Saturday. Chalhuanaca-Pampamarca. 65km, 1470m climb, 4:45 ride time. Today is my grandmother Evie’s yartzeit; didn’t say Kaddish, but did talk a bit about it before dinner with Alessandra and a few others. I’m the only Jew on the trip, a situation in which I do not often find myself. I do tend to evangelize a bit, talking about the independent relationship to God and the supports built into the tradition, but I don’t think I overdid it.
In any case, back to bicycling. This morning, we continued up the river valley for another 40K or so before the road finally turned upward, switch backing up to the altiplano where we would spend the next two days. And yes, I rode. I was still pretty sick, but WTF. I did put a change of clothes in my backpack and left it in the van, however, figuring I would ride from control to control.

Sherry on a switchback. We had paused to put on our jackets as the rain began. The mountain in the background is across the valley; look to Sherry’s left and you can see the hillside diving off into the slope we are climbing.

This climb topped out at 13,600 feet or so, and I was completely exhausted by the time I got to the top. in the rain. At the bottom I was still spinning a 30×25 gear at about 130 beats per minute, moving along at about 10-11kph, but by the time I got toward the top I could barely maintain 4.5 kph at 115 in the 28.I stumbled into the restaurant at the top of the hill and had a cup of hot tea handed to me, then I buried my head in my chicken and rice soup. When I was still breathing hard half an hour later, discretion checked in. I was done and got in the van for the rest of the day; 28 miles, in the rain and sometimes hail, up and down in this high mountain pasture land, mostly between 14,000 and 15,000 feet.

Me and Aracely after my abandon. Looks like I’m feeling better. It was the right decision–good performance the next day bore that out. Lon met Aracely when she was seven, when she was living with her grandparents. Her remained in touch with her, connecting again when she was at the Chosica Girls Home outside Lima, where she lives today. Lon is like a godfather to her; Aracely has accompanied all the tours he has conducted since then. She does well on school, is interested in English and history, and has a real opportunity now to do what she wants to.

The climb and conditions spread the group out over more than an hour. We (the van) left lunch over an hour behind the first group and caught the lead rider just past the scheduled final SAG stop, at the base of the last 5K climb to 15,100 feet that crested the descent to Pampamarca at 13,700. Usually I’m out there so it was a different perspective on this sport. People were tired and cold, but stopped in the van for just a few minutes to adjust clothing or have a bite before they were back out in the cold rain with nothing but a jacket and a bicycle to support them on the road. I was impressed. These are strong, tough, courageous and self-possessed individuals. When Alessandra showed up, she could barely move. From the jungle, with a bike geared more for racing than touring, the combination of cold, altitude and effort had made her almost hypothermic. Ronald helped her off the bike. She came inside and fell asleep for twenty minutes or so. We covered her with blankets. I handed her a hat and she had to be told to put it on her head. She later told me she had become nearly delirious out on the road, the focus on making it to the van her only motivator. She was at her limit, and this is a very strong rider.

So, in Pampamarca, a hamlet at the top of the world, there are no hotels. We stayed at the home of Mrs. Rosa Churra. she has a store, a restaurant and six rooms in the back that they did up for us. I suspect that she does put up the occasional truck driver or other person coming through, but nothing of the scale we all provided for her. Lon had purchased extra blankets; we brought our own food–Spaghetti for dinner and French toast for breakfast. (Of course, all of this had been coordinated by cell phone prior to our arrival; they are just as ubiquitous in Peru as they are everywhere else. Even at the top of the world.)

Nayda on the stairs at Mrs. churra’s house.

Ron in his doorway. Note the wide and accommodating balcony.

Our room. No flooring, no heat. Chamber pot thoughtfully provided. For a prostate challenged guy like me, that was a godsend. I would have broken my neck going up and down those stairs in the middle of the night.

Les Banos. The only water was at a sink in the courtyard, opposite the abandoned truck.

So this was our most unusual accommodation, and despite the hard day no one was interested in washing or revealing any part of the body to the ever increasing cold. Of course, it was a shared and planned event. We were protected by the cocoon of each other, which is part of the oddness of any bicycle tour; you are a little bundle of you-ness going down the road and unless you exert the effort you can stay within the group for the entire trip. So this house felt less like deprivation than the rather funky hotel we stayed in the next night, both because it was shared and that our expectations were titrated correctly. in any case, it is something I won’t soon forget.

Day Four