Thursday, January 10, 2013

From Canyon of the Duck to Struck by a Truck (well, it was more of a staion wagon actually)

Day 86 (January 9, 2013)
Huanchaco, Peru to Huaraz, Peru
Day's Ride: 236 Miles

As I was talking with Jdowns back in El Salvador one night, he commented on the ironic choice of my user name for advrider: ulyses. It should be spelled Ulysses, but that was already taken when I registered. In any event, Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus, the central figure of Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus was plagued by misfortune for nearly ten years on his journeys, and sometimes I wonder if a little bit of his bad luck has worn off on me.

Leaving Huanchaco, the ride south continued to be desert. The only interesting thing before taking the turn off into the mountains ended up being the fuel selection:

97 percent octane gasohol, NITRO Version! Even though it cost over six dollars a gallon, I figured I would give it a try and see if my bike suddenly developed the ability to fly. I was sorely disappointed.

Just north of Chimbote, we stopped to consult the map and decide which route we wanted to take to get up into the Cordillera Blanca. Al and a few other people had recommended it, as well as Canon del Pato (Canyon of the Duck) as being excellent rides. There were several options, all of them containing un-paved sections, so we chose the route with the lowest elevation as the gasohol made our already elevation weary machines run even worse.

Little did we know that we had accidental (and fortuitously) chosen the Canon del Pato route! After turning of the Panamerican Highway, we rode for a ways before the blacktop ended and the fun began.

The landscape was severe, sun blasted desert with magnificent scorched mountains towering on either side of the canyon. The scenery was incredible!

There were several small villages along the route; most were composed of two or three run down mud brick houses, but one contained a picturesque little church.

The road was beautiful! Well graded, smooth gravel with numerous small bridges and tunnels.

The canyon became so narrow and steep that there was hardly any room for the road; at some points there was no room for the road and crudely blasted tunnels were bored straight through the bones of the mountain.

Often the towering stone was simply undercut to allow room for the roadbed.

Eventually the tunnels began to come at a dizzying rate as the road climbed further into the canyon.

The rapid transition between glaring desert sunlight and the inky blackness of subterranean shadow often left us blinded and I nearly ate it a few times while charging madly through the tunnels at high speed. As ever, "faster and more dangerous" was the motto of the day.

Eventually the canyon broadened out for a while. We stopped to take some pictures at one of the more picturesque tunnels.

Massive three thousand foot high scree fields soon became the order of the day.

I really wanted to be dropped off at the top and then go "screeing" all the way to the bottom. Soon the road begin climbing the face of the canyon through innumerable switchbacks.

Interspersed throughout the switchbacks were several lengthy, narrow tunnels. A sign preceding each tunnel entrance ordered that you honk your horn to warn traffic traveling in the opposite direction that you were entering. Despite the warnings, we still almost got pinched by a few massive trucks.

Finally the road topped out at the head of the valley that parallels the Cordillera Blanca, and the pavement resumed.

Before long the massive glacier capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca began to appear on our left.

After stopping to take few pictures of the mountains I was turning around to get back on the road when disaster struck. Or, to be more accurate, a small white station wagon.

I had looked behind me to make sure that the road was clear, then looked forward and began to cross the road. As I eased out the clutch and begin moving, a small white car came flying over the rise in the road to my left. The driver saw me and slammed on his breaks just as I saw him and slammed on the throttle. As the hood of his car slammed into the back of my bike, I had another very lucid thought, similar to the "El Pescador" incident, in which I knew that I was about to die.

Luckily, I had sped up en ought that I was mostly in the other lane and his car smashed into the rear right Pelican case on my bike. The impact flipped me and the bike around in a 180 degree arc and sent us both sliding down the pavement. As I was sliding on my elbow and my back down the pavement, I thanked god that I was wearing the hard plastic armor that I had bough in Medellin.

As soon as I came to a halt, I sprang up and jumped out of the road. Once again I did a frantic pat down to assess the damage to my body. Nothing. I had a small scratch on my back from the metal clasp of the suspenders that I use to hold up my riding pants, but that was it.

I immediately ran over to my bike, and, with the help of bubbletron, got it upright and moved onto the side of the road. At first glance there seemed to be no damage to the bike other than a scuffed up Pelican case and a twisted luggage rack. I started the bike up for a minute and it ran fine.

Shutting the bike off, I went to investigate the car and driver that had hit me. Luckily, the driver had been able to slow down enough that only the hood of the car was a little dented in; but there was no damage to the radiator or bumper. You can see the two lines on each side of the dent where my Pelican case slid up his hood:

Not having bought the mandatory insurance at the Peruvian border, I was anxious to get everything sorted out and make myself scarce before the Police showed up. Figuring that I would be held at fault regardless of my culpability, I decided to pay the guy off an make a run for it. We talked it over and I ended up giving him $100.

Before I left, I asked him if he would sign my gas tank, something that I had wanted to the Captiain of "El Pescador" to do but had never been able to achieve.

After some warning from the locals that the cops would be here soon and that we should vanish, I jumped back on my bike and rode hard for about 30 miles until we got to a gas station outside of Huaraz. Jumping off the bike, I did a more thorough self assessment and realized that I was totally fine and that the bike was looking/running okay as well.

We got into town and I got a room for 20 Soles at a hiking/mountaineering hostel called "Jo's Place". Then, we immediately went out into town, and, as per tradition when tragedy strikes, I ate a few dinners and downed about four beers.

Luckily, there is an American expat in town who runs a micro brewery and I was able to enjoy the best Pale Ale of the entire trip. The restaurant even gave me a beer "para llevar", or "to go". In essence, a road beer. Salud!

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