Monday. Puquio – Nazca. 154 km, 1450 m climb, 3925m descent, 6:49 riding time.
I think today may have been the single most amazing day of cycling I have ever experienced. The variety of terrain, the diverse challenges, changing weather, dramatic change in scenery, it all combined to create this extremely dramatic day. Unfortunately, I need to be a better poet to write about it. The day began with a 10K climb and 20K descent through cultivated mountainsides, populated, with steep granite cliffs appearing everywhere. The countryside was covered with walls and piles of rock that had to be removed to create a cultivatable field. There were trees, houses, people.
We then hit the base of what proved to be a 25K, 3,000 ft. climb up to our last summit at 13,500 feet. It was a slog, with five days of this in our legs, but I spun up it pretty effectively. As we climbed, everything changed–the steep hillside turned rocky, uncultivated. The road turned to switchbacks to counter the steepness. the SAG stop 10K up the hill was a welcome sight, but it left 15K to go. The climb continued up the hill. Rounding a bend the beginning of the pass opened up, a long flat valley for a couple of K leading to a large toll station at 12,000 feet. A bathroom break and it was back in the saddle for the final 8K. The landscape was desolate. The weather was closing in, the sky darkening, thunder rolling ever closer as I struggled, Alessandra on my wheel, to get over the summit before the rain hit. Finally, there it was. I felt the first raindrops as I arrived, so it was a three minute break to wolf down a Gatorade, fill my bottles and then get the hell off the mountain. It was good thing, as the riders behind me had as much as two hours of rain, sleet and hail. Brent said it was the coldest he’d ever been on a bike. 5K of gentle descending led to the small second summit, and then I was into the descent in earnest. Eleven thousand vertical feet of it. One hundred kilometers of descending on a perfect road that led through some of the most bizarre landscape I’ve ever seen. Dry, majestic, sandy, huge–was it the Sinai? Arrakis? Tattooine?
What was this road doing here? What was it attached to? It could slip slide away at any minute. Pictures would be useless, nothing could communicate this, descending from a rainstorm to a place that averages three one hundredths of an inch of rain per year. And it was just as massive as the other terrain, but so, so different. Down, down, down, endlessly down. A vast palette of browns and grays, nothing growing, sand dunes 3000 feet high, rocks strewn across a landscape as desolate as the moon.
A quiet ten K completed the ride to the hotel, as we entered Nazca. One by one riders came into the hotel, in various shades of awe about what we all has just done.
Thanks for reading.