After 13 years in the big city we recently moved out of Cusco to a house in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We live near Calca now, about an hour away from Cusco by car. The Sacred Valley isn’t comparable to the truly rural villages of the Peruvian Andes but it’s still relatively “country”. A world of difference from the city for sure.
No need to congratulate me on the new house, it’s just another rented place. Once I win the lottery I’ll actually be able to buy or build a house, with the way the prices of land are here. But I digress.
First order of business once moved in was to get some new bicycles. In the city of Cusco it’s next to impossible to ride a bicycle but here in the Sacred Valley riding a bicycle is perfect for short hops to town or the store, or just to ride around with the kids. We didn’t find any bike stores in Calca so we bought a machine for my son Milan (more on that one later) and a full-size Trinx Striker mountain bike in Cusco. The former fit in the back of the car to take to our new house in Calca but the full size bike didn’t, so I decided to ride it from Cusco to Calca.
How hard could it be? I used to ride 100+ kilometers in a day when I was younger. I hail from the very same country as Eddy Merckx and I owned a bicycle as recently as 1994. There’s no sarcasm in that, for middle-aged guys like me 1994 does seem recent.
I personally haven’t seen the inside of a gym since high school but a friend of mine who ran marathons told me that the secret is to not exert yourself. If you exert yourself, you’ll get tired. If you don’t exert yourself – he said, run at a pace that allows you to talk without being short of breath – you won’t get tired but have all the endurance you need.
The ride from Cusco to Calca starts of with about an 1,800 feet (550 meters) climb, starting around 10,800 feet elevation up to about 12,600 feet elevation. From there it’s downhill to about 9,800 feet (Pisaq) and about 20 more kilometers relatively flat to Calca.
I heeded my friend’s advice and rode as effortlessly as possible up the hill leaving Cusco. About halfway up the hill a bunch of really cool mountain-bike pro dudes came flying down the hill and gave me a friendly wave. I could tell they were cool and professional by the expensive bikes and fancy gear they were using. I told myself I was even cooler because I was actually riding up the hill, not just down the hill.
About 60 percent up the hill I noticed a distinct weakness in my friend’s “don’t exert yourself theory”: namely, if you don’t exert yourself the darn Trinx doesn’t move up the 12,000 foot hill. About 80 percent up the hill I seriously considered waving down any station wagon taxi (there’s a lot of them in Peru) pay them a hundred Soles to take me to Calca and another thousand Soles to swear to everlasting secrecy. Proud to say I managed to get up to the top of the hill without having to walk or hang on to the back of a car. I wavered a few times on my friend’s “don’t exert yourself” theory but I mostly stuck to it and in the end it paid off.
From there it was literally all downhill. I had firmly committed to riding downhill with extreme care, as a responsible father of 3 should. However the flesh is weak and after the first two curves I got the Trinx up to near-supersonic speeds, brake discs glowing red all the way down to Pisaq. In Pisaq my better judgment returned and I decided to take the back roads from Taray, not the main highway through the Sacred Valley which has too much traffic. I’ve got a Trinx and a bottle of Gatorade, 20 km of dirt roads can’t hurt.
As soon as I got to the house in Calca my very understanding family immediately asked me to take them for a ride, accompany them to their friend’s house, walk the dogs, fire up the grill and a few other minor things. Just another day 🙂
I looked at your photo of the bike with the Sacred Valley in the distance. I thought ‘I’ve been there!’
That’s a nice shot, you’ve got a wider angle on yours, really shows the Valley well. That specific spot (Mirador de Taray) used to be where pretty much all of the tour buses would stop, way back when we still had tourism 😦