The ride through the eyes of the camera...
I found myself the other day at the base of a trail that quite frankly scared the crap out of me. I straddled my seat, both feet on the ground, motor idling, and my neck looking so far up, the back of my helmet hit the plastic drone case that I had strapped to my body. Video or it didn't happen, right? Well, you're in luck. Keep reading...
The beginning of a perfect trail
I was solo. My buddy Alex was with me for part of the day, but he had a major situation with his business that forced him to peel off. I figured the trail would kick my butt and send me home without reaching the destination. I, however, thought I could at least reach the trailhead, fly the drone up along the side of the mountain to see what I was facing.
Being by myself, I can't take the chances that I would if I were riding with a group. Before you guys give me a hard time about riding solo, let me just say it is a stupid idea. I know that. I do it quite often because I have no other option. I live in a city of 700,000 people and I have one guy that will ride with me when he can. That's my good friend Alex. There are at best, 20 trail worthy dirt bikes in the entire city, and most are only used on an MX track. I ride solo, most of the time. I would rather not, but when I do, I find some crazy things.
Some of the never ending switchbacks
This day was no different. Alex and I ripped through an hour and forty-five minutes of the most rhythmic, flowing, and scenic single track that one could imagine. From Cusco to the Sacred Valley via walking routes and animal paths that peak out at 14k feet down to the valley floor at around 9k. Once there, Alex and I parted ways with the assurance that I would continue with caution and care and let him know that I was safe when I got home. Sounds like my mother!
The afternoon was fading away. It was 2pm as I peered up the enormous mountainside. I could not see the top. It was thousands of feet in elevation above. There would be glaciers. The trail would pass through a number of climates in the next three and half miles. I would have to push my physical limits much further than I could imagine. I couldn't play it safe. I had to give it a go. With the beginning of the trail right in front of me, I started screaming at myself inside my helmet, "Git it Scotty!"
Releasing the clutch and twisting the throttle, I began a journey to a place I should have never gone in the first place. I proceeded. Switchback after switchback, ledge after ledge, I trudged up the side of a monster. Within minutes I was looking down as if from an airplane window, peering onto the valley floor where I had recently commenced.
I was an ace. I was riding like a champ. You guys know what I am talking about. It was my A game I brought with me on this ride. The switchbacks were gnarly, and each one that I railed just boosted my confidence.
I kept telling myself, Just another corner and I will take a break.
My goal was to reach the lake that I found on Google Earth that happens to be at 15,400ft and nestled in a glacier riddled alpine area. I was pretty sure that the trail would be impossible.
I stared at this the whole way up the other side of the canyon
After 30 or so switchbacks and a relentless climb that never went flat for a second, the trail entered a rocky outcropping and into a chute filled with another batch of switchbacks. I thought, I am pretty sure this is the end of the trail.
I came across a sheer downhill section of six switchbacks that I could count by looking almost straight down the hillside. Risky!
I got off the bike, hiked down to make sure it was doable on the down, but also possible to get up as I may have to come back the same way. There certainly were no other trails on this mountainside.
I pumped myself up with some more screaming in my helmet, "You're a badass Scott! You got this!"
Down I lunged with the first tightening of the triceps. Uphill uses other muscles. I was fresh, but scared out of my wits. I had committed and therefore had to continue. Turn after turn, my bike couldn't make the corners without giving me the feeling that the back wheel and fender would push me into the abyss. With not enough space for the front tire to be on the trail below and the back to be on the trail above without a ledge in between, I found myself carefully muscling my aluminum horse down the path. I reached the final turn. The steep rock met me face to face. I managed to wrestle the bike around so it was pointed somewhat in the right direction. Fully committed, I pulled the clutch and began racing down the face of the rock to the dirt trail below. Keep your eyes on the dirt. The ledge that would have swallowed my bike after the 1000 foot tumble would have screwed up my day.
I made it. With my heart racing and my confidence boosted like a rocket, I took a drink of water, a few pictures, and pumped myself up for more. I remember looking back and thinking, I hope I can get up that later. Now let's get to the lake.
I spent a good two hours navigating a three and a half mile trail. I was thrilled to be there. Alone, I couldn't have done it any other way. I am not sure my buddy could have made it up, nor wanted to. It was high risk.
I hammered out another thirty to forty more switchbacks. Exhausted, I reached the height on the side of the mountain that had to be similar to the elevation of the lake. The trail went side hill and relatively the same level for a couple of hundred of yards. The rocks were brutal, but fun. The landscape greeted me with large granite slabs, altitude which turned my 450 into a 250, and a view that one has never seen from the saddle of a dirt bike. I had arrived. The lake stood there waiting for my arrival.
As I reached the vista of the lake, my excitement spiked as I could only imagine the drone shots I would capture from that vantage point. The sun is good, no wind, and about 45 minutes of time before I need to get down the mountain. This is going to be amazing. I love shooting video!
I quickly set up a time lapse to begin running. I then turned my attention the assembling the drone. While hiding myself and my drone backpack from the field of view of the time lapse camera, I began putting the props on the bird. In the minute or so that it took for assembly of the drone, the sun disappeared, the wind picked up, and the sleet began tapping on the side of my helmet. I couldn't believe how fast the weather changed. I could no longer fly. I put it all back in the pack, sealed it up, and began to freeze. It was time to head down the mountain.
I finished up a few things at the top, but couldn't get off the mountain fast enough. With little to no oxygen, a piercing wind, countless small rocks of ice hitting my cheeks through my helmet and goggles, and a bit of fear resurfacing about the gnarly giants I must face on the trail on the return, I began my descent. I still had my confidence. I rode well for a few minutes until I found myself in a sunny and dry calm, just off the high alpine plateau. I don't have much time, but I hauled this drone up here to shoot some vids, I am gonna give it a shot.
I spent the next 15 minutes maximizing my time as a pilot and cinematographer and grabbing some cool images. The task of reaching the bottom before dark was still haunting me, so I packed up things and continued the descent. In what seemed like hundreds of switchbacks, I found myself facing the biggest of the giants. The rock wall that looked at me with daring eyes. It was waiting for me to return.
I gandered at the lines available, chose to hit it hard, reach my rear tire up to a high point on the rock, then high side my bike and let it cling the stone by way of a hooked foot peg and or handlebar.
Perfectly executed! I wasted little energy, caused no damage, and was ready to tackle the next monster. The ride back down to the trail head greeted me with a couple of falls, mostly because of my fatigue and the angle of the downhill switchbacks. I managed to reach the bottom of the trail with everything intact, hardly a drop of energy left, but a smile as wide as the Pacific Ocean.
It was a perfect trail. I could not be more stoked to be able to reach my desired destination. Solo...Yeah, I would have rather shared it with a good riding buddy. I wasn't dealt those cards.
I had this little obstacle in my way...
What I was dealt was a winning hand. An amazing day with an amazing ride. I made it to the lake, busted out some new trails, and learned a lot about how to handle difficulty and fear. I made it home to be greeted with a hug from my wife and kids... the makings of a perfect day!
The reason for testing out the route is that in one month, a group of some of the best riders in Peru will be joining me on a ride. I believe this is exactly what they want. Something so close to impossible. I cannot wait to share my new riding spot with the guys.
Until next time, keep testing the impossible,
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