Saturday, May 3, 2014

Van Gates Ride Report-Hey you missed a rock back there!

    Easter Sunday, 2014, I was waiting at the Cusco Airport to pick up a passenger that I had never seen before. I play it like a game. Stereotype the person based on what I know; Avid dirt biker traveling alone, male from Canada. I had the flight information, but they often get mixed up at the airport because nothing is ever really on time. I did the best I could do.
    I was spot on. Troy Lee Designs hat, Ogio gear bag, mid twenties, mirrored iridium lensed glasses. That was him. Nobody else fit the mold. Eye contact was made. He recognized me from the numerous videos that he watched to get pumped up for the trip.  Van gave me the typical guy head nod that confirmed that I was the guy he was looking for. Connection made.
    I got him to the downtown area of Cusco. He got an impromptu tour of the route: a bit of bearings, Scott Englund style. We got him a hostel to rest his weary head. Van spent the night in the Lima Airport. Not the highlight of his trip so far.
Van rested on Sunday, joined up for an Easter dinner that night, and then we confirmed plans on the time and day we would start the tour. It was on!
    On Monday, we had a chance to get up to the Altivas Canas Children’s Project to deliver some supplies. This is the project that MotoMission supports with 100% of its profits. I showed Van around so he could gain a better understanding of the reason we ride dirt bikes…To help the kids while having the time of our lives. It’s a match made in heaven!
Scott hanging with the kids at the Altivas Canas project

Day 1
    It was game day. I met Van for breakfast at The Meeting Place Café for a hearty meal. We loaded up and headed toward the MotoMission base to gear up and hit the trail. Within minutes, Van found himself in the passenger seat while I was pointing to the ridge that was calling our names for the first day of riding. I was pointing while driving in Cusco traffic. Not always a good idea. I got the impression a few times that Van was a bit concerned about my style of driving. He is from Canada. They do things a bit more orderly on the roads and I think there were a couple of incidents that he may have considered close calls: Just typical driving here in Peru. Better get used to it Van. That’s how I ride!
    We arrived at the house, made sure we had everything we needed for the next 5 days of hard enduro. Packs get heavier as the number of days gets longer. We did the best we could do to keep the load light. We tanked up on water, took some “start” pics, and then off we bolted toward the “Test Hill.”
Van overlooking the ridge line above Cusco
    The Test Hill is this incredible single track trail that helps me determine the route as a guide. If you can make it up that without any problems, you can go on any trail I have in my database. Van was impressive. Out of air, but impressive. The hill finishes up at about 13000 feet. It never gets flat. Starts and finishes with an arm pumping batch of rocks, tight turns, step up rocks, and ledges to keep one honest. It really functions well to determine ones riding ability. Van passed the test with flying colors. The options were wide open for the rest of the trip. It made me happy too!
     The first day, we took a lot of breaks. The altitude adjustment is something that takes place in every rider.  Van certainly felt the lack of oxygen many times that first day. We were able to get ourselves a ways up the first ascent, before we had a little issue with a bike. Van had lost a rear brake pad. We are not sure what exactly happened, but we think we may have figured it out. We were close enough to base, that we managed to fix the issue, and get back on the trail. However, it allowed Van to ride the Test hill once again. Two times in a day can suck the life out of a guy from a low altitude in Canada. He was a trooper and made it up the second time with a bit more ease.
    We rode some incredible single track ridge line trail overlooking Cusco. It was a just perfect for the first day of riding. Plenty of oxygen stops, photo ops, and ear to ear grinning as we both knew that we had 4 days of riding after this epic day was finished.
    The trail continued en route to Chincheros. We spent the night there as the sunlight was playing a part in our decision. We had ridden enough to help us sleep that night. We arrived, found a hotel, grabbed a nice trout dinner, and enjoyed a hot shower. It was a great beginning of a 5 day adventure

Day 2
Gazing into the Andean landscape near Patacancha
    Breakfast was typical. Not very much!  They don’t get it here in Peru about breakfast. We managed with the quantity as we had plenty of snacks in our packs. We wanted to lighten the load anyways. With our bellies full enough to start the day’s adventure, we headed out towards Ollantaytambo. It is a sweet little town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We stopped there after passing the town of Maras, and getting gas in Yanahuara. The route was a lot of high speed stuff. I found out that Van liked to turn the throttle. No problem! We are bit of like minds. We arrived at Ollantaytambo rather quickly. We grabbed a snack, a drink, and enjoyed the town for a short rest before hitting the more technical part of the trail.
    Our goal for the day was to arrive at Lares before dark. Van was a solid rider. Unless we had a bike down or a messed up rider, we should have been able to reach our destination with ease. We took the high speed dirt road through the Andean valley to the town of Patacancha. It was there that the trail turned us into a couple of photographers wanting to shoot every angle. We made our way up the first rocky section to reach a high point overlooking the numerous valleys in our surroundings. It seemed as if there were too many photo spots. It was hard to get anywhere. It was the views! We managed to find a balance between riding and trying to snap a picture of every good view.
One of the many photo stops on day two
    We wound ourselves meandering through the pristine valley to reach a high mountain lake at the base of the final hill before the pass. It was a technical climb that thrilled Van and I as we charged up the loose climb to take us past the 14000 feet mark on the altimeter. We made to the top only to be rewarded with a view down the other side that took the remainder of our breath away. It was another picture spot that shouldn’t be passed up. We snapped a few thousand pics, and then realized just how cold it was. The downhill was calling our names so we put our helmets back on, tightened things up a bit and bombed down the rocky tailings that led us toward the valley floor. The trail was tight. There were just a few inches on either side of the tires. It was sketchy, but produced the thrill that Van and I were seeking.
    We hammered through a couple of tough rocky stair step sections to reach the area called Huacahuasi. It is a stunning valley that is nestled in scenic area riddled with grazing alpacas and rock fences.
    We meandered through the valley while dropping down to the town via alpaca trails. The ride into the community was filled with young kids heading home from school, thoroughly interested in the motorcycles we were riding. It was as if we were aliens coming into their community. The kids and young women would jump out of the way even when there was no danger. We arrived at the main part of the little community where the church and the school were located. It was there that we stopped and passed a bit of time with the young kids. They were so enamored with the bikes. Peruvian kids are great. So easily impressed...all smiles!
    We chatted with large group of kids that had gathered. They had a million questions about the bikes and our journey. Within a few minutes, we headed out to finish our day’s journey in Lares. As we left town, we showed off a bit with a jump off a ledge and Van caught a little air off the bridge over the river. MotoMission motto-Hey, its all for the kids!
    It was a fast ride to the Lares Hot Springs. Two track dirt, filled with puddles, rocks, and shortcuts. We managed to hit just about every one. Within a few minutes we found ourselves checking into our room, taking off the packs, and then headed into town to grab a bite to eat.
    After dinner, we rode back to the hot springs, and soaked the tired muscles from the previous two days riding. It was as hot as we could stand. They say the water has healing properties. It sure felt good. After closing down the hot springs, we crashed out for the night. The next day had a lot in store for us. Lights out!

Day 3
This is where the trail started to make us suffer..the views made it worth it!
    This was our hardest and most technical day of riding. Our plan was to ride to the pass above the small community of Quisharani. The pass is not an easy ride. In fact, most would say it is impossible to do. Depending on the weather, it would just be plain silly to think we could make it.  We headed forward with the idea that we may or may not be able to complete the task. Van wanted to give it a try, nonetheless. I was right there with him.
    The trail is riddled with views that make it hard to reach the top. There are so many opportunities to grab your cameras. It is like a black Friday at Bestbuy. We did our best to keep to the trail, but it was not easy. We managed to grab enough photos on the way up. We passed the small community of Quisharani, then we had our minds blown at the scenery that lay just up the trial.
One of the hardest parts of the ride...we made it though!
There is a waterfall that cascades over the rock, and then meanders down toward the town. Our trail was just to the left of this water feature. Not a bad view if you could manage to enjoy it while riding on the nasty ledge. It was calling both of us like a funeral director…near death if you catch the meaning. Not a place you want to have a get off. We managed to make it up to the top level of the waterfall with only a couple of issues. Then we came to our toughest obstacle so far. It was an old creek bed that was filled with bowling ball sized boulders, loose gravel, and as steep as we could handle. With a look or two at the work before us, we fired up the bikes, one at a time to get over the pile of danger at the end. With a little pushing and lifting, we managed to get both bikes through.
Only MotoMission motos past this point!
    The reward was worth it. The trail weaved its way up the mossy hillside, to reach a high mountain lake. This was to be the first of two. If we could get to the second one…
    The trail worked its way around the side of the lake to a towering climb that seemed to dwarf the two of us. We could not see the trail. Even as we were riding up, it seemed to disappear just a short distance in front of our bikes. It was a challenge to say the least. At 14,000 plus, our lungs were craving oxygen like a sealed stove. We were determined to reach the top of the climb, so we pushed further.
    We managed to beat the hill. It tried to take us out a number of times, but on top we prevailed. With a well deserved break and a photo op behind us, we fired up the bikes for another section. Slow is fast in this game. Slow was as fast as we could go.
Prettiest place in the world!
The trail in this part was perfect. Single track with everything an enduro lover would want. Obstacles, winding trail, dirt, good traction, random rocks, tons of risk…it was perfect. We smiled all the way up to the next part. Then our smiles turned to the thing that comes after a smile is increased…not sure if there is a word for it, but it was good!
    We crested the hill, and upon a crystal clear alpine lake we arrived. It was nothing short of a heavenly experience. The mirror image of the jagged rock cliffs on the opposite side were duplicated in a celestial photo that lay on top of the water. The cameras came out in no time. In fact, that was all that was needed for the day. Van and I stayed there for about an hour. It was the most incredible place that we found on our ride. We took as much of it in as we could. Our bodies were tired, content, and still in one piece. Everything you want after a good day of riding.
    We both come from places with great scenery; Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the US. This was something beyond what I knew from back home. It was different. We got here on motos. There is no place like this anywhere I grew up. And at 15000 feet! We both looked at the water and thought the same thing…Gotta jump in.
Van enjoyed the Andes...
    Being from those places, we also know that high mountain water is cold. This was no exception. Without much discussion, it was agreed that we would both do it. Same time…no pansy whining when you get out. We forgot to agree to not scream like little girls when we first hit the agua.
    The camera was set up. We shucked off a bunch of clothes and took off for the water…It was colder than any water I have ever entered. We didn’t test it first. Just cold turkey…we were the turkey’s!
    I am not sure what I did, but I do remember Van squealing like a stuck pig. I am sure I had a few bars of opera echoing through the valley as well. It was so far to get back to the shore after we first hit the water. I couldn’t get out fast enough.  I saw Van swimming toward the middle of the lake. Not sure what was going on in his mind, but pretty sure he was delirious from the temperature. I asked the question, “Where you going?”
Trying to figure out the line up the hill...
    It must have shook him loose and got his brain turned back on for a bit to realize he was going to freeze to death if he didn’t get out quickly. Within seconds we were dragging ourselves back up to the shore to get dried off and back into our riding gear. Not an easy task, but the swim had to be done. There is something in a boyish man that cannot let that type of opportunity go by. We did it. We were both glad we did. We just had to think of how the hot springs would feel when we returned back from the mountain.
    From there, we fired up the bikes, and shot our bodies with minutes of thawing exhaust fumes. It was heat with which we needed to warm up the hands for a crazy ride back down the gnarly abyss. Not a long ride, but certainly one of a lifetime.
    It was the same stuff, just a different perspective. It was pretty much a new trail.  It all looked differently. Van even asked if we came back the same way. We did! And it was good!
Back to the hot springs with about 4 miles of high speed winding river two track. It made both of us grin like a kid at Disneyland. Into the springs we went upon arrival. Dinner afterwards, then pillow time. That was an incredible day. Two more to go!

Day 4
Just posing in a beautiful spot...
    We started with a huge task in front of us. We needed to reach Yanahuara via the pass that towers over the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is no small job. In fact, the climb started in the town of Huacahuasi and worked its way up through a beautiful valley filled with tons of loose rock, some water/mud, and full of great hills to conquer. Van and I did our best to keep the lungs full of air, but the altitude wanted us dead. We managed to take it little by little to the last few hill climbs before the pass. The riding was insane! It was some of the most fun single track that you can imagine. It went on forever. The views were similar to the previous days…Stunning!       There were so many picture opportunities that we just could not keep stopping. However, we managed to peter out every so often and it sort of forced us to take a picture or two while we rested for a spell. It was like that for the whole day.
The abra above Yanahuara
    The second to the last climb to the pass was a killer. Van seemed to find a good start then it turned to disaster as he decided to loop out his bike on a rocky ledge. I happened to be filming it…You can bet that it will hit the highlight video. Good thing nothing got munched up too bad. He got back on like a good cowboy. It was not long before Van was roosting a large stream of rock and gravel as he ripped up the steep hillside. Most people have a license to move that kind of real estate. Van just had a hand full of throttle. Once He got to the top of that one, he was long gone. I met him at the pass.
Making our way down to the valley
    The pass is a high point. In Spanish, we call it the abra. The view is something that a camera cannot do justice. It is a two sided view with the Huacahuasi valley on the backside and a forward vista overlooking a high lake that seemed like it was miles below.
    The weather was not exactly pleasant when we finally arrived at the pass. The hail stones were filling the space between the back of our helmets and the collars on our jackets. We had a gnarly descent from the top. It was not a place to stick around and take pictures. We needed to get off the mountain quickly. Van and I agreed to get off the hill and down to some better weather. It was sunny down on the other side of the lake. That was our target.
Another pristine lake above Yanahuara
    We bombed down as fast as we could. The trail was difficult and treacherous. We found that the rain was turning part of it into a creek bed. Through the water and loose rock we found ourselves reaching the bottom of the hill. That was where the trail rolled around the side of a beautiful alpine lake. The scenery was impressive; enough to snap a few more pictures once we reached the sunny side of the lake.

    It was a fine place to take a break until the rain swept over and began to saturate us as if we were standing in a shower. We had another long batch of downhill that was calling our names. We fired up the bikes and crested over the next section of downhill. There we found a waterfall cascading from the upper lake to the river below that lead down a rocky and rugged canyon. It had carved the perfect terrain for enduro.
    We worked our way through some hard downhill terrain. It led us into the town of Yanahuara. It was a perfect day of riding. Super fun trails, great views, and no problems. It was ideal!
a simple little weld job...
    From Yanahuara, we made our way to Urubamba, where we found a nice hotel and filled our bellies with a half of a pollo a la brasa (Peruvian chicken delight) each.  After our meal, we headed out for a short little stint of exploring another hard enduro trail leading out of the town of Urubamba and up towards the area that we had come from earlier, just a different trail.
This was a fun trail…It was not too technical, just fun. It worked its way through a small canyon and up towards a rocky section of trail that eventually became extremely difficult. Once we reached the hard part, I discovered that I had broken the weld on my chain guard. We still had a full day of riding in the morning and needed to be fixed before we continued. The decision was made to get back to town to get it welded back into place so we could ride the next day without problems.
   I called another moto buddy that lives in Urubamba and he helped us to get the bike into the welder to get it fixed. Success! We went and ate a good dinner and headed back to bed with big smiles on our faces. It was another great day! Tired and happy…The way each day should end!

Day 5
    It was a peaceful morning. Bikes were ready to roll, the route was spelled out by map(even though we could change it at moment’s notice), and Van and I were excited to turn some more soil for the last day of our tour. Van likes the high speed stuff. I took him along the river road that runs the length of the Sacred Valley. We had a blast while screaming through the valley in 4th  and 5th gear. We covered some ground…in a short period of time.
   That brought us to Coya. It was there that we headed up the hill towards a lake that we passed on our first day. We were completing the loop. The ride was an old road that had a number of landslides. Since the landslides, they stopped maintaining the road…good for us! It was a perfect high speed ride along the edge of the canyon overlooking the river valley below. Fun!
Couple of good looking fellas and a photo op!
As we reached the top edge overlooking the Sacred Valley, we stopped for a picture and a drink. In front of us was a walking trail that would its way around the canyon rim. What better thing to do than ride it and see where it went. We did, and quickly discovered a set of Inca ruins overlooking the valley. It was a great place for more pics and some good enduro.
We finally reached the lake on top and worked our way around the outside of the lake. The grassy shoreline was perfect to wind the bikes out, throw some mud, and take in a beautiful lakeside view.
    We finally made it to the place where we rode just 4 days earlier. We regressed down the same trail to the bottom of the hill and into the town of Corrau. We ate lunch, and confirmed plans to reach the cross on Picol Mountain before the day was over.
Some random unmarked ruins above the Sacred Valley
We took a route that was a bit out of the way, but it was a trail that I had never ascended. It was a technical batch of switchbacks and single track. Great times! We made it to the ridge and rode that for miles. The trail overlooked Cusco valley on one side and the valley overlooking the town of Corrau. This ridge ride is heaven for dirt bikers. We were in heaven!
    We made our way to the base of Picol Mountain via the ridge ride. We were a bit tired, but the cross that stands at 14300 was just up the way taunting us in a devilish fashion.
Van gazing over the city at the end of a great tour
Scott and Van...nothing but grins...
Van and I took a good breather at the bottom, and then psyched ourselves up for the charge. Picol Mountain had our names all over it. We made our way up the first part. It was riddled with Inca farming terraces to begin with, and then it turned to a sketchy side hill to the main ridge. Once we reached the ridge, it was a hard throttle to the top. Picol is the longest hill climb that any dirt biker can imagine. It seems to never stop. The finish is a point overlooking the valley of Cusco.         
    Sometime back, a large group of people hoisted an enormous cross on their backs and hauled the wooden structure up the mountain. There it sits towering over the city of Cusco above the airplanes coming in for landing. It is an impressive place. Best of all, it was the final obstacle of the most memorable 5 days of motorcycle riding that Van or I have ever had.
    We cruised down the mountain in a way as to not boil our brakes, worked our way to the entrance of my house, and finished with a high five as we put the trusty old steeds away for the next adventure.

Thank you Van for joining MotoMission  and me on this notable adventure of a lifetime.
Scott Englund
Founder and Guide
MotoMission Peru
Huge thanks to our sponsors that have helped us with our mission. WPS and Fly Racing...You guys are a blessing!

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