High Altitude Cycling on the South American Epic
Camping on the shores of Lake Titicaca is a strange experience. Not only is it unusual to see such a large body of water in South America, it is also hard to comprehend that it sits 3,800 meters above sea level. Or to put it another way – 1000 meters higher than the tallest climb of the Tour de France. Riding a bicycle at altitude is a strange experience. The air is thinner, drier, and the sun seems more intense, even though the shade is freezing cold. Moments of weakness and confusion are frequent but pass quickly. Breathing is deeper and more deliberate. The smallest climb can ruin the fittest of rider. Acclimatisation is slow, and it never really feels like your body has adjusted to the lack of oxygen – it is just tolerating it.
However it has not been all doom and gloom riding at altitude on the Inca Highlands section. This is the Andes mountains after all – home to some of the most spectacular and unique scenery in the world. After visiting Machu Picchu close to the Inca city of Cusco, riders cycled through the sacred valley towards Puno and the aforementioned high altitude Lake Titicaca. After crossing into Bolivia it was a short ride to the city of La Paz – famous for being the highest altitude capital in the world. It seems in our short time here that Bolivia thinks of itself in superlatives: highest capital city, largest salt flat, driest desert, highest lake, and so on. So far we have only seen a small part of the country, but it has been spectacular, colourful and rugged.
A double rest day in La Paz is a symbolic milestone on the South American Epic, it is here that we reach the half way mark of the tour – 64 Stages – three times the length of the Tour de France (this seems to be a useful comparison point in this week’s blog). Looking back we remember the jungles of Colombia and Ecuador; looking forward we see the rugged scenery of Chile, Argentina, and the legendary region of Patagonia. But first the riders will experience the Uyuni Salt Flats, one of the most famous tourist attractions in South America, and the infamous Bolivian winds that accompany it!