It was 6:37pm, and we were 15 minutes into our 3-day journey down/mostly up the beautiful Camino Siete Lagos, or the Seven Lakes Road.
I am by no means an experienced biker and, since my injury during the last season of college soccer, I haven’t the level I would need to survive this biking trip. Thus, I was slightly worried about my performance, but somewhat optimistic. After all, biking is easier than walking or running, right?
Wrong. The first day was significantly more than I had bargained for. I had the panniers on my bike for what the internet said would be the hardest part of the journey, pretty much all uphill with few breaks for 40 km. And we were losing daylight rapidly. Thankfully, Lydia was setting an unbelievable pace to keep us on track, but it was so much faster than mine that she thought I had fallen over and gotten hurt more than once.
By sunset, we hadn’t found a campground where we felt comfortable. Most people start earlier in the day, so most of the campgrounds were vacant. We continued, wanting to be safe as two young, female travelers. Unfortunately, the cabañas on the side of the road cost the equivalent of $75 USD. Yet as tired and ready to stop as we were, we had a hunch there would be a close option that wouldn’t break the bank.
We stopped at the next place we saw, a nice restaurant on the side of the road – and begged to camp on their lawn for the night. They had a huge dog and didn’t want a casualty in the middle of the night on their conscience. However, they had a spare room for 150 Argentine pesos per person. We decided to splurge to get a good night’s sleep for the longest part of our trip the following day.
I can’t tell if the roads were easier (more likely) or if I had started to get the hang of it, but I was pushing through the pain a lot more on day two. While the first day I had to walk a little to give my legs a break, the second day I was switching gears more fluidly and making it up the tougher hills. At difficult moments, I had glimpses of our girls cheering me on as they did their peers during their fitness tests at the end of the year. Many of them, like I, didn’t feel prepared for the type of physical activity that was required of them, but they gave their best for themselves and for their peers. With shouts of encouragement from the sideline and warm hugs at the end of a tough competition, it was hard for our chicas not to push through the fatigue and continue with all their might. Every time I wanted to stop and sit on the side of the road, I heard Mimi, Claudia, Erica, Liz, and Luz saying, “Sí, se puede, Profe!” (“Yes, you can!”). That was all I needed to keep going. Little by little I made it to the end, even if it took all day.
I wanted to make our girls proud by telling them I didn’t stop. When we return to Cusco in February to start the new semester, I will tell them stories about how they helped me through the journey. This one is for you, lovely Chicas Dinámicas! Gracias por su apoyo y les extraño muchísimo!