In many ways, this is the queen stage of the tour; while in bike racing the queen stage often is the hardest stage, I think of it as the defining stage. This day encompasses all that made this tour great. although not the hardest or most dramatic climb, there is substantial climbing, and the hundred mile day is topped off with a fifty mile descent from 13,500 ft to 2,000 ft—from the cold high winds to the sultry heat of the desert.
First though, was the night in Puquio at Hostal Jospeh. Todd & I had a room directly off the lobby with a large window that opened into said lobby; we heard everything. Our privacy was preserved. by a Japanese screen (on the lobby side) that covered about ¾ of the window. Despite promises, there was no hot water or internet, and the photo of the bathroom speaks for itself. So when the day opened with a 2000-ish foot climb through eucalyptus groves and small farmsteads I was more than ready. After two days at 14,000 being at ten felt like I was wearing an oxygen mask. Plus I had really good legs, meaning I was able to provide a strong and consistent cadence with a maintainable effort. When we topped out with some gentle ups and down along a ridge, I was a happy man. A long-ish descent gave back most of the height, taking us down to 10,000 ft before climbing 3,500 to the final pass. I was rollicking up the climb until the thinner air of the last 3K both slowed my cadence and put me into a higher cog (easier gear). By this time the group got very spread out and in 15 minutes at the top I saw only the van. A long gentle descent into a strong headwind went through a grassy bowl that was home to vicuna. I saw five separate groups, include a group of about twenty or so that ran across the road ahead of me. I could not get mu camera out in time.
This climb encapsulated the western slope, from the warm villages through grazing lands to the last cold touch of the high desert. I took very few photos, but you can check some out from 2012 here. A short second summit brought us to the descent. What’s it like to descend nonstop for fifty miles, on this fabulous, perfect road somehow scotch-taped to an otherworldly landscape? The words I’ve used throughout these postings—presence, capacity, intention—sure. But faith is maybe the one that applies here, that this magical road seemingly scotch-taped to the side of dry, sandy mountains road actually leads somewhere. The rider can’t resist the gravity drawing him inexorably downward. There is no sign of humans, other than the road for miles on end. There’s one town, Villatambo, about 1/3 of the way down, before the pitch steepens. Lunch stop. Over an hour and a half there was a bit of a regroup, in the small, green restaurant on the sunny side of the street. — Bob, myself, Lon, Dan and Lothar. Todd and Wayne had already passed. The van checked in as we left, leaving Brent and with Joe in the van, only Brent and the chicas were back up the road somewhere. I passed one truck, was passed by maybe three or four cars, and saw perhaps ten vehicles heading uphill. The exhilaration of the ‘shorter’ descents earlier in the tour became awe, tinged by gratitude when things finally leveled out at the bottom. Sort of like the rest of life at this point.
The ride is complete, the Cubs won the Series, and I face 2 hours in cabs, 7 hours on a bus, and two six hour plane flights before I’m home. See you all in person next week!!