Now, some people may disagree with the title of this post, probably those people living in either North Wales or the Scottish Highlands, but having spent considerable time in both, it is something I stand by. The reason for this bold statement was the crazy idea to do the EDF Alpe d’Huez Long Distance Triathlon which, 9 months after the original idea came to mind, all came together last week.

Before I go on, I just want to say that if either you’re thinking of doing this race or you’re thinking of doing a race abroad and don’t know which race to do, do this one. It is the most spectacular, beautiful and inspirational course you’ll ever do. It may also be the hardest, most challenging one as well, but that just makes it even better when you cross the line.

Somehow we got a team of 4 together from the office to take part of which we were all equally minded/naive about what we had signed up for after deciding that the short distance would be too easy. After a stop over in Reims we eventually arrived in to the Alps on the monday afternoon and this is where it all became very real.

We drove through Bourg-d’Oisans and turned onto the road up to the Alpe d’Huez, the car suddenly went very quiet as everyone was looking out the window speechless. The road turns the corner and straight away hits an 11% gradient and then just goes on and on and on, climbing and climbing through it’s legendary 21 hairpin bends. It’s something that you really have to go and see with your own eyes as I simply can’t describe it and do it justice. The views at every bend are stunning and you can see more and more as you crawl your way up the mountain. By the time we reached the top we understood why it has earned its legendary status within the Tour de France and were suitably nervous and starting to wonder what we had signed up for…

Bike/Run Transition at the top

At the top we checked in to the ski resort and went for a little run to loosen up and explore the run route before finding a restaurant and eating as much as we could. The next day we assembled the bikes and took them down 3 bends to make sure they worked. Unfortunately, or I like to think quite luckily, this is where I got Cadelled, getting my only puncture of the trip after getting a tack in my back wheel. I knew my wheels were very slick and this forced me to buy a new pair of tyres ahead of the race which did not let me down. We also used this opportunity to get some pictures of us on the climb ahead of the race before heading back to the hotel. One thing we did notice is that everyone else in the town was looking very serious, with over half in ironman t-shirts.

The tack from my tyre

Climbing the top bends of the Alpe d’Huez

In the afternoon we decided to drive down to the lake and drive the bike course, something that I’m really glad we did. This allowed us to see where the climbs and descents were so that the following day they wouldn’t be as much of a surprise. We then went for a quick 20 minute swim before again hitting the restaurant for more food before prepping the bikes and having an early night, there was nothing more that we could do now…

We woke up at 6:30 for the 9:30 start where we ate and put our running shoes in the second transition at the top before getting on the bike down to the lake with our wetsuits in our rucksacks. So before the 2.2km swim, 115km bike and 22km run, we had to do a 21km descent to the start line, just to make it that bit longer! (This is also longer than your average half iron-man, something which I didn’t realise prior to entering.) In fairness it was a beautiful descent which only took about 30 minutes and it was the perfect warm up. We timed the arrival perfectly and after we had set up and got our wetsuits on it was less than 10 minutes to the start.

Swim/Bike Transition by Lac Verney

Lac Verney

Lac Verney is absolutely beautiful and the water was a lovely temperature which was perfect for the race. The water is so clear and you could see almost as much underwater as in a swimming pool, something unheard of for an open water swim. The atmosphere in the water during the countdown was electric and was building and building as the countdown got closer and closer to the start. As we hit one minute to go, the thud of a helicopter appeared and hovered about 50m above the start before the horn went and we were off. As always the start was chaos, every time you turned to breathe you could just hear the helicopter overhead and just see a mass of people in the water, but being able to see underwater was invaluable. I avoided too many knocks and bumps and quickly settled into a nice rhythm which I kept throughout. It was the nicest swim I’ve ever done and I almost forgot what lay ahead.

Coming out of the swim was busy but I quickly found my bike, trying to put some more sunscreen on before setting off on my way. The first 26km were downhill and allowed me to take on food and drink while still going quickly. This is where it first became clear that is was going to be a hot day, according to my Garmin, the average temperature over the bike was a rather warm 30°C, peaking at over a scorching 37°C. Just another little factor to make this race even harder than your average half iron-man.

After the downhill we hit the town of Séchilienne where there was the first opportunity to pick up more water, before turning on to the climb of the Col du Grand Serre. Luckily this was mostly shaded and was never too steep. It did however go on and on for 14km and I kept wondering if this bend was the last one but unfortunately most times there was just another hiding around the corner. The views from the climb were stunning and we could see right across the valley at points, and towards the end we were pulling level with the top of the mountains opposite. All along the climb the support was great with supporters both scattered along the route but also cars driving past with flags out of the window with all the car shouting ‘allez allez’. At the top was the first feed station which was much appreciated and I swapped by two empty bottles for new ones.

After this climb there was a short descent which was much appreciated with a little climb before we could properly descent into the next valley. This is where I really started to feel the heat and knew that I’d not been taking on enough liquid. My lower back started to get really painful and I couldn’t put any power down. I carried on for another few kilometres but in the heat which had now reached 35°C, as soon as the road flattened out I had to pull over and try to stretch it out. At this point is was seriously starting to think I was beaten, although I was about half way on the bike I still had 2 massive climbs to go. I was overtaken by Lizzie who offered to help but there was nothing that she could do and I wouldn’t have wanted to slow her down. I got back on and made it to the town of Valbonnais which was a few kilometres down the road where there was a food stop and this completely saved me. I ate lots of food and drank as much as possible, restocked both my bottles and covered myself head to toe in water to try and cool down. This definitley helped and I felt a million times better, just as well because as soon as we left the town the climb of the Col d’Ornon began.

When we drove this section the previous day it didn’t seem too bad, it looked like a steady climb with a shallow gradient, however in the heat and on a bike it was a different beast. By this point it was peaking at 37°C which just sapped all the energy out you and everyone tried to take any refuge they could in any shade available. I took every opportunity to cover myself with water, the best being some of the locals who stood in the road with a hose, offering to spray people as the past to which I saw no-one say no. Towards the top of the climb I looked back down the valley where you could see just how much we had climbed. At the top was another much needed food and water stop before a beautiful descent winding down the mountain towards the next valley.

Descending the Col d’Ornon

As we got further down the mountain you could start to see more and more of the Alpe d’Huez, a gentle reminder that we still hard the hardest climb of the day ahead. I used the opportunity to eat and drink as much as possible before going through Bourg-d’Oisans where there were plenty of supporters cheering us on before the road turned towards the mountain.

Now, words cannot do the Alpe d’Huez justice, you really have to see it to believe it, and I recommend you do. Straight from the outset it hits 11% and the first 4 bends are horrible. The heat scorching down was intense and I had to stop numerous times to let my body cool down just a bit. A lovely British couple helped me at one point, filling my water bottles and checking I was ok before driving past me shouting support later on. It’s said that the average gradient is 7% but I would have to disagree, it never really lets off and just keeps on climbing. In total it’s a 1,130m climb over 14km, taking you up to 1,850m at the top. In total the climb took me 3h:19, but I made it up eventually and I couldn’t be happier the bike was over. Over the course of the bike route I burned 3,641 Calories, climbing a total of 3,837 m.

Almost at the top of the Alpe d’Huez

Out of transition my legs actually felt ok, there was a food stop straight away which was much appreciated then it was 3 x 7.3km loops around some beautiful trails. The biggest issue I found was the altitude, I would try to run but just couldn’t breathe in any air. This got easier over time and I found the last lap the easiest. Over the course of the run I managed to catch a glimpse of everyone from our group and that’s when it hit me that we were all going to complete the race.

Running the half marathon

On the final lap I couldn’t wait to finish and it was a great feeling dropping back into the town, going back through the transition and turning on to the final straight. Having your name on your number makes a huge difference and the support was brilliant, 2 of the group had already finished and were there to push me on to a sprint finish. Crossing the line was a great feeling of relief and the realisation that I had completed this huge challenge.

Finally finishing!

In total my overall time was 10 hours, 53 minutes and 14 seconds, but I couldn’t care less, I had finished, and if my biggest injury was the sunburn it couldn’t be too bad. Now I just need to find my next challenge for next year.

For those of you who are interested, the data from my bike leg can be found here and were splits were:

Swim: 46:17
Bike: 6:59:29
Run: 2:59:18

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May Mountain Biking

May 9, 2012

I know that I’ve been fairly quiet on here since getting back from South America, but fear not, I’ve just been laying low for a while as I’ve started work down South. I worked for 6 months in London before eyeing up the opportunity to spend the summer working beside the seaside in Hove and moved to be a 5 minute walk from the South Coast.

The downside of this became clear this bank holiday as I rented a van and headed up for a long weekend in the Lake District. It’s absolutely miles away from the places that I love, that used to be relatively close when I lived in Manchester and Edinburgh.

Despite one of those days at work where you think you’ll never get away I managed to leave Brighton around 6, before heading up to Redhill picking up Andy and Eric before beginning the long drive up North. We eventually managed to make it to the campsite near Coniston around 1:30 where we met up with the others and quickly set up camp for the night under the full moon. The first night was freezing cold but in the morning we slowly made our way after a bit of a lie in to Grizedale where we would base oursleves for the next two days. We met up with a few more people here before we hit the trails.

I’d bought my cyclocross bike with me and thought I’d give it a run for its money on the trails. We decided on the North Face Trail which definitely did exactly that. The very rocky trail was a nice and challenging 16km loop with lots of single track.

I kept up with the rest on their mountain bikes despite the lack of low gears and suspension. At one point getting overtaken by some pros shouting out: “You’re a mad man with that on here!”. Let’s just say that I proved the shop wrong that you needed one of their premium bikes to do the trail. After all, it was Andy that had the comedy fall of the day, not me. Suspension is for chumps was the message of the day…

Out on the trails. Photo: Ash Gilchrist

To finish the day off we did a quick lap of the forest trails before heading back and enjoying some well earned food in the local pub that evening. Wearing all of my clothes to bed that evening it was a slightly warmer evening before heading back to Grizedale the next day. This time we were a slightly smaller group so decided to do some harder runs so I bit the bullet and hired a mountain bike for the day which would turn out to be a good investment.

Getting to grips with the MTB, Photo: Ash Gilchrist

Doing a trail off the map we immediately hit some rocky, muddy and steep descents that would have been impossible on my bike, I just had to be careful with the disc brakes to not go over the handlebars! We found some great fast and technical sections despite getting a bit lost but that was the fun of it all.

To finish off we headed to the black run which was amazing fun, being fluid and quick with a number of jumps to go over which we ran a number of times each. I’ve found the following video of the run which shows a taste of what it’s like. But let me tell you it’s a lot steeper in real life!

Joe on the black run

Happy with the day we headed back to the bottom to drop the bikes off just before they shut and we headed back to the campsite. Some of the group had gone climbing this day and we waited for them before heading into town for some much needed food. Unfortunately we were just a bit too late with all of the pub ceasing to serve food after 9 so we had to return to the campsite to cook up our own but we got fed in the end.

The next and final day we were keen get on the road not too late so we headed for a walk around Great Langdale where we climbed to a reservior up on one of the hills. It was a great little climb and provide great views across the Lakes.

Andy and Eric climbing to the top

Andy and Eric climbing to the top

After reaching the reservoir halfway up the three of us in the van decided to head back down and start the journey back before the rest carried on to the top. Let’s just say it was hard to separate us after three fun days together:

Parting ways at the top

Let’s just say I could have done without the 07:17 to London Bridge the next day!

We couldn´t wait to get out of Rosario and while the last of the people in the hostel were going to bed, we got up and out of there sharpish! Relieved to find our bikes still in the parking lot across the street, we loaded them up and hit the road towards Pergamino.

Although only 108km on the map, it actually turned out to be closer to 130km once we had found accommodation. After Pergamino we were on ruta 8, straight to Buenos Aires. Along the way we could see the kilometre markers counting down, and this time it really was to the finish.

We were aiming to spend three days getting to the outskirts of Buenos Aires, so that we could have a short final day and not to be too tired to celebrate. The road continued and after the second day, the finish was only 145km away.

On the third day we were aiming for Pilar where the road trundled on before turning into a motorway just before the town. Here we were faced by a toll booth manned by the gendarmerie who pulled us to the side and asked us where we were going. They explained that we weren´t supposed to be on here, but to get to Pilar we had no other option so let us continue along on the hard shoulder for 8 or so km.

Only 100km to go!

Once we reached Pilar, we stopped for ice cream before asking if there was somewhere to stay nearby, only to get the response that there was nothing in the town and only 1 hotel on a road out of town. Disappointed, we headed out of town and came across another hotel which we thought was a bargain at only $85. However when the guy behind the little window explained that this was per hour, we were quickly back on the road!

We found two other places, one of which was full and one which was $350 per night. So instead we picked up some food from a little shop before deciding to camp (it was getting late at this point) in a abandoned plot of land on the road. Of all the random places we have camped we were suprised not to be discovered here.

As we were camping, we naturally woke up early on our last day of cycling and we were immediately on the road with only 45km to go. We had joked throughtout the trip that it was the journey and not the destination that was important, but today it was definitely the desination! The road quickly became much more built up and it stayed this way all morning before we made it across the ring road. Getting the map of Buenos Aires out we figured out where we were and headed for the centre, aiming to finish at the Plaza de Mayo.

After a quick stop for lunch we were on the final straight down Corrientes where we hit the Capital Federal Obilisk before finally, 4819km later, reaching the end of our trip. It was all a bit unreal and to be honest a bit of an anticlimax, the square wasn´t that photographic and it didn´t take long for us to be back our bikes to get to the hostel where we finally put them to rest, not to be used again for a long time!

Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

We´ve got 5 nights in Buenos Aires where we plan to take it very easy before flying home and getting back to the real world where I start my new job in just 10 days. It´s been an amazing trip and I´ll update the blog with pictures and more detail once I sort everything out.

Boca, Buenos Aires

Boca, Buenos Aires

Packing up the bikes to come home

Tenemos nada

August 21, 2011

After two lazy days in Cordoba and our hostel in Buenos Aries booked, it was time to hit the road. We had 700km to go, which divided up nicely as 400km to Rosario then 300km from there.

It was fairly easy to get out of Cordoba and we were soon back on ruta 9, on which we´ve spent so much time these last few weeks. The scenery remained flat and the frequency of towns increased to at least one every 20km, which was a nice change as it meant that we didn´t have to worry about being caught short for food or accommodation.

The first day was fairly quick and straight and we stopped in James Craik, trying to hit over 100km a day so that we could make it to Rosario in 4 days and have a rest there. The following day started off fairly cloudy with a side wind, before an hour or so of light rain before lunch, our first bit of rain since early on in Peru!

When we arrived in Belville that evening, everywhere was either full or too expensive before we finally managed to find somwhere. The following day the side wind continued but we made it to Armstrong. Again we were faced with everywhere being either too expensive or full before we finally found a  hospedaje on the main road for the night.

This left 90km to go to Rosario and finally the wind had finally died down (along with the temperature!). The morning went fairly quickly and we stopped for lunch at a great little parilla restaurant, before making it into Rosario around 3. It was lucky that me made it to Rosario relatively early, because our difficulty in finding accommodation the previous few nights was nothing compared to how difficult it was in Rosario.

We had the address of one hostel which we found easily but they had nada, nothing. They did however give us a map with 8 other hostels on, of which we tried every single one to the same answer; nada! We started asking in hotels and anything we could spot before we finally stumbled across a hostel that was willing to put a matress on the floor for us at great expense. It turned out that this weekend was a ´red´weekend, a bank holiday in which everyone goes away. With no other options we decided to take it. When I mentioned the fact that we had two bikes and she was not happy, having none of it, she wouldn´t let them in the hostel, forcing us to leave them locked up at a parking garage across the street. Luckily for us we got talking to the security guard and the manager at the lot and they were impressed with what we had done and let us leave them there for free right beside the office.

Disgruntled, but at least with somewhere to stay, we headed out for drinks and food before coming back to find out that we had been moved into a dorm, which I have to admit, was better. However what we didn´t agree with, was having to pay more for the pleasure, an additional $40 over the two nights. We agrued with the owner, but even with my personal lawyer on the case, she threatened to throw us out if we didn´t pay. Knowing that she held all the cards we reluctantly paid and then went back out for more drinks to drown our sorrows.

The monument de la Bandera, Roasario

The following day it was one of those bank holidays where nothing was open bar a few cafes, which we hopped between before coming back to the hostel. Disappointed with Rosario and longing for the finish, we´ve given ourselves 4 days to finish the final 300km to Buenos Aires. Roll on the finish!

The long and boring road

August 15, 2011

As we left Cafayate, we were sad to leave the wine behind, knowing that we had a big climb to get out of the valley as the price to pay for our detour. The road continued on through more vineyards before opening up along the valley before we turned and headed for the hill. The first day we camped in Amicha del Valle before tackling the 1000m, 33km climb to just over 3000m the next day. In the end, it wasn´t that bad and we made it down the other side for a late lunch and a stop in Tafi del Valle. Reaching a new top speed of 72.5km/h along the way, a record which I´m sure I won´t have the oppourtunity to brake again.

Climbing out of the Cafayate Valley

We left Tafi and still had approximately another 2000m to descend, which we did through the forest on less than ideal roads, before the scenery completely flattened out. Over the next 6 days the scenery was the least interesting of the trip so far, which was no help when we had to get the miles done, although it was relatively flat. Towns along the way were few and far between which meant we had to plan so fairly uneven days. This was not helped when on two of the days the wind was horrendous, making the days a real slog. We also registered our longest day of the trip so far, at a bum breaking 7 hours and 40 minutes but only clocking 129km.

1000km to go!

Along the way, it wasn´t all boring though, we found some more salt flats which we stopped at to take some funny perpective pictures. In Dean Fumes, I was interviewed in Spanish for two different TV stations and before Jesus Maria we camped in the playground of a petrol station as we didn´t make it far enough to the next town (although this time we had permission!). We finally made it to Cordoba on schedule, but absolutely knackered. We will be taking a whole two days off before starting the last stretch to Buenos Aires, a mere 700km away, and the end of the road!

Wind and wine

August 7, 2011

Safely over the border into Argentina, we pumped up our tires, found some cash and we were on our way. Leaving La Quicaca, we were hit with a howling gale and a crazy dog that decided to chase us for the first 20km before we managed to loose it. These combined meant it didn´t take Lisa long to declare her hate for Argentina. After we managed to loose the dog the wind turned in our favour and we made it to Abra Pampa by lunch, however after lunch the wind only got worse and turned side on. Forcing us to walk with our bikes through a sand storm before it calmed down and the wind turned.

We made it to Tres Cruces as it was getting cold but we´re unable to find a place to stay. Not wanting to leave the town and head into the open as the wind howled on, we found what we thought was as abandoned police station with some of the doors open. We took our chances and opted for the relative shelter and warmth of the room and pitched our tent inside. As it got dark we had the little we had left to eat and started to think about bad before a torch started to look in the room and we were busted. The policeman came in and we opened the tent. He explained that this was a polcie station and asked why we were there but as we pleaded and promised that we would be out by 8 in the morning he let us stay. Thankfully…

The police station

The next day the wind continued to howl on and as the policeman came back to make sure we were out into the freezing cold. The first part of the day was fine as we descended, but as we turned one corner we were thrown into a wind tunnel and blown across the road, forced to walk another kilometre. We made it to Humahuaca for lunch where I discovered llama is both warm cuddly and tasty as we made up for a dissapointing breakfast. Aftre lunch we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn as we headed furher south before making it to Tilcara in the evening where we picked up a map and some much needed fruit.

At the Tropic of Capricorn

The next day was beautifully downhill until a little climb after which we were hit with cold air for the rest of the day. We planned on making it the whole way to Jujuy for lunch but decided to stop early for food in a small town. We managed to find a man cooking lunch out of his home kitchen that he´d opened up to the public and we got the best plate of spaghetti we´d had for a while. When we made it to Jujuy we found a hostel for the night and cooked up a big meal once we found a Carrefour.

After Jujuy, it was time to head to Salta and we decided to take the scenic route and not the motorway. The road beautifully snaked up and through the countryside as we passed the 3000km mark for the trip, before we dropped into Salta. We struggled to find somewhere cheap to stay in Salta and the hostel we´d read about in a guidebook was now twice the quoted price. It was infact cheaper for us to get a self contained apartment for the night and cook all our own meals which meant we could eat healthy and well.

The scenic route from Jujuy to Salta

The next morning we hit the bike shops in the hope of getting a few more inner tubes but everywhere only seemed to have mountain bike ones or American valve road tyres. Getting out of Salta was suprisingly easy and we were soon on the scenic Ruta del Vino which snakes for 200km through the mountains along the river towards the Cafayate wine region. The first day we did 110km before setting up camp in Alemania and the following day we finished off the rest which was much more scenic but much windier. The scenery was reminiscent of the Grand Canyon with towering multicoloured sand and rock before it sharply changed to the green you would expect wine country to  be.

The stunning scenery

When we made it to Cafayate it didn´t take long for us to be sitting out in the plaza major sipping wine. The region is famous for it´s Torrentes wine and we sampled lots of different bodega´s (vineyards) wine to help influence our decision of which bodega to visit the following day. We decided on Bodega Etchart and went for a lovely tour the next day. We were suprised at how the tour was also in English, but more importantly, how much free wine we got to have! The rest of the day we spent enjoying the sunshine and taking it easy before we set off cycling the next day. It´s now off towards Cordoba and ultimately Buenos Aires.

The vineyards along the route

At Bodegas Etchart

Brrrrlivia

July 30, 2011

After a welcome break in Copacabana, it was time to hit the road again. We left as we had arrived with Rene and we headed to Tiquini, where we had to share a bus with a boat to get across the lake one last time. While doing this we were interviewed by the BBC World Service about pollution in the lake, so keep your ears peeled for that!

After that, it took 2 days to get to El Alto, the outskirts of La Paz. We decided not to go into La Paz, for both time and hassle reasons. From the other cyclists we´ve met along the way, we´ve heard tales of a 12km, 12 lane descent into the city which we quite fancied avoiding. We found a nice place to stay before spending the rest of the afternoon exploring. Unfortunately whille doing this, I had my wallet stolen on the busy street as rice was thrown over me. Luckily for us, we were on our way to a cash machine and not from one, and our passports were seperate.

Street Carnival, El Alto

The following day we quickly left El Alto and did our fastest day yet. The road was still paved but the buses and lorries were driving a bit too close for our liking. It took us two days of some of the most boring, flat scenery we´ve encountered so far to get to Oruro where we planned to have our last bit of luxury for a while. In fact, for breakfast we managed to get 7 Empandadas and 3 cups of tea for Bs./30, bargain! This was exactly what we needed as the thermometer in the town showed a chilly 2·C.

After Oruro, we actually had 1.5 more days of good roads before it all turned for the worse. From Challapata to Uyuni took us 3 days of 6 hour+ slogs across the bumpy and more frustratingly, sandy, roads. Each night we had to camp as the temperature plumetted, and on the second night all the water bottles we had INSIDE the tent, froze. On the last day we managed to make it onto the Salar, where the white salt extends way off over the horizon, allowing us to take some funny pictures, bearing in mind not many people were around. We decided not to go over the salt flats as recently there has been a lot of snow which has all melted to make it all boggy.

Camping on the road to Uyuni

Passing 2000km

Lisa on the Salt Flats

When we finally made it to Uyuni around 6 o´clock on the third day it was a welcome suprise to find it so touristy, and with the help of a nice German couple we found a hotel for the night. To say we ate well when we were in Uyuni would be an understatement. I think we blew all the money we´d saved of the last couple of days eating very well indeed, trying to stock up on fruit and veg as much as possible, spending the majority of our day off in cafes and restaurants.

Before leaving Uyuni we had a tough decision to make, take the less major road to Villazon, or take the more major road to Potosi and then down to Villazon. Twice the distance but potentially more places to stay and a better road. We ultimately decided to go the long way, which looking back now, was almost certainly the wrong decision. The first day we spent 3 hours pushing our bikes up a dirt road before the road finally became paved. The next day started exactly the same with a long climb on a dirt road before the roads became paved. Although where the road was paved it was a beautifully new road and when it was down hill you could absolutely fly. It took 3 days to get to Potosi, and the third day was a tale of ups and downs, literally. On the down hill´s I went faster than I´ve ever been on a bike, 70.9km/h but the uphills went on forever and the centre of Potosi was a steep climb up to 4070m. Which we´ve since discovered is the highest city in the World, something we found out the hard way.

Looking back to Potosi

After climbing into Potosi, we still had to climb out, reaching about 4400m before we were finally given some descending to do.  The road was fine, if not a little bit hilly, for about 40km, and then for the next 2 days until Tupiza, the road was a work in progress, reminding us of badtimes in Peru. As a rule of thumb, if there are roadworks and signs telling you to avoid the shiny new road ahead and take the bumpy, dirt road to the side, you´re best off ignorning the signs and cycling overthe barrier. This served us well mostof the time, giving us either paved or flattened road for about 80% of the time while the cars and lorries looked on. We were caught out once however, cycling onto a road they were mid spraying fresh tar on, forcing us to leave our mark on the new road and skirt down the side. It was still worth it though, cutting a huge offroad section out.

When we finally got to Tupiza, in 10km less than the map had said, we were suprised to find it so touristy, but it was a welcome break. We knew  the next day would be tough, getting to Villazon, as we knew the altitude of both towns and the latter was significantly more. We set off early and battling through the hills and wind we made it where we stayed for the night.

One thing´s for sure in Bolivia, the road signs, the map and our speedos rarely agree, there were lots of times that we ended up having to do more miles than we had planned to do.

The following day we´d planned as a rest day which was a good job as it took us 2 hours to cross the border into Argentina, the last country on our journey. Overall our impression of Bolivia was much more positive than we had expected, for the majority of the time the roads were good and we were able to put down the miles. Combined with a few touristy towns along the way where we were able to get nice food and laundry done it has been a good section of the trip.

As for Argentina, we´re hoping for lots of nice road, lots of downhill or flat and some good wine along the way. We´re currently good on time so we shouldn´t have to push it too hard and the good roads and lack of mountains should definately help!

Making up for lost time

July 14, 2011

After a fun few days in Cusco and Machu Picchu, it was time to get back on the bike, and this time (with a map again) we knew the roads were paved for the rest of our time in Peru. Since being on the road between Cusco and the Bolvian border we´ve bumped into a few other cyclists of widely varying nationalities, including Israeli, Swiss,  Spanish, German, Russian and South African, which has been reassuring to see other people doing a similar thing to us.

The roads have been nice and fast, espcially once we got onto the Altiplano, which has meant that the miles have flown by. We made it to Puno it 3.5 days, racking up the 400km with time to spare for 2 hours at some hot springs along the way, which were a nice brake and a good substitute for a much needed shower. We also completed our longest day so far at 140km, from Santa Rosa to Juliaca.

On the altiplano

When we got to Puno, we quickly found somewhere to stay and in the afternoon, went to explore what we could do on lake Titicaca. The pier was full off people selling long boat trips but we opted for the 2.5 hours trip to the Uros floating islands, which was well worth the 15 Sol. The islands themselves were pretty incredible if only the trip didn´t drag on for so long. In the evening we found probably the best restaurant of the trip so far where we got 3 courses of delicious Italian food really cheap, before heading back to the room and crashing. The next two days we continued our journey around the lake before finally leaving Peru and entering Bolivia where we stopped at Copacabana with Remi, our fellow German cyclist, where we had a much needed day off. Sipping cocktails on the beach and riding a pedalo on the lake seemed a world away from cycling beofre getting a boat to Sun Island the following day.

Uros floating islands

Overlooking lake Titicaca

So far our opinion of Bolivian has been good, with everything cheaper than in Peru, so long may it continue to the Salt flats…

En bicicleta, y otros

July 7, 2011

By bike, and other means…

After being ill and recovering in Ayacucho, it was time to get back on the bike for the next leg of the journey, to Cusco! It was a bit of a maze getting out of Ayacucho, bearing in mind by this point, the map was long gone, but after a detour up a rather steep hill, we were on the right road. Yet again, the road just continued to climb, almost endlessly. However we were glad for the nice road we had, if only this was to last…

Clearly the road we were on was brand new, very shiny and as smooth as a baby’s bum. But this new road was still a work in progres as we passed numerous roadworks with the road in different stages. The road works seemed to go on forever and on the first day we camped hidden just off the side of the road after climbing for 43km. The next day the roadworks just continued on and on mixing brand new road with loose rock before they eventually died out and we were left  on a rocky road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Just as Lisa was begging me to get a lift the rolling up-hills came to an abrupt end as the scenery got more like what I expected in Peru. However between us and the town must have been a 1000m drop which could only we passed by the windiest road imaginagable. As the day got later and later it was clear that we weren’t getting to the bottom and as the rain started and turned the road even more trecherous, it became clear we weren´t getting to the bottom. We decided to hitch a lift to the next town and luckily a lorry driver passed soon after who helped us on our way.

The change in scenery

After a night relieved to be somewhere warm, we set off again on the bumpy road. The morning was downhill and then road went along the river for a while before climbing yet again. At least at the end of this climb there was a town where we could stay, even a 3 star hotel. We were awoken the next morning by more rain which persisted all day, this made the 20km climb a muddy mess and a huge effort. When we finally reached the top it was clear going down the other side would be no better and we soon realised that the road was impassable. Accepting defeat again we got in the back of another lorry which kindly took us to the next town where they dropped us of at a bakery and told us to eat cakes and drink coffee. We decided that night that this was getting crazy and that the road was unlikely to get any better any time soon.

The view along the river

In the back of the lorry

The next day we decicded to get a lift to Andahuaylas which was a two hour taxi away. Very soon into the journey we realised that this was a good call as the rain had completely destroyed the roads. The taxi was sliding all over the place and lorries were stuck in the mud along the way. When we finally reached Andahuaylas, everything was covered in mud and it was still raining. We took a big decision to get a bus to Cusco as we couldn´t waste any more time on these roads as we were getting nowhere.

The next morning we wook up early to get the 0630 bus which was just managed to squeeze our bikes on. Yet again it was became clear very early on into the journey that this was the right decision to make. The roads here were as bad as earlier and at one point it took us an hour to get around one corner where lots of lorries had got stuck. When we finally reached Abancay (half way) 6 hours later (by the way the bus had no toilet) the roads finally got better. As the miles counted down to Cusco the night set in and we were getting on for 12 hours since we set off. With about 50km to go the bus all of a sudden went bang as a tire blew out and that was the end of our journey. No one seemed to have any idea about what was going to happen, but it became clear that the bus wasn´t moving anywhere until the morning. In the end we had to tie the bikes onto the roof of a taxi to the next town where we stayed the night before cycling to Cusco the next day.

A short morning cycle saw us arive in Cusco around lunchtime which was perfect to find somewhere to stay, go shopping and sort out a trip to Machu Picchu the following day. Cusco is much nicer than Lima butn expensive place to spend any amount of time. It turns out that thursday is the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu so if we were a day later it would have been impssible to get there.

Early the next morning we got our bus to Ollantambo train station where we got the train to Machu Picchu. Although a very expensive day,  spending god knows how many Soles and Dollars, it was well worth it. Machu Picchu was amazing and we spent the whole day wondering around taking pictures, before getting the train back in the evening. As for now it´s off to Puno on hopefully some good roads…

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

A long way down...

So the adventure has begun, and it didn´t take long for the tone of the trip to be set. After meeting Lisa in Heathrow, a short flight later we were in Newark waiting for the bags to come out. The problem was, only my bags and bike came out.  With not much that we could do we just made our flight to Lima, and  I was that person that they called out on the speakers to get to the gate immediately.

Arriving late into Lima we tried to sort out the baggage problem but knew they´d be a few days behind us. The next day we headed into the maze that is Lima, getting a few scary taxi´s along the way. Going to a few different areas before we ended up in the old town. We got back to the hotel and after some strained Spanish later, it was clear that the bike wasn´t coming this evening.

The following day we were promised the bike by 12 so we hung around only to be dissapointed again. So we headed out to the Jockey Plaza Mall which was like mini America. Some more strained Spanish later and the hotel and ourselves phoning Continental we were told the bike was on its way. After a well deserved bottle of wine we both fell asleep that evening when we were finally woken at 3am with the bike and bags all intact. Finally!

With everything now here we quickly assembled the bikes and got out on the road for our first day, suprised at how wobbly the bikes were with all the weight on. It was clear that we weren´t going anywhere fast as the road out of Lima was one of the scariest we´d ever been on so a mix of cycling and walking for the first 10km through the 6 lane road/market/zoo.

Lisa on the main road out of Lima

The road gradually got quieter as we got further out of town, but one thing was clear, the road was going up, slowly but steadily. For the 55km we did, we climbed up 1200m.  The next day was no different, just more and more climbing, but this time throw in some scary dogs and tunnels to the mix. On the third day we were starting to question how much more the road could climb but when passed 3000m, then 4000m we really didn´t know how much more it could go up, it just kept endlessly snaking up and up. We were starting to really flag when we met two motorbikers who wanted our pictured and who promised the top was just around the corner, luckily they were right. 3 days of relentless climbing we finally reached the top, 4818m later.

What most of the climb was like

At the top!

On the other side the temperature dropped and we headed into Morocoha for the night, a mining town with no elegance or luxury. We had dinner with the miners and a 3 course meal for 5 Sol before we spent the night in a horrible hotel.

Luckily all that climbing meant that all day we headed downhill and got 35km done by 1130 in La Oroya where we picked up lunch. A nice gradient after La Oroya meant the miles flew by and we decided to push it to Jujga. At the junction for Jujga we decided to head on the road rather than turn off. This turned out to be a huge mistake which resulted in us having to turn around and do another 10km back to Jujga, but luckily we founda really nice hotel some 126km later. Although at this point we realised that we´d lost the map which was a bit fustrating.

More downhill lay ahead and another 40km by lunchtime the following day meant we got to Huancayo fairly quickly. Once we managed to escape Huancayo the road starting to climb again. There was a checkpoint on the road with no one going through but we were flagged straight through. We through nothing of it at the time but we started to wonder why no traffic was coming down this road. 20km in and when we stated to look for somewhere to stay we started to notice rocks on the road. Locals started saying ´no pase´to us but they seemed to think bikes would be fine. The amount of rocks on the road just continued to increase and covered the road for about 20km. In the middle we squeezed through the parked lorries and were allowed through the blockade by the police, cheered by the people on he other side. We finally found a ´hotel´ on the other side, which was essentially a shed, but regardless we were relieved.

Luckily for us we had stopped for the night above a huge descent which had been covered in rocks from what looked like a landslide/earthquake. By the end out hands were killing us from being on the brakes hard for so long. We managed to do 25km by breakfast in izcucho where the road turned for the worse. A dirt track replaced the tarmac which started to take its toll on us and the bikes. When we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, the first bike casuality happened. The thread on the seat post holding lisa´s seat on had gone. We really didn´t know what to do, we tried to bodge it for it didn´t work. I cycled aheadto the next village which was just around the corner and asked if there was a mechanic. They said there was one in 15km so things were not looking good. I cycled back and had just enough time to tell Lisa the bad news before the guys I´d asked turned up in their car with a random selection of screws, bolts and tools determined to fix it. Luckily for us they succeeded and we were eternally greateful.

Lisa descending the rocky road

The gravel road continued for 150km over the next two days where we stayed in two more sheds before we finally hit the tarmac again in Huanta. So relieved we managed to find a nice place to stay and a pizza restaurant where 2 family sized pizzas were on the cards. We also managed to clean the bikes which were covered in dust. The next day we did a half day to Ayacucho where we planned our first rest day. Now here we´ve both been pretty ill, but we´re glad we´re here and not in a shed on the dirt track.

The scenic route

So far we´ve had such a random time but it´s been absoultely beautful. We´ve done 600km so far and we´ve got a lot more ahead of us…