Perú: Cajamarca to Caraz – fat tyre inspiration and paths found

It now seems a long time ago that we left Cajamarca. Even the river crossings that we did a couple of days ago have passed into the mass of experience and images. The last week has been pretty intense, with vistas round every corner, and there have been a lot of corners. All on their own enough to stun and captivate. Maybe it’s too much? Part of the feeling of satisfaction is discovery – our usual route choice method (smallest road or track on the map between 2 points, even if it looks longer or more vertiginous) has come up trumps to a very large degree. We owe many thanks to those who have recently gone before us, and recorded their efforts in such detail. But, we had great fun varying things from what they did to give some fantastic fast flowing descents and all with the great company of Joe Cruz.

Joe, a MTB and road bike racer as well as philosophy professor, is an extensively experienced bicycle explorer. He has graciously matched his travel style to ours – we have fallen into waking at 5.30am in our tent and being on the road by 7.30, whereas he would normally make the extra effort to end the day in town. While he would make a similar daily distance and bum-in-seat time, his riding would begin after 9am meaning he is quite happy to finish his day in the dark. Something we have never done on purpose. His bike, with tyres double the width of ours, has had both of us pondering additions to the ‘stable’ when we get back to Australia. In fact, Tom was already planning this, but is now even more inspired. Tyres with 3.7 or even 4.7 inches (as opposed to 2-2.5 inches on a normal bike) will allow the dreaded Western Australian pea gravel to be dreaded no longer! There have been plenty of times in the last week when Joe seemed to move on effortlessly ahead of us. We both assumed, given his racing background, that he was just stronger than us and his bike set up lighter than ours. Then on a particularly sandy stretch he let Sarah try his bike (just the right size too!). Suddenly she was opening up a gap in front of us with much less effort than before – neither of us could catch her until the going firmed up. Her grin was very wide indeed! We’re extremely lucky over the years to have met people with whom we ‘click’ and know that our often brief first meeting will be the beginning of many. Joe is one of these people. We’ve already got to planning his summer (winter for us) in Australia not too long from now…

Bicycles for travel come in many shapes and sizes. Ours are only but three of many options, but carry us to places dreamt of and unimagined. Here parked in Jesús, an easy 20km from Cajamarca, while we try to chose supplies from the very well stocked thursday market before climbing into the mountains again (Photo S.Hedges)
From Jesús, the dirt road winds its way uphill. These routes have a long history, with successive iterations carved in parallel to the old ways. While we opt for the more kindly inclined hairpins, Joe goes for it on the direct route with less than successful results....
As the up continued, the isolation factor improved
Nearing the top of our climb at just under 4000m we are passed by locals returning from the market in Jesús. Rugged up to the nines, they take the old paths and ignore the road someone's put there.
As evening sets in we pile on the layers and set camp with the hatches battened.
The next morning, bright and clear, we swoop down and round undulating but mostly contouring dirty roads that head onwards to Cachachi and lunch
Cresting a rise, Joe leads the charge with sublime weather that we've not experienced for many months
The Pugs in its glory. "Bikepacking" means light-weight and all non-essentials at home. It does mean that multi-day stretches between food sources lead to going hungry and catching up in towns...
With both Joe and Tom on paparazzi, Sarah just has to smile and glory in the sunshine..
Ploughing the near vertical fields that line our track is the work of old technology
maps always fascinate, and give a good talking point to explain our journey - Tom on small (and not so small) boy duty tells all! (photo S.Hedges)
The bikes wait patiently under the widely overhanging eaves of Cachachi as we eat our almuerzo (lunch) - along with most of the rest of the village in a tightly packed room
As the proper road follows fun, but well graded hairpins down towards the main road to Cajabamba we opt for the skittery and more direct route. Going down as opposed to up, it's very definitely a good-un
Joe lets Sarah try the Pugsley on a soft sandy section a few km off the main Huamachuco-Trujillo road, and he and I are left to carve our effortful furrow while she floats off into the distance and the beckoning mountains
Space and time to cycle in unison, we make it into a photo together! (photo J. Cruz)
Confronted by a wall of mountains, Joe rounds the corner and faces yet more. The place we're aiming for is Tamboras, before turning towards Mollepata. Finding it proves problematic, but the road is very much worth travelling
We continue on. Downs that go as fast as you like, round corners and over passes that present views anew, though no sign of Tamboras...
The next day, still apparently nowhere nearer Tamboras, we spot the Cordillera Blanca in the distance
Eventually we give up trying to find Tamboras and take a track in the direction of Mollepata and the next stage of our journey: the descent into the canyon of the Rio Chuquicara.
Instead of climbing the 20+km back up the other side to Pallasca, we take the track which follows the river more closely. For a while it clings to the wall.
We know that we will be returned to the river, but as the afternoon progresses it seems distant with the gorge narrow and the riding distracts us from other thoughts
Then the way dips and we see the path of the 1st of our crossings
Sarah on the home straight to our camp next to the ford
Shallow and wide - no problem for big tyres!
The next day we continue on into the guts of the earth. The river, in forming the gorge, has scoured the rocks clean leaving much for miners near the surface in a starkly beautiful way
The second fording is a bit more of a challenge - thigh deep and much faster. Time to unload and try to hold on! (Photo J.Cruz)
Having turned of the brief stretch of tarmac at Chuquicara, we manage 25km on a much rougher but tailwind assisted road before spotting a partially hidden ledge above the river and gladly set up camp
The sun clears the mountains, casting shadows and making bad photos difficult to take
Sarah readjusts to the light after one of the tunnels before Yungasmarca - practice for the fun to come in the Cañon del Pato
The next tunnel even has holes to let in the light
A little while later the taps have been turned on, so a rest-stop is in order
The Cañon del Pato is a succession of tunnels built in connection with a hydroelectric power station. We found them a less attractive experience than those lower down the valley, and considerably more dicey. The MAC trucks that hurtle through them raising clouds of dust in their wake don't leave much space for even well-lit cyclists...
Joe smells the Cusqueña Negra in Caraz, so we push on into the dark. Sarah clocks up a record 9.5 hours riding time!

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