There are more than 1,800 deaths on the roads that lead into the Andes every year. The combination of unpredictable conditions (such as animals or people in the road), faulty breaks and reckless driving, puts Peru at the top of the list for having the most dangerous roads in the world. We were standing on one of these roads near our van in the perpetual mists on top of the Andes. A few children were playing outside of a small stone church, while a some locals watched us check our equipment and begin the briefing.
When our guide said, “So its really steep and wet here. If your bike starts to slide, then you’re only going to start going faster, so it’s better to jump off right away.” I realized the ride might require a little more skill than I had. We were standing at the edge of a vertical face that I would have had trouble walking up, and couldn’t really believe that he wanted us to ride down. I nodded my head while he spoke, checking my helmet and elbow pads, making sure that if I fell off my bike my protective padding would at least stay with me.
Our guide dropped the hill first, leaving a streak of moisture and dirt in his wake, then Tanner, and finally myself, barely moving as I clutched the breaks. I leaned far back behind my seat to keep from rolling over my handlebars, wondering if I shouldn’t have lit a candle in the church before my ride.
My friend Tanner and I were riding with KB Tambo Tour Company (http://kbperu.com), based out of Ollantaytambo Peru, which has the best reputation for extreme biking. The company has three different trails for beginning, middle and advanced riders, and we were just lucky enough to catch them for the combined beginner and advanced trails. My friend Tanner is what our guide called a, “shredder” while we all slowly discovered that I didn’t know what I was doing as the bike I was borrowing tumbled down the trail, and I slid on my back after it.
Despite my lack of skill I was still having a wonderful time. The back padding acted nicely as a cushion as I slid on my back looking at the clouds overhead. They had given me enough padding to tumble comfortably down the mountains, and I did this with a relative sense of peace. The ride was particularly hard, but I was slowly getting back into my mountain biking groove.
As I slowly got better at threading my tires between the boulders and the cliffs on the ancient Incan trail we were riding on, I came to a realization. The reason I kept falling was I had been looking where I didn’t want to go, and focused on the dangerous rather than the best path in front of me. There wasn’t much room on the trail to make these mistakes, and focusing on disastrous moves always ended with me jumping off the bike or falling. This realization, although extremely simple, showed me something I now think about every day of my life.
I was brought back to the moment I bought my ticket, when I realized that I would rather be in Peru than New York over winter break. I didn’t know what would be waiting when I arrived (though my friends were quick to point out a terrorist group known as the “shining path”), only that it was where I wanted to be. Instead of focusing on all of the things that should stop me from traveling, I booked my ticket, taken the steps to sure I would have at least 1,000 dollars before I left, and everything else followed easily from there.
Back on the bike, I was starting to keep up. I was no longer walking my bike down as the steep drops, and falling less on the other parts of the trail. Nothing had changed other than the direction of my eyes. When I didn’t look at the cliffs, I didn’t worry about them. We stopped at a set of ruins near the bottom of the trail, and enjoyed a part of Peru that had been on our trail before the main road was created, a part that had only just been given its own sign. I saw at that moment that my ride was like the ruin, and I had just put a sign next to something that had always been there. It had taken me a while to get used to find it on the dangerous trail, but doing something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with had pushed my limits to the growing point.
Check out some more videos of the trail through the racing website:http://incaavalanche.com/videos/
Also, check out Blizzard Biking on my Colorado Page:http://moderatextremetravel.com/2013/02/01/blizzard-biking/