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April 14th, 2012 | Peru

Houston…?? It’s us again…!! The Birthday Ride…

As far as birthdays go, this one has to rate as the most eventful I can remember…!!

As I sit here in Cali, Colombia, trying to catch up on the last ten days, thoughts of that day are still swirling around in my head…!!

Breakfast on the upper floor of the Churup Guest house....

When I went to load the Big Fella, I saw that he had company...!! Yannick, a Frenchman, had arrived some time during the night and parked us in...!!

It started off brilliantly, then got more than a little hairy in the middle part and ended with a surreal late lunch and even later, a magnificent sunset in Huanchaco… A topsy-turvy day if ever I had one…

There was another bike parked next to mine in the small garage, and I spent a few minutes chatting to Yannick, a French biker who was on his way south… He had to be woken up to move his bike  so we could get out and into the street…

I received a present in Huaraz which was immediately added to my key-ring...!!

The Churup Guest House in Huaraz... The best place to stay in this dreary little town...!!

I selected some music before putting my helmet on, and chose U2 to take me to Huanchaco… The very first song that played, was “Beautiful Day”…!!

Very fitting, considering that not only was it a special day for me, but the sun was actually shining for the first time since I arrived in Huaraz, and I could see the Cordillera Blanca peeping out from the light cloud cover…

We rode quickly through the still awakening town and out onto the road that led north towards Yungay and Caraz, which was about 70 km away…

Te villagers in both places were still kick-starting their day when we roared through the two towns… The bike was running sweetly, the aire was crisp and clean, and all was good in the world…

Snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, exposed for the first time in all the time I was in the area...

And on my left, the Cordillera Negra, a range of mountains we would be riding through for the next few hours...

The asphalt took us all the way to Yuracmarca, passing over parts of the road that had been damaged during the recent rainy season…

A combination of heavy rain and melting snow had caused part of the road to collapse...

Then the fun and games began…!! The road narrowed and was squeezed through a succession of tunnels, where you would not want to meet another vehicle coming the other way…

Although you had to be careful, at this point, I was still able to ride at quite a steady clip...

The absence of guard rails did make me throttle back a bit on the corners...!! I did not fancy a plunge down to the Santa River below...!!

There are 35 single lane tunnels on this road that connects the Pacific coast to the valley between the Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Blanca… The road generally follows the Santa River, which has carved a valley down to the coast…

The last tunnel on the tarred road before the REAL fun began...!! At this point, things were going swimmingly...!! All that was about to change...!!

Off the asphalt and onto the dirt...!! And the entry to the next tunnel had to be taken carefully.... VERY carefully...!!

The road became a narrow track, much troubled by rockfalls and landslides...!! I became a nervous wreck, much troubled by thoughts of and unplanned and premature end to my journey...!!

Standing up on the pegs to see as much of the track I was inching along, I came around a wide bend, and then saw that the road ahead was blocked by a parked truck… When I got closer, I saw that the truck was not so much “parked” , but wedged under an overhang…!!

Consternation in the Canyon...!! I briefly thought of trying to squeeze past.... But only briefly...!!

There was a guy in the back of the truck, hammering at the rock face with a huge hammer and a piece of steel…!! There was also a car in front of me, whose driver had an ashen look on his face as he came running towards me…

Naturally, I did not understand a word he was shouting, but the finger he kept pointing to the rock face above us, spoke volumes…!!

He wanted me to get the hell out of his way, because he thought there was going to be a rockfall in the very near future…!! He did not have to pantomime twice…!! I began to turn the bike around, and just as I opened the throttle to get a bit of power, the back tyre slipped out from under me, and the bike slid away…!! I was left standing where the bike once was, not getting as much as a speck of mud on myself…!!

Not exactly the "Birthday Bash" I had in mind...!!

It happened in the blink of an eye…!! I think any acrobat worthy of the name would have given me a loud round of applause, as I stood there dumbfounded…!!

Had the Big Fella taken a dive in the opposite direction, we would have plunged down a 100 metre slope and into the Santa River...!!

I was still silently congratulating myself for not having a mouthful of mud, when the driver of the truck came rushing up to help me lift the Big Fella back onto it’s rubber… I rode back a few hundred metres, and together with a bunch of guys from the car that was in front of me, and another that was also waiting, we stood around laughing and joking, taking bets as to when a rockfall would rain down on the truck…!!

Waiting for a rockfall....!! My fellow Canon del Pato road users....!!

It took over an hour for the truck to free itself from the overhang it had been wedged under, and I watched it trundle down the narrow mountain track, before following the cars that had been waiting with me…

If you are prone to the odd bout of vertigo, I suggest you find another way down to the Pacific... The Santa River squeezes through the gap on the right of the picture, where the canyon is barely six metres wide... The roar from far below was clearly audible, even though I had my helmet on...

I let the two buses and a few cars that were ahead of get way out in front before following them, at a much slower pace than they were traveling…

I was very wary of the slippery, muddier sections and had to all but walk the bike through the longer patches, acutely aware that if I fell again, there was nobody to help me pick the bike up…!!

The scenery was breathtaking, and I stopped often to take stock of where I was and what I was doing... I was very conscious of being alone in this truly wild and desolate area....

Some of the tunnels were hundreds of metres long, and all of them pitch dark inside… I crept along slowly, the headlights hardly making any impression in the gloomy depths of these tunnels…

Water dripped off the roofs, rocks littered the twin tracks, and potholes waited to trip us up… It was scary at times, especially when the potholes were under water, and I had no idea how deep they might be…

More tunnels up ahead as I stop to take a breather... It was hard to believe that a road had been built through these mountains...!!

In one tunnel, I met a pick-up coming tha other way, and the cheeky blighter signaled for me to reverse…!! I stared at him in the gloom for a few seconds, before a burst of profanity let him know that there was no way in hell I was going to even attempt to turn the heavy bike around in complete darkness, in a rock-strewn tunnel… I revved the engine and signalled for him to back up or prepare to camp…!!

High above the little town of Huallanca, which has grown around the hydro-electric plant on the Santa River, I stopped again to congratulate myself for not having become another victim of the Canon del Pato...

I could not remember how long the dirt road was supposed to be, and hoped that it ended in the village of Huallanco which I rode through an hour after starting down the Canon del Pato…

It was a forlorn hope, as I had not even covered a third of it, according to a guy I asked as I passed through the village…

This bus had stopped on a hairpin bend, and was loading a small herd of goats.... I kid you not...!! Some went into the luggage section and a few went inside the bus, along with the passengers...!!

There were also a few flooded sections of the road to contend with...

Despite the spectacular scenery, I would have preferred to be in Gibraltar, in the comfort of my friend John Laudon's apartment....!! This road was becoming more of a nightmare by the minute...!!

In some places the track was flooded by water running down off the mountainsides, and I had to make quick decisions whether or not to yank the throttle open to shoot through them, or slow down and ease my way through…

Cut into the side of the mountain, the "road" did not leave much room for approaching vehicles.... I had to take evasive action on a number of occasions when a large bus came hurtling towards me...!!

The many rock slides which this area is famous for had ruined the track in many places, and I had a very uncomfortable time trying to dodge rocks the size of footballs, which littered the road…

The black and red coloured soil and rocks are all as a result of volcanic eruptions....

One does not want to meet a bus or small truck coming the other way, on this section...!! Ruta 40 in Patagonia was a picnic compared to this ride...!!

I looked back to see where I had ridden and was amazed at steep the slopes below me had been…!!

The road was hard-packed and rocky, shaking both me and the bike to a standstill at times...

After another 20 km of being shaken around, I began to suspect that my rear shock was no longer working as it should… I stopped to check, but could see no oil leaking… Still, it felt a bit strange and bothered me for the remainder of the ride through the canyon….

This tunnel seemed to be on the verge of collapse... The stresses on the narrow "leg" that formed the one wall must have been enormous...

The odd overhang had me casting nervous glances skyward...!!

In one tunnel I rode through, the track dipped down and formed a bowl before heading back upward again…. Recent rains had sent water into the tunnel which collected in the “bowl”…

I saw the water too late to stop and think about it, and instead kept the momentum going to ride my way through it… It was pitch dark, and I felt the water wash over my boots… I prayed that there was no deep hole or large rock hidden under the water…!!

It seemed to take forever, but after barely a minute we were back out into the sunshine again, with small clouds of steam rising off the cylinder heads…

Water was trapped in the fins and was merrily boiling while I sat the bike and steadied my heartbeat…

I had covered over 60 km at that point and began to wonder how much longer I still had to go…

I saw a small collection of what seemed to be abandoned mud huts a few kilometres ahead and rode slowly towards them…

The first few were indeed falling down, their roofs missing and walls cracked…

In the very last hut, an old woman stood up from the shaded porch and waved to me… I stopped and stared open-mouthed at her… I looked over her shoulder and saw a few rows of soda bottles and tinned foods…

She invited me in to rest, probably seeing the fatigue written all over my face… I sat with her for half an hour, and she brought me a bottle of warm juice to drink and opened a small packet of biscuits, which we shared…

I have no idea why she was living out there or what she did to survive… I gave here 5 Soles which she at first refused, but then seemed to gratefully accept…

Shaken and stirred, I was glad to hear that there was only 15 km of dirt road left, before the tarred surface began...

But there was one more obstacle which I had to negotiate.... A few planks were missing from this bridge, and form where I took the photo, the gap seemed to be negligible... As I got closer, I was alarmed to see that it was much wider than my front wheel, and filled with rocks... A quick jerk of the throttle took us over it, but not without a wobble that I hardly needed so close to the end of the dirt road...!!

After 8o kms of torture, I was never more grateful to see a tarred road again....!!

Two litres would get me to Santa where I could refuel...!!

I was badly in need to fuel as I cruised into a little village east of Santa, I stopped at the only service station there… I discovered that they had no power, and could not pump any fuel…

I had so little in the tank, and none in my spare bottles, that I knew it wasn’t even worth starting the bike up again…!!

The young girl who was manning the silent pumps than had a brain wave… She indicated that I should follow her to a shed nearby, and when we got there, pointed to an old lawnmower…

I managed to drain about two litres out of the machine, and poured whatever fuel it was into the tank, hoping that it was petrol of some kind…!!

We spluttered into Santa, a town based around the agriculture planted on the banks of the river by the same name…

Birthday lunch, Santa, Peru...!!

I refueled and then went over to the small restaurant nearby to find something to eat… The stress and strain of the Canon del Pato had given me an appetite…!!

As I began munching on my “Pollo and Papas”, the owner’s young son came over to sit with me…

I handed him a chip from my plate, and before long both he and his two sisters were helping themselves… Their mother came across to scold them, but I waved her away, enjoying the company of these three little urchins…

It was my birthday after all, and it felt good to be sharing my meal with someone, even if I didn’t understand a word they were saying…

Then the eldest girl rushed off and came back with her English homework… There were half a dozen sentences to complete, and I helped her answer all of them…

I sat smiling at them with a lump in my throat, my mind far away, many years back in fact, seeing two other little girls around a table with a much younger version of myself…

My birthday lunch companions in Santa... I spent an hour with them before realising that I still had 200 km to ride before sundown...!!

Before I left, took a few photos of them all, and showed them photos of my own daughters, which they wanted to keep…!! They then called out to yet another much younger child, and asked that I snap a photo of him too… He was the youngest of the four children, and must have just woken up…

Another urchin appeared... The baby in the family was not in a good mood, and did not want his photo taken....

When I put my helmet on, the little boy threw his arms around my legs and began wailing loudly… I patted him on the head and then held him for a while, before his sisters went to cal their mother to come and hold him while I mounted up… I gave them each a hug before I left, feeling my heart swell for them all…

With a full tank of fuel on board, and a long way still to go before sunset, I forgot all about fuel conservation and hurtled up the Pan-Americana...

The coastal highway running north was almost free of traffic, and with shadows starting to creep across the desert, I threw caution to the wind and let the Big Fella have his wicked way with the open road…

We got to the outskirts of Trujillo, 120 km to the north, in less than an hour, and then turned towards the coast and rode the short distance on to Huanchaco…

I stopped at the first decent looking hostal I saw, and was happily offered a room… The sun was setting as I carried my bags to the upper floor and stashed them in my room… I then hurried over to the large patio on the same floor and began my sunset watch…

Huanchaco sunset... A sight that had me wishing I could embrace the sky...!!

Leaning on the low wall of the patio, I considered the various emotions I had experienced that day; the highs and the lows; the exhilaration and the consternation; the happy moments I had spent with the kids in Santa, and the sad moments when I thought of my family and friends back home, and how much I missed them all…

I had planned to ride on to Mancora the following day, but having just spent 11 hours out on the road, I decided to remain in Huanchaco for a day, to give both myself and the Big Fella a break…

I figured we had earned it…!!

©GBWT 2012

12 comments to Houston…?? It’s us again…!! The Birthday Ride…

  • Oh no, that looks very slimy stuff bet you were puckering for that ride.. no damage I hope.

  • Charmz

    Oh dear, I don’t see any damage to Big Fella, how are your legs and arms? I know the mind won’t be its cheerful self. Hopefully you were taking it easy when he slipped out from underneath you. Sludge, mud and hairpin bends do these awful things to a bike that it so loaded. Keep us posted.

    Love from all of us back home. xxx

  • Kenny

    As long as you are in one piece then all is well.
    Pannier seems to have taken the brunt.
    Nothing a hammer and cold beer cannot sort I hope.
    Side stand incidents happen all the time.
    Enjoy

  • Mark Piff

    The other side of going down is getting back up again!! With shaky legs and a pounding heart hope there was some help on hand to get Big Fella back Vertical! Very Slippery looking mud, sure you wern’t the first to come off nor the last i’d bet. Any Idea when your hitting the Yucatan coast of mexico??

  • Hiya Mark…!! Yeah, all well in the end…!! I am hoping to get to Carmen around the 20th of May at the very latest…!! If you are still around then, we’ll hook up for sure…!! R.

  • Carnivore

    Hey Ronnie, I don’t like seeing BF’s belly plate!
    Been a hectic 3 weeks or so… Sally and Ben are married, Easter camp is klaar, and we have been catching up on your story at 140 kph.
    Still rooting for you, Buddy… lots of love from Margs and me.

    PS, I think a Michelin T63 at the back and a TKC80 in front is called for, if you have more of that snot to cross…

  • Antonia Leth

    Take it easy dude….hope you are ok?

  • Rob…!! Ha..!! I’ll just pull a few knoblies out of one of my panniers, shall I…?? Great news re Sally and Ben…!! Please give them my best…!! Love to all in P.E. …except for the traffic officers…!! R.

  • Hiya Antonia…!! All well, thank you…!! Still alive and KICKING…!! W.D.

  • Mark Behr

    Ouch – glad you seem to have survived without too much damage as well!

  • Mark Behr

    Just picked up the rest of this post – awesome. Glad you had beautiful children around to keep you entertained.

  • Vince

    Happy belated birthday!

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