Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bike Ride Up the Andes

80 MILES OF UPHILL
The first part of my route would be a repeat of a group tour I did with eighteen PAC Tour riders last November. We started in the coastal city of Lima and rode inland over the mountains. That is how I would begin my trip again this year. I did have the comfort of knowing the roads and locations of basic hotels every 50 miles.

The first day I was to climb from Lima up to the small town of San Meteo located 10,000 feet up into the Andes. San Meteo is famous in Peru for their bottled water made from the melted snow high on the peaks. As I departed Lima a low gray smog hung over the foothills. Further up the mountain the beauty of the region became visible. It looks similar to the rocky canyons of Utah or Nevada. The landscape is very arid with only two inches of rain per year. Vegetation is barren and the changing elevation is deceptive.

I climbed for seven hours up the steady 4-5% grade. The old highway in the lower valley ran parallel to the new main road. I alternated riding on the two routes as the roads followed between the towering peaks. The old road was void of any traffic except for some small villages. The pavement was broken and cracked similar to Old Route 66 along the interstate in America. On the newer busy road the local bus passengers would pass me with sympathetic stares as I bicycled up the mountain. They were not used to seeing bicycles climb this pass. I could tell they felt sorry for me that I could not afford the 25 cent bus ride. I wanted to yell at them that I was riding my bike because I wanted to. To have the freedom and opportunity to cycle over the Andes into the Amazon Rain Forest was a fun and exciting thing to do.

The yearly drought ended during my last five miles into San Meteo. The afternoon rains started and I needed my raincoat and gloves. From my hotel I could tell the distant summit at almost 16,000 feet elevation was hidden in the clouds. Tomorrow I still had 6,000 feet to gain and half a day of riding to reach the top.

My hotel room was cold and industrial without hot water or room heat. Taking a shower and washing my clothes in 40 degree water was refreshing. The tile floor was ice cold but the five heavy thick wool blankets on the bed were welcome. It would take a strong person to rollover in bed under the weight of those blankets which must have weighed thirty pounds. The rain outside tapping on the windows put me to sleep while hoping for better conditions tomorrow.

The next morning the rain stopped. Patches of clouds were making streaks of sunshine on the mountaintop. Last year it had taken me five hours to reach the summit from here. The elevation had started to make me dizzy above 14,000 feet. Today I would take it easy. I planned to stop and drink a half liter of water every 30 minutes. I wanted to ride at a conversation pace and never feel like I was breathing heavy. My low gear of a 38 tooth chainring and 32 tooth rear cog would become my friend today at four miles per hour.

I took lots of pictures and stopped to buy refreshments from several small stores along the road. The snow capped peaks contrasted with the dark blue rock on the mountain slopes. By the time I had reached 14,000 feet elevation I only had six more miles of road to go to the summit. My head was still feeling pretty good. The air was brisk and I had on my long nylon pants and windbreaker. I carried a small thermometer on the zipper of by seat bag. It read 35 degrees. As I neared the top the snow flurries began and I knew I didn’t want to stop for long. Even with my methodical pace I was almost an hour faster than last year and feeling much better.

I reached the summit at 15,890 feet elevation. It is the highest paved road in the world. If you want to climb to over 16,000 feet there is a nearby hiking trail to the monument of a Spanish Priest named Ticlio for whom this mountain pass is named is suppose. I asked the policeman at the guard station to take my photo near the sign.. I quickly put on my fleece jacket and gloves then pushed off down the other side. The grade down is a gentle 4%. Coasting at 30 mph was about my maximum. I was shivering too much to want to go any faster. After 40 minutes I had dropped almost 4,000 feet. The snow had stopped and I could see sunshine in the valley below. The remainder of the day was a joy. I rolled into the city of La Oroya located at an elevation of 12,000 feet. I found a nice hotel for $9 along the main street. It still didn’t have hot water but the afternoon sun helped dry my clothes by hanging them out the window. The sky was clear but there was a crisp mountain chill in the air.

To contact Lon by e-mail use: haldeman@pactour.com

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anurang said...

Lon,

I don't believe this is the highest paved road in the world. The road from Manali to Leah in North East India that 5 passes, 2 of them over that height, the tallest one over 17,000 feet.

The condition of the road near the passes is variable and they do year round construction (except the severe winter months) but at points we may not called a road.

If you are up for it, we can make a trip some day ;)

Anurang

3:26 PM  

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