Bringing some balance                                                        to foreign singletrack sojourns              ...
BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 061                                                 5/4/11 7:56:44 PM   BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA ...
location can be. Unless you’re already familiar with                           the scene in your selected area, a trip nor...
BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 063                                                 5/4/11 7:57:02 PM   BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA ...
BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 065                                                 5/4/11 7:57:21 PM   BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA ...
066067BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 066                                                 5/4/11 7:57:28 PM   BLACK YELLOW MA...
Moab or any other town you cared to mention as epicen-                                     ters of bike culture. Thousands...
PLANTATION NATION: STRAHAN                                                 LOKEN TAKES TERRACE FARMING                    ...
brings eyes to doorways and windows. Gazes lock and track our every                                        move. At first, ...
SQUEEZE PLAY:                                             STRAHAN LOKEN                                              SLIPS...
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP:                                                                                    GET A CLOSE-UP VIEW...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

Sacred Rides in Bike Magazine: Peru


Published on

A beautiful Bike Magazine spread on our Inca Trail trip in Peru:

Published in: Travel
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Sacred Rides in Bike Magazine: Peru

  1. 1. Bringing some balance to foreign singletrack sojourns YOU’D THINK I’D BE USED TO IT BY NOW. In every corner of my periphery, I catch a flash of eyes, feel the stares bore into my back and sense each whisper in a foreign tongue. I’d told myself I’d grown accustomed to these feelings of alienation and awkwardness. It had, after all, been like this for the better part of a week. This time, however, there was something differ- ent in the way they watched my every move. Sure, the inquisitiveness was still abundantly clear, and the hushed conversations still equally impenetrable to my monolingual ear, but the general aura of the whole situation seemed to have taken on a warmer, friendlier tone—almost as if they wanted us to be there. If this all seems a bit cryptic, perhaps this is the point where I should rewind a bit. NOT EASY BEING GREEN I’ve always had a problem with mountain biking. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong—two knob- bied wheels have been a joyful constant in my life since a very early age. But the idea that our sport is green and environmentally conscious has never really sat well with me. I’m generalizing and, of course, very much include myself in these criti- cisms, but we mountain bikers really don’t seem to conform to eco-friendly norms in any signifi- cant way. Most riders I know will happily drive miles to trailheads, be them local or far-flung, and the majority of us won’t bat an eyelid at the idea of jetting across the globe in search of new geog- raphies on which to lay down fresh rubber. Even putting aside concerns about the environ- mental impact of our activities, I’ve always been aware of how selfish an endeavor riding in a new Words & photography by Dan BarhamBIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 060 5/4/11 7:56:33 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P060__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  2. 2. BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 061 5/4/11 7:56:44 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P061__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  3. 3. location can be. Unless you’re already familiar with the scene in your selected area, a trip normally fol- lows the same pattern: Travel to someone else’s soil. Park in someone else’s parking lot. Ride someone else’s trails. Spend a token amount of money in someone else’s food joint, and maybe suck back a couple of beers before getting the hell out. Seems like there’s a good deal of taking in the bargain and not much in the way of giving. Overseas bike vacations are both of those con- cerns combined, turned up to 11 with the overdrive on full. Pumping tons of jet vapor into the atmo- sphere to shred foreign singletrack seems to be the antithesis of environmentally sensitive decisions. Now, having said all of the above, I won’t lie: When Mike Brcic of Sacred Rides first contacted me about the trip he was running to Peru, my first thoughts weren’t of the worldly impact of the travel, or how I could give back to the area, or even when we would leave. Instead, my mind was immediately filled with that most basic question every mountain biker asks of any new location: “What’s the riding like?” The answer from Brcic was: nothing short of phenomenal. MUD HUTS AND MERCEDES The excursion Brcic put together starts in Peru’s contradictory capital city, Lima, where recognizable fast-food chains, adventure-clothing retailers and polished Mercedes sedans share the streets with decrepit rickshaws and crumbling architecture of a very separate heritage. Just a few minutes from the bustling tourist mall and five-star hotels is all it takes to reach the first pedal of the week, past scenes of poverty visible only as brief glimpses from the window of a speed- ing bus. Shiny metal and mirrored glass gives way to brick and mortar, which in turn slowly transforms to corrugated sheet metal and mud huts by the time BIKE BOULDERING: STRAHAN LOKEN DRILLS HIS WAY DOWN A QUARRY NEAR OLLEROS, CHASING THE ECHOES OF THE CHAIN GANG ON POSSIBLY THE BEST DOWNHILL IN THE WORLD. IF THIS REGION WAS MORE ACCESSIBLE, IT MIGHT BE THE MOST MANDA- TORY MOUNTAIN-BIKE DESTINATION ON EARTH.BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 062 5/4/11 7:56:51 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P062__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  4. 4. BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 063 5/4/11 7:57:02 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P063__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  5. 5. SHIVER ME TIMBERS: WAYO STEIN AND TJ NEAULT PUT THE WOOD TO THEIR RIDING MATES NEAR CUSCO. BELOW: WHERE PERUVIAN WHEELS WAIT BETWEEN ONE LIFE AND THE NEXT. we reach the trailhead. As we unpack our bikes and slather on sunscreen, it suddenly becomes apparent that this corner of Peru is characterized by extremes: For every North American steak and rib restaurant there is a corresponding earth oven; for every towering mountain peak there’s the equal-yet-oppo- site river valley. Thankfully for our as-yet-unadjusted lungs, our initial foray begins in the latter, following a path carved by floods, seem- ingly shaped by the best builders in the world. Mud and soil moved by massive snow melt have hardened in the warm summer weather, producing waves of perfect rhythm that stretch toward the sea, each corner naturally shaped over the course of months by the downward travel of water. Not even the deafening buzz of tire on natural cement can drown out the yelps of joy as we blast our way back to civilization in the afternoon sun. Pisco Sour, the unofficial staple drink of our time there, lubricates the evening into a fuzzy haze and we retire to our simple-yet-comfortable hotel rooms, each confident in our individual reasons for being there. If you’d asked me at that point how our trip was going I’d have told you that it was as good as it gets—surely nothing beats great trails, unfamiliar landscapes, new people and strong booze. The truth is that this was purely a warm-up— the opening act to the masterpiece that lay ahead. A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH Olleros is a word that divides any group of well-traveled rid- ers neatly in two—those that don’t recognize the name and can only respond with a shrug, and those whose eyes cloud over and let out a knowing sigh, their heads tilting back in an attempt to recollect their own experiences of a ride I’m not ashamed to relate to you as one of the longest, most balls- out-fun downhill trails I’ve ever had the privilege of riding. Olleros is a town that, placed alongside an easily traversed highway in North America, would quickly eclipse Whistler,BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 064 5/4/11 7:57:10 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P064__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  6. 6. BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 065 5/4/11 7:57:21 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P065__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  7. 7. 066067BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 066 5/4/11 7:57:28 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P066__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:21 PR3_41
  8. 8. Moab or any other town you cared to mention as epicen- ters of bike culture. Thousands would flock every week from all over world. It’d become as much of a rite of pas- sage for a “true” mountain biker as the Slickrock trail or A-Line. Internet forums would be ablaze. As it happens, the start of Possibly the Best Downhill in the World sits at a dizzying altitude of eleven-thousand feet above sea level, guarded from all but the most determined travelers by three hours of unrelenting mountain-road switchbacks, bordered on both sides by certain-death drops. To describe our 30-mile descent in detail would be a pursuit as unnecessary as it is futile—there’s simply too much to recall. What starts as cactus-lined rock chutes blends seamlessly into flowing ribbons of finely dusted paths of pure speed, spiked shrubbery blurring into tunnel-vision insignificance as the eye focuses farther and farther in front. Only a brief stop in a remote elementary school, mainly for purpose of pulling wheelies in front of delighted chil- dren, punctuates the sheer single-mindedness of the downhill; a continuous streak toward the distant cloud- filled valley that signaled the presence of the coast, our eventual destination. THE RED BARON BOMBS HIS WAY DOWN THE RIVER VALLEY NEAR OLLANTAYTAMBO. INSET: A DOG’S LIFE AT THE LOCAL CHICKEN JOINT.BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 067 5/5/11 8:33:24 AM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P067__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 09:21 PR3_41
  9. 9. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: THE LENGTHS BRETT WOOTTON WILL STOOP TO FOR PRIME PERU- VIAN SINGLETRACK; EYEING UP THE GRINGOS; INDIGENOUS OUTLOOK; COLONIAL FACADE; THE LONG CLIMB BACK TO THE VILLAGE. With every passing second the air grows thicker, mirrored by a deepen- ing sand that turns even the most trivial corner into a two-wheel-drifting affair. Normally I’d extol the virtues of a per- fectly-executed plough through the soft, golden grains of earth, but the com-068 68 pound effect of relentless concentration, crippling brake-pumped forearms and omnipresent boulders littering every potential crash zone make for a nerve- wracking experience. Several riders suc- cumb to the silent guardians of the trail boundary, their hesitation in correcting a wayward slide punished by hard knocks and scrapes, their fresh tracks serving as warnings to those that follow. It’s a good few hours until we reach the lapping shores of the Pacific Ocean once again, but not before we also duck barbed wire and sneak through bullet-riddled fences, negotiating full-speed Star Wars-style trench runs through dried riverbeds. There’s a soothing finality to a ride that starts atBIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 068 5/4/11 7:58:13 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P068__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:50 PR3_41
  10. 10. PLANTATION NATION: STRAHAN LOKEN TAKES TERRACE FARMING TO THE NEXT LEVEL. LEFT: PRIM AND PUCKER—WOULD YOU LIKE TO KISS MY LLAMA? the peaks of mountains and ends where the land concedes to the sea—no farther to go, no possible way it could’ve been longer. It’s a fitting end to an incredible day, and one I have no doubt will live with me for a very long time. PASTY GRINGOS & GLARES While a ride this epic (and I use that term with none of the irony or exaggeration that normally accom- panies this word) is all well and good, it wasn’t until we journeyed deeper into the heart of Peru that we finally had a chance to see the real country and the people who inhabit it. It was here, in the iso- lated heights of the Andes, that we first encountered the glares. It’s understandable, really. The ancient Incan mountain town of Ollantaytambo is no stranger to foreign travelers, being a major stop on the trail to the modern wonder of the world that is Machu Picchu. Wizened locals rub shoul- ders with hemp-panted, greasy dreadlocked serial travelers and camera-happy, fanny-packed day- trippers; the sight of sunblock-cov- ered skin is as much a part of the village as the earth-bricked shacks and gaudy tourist merchandise.070 70 Just minutes away from the town however, it’s a completely contrast- ing story: Visitors seldom tread in the villages of the surrounding hills, and a traditional way of life flourishes, unimpeded by the in- quisitive gringos who temporarily dwell below. Centuries-old dress, farming methods and buildings are all here with no hint of artificial preservation, so it’s to be expected that the sight of a half-dozen, pasty-white Canadians on various top-of-the-line mountain bikes would elicit the odd glance or two. The alien echo of synchronized click-click-clicking freehub pawls snaps heads around and consistentlyBIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 070 5/4/11 7:58:25 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P070__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:50 PR3_41
  11. 11. brings eyes to doorways and windows. Gazes lock and track our every move. At first, each stare seems to carry a threat, forcing my grip on the bars to tighten and my view into an unwavering fix on the horizon. It takes a couple of unplanned halts—one for a pinched tube, the other for a lost guide—to realize such feelings are, for the most part, the outcome of my city-based upbringing. It’s the school of thought which teaches that every errant glare is an indication of imminent danger. There’s still an air of suspicion and trepidation on both sides, but no ap- parent malice from the older people we meet. The kids, on the other hand, throw caution to the wind, crowding around each of us with excited en- ergy, the longing gapes at our bikes a universal language we all remem- ber from years past. Stepping off and gingerly passing my only form of transport in that remote region to the nearest extended hand, it’s deeply satisfying to watch the flock of exhilarated children swarm around the one bravest enough to risk contact. They whoop and holler in a manner I can only presume I would mimic, were a handful of astronauts to roll into my town with personal space shuttles and offer to let me take one for a spin. It’s a cycle that repeats itself in every hamlet we pass through. KARMIC BALANCING ACT Soon I become aware that things are falling into a very familiar pattern. Like Crusaders from a bygone era, we arrive, plunder the trails, and PISCO SOUR TIME: TJ NEAULT AND MEGAN MACADAM DE- SCEND INTO CUSCO. ABOVE: RUNNING OUT OF STEAM.BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 072 5/4/11 7:58:34 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P072__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:50 PR3_41
  12. 12. SQUEEZE PLAY: STRAHAN LOKEN SLIPS BETWEEN THE CRACKS NEAR CUSCO. RIGHT: VENDORS FLOG THE FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR. leave without any manner of repara- tions. That is, at least, until we happen across the tiny commune of Patacan- cha, half-way point on a rocky single- track descent that begins at a breath- less 14,000 feet and ends back in the main town square of Ollantaytambo. The men have long since deserted Patacancha in search of lucrative tourism dollars. Now this tiny col- lection of houses serves as home to a handful of women and children left to fend for themselves—and who happen to be the main focus of charity collective Awamaki. This group of volunteers works with the inhabitants of Patacancha, fostering a fair-trade market for the intricately woven items made possible by the patience, practice and talent passed down through countless generations. It’s here that we’re finally given the chance to pay our dues, return some goodwill and redress the karmic bal- ance of our journey. Sacred Rides doesn’t run things like your average tour company. In the weeks leading up to our depar- ture, we’d been encouraged to raise donations to support the Awamaki cause, to pair with a similar donation taken from the cost of our tour. The074 key benefit, however—the way we could actually make a tangible dif- ference—is that we’d actually get to visit and provide support in person. Making a donation is one thing, but helping out with your very own hands is something altogether different. So there we were, six eager moun- tain bikers surrounded by the stares of twenty weavers, working to churn mud, straw and water into the crude spackling that covers the side of each shelter. We slap the mixture onto each wall with rapidly cooling fingers. It takes several applications before the adobe is smoothed into its final shell, ready for the baking sun to finish the process. It’s a new experience for us.BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 074 5/4/11 7:58:43 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P074__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:50 PR3_41
  13. 13. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: GET A CLOSE-UP VIEW OF MACHU PICCHU AND YOU’LL SEE THAT THE ANCIENT INCAS HAD IT ALL FIGURED OUT; LOAD ‘EM UP; GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY; SETTING THE SAG; INDIGENOUS HAUTE COUTURE. Are we even doing this right? Throughout the process, our work is accompanied by an incom- prehensible but friendly commentary from our onlookers. The day finishes with a slap-up meal, and while we know there is much more work to be done here, it is amazing to note how just a few hours of manual labor over the course of a 10- day riding trip has helped us feel as if we made a meaningful change, however small, to the076 76 area’s standard of living. A warm glow fills my head as we pedal back down to our hotel in the cool evening air. A couple of days later, on the flight home, I can’t help but reflect on the feelings that fol- lowed the simple act of plastering an adobe wall. Did we forge world peace or end global hunger? Hardly. But for once in my mountain- biking life, I feel like there’s been some give to accompany the take. Maybe it’s a model I can extend to all my rides and journeys. Maybe next time I’m on an unfamiliar trail, I’ll fix the drain that’s blocked or the berm that’s blown-out. Maybe I can travel to nearby areas and attend trailwork days or put some time back into the tracks I’ve taken so much from over the years. I can’t even begin to tell you how much those trails have given me.BIKP-110700-PERU-060-76.indd 076 5/4/11 7:58:54 PM BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN P076__BIKP-110700.pgs 05.05.2011 07:50 PR3_41