Leaving my comfort zone for the trip of a lifetime.
It took me weeks to decide whether or not to go to Peru and I only hesitated because everything about this trip was going to be pulling me out of my comfort zone. My last experience flying was more than 20 years ago, and that was only across the country. Once I committed to the trip I was excited, and nervous about leaving my comfort zone, and the country. I knew that it was going to be an amazing experience and something that I would never forget. Looking back and had I not gone I would have never known what I would have missed. Sure I would have seen pics from the trip and thought to myself that it looked great, but I never would have known exactly how great. This trip opened my eyes to how small my world really has been up until now. Everything about this adventure came down to one step, the hardest step for me which was just to say "yes", I will go. The trip itinerary planned for a few days of riding, racing, and a trip to Machu Picchu. I had no idea what Machu Picchu was at first so I had to google it. Yep, some ruins, some alpacas, and some tourists, I guess it will be cool. Here is all I can say about Machu Picchu. Go there, get your ass on a plane and go there! The entire place left me feeling as if I could do more in my life than I ever imagined. The sheer scale of the place will leave you in awe, and that anything is possible if you believe in it. Let me take a few steps back and start at the beginning of this story.
I showed up at Lars’s house with my bike, a duffel bag, carry on backpack, and a can of Heady Topper beer. This is a special beer and I brought it to celebrate the adventure we were about to embark on. We drank the beer and waited for our driver to pick us. He rolled up the driveway in a big black suburban and we loaded up. I felt like a gangster in the back of that thing. Our driver was Russian and was very good at either pressing the gas or brake pedal really, really hard. He didn’t quite grasp the concept of modulation. In hindsight I honestly think this was the scariest part of the entire trip. We arrived at the airport, checked our bikes and luggage and wait to board our plane. It was during our luggage check that we ran into Marc Tremain who would be joining us for every step of our adventure. We were now three amigos traveling to a new country.
Next thing I know I’m on the plane and drinking a beer next to a complete stranger who told me minutes ago that the plane was old and a piece of crap. He didn’t say it in those exact words, especially since he didn’t speak any English, but his hand gestures and thumbs down made it quite clear. I hadn’t flown in almost 20 years and this was a hell of a way to get back into it.
As I looked out the window and saw the sparkle of lights I wondered what city or small town we were flying over. Even though it had been almost two decades long since I last flew I felt a complete sense of ease and knew that nothing bad was going to happen. I looked around at the other passengers and just two seats away was a new born baby asleep in its mother’s arms. I knew that this was a good sign and I soon found myself nodding off as well. This flight was taking us from JFK to Bogata Columbia and after a quick layover we would be on our way to Cusco Peru. As we prepared to land I looked I enjoyed how beautiful and green Columbia was. We made our way to from the plane to our next gate passing a large sign for Bogata. Next to the sign for Bogata was a bicycle, and I again took this as a sign of good luck. Once again we were in the air and this time the next time our feet hit the ground we would be in Peru. Most of the flight I looked out the window and simply found myself in awe of the scenery. The landscape had my eyes mesmerized with its beauty, and I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the mountains and valleys. It didn’t matter where my eyes went everything I saw was beautiful.
We arrived a day before the actually biking began and this gave us some time to just relax, settle in, experience the culture, and to do a little sight-seeing. One of the main highlights of the day was the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. It was our first real experience with the sheer magnitude of some of the rocks that had been moved. This picture that was taken of Lars, Marc, and me seems to have a natural glow to it, as if our happiness and excitement was giving off its own aura.
The next day we were joined by the rest of the crew. At one point or another I had I’m sure I had crossed paths with all of these guys and now once again we had been brought together to ride some bike and be tourists. One of the guys who I started out riding and racing with in the late 90’s was Aaron Chase. I don’t see Aaron much and when I do it’s usually at a party at Lar’s house. As always it was great to see him, and I was super excited to finally ride with him since it had been way too long.
OK, so let’s talk about the riding part of the trip. On the days we were riding we had to get our hustle on. The goal was to suck the life out of the every minute of daylight and to spend it on our bikes or enjoying the country. This meant waking up early, eating, and loading up our gear and bikes for the entire day. Once the van left there was no coming back. The trails were awesome, but the funny part is that they were never were meant to be trails. They were paths used for travel, and for farmers and livestock. Some areas had slight modifications made by riders, and they were about the most perfect and fun trails I have ever ridden in my life. We started one day with a skree run which until this day I had no idea what it was, or what I was in for. To sum it up very quickly it’s ridding down the side of a mountain in the crumbling’s of that mountain. So we hiked our bikes up what seemed like MT Everest and began bike surfing down through the skree. I say MT Everest because we weren’t adapted to the altitude and just a few steps of hiking up with your bike made you felt like your heart was going to blow out of your chest. We sat there in a group looking down at what we were about to do, and each one of us contemplating when we were going to start the decent. One by one we trickled down the hill, and the sounds of laughter and hollering with excitement filled the air. As we reached the bottom we all looked up in awe of what we had ridden and to enjoy the sight of the fresh tracks in the soil.
I won’t go into the details of every day of riding but all I can say is that I wish I could ride these trails every single day. The blend of flow, scenery, and terrain was perfectly balanced and a riders dream. One minute you’re screaming down single track next to Inca ruins along the side of a mountain and the next you’re riding though a field next to llamas. Each day had at least one section that if you got off line or went too fast it would have sent you over an edge and to your grave. This is not an exaggeration by any means, and when trails start at 11,000 plus feet you have a lot of riding to physically handle, and you must stay focused at all times. Every day after riding we quickly unpacked the vans, showered, and headed into town to check out the local cuisine and to see the night light and hang with the local people. All I can say is that the food was excellent and full of flavor, the people were friendly and full of smiles, and the city was full of life. Every day we managed to cram in as much as possible between both riding and being tourists and little by little you could feel the pace slowly diminish. Every day we returned to the hotel with a little less energy than the day before. One evening we were treated with one of the few breweries in Peru being about 1/4 mile from where our riding for the day ended. We pulled over to take some pics of a beautiful sunset and behind us was the brewery and another group of riders from our trip. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing day of riding and celebrating life. We drank, we ate, and we soaked in the day and just how lucky we all were.
One of the things I came to appreciate most about where we were in Peru was the people. In their society everyone works, and no one expects anything. They put in their hard efforts and sweat towards their lives and taking care of their families. Many things about the culture was different from America, and I think we could definitely learn a lot from them. I know I touched briefly on dog life in Peru but I want to talk a little more about it now. At first arrival I wanted to do all I could to save every dog I saw. As the days went on I began to understand the relationship that the people have with the animals. I kept trying to rationalize the difference but then I began asking myself the question is “are they better or worse”. We keep pets on leashes and in many ways we dictate every minute of their lives. In Peru most of the dogs run free and wonder around through the city searching for food, and then return to the place they call home. You would see dogs in one part of the city in the am, and then in other parts at night. One theme that if you paid attention to it would be that the dogs had a door that they would sleep in front of at night. Or at least a general spot that maybe they would call home. I started to see them as the deer of Peru, and saw that even though they don’t have the same relationship as most dogs do with people in America, they still have a relationship with the people of Peru. Towards the end of the trip I felt that they live pretty amazing lives running free and to doing as they please. They explore the town, visit others dogs, and they enjoy the best thing of all, real freedom. I say this in happiness because I see dogs in the US that are mistreated, and some that sadly never get to leave the distance of a leash or a chain.
Every day was just one great experience and new memory after the next, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better we went to Machu Picchu. This was going to be a very long day and absolutely worth every second of it. I had to be up at 4:00am to catch a train at 5:00am to catch a bus at 6:30am to get through the gate of Machu Picchu before they stopped letting tourists through at 8:00am Yep, it was a hectic morning full of running around and that excitement only added to the experience. Most of the train ride was in the dark so I didn’t really get to enjoy the landscape. However I did have a great conversation about lifting, working out and nutrition with Wayne DeVingo. We quickly moved from the train to stand in line for the buses. Luckily we all got to board the bus together and headed up to Machu Picchu. So, you remember when I said that the car ride to the airport was the scariest part of the trip, well I lied. The road to the ruins is as sketchy of a road that you could possibly have. It winded its way back and forth up the mountain with no guardrails, cliff edges, and two way traffic with other buses. (no other vehicles were allowed on the road)
I said this before and I’ll say it again, if you the opportunity passes your way to go see these ruins then you definitely must go. Especially since I hear they may be closing them down in the future. After passing through the gate into the park you can’t really see anything as you’re in a canopy of trees and then all of the sudden it opens up and your jaw drops. I wish my next few words and sentences could describe my emotions but they can’t. My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing and my heart raced with anticipation to explore. This place was magical, and you could feel it with every step you took. Our visit included a hike to the top of the mountain inside Machu Picchu. I laugh now because its amusing to think that they could have done more than what I had already seen, but then you walk 2800 steps to see that there are ruins also on top of mountain. Yep, they gave the world a big middle finger and said we will do what we want and build what we want where we want. I hope my pics and give you at least a small glimpse into the sheer scale of things and of my experience.
The last two days of the trip was all about the Inca Avalanche race. I can honestly say that racing was my least favorite part of the trip, now let me explain why. Racing added the element of being serious to days filled with pure relaxation and joy. When the topic of racing entered the conversations it changed the vibe, and the mood. It put butterflies in your stomach and concern in your mind. The day before we raced, we had to do the exact same thing as the race, except that it was called qualifying. On qualifying day as we drove to almost 16,000 feet the sky was clear and the sun was shining. The mood in the van was different, there was tension, people grew quiet, and I think we all just wanted it over with. As we waited on the starting line a heavy fog rolled in reducing vision and brining rain right behind it. I was lucky enough to get a spot on the front line and even though it wasn’t the best starting spot I made it work. So there we were, 167 of us waiting to charge down the mountain together. The countdown was in Spanish, tres, dos, uno, go! As we made our way across and down the mountain I could peripherally see people everywhere, and I had Lars right behind me telling me to “get it”. As if there wasn’t enough pressure, I had him behind me making me want to go even faster, and to pick the best lines. The trail winds down the mountain cutting though and back out and across the road you drive up on. It does this many, many times. As we exited the first section of mud and chaos I went to remove one of my google tear offs and accidentally removed them all. Ok, so now I cant see on top of all of the other shit.....just great. I took a chance and began wiping my goggles with my Sombrio flannel sleeve. It was working great, until it wasn’t. As I went to wipe my goggles my flannel caught the tear off tab and pulled them half way across my face. So now I really couldn’t see, and I'm still trying to pin down the mtn. Next thing I know I come around a corner, touch too much front brake and crash into the ground and over a the side of the trail dropping down about five feet. I compose myself, lift my bike up and put it back on the trail and quickly scramble up the ledge I had went over. I was waiting for someone to crash into me and send me back over the edge. Somehow I luckily made it down the mtn in one piece and qualified 11th.
As I woke on race day the first thing I said to my roommate Lars was that I didn’t want to race. My body hurt, and at that moment I wasn’t anywhere near being mentally prepared to take on the task of racing. Racing is a switch and you as the rider need to decide to turn it on. Lars told me I was racing, and when he said that I knew that I would have to compose myself, dig deep, and just do it. The first time I heard the word catalyst used in the bike world was by Lars, and ever since then we have always been catalysts for each other and for riding. I am thankful for his words that day, and for him helping me to get to the starting line so that I could do what I know how to do.
the outcome of the race didn’t matter, what mattered was that I was there with friends and strangers and I was doing it. As I stood there with my bike and looked around everything began to really sink in. I thought about all of the things I had recently accomplished and fears I had overcome. It was then that I was ready to race, I was in the moment, and I was excited for it. The start was the same as qualifying excerpt this time I had an extra 100+ people behind me. The countdown was over and we were racing, bar to bar, with each of us trying to get one spot ahead of where we were. I dropped out onto the first road, and pedaled my ass off to the next section. Dropping in again onto the trail and I could see Lars a few riders ahead of me. I wanted to get on his wheel and follow him down the mtn. Psss psss psss psss, you have got to be kidding me, I have a flat. No,no, no, this can’t be happening, I keep pedaling hoping that it will seal. It's every racers nightmare, and as I look up I see Lars pull off the trail which tells me he's got a flat, or his chain broke. I pass him and he yells he has a flat, and I yell me too. At this point I had already made the decision to ride it out on the flat and it was going to take a huge crash or the wheel failing to take me out of this race. Now let me please clarify something. I had a front flat, and Lars had a rear flat, and I can honestly say that if I had a rear flat I wouldn’t have continued either. With a front flat I could do my best to keep my ass over the rear wheel, unweight the front, and keep pedaling. The one thing that actually allowed me to ride on the wheel as good as I did was the Huck Norris tire insert. It added a small cushion between the rim and tire saving both my rim and allowing me to ride with a little more grace. It really did help me to stand on the podium. As I crossed the finish line all of the stress was gone, the worry was gone, and the smile on my face was huge.
This trip was an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, and to learn more about myself and the world around me. I could not have asked for a better group of people to be my companion sduring this journey and time in my life. I want to thank everyone who made this trip amazing, and for their friendship, comradery, laughter, and support. You guys rock and this trip would not have been what it was without each and every one of you, your personalities, and your awesome vibe.
I need to put out a few very important thank you's. Thank you to Lars for being the catalyst that got my ass on the trip. Thank you to Lisa for taking great care of Lille so that I could go on the trip. Thank you to everyone who I shared this amazing experience with. Thank you to Cannondale and Sombrio clothing for their continued support. Thank you 7Idp protection for keeping me safe through all of my crashes. Thank you to Huck Norris for making a great product and for saving my front wheel from being destroyed allowing me to finish and podium in the race. (unsolicited) Thank you Industry Nine for making a wheel so strong I could ride over 20 minutes on a flat and not even need to true it, or fix it. Thank you to everyone who took the time to care enough about me to read this write up. Love Jonny. The best part of the experience is when you let it change you.
Not all of these pics are mine and I used many other people pics as we all shared them from the trip. Here are some bonus ones. Thank you very much for taking the time to read about my experience. I know i left a lot out, but if I wrote it all it would have made a small book.