More than 10 years in the making
Every year since I left my homeland I have been going back. Watching the transformation of my third world country as it progressed through the years. At the same time I slowly evolved into a seasoned mountain biker. My love affair with knobby tires started by “accident”, literally. After destroying my only mode of transportation, a shinny 1972 Datsun 240z, in the summer of 90 I was forced to purchase a bike for transportation. That bike changed my life and introduced me to single-track and the joys of riding.
Naturally, every time I went back to my homeland and drove the backroads and dirt paths that litter the Peruvian landscape I always gazed at the distant hillside trails wondering if anyone had ridden them. Each year I returned I searched for someone that had, and finally, in the late 90s I found one who did, George Schofieled of Pachacamac Aventuras. George took me out on what has become a must do ride in Lima, Pachacamac. Each year there after when I went back I tried to ride it again. This pattern went on virtually every year, and with each journey back I couldn’t help but burst with excitement when I told all my cycling friends in the Washington D.C. Metro area about my Peruvian adventures. “You have to come with me!” I said: “Next year I’m going down with my bike and heading to Cuzco for more trails, join me…”
But, as life often does, it always got in the way and the trip never materialized…
…to 2010. Finally I got my ass in gear and started the process. I convinced at least 3 friends to join me in the spring of 2011 in what I promised (based on my Pachacamac and Lima riding adventures) would be the most incredible riding they would ever attempt. Those 3 turned in to 13 and before we knew it it was mid May 2011 and we were boarding COPA flight 357 headed south for the land of the Incas.
So our band of thirteen arrived in Lima with no major incidents and quickly set to unpacking and building our bikes for our “introductory” Andean ride. Billed as the “best” and “longest” downhill in the world we set out to ride what is arguably one of the greatest rides I have ever done. “Olleros”.
Getting “there” was half the fun. We boarded a bus that would take us up switchback after deadly switchback to the nearly 11,500’ high in the Limenean Andes. After a quick uphill single-track ride our group gathered, both for air and to get the quick low down from our expert Guide Diego Alvarado of Peru Bike. “Get ready”, he said in his deep Peruvian accented voice, “What follows will likely be one of the greatest experiences you’ll have on two wheels. We’ll descend some tight exposed singletrack to some loose sandy shale switchbacks before we hit el ‘Huaico’. Then it’s ‘Falso Plano’ all the way to the beach where we can go no further, take your time, enjoy it…”
His brief “explanation” requires some translation:
Tight Exposed Singletrack: Think the most buttery smooth trail you’ve ever ridden and throw some technical features. Then add a sheer drop off on the right or left for good measure. Sprinkle it with the most incredible mountain/ocean views you’ve ever seen and you have what Diego was talking about.
Loose Sandy Shale Switchbacks: Three or so kilometers of hell. Since there is no lung busting uphill on this trail, the Peruvians have thrown what is likely one of the most difficult and technical sections of downhill trail I have personally ever ridden. This steep sandy section of ribbon is littered with sharp baby heads hidden slightly below the the sandy surface. All you have to do here is wipe your ass with the rear tire, apply some rear break and skid (or ski) your way down to the bottom.
Kim at the “El Huaico” section of the Olleros downhill
Huayco (see above video) is a feared word in Peru. If you ever hear it (unless its in relation to Olleros) get out of the way. Simply put, a Huayco is the rushing fury of water as it makes it’s way from the high Andes to the Pacific coast. Along the way it virtually takes everything in it’s path leaving behind an “instant” canyon. It is the ultimate trail builder. What’s left to ride is the “flow” path, miles of tight trails with multiple lines filled with ledges, rock gardens and concrete smooth surfaces that make Moab’s slick rock child’s play.
Falso Plano loosely translated means “False flats”. If you were on the surface of the moon chances are this is what it looks like. I wouldn’t be surprised if NASA has trained here at one point or another. No words I can use can give this justice. What we road were miles upon miles of slightly descending, concrete hard, desert that virtually ended in the ocean. Along the way were boulders of various sizes littering our path making the ride much more interesting. This natural highway allowed us to hammer the big ring like nowhere else on the planet. Amazing.
Take your Time, Enjoy It: Go Fast!!
Diego wasn’t kidding. What we rode for the next few hours was some of the most amazing trails I have ever laid wheels on and an experience I will unlikely forget on my time here on this planet. My buddy Scott Scudamore, an Xterra ambassador and IMBA representative, quickly proclaimed at the end of the ride, “this is my #1. The best ride I have ever done,” I echoed the sentiments. Little did we know what was to follow…
How could it get better after Olleros?
We packed our bikes up again in the evening before heading out for some Pisco Sours, Pilsens (beers for all you gringos 😉 ) and Anticuchos. Then, early the next day we boarded Star Peru Airlines for a quick hop to Cuzco were our Scottish guide (really), Doogie of Amazonas Explorers, awaited us in the belly button of the world.
Once our group was complete we boarded a bus for the Sacred Valley, our center of operations for the next 9 days. From there Amazonas Explorers would shuttle us up to various points high in the valley so we could make our way down back to the river.
Upon arrival we quickly proclaimed to Doogie that he would have to really give us his “A” game because topping Olleros would be difficult. The Scotsman confidently declared: “no worries mates, we have wee bit rides here in Cuzco that will knock your socks off…” This remained to be seen.
Doogie was right. Olleros quickly became a distant memory once we set wheels to the Sacred Valley trails. Day after Day our expert guides exceeded our expectations. Every ride we did in Cuzco had its highlights, but three stuck out the most for me, Moras/Salt Pans, Chincheros, and the the one to rule them all Huchuy Qosqo.
Moras to The Salt Pans
The group poses for a shot above the Salt Pans i Cuzco
The Moray, Moras, Salt Pans ride is a Cuzco classic. The “regular” ride takes tourists through undulating dirt trails with spectacular views of the various peaks that surround the Urubamba Valley. Our group did the first part of the ride together then we split up into two groups so that our resident adrenaline junkies (yours included) could do the “alternate” route.
While our less aggressive group continued down toward the Salt Pans on the pre-determined and tamer route, a second group of us veered off on the all wheel drive to climb up to the top of the “hill” where the mega avalanche race course starts. As we climbed the switchbacks we could see our less-aggressive friends enjoying the dirt roads below.
After a rough 4×4 climb to the peak above Moras we began our descent down some fast double track that quickly converted to an off camber narrow single-track. It was hard maintaining focus on the narrow trail with the spectacular views of the valley bellow. The checkered fields that characteristically cover the Urubamba landscape made for an interesting quilt of colors. The narrow trail soon gave way to a technical and steep rock face decent to a mini natural mountain bike park full of berms and jumps. From there it was a non-stop roller coaster ride through the town of Moras and then to single-track trails that descended to the Salt Pans. From there another gnarly section dropped us into arguably some of the tightest and steepest switchbacks I had ridden to date and finally down a flat road to the Urubamba.
I simply cannot do this ride justice with any words. The views, the trails were simply jaw dropping, all I know is that I have to get back…
Next up was Chincheros. We started high above the small town and ruins on some nice easy rollers. The “easy” trail soon gave way to some incredible tight single-track along Eucalyptus forests. After a short break and a set of steep Inca steps the trail turned to slippery shale. Challenging and difficult, yet incredible rewarding. Kim spilled hard on the steep shally slopes before we made our way down to the town of Huallyabamba via some incredibly tight switchbacks. From there we took a fast narrow dirt road through the small village to finish with a nice pic-nic lunch along the shores of the Urubamba river.
G-Man takes a a look at the line we will be riding in Huchay Qosqo
Nothing really prepared us for what was about to come. All we were told was that it was going to be a long day and that we were going to be riding some great trails. Our bus and 4×4 (loaded with bikes) set out early in the morning on what would be a nearly 4 hour trip up to nearly 14,000′. Our trusted driver climbed up some incredibly narrow roads that would have been difficult on a bike, let alone a transport. We passed several small villages on our way up until we arrived high above along an Andean lagoon. From there we continued our ascent by bike for another 500 meters or so until we were well above the 14,000′ foot mark. I have to tell you, those few hundred meters of climbing were brutal. All along the grinder we could hear the cries of sheep echoing around us, further above, grazing in what I can only imagine was the edge of space.
We finally reached the summit about 6 hours after our departure from Cuzco. The reward? a 16 mile balls to the wall descent on some of the most incredible trails I have laid wheels on. We started on a pristinely preserved iInca Trail. Not long before we started rolling we were hitting speeds of over 20mph, in a couple of cases going over sets of perfectly spaced steps. The straight and narrow beginning of this trail soon gave way to winding tight single-track as we made our way down the valley. The views and trails were short of spectacular. At one point, nearly halfway down the descent we stopped at an overlook to soak in the view of the valley below, which was still over 2000 meters beneath us. Along the way we saw a herd of llamas galloping ahead of us on the trail, a pair of Condors circling the sky below us, and we got the chance to visit seldom seen Inca ruins.
Sitting high above Moras on the Huchuy Qosqo trail
Martin in Machu Picchu
We rode for 7 more days after Huchuy Qosqo, hitting more trails around Urubamba and the Sacred Valley and topping things off with some incredible Urban Rides in and around Cuzco. This was an incredible trip, one which I’ll unlikely be able to top off any time soon. One thing is certain though, next time I’m in Peru I will definitely make an effort to try and do any one of these rides again.
Finally, to top it all off we stashed the bikes for a day and headed by train to Aguas Calientes for a day visit to Machu Picchu.
I encourage you all to visit Peru, not just for the riding, but because evry single person we met along the way made us feel welcome and appreciated us visiting their home. They all took great pride in there homes, and no matter how little they had they always managed a smile and hello to our strangely looking band of riders.