The Way of the Washboard

After days spent on wonderful tarmac - we were ready for a bit of rough, something the Canyon del Patos had in spades. Skids and skidmarks aplenty.

Part three in the Peru series – check out Part One – The Adventure Begins and Part Two – All Was Not Lost for the full story…

I was looking up at the cream ceiling on my hotel room, feeling the sweat roll from my brow and join the stream at the back of my neck.

Energy and enthusiasm had escaped me – lost in one of the barraging deposits that had aqua blasted the toilet to a lustrous sheen, the likes of which it had never seen before. All night I scoured, barely in bed 5 minutes before returning to press a fevered head against the heavenly, cool cistern, before the urge would switch polarity, leaving me scrabbling for my belt. I will use no less a word than ‘violent’ to describe that night. In fact, the face hidden in the toilet, seat posts for eyes with a gaping mouth, was starting to look increasingly shocked. But then, so would you if I’d violated you in the same way…

I was no longer shitting myself or being sick, but like a gaunt undead I splayed on the bed, feeling the ache in my ribs as I grabbed a breath. It was clearly food poisoning of some kind, but where from we could only guess – no one else was afflicted. Later, we narrowed it down to two possible causes – the guinea pig I’d eaten, or a dirty hotel toilet-phone I’d been handling for a joke photo.

“Mate. That was one of the worst things I’ve ever heard in my life.” Mike had been my silent partner throughout the ordeal. No one could have slept through all of that. I lapped up his sympathy, knowing full well we had another day of riding ahead of us. I could think of nothing worse than planting my leaky arse on a narrow, vibrating seat all day… Considerable manning up would be required.

After missing breakfast, Colin had appeared in the doorway also offering sympathy and, more importantly, Immodium. Two immodium – as needs must. I stirred long enough to buy some more water from reception. The receptionists face was etched with worry, I guess I looked how I felt. I mixed in sachets of dioralyte and chugged down two whole bottles. I had a lot of catching up to do after last nights ordeal. .

The lead/textile jacket felt extra heavy as I pulled it up and past my shoulders. I was a broken knight sat in my armour – knowing full well I would emerge from the day even more bloodied, but without any other options. The others were patient as I moved my things to the truck and dragged my legs over my bike. It was a claggy, overcast day but my helmet was damp five seconds after pulling it on regardless. I needed the press of cooling air, needed to get moving.

We were heading South along the Pan American to Huanchaco. The wind was gusting sideways as we rode through desert plains, littered with building rubble and plastic food packaging. We took a detour to the beach so we could blast up and down the sands, breaking up the motorway day nicely. The immodium had kicked in and I was feeling less under threat from getting diarrhoea in my boots. I joined Mike in cutting up the smooth beach with wheelspins and skids.

From then on it was all Pan-am  to Huanchaco – what we found to be a trendy albeit out of season surfer town. Five bikes and our support truck buzzed loudly through the open courtyards of Hotel Bracamonte to park up outside our rooms. The guys were prepping for a visit to Chan Chan, giant sand castle-esque palaces, remnants of the Chimor empire before it was enveloped by the Incas. For me, the 4pm sun had baked off all the haze and the heat pushed me deeper into my cave-like room and the cold. I slept my exhaustion off instead, getting hold of some emergency antibiotics and electrolyte fluids later that afternoon. The others returned empty handed, the gates to Chan Chan being shut shortly before they arrived. Instead we went out for authentic Peruvian Italian cuisine.

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Fortuitously the next morning was a lot more forgiving than the last one.

I sat up, turned my alarm off and tried to gauge my energy levels. Ever since drinking the electrolyte fluid I’d felt more human. The fever that burned last night had faded and I was left feeling just a little tired. Good news, considering today I’d be hammering my DR into the mountains on dirt and gravel roads.

We left the motorway and headed inland, rising steadily, passing through a number of small towns without issue. We lost the tarmac earlier than anticipated after taking a diversion. Our road was sealed off after a landslide – red hazard tape blocked off the road just past a petrol station. Franco span around and led us off down side streets, chatting to locals along the way, until we were cruising down a deep and dusty track through the middle of a corn plantation. In typical Peruvian style an articulated lorry was coming our way, bumping heavily on its suspension, nonchalant or oblivious…

We stopped for some food in a restaurant in Chuquicara – 50ft away from the end of tarmac road. From here on it would be hard packed dirt and whatever had fallen down from the cliffs above. This was why we were on dual sports – this is where the fun really started. Pepped up by dayglow Inca colas the team saddled up and hit the dirt.

The Canyon del Patos is 70km of gravel, grit and sand. Creaky metal bridges, mental lorries and broken down buses. The looming rock walls, often bulging out overhead as the road is carved from their flanks, shed loose rocks like tears. I was unleashed – everyone in the group encouraged to take their own pace. Some preferred to take it slower, the washboard corrugations rattling their bones. I opted to use speed to iron out the creases, effectively skating over the undulations at the expense of a little control. We’d cough past drifting pick-ups as they kicked up buckets of dust. I pressed my scarf up around my neck to seal off my helmet, conscious of how much dust I was taking in.

Camouflaged within the hard packed washboard are patches of loose sand. Invitingly smooth, one beckoned me in. As wheels kicked out and my evasive manoeuvres achieved nothing I was forced to plant a booted foot hard on the rock wall I was about to skid into, just about keeping me upright away from a face plant. The sun, dust and relentless rattling sure beat me up so I was content to take a breather under one of the dribbling overhangs. Mike wanders over beaming from ear to ear. This challenge is exactly what he is here for. I empathize. It is hard not to be totally captivated by this riding, easy to forget all the daily worries back home. Some of the others were struggling though. It certainly wasn’t easy going…

The tarmac picked up again at Huallanca, near a hydroelectric dam. Dirty and sweaty, Mike, Franco and I take another break to wait for the truck. Five minutes later, the soft puttering of a transalp heralds Colin’s arrival. At 72, Colin is our adventure veteran. I’d been watching his riding for a few days and could compare it to the ‘guide pace’ of mountaineers – careful and never rushed, but relentless progression. Always pushing forward. When the going gets tough, Colin’s got the same expression he always has and a witty quip up his sleeve. He was a striking reminder that age shouldn’t be a barrier to adventure, as long as you’re willing to suffer a little more for it. And he would do tonight, after clearing all that bumpy terrain…

We tried to wave and shout him down, his helmeted head remained transfixed on the road ahead of him. Colin’s guide pace was carrying him right past, now was clearly not a time he wanted to stop. I wasn’t even sure he’d seen us.

We watch as his tail light teeters over a bridge and out of sight. Then the puttering is gone. ‘Bye Colin’.

Once the remaining crew had reassembled we followed in the wake of captain trailblazer and also puttered up the steep and winding road and through an enormous system of roughly chiselled caves. We honked our horns to warn cars of our passing through, but it soon descended into honking for the hell of it. Lads.

Vegetation crept back onto the landscape on the other side of the mountain, it’s presence calming after all that time spent in the arid, rocky desert. We ride a short stint to Caraz, still without sign of Colin. The spiked tip of Mt Huascaran straddles the horizon above the city and catches the last golden glow of sunlight. I took a couple of seconds to mull it over, but the temptation to photograph it proves to be too much and, as the rearguard I have no choice but to watch the other’s helmets bob around the next corner and disappear our of view, unaware they’d lost me.

They only realised I was missing when they reached the hotel. Franco apparently set out looking for me (and Colin!) right away.

But I was not at all panicked. It was a beautiful place to get lost in. I rode out of Caraz first, only noticing what I’d done when the ‘Welcome to Caraz’ sign grew smaller in my mirrors. I swept back around and asked a few locals for the main square – interestingly they all gave different directions and I ended up there almost accidentally. I had just interrogated some old men on a bench about the location of my hotel when ‘beep beep beep’ Franco comes whizzing past to collect me. Apparently he’d found Colin not far from here, holding out his map on a shanty car, shouting and pointing.

After riding my bike into the hotel courtyard (something that had always epitomized an adventurous trip for me) I regained my rightful place – scribbling in my diary with a beer in hand. The sound of dogs barking in the streets was carried on the night air into the courtyard. Yungay, Lake Llanganuco, Huaraz all waited for us over the next few days – among some brilliant motorcycle terrain. Not to mention Mike’s wipe out – but more about that in the next post. 

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4 comments on “The Way of the Washboard

  1. David Groves

    Great writing Tommy son must do that trip myself!!!

  2. Well written with detail information. Will travel some with my team.

    Looking for more interesting blog.

    Thank you.

    City Motorbike,
    Kathmandu, Nepal

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