Canyon del Pato is Hell on a tandem, pretty much two days of Hell. It was the best way north in the Andes from Huaraz without backtracking to a road lined with illegal coca plantations and bandits; not our favorite type of cultural interaction.
The pista (pavement) ended a few clicks north of Caraz, a pleasant day’s ride from Huaraz. The dirt road was a combination of pale gray dust, loose sharp rocks up to fist size and babies’-heads, both could be either imbedded or loose. Basically it was medium double track mountain bike riding on a loaded tandem; a struggle for both Captain and Stoker. Thirty seven tunnels skirted the upper steeper part of the canyon, and a dozen or so more fortified the longer section below the village of Huallanca, where we spent a night.
The tunnels were long enough to be dark in the middle and our light was too weak to make out the rocks, or even the edge of the ruts. The dust was so thick and fine after trucks went through, that the light at the end was often completely obscured. We went down once in deep dust, and once in unseen mud from a ceiling leak. We just hung on hard, me to both brakes, Claire to the drum brake, and hoped for the best until the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel began to cast some light on the subject. Behind us, the light at the tunnel entrance cast our shadows ahead on the track and made things worse, obliterating my view of the rocks. Claire of course, always rides in the dark. I don’t know how she does it. Sometimes she even takes videos with one hand! One of these days she’s going to bounce off. Much of the route was within bouncing distance of cliffs into the river. Once a car driver forced us toward the edge and a rock bounced us closer; we had to come off the bike to avoid disaster. Parts of it were beautiful, with huge mountains on all sides and always the roaring Rio Santa.
So, I’m still not sure what Pato means, fiend perhaps? I had seen other cyclists’ videos of this route and mistakenly thought it didn’t look too bad. It was a bone rattling two days, at the end of which we had to piece Zippy back together. The front pannier racks and mounting hooks shook loose, the drum brake cable pulled itself into the rear tire’s clearance from overuse and we lost a vital two liters of drink that we had to backtrack for, enduring an extra kilometer or two for the pleasure. At least the tent and front panniers didn’t fall off, as they did in China. Someday, back in Tucson, Bob will clean dust out of Zippy’s headset and remember Canyon del Pato.
Several days later my tennis elbow is reminding me of those two days!
Look for a video in the next post.