Section 4, part 3: Gringo Trail

Day 55: Puquio to lake camp, 56k

Our hotel did not offer breakfast so the staff set up breakfast in the plaza. The locals, mostly school children, gathered around watching us. A few brave children asked questions about what we were doing.

Another day of climbing! We started at 3300m/9,900ft and had approximately 1450m/ft of elevation gain for the day. IMG_2725The road out of Puquio was absolutely stunning. Rocky mountains, eucalyptus trees, bushes, and pine trees. Absolutely gorgeous. After summiting the first mountain range, we crossed into an alpine meadow of golden grass that undulated into the horizon. IMG_2726There were several herders watching over herds of cattle and then I saw a massive herd of llamas! I continued to see herds throughout the day.  Around 30k I started having side cramps from biking to hard at 4200m altitude. I had to stop more frequent to catch my breath. Biking at altitude is humbling, your legs want to go but your lungs and heart say nope!

Right after lunch, I passed several sheep and a llama on the side of the road. The llama saw me and started to run towards me. Scared me to death! I jumped off my bike and put it between me and the llama, she kept walking toward me. I really thought she was going to attack me! She had murder in her eyes! Later at camp, Bruce came across her as well and said she was so sweet and just wanted attention, he even took a few selfies with her!

After lunch there was still 22k to ride, and a lot of climbing. There were several descents which made the uphill bearable. fullsizeoutput_65bA few kilometers from camp I topped out at 4470m/ ft! I have never been that high in altitude. I started to see snow capped mountains in the distance, which always makes me happy. I knew were were camping next to a lake, but I had to pass at least three before I made it to our lake.

When I rolled into camp it was still sunny bit the wind had picked up. I was glad Bruce arrived before me and already set up the tent! I changed clothes and joined the other riders for tea and soup, as soon as I sat down hail started to fall. A squall of a storm pummelled our camp with hail and snow for about 20 minutes. IMG_2739Good ole mountain weather! Luckily all the riders had made it in before the storm. The temperatures dropped significantly afterwards and everyone went to their tents until dinner.

The skies did clear for dinner and delivered a beautiful sunset.  However, we knew it was going to be a cold night below freezing.

Day 56: Lake camp to Cotaruse, 109k

We awoke to frosted tents and sub freezing temperatures. I believe everyone was donning every article of cold weather gear they had available. I even had snow on my bike saddle, sadly not the first time that has happened to me (Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013). At least the sun was rising which some clouds and gentle winds. Within a few kilometers from camp me and another rider noticed a lake with at least 30 flamingos bathing themselves. fullsizeoutput_679We were astonished! I thought they only lived in Florida. Unfortunately, my picture did not turn out for visual proof. I endured the rolling hills and frigid temperatures while enjoying the scenery of alpine pastures, and llamas! Llamas all day long, if you didn’t see a llama within 5k of riding you were not looking.

At 40k we had a long 9k descent that spun us down into a beautiful valley of llama herders. The climb out of the valley was only 7k but steeper than we have been riding lately, I stopped every 1k to catch my breath. Lunch was around 61k, when I arrived it was sunny as I sat there devouring food, the wind picked up, clouds covered the sun and the temperature dropped. I became so cold again. After riding and descending a while I was worried I was going to be miserable for the rest of the day. IMG_2745There sun did come back out, or I rode ahead of the storm really. Several climbs left and I still did not wear up. Around 88k I turned a corner and the horizon immediately turned into sprawling mountains with a valley below. The sun was still out and the temperature started to rise. The fast and fun descent was all switchbacks for 12k then straightened out along the river with more downhill.

Our camp was at a municipal soccer field in a small town along the river sandwiched between steep mountains with beautiful fauna. When I arrived it was hot and dry, after changing and resting a few minutes I joined everyone else sitting around conversing when it began to hail again! Of course. The rain continued for most of the evening.

Day 57: Cotaruse to Abancay, 141k

Today is all down hill, baby! We continued descending the same river valley for 124k. The views were amazing and I couldn’t help but look up at the majestic mountains towering above. IMG_2750The river was a clear emerald color and looked clean enough to drink. We passed through several small villages of varying sizes and amenaties. The worst part about the day was the dogs. They were vicious and fast! I expended most of my energy screaming at them and sprinting to get away. I did not want to chance getting off my bike, which usually deters them, because they probably still would have attacked. In one village, three large dogs were right at my feet and I screamed bloody murder. I really thought I was going to get bit. A few hundred meters away, a man was reading on his porch and saw me coming, he quickly grabbed his dog before it had a chance to react. I was beyond thankful.

The weather ended up being very agreeable, not too cold and the rain held off. Everyone ended up stripping of layers thru out the morning. At lunch, I was so sleepy, I considered taking a nap. Instead, I jumped on my bike and asked the staff to pick me up in the truck when they passed. I managed to go another 35k before they passed me, which was perfect timing because the last 10k was up hill gaining 500m of elevation. From the truck, the road looked very steep and once we approached Abancay it became hectic like every other South American town. Our camp was at a hotel for the night, it was clean and the bed is cozy. Two more sleeps until Cusco, I’m ready for a break!

Day 58: Abancay to Limatambo, 117k

I was recovering from a cold and rode the bus, so Bruce is writing this section.

We woke up around 5:00 AM to the sound of dogs barking in the streets. I didn’t get a good nights sleep because the hotel had very thin walls and I could hear the staff walking around and talking all night.  We had breakfast at the hotel then started riding.  The day started with a 1700 meter climb out of Abancay.  IMG_1727The first 5k or so was just climbing out of town, then the rest went up through the mountains.  The mountains were so steep around the town that after over an hour of riding I could still look over the side and see the town I just left.  fullsizeoutput_660Lunch was just after the top of the climb at a mirador overlooking some Inca ruins.  The descent toward Limatambo took over 2 hours.  I was still pretty tired from not sleeping so I stopped a couple times in various small towns and had a coke.  IMG_1734We had another 700 meter climb into camp that just about drained me.   I’m starting to get used to climbing 1500m in a day, but these ones over 2000m take their toll.  I’ll be happy to get to Cusco and have a few days off to recover.

fullsizeoutput_663Camp was at an Incan ruin in a valley. We had 360 degree views of mountains. It was a peaceful camp and everyone enjoyed a good nights sleep.




Day 59: Limatambo to Cusco, 77k

IMG_2757I woke to the sound of birds singing, it has been a while since I have heard them in the mornings. The sun rising in the valley bleached the mountains to make them look like a painted back drop.

The ride started with an immediate 25k climb gaining over 1000m of elevation. The road curved through pastures, crop fields and settlements of homes. The locals were friendly and shouted pleasantries. The road was tree lined with eucalyptus and pine trees, as well beautiful flowers. The road was not very steep so it was a pleasant ride up the mountain.

fullsizeoutput_653We enjoyed a descent into a valley passing through quaint towns with red tile roofs. Along the sides of the valley you could see the snow capped Andes peaking through the horizon.

We had one more climb into Cusco for the day.  The traffic had picked up and the closer we got to the inner city, the crazier the roads became. IMG_1737

Taxis everywhere and the sidewalks and crosswalks were swamped with pedestrians. Cusco is a very old city and many roads are still steep, narrow, and cobble stone. We had to dismount and walk our bikes through the hectic areas. We reached the hotel and are excited to have 3 full days off to relax and enjoy tourist attractions.


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