of little indigenous women selling their wares around Huaraz.

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My final fixer-upper stop in Huaraz: Alpamayo Designs. This bikepacking bag company started by Paul Griffiths and Sam Hochheimer after bikepacking the Andes together has it’s production facility based here in Huaraz, so I could easily visit the kind and welcoming staff to get some bag repairs done. While there I replaced my old and failing Revelate Pocket (lasted many years of tough conditions, but there wasn’t enough material left to sew back together!) with Alpamayo’s front accessory bag. I love the design. roll-top waterproof inner liner with a velcro outer closure, this bag keeps all my electronics bone dry in harsh rainy conditions while allowing easy access while riding because it’s zipperless (as all bikepacking bags should be!).  

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With gear replaced I decided to experiment with lightening my load an extra bit and transferred my food/cooking setup to the front forks via the Anything Cages. This left my rear rack which previously held my 10l food bag empty. I decided to keep the rack mounted for a section in case I decided to return to the old setup, but have definitely come to appreciate the preferred style of a bike without racks… it’d be hard to go back… 

 



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