Higdon in South America Part V: The Haul of the Mountain King
Photos: Vincent Cummings
February 8, 2018
Shall we check my prognosticative skills? My last sentence last night was succinct: “If Weather.com is to be believed, tomorrow will be much, much worse.” And was it? Not quite. By the judgment of everyone with whom I spoke, today was the best ride of the trip to date. Even I was farting through silk.
I thought the end of this day would see the virtual certainty of rain here in Macará with a high maybe reaching 50F. I brought my electric clothes up to the room last night and suited up this morning. My mood was dark and edgy. Rain I can take. Cold I’m prepared for. Cold rain is for me as bad as the moto life can get. To confirm my worst fears, I logged onto Weather.com again this morning at 0530. One of my saved locations was Macará, Peru. Peru? We were going to Macará, Ecuador. Quick check. Oops. Rain in the afternoon for sure, but highs in the 70s. My mood lightens with the dawn, the electric clothes go back in the back, and I clomp down to breakfast.
I was practically the last arrival. A fruit plate awaited me. Someone had arranged it in the shape of a smiley face. Oh, no. This is what I’ve done to these innocent people: They think I’m going to hang myself. I thanked them for the kind thought. It was a beautiful gesture from some genuinely caring people.
The hills awaited us. It was a day on a bike unlike any I have ever seen. As I may have mentioned, I’m not a great fan of winding roads since they usually mean nothing but hard work and unrelieved tension. But the Pan-American highway, which we followed the entire day, today was a jewel. My previous high in going through corners on a single day was 80,092, seven more than the number of curve balls thrown by National League pitchers in 1938 and 1,206 more curves than appeared in the Miss American contest from 1927 through 1949. I went through that record before noon and there were still 40,000 more waiting around the bend. I sincerely do not believe there were more than a dozen occasions where we had 500 yards of uncoiled highway.
This setting is made for the hot shoes in our group, and they went at it with abandon. The danger, of course, is that when you go bombing into a blind corner, you don’t have any idea what will be waiting for you on the way out. Today, a representative one, I saw potholes that could swallow a child, abandoned construction zones, rocks, an oncoming truck halfway into my lane, and a dead body. I’m not sure about that last one, but the point is you don’t know if it will be Santa Claus or the Wicked Witch of the West. But the highway generally is so beautifully constructed that it lulls you into a sense of security that you’d feel riding along on a state highway in Iowa.
It should also be mentioned that for almost the entire day we were at altitudes that are next to impossible to find with such consistency in the U.S. Within the first hour we’d climbed to over 11,000′ and consistently stayed aloft between 7,000′ and 9,000′ for hours at a time. There are few such roads in North America — Walsenburg to Durango to Ouray in Colorado comes to mind — but today’s route truly was something unforgettable.
Tomorrow we descend from the clouds to coastal Peru, saying goodbye to the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and his masterpiece, “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” I’ve been wondering why his fellow countryman, our leader Helge Pedersen, has been looking so contented of late. But a day like today could make a Viking of the least of us.
And it’s still not raining in Macará.