Monday, April 6, 2009

Flying without my Rear-gunner. So to Speak.

Blimey. I can tell already that I have lots of long days with short distances ahead of me. I figured I might, but its looking worse than I thought. Or better, come to think of it.

Yesterday was Cusco - Andahuaylas (a name I had enormous trouble remembering for some reason, every time I stopped to ask if this was the road to A...), and I knew before I started that the bit to Abancay would take 3 hours minimum, followed by a second 130km odd stretch that took about 3 1/2 hours.

The first bit was as good as I knew it would be, having ridden it the other way just a week or so before. The second bit was almost entirely gravel, and just as steep and curving as the first bit. Some amazing scenery that left me thinking how much Rich would be enjoying it, and feeling that for almost the first time I was seeing the Peru that I had imagined. Huge, sharp-edged mountains, erupting out of lush, cultivated valleys, in the middle of nowhere. Fantastic.

And today (Sunday) was about the same. 260km in 8 1/2 hours form Andahuaylas to Ayacucho, over every type of off-road you could hope to get (keeping in mind there are some sorts - sand, mud, snow, deep gravel etc - you don't want to get). It started as normal, stoney gravel, became extremely pot-holed, all of which were filled with water, requiring much 1st and 2nd gear dodging in and out (I'm getting very good at potholes - I manage to hit nearly everyone!), immaculate smooth hard pack with light gravel, turning to light sand (bearable) and becoming extremely lumpy without being pothole-y, also requiring 1st and 2nd gear (I'm good at lumps, too). The apparently final stretch was immaculate hard-pack (got a little worried when it showered, as it could have become slippery), and then finished with a lumpy flourish. It was a fantastic day to ride, and perfect training for the road between Ayacucho and Huancayo, which has a reputation, and I'll say no more until afterwards. It was tiring though, and when I got to Ayacucho, I experienced the first major issue of journeying alone. Security.

Normally, one of us would stay with the bikes while the other arranged barracks. Today, even though I parked in sight of the reception desk and was gone barely 5 minutes, when I came out to collect my stuff, one of the front bags had been emptied. I think they only really got a bunch of long johns and shorts etc, but also my English-Spanish dictionary and my bendy tripod, thus making self-photos harder. And to think it was not only a Sunday, but the first day of their holy week Easter celebrations. Godless heathens.

Ok, we're 2 days later, and I'm in Huancayo. 280kmin 11 hours, door to door. All very exciting, and one of the most satisfying days yet. I left Ayacuchu as early as possible, about 0750, not wanting to stay in a town that robbed me, besides which it didn't seem like a welcoming place. every on seemed in a hurry, which is not typical of anywhere in South AMerica really, except some of the major cities.

A quick blat up some tarmac took me about 90km into the day in an hour and a half, and then the good stuff started (Rich maybe slightly surprised and hopefully a little proud to hear me refer to off-road as "good stuff"). Up the curvy roads I went, climbing all the while, checking my progress with nearly every bemused looking local I passed, as road signs wre non-existant, and despite the fact there was only one road marked on my map, there were many more out in the real world.

I was planning to take the high road to Huancayo, rather than the one that followed the river, and in Mayocc where the road split, I checked which was the right one with the local police. After firmly recommending the river road, he conceded and directed me to the mountain road, warning me of the altitude and cold and potholes (hah! he had no idea who he was talking to!) and off I went. It was shaping up to be as good as I'd hoped (video does exist - if the camera was set up OK), and when my back end went spongy, even a puncture didn't dampen my spirits. It ws 1125.

Hmmm. Edge of winding mountain road - outside edge, that is - flat tyre, no mate to help, just my raw wits and hard earned experience. Bike chocked up on side box+rock, wheel off no probs, but how to break the seal to take the tyre off, without a second bike with convenient side stand? Just then, as luck would have it, a massive construction truck came past (actually, as I was in the middle of an area of road construction, several came past, but this one stopped) and the driver kindly suggested that maybe if he drove over the tyre, it might break the seal. It didn't. Either time. But nice try. Only one thing for it, I'd need to use the stand on my own bike. So, with much struggling, lifting, balancing and shuffling with foot, I got the tyre under the stand, leaned on it and off she popped. Shuffled tyre out, lifted bike back on to box (harder than it sounds) and got on with the job. Time 1150-ish.

Tyre off rim very easily, tube out, offending nail removed from 3-day old, brand new tyre, patch applied in 2 places (second was precautionary - I might have damaged the tube taking off the tyre), tube stuffed back in and tyre re-fitted with remarkable ease (be proud, Rich, be proud!). Re-inflation underway, time 1220-ish. No holes (a first for me - replacing tyre without digging more holes in the tube, requiring second removal of tyre), pressure up (hand pump only), bead on one side popped out, but not on the other. Damn. Time 1240. Two choices: stick wheel on bike and hop it pops out as I ride along, or deflate and have another go. Option 2 it was, and given breaks for a snack and rest, by 1310-ish, still not right. Option 1 then. Wheel back on bike and boxes reloaded by 1330, and off I went, with about 5 hours of riding and 5 hours of daylight. It was going to be close if I wanted to get to Huancayo before dark. Which I did. The policeman in Mayocc had said there were bandidos in the hills at night!

Fortune favours the brave, though, and before long a check showed the tyre had popped its bead perfectly (Yes!!), and the riding was still superb. Until I got up in the clouds (about 4500m if the choking sound from my bike were to be believed) and it began to drizzle and rain. Road turned...not slippery exactly (thank god) but not totally trustworthy either, so speed much reduced, and time still ticking past rather quickly. Conditions improved though, as did visibility, and before long I was on the down hill side and moving well again. Made it to Pampas, my emergency-plan town by 5pm, and the police there reckoned it'd be easy to get to Huancayo before dark, showed me the road and waved me away. He was right. More up and curves, great surface, and before I knew it I was on the tarmac stetch in to town, and what a treat that was! For the first time in 3 days I was able to get above 70km/h, and hurtled into town just as it got dimpsey. Picked a hotel from my book and moved in, bugger the cost its on Visa, and decided to have a day off. I figure I'd deserved it. Should be in Trujillo by Friday, giving me Easter weekend at the beach. Fingers crossed, eh? Must remember to take the bike to a proper tyre repair man.....

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