Around the Mountain...making first tracks on a dirtbike
To be the first dirtbike on a trail, ever, provides one with a thrill that is hard for many to experience. However, there are circumstances in life that we create that put us in places to do so."Would you be interested in riding on a totally new, unridden trail?" That is a question that I love to present to the people I ride with here in Peru. I grew up in California and the Pacific Northwest of the United States and had some amazing places to ride, but I cannot recall ever riding on a virgin trail. There had always been someone there before me and would always be someone behind.
Around the Mountain...watch this tour video to see what its like to be the first dirtbike on the route
Exotic riding has somehow reared its presence in my life. I ride the Andes of Peru. These daunting behemoths of dirt and rock rising up from the sea are a constant view through my lenses. I wake up, exit my bedroom and on my way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I look through the wall of windows each morning to see a 15,000 foot mountain.
Recently, I tackled a new area that I had been dreaming about. The Nevado Ausangate. This mountain sits about a 2 hour drive from my house. There have been many a day that I look down the end of the valley only to be teased by this glacier topped 21,000 foot monster. I had read that there are trails for hikers and mountaineers to circumnavigate the skirt of the nevado.
Just a typical view...near Nevado Ausangate
I have, up to this point, experienced a problem; I have not been able to find a capable and willing partner to tackle the task. For one, I am kind of a loner when it comes to hard enduro riding in Cusco Peru. There are a few other guys that ride, but most stay on an MX track and never really experience the heavenly landscape that their Andean world has to offer.
Some might say that the stars aligned for me. I recently met Luigi, a fellow enduro fanatic from Lima, the capital of Peru. He is a solid rider and loves a crazy adventure as much as I do. He mentioned that he would be in town and would love to do a tour. We had one day available. I needed two days, but I certainly couldn't let this opportunity pass.
I suggested the Ausangate route as a possibility. He perked up with that excitement that a young kid might experience the first time hearing about Disneyland. There were so many unknowns that we made the plans based on what we knew, and prepared for the worst.
Luigi and I ready to head out...That's a nice shirt!
First, we had a two hour drive. We hired a car and driver. Ruben, an old friend of mine and capable driver, joined us on the excursion. It was an early morning, but we managed to load up the two bikes, all of our gear, and a couple of ecstatic boys into a Toyota 4wd.
We didn't know where the trail began. We only knew the name of the pueblo or community, but the trail was a hiking trail. It may be hard to understand, but when you pull up with a truck full of motos, and you ask where the trekking trail starts, the locals look at you with strange faces while thinking stranger things.
We had to stop and take some pictures
They had never seen nor heard of anyone riding a dirtbike on the "camino" that goes around the mountain. You can use a mule or a horse, but a moto, that was a laughable image. I have learned a couple of methods of communicating in these instances. I laugh right along. I also use phrases like, "mi caballo tiene fuerza!" ...My horse is strong... They usually giggle and give me the "well, if you think you can, the trail starts over there" talk. I oblige, and take off. That happened a number of times on this trip.
We started at the turnoff to the trail head. We asked about the route and where it began. We had a truck of cool Japanese motos which continuously stirred up curiosity amongst the local men and boys. Yep, they laughed as we told them we wanted to ride the route around the mountain. They asked about our arrangements of where we would be spending the night and how to fill our tanks. They made sure we knew there were no "grifos" or gas stations out there. I had done my homework and knew the distance was not an issue as much as the difficulty of the terrain. We had about a 50 mile loop to tackle.
Many of the folks pointed out how dangerous it would be. They would say things that created a bit of fear and unknowns. I could have been wrong on my prep work. What if it really did take 7 days to hike and the trail was impassible on a moto?
I talked with Luigi and Ruben. We developed a meet up plan at the end of the route. We figured it would take 4 hours if we had no problems. On the other side of the equation, we figured that at the 8 hour mark, They need to come in and get us. There was one point on the mountain where a cell signal could be found. We would give Ruben an update from there. It was about half way around.
We reached the starting point for the ride and unloaded the bikes. We anxiously geared up, tanked up on water and food, and said goodbye to our rescue coordinator, Ruben. With our bikes warmed up, we turned on the Gopros and ripped down the nasty two track road that lead us to the final community before the trail began. Upon our arrival, we found a group of young men and a soccer field.
They were not playing when we arrived. They stared at us like we were aliens. I have gotten used to it. I noticed that they were not playing soccer. That was odd. I also noticed that there was one guy that was standing on an embankment. The others were staring at him. I pulled up and realized that the ball had gotten stuck in the mud below the embankment and the guy that kicked it was the guy that had to retrieve it. Nobody wanted to get their shoes muddy.
This was an opportunity to make a good connection with the locals. I hopped off my bike, jumped into the mud which nearly went up to top of my boots, grabbed the ball, and received an applause from my new group of friends. They would be really helpful from that point on.
Our lunch spot
We asked about where the trail was located that took us around the mountain. They, with much curiosity, asked a million questions, laughed as many do when they hear such ridiculousness, and all corporately pointed in the same manner as to the direction of the trail. They wished us luck and we headed off.
The single track started flowing under our tires. The ups and downs, along the riverbank was smooth sandy soil that was fenced in with tall golden grass. The mountains that flowed up to the sky became our target. We headed up the water flow, closer and closer to the base of the first mountain. The trail went from smooth and rhythmic to grassy and marshy over the course of a couple of miles. Luigi and I were in heaven. The further we rode, the more content we were to be called enduro riders. This was perfect. The trail continued to change. It was like going through seasons. Very distinct and different types of trail at various stages of the route. The rocks started small and evolved into a trials course. We could see the daunting pass quite a distance and elevation above. The trail turned to into a free for all "find a way to the top" type of ride.
The rock provided some decent traction, but the there were areas where the stream was the only passable option and thus had to get a little wet. It was in the rock section that we realized that we may not get through. Luigi and I found ourselves, manhandling one bike at a time to only arrive at another nearly insurmountable obstacle. We suffered through the rock. While reaching the final section, a young local man came out of the valley and hiked down to see what we were doing. Apparently he lives up there year round. One tough hombre! The altitude at his house was about 14,000 feet. The chill of the glacial air that pours off the mountain creates a harsh environment. A beautiful one , but a difficult way of life. This man, guided us up through the rest of the rock, and pointed out that there was a much more passable trail up high on the mountain behind his house. We must have missed the turnoff. It was a mute point. We were at the top of the rock.
We expended a bunch of our energy on the early part of the ride so we found a nice place to take a break and eat a sandwich under a cloud covered peak. It would try to sneak out from the captivity of the clouds every now and then to dazzle us with its radiance. Impressive!
We were having a blast. We suffered a bit in the rocks, but it was all worth it. However, we had a lot of unknowns on the route in front of us, so we mounted up our aluminum horses and headed on.
On the high pass before dropping down
The trail continued to change. One landscape after the next. Luigi and I found ourselves on the top of the world in an eerie and most beautiful moonscape. No life, just rock, sand, and dirt. The trail was easy to follow. It meandered with the curves and contour of the mountain pass.
While taking in the scenery, the trail continued to impress. At one point, Luigi and I were heading toward an enormous hill while the single track meandered around the side. He turned left with the trail and I realized it was a do-able climb and went for it. Luigi quickly joined in the fun. It was, more or less, a dune at 15,000 feet that went up another 1000. The thickness of the dirt and sand kept us from reaching the top. We climbed as high as we could, made a lot of whoops and hollars, and enjoyed a few special minutes of bliss in the high country. This ride couldn't get any better!
The section on top was surreal. The landscape was a palette of colors, brushed on the barren sand and rock. The peaks rose out of the earth and stretched up to the heavens and beyond. The sky, grey with clouds, had a speckle of sun poking through. The path was just as spectacular. Ups and downs, back and forth through the gulleys and waterways. The moss would rear its head and lay down in the path for hundreds of yards at a time. The trail continued through a gauntlet of terrain. Every enduro riders dream!
Luigi and I took a number of photos. However, time was a resource that was diminishing. The unknowns were still in front of us. We were able to reach that point, but to go all the way back, would have us returning in the dark. That was not a preferable option. We continued on in our search for the end of the trail.
We reached the third abra, or pass. This was the location that the locals told us we might be able to make a call. Luigi and I agreed to send a message to Ruben to let him know our status. The call didn't work, but we sent a text and it apparently got through during our descent.
The drop down to the starting point was a triceps burning smile maker. The trail was "buenazo" as they say in Spanish. Just like the early part of the day, the trail changed like classes in school. From one type of riding to the next. Water, then sand, then rock, then tight switchbacks to high speed freeflow, it was all there. We grinned the whole way down.
The landscape at 15000 feet
After a good long drop, we ended up arriving at a community where we found some people and a horse camp. Unsure of our exact location, we asked one of the locals. We found out that we were in the location where Ruben was supposed to be soaking in the hot springs. We had made it. Ruben wasn't there, but we had made it.
The loop was complete. We still had a few miles to go to hook up with Ruben, but we completed the loop. In the process we found a bunch of other future trail options as well.
We made it back to Ruben, loaded up the bikes while the hoards of men from the town wanted to hear about our adventure. Luigi and I told our stories and impressed the locals. They hadn't heard of anyone riding motos through there. It was a silly idea. Kind of like doing a backflip on a dirtbike never existed when I was a kid. Who does that?
This story has a million directions I can go. One thing that I can pull from this adventure is that experiencing something new is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced. Being the first to reach a particular place on a dirtbike is a thrill. Most of the hard enduro trails that I ride have never seen a motorcycle, expect mine. I could never say that about any other place I have ever ridden. Peru is different. I am blessed to be able to share this with a fortunate few. In the process, our riders go home completely satisfied and with an incredible moto adventure that will not soon be forgotten.
Whether it's on a moto, or just in life, seek out those firsts. Go after that crazy idea that people tell you is impossible. Scare yourself. Do the unknown. Experience a first. That is where the thrill really begins.
We made it back...another incredible ride!
Scott is an avid lover of the motorcycle, a thrill seeker, explorer, and a social entrepreneur and founder of MotoMission Peru, a high end dirtbike tour operation located in Cusco, Peru. 100% of the profits from MM are used to support the Altivas Canas Children's project on the outskirts of Cusco. If you are interested in joining MotoMission Peru on an dirtbike adventure, contact us via Thumpertalk or through our website at www.motomissionperu.com. Also, follow us on our Youtube channel at Motomission Peru Dirtbike Adventures. If you would like to follow along with our adventures via our blog, make sure you click above to follow us. There will certainly be more crazy stories to tell.