Owning the Road: Crossing the Peru Divide
What is it that scares us the most? is it the unknown? is it going outside of one’s comfort zone? is it going for a new challenge? or is it that we are scared of ourselves and do not really know our boundaries?
Before deciding to go out on a long bicycle journey I was asking myself all these questions especially at night when trying to sleep. I was wondering if I would find a new job easily after coming back, how hard everything would be during the journey and afterwards. Then one night, while all these things were coming in my mind I said to myself: why think so much about it? Is it something that u really want to do? If yes, then find a way to do it!’
And so I did.
I thought that there would be no reasons to keep me back and nothing could change my mind any more.
So after 5 months of bike travelling with Chrissa and after being in Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain and then in Ecuador we found ourselves ready to do the famous Peru’s divide. Peru’s divide is probably one of the most amazing bikepacking/biketouring routes in the world. The moment you are there, seeing those huge scenic mountains in the distance, you know exactly what you should expect for the days to follow. Hard and demanding cycle-work and amazing views! Being a famous bikepacking route means you can dig a lot of information from the internet and if you did, you know there are numerous 4800+m passes you need to overcome and if you carry all your stuff with you, then you will understand that it is not an easy feat. Food and water planning is a must too, because these places are remote and sometimes it takes days before you find food or water.
The diversity of the route though, will soon enough ease the pain of your legs and slow down your heavy hopeless breathing, the consequences of the high altitude, while the views of the mountain ranges make you want to turn your head all the time and look at the magnificence of nature.
When thinking back of my bike adventures, I always have a smile on my face the moment I hit the smaller unpaved roads. This is where the fun starts really. No more traffic, no more people and you are riding next to incredible lonely landscapes, occasionally seeing some sheep and their shepherds waving at you from the distance. Ok sometimes you are completely covered in dust, riding destroyed roads, pushing the bike uphill or even downhill, you’re not finding enough water on the road, or a decent place to sleep, or even enduring acute food poisoning, but the rewards you get make all the hurting, all the tiredness, all the frustration worth every second of it.
On this part of the world the first thing you have to worry about is the extreme altitude differences. This is where you put your endurance to the test. During a part of this route you have to ride from deep inside a canyon at 1000m to a high mountain pass at 4900m. Riding uphill at 5km/h for 8 straight hours will either have a terrible impact or you will just end up being in a trance and keep moving forward, with your head completely clear of thoughts. Luckily there are some small remote villages in between, so you have something to wait for and of course hope for some fresh fruit and vegetables.
The best thing for me in such a cycle trip was that your mind switches completely from the everyday life in the city. You don’t think as if you are on holiday, this is your everyday life now and you definitely have to care for other things. Finding food, water and shelter, keeping your bicycle at a good condition, avoiding angry dogs and even drug / mining cartels. You get to meet lots of new people too, fellow cyclists, locals and you even learn a new language just to communicate with them.
You probably noticed that I am not giving any details about this route as it is not the point of this writing. I will leave that to many existing blogs but if you ask me this is one of the best places to go if you are into remote high mountain cycling. Before starting this trip I thought I would never manage to go over 4000m with my bicycle and now 5000m passes were becoming normality.
The unpaved roads, the endless switchbacks, the diverse landscapes/vegetation, the curious eyes of the alpacas/llamas and days of riding without seeing any people or vehicles is something I can never forget.
For days after days, sunset after dawn I was far away from civilization, completely self-sustained, just me and my bike.
I was owning the road.
Text and photographs: Christos Panagiotakis.
Visit Christos’ Figurant music project in bandcamp here.