Cycling uphill on an unfinished surface into fierce headwind with freezing rain and hailstones – I’d had enough by the early afternoon, and pitched my tent so I could dry off and warm up. I hadn’t yet reached 4000m.

..A short distance south of Huarez, a gravel road climbs eastward along the northern side of mount Pastoruri, all the way across the Huascarán national park – it seemed worth crack to go the long way round the mountain.

The kids from the farm on the other side of the road were, I think, both amused by and curious of the stranger with his flimsy tent and bicycle. Jamie (11) introduced himself and shook my hand with great seriousness, and was very skeptical that my tent was a sensible place to sleep.

The following day was bright and warm, so I was able to dry of my wet gear before carrying on. The road eventually climbed up past 4800m – hard work. I camped again at 4600m – apart from slowing progress a little, I didn’t suffer particularly from the effect of altitude though I didn’t sleep especially well. Water boils at 85ºC at that height, which doesn’t do much for the tastiness of tea.

The road undulates between 4600 and 4800m for a while, affording spectacular views of the ice-covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and other parts of the Andes. The weather is also very changeable and sometimes severe- repairing a pinch-flat while being pelted by hailstones in a strong wind was a test of patience.

(Less than 24 hours later and more than 3000m lower down, I found myself again fixing a puncture- the tarmac all but too hot to sit on..)

I encountered Patrice and Véronique headed in the other direction in their pickup truck/camper; I was a little jealous of their relatively effortless climbing and indoor warmth at the time- I’m not sure my cheerfulness was especially convincing..

Eventually the road met with the main (tarmac!) road that skirts the east and south of the Huascarán national park- dizzying hairpin descents in both directions. I turned right, and freewheeled down to the small mining town of Pachapaqui where I found a bed, an excellent hot shower, and the most terrifying outdoor cludgie yet.

The following day was more climbing, back across the ridge I had just descended from – across the broad flat plain that is home to the Laguna and town of Conococha. From there, the road descends .. a very long way.
I found myself racing the sunset along the PanAm once again, each breath of warm sea level air affording strength and speed I’d all but forgotten about.

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