Downhill Mountain Biking in Cusco: gravity does its thing

If you are traveling to Peru and have ANY interest in mountain biking, do yourself a favor: take at least one day to explore the single track in and around Cusco. It’s fast, fun, and probably unlike anything you’ve ridden or will ride anywhere else. This last Friday, I finally received my reward for hauling a bike several thousand miles across the hemisphere on trains, planes, and automobiles: the down hill riding is, in fact, awesome.  And the gravity in Peru seems to be working just fine. I met Paul Cripps and Carol Thomas, who run the travel company Amazonas Explorers, at a pub last Wednesday.  Amazonas Explorers is one of the most reputable companies running mountain bike trips in Peru; they actually have Kona Coilers and Stinky 6s for their clients instead of bikes that look like they might spontaneously combust at the first bump in the road, and Paul, Carol, and their biking guides are amazing riders.  I asked if they would be into showing me some of the trails around Cusco, and the next Friday I was loading the Heckler atop a 1960s model Land Rover with 10 or so other people, some of whom were wearing full face helmets and body armor; a really good idea in retrospect. We turned off the main road that heads up to Saqsayhuaman and the other Inca ruins above the city on to a rough, rutted out dirt road climbing sharply for a half hour or so.

The views from the trail head went on forever; the green serrated peaks that surround Cusco and the snow-capped high peaks in the distance, including Mt. Ausangate – the tallest peak in southern Peru at approx 21,000ft. The ride started off fast and picked up from there.  There’s very little constructed single track around here; you’re mostly riding llama trails that have deep ruts from heavy rains and lots, and lots, and lots of 1-2 ft rock drops so that you’re just bouncing along way back in the back seat, trying not to touch the brakes.  Then the ‘tricky part’ starts.  The trail turns in to a rock field with several foot drops for 50 meters or so.  If there were water running through it, it would be a really fun rapid to run -it was a nice walk for me. After that it was drop, drop, drop again in to wide open meadows, through llama grazing fields, and down in to a eucalyptus forest with steep, loose hills.  The ride finishes in a neighborhood where you try to avoid your last obstacle: anti-social dogs.  I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time; most of the time because it was so fun, other times because I was so terrified it made me laugh.

Last night I went out for another ride with a woman named Katy I met on Friday night’s ride – which really worked out, because Katy’s room mate had just told her she needed to move out, opening up the room for me.  $100/month in the center of town with a built-in riding partner.  Whoot!  Her friend Ronaldo drove us up to our trail head in the small town of Yuncaypata (we could have taken a bus for 3 soles/$1 if we couldn’t get a ride).  The first lap was a Cusco classic starting from the small town of Yuncaypata.  Again, you drop in and just keep dropping, dropping, and making good use of your suspension.  Some of the more memorable moments for me were the straight drop of loose clay soil and gravel that you had to kind of skid down slowly in order to avoid the tire eating rut in the middle, and the barely noticeable jumps that would have been fairly disastrous if Katy hadn’t given the heads up.  To summarize, it was really fun.

Our second lap turned in to an exploratory adventure after we took a wrong turn early on.  The llama track we followed took us up and over giant rock outcroppings and cliffs with 360 degree views.  It wasn’t what we were expecting, but pretty sweet all the same.  We made up for the lack of down hill on the trail by riding back in to town down the stair cases of San Blas.  Lots and lots of stairs in those stair cases… Nothing like ending a ride through narrow alleys and down stairs trying to avoid llamas and tourists!

Next week Paul has organized a trip to Abra Malga to plant trees in a deforested area, taking advantage of our proximity to the Mega Avalanche course.  The course drops from 14,435ft to 9,186ft over the course of 12.5 miles.  I’ll let you know how that goes.