“Un coche en la calle.”
It was one of the first phrases my brother and I learned in Spanish. It means “a car on the street,” but to us it meant a lot more. See, my brother and I lived in separate cities, and we missed each other a lot. Taking a Spanish class was a way for us to get together on a weekly basis. I was 18 years old, my brother 21, and we had big plans: we’d learn Spanish, then save up to go on an epic motocross adventure through South America, far away from the cold winter of Denmark.
The dream of an epic South American trip didn’t last long, though. Learning Spanish is hard, after all. And life got in the way.
A couple of years later I moved to California and fell in love with my future wife. My brother Kim got married too and moved to Copenhagen. Years passed. Despite the distance, we remained close. We saw each other far too little, but when we did, we’d go right back to being best buds immediately. There was always adventure in sight, from drunken concerts in Copenhagen including Staind (oh yeah) and 3 Doors Down (pre-Trump inauguration), to racing motorcycles on the German border (my brother is a talented amateur racer; me, not so much), to an epic surfing trip to Rosarito, Mexico, which involved snake tequila and a coke-sniffing surf guide (that’s a story for another time).
I even got Kim into mountain biking. On one of his visits to see me in the Bay Area, I took him to El Corte De Madera for his very first ride. I knew he’d be hooked. It’s impossible not to, when you ride on some of the most beautiful singletrack California has to offer. Surrounded by towering redwoods and with your wheels planted in tacky soil, this is an XC paradise with more than 36 miles of trails.
When I called my brother up and asked if he was ready for the next adventure, a mountain biking trip to Peru, I knew his answer. The timing would be perfect. He’d be turning 40 years old, and this would be much more fun and meaningful than a party. Almost 20 years after our first Spanish class, we’d finally be going on a South American adventure together, sans the motocross. In April 2016, I boarded a plane in San Francisco and Kim did the same in Copenhagen. Hours later we high-fived in Lima.
Day 1 – Lima
Meeting us in Lima was a small group of enthusiastic mountain bikers who had all signed up for the trip arranged by Sacred Rides, an excellent Canadian-based mountain bike adventure tour company. It was Matti from Finland, Ryan from Chicago, and Dave and Emily from Reno. Over the next nine days, we would travel, bike, eat, and sleep together, as we explored the many, many epic trails in and around Sacred Valley.
Day 2 – Cusco
The next morning we were up bright and early. We had a plane to catch to Cusco and the taxi was waiting. “Un coche en la calle!” I exclaimed. I knew that would come in handy. My brother laughed, and I’m pretty sure I impressed the driver.
Cusco is located at 11,200 feet of elevation and, boy, did we feel it. Heaving for air and with an oncoming train of a headache, we stuffed our mouths with cocoa leaves the moment we landed. Not only are the leaves good for altitude sickness, they also keep your teeth clean. While older people in Cusco might have greenish-looking teeth, at least they’re cavity-free.
Still chewing and outfitted with a rented all mountain Devinci Troy S, we headed out on our first ride around Cusco to acclimate. Winding our way up narrow roads, we took in the beautiful view of the city. After what felt like five hours to my lungs, we finally reached the top and from there, it was back down for some urban riding. I felt like Marcelo Gutierrez swooping through the Urbano de Manizales downhill race. Being chased by rabid dogs helped push my top speed even further.
Throughout the whole trip, Kim and I shared a room. After our rides, we’d spend time downloading and watching GoPro footage from the four cameras (no less) we brought. As we relaxed, I’d let Kim borrow my electric muscle stimulator (which the old man fell in love with immediately), and he’d let me borrow his Fresh Balls lotion (yes, that’s a thing, and it’s wonderful). It was pure bonding and man farts.
Day 3 – Sacred Valley Treasures
After Cusco, we traveled to Urubamba in Sacred Valley, our base for the next couple of days. The first day here, we shuttled to Chinchero, located at 12,000 feet elevation. We knew we were in good hands, as we were led by two excellent guides: Xavier, former pro DH racer, and Ruso aka La Máquina, former national XC champion. Ruso took the lead as we traversed fields and started climbing. Mile after mile we went. The highlights came in the afternoon, when we passed Moray, one of the most important Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, and then went downhill on some super steep singletrack to the amazing Inca Salt Mines in the town of Maras.
Peruvian cuisine is amazing. Hands down. One of the most Peruvian things on the menu is cuy. It’s called cuy, because that’s sorta the sound it makes: “cuy, cuy, cuy.” We call it guinea pig, which is not the sound it makes. We were treated to cuy in one of the local villages. The whole rodent, including head, teeth, and feet was fried and then placed on the table. We let our Peruvian driver, Antonio, eat the brain, while we cautiously gnawed on the legs.
Fun fact: Cusco Cathedral, built in the 16th century and one of the oldest in South America, has a giant painting of The Last Supper. Rather than the traditional depiction of lamb, in Peru Jesus is served–you guessed it–cuy.
Day 4 and Day 5 – Shuttle Runs Around Lamay and Patacancha Valley
Over the next couple of days we did several shuttle runs. Starting at over 14,000 feet, we would go enduro-style all the way to the bottom, traversing everything from grassy mountain fields blocked by herds of Alpaca to narrow singletrack and technical rock gardens. Kim held his own throughout, despite the fact that Denmark is flat as pancake. It was I, on the other hand, who had the first crash. And an embarrassing one too. What appeared to be terra firma turned out to be soft mud hidden under a treacherous layer of grass, and I went upside down over the handlebars. Luckily, no injuries to report and “luckily” the moment was captured on three of our GoPros, which Kim was kind enough to download and put on repeat on his laptop.
Day 6 – Machu Picchu
1 million tourists can’t be wrong. We took a break from mountain biking and went on a day trip to see Machu Picchu together with some of them. When we arrived the fog was heavy, but then it lifted and the most stunning postcard revealed itself in front of us. How the Incas were able to build this citadel in the 15th century is amazing. While there, we saw two alpacas mate, which was also pretty amazing.
Day 7 – Lares Valley
After a day of rest, we were ready for an epic day: Destination Lares Valley. This turned out to be my favorite day of riding. Ruso’s too. La Máquina could finally get to work. We were dropped off at 13,000 feet and started climbing to 14,600 feet. It was cold and the thin air made the climb challenging. I had to keep up with Ruso (and ahead of Kim). We were in the middle of nowhere at the top of the Andes, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
At the very top, we passed a little clay hut with nothing else around. A barefooted little five-year-old girl sat there with her mom in silence and weaved. Our guide asked them if they’d ever seen mountain bikers before. Nope. It was a fascinating look at local mountain life in the Andes. I’m not sure what they thought of us with our big bikes and colorful helmets.
From the hut, it went downhill. Whizzing by alpaca, cows, horses, sheep, pigs and dogs we made our way down as the sun started to warm our bones. The riding turned very technical now, as we entered original Inca trail. Xavier took the lead and guided us through some of the most challenging rock gardens and highly-exposed staircases. The ride ended at Lares Hot Springs. Dipping our worn out muscles in the hot water was a fitting end to a perfect day.
Day 8 – Lares Inca Trail
From Lares Hot Springs it was another day riding the challenging Inca trail. Kim finally had a minor crash, which evened the score and gave him a sore knee.
Day 9 – Tambomachay
On our last day, we once again rode around Cusco, where we passed the Inca site of Tambomachay, before finishing with some hell-raising downhill riding on our way down to the city. Xavier got to show off his mad riding and jumping skills, while the two Danish senior citizens opted to walk a few segments.
The mountain bike trip was over. We celebrated with a team dinner filled with amazing food and lots of Pisco Sours.
Day 10 – Skylodge
After saying goodbye to our new friends Kim and I stayed in Sacred Valley for one more night. We had decided to visit Skylodge, which is a hotel suspended on the side of a cliff and accessible by climbing 1,300 feet via ferrata. As we sat there, two united brothers after 8 days of mountain biking, suspended in a glass pod high above ground drinking wine and playing cards, we just couldn’t stop giggling. What a moment. What a trip.
And that’s when we started planning our next adventure.
Claus Enevoldsen has been mountain biking for a decade and when he’s not busy chasing his two young boys around, he gets his weekly dose of pleasure and pain on the amazing trails of El Corte De Madera in the Bay Area, California.
This essay was a runner up entry in the #TrailTales contest.