The day started out sunny and cheerful. I woke up in San Ignacio about to make my way into Ecuador. I eat a big breakfast, pack up and head out. An hour ride on a beautifully paved road and I reach the border. With no one else at the border, it takes no more than 45 minutes to stamp out of Peru and get my vehicle permit for Ecuador, plus it didn’t cost me a penny. As I’m packing away my documents, I ask the customs officer how far of a ride is it to Vilcabamba, he looks at my bike and says I can do it in about 3 hours. Ok, I thought.
I ride away and see immediately that the road I take north is a single dirt road just wide enough for a truck. About an hour and a half goes by as I’m winding my way through the mountain road, when the storm clouds come in and it starts to drizzle. I put on my jackets waterproof outer layer but my pants use an inner layer to make them waterproof and I don’t want to take the time to take everything off to put those on. Another hour passes and it starts to really come down. The road that was once packed dirt is now mud. I get into a small town and fill up on gas and check my GPS to see exactly where I am. I’ve gone 30 miles in the last 2 hours. I have 50 miles more to go until I get to my proposed destination. It’s still early in the day, I have the time. I push on, I’ve accepted that everything I have is now soaking wet. There is no doubt a puddle of water in my bag just as there is a pool of water in my boots. The road becomes paved for a bit near the town but after a few miles, it really turns to shit. I become very cold and my hands and back start to really ache. I am putting along in 2nd gear fighting to keep the bike upright in this mud and 8 inch deep streams of water crossing the road. This goes on for 2 hours! Of course, at this point I have lost all concept of time. My mind is so focused on not siding off a cliff or face planting it into a ravine . 10 minutes felt like 2 hours. I only know after the fact by looking at my GPS. The rain never lets up and with about 15 miles to go it finally turns to smooth pavement. But with only about 15 feet of visibility now I can’t go any faster than 18 miles an hour. I now have very little feeling in my hands and my entire body is aching. I just keep focusing on the road. I need to make sure I see every pothole and every pool of water. Just get through it. And finally I do, I reach the town and stop at the first hotel I see. 6 hours after crossing the border I reach the town of Vilcabamba.
I’m utterly exhausted, spread all my stuff out to dry, and make a quick call to my Dad to vent. Then I walk into town because my hunger is stronger than my exhaustion. I start to notice a lot of tourists. Since I left Lima I haven’t seen a single one until now. They are everywhere, middle-aged men in Tommy Bahamas’ shirts drinking beer talking in English, and a group of kids with dreadlocks from Berkeley. I have a strange feeling come over me but I can’t figure out what it is. I pick a restaurant and order two portions of food. As I’m eating an English couple in their early twenties comes into the restaurant and grabs the table next to me. As the girl takes off her Patagonia rain jacket with the tag still left on it she makes the comment about how wet her jacket got from the rain. That’s when I hit me what that strange feeling is. I’m pissed off! Here I was having just done the toughest ride of my life traveling through totally shit roads with heavy downpour. My hands are barely strong enough to grip a fork, my back feels like I crushed a few vertebrae, and everything I own is soaking wet. I worked hard to get to this little town, and here these people probably took a local flight from Quito to the airport that’s 30 miles up the road then sat in a comfy SUV to get to this place. They didn’t earn the right to be here. They can’t complain about the rain! After my dinner, I order a large beer to-go and start my walk back. I’m still cold and the beer is warm. I finish it before I make it to the hotel. Throw the bottle in the trash, and with a smile I say to myself “Eh, worth it.”